A Madwoman's Reviews
I love to read, and fit it in where I can. I used to shy away from writing reviews since I am not the type to dissect every book I read or apply knowledge from the Creative Writing/English/Literature degree I don't have. But I've learned that reviewing books isn't as complex as I once thought. It all boils down to giving your opinion. And I have plenty of opinions, which I will be posting here.
What I accept: Full length Young Adult and New Adult Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Fairy Tales, Mythology
What I do not accept: Short stories, genres not listed, erotica, Christian/Inspirational, picture books, middle grade, novellas, ARCs, deadlines
If your book does not fit the criteria of what I accept, please do not send me a request. If your book does fall under the listed categories and you would like for me to review it, be warned: I operate under a heavy backlog of books to review for blog tours and critique partners. If your book piques my interest, I will definitely add it to my list. But if you need a book reviewed by a certain date, I am probably not your gal.
If all of that hasn't deterred you, send an email to maravalderran at gmail titled "Review Request: Title and Author Name" and follow these guidelines:
by B. Patterson
I love everything about this book, from the main character Lester's voice as he narrates to the twists and turns along the way and the surprise ending. Usually, in vampire books, you have a main character who is eventually going to be ...
This is definitely an example of the book being 10x better than what I expected after reading the blurb. I didn't expect to connect with the characters as much as I did, but these characters really do jump off the page. Chauntelle Baug...
by Eliza Tilton
I have to admit, this book had a slow pull for me. The introduction of Lucino's POV on top of Avikar and Jeslyn, but in the end I was glad to have it. I loved watching his character develop. The big reveal about him at the end felt a bit...
This was such a fascinating concept, and so brilliantly told. Becca J Campbell is more than an author, she is an artist. She painted the worlds so clearly, the images so vivid and real. I didn't quite connect with Wes or Emily, but I thi...
The Curse of Malenfer Manor by Iain McChesney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you follow my reviews, you already know this, but for those who don't...I'd like to preface this review with one very important fact about me: I'm an impatient reader.
That being said, this book is pretty good. There's a lot of back story to dig through, and with some of the characters I got pretty impatient with it (namely the Crevel's junior and senior when the focus shifted to them). I do absolutely love how the history between Arthur and Dermot is told in bits and pieces, and especially how Arthur's time after the tunnel is presented.
Once Dermot and Arthur get to Malenfer Manor, the story picks up and doesn't let go. It turns into a real nail-biter as you try to sort out whether or not the curse is at work, or a tangible villain is responsible. Mysteries are not my typical genre, but the ghost story and curse drew me into this one. So I can't really compare it to anything out there in the genre, but I can say it was like playing Clue as I tried to solve the mystery, which was a lot of fun. It certainly kept me guessing until the very end.
Iain McChesney balanced the supernatural element very well in this book. Ghosts are fun to play with, but can easily get overplayed. Iain McChesney teases the reader with the Witch and the possibility of other ghosts afoot just enough. I also really appreciated the fresh take on ghosts with the experiences of Arthur. His phantom feelings are really well done and help his character to believably straddle the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Dermot is a wonderful and refreshing reluctant hero. A soldier riddled with guilt over his experiences at war, all he wants to do is help Arthur with this final endeavor from beyond the grave and then probably go back to drinking away the things that truly haunt him. His growth is really great to see.
My impatience aside, this was a fun read. I like that it wasn't predictable in the slightest, the characters were so well-rounded and all had clear and vivid histories in the author's mind, and that it was well-told. Iain McChesney has a very sophisticated voice that throws you back to the feeling of reading the classics, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of his books landed under that heading a hundred years from now.
The Actuator by James Wymore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have so many thoughts about this book. There's everything from pirates to aliens to orcs and beyond in it, which is absolutely brilliant. Each actuation brought with it a new adventure, filled with twists and turns that are unexpected and well played out.
I have to say that one of the best things about this book is the characters and how realistically they react to their realities being changed to dramatically. Stepping into vampire territory is not all fun and games and sparkling emo broodsters. It's harsh, dangerous, and dark, and heartbreaking to see people you know and care about change into these twisted creatures that lust for power almost as much as they lust for blood. Killing doesn't come easy to the heroes of the story, and it weighs on them, especially Red. The losses this group suffers ripple throughout the entire story, and still aren't forgotten in the end. Adventure tales are fun in any genre, but I appreciate that this one was still rooted in reality while dealing with the fantastic.
Each of character, no matter how minor a role they had, clearly had a rich back story of their own and personalities with believable flaws. The authors didn't play on stereotypes at all. I appreciated how they could take a character like Mack who was so dislikeable and get me to feel sorry for him. Red was the ultimate reluctant hero, making difficult decisions and not trying to brush off the consequences. He didn't ask for any of this, but he handles it well, all things considering. The interpersonal relationships only added more challenges to their journey as we watch the group get separated and each risk their life in the hopes of making things right again.
I'm really looking forward to the next book. This was a slow read for me because there were times that it was a lot to take in as far as what was happening, but definitely worth it. James Wymore and Aiden James have created the ultimate literary playground with the Actuator, and there is only potential for endless amounts of fun as the story continues.
Communion by B. Patterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love everything about this book, from the main character Lester's voice as he narrates to the twists and turns along the way and the surprise ending.
Usually, in vampire books, you have a main character who is eventually going to be faced with a choice of whether or not to become a vampire. But in Communion, B. Patterson starts Lester's journey with a bang. When he gets attacked and turned, he discovers a whole new world. Vampires are extinct, but dhampir still exist--which are sort of in between humans and vampires--and now he has the choice to become one of them.
Lester isn't the typical main character, for many reasons. First, it is refreshing to have a first person narrative from a teenage guy's POV. I have to say that most of the books I read have female POVs, so it is nice to have a change. And a good one at that. But also, Lester is a believable outcast. He has issues, but never ventures into melodramatic or emo territory. And even though he is bullied, I never viewed him as weak or a victim. He was strong in his own ways, and showed that by how he stood up to the bully, even when he knew it would mean getting his ass kicked.
What also sets Lester apart from typical main characters is that his journey is anything but simple and stereotypical. Lester is faced with some tough decisions, and makes some hard choices along the way. My heart breaks for some of the things he is forced to do to keep the people he loves safe. Usually, we see the hero of the story built up through the trials and tribulations they face. With Lester, we see him constantly broken down by the choices he is faced with. But then an amazing thing happens that makes me root for him even more: He gets back up. Over and over.
B. Patterson did an amazing job of taking something so common (vampires) with the usual plot points played over and over and over again, and turning it into something unique that he can call his own. Not only is the concept different from what I've seen, but the actions the main character takes along the way are also so different from the norm. I never knew what to expect with this book. Just when you think you know who the bad guy is and what the stakes are that the dhampir are up against, the plot takes a completely different turn and you are thrown for a loop.
Great writing, compelling and unpredictable story full of twists and surprises, and a main character that I can sympathize with and really truly like. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to what is ahead not only for Lester and the dhampir, but I can't wait to see what else the incredibly talented B. Patterson does.
KIYA: Hope of the Pharaoh by Katie Hamstead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've been putting off writing this review since I got home from work (where I finished it like the rebel I am). Why? Because that makes the fact that I'm finished all the more real. And I don't want to be done yet. I'm not ready to leave the Naomi behind.
I've never been one to jump at historical fiction, but this book was beyond amazing. I suddenly find myself enthralled by Egyptian culture. Katie Hamstead did an amazing job of teaching the reader about ancient Egypt through Naomi's eyes and not making it feel like a lesson. There was never a dull moment of world-building or history lessons. It was all contextual.
Naomi is a believable heroine. She is brave, strong, true to her beliefs, but also stubborn, and she can be a bit naive. She wears her heart on her sleeve, which I suspect is going to bite her in the ass later on in the series. I love that in Kiya, Nefertiti has met her match. Nefertiti is believably cunning and vile, but her motivations are always clear. And just when you think she is done, she strikes like a snake.
The love triangle in this book came out of nowhere for me. I don't want to say too much because of spoilers, but I love how, because we see everything through Naomi's eyes, we were just as surprised as she was.
On a more technical note, I think Katie's style is wonderful. Naomi's voice is solid throughout the entire book, never wavering. We feel everything she feels, and see everyone else just as she sees them. Not once did I feel like the language was dumbed down (which I've seen in other first person novels--it drives me crazy.) or like Katie was trying to force information through Naomi.
The ending felt abrupt to me, but I have a feeling that is more to do with how I was not ready for the book to end. Luckily, the sequel comes out next month. =) I can't wait!
September 5, 2013
Exorcising Aaron Nguyen by Lauren Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At 107 pages, I have to say I didn't have high hopes for Lauren Harris to be able to draw me into the characters and their journeys. I expected a rushed or weak story. But then again, I'm not big on short stories. They frustrate me, constantly leaving me wanting more with no hopes of getting it.
Needless to say, I was pretty happy to discover this is a series. From the first chapter--nay, from the clever chapter titles (Ex: What's a Little Murder Between Friends?), Georgia's voice captures you. She's snarky without going overboard, edgy without being the typical rebellious teenager, and has baggage without being emo. And she's very much so reluctant to embark on this adventure of solving a murder with the best friend/boy she pines over, Hiroki.
Hiroki sees the world through a different light because of his "gift" to see the dead. He's so different, he can't stand touching people because he can tell just how readily they would accept death. Georgia tries to understand it, but until she gets a glimpse of it after getting a concussion, she never really sees it. And I don't think she ever really understands it until she is face to face with the ghost, Aaron Nguyen. Until that point, she is just a girl following her crush around as he struggles to exorcise a ghost and she struggles to understand him better. The real beauty of the situation at the end is that Georgia doesn't really see how her world has changed. Not yet. I'm looking forward to that realization in the sequel.
I love that Georgia feels so real. She's not beautiful or skinny from the way she is described, though she seems to be battling to accept who she is--appearance and all. To me, Lauren Harris captured the voice of true adolescent insecurity. It's not necessarily this constant voice in your head telling you that you are less-than. It's more the little, everyday reminders. The off-handed comments people make. The way a boy fails to look at you. The way your peers taunt you, even if it isn't relentlessly. One fat joke made in passing can haunt someone for a week. It's nice to see that real side of things, and to see Georgia fight against the feelings these minor incidents stir within her.
Georgia really is the reluctant hero in the end. She throws herself in the face of real danger--of the life or murdered-by-the-same-psycho-responsible-for-Aaron's-death variety--in order to save her best friend from the same fate. She's willing to sacrifice herself. I worried that the reason Hiroki didn't want to tough her was he would know she is going to die by suicide or something like that. But in the end, those same scars making Hiroki uncomfortable to touch her end up being her power. They give her the power to do good and to help others. I love that turn around.
To only be 107 pages, I feel like I went on this entire journey with them. I feel like I learned so much about the characters. How Lauren Harris managed to shove so much character development, plot, and tension into a mere 107 fluid pages of story telling is beyond me, but I'm looking forward to seeing her do it again.
September 3, 2013
Magick Marked by Chauntelle Baughman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is definitely an example of the book being 10x better than what I expected after reading the blurb.
I didn't expect to connect with the characters as much as I did, but these characters really do jump off the page. Chauntelle Baughman does such a great job of being in their heads without giving you too much that I had to remind myself it wasn't written in first person. I felt as though they were talking to me, which creates a much deeper connection and draw to the characters for me.
This gets a bit spoilery, so be warned.
The love story was really well played out. I felt like the resistance was done well and the progression was natural. Rho wasn't completely emo because she felt like things would never work with Eldon. It's just a fact to her, even if it is one she isn't happy with (though she'll barely admit that to herself). They both have faults (stubborn, independent, argumentative) and instead of trying to change that about one another or battle over dominance, it seems that the faults they have in common only draw them to each other more, giving them insight into what the other is thinking in a way they haven't experienced with anyone else before.
The inter-race relations is also very interesting. They've all been raised to think they know about the other race(and that their race is superior, of course), but they're proved wrong. First impressions might emphasize those stereotypes (like Tim acting like a testosterone driven jock at the beginning when Eldon stupidly downplays the bond between a pack), but we get to see the layers to each character as they discover those layers about one another.
I loved that Rho wasn't this perfect, graceful, seductive, all-knowing vampire. She was vulnerable. She was lonely. She was damaged. But she was also prideful and had her walls up. She was more human than you would expect in a vampire story.
The action and suspense really kept you turning the pages. I've been at DragonCon reading this, and any spare moment I had, I pulled out this book. Once I got to chapter twenty, I was ready to go back to the hotel and finish it off. And I am definitely ready for book two!
August 19, 2013
Rise of the Machines--Human Authors in a Digital World by Kristen Lamb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think this is a must read for any author, regardless of what publishing path they choose. Kristen breaks everything down in a way you can relate to and easily understand. Marketing is an overwhelming concept, and "author brands" are frustratingly vague. But Kristen puts it all into perspective and essentially offers herself up as a guide in figuring out what type of brand you need. She takes into consideration that we have days jobs and lives outside of our writing, which really helps to ease the overwhelming pressure authors can have nowadays.
I thought I had my brand figured out already, but she's helped me to see that I am focusing on a small audience (other writers) rather than trying to appeal to non-writers. Thanks to her tips, the blog ideas are pouring in and I'm off to create a Facebook page to prepare for my upcoming release. I know I'll be referring back to this book a lot, so I almost feel like I got the better end of the deal when paying for it.
August 18, 2013
Broken Forest by Eliza Tilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have to admit, this book had a slow pull for me. The introduction of Lucino's POV on top of Avikar and Jeslyn, but in the end I was glad to have it. I loved watching his character develop. The big reveal about him at the end felt a bit rushed, but was a big surprise.
Once the story picks up, it really doesn't let go. The tension continues to build. And somehow Eliza Tilton has managed to create another love story for Avikar that didn't feel out of place. It developed very naturally. She also did a very good job of keeping the focus on the main adventure (rescuing Jeslyn) even while so many other potential adventures and obstacles grew around the main characters. Her use of imagery was very well balanced as well.
I really enjoyed the characters, but I enjoyed watching Avikar the most. Jeslyn wasn't my favorite but she is just a bit too girly for my tastes. I prefer characters like Raven, who was awesome. I loved how she could be tough and vulnerable at the same time.
Even as the adventure came to its natural conclusion, I couldn't help but wonder where the rest of the story was. There was still so much more I wanted to see, to experience with these characters. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to what Eliza Tilton has in store for this world next.
August 13, 2013
Gateway to Reality by Becca J. Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was such a fascinating concept, and so brilliantly told. Becca J Campbell is more than an author, she is an artist. She painted the worlds so clearly, the images so vivid and real. I didn't quite connect with Wes or Emily, but I think that just boils down to personalities. The characters were still very well written and their story was still very engaging.
I love how Wes is spending the entire story discovering so much about himself and truly growing. You can see the evolution of his character clearly and consistently. Being faced with the choice to live in the LV and pursue things with the Emily he has a history with (in a world full of personal connections, where his family actually exists), and the choice of accepting this illogical world to pursue a life--and Emily--there was very well played out. He didn't spend too much time being angsty over the decision or too much time in denial, which I definitely appreciate in an alternate universe story. I kept waiting for him to wake up and discover the Existence was the dream and to have all his problems figured out through this crazy dream, and it was really refreshing that this didn't happen.
Sometimes the most illogical part about us can be our hearts, and I was glad to see Wes follow his.
August 2, 2013
Coldness of Marek by Rachel O'Laughlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I haven't felt this immersed in the world of a book in a long time. Rachel O'Laughlin's attention to detail is amazing. She doesn't spend pages upon pages describing the world to you, but does an excellent job of letting you see it all through each character's eyes. The changes in POV were fluid, the overall voice never faltering, but still giving you a feel for the differences in the characters and their views. There were times I would come back from a reading break and forget that the story wasn't written in first person because of how strong of a feel I had for the characters, particularly Trzl.
The story has a great build, right from the action at the beginning. The intensity never seems to let up as you piece together what happened in the 10 years since Trzl and Mikel first met. I love the changes you can see in Trzl from that stubborn and somewhat naive rebel using her feminine wiles to aid the cause she so believed in, to the protective mother she is today, willing to anything and everything to keep her child safe.
Reading the fight scenes felt like watching a dance. They were easy to follow, but not mechanical in any way. Some writers can get a little too caught up in the action, making the fights too busy. But Rachel did an excellent job writing descriptions that might cause you to wince, but not scratch your head in confusion.
The romantic undertones were very well written and distinguished from the usual cliches you might find in fantasy novels. Trzl is not a damsel in distress by any stretch of the imagination, and Mikel is very much so the reluctant hero. The conflict between these two somehow manages to play a minor and major role in the overall story. It is a card that is never over-played by Rachel, which made the story all the more enjoyable. There might not be any actual hope for these two to get together with everything that has happened, but watching them fight against their own hearts is very compelling.
I was also very pleased with how Malcolm was written. He's a brave young boy instead of one hiding behind his mother's skirts. I loved how tough and intelligent he is. He picked up on a lot more than the adults gave him credit for, with the exception of perhaps Marek. The minor characters were all very well distinguished from one another, with their own sets of goals and problems. The twist with Tev really caught me offguard, which was great.
There isn't a dull moment in this book. Every chapter, every scene--something is always happening. I really can't sing enough praises for this book. I can't wait to see what happens with the sequel!