Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summoned by Anne M. Pillsworth

Title: Summoned
Author: Anne M. Pillsworth
Genre: Young Adult
Series: Redemption's Heir #1

Hardcover, 320 pages
Publication: June 24, 2014 by Tor Teen

Source: I received a review copy from the publicist in exchange for a honest review.

Buy|Amazon|Book Depo|

While browsing in a rare book store in Arkham, Sean finds an occult book with an ad seeking an apprentice sorcerer, from a newspaper dated March 21, 1895. Even more intriguing, the ad specifically requests applicants reply by email.

Sean’s always been interested in magic, particularly the Lovecraftian dark mythology. Against his best friend Edna's ("call-me-Eddy-or-else") advice, he decides to answer the ad, figuring it’s a clever hoax, but hoping that it won’t be. The advertiser, Reverend Redemption Orne, claims to be a master of the occult born more than 300 years ago. To prove his legitimacy, Orne gives Sean instructions to summon a harmless but useful familiar—but Sean’s ceremony takes a dark turn, and he instead accidentally beckons a bloodthirsty servant to the Cthulhu Mythos god Nyarlathotep. The ritual is preemptively broken, and now Sean must find and bind the servitor, before it grows too strong to contain. But strange things are already happening in the town of Arkham....

Summoned is centered on wizard-to-be Sean Wyndham who happens to also be a Lovecraftian-Cthulhu fanatic.  In wanting to learn more about the Mythos, Sean and his best friend Eddy go down to the local bookstore Horrocke’s. While browsing in Horrocke’s, Sean stumbled upon a newspaper ad clipping seeking an apprentice in magic! What’s more bizarre is the ad is from 1895, and the ad asks potential candidates to apply by email! Talk about creepy! As you can imagine, Sean of course answers the ad by Reverend Orne, and is given a ritual/summoning test to see if he qualifies for the apprenticeship. What was supposed to be an easy summoning turns into a nightmare when Sean accidently summons a high-level blood demon/servitor. Sean must learn and get all the help he can because he’s the only one able to banish the servitor.

Summoned pulled me right from the first page! I’m not really familiar with Lovecraft’s work (heard of them but never read it) but it seems that Pillsworth’s debut novel is heavily influenced by Lovecraft’s tales and monsters. While I don’t know much on the Lovecraftian topic, I enjoyed how Pillsworth tied everything into the story/plot. Pillsworth played around with the idea that perhaps H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t writing mere fiction, but writing the truth of what he knows. How there were supposedly a secret society that hunted monsters. I’m a sucker for anything with secret societies, the occults, magic and Pillsworth managed to incorporate the ideas flawlessly all together. The world building is pretty strong, anyone reading can definitely tell that Pillsworth did extensive research on the subject and knows what she’s talking about.

With the book mainly focused on all things Lovecrafitian, and it being the strong point of the novel, the character department fell short. Sean may be the main character, but readers don’t learn anything new other than what is stated at the beginning of the novel and there wasn’t any character development/growth from the time Sean summons the servitor to the time he banishes it. Many of the other secondary characters also didn’t make any lasting impressions. There wasn’t any depth to any of the characters and I never once felt connected to them and like the main hero…they all fell flat. The only person that actually made a lasting impression was Mr. Geldman and his pharmacy. Mr. Gelfman had about only two scenes but they were probably the best and most interesting scenes in the entire book. Mr. Geldman specializes in magical remedies and only those who believe or have the aptitude for magic can see and enter his pharmacy. Mr. Geldman’s scenes were by far my favorite parts in the book.

The book started off strong but dragged here and there in the middle and by the end everything was back on track with non-stop action.  While I did enjoy most of the book, there were a few things that took away from the overall story. First, there was just too much information dumping. While I appreciate the background knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos, Necronomicon and the Eldritch tales the author didn’t give readers enough time to digest the information. Pillsworth had paragraph after paragraph of explanations, which at times at times felt overwhelming. Then there was a lot of repetition of said information dumping. For example the author explained in great length on the subject but then when it came to the character’s dialogue portions, the characters would reiterate what the author just explained. And finally, the abundant use of profanities was astounding.  For a moment I wondered if I was really reading a young adult fiction. I mean Sean and Eddy were cursing like sailors. It was as if it was part of their everyday vocabulary, which I found worrisome. Sean and Eddy are ‘teenagers’, but their age was never specified (or if it was I totally missed it) and from how they acted…I assumed they were either 12 or 13-years old. While I’m sure all kids hear profanities one way or another, the amount used in this book wasn’t necessary nor did it do anything to drive the plot/or characters forward. 

Overall I enjoyed Summoned, and the unique idea behind the novel. There were some minor flaws but given that this is a debut novel, Pillsworth did a good job. I think a lot of people are going to enjoy this book, especially the Lovecraft fans. I initially thought this would be more fantasy, but it ended up leaning more towards the horror genre…which was perfectly fine with me. I recommend this to anyone who loves Lovecraftian, secret societies, the occults, magic, and some fun wizardry. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Title: Otherbound
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 387 pages
Publication: June 17, 2014 by Amulet Books

Source: I received a review copy from the publicist in exchange for a honest review.

Amara is never alone. Not when she's protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they're fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she's punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can't be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He's spent years as a powerless observer of Amara's life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she's furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan's breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they'll have to work together to survive--and discover the truth about their connection.

This was a very difficult book to get through; I’m surprised I even finished it. If I had to use one word to sum up the entire book it would be humdrum, very humdrum.

I was intrigued from the moment I first head of this book; it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard about. The idea is mind-boggling, ambitious, and extremely unique. It saddens me to say that this book did not live up to the hype or my expectations. 

The book is told in dual p.o.v from Amara from the Duneland (another world) and Nolan from our world, alternating from chapter to chapter. Every time Nolan closes his eyes he transports to the land of Duneland looking out from the eyes of Amara, a servant girl. Many reviewers/readers raved of Duyvis’s amazing world-building, but I didn’t see it. The world of Duneland seemed like any typical fantasy world; filled with the usual caste system with the ministers ruling, mages (people with special ability) thrown in and a runaway cursed princess that really had no purpose in the story. The main gist of the story, Amara was stolen from the palace when she was young because she has the power to heal and was thrust with the responsibility to protect Princess Cilla from hurting herself. It is said, a single drop of Princess Cilla’s blood will create a multitude of destruction. The story and reason for this curse didn’t make a whole lot of sense, nor was it really explained till the very end. For 90% of the book, readers are told that Princess Cilla can’t get hurt, and we see the character bend-over-backwards protecting Cilla, treating her like a dainty flower.­­ Then there’s poor Nolan, a disabled kid who has to watch through Amara’s eyes all his life. There isn’t much world-building on Nolan’s side either because he basically doesn’t have a life because half of his time is spent in another world every single time he closes his eyes or blinks. 

It also didn’t help that the book started off slow…snail slow. I found myself putting the book down constantly because there wasn’t much going on and the characters didn’t feel authentic in anything they were doing or their interaction with other characters. I did not care nor connected with any of the characters at all. At the start of the book Amara would be afraid of everyone and everything.­­­­ Amara made sure she followed all orders and didn’t look at the Princess the wrong way; otherwise there would be deadly consequences. Amara is a mute servant. I like that she didn’t let her disability stop her from doing anything to the best of her ability, she is always putting the Princess above herself…even at the end when she had the choice to be free; she chose saving the Princess over her freedom. I admire her strength and determination. Then we had Princess Cilla. Princess Cilla was the blandest character, she didn’t do anything but be a hindrance to herself and everyone around her. I didn’t see her bringing anything to the story expect her ‘curse’. And finally we have Nolan. Man, I just felt bad for the guy. He isn’t able to live a normal life because he’s always living Amara’s life half the time. He has no friends, he can never complete a homework assignment, can’t watch a movie, hangout with his family or help out…all because he’s connected with Amara. ­­­Although each character had their own different characteristic and hardship, they didn’t feel realistic therefore I never fully connected with them, nor felt invested in their story. 

Otherbound started off slow but it did pick up in the last few chapters. I applaud the author on her efforts and I still think the concept was highly original. I also thought the author did a great job in creating diversity in her characters not only with nationality but sexual orientation as well. Overall, I don’t think this book was for me; the characters were one-dimensional, the world-building lackluster, and the dialogue monotonous. While I didn’t enjoy this book, many other people loved it. I suggest checking out an excerpt or a sample chapter before reading. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore

Title: Dark Metropolis
Author: Jaclyn Dolamore
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal
Series: Dark Metropolis #1 

Hardcover, 304 pages 
Publication: June 17, 2014 by Disney-Hyperion 

Source: I received a review copy from the publicist in exchange for a honest review.

Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder's mother is cursed with a spell that's driving her mad, and whenever they touch, Thea is chilled by the magic, too. With no one else to contribute, Thea must make a living for both of them in a sinister city, where danger lurks and greed rules.
Thea spends her nights waitressing at the decadent Telephone Club attending to the glitzy clientele. But when her best friend, Nan, vanishes, Thea is compelled to find her. She meets Freddy, a young, magnetic patron at the club, and he agrees to help her uncover the city's secrets-even while he hides secrets of his own.

Together, they find a whole new side of the city. Unrest is brewing behind closed doors as whispers of a gruesome magic spread. And if they're not careful, the heartless masterminds behind the growing disappearances will be after them, too.

I don’t remember much when I requested this book; just that I loved the cover and the the synopsis sounded good. So, it came as quite a surprise when we had one of the three main characters, Freddy bring a girl back from the dead. Zombies, who would of thought? Yes, the back cover mentioned the dead not staying dead…but for some reason I didn’t make the connection or even remember reading that last line of the synopsis. Also I must point out that the the synopsis is pretty deceiving. From reading the back cover, you’d think the story will be centered on Thea and that the magic kind of implied sorcerers and witches (yes, they are part of the story but do not really play a big role in it; more like they were briefly mention than anything else). So, while I went into this book somewhat misinformed, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It is everything the cover did promise, which was a dark and gritty world full of magic and intrigue.

Dark Metropolis follows three different characters, Thea, Nan and Freddy. Thea works at the Telephone Club waitressing to support herself and her mom who is suffering from a magic marriage bond that’s making her crazy (when her dad 'died' 8 years ago). Then there’s Nan, Thea’s best friend and Freddy, a sorcerer. Although, I don’t think sorcerer is the right term…he’s more of a necromancer. As I mentioned before, Thea supposedly is the main character in this book/or series, but I never got that as all three characters were equally important and had the same amount of parts/page time. The book is told in third person POV, and jumps sporadically back and forth between all three but it was well done. I never had a problem figuring out who was speaking and when.

Thea is probably the least important of the three characters in my opinion. I didn’t really understand her role in the book, except to find her father and Nan when she went missing. She also was the blandest character of the bunch; I didn’t feel connected or interested in her narrative. At time when I was reading her narrative I would kind-of rush over her parts so that I can get to Freddy’s and Nan’s part. The book briefly mentioned that Thea has powers, descended from a line of witches but nothing…as far as I can see Thea was just some regular human girl. 

As for Nan and Freddy, they definitely had bigger roles and helped push the story/plot further. Also, unlike Thea…they had a purpose in the book. They knew what they were doing and what had to be done to resolve the main conflict of the story. I really enjoyed Freddy and Nan’s POV because it is from their perspective that readers learn all about the sinister dealings behind all the gilts and glamors, what is lurking underground and the corruption the government is hiding.  However, my favorite character is Nan. When readers first meet Nan, she is this quiet girl that keeps to herself. All she does is work and go home. Nan always knew she was different from everyone else, and I’m not talking about her color blindness or bad hearing…but she always had a sense of purpose. As the story progress, Nan’s character evolved…readers learn more about Nan as Nan learn more about herself and her calling is revealed. Nan was a very strong character, and likable one. I liked that she wasn’t afraid to ask questions and defended those who couldn’t defend themselves. When readers find out about Nan and what her main purpose is, let me just say it was a shocker…I definitely wasn’t expecting that!

On the downside, there wasn’t much in terms of world-building. While I did get the 1930’s vibe, there weren’t much historical details to support it, expect that there was a war. Now that I think about it, I don’t even recall any details to the characters surrounding…very lacking in the descriptions.  I also didn’t get the magical aspects. There were brief references of powerful witches, sorcerers, and immortals but they were never really explained. Freddy and his necromancer powers were never explained either;  just that he was born with the gift, and when he raises the dead…magic takes a toll turning his hair silver and that it slowly weakens him over time. The only thing explained in great detail is the zombies. Readers find out how people are brought back to life, how they are sustained (with a magical serum, which I must add that we don’t know how it’s made or who makes it LOL), and what happens when the ‘zombie’ folks don’t take the serum. It was a very interesting take on zombie/magic and it was explained well and clearly so that readers understood it.

All in all Dark Metropolis was a great read, and I found myself enjoying it more than I expected. While I never connected or cared for Thea’s character much…the other two more than made up for her lack of presence. And regardless of the poor world building, I found myself glued to the pages; breezing through the book in mere hours (which is a first, in a very long time!). Dark Metropolis had enough action and twists and turns to keep readers invested into the story and characters. I know a lot of readers love the romance part and while the romance in Dark Metropolis took the backseat; the author had two budding relationship in the making…one with a guy/girl and another with a girl/girl…I thought that was really cool! The ending wrapped up pretty nicely with the main problem solved and the character’s arc all concluded. I can’t wait to see what the author has in store next. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a light and quick read!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

[Blog Tour] I Become Shadow by Joe Shine 

Hi! Welcome to my stop on the I BECOME SHADOW Blog Tour! 

Title: I Become Shadow
Author: Joe Shine
Genre: Young Adult/ New Adult, Thriller, Dystopian
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication: June 10, 2014 by Soho Teen

Source: I received a review copy from the publicist in exchange for a honest review/blog tour.

Buy|Amazon|Book Depo|

Ren Sharpe was abducted at fourteen and chosen by the mysterious F.A.T.E. Center to become a Shadow: the fearless and unstoppable guardian of a future leader. Everything she held dear—her family, her home, her former life—is gone forever.

Ren survives four years of training, torture, and misery, in large part thanks to Junie, a fellow F.A.T.E. abductee who started out as lost and confused as she did. She wouldn’t admit it was possible to find love in a prison beyond imagining, but what she feels for Junie may just be the closest thing to it.

At eighteen they part ways when Ren receives her assignment: find and protect college science student Gareth Young, or die trying. Life following a college nerd is uneventful, until an attack on Gareth forces Ren to track down the only person she can trust. When she and Junie discover that the F.A.T.E. itself might be behind the attacks, even certain knowledge of the future may not be enough to save their kidnappers from the killing machines they created.
When I got the email asking if I wanted to be part of the I BECOME SHADOW Blog Tour, I totally jumped at the chance. I thought the synopsis sounded interesting, I mean who doesn’t love books with secret agencies? I honestly expected this book to be good, enjoyable at most but I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. I BECOME SHADOW is hands down the best YA/NA book I’ve read all year…actually in a very long-long time. 

I BECOME SHADOW is narrated in first person by our protagonist Ren Sharpe. Ren was abducted from her home at the age of fourteen to be part of the F.A.T.E organization. The F.A.T.E organization has this technology that can somehow predict the future, enabling them to know who is dead or alive, or important a few years from now. It is the same technology that predicted Ren Sharpe would die at the age of fourteen, and so the F.A.T.E intervened and ‘saved’ her…and while she isn’t dead-dead…all her friends and family believed she died (they had a dummy body ready to be discovered and confirmed as Ren, so that an investigation wouldn’t ensue). Ren and three hundred other abductees begin their training to become a Shadow the moment they wake-up from their kidnapping. A Shadow is someone who is trained to protect an important future leader. Each shadow is linked to one future leader, to ensure that nothing happens to them, that they must protect their FIP (Future Important Person) at all cost. Failure is not an option. 

The writing style/narration is unlike I’ve ever read, literally.  Shine’s style is a combination of first person point-of-view and diary format. I really enjoyed it more than I thought, and I didn’t have a hard time getting into the story because I love and connected with Ren immediately. It was as if Ren was sitting across from me telling me her story. It’s like talking to one of your pals, sharing a story over a cup of coffee. The first third of the book was taken place in the past as Ren takes readers through her abduction, and then training and life overall at F.A.T.E.. This part, to be honest, felt like every single dystopian I’ve read previously. I couldn’t help but compare it to the other­­­s because of how similar it was (just the training aspect). But this isn’t to say it was boring, because this book is far from boring. The remaining two-thirds of the story are where everything gets more interesting and where the originality comes in. Two-thirds of the way the book fast-forward to the present and Ren is eighteen-years-old and a full-fledge Shadow. The book is nonstop action and suspense from start to end with enough humor and romance to balance everything out. The world building was well done, and the information perfectly incorporated into the story. There was never a moment that I felt overwhelm with information. The information was perfectly woven into the plot, and small snippets were gradually revealed as the book progressed and as we got to know the characters.

I love Ren. While reading the book, I glance back at the back-cover and thought ‘wow, Shine captured the voice of a 14/18 girl so well!’ LOL. It was definitely believable that this book was being narrated by a 14/18 year-old. Ren is my type of heroine, there are just so many things I loved about her; she’s witty, snarky, funny, sweet, strong, independent, realistic, relatable and can totally kick ass. You’d think that someone trained to be a killing machine would be robotic and awkward but that wasn’t the case with Ren’s character. She somehow managed to keep true to herself regardless of the torture she endured physically and mentally at the F.A.T.E organization; instead it just enhanced her character and made her stronger.  I loved Ren’s interaction with everyone around her, it just felt real. Everything Ren, Junie, Gareth felt, I felt. Their emotion just leaps off the page. My favorite scenes are of Ren, Gareth, and Lloyd. It was cute watching Ren fight her training/rules and as these two characters slowly broke down her hard exterior because beneath that shell is just a normal 18-year-old (well as normal as it gets for Ren). 

Bottom line, I BECOME SHADOW is a stellar debut by Shine. I still can’t believe that this is his first book, because if I didn’t already that …I would have thought he was a seasoned author with many books under his belt. I loved every moment of this book, the plot and the amazing characters that readers will fall in love with. I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something fresh, fun and exciting. I’m not sure if there is a sequel in the works, but with that ending…I’m PRAYING that there will be one. Pretty please? This is a debut you do not want to miss. Watch out Katniss, Tris…there’s new kick-ass heroine in town! 

                                                                              ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Shine grew up in Austin, TX (the greatest city ever), and is a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has an MFA from the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California, and after brief stints in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, Joe returned home to Austin (repeat: the greatest city ever). Joe has a normal human job like most everyone else but hopes to become a full-time writer one day, and this is where you, the reader, must do him a really big solid and love I Become Shadow, his first novel. 

Want to learn more about I BECOME SHADOW OR JOE? Connect with the author below!

Friday, June 13, 2014

[Blog Tour] Top 10 Fantasy Tropes by Christine Amsden + Giveaway

I'd like to welcome Christine Amsden, author of MIND GAMES to Short & Sweet Reviews Blog! On today's Mind Games blog tour stop Christine will be sharing her Top Ten favorite Fantasy Tropes! Also don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post!

Avaliable now!
Publication: April 10, 2014
Purchase the book on Amazon

Beware your heart and soul…

Evan broke Cassie’s heart two months ago, and she still doesn’t know why. She throws herself into family, friends and her new job at the sheriff’s department, but nothing helps. The only thing that finally allows her heal and move on is the love of a new man, mind mage Matthew Blair. Cassie finds him... irresistible

Matthew may also be the only one who can help keep the nonmagical residents of Eagle Rock from going crazy over the murder of a beloved pastor’s wife. It looks like a sorcerer is to blame, but while Cassie tries to figure out who, others take matters into their own hands. With tensions running so hot, a single spark might set Eagle Rock ablaze.


By Christine Amsden

I don't care how many times I've seen them, I'll gladly read them again!

10. Everyman — I’m seeing less and less of this one in recent years (or maybe I’m looking in the wrong places), but I really enjoy becoming engaged with a fantasy tale from the perspective of someone like me. Or at least, someone who is as awestruck by the magic as I am. It helps ease me into the story.

9. Shape shifters — These ARE incredibly popular right now, but that works for me!

8. Attitude and wit — I doubt I’ll ever get sick of clever characters with a wry sense of humor and a certain flair. Authors with strong voices freshen this trope up every time just by being themselves.

7. Swords — So much cooler than guns, even if they are a bit less practical!

6. Cats — Anyone ever notice that there are a lot of cats in fantasy novels? Not nearly so many dogs. As someone who has *mostly* overcome a childhood phobia involving dogs but who still only tolerates the beasts, cats will always be my preferred pet.

5. Series — Maybe not the ones that go on and on and on with no end in sight, but honestly, I do like to spend a few books with the characters I love. I particularly like to do this when the characters grow and change over the course of those books.

4. Fae — So much more interesting than Tinkerbell.
3. Long-lost relatives — Tell me I’m not the only one who has a soft spot for this plot device. (I will make an exception for the specific discovery that the bad guy is your father. Star Wars pretty much killed that one.)
2. Ridiculously good looking men — Sorry ridiculously good looking women, I can’t say the same for you and I don’t care if that’s a double standard. I like what I like. :)
1. Superpowers — Enough said!

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 Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.
Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children, Drake and Celeste.

 Other books by Christine Amsden