Atlas by Becca C. Smith

Atlas by Becca C. Smith

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Kala Hicks is part of a covert elite military team that answers directly to the President of the United States. But during an emergency mission aboard Air Force One, Kala is shocked to discover that the real threat is none other than the President himself. Defying her commanding officer, Jack Norbin, Kala takes the shot, and her life changes forever.

The moment the President is killed, a supernatural force speaks to Kala, telling her that she has to commit one act of atrocity every four days… or the world will end. Thrown into a reality she never could have imagined, Kala faces off with creatures of legend; from demons determined to make her fail and plunge the Earth into chaos, to angels who don’t trust her to do the job and are willing to kill her to claim it for themselves.

Pitted against the forces of good and evil, Kala must choose whether to save the world by doing the unthinkable, or sit back and let it burn. And four days later, she’ll have to do it again.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ll admit that with this one I was a little skeptical once I actually read the blurb.  To be honest, it sounded a little dumb and I thought that I’d accidentally signed up to read a total lemon.  Thankfully, that was far from the case.  This one is a diamond in the rough, so to speak.

The real strength of Smith’s writing is the fact that she can pace things so well.  I felt the tension ratchet up right from the beginning until it was at almost unbearable levels during the climax.  There were twists and turns in the plot, with plenty of “didn’t see that coming moments”.  I didn’t even see the end coming when Kala did something so unexpected that she shocked angels, demons and those in-betweeners that are desperate to keep up the balance of the world through an Atlas.  Some are determined to stop her and others are still more determined that she should succeed, so in the end who will win?  You just really don’t know.

Kala is a good character and she is quite memorable.  Having grown up largely in foster care until her teen years, she understandably has some trust issues, particularly in her relationships.  Her backstory is fascinating but just when you think you know everything about her, we learn something very interesting about her foster parents and who/what they really are.  What I really liked was her determination in the beginning to find a way out of becoming the next Atlas.  She doesn’t want to commit the atrocity that’s been assigned to her, but she doesn’t want literally billions of people to die.  It’s a fascinating inner struggle, believe me.

I really appreciated Becca Smith’s world-building.  She clearly knows a lot about Greek mythology (which you would expect) but she goes deeper into Christian theology in order to create some of her other creatures like the Grigori and Malaks.  I would have liked a little more time devoted to the creation and working of magic, but then that would have slowed down the plot and thrown the pacing off.  We still have good working knowledge of the whole different world Becca Smith created, but it’s more of a personal preference for me that I would have liked a little more.

All in all, this is actually a pretty good book and I’m glad that I went into it with an open mind, rather than judging it entirely on the blurb.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Castle Blues Quake by Linda Covella

The Castle Blues Quake by Linda Covella(Cover picture courtesy of Patch.com)

12-year-old Pepper Connelly leaves her best friend, Chrissie, behind when her family moves from New York City to Santa Cruz, CA. Pepper discovers a boy, Corey, hiding in her backyard shed. Unknown to Pepper, Corey is a ghost trying to contact his grandfather, Boppie, before he crosses over. He tells Pepper he must locate Boppie before Social Services finds him. Pepper agrees to help.

While Pepper’s communication with Chrissie dwindles, her friendship with Corey grows. She tells Corey about her passion for writing songs, and throughout the story, she composes a song about Corey. Corey teaches Pepper to play the harmonica. Soon, she’s torn between finding Boppie and knowing when she does, Corey will certainly go back on the road with his traveling-musician grandfather.

Other characters help her on her quest: new classmate Ally Cressman, who dresses in an odd-ball, non-mall style; Sawtooth Sam, the mysterious saw-playing street musician; and Madame Mchumba, who performs her psychic readings at the Boardwalk amusement park. Earthquakes, haunted house rides, poltergeists, and crystal ball readings propel Pepper toward the end of her search as she learns about the give and take, the heartache and joy, of true friendship.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

This is definitely a middle grade novel, probably one that’s not really all that suited for teens, but I decided to give The Castle Blues Quake a try anyway.  It wasn’t a bad decision in the end either.

Even though some characters are walking stereotypes, the main characters are at least a little fleshed out.  Pepper has had to move to a new house in Santa Cruz from New York City so she’s understandably not happy with the situation.  She’s drifting apart from her big city friend but then she makes a new friend: the house ghost, Corey.  The only problem?  She doesn’t know he’s a ghost and he’s not about to tell her he is either.  He’s waiting for his grandfather the whole novel (which would normally make him a boring character) but Corey is actually quite proactive.  He and Pepper essentially set out on a quest to bring his grandpa back home, not knowing that grandpa has secrets of his own.

My only real ‘complaint’ about the book is that the secondary characters should have been fleshed out more.  Sage, Pepper’s parents, the psychic, etc.  Even for a middle grade novel they were surprisingly stiff, like they were cardboard cutouts.  All they really served was to move the plot forward at convenient intervals.  Pepper’s parents especially seemed pretty oblivious to the goings on of their twelve-year-old so there was a little of that believability factor missing.  Still, this is not a bad novel.  It’s just not a great one.

I’ve read quite a few stories like this before so the plot was really no surprise at all for me.  I don’t want to give spoilers away, but I think it will probably be predictable even for the targeted audience.  Still, I like that Linda Covella maintained a decent pace throughout the novel and didn’t belabour the point in her descriptions yet the reader knows what’s going on.  As an older reader I felt the believability factor was a little low, but then again I’m not a 9-12 year old and haven’t been for a number of years.

The Castle Blues Quake is not a book made for my demographic, but it’s not a bad book for middle grade children.  There are better novels out there, but there are also a lot worse ones.  This book didn’t make me gasp in surprise or struggle to catch my breath because it was so beautiful, but it was a solid, generally well-written novel.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Discussion: Your Experience with ARCs

(I won’t be here most of the day but I will reply to discussion comments later this evening.)

ARCs are simply advanced reading copies of novels from publishers or authors.  They’re actually pretty simple when you think about it but they seem to cause a lot of controversy and drama in the book blogging world.  One blogger gets a coveted ARC, another doesn’t, you know how it goes.  But I don’t want to talk about drama today.  I’m going to be facing middle school girl drama most of the day already (I’m refereeing a volleyball tournament).

What I want to talk about is your personal experience with ARCs as a blogger.  Do you ever get physical ARCs in the mail?  Or are you all digital now?  Which is your preference?  And of the ARCs you’ve received, which is/are your favourite(s)?

My personal favourite is one I just got, The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton.  I had reviewed and loved her Daughter of the Gods so when the tour for her latest book came out I immediately jumped on it.  To my surprise, I got a personalized, signed ARC in the mail with the coolest note in a little scroll.  Stuff like that really shows an author cares about their readers, you know?  And I really do appreciate that.

If you’re an author, what has your experience been with sending out ARCs?  Did they get a good reception?  Was it worth it from a publicity point of view?  And, finally, would you do it again?

Book Blast: Gold Rush Deluge by Suzanne Lilly

 

Too late she realizes Kersey has a dark and murderous past
 

 

Publication Date: August 23, 2014
Genre: Historical Romance

When Lucinda Martin York and George Arnold leave Diggers Flat during a rainstorm, the Sacramento and American rivers crest, causing a deluge of epic proportions that engulfs the town of Sacramento. While Lucinda uses her medical skills to help save the citizens, George proposes a plan to stop the floodwaters and save the town.

Lucinda holds fast to her dream of becoming a doctor and apprentices to Dr. Mitchell Kersey. She falls under his spell, and too late she realizes Kersey has a dark and murderous past that has followed him to California. The danger she finds herself enmeshed in may end her dreams before they have even begun.

Based on historical events of 1850 Sacramento, Gold Rush Deluge is riveting and romantic.

 

 

 

Suzanne Lilly is a teacher and a writer who occasionally takes time off to zipline in Alaska, teach in China, and traipse around Rome. She writes sweet stories with a splash of suspense, a flash of the unexplained, a dash of romance, and always a happy ending.

Sign up for her email newsletter to find out about upcoming books before anyone else. You’ll also get exclusive bonus materials and contests just for subscribers. One subscriber is chosen to win a $25 gift card each time the newsletter comes out.

“Yes I Can Do” and Other Weird Search Terms

Hooray, it’s time for another weird search term round-up!  I don’t have any really freaky ones this time around, but some of them are just way out there:

yes i can do

dj mainwolf

mad track chellenge

justice road

not every important lesson in life can be learned from books

cleopatra was a sociopath

game of thrones hot girls

game of throne characters nude and dressed

sightless skew

And, the crowning glory:

astrophysicists who are familiar with asteroids who have died


I don’t recall ever talking about astrophysicists or really much about asteroids, let alone about dead astrophysicists who studied asteroids.  That search term was almost as puzzling as ‘sightless skew’, which I have no clue about.  The weirdest one by far was “yes i can do”.  Why would you search that phrase?  And, more importantly, why did it land that person on my blog?  Ah, the great mysteries of life.

So what do you guys think of these search terms?  Can you explain some of the weirder ones?  And have you personally received any weird search terms lately?

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

Once again, master storyteller Eva Wiseman brings history to life in this riveting and tragic novel.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I honestly couldn’t have been more disappointed in this novel; it’s pretty hard to make a story set in the Spanish Inquisition boring but Eva Wiseman certainly managed to.  The main problem was that the writing style of this book is awful.  It’s essentially this: Isabel did [x].  She didn’t know how she felt about it.  Then she reacted to [y].  She felt sad about it.

Are you snoring yet?  That’s basically how the entire book goes.  We are told something happens, then told how Isabel feels about it without actually seeing what happens or seeing anything resembling emotions from our main character.  It’s like she’s carved from wood!  Not only that, there are so many inconsistencies in her character because she goes from “Ugh, Jews” to “sure I’ll go dress as a boy, sneak out of my house and go to a Torah study session with this boy I just met a couple of days ago”.  We’re told she warred about the decision but it really didn’t feel like it at all.  Just like when we’re told she’s worried about her father in Torquemada’s custody but you don’t really get the feeling that she is.

This is a middle grade novel so obviously some things are left out or simplified, but with this excruciatingly boring kind of writing style it was also impossible to empathize with any of the characters.  They’re basically just stereotypes that you find in a thousand other middle grade novels.  Isabel is the poor little rich girl who’s betrothed to a man she hates, her mother is the melodramatic sickly type, her father has always been the supportive and encouraging one who then admonishes her for thinking independently, etc.  Even Yonah, a character who could have been quite interesting, was boring because Eva Wiseman never really went into the hows and whys of his character.  He just exists to guide Isabel to Judaism and be the love interest, not to have anything resembling a personality.

My final problem with this book is that it was so predictable.  A poor little rich girl gets betrothed to a man she hates, something comes along that makes that betrothal impossible and she gets to marry the man of her dreams, usually a person of much lower rank and/or wealth.  Pretty much the whole book was summarized in the blurb above, so there were no real surprises in either the characters or the plot.  The Last Song wasn’t even particularly poignant at the end, when the Jews and ‘Moors’ are expelled from Spain on pain of death.  It should have been a touching, sad moment but it wasn’t.  This book just totally lacked emotion.

What can I say?  If you like being told a story but not actually having to think about it for yourself and discover things about the characters, I suppose this book is for you.  If you like three dimensional characters or unpredictable plots, I can’t even recommend it.  I just don’t see where there’s anyone who would like this novel, aside from pre-teens and early teens who have never read about the Spanish Inquisition.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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Between by Megan Whitmer

Between by Megan Whitmer(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When a supernatural freak of nature forces her family to separate, seventeen-year-old Charlie Page must turn to her frustrating (yet gorgeous) neighbor, Seth, to help reunite them. Seth whisks Charlie to Ellauria—a magical world filled with the creatures of myths and legends—and tells her of the Fellowship, the group charged with protecting mystical beings from human discovery. (All except Bigfoot: that attention whore is a total lost cause.) But when Charlie learns that she’s under the Fellowship’s protection herself, well, “stressed” is an understatement.

Ellauria should be the safest place for Charlie while the Fellowship works to find her family, but things in the mystical realm aren’t what they seem.

Magic is failing, creatures are dying, and the Fellowship insists Charlie holds the key to saving everyone. With her family still missing and the danger in Ellauria growing, Charlie doesn’t know who she can trust. She’s dealing with a power she never asked for, falling for a guy she can’t have, and being forced to choose between her destiny and her heart. And if she chooses wrong, she could destroy magic forever.

Charlie may be in over her head.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I wavered on requesting this one for ages.  It sort of sounded like your typical fantasy (girl has special powers, gets attacked, hot protector dude steps in to save the day, whisks her away to a strange land to master her skills, etc.) and that made me a little reluctant, but at the same time I fell in love with the cover.  It’s a shallow reason for reading a book, I know, but it did look interesting and that’s why I requested it in the end.

Luckily for me, Between is actually a pretty good book.

The thing that impressed me most was Megan Whitmer’s world-building.  Not only does she populate Ellauria and Earth with familiar creatures like sirens, harpies, elves and fairies, she adds in creatures that you don’t see very often (ones that I’m pretty sure she created) like jourlings and the ever-important dying race of muralets.  Instead of being one happy quasi-Medieval world, Ellauria is full of politics and danger lurks behind every corner.  Not everything is as it seems and trust me when I say that everyone seems to be playing their cards close to their chests.

I have to admit, the characters were decent enough as well.  Charlie is far from the Mary Sue you so often see in these types of books simply because she actually has to work to develop her powers.  At the same time, she’s constantly worried about her missing brother and mother and she thinks she’s falling in love with the one man she really, really shouldn’t.  Add to that the fact that the Between, the source of all magic, seems to be dying.  She’s stressed constantly and you can really tell, unlike some books where the main characters doesn’t seem to be fazed by anything.  Seth is your typical tragic bodyguard character archetype but he also has quite a bit of depth and I was really starting to enjoy his character by the end.  The only one that disappointed me was Charlie’s brother and I can’t tell you about that without giving away spoilers.

The only thing I was disappointed with is the plot.  For most of the book, it really seemed like Charlie and Seth were wandering around with very little purpose with training scenes thrown in to spice things up.  But then at the end, when we meet the bad guy, I was supremely disappointed.  Let’s just say that the man at his side was a walking stereotype that has been used so many times in the good vs. evil fantasy novels.  It was kind of disappointing when the rest of the book had been so strong.  Still, I will read the second book when it comes out.  The cliffhanger at the end was just too much to ignore!

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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