#SPFBO : My First Batch of Books – Update

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Today I’m posting an update for my first batch of SPFBO books (which can be found here).  This year I’m teaming up with the lovely ladies from the Critiquing Chemist and we split the batch of books equally – which gives me a little more time this year.

This month I read and reviewed my first four books and today I’m providing my feedback on which books will be cut or rolled forward.  At this point I’m not making any decisions on semi-finalists as the semi finalists will be decided by both blogs before agreement on a finalist is reached. We will each put forward hopefuls and then take it from there.

I would mention that this is ultimately the most difficult part of the competition for judges and authors.  I don’t find making cuts easy to be honest however it’s the nature of the competition.  There can be only one. I would also like to thank the authors of the books that are highlighted today for taking the decision to throw their hat into the ring.  It can’t be easy and I definitely applaud you for taking this step.

This month certainly got off to a great start.  I completely read all four books and I don’t think I could have asked for four more different reads.  A historical, alternate reality, portal book, UF with a unique concept, epic/high fantasy with intriguing magic and a YA high school adventure with witches and fae.  This is why I love fantasy.

All that being said I won’t keep you waiting longer, below are my first four books.

Stranded (The Shorten Chronicles #1) by Rosalind Tate

Stranded

Sophie Arundel is stranded in history, stuck in a grand house in 1925 England. Thankfully, she has her faithful dog Charlotte with her. Oh, and fellow student Hugo, annoying and charming in equal measure.

Baffled by upper-class rules, courted by boring suitors, Sophie is desperate to get back to the twenty-first century, but the only way home is through a hidden portal — and she must work with Hugo to unlock its secrets.

As one clue leads to another, Sophie and Hugo discover that history is unfolding differently. Mobs rule the streets. And when chaos turns into a deadly revolution, anyone in a grand house is fair game.

Sophie and Hugo are running out of time…

My review is here.

In a nutshell, Stranded is a very easy to read, cosy mystery.  There is a slow romance building and the attention to detail in terms of the period is very well done and interesting.  Clearly the author enjoyed writing this and it shone through.  I did have a couple of criticisms but nothing that left me wanting to put the book down.  It is a little light in terms of the fantasy elements however.

Conclusion: Cut

***

Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned (Reed Lavender #1) by Ashley Capes

Graves

At least when you’re Death’s nephew the bad guys literally have nowhere to hide, right?

Meet Reed Lavender, a mostly-human detective with the uncanny ability to hear the final words of the dead. But on this case he’ll need more than his usual tricks to solve the murder of a teen runaway – he’ll need something that just might be more trouble than it’s worth – the help of his ragtag Reaper-cousins.

But the deeper Reed digs the more he realises there’s something far bigger and darker beneath his city, something vast, something that is ripening to rot…

My review is here.

In a nutshell this is urban fantasy.  I loved the  concept of this one and also the writing.  The pacing is very fast, probably, for me, a little too fast as I found myself wanting to slow down a little and let things develop, take a breather maybe.  I have to say though that this was entertaining to read and I would definitely pick up more books in the series to see what the author comes up with next.  I think my real issue is I would have liked this to maybe take a little more time with the set up as I felt like I wanted  more  somehow.

Conclusion : Cut

***

Deathborn (Sovereigns of Bright and Shadow #1) by CE Page

Deathborn

Corruption is a disease with no cure that ends with a rapid descent into madness and violence. And until now it only targeted mages.

When an infected warden shows up challenging everything Margot thought she knew she is thrown into the chase to find the impossible cure. But to understand this new revelation she needs someone who knows possession … She needs Nea and lucky for Margot, her warden friend Garret has been tasked with tracking the rogue necromancer down.

Garret is used to dealing with dangerous mages so this should be like any other job: find the mage and deliver her to the king. But from the moment he finds Nea he is dragged into a deadly game of dark secrets and brutal machinations. Now he must make a choice: deliver Nea as promised and place a weapon in the hands of a madman or deny his king and change the lives of wardens and mages forever.

My review is here.

Conclusion : Roll Forward (I won’t elaborate further at this point, my review is linked above)

***

One of Us: the City of Secrets by ML Roberts

OneofUs

The witch wants her dead, the fae want her alive, the police want to bring her in for questioning. High school should not be this way.

Olivia knows the rules: study hard, never lie, do unto others, but when a witch makes the rules and the others are fae, telling the truth will get her locked up.

Last month she saw the impossible, now she sees it again. She tells herself it’s all in her head. How else explain a shining man who fell out of nowhere or a student who died but still lives?

She carries on with her usual activities: volleyball, pop quizzes, a favor for Mom, but denial won’t make it go away. When she thinks it can’t get any worse, it does.

Friends, enemies, the police, someone is lying. If not one of them, one of us.

My review is here.

In a nutshell this is YA high school fantasy.  I think it got off to a slightly shaky start, maybe a little bit of clunky dialogue here and there and perhaps a little overly drawn out in terms of really getting started.  But, once the action began I confess to being very entertained.  For me, it felt like the author gained in confidence as the story progressed and there was a chaotic, crazy popcorn munching vibe going on.  Yes, I enjoyed this,,the story hooked me as things progressed and I wanted to know what was going on.  There, however, is the rub. I did finish the story on a slight note of confusion, I know that there are more books (or is it book?) planned but I didn’t come away from this with a real understanding of motivations in terms of the central ‘baddies’. I admit that I’m not really the target audience for this one, but I think with a little more polish it would definitely be a series I could see myself continuing to read.

Conclusion : cut

My thanks again to the authors.

I will be posting my second batch of books very soon.

Deathborn (Sovereigns of Bright and Shadow #1) by CE Page #SPFBO

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Deathborn by CE Pages is the third SPFBO book that I read this month as part of the SPFBO Competition.  Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes is the second of the books I’ve read (review here) and Stranded by Rosalind Tate was my first book and my review can be found here.

I must say that I do love this cover – feast your eyes:

DeathbornDeathborn brings to readers an interesting world with Mages, a disease known as Corruption and a mad king desperate for absolute power.  

As the story begins we’re thrown into a situation involving a number of friends who witness a disturbing find regarding the spread of Corruption that starts them on a desperate search for answers. 

Okay, let me just throw in here a little background or world building before anything else.  This is a world with mages, each with different magical abilities depending on the element they are in control of.  There are mages that heal or control storms for example and those with the ability to control the spirit world are known as necromancers.  Wardens work for the Order and are used to keep mages under control – basically, they suppress a mage’s connection to the source of power that they draw from leaving them unable to use magic.  The King wants to take control of the Order in a political maneuver that is not popular with everyone, particularly as it essentially means he would also take control of mages, and this has caused rifts to develop in the Order.  On top of this, three years prior, a dreadful event took place at a college called Kalhanna, all the mages were wiped out or purged and a necromancer known as Nea is rumoured to be responsible and has been in hiding since although not everyone believes the rumours.  

Now, with that in mind, we return to the start of the story where a warden has just burst onto the scene, infected with Corruption.  This could be the start of disaster (the disease having only affected mages prior to this), a cure must be found and in order to do so our characters need to take immediate action, they also need to locate Nea who can potentially help them with searching for a cure – unfortunately, they’re not the only ones looking for her.  King Evard has asked one of his Warden Commanders, Garret, to locate her and bring her in.

The main characters we immediately meet are Margot, a mage and healer, Declan who is working on a cure for Corruption, and Garret a Warden Commander.  They discover information about a journal that could help with a cure and could also be the location where Nea is hiding out – so, two birds one stone.

From here the plot moves forward as each of the pov characters continues with their tasks.  The chapters alternate between Margot, Nea and Garret although Margot has less involvement following events in the earlier chapters that i won’t elaborate on here.  To cut a long story short Garret is searching for Nea and when the two meet his loyalty will be tested.  Nea has her own story and her own reasons for hiding and handing her over to the king could be very dangerous.

I had a good time with Deathborn, with a few reservations.  The writing is good, the characters were set up well, there were complicated relationships and politics involved I thought Page did an excellent job of setting up the magic and had clearly given a lot of thought to how everything came together.  For example, The Barrier and the Between.  The Between is the realm of spirits and the barrier keeps the realms apart.  To be honest, the actual world itself was only fairly briefly drawn, it feels mediaeval in terms of weapons, forts, etc, but the magic, the world of the mages and other related issues such as Deathborn and Reanimations are well thought out and keep the story interesting.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, the start of the book involves looking for Nea – she’s been in hiding for three years as I mentioned above.  Two things that puzzled me about that were firstly, that the king didn’t take any steps prior to this, why was there a three year gap where nothing seemed to happen?  (Slight spoiler : I don’t understand why Margot only now became useful as a pawn).  Secondly, I wouldn’t say that Nea was particularly well hidden – but I think that might be just a misunderstanding on my part, Garret seemed to find her easy enough but then he had co-operation from others in order to do so (co-operation that wouldn’t have been forthcoming for the king).  That aside there was a certain amount of going back and forth which started to feel a bit frustrating and I felt particularly exasperated with one of the decisions that Garret makes during the story that made me wonder what he was thinking – but. again, I’m thinking not to include spoilers here so won’t go into more detail.

On the whole though this was an enjoyable read.  I felt myself engaging well with the characters, I thought the magic system was well developed, the pacing was good and it sets up well for the next instalment (although I would point out that this doesn’t end on a note of completion).

I received a copy courtesy of the author for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.