Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for me to sink into the SPFBO and tell you guys what I think and why I think it. Like always, this first group of thirty books I broke up into five groups of six books. Each book will get a mini-review, generally about a paragraph or so, and an award (because every book has something wonderful to celebrate). At the end of this round, I will announce the winner of round one. When I’m done, there will be five finalist books (maybe more, look at this link for the details). Out of those five(ish), I will announce the one winner that will move on to the final round of books. That winner will compete with the other winners from other blogs to be the ultimate winner of the competition.
Hopefully some part of that paragraph made sense.
The House at the Edge of Time – Pat Pflieger
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This book is geared toward a younger audience, and I read a bit of it with my kid. She loved the story and the adventure, but some of the words confused her and I subsequently had to describe them to her (like monstrosity, which is on the first page). She’s almost six, so maybe this book is more suited toward kids that are a touch older. Regardless of that confusion, she ended up really enjoying herself. This is a really fun adventure about an absolutely irresistible kid who is looking for a friend and ends up traveling through time (which kind of reminds me of one of my kid’s favorite movies, the title of which is currently slipping my mind). The mansion ends up being a character in its own right, which I truly enjoyed. The adventure is fast, never a dull moment. If I had a few complaints, it was probably regarding some editing, for example some words felt a little older than the audience this book is intended for. Some of the pacing could have been evened out a little bit. Where this book excelled, though, was with its fun, and the incredible characters (including the mansion) that Pflieger crafted. While it wasn’t perfect, it was really enjoyable. I also absolutely adored the relationships that Max formed along the way. He ended up being a fantastic, genuine character, and the emotions he felt, and the relationships he formed felt very true to his evolution along the way.
Award: Best characters
The Last Priestess – Elizabeth Baxter
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This book interested me because of Maegwin. Maegwin was the last priestess of the peace loving goddess Sho-La. She’s set to be hung for killing some people. That’s interesting. Why would a peace loving adherent kill someone? Also, I’ve read a lot of fantasy involving people who enjoy killing things, and Maegwin seems to be juxtaposed to much of that. So yeah, that’s cool. Anyway, things get going, and while this is a good book, well written, and the plot really lets you sink into it, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before. There’s good and evil. Each character has a mysterious past and/or dark secrets. There’s the romantic interest, which I actually enjoyed even if it did feel a little abrupt. Things aren’t always what they seem, and the dark and light and the lines defining each are sharply, and predictably drawn. There are battles, both magical and otherwise, and you learn things along the way about this greater conflict that can be surprising and jarring. The writing is wonderful, though, and the plot moves at a nice pace, never leaving readers wanting for too long. And while this book did have a sort of tried and true vibe to it, I enjoyed it despite that. Sometimes you just want to read a good book, and you don’t really want to work too hard to enjoy it. That’s this book. It’s good. It’s interesting. It might not be incredibly unique, but it sets the stage for the series, and the series itself has the potential to turn any number of surprising directions.
Award: Easiest to enjoy
Soulbound – Bethany Adams
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I read this book really fast. Really, really fast. There are a few reasons for that. One, the concept was interesting, and so was the world and magic system. Two, it’s just easy to read. This tells the story of Arlyn. Arlyn’s mother dies and sends her to find her father, who is an elf living on an alternate earth/alternate reality/alternate planet than Earth. Arlyn is, therefore, half elf and half human. Upon finding her father, she pretty much runs into this stranger, who recognizes her as his soulmate. Along with all of this is a mysterious illness that is wiping out populations, and mysterious forces trying to kill someone for some reason (vague, I know, but I don’t like spoilers). A lot is going on, and a lot of this focuses on the bond between Alryn and her soulmate, and the various problems that face them both in coming to terms with their relationship. Arlyn meets her father and gets to know him, which was enjoyable and felt very natural. The soulbound thing was hard for me to come to grips with, because other than there being some vague pull between the two characters, I never really felt the connection and sometimes it was awkward. For example, there was one sex scene. It was two paragraphs long and I had to read it twice to figure out that sex was what was happening. I think it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever complained about a sex scene being too vague, but there it is. However, other aspects of the book were very well done, like Arlyn’s slowly developing relationship with her estranged father. The sickness was interesting and compelling. The magic system was fascinating (though the laying-out of said magic system occasionally got a bit info-dumpish). The mystery, the who-done-it portion of things was okay, a bit predictable, but it opened up the door for future books in the series. So Soulbound landed evenly on my radar. There are equal things good as not, and it was nothing that a little more editing couldn’t fix. Despite that, though, I did read this entire book, and I read it pretty fast so that should say something. It’s unique. It stands out. It’s a fun book to read if you’re looking for something a little popcorny, but with some substance.
Award: Most interesting world building
Quest Chasers: The Deadly Cavern – Grace and Thomas Lockhaven
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This book basically tells the story of two tweenaged kids who are hunting for a mysterious tree (two kids searching for a myth, in essence), and all their adventures and the problems they face along the way. The book moves really fast. There is always something happening, and some puzzle needs to be solved to get them out of the current situation. The characters are incredibly likable, and the adventure is rather surprising and relentless. I really loved the ending, and how everything came together. One of the best aspects of this book is that it was geared toward young adults, without feeling like it was geared toward young adults (IE: the authors never dumbed it down). Now, my few complaints are regarding editing. There were places where one word was used too frequently, which really jarred my flow, or certain points of discussion were hashed out a few too many times, making things feel redundant. A little tighter editing could launch this book into another stratosphere of awesome. As it lays, this is a really fun book set for kids. It’s an action/adventure trope full of challenges and all the things that challenges bring upon people. Loads of fun, and a book I highly enjoyed despite the fact that this isn’t usually the type of thing I read.
Award: The Most Fun
Valley of Embers – Steven Kelliher
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This is one of those books that is going to be hell to mini-review because there’s just so much to it. So many parts went into making this whole thing. I mean, wow. So yeah, it’s epic fantasy. The embers, people who weld flame and are general badasses, are the last line of defense against these horrific creatures that haunt the dark. In this world, there are only a few towns/villages left standing against the dark. There’s a lot of worry there, worry about people dying out and becoming extinct. There’s also talk of something bigger lurking there in the dark, which has the potential to unleash horrific things on the beleaguered inhabitants that are still living. This book is sprawling, and full of battles and emotional angst. It’s hard for me really to go into this book because, as I said, there is just so much here. Kelliher doesn’t take time introducing readers to his world and plot, he just sort of dives in with a huge battle, and the conversations that followed. There are memories of the world before these creatures threatened them, and then the world as it is now. It’s sort of apocalyptic feeling, and very dark, but also huge in so many ways. I’m picky on world building, and I think Kelliher did a great job at developing this secondary world and setting it all up for reader consumption. It will be easy for him to add to, and refine in future books in the series. My complaint, however, is regarding editing (I bet you never guessed that. It seems to be my theme right now). Some of the dialogue felt sort of emotionless. Some of the conversations or points of explanation/description could have been cut out without any huge impact on the book itself. Basically, things could have been tightened up a little bit, but even as the book rests in its current incarnation, it is a stunning, sprawling epic that had me hooked from page one.
Award: Most epic
Of Angels and Men – Jonathan Yanez
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I’m going to admit from the start that I struggled a bit with this one. There are a few reasons for that, but the first one was because the formatting I got in my copy made it very, very hard to read. Maybe I just got a bum copy, but yes, formatting matters, and it made me struggle. Secondly, there are flashbacks, and various time jumps of that nature in the book, and it made the flow overall feel disjointed and it jarred me. Occasionally I was confused about what was happening when and why. Also, the chapter lengths were… odd. I understand sometimes there is a need for chapters to not all be a uniform length, but the breaks in these chapters felt arbitrary. However, the book itself was pretty interesting. The main character struggles with depression, which I enjoyed. It was realistically dealt with and understandable in the context of his life. It was also just a part of him, rather than a tool used to push forward any plot device. The idea that the book circles around is really interesting, but ultimately the execution really kept me from diving too deep into this one, and I kind of regret it because it did seem really unique and a concept I’d like to explore.
Award: Most unique setting
Did not finish
The winner of round one is….
The next group should be posted in a week (barring health issues, of course) and they are….
T.O. Munro – The Medusa’s Daughter
Glenn G. Thater – Gateway to Nifleheim
Joyce Reynolds-Ward – Pledges of Honor
Brian Decker – Lamentation’s Peak
Joshua Robertson – The Blood of Dragons
Linn Tesli – Reborn