Tag Archives: urban

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.

To The Falls (The Falls Trilogy #1)

Title: To The Falls

Author:  Heather Renee

Series: The Falls Trilogy #1

Kali has just finished her sophomore year of college when her life turns upside-down. The strange dream she’s been having was actually supposed to be a sign pointing to another world, one that she’s originally from, and she’s inherited the duty to protect the passages between worlds. But someone doesn’t want her stepping into her destiny . . .

I probably shouldn’t have finished this, but it started well, so I kept going in the hopes it would turn itself around at least a little by the end.

The beginning actually is decent. Kali’s college life (and best friend Jordan) is set up well, and the normal life feels solid enough that it’s easy to see why Kali would push so hard against everything magical that tries to reshape her predictable world. Unfortunately, once she goes home for her birthday, the problems start to surface.

First, the book is rife with run-on sentences. A handful would have been annoying, but it feels like I hit at least one a page.

Second, the characters, with the exception of Kali and Jordan, are barely fleshed out. Lucas is the worst offender. As the main love interest, I expected him to have SOME glimmer of his own personality, but his entire character was built around being in love with Kali and doing whatever she wanted. He’s got a lot of history and backstory, and very little of that comes through. I wanted to see independent thought, even if he is saddled with finally finding his soulmate.

And yes, the whole soulmate angle takes away any possible complexity to the romance. You know you’ve found your soulmate because his eyes change color to match, plus the book of your life (which the Fates write in) will confirm it.

Third, the voice is inappropriate for anything but Kali narrating for herself. Here’s a sample section of the Fates:

We know you’re struggling Kaliah, but please have faith. All of this will make sense soon and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. Trust your instincts and everything will be okay. Not everything is as it seems right now and we need your patience. We are watching out for you even if you don’t realize it.


It’s too casual to feel like it came from some all-knowing deity (not to mention a missing comma in the first sentence). Why have books at all? Why not have the Fates directly communicate with Kali? Having books that some deity writes in feels like a really weird way to push the plot forward. They basically cheat and tell Kali things she couldn’t otherwise know, which takes away any chance of tension since everyone knows the Fates don’t lie or make mistakes.

Fourth, the actual villain side is really disappointing. We have one major villain who is basically Mr. Maniacal Laughter who has a somewhat reasonable motive but terrible presentation (and is killed by lightness and goodness. I wish there had been a different way to describe this, or do it). Then we have a possibly more interesting wrinkle with the person who helped him . . . except the Fates underline all the answers as soon as the main characters even wonder about it, so that’s no good. And this person is an even less compelling villain.

Overall, this book feels like it really needed another draft to clean up the characters, events, and grammar. Not Recommended.

The Secret Country (The Eidolon Chronicles #1)

Title: The Secret Country

Author: Jane Johnson

Series: The Eidolon Chronicles #1

Ben’s plans to get himself a pair of Mongolian Fighting Fish only last as long as it takes him to save up the money. At the pet store, a cat insists on being taken home instead—and since Ben has never heard a talking cat, he gives in. Little did he suspect he had encountered the fringes of something much bigger. Another world exists alongside our own. A world of magic. A world in trouble. A world that needs Ben to help it . . .

This was a bit too young and straightforward for my tastes, but it was still a decent story. There’s no complexity to the villains or the heroes: once you’ve met someone, you can easily tell which side that person is on. (Amusingly, the only exception is Ben’s sister, but she’s not a major part of the story.)

I did like the variety of mythological creatures. There are dragons, of course, but also selkies and dryads and Gabriel’s Hounds. I particularly liked the twists in how the selkie was presented. That made much more sense than the whole sealskin thing.

I also liked that the whole destiny card doesn’t give Ben a free pass. He’s still himself, with his only real ability apparently being able to talk to magical creatures, which is something a lot of people share.

On the other hand, Ben doesn’t do a whole lot either. Mostly he’s enabling or directing others to do most of the work. I would hope a future book would involve more of his own deeds and not just the help of his friends.

All in all this sets up for a series, but the story wraps up well enough in the first book to have something that feels like an ending. I doubt I’ll continue just because it feels a little younger than the stuff I enjoy, but it isn’t a bad book. I rate this book Neutral.

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.

Nick of Time

Title: Nick of Time

Author: Julianne Q. Johnson

Nick is tired of his life. Day in and day out, he’s constantly confronted with people in need. Lost children, fires, heart attack victims—so many needs, and it never ends. Even when he tries to stay home and take a day off, trouble finds him. But life might be taking a turn for the better when he helps out a neighbor in need. She thinks they might be able to find the root of his “curse” and fix it once and for all . . .

I loved this. I like superhero stories in general, and this one is a surprisingly unique take. Nick isn’t extraordinary. He’s taken classes in martial arts and first aid because he keeps running into people with severe issues. It’s a reaction, not a drive to be a hero. And yet he is a hero, because he chooses to step in, time and again, even when this puts him inside burning houses or in front of people with guns.

He’d just really like a day off.

It’s a lot of fun to watch his “curse” in action, and how his family and friends have adapted (or not) to what’s going on in his life. It’s funny to see how heroism has basically destroyed his dating life, since he can’t hold to anything like a schedule. I also liked having a somewhat older protagonist, in his mid-30s, who has a bit more experience with life in general.

I didn’t care for the prologue/interlude as much, as I was initially puzzled at why the book I was reading started like a typical fantasy and not the modern-day superhero-who-isn’t story I was expecting from the back cover summary. I think that information might have been better as just part of the present-day narrative. I also thought it wrapped up a little fast, and a little too neatly (the curse-givers were a bit too reasonable once all the facts were on the table, for beings that don’t really care about morality at all). But it was nice to get an ending, which makes this a standalone book.

Overall this was an excellent read and one I’m sure to come back to, especially the beginning. The contrast between watching Nick save people and his own depressive attitude towards the whole thing can get really funny. I rate this book Highly Recommended.