#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 Review : One of Us, The City of Secrets by ML Roberts

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One of Use by ML Roberts was the fourth book I read this month as part of the SPFBO Competition.  My three other books as part of Batch One were Deathborn by CE Page,  Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes and Stranded by Rosalind Tate.  At the end of the month I will be posting an update and highlighting which book or books will be rolled forward and which will be cut.

OneofUs

So, I would briefly describe One of Us as YA high school/urban fantasy.  Mostly set within the school grounds it involves a young girl who starts to think her imagination is playing tricks on her.  

The story is told by Olivia, fifteen years of age (I think).  Her mum asks her a favour, to befriend the daughter of one of her clients who has recently moved to the area and is new to school.  Of course, being 15, and not even as part of the in-crowd, choosing friends based on your parents’ wishes doesn’t do anything for your social standing.

Olivia’s best friend is Mindy, they’re fairly average students, not the popular girls, not particularly sporty or clever, but doing okay.  Abigail stands out a little bit, for all of the wrong reasons, and Olivia tries to avoid bumping into her at all.  Pamela is one of the ‘super popular’ girls and incredibly mean.  She seems to have made it her own mission in life to make the new girl’s life hell.  This aspect of the story is very ‘mean girls’ until, unexpectedly, revenge becomes the dish of the day.

On top of skirting around trying to avoid other students Olivia has plenty of other things on her mind.  She spotted a story in a news article saying that a local boy (who Olivia knows and used to go to the same school) has died in a surfing or swimming accident.  Olivia is distraught by the news but soon starts to suspect that she imagined the story.  The article seems to have disappeared and nobody at the school seems to be aware.  At the same time we are shown a memory of Olivia and her brother out driving when a strange occurrence takes place.  The car is hit by an object, Olivia’s brother thinks a branch, Olivia on the other hand thinks she sees a man lying in the road, a man with long silver hair and wings.  There are other strange occurences but I won’t go into them here. Then things escalate, starting at the high school dance, Abigail is attacked.  We find out more strange news from Olivia’s flashbacks and there’s talk of a haunted house.

Now, my feelings on One of Us are a little mixed.  I struggled to get into the story at first (although I did think the opening chapter was quite an intriguing hook).  The early stages of the story felt very teenage angst-y and the dialogue felt clunky, there was a lot of wild speculation on the part of Olivia for almost everything and anything that happens and for perhaps half the book very little really took place other than glimpses of things that didn’t really add up to very much.  As the story began to hot up the writing improved, to such an extent that I was intrigued and quite keen to read forward to discover what was going on.  The pacing improved, in fact things became a little bit crazy, it felt almost like a Scooby Doo adventure at one point but with an all girl cast and absent Scooby – and witches and fae instead of wannabe criminals shaking their fists and muttering ‘if it wasn’t for those pesky kids’.  I can’t deny that it was actually entertaining in a chaotic sort of way, not sure it was entirely realistic in some respects but it did keep me turning the pages.  But, and yes, there is a but.  I’m not sure even now what the motivations of the ‘evil ones’ was or what they were really trying to achieve.  I have what feels like a sketchy understanding of things being hidden around the city, protected by Others using magic barriers and the like and also that there are those who want to access these hidden elements (creating unspeakable risks)- although I have very hazy notions of why that is at this point.  

Criticisms aside, I think this would probably work well with the right audience.  I think the high school vibe is well done, the insecurities and fear of being ostracised, the bullying, etc and there’s an adventure type feel to the direction the story took.  I’m assuming that another book is planned although it isn’t clear at the present but this one definitely concludes with certain things remaining open not to mention talk of portals and the fact that Olivia may herself have something more to her than at first meets the eye..

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

 

 

 

 

One of Us by Craig DiLouie

Posted On 28 July 2018

Filed under Book Reviews
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Comments Dropped 19 responses

oneofusThey call it the plague
A generation of children born with extreme genetic mutations.

They call it a home
But it’s a place of neglect and forced labour.

They call him a Freak
But Dog is just a boy who wants to be treated as normal.

They call them dangerous
They might be right.

One of Us is a powerful story with an important and relevant message that is every bit as relevant to today’s society as it was in the era in which the book is set.  Oftentimes uncomfortable to read it’s something of an emotional roller coaster that delivers a shock filled sucker punch.  Make no mistake this is not a book that you will enjoy, don’t be deceived by the casual stance of the character on the cover, this isn’t fun.  What it is is a compelling read that takes you quite firmly in it’s grip and doesn’t relent until the final page.  It’s impossible to put this one down, you simply have to know what is going to happen and it delivers that tension and feeling of dread that keeps you racing to the conclusion.

Before I go further I will mention that this book may contain triggers for some readers so be aware of that before you make the decision to pick it up. I certainly wouldn’t call any of the content gratuitous, but it can be upsetting and difficult to read.

So, the world here is a parallel world – a world of ‘what ifs’.  Go back to the late 60s and the sexual revolution leads to a genetic virus, or maybe it’s a coincidence, regardless, many pregnant women give birth to a generation of babies with mutations.  Known as ‘plague children’ these mutations vary wildly from a boy with a dog’s features to a child with a face that is upside down.  The immediate knee jerk reaction was to take all these children and place them within care facilities – out of sight out of mind.  Now jump forward to the early 80s and these children are of an age where they’re beginning to understand how different their lives are and how differently they’re treated, just as they’re also beginning to realise that their mutations, in most cases, also lend them certain additional powers, such as the ability to know what somebody is going to say before they say it, great intelligence, or extreme strength to name but a few.  At the same time, the local teenage contingent are of an age where they are also starting to question the treatment meted out to the inhabitants of their own local home.  Some are ambivalent but others don’t like the way the plague children are treated and think there should be change.

Fundamentally this is a coming of age story with a difference that examines prejudice and shows that sometimes the real ‘monsters’ are not those unfairly labelled as such but are the people who blend seamlessly into society, their real natures masked by their normality.

I’m not going to go further into the plot or add too much more in terms of the characters or world building.  For me, this story is more about the message and the thought provoking themes that help to make that message jump from the page in the most dramatic way.

I don’t want to make this sound ‘preachy’ because I didn’t find that to be the case at all.  There is a clear storyline here but for me it played second fiddle to the emotions that were provoked during the read and that left me with so much to think about with it’s conclusion.

To be honest, this wasn’t what I was expecting at all.  I thought I was picking up an x-men type book with young children coming into their own, developing special powers, maybe having some fun banter along the way before developing into a kick ass team of super characters.  What I actually got was an unflinching story about a whole bunch of children, stashed out of sight, treated unfairly, raised without love and used as unpaid labour until they eventually rebelled.

Maybe not the most fun I’ve had reading a book but to be honest with the message this delivers it shouldn’t be ‘fun’.  I certainly have no regrets reading this even though it wasn’t what I was anticipating.  A well written, thought provoking tale and a demonstration of action and consequence that in spite of the violence and horror also contains an element of hope and an open ending that keeps that hope alive.

I received a copy, through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.