#SPFBO Spotlight : the second set of five: update

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This is my second update for the books I’ve so far started to read or select as part of the SPFBO.  As part of the SPFBO (details here) I chose my first five books to look at during the course of May and my update post for the first five is here.  The book that I took forward at that stage was Rebel’s Honor by Gwynn White review here.

The book choices are being randomly picked by family and friends and the second set of books was chosen and posted about here.  As I’ve already stated I’m trying to take a different stance this year, aiming to read about 20% of the book or five chapters (which I think should be enough to give me a fair idea of whether or not the book could be my potential final choice).  Basically, if one of the books is standing out above the other four then that will be the clear choice from that section.  There can be only one!

My next set of five are below.  I’ve added underneath each a synopsis (taken from Goodreads).  I’ve included my thoughts so far for each one – these are brief and not intended as full reviews as I haven’t concluded any of the books at this point.  Any books that I complete I will review (or at least that is my aim).  Also,  I hope that my comments don’t come across as too blunt – I certainly don’t intend any upset to the authors involved.

All of the above being said, this month’s selection have not gone according to plan!  They just didn’t play fair and in fact I’m not quite sure at this stage which book I intend to take forward!  I’ve certainly enjoyed the reads so far this month.

  1. Greg Little – Unwilling Souls by Greg Little

Unwilling SoulsSes Lucani has never known her parents. Powerful leaders in the cold war left over after the gods’ imprisonment, Ses’s mother and father are now bitter rivals, each pretending their secret daughter doesn’t exist. Raised by her grandfather, Ses now lives in the hollowed-out center of the planet and learns to forge wrightings, tools imbued with soul energy and used to maintain the prison of the gods. When terrorists attack the prison on her sixteenth birthday, Ses is forced to flee after the ensuing investigation reveals the secret of her parentage. Suddenly, the very parents who abandoned her may be the only people she can trust. Running from government operatives and fanatic cultists, Ses meets Murien, a boy with fingers in a shadowy network that can lead her to her father. But some secrets are darker than parentage. On her way to find her father, Ses will uncover truths about her family and herself that will shatter her understanding of the world and risk the return of the gods themselves.

This was my first read out of the batch and I have to say that so far, with a few reservations, this is an easy read.  I can’t say that I really have a handle on the world yet or the way of life but this is definitely an entertaining start.  I’ve read up to Chapter Eight (25%) and think I will read a little further as I’m still undecided with this batch.  In terms of criticism – Ses, the main protagonist is easy to like although clearly I’m not quite invested yet!  Some of her near scrapes have a sheer luck type of feel to them which I don’t mind in one respect as at least she’s not proving to be superhuman!  The world, is a little odd and I struggled a little at the immediate start when Ses was living in the core – which felt a little bit like she was living in space.  I would like to know more about the skeletons of huge creatures that are now carved out into cities – this is certainly an interesting concept and I hope it is further explored.  A few little niggles – things like Ses being sent, as an apprentice, to investigate a disturbance at the start of the book.  Why would you send an apprentice to check out danger in this way – obviously they have to learn but it makes more sense to send somebody with experience and maybe take an apprentice?  – not just send them out on their own to make sure everything is safe and sound (yep, I’m sleeping easily now).  Only a tiny thing to be honest but gives a sense of a couple of the little niggles I had.  Another would be Ses finding her way home to her Grandfather and him leaving her first thing in the morning – I couldn’t help wonder why she wasn’t more cautious – or why her grandfather didn’t help her or speak to her more – but, it’s possible that there are reasons behind this, perhaps akin to a test of her ability to see how she manages??   As it is I will read some more of this one as I am as yet undecided.

2. Ash & Flame by Wilson Geiger

Ash and FlameThe Accord has been broken, the balance of Heaven and Hell shattered.

The war between the armies of Heaven and Hell has been waged on Earth, leaving the world a cracked husk. Humanity clings to life, hidden in the ruins of former cities, seeking refuge from the demons that walk the streets and the angels that soar the darkened skies.

From the mind of Wilson Geiger comes a new series, a frightening vision of the fall of mankind.

Ren and his young daughter, Emma, struggle for survival. When Ren and Emma find refuge at the Haven, a stronghold guarded by the angel Ithuriel and his band of blessed human soldiers against demonic forces lead by Azazel, they may have found the home they so desperately need.

But in the aftermath of the broken Accord, in a world where nowhere is safe, no one can be trusted, and one misstep can lead to death and desolation of the soul, the lines between good and evil blur. Angels cater to their own agendas. Demons wear familiar faces. No one is without a secret. And the dark secrets that Ren and Emma shield from the world and from each other have the power to tip the balance. But in whose favor?

This is the world of Ash and Flame, a dangerous, sinister new place, where survival is more than just staying alive.

Ash and Flame has an apocalyptic, end of world type feel.  Father and daughter seem to be wandering from place to place, barely surviving.  At first I thought it might have a  zombie world type feel but this is actually far from the truth.  Heaven and Hell are basically having a massive fall out and the planet and people are suffering as a result.  What I enjoyed about this so far is it’s really quite fast paced, the story was originally released in five episodes and basically I’m already into episode 3!  It’s very easy to read and have a feel for the world and there feels like there’s a reveal just simply waiting to happen.  In terms of criticisms so far – I’m not convinced that enough attention is paid to the characters’ emotions, I’m not really feeling the fear or the paranoia, etc, even though I’m being told that they’re there and I think this is to do with the shortness of each episode.  When Ren and his daughter are saved for example, they’re taken to a strange camp where the leader is immediately very antagonistic.  The whole thing felt a little forced – maybe just not given enough time to develop.  That being said this is quite an interesting story so far and I would like to find out a little more of what is going on here.  I will definitely read on with this as I’m intrigued.  One of my major niggles with the story – and I’m sorry that this probably sounds really foolish – is the father constantly calling his daughter ‘baby doll’.  It’s irrational I know but I found it overwhelmingly irritating – as did Emma herself   As it is there are some intriguing elements to this story although it feels a little shallow.

the Ruling Elite3. The Ruling Elite and Other Stories by Xina Marie Uhl & Janet Loftis 

The Ruling Elite and Other Stories is a collection of short fantasy from Xina Marie Uhl and Janet Loftis. Here you’ll find a slave-mercenary struggling to save the life of his mistress, a palace guard defending his city against the destroyer of prophecy, a wanderer who brings more than just past grief into the lives of four sisters, two men who go on a dangerous hunt to kill the witches destroying their village, an outcast trying to outwit the village oracle and get justice for her murdered mother, and a captain who discovers how high the cost is to return the dead to their rightful homes.

Come read stories which fuse fantasy with history and anthropology by two of XC Publishing’s most talented writers.

Just to be honest and upfront I’m going to confess two things immediately.  Firstly, I’m not a lover of short stories or anthologies although I have read and enjoyed a few and I admit that they’re a great way of getting a ‘feel’ for an author – they’re not really my type of thing though as I like to have a book that I can sink my teeth into.  Secondly, as a book of short stories I wouldn’t be putting this forward as my final book.  Now, that may seem terribly unfair but I know that ultimately I won’t want to put forward a collection of short stories – even if they’re excellent.  Apologies but I’m justing saying it the way it is which seems to be more straightforward.  Now, as it is, I still wanted to give this a chance and so I read the first story by each author and I was really impressed with both stories in terms of writing and in fact I had my usual complaint with both in that I wanted more because the concepts that both authors have come up with are intriguing.  The first story I read was the Ruling Elite – I enjoyed this, the writing is strong and I like the ideas that were formed, the author mentions another novel called Necropolis and on the strength of this short story I would be very tempted to take a look at that.  The second story was Skin Job – this was quite a fascinating little tale too – the only issue I had with this, because it was certainly well told, is that it almost feels like it’s been lifted out of a larger story and delivered as a snippet – quite possibly the author has written a larger story?  In terms of short stories though, and as much as I enjoyed the writing here it felt very much like I wanted to know more.  In that respect I didn’t feel like this short story worked quite as well as the first even though it was well told.

4. Vergence by John March

VergenceEbryn has trained as a caster from a young age. He sets out to find a place for himself, travelling to Vergence city, where he hopes to be accepted amongst his own kind.

But Ebryn doesn’t know he carries a dangerous secret with him. A secret which threatens to overturn the delicate balance between the factions vying for dominance in the city, the heart of a great trading empire.

Orim, a skilled warrior, is sent by the ruler of Vergence to discover the truth. Opposing Orim is a deadly assassin, tasked with permanently burying the past.
As the struggle for control of the city starts to unfold Ebryn finds he’s not the only one with a hidden history.

Vergence was actually the last book that I picked up.  It’s a very positive start so far and I’ve quite easily read the first 20% – I will definitely continue to read more of this one to see how it develops.  I’m not saying too much about this one yet as I’ve not read quite as far forward but so far I like what I’ve read.

5. Loose Changeling by A G Stewart

Loose ChangelingWhen Nicole catches her husband in bed with another woman, she doesn’t just eject him from the premises—she turns his mistress into a mouse.

It’s not as if she meant to. Far as she knew, she was regular-issue human. So she’s mystified (and mortified) when Kailen, Fae-for-hire, shows up on her doorstep the next day, hits on her, and then drops this bomb: she’s a Changeling, a Fae raised among mortals. The doorways between the Fae and mortal worlds have been sealed shut for a millennium, but now are opening randomly at an alarming rate, and mortals are turning up dead. Kailen’s employers believe she’s the only one who can close them.

Nicole would be happy to oblige and get her life back to normal, but she’s developed a magical block. Not only does she fail to turn her husband’s mistress back into a human, she can’t do any magic unless she’s angry–and she’s only angry enough when her husband’s in the room. Before Nicole can say “I don’t believe in fairies,” she’s jumping between the Fae and mortal worlds with her soon-to-be-ex, his mousy mistress, and the Fae bodyguard she’s increasingly attracted to, trying to figure out who’s opening the doorways and why.

And she’d better stay mad and learn how to use her powers quickly, because there’s a price on her head. Any magic a Changeling performs cannot be undone by another Fae, so the Fae have a simple rule for those like Nicole—kill on sight.

I have to say that this is a very entertaining read so far and I’m enjoying it.  Again, to be fair, I’m not sure that it would be my overall book put forward – although you never know and I do intend to read further so I’m not discounting anything at this stage.  At the moment I’m enjoying the story.  It has an urban fantasy type feel.  A fae tale of changelings which I do usually enjoy and overall I genuinely admit to this being a fun read.  In terms of criticisms – well, we have Kailen, who is a sort of mercenary fae – who pretty much so far, apart from being mind candy, is a bit useless.  He’s forever looking at his watch that bleeps constantly – to be told, ‘we have five minutes’, only to find out they didn’t have five minutes just as some hell hounds or such like bursts through the walls – maybe he needs that watch looking at!  He just doesn’t make rational decisions for somebody who is supposed to be a professional at what he’s doing – in fact he seems to almost let Nicole call the shots – and for the record, I’m not averse to Nicole calling the shots except at the moment she’s only just found out the whole existence of the fae!  Criticisms aside though I have to hand it to the author so far for giving me a read that I’m keen to carry on and see how it develops.

So, to round up – I’d say that Unwilling Souls and Vergence are probably the two books that are currently in the running and need a little bit more exploration before I make a choice – perhaps I’ll just fully read and review both.  For that matter, although I can’t quite see them being my final book I think Loose Changeling and Ash and Flame definitely warrant more reading – whilst I’m not saying that they might be ‘the one’ at this point I would be happy to read and review.  Ash and Flame is a quick read and I’m already half way through and Loose Changeling is just turning out to be fun.

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26 Responses to “#SPFBO Spotlight : the second set of five: update”

  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    “Unwilling Souls” has a few fascinating premises, especially the civilization built inside the world and the cities carved out from the skeletons of huge ancient creatures. I more than look forward to hearing more about this one!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It has some good ideas and I need to read a little further on with a few – well definitely this and Vergence I think.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    This batch sure has some professional looking covers, which is one step in the right direction. Glad that you found a few you are anxious to continue reading:-)

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I think I’m probably falling into the same ‘trap’ that I did last year – just keep reading a little bit more in case! I am enjoying some of these though.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Having a round where there’s more than one book that stands out to you, ooh! Good luck to the authors 🙂 I also understand your rationale for not putting forward a collection of short stories (as interesting as it sounds)…I think it was in the rules only novels anyway.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I can’t put forward the short stories – the two I read were very polished and would encourage me to pick up the authors if they wrote something a little longer.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Yeah, I just don’t see short stories competing well in this. It’s a completely different format, and comparing them with full length novels just won’t work well (which is why they are not in the same categories for awards. They either go in Anthology or individually as Short Stories.)

    • @lynnsbooks

      Absolutely – I’ve given both the authors a go just to highlight them but they can’t go forward unfortunately.
      Lynn 😀

      • Xina Marie Uhl

        Thanks for taking the time to look at our short story collection, Lynn. Would you be interested in receiving a review copy of my full length novel Necropolis? I’m disappointed that the collection won’t be moved forward in the competition, but I understand. It’s really difficult to find a place for them, unfortunately, though some have been professionally published. Anyhow, I hope to hear from you.

      • @lynnsbooks

        I really enjoyed your short story – I read one of yours and also one of Janet’s. I realise it must be a disappointment to not go further forward in this round but I can genuinely say that for someone who, as a rule, doesn’t like short stores, I thought they were both really very well done. On balance I preferred The Ruling Elite and I noticed that you mentioned Necropolis – I would be interested in reading this based on your short story – although I couldn’t give a firm promise to fit it in immediately because the next four months of the SPFBO are pretty intense for me – as I have the 30 books plus my review books. I could probably try to read it during the period of the second round though where there are 10 books as oppose to 30. If that works out for you then let me know.
        Thanks for commenting. I am sorry I didn’t really feel like I could move this one into the next round but I’m so pleased you took part. I really appreciate the contributions from all the authors.
        Lynn 😀

  5. sjhigbee

    Wow. This round certainly has some strong contenders. I’m soooo glad I’m not in your shoes and much respect for doing this. I love the premise of Loose Changeling:)

    • @lynnsbooks

      Loose Changeling has been really quite entertaining. I’m enjoying the challenge so far.
      Lynn 😀

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  7. #SPFBO Spotlight : the third set of books.. | Books and travelling with Lynn

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