#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.

#SPFBO : My First Batch of Books – Update

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The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  My first batch of books post is here.

The aim of these updates is to provide feedback on each batch of books.  I aim to read at least 30% of all my books and then make a decision whether to roll any books forward from that batch.  Any books that I decide to roll forward I will continue reading and provide a review and a decision about whether that book will be a semi finalist.  I will provide mini reviews for the books that are being cut.  I will not rate these books as I think it will be difficult to do so having only read the first third of the book.

Below are my books from the first batch and my decision about which will be cut or rolled forward.  I realise this is really difficult for all the authors and so I want to state plainly that I don’t find these cuts easy to make or enjoyable.  However, I do have to make cuts.  I can have only one finalist by the conclusion of the first half of the competition and so 29 books will eventually be removed.

The Curse of the Jenri by Stephanie Barr

CurseCurse of the Jenri is a high fantasy novel with a pseudo mediaeval feel.  As the story begins we witness a man (Tander) being rescued from prison and torture by his partner (Layla)  Layla is a member of a feared tribe of women known as the Jenri.  The Jenri wield both magic and swords, and have a fearsome reputation.  Unfortunately, it appears that something or someone is stealing the Jenri women using powerful magic and with Layla missing Tander must take control and lead the search.

This is a book that I would say is aimed at a young adult audience, although I’m basing that on the point at which I broke off  (31%) so could be wrong.  My first impressions are that there is no cursing here, the main characters are portrayed as ‘sexy’ but I wasn’t aware of any scenes of a sexual nature and the fights and bloodshed are definitely not graphic.  **Amendment to the above: on the author’s advice I understand this book is not aimed at a YA audience as the content becomes much darker as the story progresses so please be advised accordingly.

The Jenri women are magic users, their magic seems to be assisted by the jewels they wear and some of the women have ‘familiars.  On top of this the history of the tribe can be recounted through an archivist who has the magical ability to cast a scene in a vivid and real way.

In term of my impressions at this point: I would say that the author is going for a good, clean, fun read. It felt a little young for my taste with certain elements feeling almost overly sweet – which is something that gives me pause about the audience this is aimed at. By way of example, unicorns are the Jenri’s steed of choice and a whole litter of kittens seem to have adopted Tander as their human of choice – indicating that he will himself have magical ability that will no doubt manifest as the story progresses. The other issues that I had with this is it feels very light.  We’re told that the Jenri are fearsome but I’m not really picking that up from the read at this point. I  didn’t have any strong issues reading my alloted 30% but it isn’t a book that I will be rolling forward.  **This may appeal to a younger audience who are new to fantasy and want something light, fun and maybe a little romantic with a ‘chosen one’ feel.  I have only read the first third of the book though so I can’t speak for the remainder of the story or whether or not things take a darker turn. – **Again, see the above amendment.  I wouldn’t want to encourage the wrong audience to pick this up and understand that the content turns much darker.  These comments are based on the first 30% of the book only.

Conclusion: Cut

Chains Carried on Wings by Marina Ermakova

ChainsChains Carried on Wings made a promising start and was intriguing and well written to the point at which I broke off.  The story is told through four pov characters.  Ande, is a Kingsman who seems to have been sent out on a quest to investigate the smaller towns looking for signs of sedition.  We have a young woman called Saig who longs to be allowed to do things outside the norm.  Her cousin Auris is all set to be the next headwoman and dislikes Saig’s headstrong behaviour and finally a young man called Trei – who seems desperate to prove himself.

As the story gets underway it becomes apparent that everyone is on edge following the mysterious disappearance of a number of people. As if this isn’t enough the city suffers a couple of random goblin attacks and then an outright attack that forces people to flee into the forest or further afield.

I read quite a bit further than originally intended with this one reading over 40%.  It is an engaging read in many respects. I liked the writing and was intrigued by the people of Running Water and their everyday lives.

Obviously something larger is at play here although at this point I’m not entirely sure what that is.

In terms of magic, this seems to be related mainly to the goblins at this point who can manifest without warning.

In terms of issues that I have so far – I’m not particularly attached to any of the main characters, which isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed what I’ve read.  I think Ande is my favourite character at this point and Saig also shows promise.

I think this would definitely appeal to a YA audience – although, tbh, I’m not an expert at determining these things.  The characters seem quite young (although that’s not always a guarantee) but the cursing, violence and sexual content seems more aimed at that audience (at this point).  It’s difficult to say how the story will develop but I imagine there will be more danger, some sort of elaborate plan and hopefully these characters will eventually pull together in times of adversary.

Conclusion : Cut

Incursion by Mitchell Hogan

Incursion

I have decided to roll incursion forward and read further so no mini review for the moment.  If I read the entire book I will post a full review and at such time will decide whether or not this is a semi-finalist.

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The Five Furies of Heaven by Ashley Capes

The Five

This isn’t the first book I’ve read from this author so I definitely had expectations going into the read and to the point I read up to I would say this was an enjoyable and well written story.  Five friends on a mission encounter a God who changes them and bestows upon them special gifts.  Of course there is an underlying reason, this isn’t just an over generous deity after all.  Trouble is brewing.  War and insects and the very nature of life is going to change – and not for the better.

Unfortunately, none of the friends know exactly what to expect and one of them appears to have undergone no change whatsoever whilst his four friends have all become adult and to say this is something of a bugbear is an understatement.  However, nobody has time for reflection because it appears that an army is marching forth and taking villagers to fight in the war (whether they want to fight or not!).

This is a fast paced story, it has a coming of age type feel with these five friends going on a journey and in fact already encountering a number of dangers to the point I read up to.  There is magic and apparently dragons (although they didn’t make an appearance at the point I broke off (which was approx 33%).

I think this book has a lot of promise although I’m not at this stage proposing to roll it forward.  If I have a chance I would like to pick it up and complete it though.

Conclusion : Cut

 

Beyond the Spire of Navarene by M Warren Askins

Beyond theAs Beyond the Spire begins there is a prologue that takes the form of an account being sent of a battle – well, a slaughter at a village where only the children were left alive.

We then start to make the acquaintance of some of the characters.  Margot and Galahalt.  Sister and brother.  They seem to be in strife money wise and it appears that Margot has been promised as wife to a rather odious man if the debt cannot be paid.

Pietr is born into a family of warriors but unfortunately does not follow in the traditional roles, instead becoming an artist (or architect). It seems that Pietr does have a role, he can reimagine things and draw up plans so that they are improved, he can make sketches from descriptions and generally he seems to have turned the family opinion of him round to something very favourable.

We also meet a few novices – training to be knights.  They’re on the final hurdle and are given one task to complete before knighthood is bestowed, a task that involves them delving into the forest of Fenrirfang with all its dangers.

Finally we meet a ranger who teams up with Galahalt on his quest into Fenrirfang where he hopes to capture a prized beast that will pay off the family debt.

There is certainly no shortage of people and events to the point I read up to in fact this was maybe a little too ‘busy’.  I do think that there were a lot of new characters and jumps back and forth for the portions I read but I expect the narrative will settle down now that Galahalt is on his quest.  At the point I read up to I don’t feel fully enough invested in the characters to roll this forward though.

Conclusion : Cut

 

Heartscale by Lola Ford

Heartscale

 

Finally, Heartscale – I must first make mention of the wonderful cover for this book which is a wrap around and has fantastic detail.

This cover promises dragons and dragons there are.

Basically, this is a story of two characters, from opposite sides of the world who both seem to be chosen by a particular dragon – and the choosing will change their lives.

Graith is a farmer.  He encounters a dragon when it crashes, injured, into his barn after being attacked. He helps the dragon (Azelia) and the two form a friendship (or bond of sorts).  Graith undertakes to help Azelia return to her home and save her eggs.

Meanwhile, a young woman named Nerie has her life set on it’s head when she attends a hatchling and is chosen by one of the dragons (Kiriga)  Rulers are chosen by dragons and so this is rather a shock until it is discovered that Nerie is the illegitimate daughter of the King.

So, at the point I concluded the two dragons and characters have not met – I’m assuming they may do so if the cover is anything to go by??  Also, at this point I’m not entirely sure what direction the story is going to take.  There doesn’t appear to be any imminent threat on the horizon when I reached my cut off point.

The narration has a light touch, it almost feels like an expanded fairytale in the way the dialogue and description is approached and whilst this felt a little young for my own taste it could appeal to a MG or just slightly older reader – particularly as this looks like the first book in series.

Conclusion : Cut

 

I will be highlighting my next 6 books very soon so watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finally, good luck to all my authors.  Also, a quick mention that if any of you would like to post excerpts over here by way of teasers for other readers then just let me know (if you’ve already left me a comment to that effect I’ll be in touch shortly :D)