Tag Archives: urban

The Awakening of Ren Crown (Ren Crown #1)

Title: The Awakening of Ren Crown

Author: Anne Zoelle

Series: Ren Crown #1

Ren Crown knew her place: beside her extroverted and popular twin brother, Christian. Until the night he dies violently, leaving her alone with questions no one hears, let alone answers. Then another inexplicable assault, followed by powers she never expected to exist and a world where raising the dead isn’t just a thought experiment but something that’s actually possible. Now Ren has a new goal: getting her brother back. No matter what.

This is a bit jerky, although some of that is definitely because Ren is getting jerked around from one thing to another, and a lot of the worldbuilding that would smooth things out is stuff Ren has no way of knowing. I would have liked a little more worldbuilding details, since Ren was going to some of the engineering classes on the sly, and a little less “getting drunk at a party” common college type scenes.

I do like how balanced Ren is between art and engineering. This isn’t someone who pushes the superiority of one side or the other, or even someone who is good at one but has no aptitude for the other, but is someone who can engage and enjoy both dimensions. And the fact that painting counts as a substance abuse charge was funny. As much as I was curious what she might paint without limiters, it was amusing to see how other people responded to what they see as a heavy abuser.

The other characters were generally good as well, although Christian never really worked for me. He came off initially as someone I disliked, and even though Ren thinks the world of him, I never really bought why he was so good (it wasn’t really necessary to understand her obsession, though). It was interesting to get a character who’s got some kind of magical sex attraction going and Ren not only isn’t even interested, but engages him purely in a business associate relationship. I hope that doesn’t get twisted in the future to create a weird love triangle. It was also very interesting to see Ren recognize her crush is nothing but a fantasy, and admit the real guy is not someone she wants (although the cynical part of me says they’ll probably end up as a couple anyway).

Overall, this is a mostly solid start to a series I wouldn’t mind continuing. Hopefully the next book will open Ren’s legal opportunities a bit more so she can dig into things on a normal level. I rate this book Recommended.

Knights of the End (Knights of the End #1)

Title: Knights of the End

Author: J. D. Cowan

Series: Knights of the End #1

Teddy MacIsaac dreams of heroes in a world where heroic ideals have succumbed to world-weary pessimism. Undaunted, he follows his dreams and a voice calling inside until he discovers a golden coin with mysterious powers. It grants him what he always wanted: the chance to be a hero. But no hero stands unopposed, and the general evil that’s haunted his world is about to get a lot more personal . . .

I really liked this. I found it based on a blog post by its author, and the comment that it had been written for his (her?) 13-year-old self immediately grabbed my interest, as the summary promised an actual light-versus-dark conflict that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

And we get lots of awesome. Transforming superhero powers, secret identities, magical powers strong enough to change the world, and a colorful cast of friends and enemies. I particularly liked what happened with Rock, and how Teddy’s relationship with him changes over the course of the book. Bits of this read like an old comic book or cartoon drawn in greater detail. And I mean that as a compliment—the bombastic fights, the witty exchanges, the soaring imagination, the love of what it actually is to be a hero.

There are a few minor typos and errors that detracted a bit, but overall this was a solid book. I do hope the series continues, and continues to explore more of what it actually takes to be a hero who holds on to right no matter the cost (along with increasing the superhero cool moves and powers). Teddy takes a few knocks this time around, but certain events seem to be setting him up for a much deeper conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. I rate this book Recommended.

Pursuing Prissie (Pomeroy Family Legacy #1)

Title: Pursuing Prissie

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Pomeroy Family Legacy #1

Ten years have passed since Prissie began seeing angels. Many of her old friends have moved on, but she’s still in West Edinton. And after a stint in college, Ransom is back and ready to stay. His feelings for Prissie have only grown . . . but she’s content to see him as a friend. And Prissie is distracted by a demon who has taken a particular interest in her.

I would recommend reading the Threshold books before this one, as it will provide a lot of context to the story and the characters. This takes place ten years later, and it’s a lot of fun to see how everyone’s grown up. I do miss the exuberance of the younger Ransom, as his uncertainties (as well as his goal) make him more restrained than he was previously. But Prissie mellowed out a lot, and as usual surrounds herself with a diverse crowd. I think I was most surprised with Margary, her former best friend, and seeing not only how far their paths have diverged, but how Prissie is mature enough to recognize the real needs in her former friend’s life and tries to meet them.

The angelic side is as fun as ever. Tameas and Ethan are surprised to find their charges swapped for the time being, although some of the angels eventually guess the reason. I wonder if Ethan ever figured out his main qualification was looking like a teenager. . . but he does get a level of encouragement from Prissie that Zeke doesn’t provide, simply because Prissie can see him.

I think my favorite line in the whole book was this exchange between Tamaes and Jedrick.

Tamaes sagged to a seat beside Jedrick, who smiled sympathetically. “How fares your new charge?”
“I used to laugh at the stories Ethan shared.”

I also think it’s funny how much Beau and Prissie rely on Marcus, which drives Ransom crazy because he can’t help interpreting this from a human perspective and feel left out, not understanding that they tend to turn to Marcus for issues more demonic in nature. And Marcus is always in full agreement with them about “we’re just friends.” I wonder, given Prissie’s comment in Ransom’s new house at the end, if she’s told him a bit more of her strange life. Not telling her brothers is common sense, but Ransom has a better reason to know by the end.

Overall, I liked having this followup to the main story to see how everything came out. Recommended.

Threshold short story roundup

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold

Due to the shorter length of most of these, I’m lumping all the reviews together. Several of these are currently free to read on Amazon and/or the author’s website. I tried to put them in roughly chronological order, but several of them have overlapping time periods.

Tried and True

Taweel is a Guardian who lost his charge to the plague that devastated Egypt, killing all the firstborn. Grief casts him away from his fellow Guardians, away from any purpose or healing. But the Weavers who shelter him slowly become friends, a yahavim has taken a personal interest, and two young Guardians may break through his sorrow . . .

I dislike the 100-word-chapter format, as every fragment feels far too short, and I would rather have fewer chapters but more length so that the longer scenes don’t keep getting interrupted by breaks. That said, the story itself is good. Guardians prepare and train and devote themselves to a charge, so when Taweel loses his, he’s unable to see a future for himself. He doesn’t INTEND to Fall, but he can’t forget.

This one is also available to read for free on the author’s website (mostly; if you want the epilogue then get the paid version). Recommended.

Angels on Guard

Tamaes has taken his mentor’s lessons to heart, except for the most important one: allowing himself to care for the little girl under his watchcare. But his concern for his own faithfulness could lead to the very outcome he’s trying to prevent . . .

This is a good story, but won’t make much sense without the context of Tried and True. Tameas’s reluctance is entirely based on Adin’s taunts to him about loving his charge too much (and Adin’s Fall happening in part because his charge died). So Tameas is determined not to repeat the mistake.

This is also the story behind Prissie’s lifelong fear of heights, and snippets of it were in the main Threshold series. I liked this fuller treatment, and getting to see exactly what was going on behind the scenes. (Although I would have also loved to let it go a little further to see Tames awkwardly working his way into the role he should’ve had from the beginning. But I can also reread the later interactions he has with her in the books for something similar.) Recommended, but be sure to read Tried and True (and probably the Threshold main novels) first.

Rough and Tumble

Ethan is a Guardian in training, but his Sending comes well before he feels ready for it. Still, he goes eagerly to his charge: Zeke Pomeroy.

This is another 100-word-chapter one, and again, I’m not too fond of the format, but the story is amusing. Zeke Pomeroy was born wild, and for all that Ethan loves him, he really struggles to keep up. Although this is another story about Guardians, Ethan has a much different perspective on the role than Tameas (I also thought it was cute how Jude’s Guardian has a lot in common with Jude). Recommended.

Angels All Around

Milo is excited to begin his time as a Graft, an angel who lives a human life among humans (at least, when he isn’t called on to resume angelic duties). But the Messenger’s plans fall apart as soon as he walks out the front door. . .

This is another one that tells an event from the main Threshold novels from the perspective of the angels instead of Prissie. In this case, it’s the incident where Milo and Prissie first met in the gazebo in the middle of town. It’s funny to see Milo’s take on the whole thing, because there’s a battle going on all around that he has to pretend he can’t see, and Prissie isn’t at all what he expected. This story is also free. Recommended.

Angel on High

Among the stars, a new angel comes into being. Koji is full of questions, eager to learn and understand. But not all new knowledge is pleasant . . .

This is my favorite of the shorter works (so far, at least). Not only does this story touch on the very beginnings of an angel’s life, the angel in question is Koji, who can’t help trying to figure everything out. Some of his questions go deep, and some are just funny.

The end of this overlaps with the beginning of The Blue Door, retelling his original encounter with Prissie from his point of view. Prissie was annoyed to find a possible trespasser, but Koji is panicking because he never expected to end up interacting with humans, and has no idea what he should do.

I wish this had been novel-length, because it felt like it ended way too fast, but what’s here is sweet and hilarious. Highly Recommended.

Angels in Harmony

This is basically a two-part short story. The first half covers how Baird and Kester first met, and the second half takes place shortly before Christmas and covers a holiday challenge between the two Worshipers (and actually fills in a missing piece from the Threshold novels, mainly, what Prissie ended up giving all her angelic friends for Christmas).

Like all the shorter pieces, this was a good look into the more personal side of some of the angels. Baird’s mostly enthusiastic in the novels, but here we see another side of him: someone whose mood can swing down almost as far as it goes up (Kester, in contrast, is extremely steady). Between Ephron’s capture and some of the hazards of life on earth, Baird can’t always maintain a smile. Kester, in contrast, is longing for a chance to be a mentor himself, but he takes his current apprenticeship with good grace, and aims to support Baird as best he can.

The second half can be a bit jerky due to the quick transitions, but all in all this is still a really fun piece. Currently this one is also free. Recommended.

The Garden Gate (Threshold #4)

Title: The Garden Gate

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold #4

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The angelic battle Prissie alone could see tore up her bedroom, her family’s orchard, and her father’s bakery. It destroyed much of what she treasured about her home—and to make matters even worse, although Ephron was finally rescued, her own Guardian, Tamaes, was captured. How can she move forward? How can she trust? But Prissie isn’t facing anything alone. . .

This was just the perfect cap to an already amazing series. Not much worked out how I expected, but there were plenty of surprises and laughs along the way. Beau, Prissie’s brother, is now in on the secret (at least some of it). I thought this would be a bigger thing, was surprised it wasn’t, and then realized that fits perfectly with the kind of story this has always been. Angels are here. It isn’t some big flashy fire-and-lightning, prophecies-from-heaven event, but something that fits so well into the ordinary everyday that it’s hard to draw a line between the natural and the supernatural.

That’s not to say there aren’t battles aplenty. Tamaes is suffering. Adin is scheming. More is happening in heaven and on earth than Prissie has eyes to see.

[Beau said] “Running is . . . not my gift . . . gimme books, Lord . . . keyboard . . . comfy chair . . . and an angel on my fridge. Any day of the week.”

But the heart of this book is the relationships. I was very surprised at how things ended up with Prissie’s former friends . . . they all moved on. Separately. The same way they’ve been drifting apart for the last three books. Even though Prissie could wish it were otherwise, no miraculous change of heart occurs, and the rift between them by now feels rather final. Perhaps one day it will turn around again, but that was not this book.

In their place, she has a growing friendship (despite her best efforts, and because of his) with Ransom. Ransom feels like the real hero of these stories, to me. He’s been far better to her than she deserves, and his persistence finally bears fruit.

There it was. Prissie dared to ask, “Are you lonely?”
“Nope. I’ve got friends.” Ransom took the topmost box of leftovers from the stack Prissie carried and peeked under the lid. “There’s still an opening if you’re interested.”

And of course, Ransom provides so many laughs.

“They say this is a dream, and I’ll forget everything in the morning.” Ransom edged closer to her. “Never had a dream that came with a disclaimer before. Should I be worried?”

(What happens after this had me laughing until I cried. . . Ransom decides to go for broke because he won’t remember any of it anyway, so why should he care?)

And I grew to like Marcus more and more over the series, but here he’s just perfect. I love how his character develops from barely-talking tough guy that Prissie writes off as bad news to someone she trusts with her life.

“This round, I’m demoted to hand-holder.” Without a trace of irritation, he admitted, “There’s a decent chance I’ll be hiding behind you. But it sounds better to say I’ve got your back.”

I’m so glad we finally get to see Ephron, and that he’s finally in a place where he can recover. I liked Prissie’s conflicted emotions around him. It was her prayer that helped set him free, and it was a prayer she put off making for a long time. Yet how the angels deal with the situation and how Prissie deals with it are totally different. She has a lot of trouble with him because of her own guilt, and because she’s not comfortable being confronted with real suffering and its aftermath.

And Koji has been a faithful friend, but as the year turns, his time with her family is coming to an end. The anticipation of loss is something both of them have a hard time bearing. I really liked how that played out too.

One final quote, because this is totally me too and made me laugh:

“Which do you think—a whole bagful of cheap chocolate, or a little box of the good stuff?”
Prissie shook her head. “Depends on if you’re asking me or Neil. I prefer quality over quantity.”
“Don’t underestimate Neil. He just prefers quality in quantity.”

All in all, these are delightful books. I read this one twice in quick succession because I happened to discover a couple of free short stories on the author’s website, and a few of them give so much context to certain characters that I just had to read this again to catch some of the deeper implications of certain scenes. Highly, highly recommended.

Between Worlds

Title: Between Worlds

Author: Skip Brittenham

In the forest is an aspen tree said to grant wishes. When Marshall and Mayberry encounter it, they end up in a world full of strange creatures, magic, and danger. Can they survive?

This was stuffed with all the things I usually enjoy, but maybe because of that I never connected much with anything. It was too much, too fast. Or perhaps I just didn’t feel enough of a connection to the characters or the world to really care about what happened to either.

The illustrations are easily the best part. Every few chapters another full page color illustration showcasing a nearby scene. The pictures really help to bring some of the strange creatures to life.

The characters are generic. Mayberry is the “too cool for the country” new girl, and Marshall is the dork with no self-confidence. Both of them are outcasts, and pretty much the other’s only friend. They feel similar enough in the prose that I had a hard time telling them apart; other than surface details it felt like most of what one of them did the other could’ve done and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

And the fantasy world would have been better if we didn’t have Marshall and Mayberry mastering magic in the space of a week. There’s no attempt made to explain what magic is or how it works, which I could live with if it didn’t feel so haphazard. These kids have never seen magic before, but after only a week they can do complicated magical tricks like lighting multiple sticks on fire at the same time or calling up gigantic waves from nowhere? And all it takes is chanting a few words and twisting your fingers a certain way?

Same with the familiars just showing up and instantly being best friends, because the prose doesn’t have time to be anything but bare-bones. We have multiple intelligent races, there’s some kind of war going on, here’s a magical weapon that’s the source of all magical weapons, etc. And then the way the book ties up it doesn’t feel like it wants a sequel, so whatever this world is and whatever relation it has to ours doesn’t seem to matter either.

It was frustrating because I wanted to like this more than I did. Instead it felt like a firehose of fantasy trappings without ever getting enough depth to make anything stick. It’s not bad. It’s just that I’m more likely to remember the pictures than anything in the plot. I rate this book Neutral.

A Crown of Dragons (Unicorne Files #3)

Title: A Crown of Dragons

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #3

Michael is no closer to understanding the mystery behind his father, his own powers, or the secret agency UNICORNE that seems to hold all the answers. But when the dragon scale his father was hunting impacts his life once again, he’s pressing for answers. Even if finding out might change his life once again . . .

I didn’t think it was possible for the book to give some answers that actually made sense of some of my more aggravating questions, but it did. For starters, why would anyone try to make Michael into a secret agent when he clearly has little aptitude for the role? Although plot-wise, I think the second book could basically be skipped as it contributed very little, and the first and third books do a better job presenting the overarching plot with Michael, his dad, and Freya.

That said, I still had to force myself to finish. Michael feels like the wrong protagonist for a story like this. He’s got fun powers, but barely uses them at all except to pull a total rewrite for the end, and that feels cheap—he’s never really controlled them, and part of the fun was seeing the unintended consequences, like his sister becoming a musical genius, that always accompanied whatever he was ACTUALLY trying to do. Add to that he’s not showcasing much except incompetence and an ability to get into trouble (and not in a particularly entertaining fashion), and the adults who know more are basically jerking him around for the most part.

It’s not really badly written. It’s just that I ended up hating the main character, who I actually liked well enough in the first book, because it’s really hard to find things to like him FOR. I did like the ideas, particularly in this book, and its take on dragons. But I can’t see myself reading these again. I rate this book Neutral.