Loading: Life, by E. N. Chaffin

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The premise of a preternatural, video game-esque narrative is one that isn’t always done too well. However, in Loading Life, real world and video games mesh together excellently. 

Hero, the downtrodden, troublemaking main character without a special ability, is paired with Annie Mei, top student, for a project that will allow him to pass a class in school. From there his life gets weirder and more malicious, while he himself grows as a person. 

Now, usually when the main character is a delinquent, or made out to be something of an uncontrollable statistic, they’re inherently abusive in one way or another. In Loading Life, the author takes a different approach. Sure, Hero is a butthead, but he doesn’t abuse his friends or Annie, especially. Not using her as a sounding board was a huge deal for me. Therefore, when Hero’s character development came, he learned he didn’t need to be scared and run away. He learned he could ask for help. He wasn’t given up on and tossed aside like so many wanted to do. He was still a butthead, but it turned into friendly banter. Character development was huge in this novel for almost every character, even the minor ones, like the guys in the gang. The reader also go to know the characters well without a clogging info dump. 

The writing style was well-suited as well. It was light and serious where it needed to be. Gritty in places without being over the top. As for the world building: HUDs, mana bars, health bars, and things of the Life were as well-integrated as magic would be in a fantasy setting. 

All-in-all, a rounded novel. It’s easy to get sucked in. While the storyline isn’t necessarily original, the storytelling is refreshing and everything wraps up nice and neat at the end. 

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Getting Gay, by Bryce Hunter



Things aren’t always as they seem, and this novel really takes that to heart. From beginning to end it was full of surprises, taking directions I didn’t see coming. 
Hearing tales of the Mormon church in Utah, I had to check this out. The stunning accuracy of Mormon family life made this feel like a memoir. Noah’s growing up, and his strict upbringing is clashing with his growth and development as a child. This novel really leans into the “prejudices are taught” line of thinking and I liked how it was demonstrated. 
There was plenty of conflict to go around, both internal and external. Noah’s pressures to fit in at school, church, and home lead him down an almost self-destructive path. Regardless of anything else however, I was happy to see that he was shown with an okay support group. Something many people lack because of said prejudices, but this demonstrates that those can be set aside to help someone out. 
I was a little confused as to why, in one household, a certain lifestyle was perfectly normal and acceptable, when this character continually bashed on another lifestyle. That’s the only part in the novel that didn’t really make sense, though I’m glad the differing lifestyles were included. 
As I said before, this novel is full of surprises and the ending was the biggest. I was a big fan. Noah’s character development from kid to adult was stellar, and I enjoyed the finale conflict resolutions. There was almost a spiritual feel to it. 
Overall an excellent, and different, read. Wonderful characters and development, beautiful storytelling, and it’s able to surprise the reader. Well done. 
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A Perfect World, by Shari Sakurai

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4 stars

 

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I was introduced to this series by reading Adam first. It was only a companion piece, but it was an excellent introduction to the world, the conflict, and the characters. However, I will warn readers that reading Adam first will spoil this novel.

 

 

Eric’s got it all. Literally. As the genetically engineered poster boy for the L. S. A, he faces off against the notorious terrorist Adam Larimore. Things aren’t always as they seem, and Eric’s unwavering loyalty will really be put to the test.

 

 

I liked the layer and depth to the two factions. Adam and the L. S. A. were constantly trying to outdo and stay ahead of each other. Things that seemed insignificant at the time became the catalyst for something much bigger. However, the reader doesn’t realize it until much later. Character motivations were always in question. The lines between morality were heavily drawn. It was a nice dynamic that kept the reader from getting too comfortable.

 

 

As far as romances went, this one showed rather than told character emotions towards one another. It was subtle the whole way, something I really enjoyed. Things felt more natural. It progressed at a reasonable rate, though still a little on the fast side. There were a lot of nuances that went into character interactions. It made them more tense, more dramatized so the reader stayed interested. There were dynamics all over the place. It was great.

 

 

When talking about sci-fi, this certainly took a very dystopian view. The world was in shambles, and a corrupt government is maintaining those shambles. The two genres overlap nicely, in a very young adult way.

 

 

Dialogue was awkward at some points. Receiving character emotions was difficult. An impassioned scene would arise in which a character was supposed to make the reader sympathize and reciprocate said feelings. Some of those scenes fell flat.

 

 

The cliffhanger at the end was really good. It ended on such a note that I want to find out what happens next. There’s a few routes this series could take, and I’m excited to see where it leads.

 

 

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I Have a Friend on Jupiter, by Celine Rose Mariotti



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The idea of kids having pen pals in space is quite the adorable one. Rather creative, as well. Carlos and Indiana think it’s pretty cool, too. So cool, in fact, that the aliens decide to visit. When that happens, things start to go horribly wrong. 
The writing style and simplistic dialogue make this definitely feel geared towards a younger audience. Given the fact that the kids are twelve, I liked how that worked out. Things were fairly predictable and straightforward. The attitudes of the kids and their open mindedness was a strong representation of how some things are taught. 
The climax fell a bit short. Giving the aliens certain abilities made things a little too easy. I understand why it was done, but perhaps involving the children a little more would have spiced it up a bit. 
The entire thing was well-written, and I think it will hit the target audience. There was a continuity issue or two, and some things being resolved a little too easy made the ending a tad disappointing, but overall it wasn’t a bad story. There were certainly some positive messages in there that I think the younger audience would be able to pick up on. 
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The Poisoned Princess, by Armen Pogharian


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This novel felt distinctly like a retelling of the Dragon Age: Origins Dalish elf opening. There were, of course, deviations, but the similarities were pretty strong. Then, Toran, half-elf and half-barbarian makes it into an organization called the Warders after he’s banished, much like your character joining the Grey Wardens.
The Poisoned Princess was a cute little tale. Mysteries abound as Toran rallies a crew to cure the princess and find the assassin. There’s lots of action, most of which was pretty well orchestrated. Dialogue was prevalent as well. Thankfully it didn’t get too drawn out and boring in the way that many novels do. Quite a bit of storytelling and world-building was done through dialogue so keeping it engaging was important.
World-building was industry standard for fantasy novels. The narrative itself wasn’t too heavy on the external world, instead focused on a smaller area as it needed. Characters fit the world rather well. Elves, dwarves, humans…all of the regular players made it to the quest.

 

 

There’s definitely room for a sequel. The author created and interesting world, even if things feel a little on the generic side. I’m more interested in the Warders, and how Toran fares with them. Not a bad young adult fantasy at all.

 

 

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Misaligned: The Celtic Connection, by Armen Pogharian

7_15_17 Misaligned TCC

 

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I love the idea of pairing children with anything to do with magic, or mysticism, or fantastical things like that . They’re so curious and open to the world that hasn’t turned them cold and bitter. They’re more receptive to the idea that they might be a wizard, or have special powers. It saves the whole denial part of becoming a hero and allows for something else.

 

 

Young Penny has an interesting array of abilities at her disposal. Between her, her friend Duncan, and her science teacher, she has to face down spiritual forces that want her out of the way.

 

 

A bizarre science fiction spin on magic, King Arthur, and multiple dimensions, Misaligned: The Celtic Connection draws a lot from Welsh and Celtic culture. I liked how they were blended together. The way things were structured and explained made sense, and didn’t feel like an extraordinary stretch.

 

 

Characterization was pretty good. The relationship dynamic between Penny and Duncan was nice. Dialogue didn’t ever feel too clunky. The tone made sense for a character of her age. The climax felt a little flat. Things wrapped up nicely, however, and prepared the reader for a sequel.
Not a bad little young adult read. Certainly imaginative, with a fair amount of originality.

 

 

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First Charge, by Amanda Steel


Meredith’s life is anything but ordinary. She’s a Protector. She protects people. People who are destined to do great things in life that need protecting against other people that want to kill them. All in the name of the “greater good.”

 
First Charge takes the morally gray area of right and wrong and runs with it. Both factions believe that their mission is the right one, and so are at war with each other. As a character, Meredith doesn’t care. She is, of course, the one that doesn’t buy into any of it, and herein we have the remaining conflict. Quite a few industry-standard tropes involved in the narrative.

 
The writing style didn’t bring a whole lot of imagery to the table. It was very to-the-point, full of telling the reader what was going on. Because of that, the reading felt jerky. Words, sentences, and paragraphs didn’t flow into each other as well as they should have. There’s definitely some polishing and work needed on the technical side of the novel. The story and plot felt solid all the way around. Characters didn’t feel all that three-dimensional.

 
While a lot of young adult stereotypes ran rampant through the story, the fact that the author chose a LGBT main character was refreshing. And, while her character depth needed some fine-tuning, she reflected good qualities that younger people could look up to.

 
First Charge had good points and bad points, much like any novel. It’s not a bad read.
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The Quantum Ghost, by Jonathan Ballagh

5_28_17 Quantum Ghost

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Writing sequels and series is tough. Often, they start strong, lose steam about halfway through, and then maybe the ending saves it. Seeing something that could be potentially consistent throughout the series is exciting.

 

Quantum Ghost is the second novel in the series, and it’s as good as the first one. It picks up not long after Quantum Door, with a different main character. A young lady by the name of Remi. While her story is new, Nova’s and AJ’s continue from where they left off. It feels a bit like when the Doctor switches companions. They’re still on a quest, they just get a new teammate. There are some things that won’t make much sense if you haven’t read the first one. I would almost recommend going back and reading Quantum Door first. Even if you don’t, it this will be an excellent read.

 

Writing style still suits the genre. It reads like a young adult book. The kids feel like kids. They have a different voice than the adults. It also reads a little different than the first novel. It stops the voice of the narrator from sounding like the previous characters. It was nice. The pace of this novel was faster than the last one. Lots of action, but plenty of time to lay out the exposition. Getting to know the characters was a pleasure. They stood out from one another, they were three-dimensional. Everything they did drove the story forward. Interactions were flawless. Dialogue never felt clunky or awkward.

 

The portrayal of women continues to be a wonderful talent of this author. They have their own identities separate from any romantic subplot. Personalities mesh and they get along; there’s no competition between them. Again, the narrative shows that men and women can be friends without the need for something more. Nova and Remi could do things on their own. Sure, they needed help from time to time, but their characters weren’t compromised by it.

 

Once more the imagery was fabulous. It wasn’t flowery and flowing, nor was it jargon-heavy, like some descriptors in sci-fi. It reflected the natural progression of the story, aiding in tone and voice. The landscape was consistent with the first one. Hopping right back into the story was easy.

 

I’m really enjoying this series. Quantum Ghost particularly. Still young adult, but the narration feels older than Quantum Door. This is a talented author. The young adult genre needs more authors like this.

 

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Wrestling Demons, by Jason Brick

5_14_15 Wrestling Demons

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Release date is June 19, 2017

Wrestling Demons, as it turns out, is about a high-school wrestler that–wait for it–fights demons.

 

Not on purpose. Not at first, anyway.

 

Connor Morgan is a varsity wrestler whose life changes after a strange attack on school grounds. The mystery that follows is a tightly constructed one. One of the good types. I thought for sure I had the actual end figured out. Nope. Point to the author.

 

Drawing heavily on Japanese mythology, the author demonstrates their commitment to research. Yet, it avoids most of the stereotypes that usually follow. Connor isn’t the “Chosen One,” or the white savior. Connor is part of a team. While that team consists of supporting characters, they all feel indispensable. No one gets left behind, and there was some attention paid to their character development. They still felt like individuals with their own personalities. All their interactions were well-done, and the dialogue never felt clunky.

 

Despite past occurrences, Connor still has a loving family. Words can’t express how much I loved the dynamic. The implicit trust (and refusal to break said trust). The communication that families should have. It still utilizes the broken family trope, but they’re more cracked than anything. Still held together.

 

I see what the author was doing with romantic subplot. It served a purpose, and it started promising. The farther along in the narrative it got, the less and less I liked his love interest. Her character was fine. It was the actual interaction and conversations between her and Connor I didn’t like.

 

Speaking of narrative, Connor does an excellent job of recounting his adventures. The tone was appropriate for his character. Details were where they needed to be. They felt more like passing observations, but still gave the reader a good idea of what was going on. Action scenes were well-written. There wasn’t anything super-elaborate or flowery. It wasn’t all “this happened, then this.” There were no “superpowered” kids that learned Kung-Fu in two weeks. It had a nice pace with excellent attention to continuity. When it came down to wrestling, the author didn’t assume that the reader knew the rules. I learned something from this novel. Always a bonus.

 

I liked the positive metaphors Wrestling Demons contained. And they were obvious metaphors as well. Nothing too convoluted. Nice and simple. The story ended tied up, neat and clean. There was enough left in place to hint at the possibility of a sequel; something I would very much look forward to.

 

The Revolutions of Caitlin Kelman (Book 1), by Matthew Luddon

5_12_17 Caitlin Kelman

4 stars

Oscar Wilde once said that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” While I tend to agree, sometimes there’s glaring evidence of the opposite.
The Revolutions of Caitlin Kelman is one such novel. A dystopian YA that takes us through the corrupted streets of Dominion City. A place where the rich get richer, and the poor die in the streets. A city on the cusp of revolution as the Empire is set to crumble. Where the people might finally have a voice without fear of oppression.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Especially given the fact that Caitlin’s considered an illegal immigrant. Pretty sure I read that in the news only yesterday…
I will admit that while the story is good, the world-building is a little convoluted in areas. Or, rather, the reader needed a little more information. I want to know a little more history of how the Empire took power, how things were before. Something to compared Caitlin’s life to.
An interesting mystery takes place as both factions want Caitlin for themselves. And, no, this isn’t a case of “the Chosen One” trope. There’s different agendas and storylines hinted at. I’m hoping the next novels will continue to expand on them. Motives are political, and Caitlin’s adverse reactions reflect that well. As a whole, her character felt right for the story. There’s a myriad of supporting characters, but most of them felt fleeting. By the end of the novel, Caitlin’s character development had started. Some of the other characters got left behind.
There was, of course, a love story. It wasn’t too bad. The best part was that it was integral to pushing the plot forward, instead of just being a subplot.
Most of the writing was solid. The story tied together well. And it stands to set the other novels and their conflicts up. Detail felt lacking in a few places. The scenery, for the most part. The action was well-described, and there was plenty of that. I still don’t feel like I’ve got the best idea of what Dominion City looks like. I keep picturing a weird amalgamation of Gotham City and the Hooverville shantytowns of the Great Depression.
The worst part about starting a new series is that you don’t get all your answers at once. I have so many, and the author sets up a tantalizing cliffhanger at the end. I’m interested to see where the world ends up at the conclusion. Sincerely hoping that Dominion City has a much brighter future than how our own is looking.
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