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.

Another Reason Why You Ought to Visit the Underworld: A Review of Disconnect by Imran Siddiq

cover-for-disconnectWhen I say “Underworld” I’m not actually talking about life after death, but the depressing underground world of Imran Siddiq’s novel Disconnect.  It’s a place where families grow up in darkness and dependent on the refuse of those who live in Overworld.  Right away I want to let you know that this book is not written in “American” English; some readers like that, some don’t.  I’ve never minded as long as I could understand the structure, and I was able to follow Siddiq’s writing just fine.  Now, on to the good stuff:

Disconnect clocks in at a light 279 pages and is told from the point of view of Zachary, the only son of single-father Marcus.  Zachary and his dad live on a space base orbiting Jupiter and they reside in the ghetto underground district known as Underworld.  Overworld and Underworld rarely interact, but Zachary happens to find a working Intercom while scavenging.  Thus his adventures begin.

Through the intercom, Zachary talks to a girl named Rosa.  She’s the only child of Ambassador Kade.  Zachary and Rosa talk several times, and even meet in person.  In their time together, however, the teens discover a sinister plot by the ruling council to clean out Underworld—of everyone and everything.

I liked this book for several reasons, one being that the main character is a boy.  I like female main characters a LOT, but it was refreshing to read something from a male perspective and especially from one that was so genuine.  Zachary grew up simply, and so he thought about things simply.  For example, when he overheard some sketchy communications between soldiers, I (the reader) understood what was going on, but Zachary didn’t—and of course he wouldn’t!  He grew up in Underworld where there was no politics!  I’m glad Siddiq maintained the integrity of Zachary’s voice no matter what happened.

What I found lacking in Siddiq’s writing was overall fluidity.  His story was very interesting and had many exciting parts, but it really, really, really needed work with a fine-toothed comb to smooth out phrasing and compositional issues.  Verb agreement, sentence structure, and so on needed some serious work.  I don’t say that to be rude, just straightforward—if you enjoy a good story and can power through somewhat novice writing, then Disconnect is for you.  I give it 3.5 stars.

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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.

X-Men vs. Magneto: A Review for THE MIND READERS by Lori Brighton

Cover image courtesy of Amazon.com

Cameron is in her last year of high school and desperate to move on, though not for the typical reasons. While she has her own share of teen angst, what she can’t wait to escape is the deluge of petty thoughts spilling from everyone’s heads. She’s been able to read minds since she was five and as far as she’s concerned, it’s the bane of her existence.

When a new student approaches Cameron and invites her to join him at a Xavier-esque mansion for other talented mind readers, she accepts. The prospect of learning to control her ability is too tempting to pass up. However, she soon finds that the leader of this group of mind readers is more of a Magneto than Xavier. Cameron must ultimately decide where her morals and her loyalties lie.

I am a sucker for super hero stories, so this whole concept intrigues me. Brighton does a good job identifying the decisions that separate a hero from a villain and the ethical questions that arise from those decisions. I also appreciate the dynamics of the super powers. They are all grounded in mind reading but take a unique twist for each individual.

For the most part the writing is clean. There are a few typos but they would be quick fixes. The errors I found most disruptive were the character inconsistencies. Cameron tells us she’s one way, but behaves contrary to it. For the way she thinks and behaves, I don’t understand why she would be friends with a snobby rich girl. Also, her motives as she explains them don’t make sense to me. Cameron’s relationship with her grandma also lacks conviction.

Cameron’s attraction to the new kid at school bases primarily on his physique, which is annoying, but I am happy to say there is a satisfactory answer for it. The end of the novel is the most interesting part. The characters are more vibrant and Cameron finally acts decisively. I am mildly interested in reading the sequel.

Overall, THE MIND READERS is a good read, despite its flaws. I give it three stars.

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).