Tag Archives: highly recommended

Angel Unaware (Threshold, prequel)

Title: Angel Unaware

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold (prequel to books 1-4)

Although Marcus is a cherub, he hasn’t had a typical life so far. Grafted from practically the moment he was found by a Caretaker, he’s lived for so long among humans he can think and act much more like one of them. He wants to be a warrior. He never expected to gain a human friend . . .

This is a prequel novel for the Threshold series, but is probably better to read after those four books (or at least, don’t read the epilogue until after, or most of it won’t make sense). It’s the story of how Marcus and Ransom met and became friends.

I always liked Ransom, and seeing him here, younger and less inhibited, is a real treat. It’s funny how his friendship with Marcus is almost more of Ransom deciding they were friends and Marcus not having the heart to push him away, because Ransom is as up in your face as ever. (Continuing a trend, Ransom’s guardian angel has a few of those same traits, which is also really funny.)

Which is not to say Marcus dislikes Ransom. He just has no idea why a non-Christian and an angel would be friends. And Marcus has no specific Sending one way or the other, so he has no direction for where to go with this.

I absolutely loved getting Marcus’s perspective on life. He’s not very verbal in his human disguise, and only somewhat more talkative around his mentor and his Flight, but he’s got a world of things going on inside. He’s at once completely relatable yet wonderful—embarrassed at his own shortcomings, wholehearted in his struggle to learn and improve, and above all driven by pure love to do what he can for those around him. And sometimes the hardest thing to do is trust that God’s plans for Ransom are good, even when Marcus has no indication things will ever work out.

And the book, like all of the Threshold books, is so funny. Some samples:

“He’s a cherub, Jedrick.” Aleff drummed his fingers on the motorcycle helmet. “Marcus was made for war. He wants to dress up in armor and bash at things with pointy sticks.”

Or:

“Your jacket?”
“Not as snazzy as, ‘Lo, I am with you always,’ but it has pockets.”

Overall . . . well, I read this book six times online before I managed to get a paper copy (and read it again). It’s a cute story with a lot of laughs, but also a lot of things that really pushed me to think more about why I believe what I believe, what that ought to mean, and what kind of impact it can have (or not have). And I adore stories about real life and faith that still have swords and flying and impossible surprises around every corner. Highly Recommended.

(If you want to read this online, the main text of the book can be found here: https://christakinde.wordpress.com/thresholds/angel-unaware/

However, the epilogue is exclusive to the print book, and provides answers to a lot of questions about where Marcus was during various moments in the Threshold books, and also provides a bit of new material.)

Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara (Aster Wood #1)

Title: Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara

Author: J.B. Cantwell

Series: Aster Wood #1

Aster Wood is devastated about spending the summer with his grandmother in the middle of nowhere. But his boring isolation becomes far too interesting when he accidentally travels to another world. Now if he wants to get back, he’s got to track down an ancient group who once traveled between the worlds looking for the cure to a sickness that’s suspiciously similar to what’s happening on Earth . . .

This was excellent. Aster is an engaging protagonist—a kid who wants to be typical. But his heart defect means he’s unable to do anything really active, and it’s made him cautious about anything that looks more strenuous than a walk. Which his adventure definitely requires. And when he stumbles over a possible cure, it complicates his decision about finding his way back home. Thankfully, he does have the ability to be physically active after he gets cured (which in itself comes with some interesting wrinkles).

I liked the way multiple worlds show up, and how they’re handled. I liked the mystery of the links and how I’m still not certain Aster made the right choice with one of them. And the wolf is amazing and needs to show up in some future book.

Besides all that, the pace is snappy. Aster never stays in one place long enough to get bogged down. The plot lingers just long enough over his initial transport and shock to really ground him in the new world, but he hasn’t got anything like all the answers. Which is really funny when he determines to destroy a certain rock.

Overall this is a great adventure, and I look forward to seeing how the story develops. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

A Shard of Sun (The Summer King Chronicles #3)

Title: A Shard of Sun

Author: Jess E. Owen

Series: The Summer King Chronicles #3

With a newly-hatched dragon, Hikaru, under his protection, Shard must find a way not only to escape the wyrms but honor the promise he made to Hikaru’s mother. Meanwhile, Kjorn has flown all the way from the Silver Isles in search of Shard, but even though he finds traces of Shard everywhere, he can’t seem to locate the gryfon himself. And Kjorn, son of Sverin, son of Per, has the infamy of Per dogging him. Will Shard succeed in his quest to understand the history behind Per, the dragons, and the wyrms, and ultimately secure peace or victory? And what changes will Kjorn inadvertently bring to this new land?

First: Hikaru is absolutely adorable. He’s such a happy dragon, but Shard can’t help remembering that Hikaru’s lifespan will only be a single year. It’s a fascinating contrast. The dragons have a rich culture, but their short lives means the generations turn over incredibly fast, and Shard’s best sources of history are stories passed down a hundred generations, with all the complications that ensue from that much secondhand information. I also like the inversion of dragons as incredibly long-lived (well, the wyrms are, but these are dragons too). And Shard playing father is also very cute, as he tries desperately to be a good role model for Hikaru, who constantly surprises him.

I liked seeing Kjorn maturing too. He’s come a long way from the arrogant son who thoughtlessly took on many of his father’s more destructive beliefs and shipwrecked his friendship with Shard because of it. And he’s challenged in ways his size and strength can’t fix—winning trust, building alliances.

I also appreciate how even the most minor characters have their own lives, their own stories, and often, their own character arcs. The wolf that Shard saved from gryfons has grown up—and is struggling to be the kind of wolf that can win Catori’s heart. Or take Caj, who is torn between his wingbrother oath to Sverin and his love for his Vanir mate, and does everything he can to be honorable and faithful to both when they are completely at odds with each other.

All in all these continue to impress. The world has so much depth and detail, and I love the thread of redemption that breaks through evil. Because the ultimate goal is so much more complicated than simply killing a tyrant, of whatever kind. Real, true peace must break the cycle of violence—not ignoring the wrongs perpetrated but rising above them. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Skyfire (The Summer King Chronicles #2)

Title: Skyfire

Author: Jess E. Owen

Series: The Summer King Chronicles #2

Shard can’t afford to linger on the islands he’s known all his life. The Aesir came from over the sea, and knowing the reason for that long quest might provide the way for him to break through Sverin’s ever more despotic rule. But he also has the destiny of the Summer King to wrestle with. No one can tell him any more than the old song, a song known by many different species. If Shard is to be a king, how? If he is destined to unite the pride, how can he do it without perpetuating the cycle of war?

It’s a rare series whose second book is better than the first, but this is one of them. Shard’s tale interweaves with the story of those he left behind, and, surprisingly, neither one drags. Shard’s growing happiness contrasts against the growing misery of the rest, but both of them have incredible challenges that seem insurmountable.

I liked getting to know a new set of gryfons. Shard has a chance to see how a pride might look when it isn’t isolated and pushing hard for its own survival. There’s still dysfunction, but overall it’s a much healthier place. I particularly liked Asvander. He’s a little more than he appears, but it’s also true Shard’s own emotions cause him to misjudge him.

Also fun was seeing Shard interact with both eagles and lions. The various races all have their own flavor of legend, and although they seem to have an almost universal dislike of gryfons, there’s a lot of commonalities too.

Overall this continues to be an engaging fantasy with strong characters, hard choices, and plenty of surprises. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1)

Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Author: Dave Rudden

Series: Knights of the Borrowed Dark #1

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan. Unlike the stories, he’s not expecting a grand destiny or secret power to claim him. He knows where he is, who he is, and what his future is likely to hold. Then an aunt he never suspected he had shows up to claim him—and he encounters creatures of a darkness beyond this world who would destroy him . . .

This was fun on so many levels.

First, it’s incredibly self-aware of the various genre tropes that tend to crop up in books like these, and there are often little winks skewering concepts even while embracing some of them. Orphaned children discovering secret societies and great power—where have we heard that before? Right. But the fact that the story knows well enough where it’s going, and where others have gone, to poke fun at things lends an air of amusement to the whole thing. Even when it’s uncovering the fact that most of the secret world is really nasty and populated with extremely competent and deadly people who exist to stamp out the really nasty bits.

“Right,” Denizen said. “I thought this place was actually haunted or something.”
“Oh, not at all,” Darcie said brightly. “It’s just in constant danger of falling into the dark end of the universe.”
She frowned. “That’s not better, is it?”

Or bits like:

Three. Three near-death experiences. Was that a lot? How did they ever get anything done?

The horror and the humor work really well together. I can’t really read horror unless it’s screamingly funny, because something about the darkness sharpens the jokes. I loved the Tenebrae and the various bits of it that Denizen encounters. I loved the power and the Cost, and the deeper implications of it may be unstated for now but like Denizen is warned early on, there’s clearly a limit to what they can do.

“Rescue you,” Denizen said again in the same annoyed tone. “I’m here to save you from the Clockwork Three. Not”—he kicked some files out of the way—“that I’m expecting a thank-you or anything. With the kind of day I’ve been having, I expect you’ll try to kill me when I free you. Everyone else has. It won’t even be difficult. I’ve had about”—he half slid down another drift of folders, barely catching himself from pitching headlong into the circle—“ten minutes’ training since this whole debacle started.”


And the characters are so good. I liked Simon a lot, and how he proves so unexpectedly resourceful. I like his friendship with Denizen and how the two of them compliment each other. I loved Denizen’s caution, skepticism, sarcasm, and attachment to having things familiar and predictable. All of the Order that he meets is awesome in his or her own way.

It’s also well-written at a sentence level. The language is often playful, often beautiful. But the book isn’t so in love with turning a phrase that it doesn’t read swiftly. I chewed through it in one day but I think I’m going to read it again, to better appreciate the little details.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see how Denizen’s last choices change things going forward, and what happens with certain other characters I liked quite a bit. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Boy Who Knew Everything (Piper McCloud #2)

Title: The Boy Who Knew Everything

Author: Victoria Forester

Series: Piper McCloud #2

Conrad and Piper have escaped the school that held them prisoner and tried to force them to be normal. But life in the outside world can’t exactly go back to the way it used to be. Conrad has no family anymore—or none he can trust. So Piper offers hers, and for a little while, the two of them start building a home where they can use their extraordinary gifts. But an ugly mystery has been lurking, and Conrad and Piper have been destined to confront it . . .

I really enjoyed The Girl Who Could Fly, and it’s taken me far too long to actually sit down and read this. It’s equal parts hilarity and heartbreak. Conrad is far too smart to live a dull and ordinary life, but he’s also susceptible to the usual human ailments of loneliness and a hunger for love. Piper has plenty of heart, which makes her a perfect partner, but Conrad gets most of the narrative here.

And it’s so quotable. I have to skip the quotes that spoil too much, but I LOVED these:

Conrad stiffened and made no move to come closer. “Uh, Dad, you just tried to kill me, so I’m not really feeling this whole father-son thing at the moment.”

Another favorite:

“It takes talent to lose the President of the United States. Sorry, dude, can’t help you with that one.”

Conrad might be much better at head knowledge, but I love how he’s able to cut right through certain attempts at emotional manipulation and put the situation in plain language. He knows what has to be done, once he understands the situation. And in the end, he has a lot more courage than anyone except perhaps Piper expects of him.

The end leaves enough open that there’s a potential for another book, but it also wraps things up well enough that if it ended here I wouldn’t feel too sorry. (I suspect Conrad, though, is the only person capable of figuring out a way around the villain in question, and it would be interesting to see him succeed and actually kill that person.)

Overall this was a lot of fun. I’d recommend reading The Girl Who Could Fly first to get a proper background to some of the characters and the general situation, and then dive into this. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Quest to the Uncharted Lands (Solace #3)

Title: The Quest to the Uncharted Lands

Author: Jaleigh Johnson

Series: Solace #3

For the first time, the Merrow and Dragonfly kingdoms have a cooperative mission launching to explore the uncharted lands over the mountains. Stella Glass really wants to be on the ship, but since the crew is tightly restricted, she has no choice but to stow away. Then she runs into a boy who introduces unexpected complications to her journey, and a saboteur who wants the whole expedition to fail . . .

Like the other two Solace books, this one stands alone, although it has a few nods to some events that happened in Mark of the Dragonfly and The Secrets of Solace.

I liked that Stella has such a strong relationship with her parents, and her parents are good, loving parents whose care for her drives a lot of her conflicts. She can’t bear the thought of being separated from them, or possibly losing them to an unknown fate, so she determines to stow away to be reunited with them come what may in the new lands. I also liked that she’s not stupid when that affection is used against her by the villain.

Cyrus was my favorite, though. He’s secretive but not dishonest, and as Stella uncovers more of his secrets, she finds out a few things about adventures and how to react to new discoveries. I liked both who he was and what he was, and how he and Stella push each other to their best.

Overall this was an excellent addition to the Solace books, and I would love to see more. I rate this book Highly Recommended.