Story Blip: A Review of The Light Keepers by Mande Matthews

Astrid is a young woman with incredible power, isolated from all save her mother, Isla, and her protector, Balin. Even her voice escapes her, which is where the trouble lies.  Astrid can enter the shadowwalk and view people in other locations. Because she is mute, Astrid cannot sing to the Mother – the source for the power of light – for protection against the evil Shadow. Without that protection the Shadow will know Astrid’s location and could destroy her easily when she to enters the shadowwalk. But entering the shadowwalk is the only thing that comes naturally to young Astrid, and the visions provide the closest thing to companionship she can have. Isla’s strength is waning and soon she will be unable to conjure the ward. Astrid must learn to sing to the Mother despite her physical inhibition or face the danger of the shadowwalk alone.

The Light Keepers is a short story proceeding Mande Matthews’ ShadowLight Saga. Calling it a short story may be an exaggeration, though; I’d say it’s more of a teaser. The story ends before a full plot can develop. Instead, this prequel sets the stage for the saga by introducing the world and providing history on a principal character. It does its job, though. I was intrigued enough to be indignant when it ended.

Matthews spins the tale as if we are already familiar with her world and yet does not leave the reader confused. She introduces unfamiliar concepts but provides enough information in the next paragraphs to explain them. Similarly, most questions brought up in the text are answered. The ones that are not will most likely be answered in the saga. The overall quality of her writing is above average, but not impressive, and here’s why:

Hiccups occur with characterization. Astrid is not as deep as I would hope for a protagonist. I know that she is lonely, but I don’t feel it. Isla, Astrid’s mother, is also flat because there is not much interaction between mother and daughter. Balin, Isla’s warrior, is the easiest to understand. He lives for one purpose: to love and protect Isla, which extends to protecting Astrid.

Because of the generally smooth storytelling and my interest in the saga, I give this prequel 3.5 stars. Well done, Matthews.

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Move Over, Vampires! A Review of Everblue by Brenda Pandos

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Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Vampires are cool, but I always thought it was creepy to fall for a creature that drinks blood for sustenance. I mean, really. However, mermaids and mermen are a totally different story. That’s what Brenda Pandos’ book Everblue is all about, with a healthy dose of adventure thrown in. Now on to the good stuff:

Everblue clocks in at 305 pages and is aimed at a younger YA audience; I’d say 12- to 16-year-olds. It’s written from two points of view: regular high school student Ashlyn Lanski (Ash) and home-schooled teenage merman Finley (Fin). Ash is best friends with Tatiana, Fin’s twin sister. They grew up together on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Ash is the high school swim captain and has a secret crush on Fin, not knowing he’s a merman. He knows that one kiss from his lips would seal them together for eternity, so he tries to avoid a relationship. Most merpeople avoid all contact with humans, but Fin and Tatiana love living on land. There’s just one problem: the mer king is ordering merpeople to start preparing for a war with humans and has a hidden grudge against Fin’s parents.

There are several points in favor of Everblue, namely that Ash, even though she has a crush on Fin, is not completely obsessed with him. She enjoys the company of other guys at the school and lives a normal life. Also, Pandos does an excellent job writing the story from Ash’s point of view—I was really able to get inside her head! I also enjoyed the lore and history of merpeople and the way their world worked. It wasn’t perfect but it made sense and it was consistent.

The novel also includes intrigue and fighting among the merpeople, but the violence doesn’t escalate to gruesome levels. This was refreshing because a lot of YA novels nowadays go for shock factor (case in point: Hunger Games). Pandos kept it realistic and tense. Anyway, keep this in mind in case you’re looking for something edgier, but for those who enjoy a good, clean YA, this is it. The only issue I had with the book was how rapidly the chapters changed perspective; at times I think Pandos could’ve had 2 or 3 chapters from one character before moving to the other, but that’s just me.

This book deserves 4.5 stars. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Peter and the Monsters: A Review of Darren Pillsbury’s Series

Copyright Darren Pillsbury

Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Notice: This series was free when I read it, but it has since been published. You can find it at Amazon or other major self-publish sites. The first book in the series is available for free by clicking on the following link: Peter and the Vampires

Darren Pillsbury has published an exciting new series featuring Peter Normal. The story begins when Peter, a ten year-old from California, moves to his grandfather’s haunted mansion. Well, ok, the mansion itself isn’t haunted, but it sure looks like it should be. In the very first story of the series, Peter learns that this is only a technicality, for a tribe of dead bodies “live” in a patch of woods nearby (Peter and the Dead Men). Worse, these Dead Men all want Peter to die!

This was my favorite of the series because I really liked all the unanswered questions and mystery surrounding the Normals. I also felt like the way that Peter defeated the Dead Men was very clever (while realistic, given his age). This one is also a good showcase of what you should expect from the series; most of the stories follow the format of Peter having to defeat a group of enemies within a short story and stumbles across a piece of the larger puzzle: why is Peter in constant danger?

When I read this story on Mr. Pillsbury’s blog, it was a daily post; you better believe that I was reading this daily!

Despite being essentially a children’s story, be aware that there might be the occasional swear word. These instances are very rare (I believe the first doesn’t show up until book 3), but they do exist. When I raised this concern with the author he explained that he took his cue from Harry Potter: kids that age really do swear/ hear swear words and those words have a touch of the forbidden which appeals to Pillsbury’s target audience.

There are also brief mentions of sensitive issues such as religion and witchcraft.

Rating changes depending on the book but I would say that Peter and the Trick-or-Treaters is the only book to score less than a 3 out of 5. I’ve been told that each of the books has a (long) preamble explaining what has already happened in previous books so they can be read out of order. That said, I would still recommend reading them roughly in order (except Peter and the ToT’s, which can be safely skipped without missing anything).

Much ado about Eden and Big-Eared Dinosaurs: A review for Eden at the Edge of Midnight, by John Kerry

I’ll be the first to admit that I like dinosaurs. I also like reading books from authors who aren’t American. Those are just two points in favor of John Kerry’s Eden at the Edge of Midnight, a young adult fantasy dropping in at 348 pages.

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Cover image courtesy of Amazon.com

Now I’m going to tell you something straight-up: this book is only technically young adult because the main character, Sammy, is sixteen. The psyche of this girl, however, is a lot closer to a thirteen or fourteen-year-old. Just wanted to let you guys know that up front in case you can’t stand young protagonists. Okay, now on to the good stuff:

The plot is that Eden was separated from earth and its own atmosphere is slowly going bad. Sammy manages to get launched from earth to Eden in fulfillment of a prophecy. The thrust of the story is she doesn’t know what part she plays. That mystery is what makes the book good—I liked not knowing at first whether Sammy was predicted to save the world from certain destruction or become a specter of death. Fortunately, there are clues along the way.

The characters are also colorful and well thought out. Kerry doesn’t just pull stock actors from the closet. Everyone has at least two different motivations for the things they do and they act (as well as react) consistently when plot events are triggered.

Now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t give this book five stars, so here’s the deal: the story needs to be edited! Really badly! The problem isn’t so much with grammar or spelling as it is with parallel structure and loose ends that never get tied up. Kerry leaves a lot hanging at the end of the novel that needs addressing, and the thing is, the first half of the book is only worth three stars while the second half is four or even five stars—it’s like it gets better as it goes! If Kerry would just take a little time and fix things like balancing dialogue with description and making the first half of the book a lot leaner, this would be a five-star novel, no joke. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I recommend Eden at the Edge of Midnight to lovers of fantasy who can power through a slow first quarter.