Appealed Alliance

53241038. sy475

Magnifying a partner’s power to save your people may be a significant ask, but it seems simple enough on the surface; however, in This Vicious Grace by Emily Theide, keeping the partner alive long enough to battle the impending threats is an ongoing struggle.

With three weddings and funerals following in quick succession, Alessa’s gift of magnifying her partner’s power seems unable to be used without causing death. As a threat of demonic beetles devouring everything in their path looms ever closer, Alessa, the god-chosen Finestra, has a few weeks to find a new partner from a small group of unwilling Fontes for the upcoming battle to save her people while simultaneously facing assassination attempts as a priest has convinced the people that killing Alessa is key to their salvation. To protect herself, Alessa hires a marked killer, Dante, to serve as her personal bodyguard until she secures a new partner. Dante has secrets of his own to keep and agrees to help Alessa as doing so could prove helpful in furthering his own agenda, so long as it doesn’t become the cause for a deadly rebellion first, either from his secret becoming public or from Alessa finally deciding to defy long-held traditions.

A curious and detailed world is presented and developed within this story that fosters thought about connections with others, particularly in conjunction with mandates that dictate, often in a restrictive manner in accordance with religious interpretations, “acceptable” behaviors. The narrative throws the reader into a detailed world where you learn on the go, though there’s not enough explanation of the powers and their manifestation within the Fontes, and it took a while to get acclimated as the story slowly ramped up to a point where the impending action and doom was present instead of a whispering shadow, after which the action took off, racing to the edge of a cliff, where the next installment is needed after the sudden introduction of a new opportunity, and threat, within the last few pages. The dynamic between characters were well-portrayed and captivating, if a bit too reliant on tropes (especially when it came to the romance aspect), and the exchanges between Alessa and Dante were entertaining to behold as they maintained witty banter that often lightened the rather dark, and seemingly impossible, situation they found themselves in.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Startling Snippets

23365495. sx318

Comprised of ten short stories that are quick and easy to read, the tales shared within Arnie Lightning’s 10 Halloween Stories for Kids evokes a sense of urban legends that tend to be shared at a sleepover or around a campfire, offering readers, or listeners, a bit of a fright.

Written in a manner that is easily accessible for younger readers, these ten collected stories provide an opportunity to be startled by the haunting surprises they contain without becoming overly gruesome or frightening to the point of inciting nightmares. The tales are quite short, typically a page at most, making the scenarios move incredibly swiftly from their introduction to conclusion, which for some works rather well but for others makes it feel as if the story is only beginning as it ends abruptly; the brevity begs for further development and perhaps it’s meant to be up to the reader to imagine what could happen next.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Spectral Secrets

18460356

An abandoned mansion serves as a haunting setting for an evening that three teenagers will never forget in David McMullen-Sullivan’s Moorehead Manor.

After being provoked into proving his homerun hitting skills by his best friend’s sister Emily, Jimmy’s prized baseball launched into the abandoned Moorehead Manor and he’s determined to retrieve it. After entering the eerie mansion, the three teenagers encounter strange experiences with encroaching shadows, mysterious strangling, and the appearance of ghosts they seem able to interact with. After finding themselves suddenly trapped within the home, they frantically endeavor to find a way out; in doing so they uncover the unpleasant history of the mansion and the family who built it, which is filled with prejudice and murder.

An eerie and rather entertaining novella that depicts a scenario and an atmosphere that could be frightening, the narrative has a degree of development to it that provided some emotional and social commentary heft to what was being conveyed so it was a bit more than just another haunted house story featuring foolhardy teenagers, though it used many cliched hallmarks of that in its construction at the outset. The dialogue between the teenage characters felt more stilted and formal than you might expect from sixteen year olds, which drew me out of the story. There appears to be a series of stories stemming from this manor; however, this tale as a standalone does work rather well.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Retrospective of November

The penultimate month of the year completed and throughout the month I read 9 books, bringing me to 96% of my annual goal.

November Release Round-Up:

Marital Muddle

45873506. sx318

A kingdom in peril from a curse and the lure of marriage to royalty for the woman who breaks it awaits in W. R. Gingell’s Twelve Days of Faery.

Frustrated by what appears to be a curse bringing harm, sometimes deadly, to the women that his son Prince Parrin entertains as a possible romantic prospect, King Markon is willing to try practically anything to bring it to an end. With a rumor circulating that anyone who is capable of breaking the curse will be able to marry the prince, there’s no shortage of people volunteering their skills to the service of the kingdom, but many of their bodies add to the count of those harmed. An enchantress, Althea, from another land arrives and contracts with Markon to break the curse, confident in her abilities; her investigation uncovers some fae magic, leading to the first real progress in solving the matter, but will Markon be willing to part with her when his son has been freed from the magic’s hold?

An entertaining and quickly progressing story, the relatively light narrative makes use of more traditional and familiar fairy tale elements and molds them into something a touch more novel to better serve the tale’s purpose. While there were two worlds explored, that of Faery and the one humans reside in, the intersection was intriguing to see play out but the development of Faery felt a bit too rushed to be deeply satisfying – there seem to be many varieties of fae, which were only cursorily explored within brief moments – and the antagonists were rather predictable despite the twists offered to throw suspicion elsewhere as there wasn’t too much development given to them to create a gratifying complexity to the story. The agency that Althea assumes and exhibits is refreshing as the men in the kingdom rely upon her skills with and knowledge of magic to save them from the events they’re suffering, plus her cleverness helped to add humorous moments to the magical adventure undertaken.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Establishing Endangerment

12454455

Walking across a bridge for a railroad track, two teenaged boys toy with the impending danger of an oncoming train, which could end with a deadly consequence in The Trestle by Ben Woodard.

Written in a manner that elicits a sense of tension around the peril the boys face, the immediate scenario of the scene is well-depicted and easily conveys a sense of unease. The narrative is far too short to adequately allow for and address the necessary establishment and development of the characters’ outlooks on life and the emotions driving their behavior; there’s some hinting within the text of some tragic or impactful event(s) taking place or circumstances in their lives and to their families that would speak to their perspectives and the choices made in the dangerous circumstances they’ve chosen to place themselves in but it wasn’t explored and if it were it would have helped to contextualize the events better.

Overall, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Future Flashbacks

32055471. sy475

A memory shared with you by your future self plays a significant role in determining the path your life will take in Pintip Dunn’s Before Tomorrow.

On their seventeenth birthday, residents of North Amerie receive a memory sent back from their future selves. Logan’s received memory fulfills what he expected for his swimming career ambitions but it also presents him with an unexpected twist when his friend from a few years back, Callie, appears at the end. While it fills him with emotions of belonging he’s also conflicted about how to make it come true since they haven’t spoken in a while. When Callie gets her memory a few days later, Logan finds out that she’s in trouble as her future self committed a crime. Though she’s meant to be imprisoned for this, Logan is determined to help her avoid that fate no matter what it might mean for his future.

Throughout the course of the brief pages of this quickly moving story, there’s an intriguing world presented that raises philosophical questions that explore fate and self-fulfilling prophecies. There’s a decent sense of the character’s personalities and motivations depicted to help readers get a good sense of them and become invested in them. The logistics for the sending of memories back in time and the technologies for experiencing them was not really touched upon in this prequel tale of a larger series of stories, which was an element that would be fascinating to have explained in greater detail to better round out the world and the technologies that drive it, though perhaps it may be addressed more fully in later installments.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Hidden Horrors

29601043. sx318

Things that go bump in the night and the monsters the haunt childhood dreams become a strange reality in R.S. Veira’s Turner Street: Where the Monsters in the Closet are Real.

In the homes on Turner Street, the monsters that many children have nightmares about are very real and it’s the responsibility of the Invisible World Protective Services (IWPS) to keep these monsters in check and the children safe. But the sheer amount of activity taking place on Turner Street has driven IWPS to drastic measures, namely recruiting children with unique abilities, which they call anomalies, to assist with their secret efforts. An agent in the form of a teddy bear, a set of psychic twins, a time traveler, and a boy with a pet lion are those responsible for the safety of Turner Street, and possibly even that of the world.

Told through interconnected short stories, the larger narrative unfolded with pieces of information falling into place within another story, forging a stronger link between them and getting readers invested in the tales. The premise was interesting and offered a view into a world and characters with a lot of potential as it explored a variety of characters and their respective unique abilities and strengths. While the stories work well together, as well as on their own (for the most part) and appear to be part of an even larger series of narratives, there’s some underdeveloped characters and scenarios that leave too much unresolved or addressed to be entirely satisfying within this collection. There’s fun a child-like element to these stories and the tools employed in battles, though it’s certainly not aimed for a child audience given the level of gory detail in some scenes; instead it’s an intriguing look back on child-like wonder and imagination.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Mythical Manifestation

17704105

There may be plenty of strange things that take place in New York City, but Delilah is about to discover a new level of strangeness in Daniel David Garcia’s The Succubus in a Red Dress.

A recent graduate with a film degree, Delilah is struggling to make ends meet working as a coffee clerk in New York City when one day an older customer collapses shortly after their hands meet, changing her life forever. Soon afterward an attractive man, Ken, asks Delilah on a date and though it’s very out of her comfort zone, she agrees, or rather her coworker agrees for her. Their first date ends badly when he tries to stab her in a deserted alley and she seemed to absorb energy out of him, dramatically aging and rendering him unconscious. Though she managed to right the damage done to Ken, he and his brother still hunt Delilah down and in their second encounter Delilah is rescued by a succubus recently returned to New York, Chloe, who decides to take Delilah under her wing – for better or worse.

With a promising premise outlined, there are many supernatural beings that are referenced or introduced in this quick narrative that points to a larger world within, and hidden in the underbelly of, the NYC that’d be familiar to readers as a constant media backdrop. Though the nature of succubus to render men enamored with them fits with their supernatural lore, there’s a bit too much reliance on the concept of insta to all of the character interactions and narrative development, making it more difficult to believe what’s happening, even with suspension of disbelief as a default presence from the outset; the development of the narrative and characters beyond stereotypes felt rather lacking given the massive life-changing world shift that takes place in such a brief amount of time.

Overall, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Curious Convergence

28574935

A king whose brides are killed by the dawn is surprised and intrigued when his seventy-second bride volunteered to marry him, so much so that he veers from his routine and is determined to visit her chambers on the eve of her pending death in The Crown & the Arrow by Renée Ahdieh.

A short story that precedes the events that take place in The Wrath & the Dawn, the snippet is incredibly quick to read as it introduces Khalid’s repeated bride killing, his feelings about that, and the woman who disrupts the pattern. The writing is good in terms of the language it employs and it was interesting to revisit this world after a long time away from reading the first book in this series, which would begin after this short prologue of sorts. While it helps expand Khalid’s character to be inside his head and get his perspective on his and Shahrzad’s initial meeting, the brevity of this bit of text doesn’t add much of anything to the overall narrative, which makes you question why this is a stand alone short story and/or why it wasn’t included as the beginning of The Wrath & the Dawn. 

Overall, I’d give it a 2 out of 5 stars.