Tag Archives: neutral

St. Griswold College for Abandoned Boys (Xavier #1)

Title: St. Griswold College for Abandoned Boys

Author: E.M. Cooper

Series: Xavier #1

Xavier never suspected life wasn’t going well—until his parents dropped him off at St. Griswold College for Abandoned Boys, and never returned. Now more or less a prisoner at the school, which is surrounded by high walls and a deadly forest, he dreams of escape, rescue, anything. But the purpose of St. Griswold is more sinister than he knows, and if he can’t get out soon, he might lose more than his life . . .

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Angels are hit-or-miss for me (I prefer general people with wings over the various things angels bring into the picture), but I didn’t mind them here. There’s a fair amount of flying, certain fun powers, and hints Xavier is growing into something more than anyone really knows (JUST BE ABLE TO FLY, is all I ask).

The biggest problem with the book for me was the fact that I spent the entire thing really confused about the big picture. It would have helped to have the map on the front page instead of at the very end (I only noticed it after I finished the book). By default, I’m going to assume a book is set in the present-day on Earth unless informed otherwise—and the beginning of the book appears to support that. Except then we get a creepy school in a haunted forest, which turns out to be supernaturally infested with a lot of things, and a wider world where apparently telephones and computers aren’t all that common anymore. If I had to guess, this is Earth after some sort of world war, but even THAT only came up very close to the end. And the story doesn’t help by completely glossing over anything big-picture-related, which makes the very detailed focus on the immediate environs frustrating.

What HAPPENED? Is this Earth after a war? The kids are in school—can’t their history class (or memories of a history class outside) just say so? Why are the people outside apparently used to actual demons running around, when Xavier is shocked to find out they even exist? Same with magic. Some people shrug it off and some act like they’ve never heard of it before. Which would be fine if I had more CONTEXT.

And the plot is a mess of cliches interspersed with more interesting original ideas. St. Griswold is stereotypically evil in a lot of ways: bad food, poor clothing, prisonlike atmosphere. Introducing Gabe into the whole mess helped liven things up a lot, because when someone born out of a stroke of lightning shows up things are bound to get better. And I’m definitely going to pay attention when people with wings start appearing.

Things went reasonably well (except for the whole being-totally-confused-about-what-year-and-country-this-is bit) until the escape. The boys have a lot of close calls, and for a while are managing on their own, but eventually they have to turn to other people for help, and this is where I hit the second bit cliff of disbelief. Pretty much everyone Xavier turns to for help does help, very nicely, with no payment required and no questions asked, up to and including a random guy who shows up one page and dies the next. And this after all the talk about shapeshifters and spies. (Yes, yes, there was that one incident, but technically Xavier didn’t fall into that, Gabe did).

And the END . . . made me so angry. It felt like the entire journey had basically been pointless. I am curious about seeing Xavier with full-fledged powers (and hopefully some wings sooner or later), but I’m not sure I want to go through another book to get there.

Overall, the inconsistent quality of the writing bogs down what could have been a much better story. Big details are skimmed or nonexistent while little ones get tons of focus. This especially hurts towards the end, when the story tries to widen to include more of the country. I’m only rating this slightly higher because I feel like it could possibly get better. I rate this book Neutral.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)

Title: Hounded

Author: Kevin Hearne

Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Atticus O’Sullivan is a 21-centuries-old Druid who would prefer to be left alone. But a sword he happened to acquire in his younger days is still being sought by its original owner: the Celtic love god Aenghus Og. Atticus has been on the run for centuries, but this time, when the fight comes to his doorstep, he might be ready to try to end this for good.

This urban fantasy contains a lot of the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, witches, gods and goddesses. And a few of the not-so-usual in the form of the main character, a Druid (who conveniently avoids most of the less savory things historical Druids have been known to practice in favor of a more earth-worshipping religion). It was also a nice change of pace that most of the gods showing up were Celtic.

The story moves quickly, as Atticus finds himself at the center of a storm of attacks designed to either steal the sword or kill him (or both). I did like his lawyers, and how all of them are deadly in their own ways. And the dog is a lot of fun.

Mostly I wasn’t too swayed one way or the other by this. It’s a decent urban fantasy, but nothing particularly grabbed me and made me want to keep going with the next book. The worldbuilding is probably the best part, but the “everything goes” mindset was annoying because it fails to provide any context for how wildly disparate belief systems can all be equally true. I would have preferred some kind of baseline that could then show how various things worked within it. I rate this book Neutral.

Beast Master’s Ark (Beast Master)

Title: Beast Master’s Ark

Author: Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

Series: Beast Master

Storm has better things to do than cater to the egos of the scientists on the Ark. Some unknown thing is stripping living things down to the bone overnight, and if it isn’t stopped soon, the humans and the natives of Arzor might end up warring each other. Tani, a scientist, dislikes the Beast Masters because she thinks they kill their teams. But her help is vital if they hope to stop disaster.

A number of things broke the story, for me. Punctuation was one of my more minor quibbles, but cropped up often enough to be aggravating. Characters would ask each other questions, that are clearly questions, and not use question marks. Some of the dialog felt stilted. The story awkwardly sets up Storm and Tani for a couple well before either of them want anything to do with the other, with even the animals asking if they’re going to mate right after she arrives.

And I found Tani extremely unlikable. She’s supposed to be 19 but her behavior is really childish. Giving her a tragic backstory is almost an excuse not to think. She’s lived through a war: she ought to understand, at the very least, there are two sides, and sometimes choosing not to fight means getting run over. (I have no problem with extreme pacifists who are willing to stake their own lives on that philosophy. It starts becoming a problem when they want to stake everyone else’s lives on it too.) This is a big problem with the potential romance angle, because now I’m actively rooting against them getting together.

For something so intrinsic to her character and her upbringing, she changes her mind remarkably easily. The character just never felt right to me. The tragedy felt rather tacked on since once the decision is made that’s it.

Other than that, this is a decent enough read. I just couldn’t get over how much I hated Tani, which spoiled everything. I rate this book Neutral.

The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon #1)

Title: The Shadow of Black Wings

Author: James Calbraith

Series: The Year of the Dragon #1

Bran is a young dragon rider eager to graduate from the Academy and go on with the rest of his life—even if he’s not too sure what he wants to do. A journey taken with his father on a ship bound for places he’s never heard of sounds like a good start. But destiny has some marked him for something else . . .

The land of Yamato is more isolated than the Qin behind their barrier. An island unreachable by most sailors, it nonetheless contains a civilization to rival the rest of the world. But strange divinations foretell great changes. A shrine maiden and her best friend, a female samurai, are more involved than they suspect in the turmoil to come.

I really liked this, but the book suffers greatly from a lack of cohesion. The worldbuilding is excellent, picturing an alternate-history where Bran, who is from either Scotland or Wales (I never looked up what the new names referred to), finds himself on a sea voyage that takes him all the way to China and Japan. Along the way we see various kinds of dragons and magic, and the ways different cultures approach them both. The majority of the beginning and middle is devoted to this, with the greater plot only picking up at the end.

The biggest flaw is that the narrative doesn’t flow well at all. The initial scenes put a great deal of emphasis on Bran’s time at school and the bully that torments him. Both of these things drop out of the story after he graduates (hopefully they’ll surface in a future book so the time spent developing them wasn’t wasted). Then the sea voyage is less of a journey and more of a series of vignettes about various places Bran sees along the way (and the frequent switches from Bran’s point of view to his father’s don’t help much). Then we switch to Yamato and spend a good amount of time setting things up there before the story ever circles back around and connects the two threads. And the story cuts off in the middle of rising action, with nothing resembling a climax, even a minor one.

The ending may be less of a problem if you read the bundle, since I presume the second book will pick up immediately after this one left off. But whether or not you enjoy the book is probably going to come down to how much you like exploring the world, as the rest of the story feels like it needed another draft. I would have preferred alternating chapters between Bran and the girls, as it would have allowed the moment their stories merge to come much closer to the event that caused it.

Overall, I suspect I’ll keep going with this, because I do like it, but you’re probably better off getting the first book while it’s free and sampling it that way. I rate this book Neutral.

In Arcadia (Touchstone #5)

Title: In Arcadia

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #5

Laura never second-guessed her decision to walk through the gate to Munia to live with her daughter. But now that she’s on the other side, living in another world is settling into a directionless, mundane existence. Then comes the complication of possible romance. Having been divorced, Laura isn’t sure she wants to go through a relationship again.

I was expecting something closer to the Gratuitous Epilogue than the first three Touchstone books, but this isn’t even much like that. Although the idea of a story focusing on Cassandra’s mother was interesting, I thought the execution fell rather flat in several places.

I liked being able to see the impact Cassandra’s disappearance had on everyone at home, and what happened to the family as a result. Even though this was more of a summary backstory, it still filled in some holes and helped to explain why everyone who came with had decided that way. I liked the general story about Laura and her wanting to be close to her daughter but not be some kind of helicopter mom, understanding her daughter now has a family and a life.

The problem is I never really bought the romance, and unlike the other books, where there’s plenty going on outside that, here the romance is basically the story. I don’t mind the story being sex-positive, but I still find it bizarre Laura has no inkling this man even likes her, then a week later decides to sleep with him as the FIRST step in a relationship. And then half the reason she decides to continue it seems to be nothing more than “we had really good sex.” It would’ve made a lot more sense to me to have them start building the relationship on some common foundations before getting to that point. As it is, she’s known the man for mere hours before offering him that much intimacy.

It would have been nice to see more of her struggle with being a divorced person in a new relationship (and frankly, his struggle with the same; Tsur Selkie’s backstory is interesting, but he’s a rather flat character compared to Kaoren).

At least the twist at the very end leaves me hopeful some future book might explore the impact of that. But even if it does, it’s unlikely this one will need to be read to augment the story. I rate this book Neutral.

The White Widow’s Revenge (Ferals #3)

Title: The White Widow’s Revenge

Author: Jacob Grey

Series: Ferals #3

Caw’s problems have only multiplied. Selina is still hospitalized in a coma, the escaped convicts-turned-ferals have sparked off a crime wave, and Caw’s possession of the Midnight Stone continues to attract trouble. Can Caw save himself, much less his friends?

I really liked the first two books, so I went into this one hopeful for a strong cap to the series, but wound up not liking most of what happens here. The conflict between Caw and the well-meaning adult ferals isn’t unexpected, but it is disappointing even those like Pip who would probably side with him get pushed offstage. The humor with the crows isn’t really there anymore, and the whole thing with the crows deciding someone is worthy really needed to be brought up well before now, as that’s not the impression the entire series has given for how these powers work. Come to that, I didn’t get why certain actions would offend all of crowdom, and not just those involved. And why would this caveat apply solely to crows? Given the usage the convicts have been putting their animals through, I would expect those animals to have a few opinions.

So the humor wasn’t really there, the plot takes several bizarre twists that don’t feel all that well set up, and the conflict between the past and the present just happened so fast it was hard to feel any weight behind it.

That said, I did still enjoy some of the weirder sequences, like how a bison is set to robbing a bank. And the story does tie up some loose threads (pun intended) dangling from the first and second book. And although the end cleans up most of it, the world remains an inviting place that I hope will host more stories later on.

Overall, if you read and enjoyed the first two books, you might as well finish the series. I just don’t find this one up to the same level as the earlier books. I rate this book Neutral.

 

Dragon Trials (Return of the Darkening #1)

Title: Dragon Trials

Author: Ava Richardson

Series: Return of the Darkening #1

Agathea Flamme (Thea) is a noble who dreams of being chosen to be a dragon’s rider. She’d rather be like her brothers in the Dragon Riders than married off to help carry on the family name through her children. Sebastian is the son of a drunken blacksmith who never even thought he’d qualify for such an honor. But when the same dragon chooses both of them, they’ll need to learn to work together. Because a greater danger is stirring . . .

I’ll say up front these do not read like 17 year olds. I read them about twelve. I enjoy middle-grade fiction as well as YA, so I still enjoyed the story, but I do want to note that the way the characters think and act in no way speaks “teenager” to me. Thea’s blind hatred of Sebastian for being a commoner is a grade-school level grudge.

Sebastian is easily the best part of the book (well, him and the dragons). He’s insecure due to his background but is willing to do what he can not only for himself but to help those around him. He’s thrilled with his dragon, and his interactions with her are sweet and a lot of fun.

Thea is also insecure, but unlike Sebastian, the story doesn’t flesh out her family beyond the extreme sense of duty she feels to live up to what she believes is their high expectations for her. So she comes off as an insensitive jerk for most of the book. I would actually have less of a problem with this if the story had included a few scenes showing her interacting with her parents, losing arguments, being weak, or otherwise humiliated, and then taking that pain out on Sebastian as a way to cope. As it is she’s going to be the make-or-break part of the book, because she’s mostly needlessly cruel. If you can’t stomach reading about her until she softens up, then you might as well just put the book down and go do something else.

Overall, though, I liked the dragons, and since Thea does get better by the end, that leaves me feeling more positively about the sequel. I just hope it takes more time to flesh out the characters and motivations through scene. I rate this book Neutral.