When The Light Goes Out, by Shawn Bartek

5_11_17 When The Light Goes Out

4 stars

What usually comes to mind when you think of the lights going out? Most likely some kind of horror movie, where bad things happen.

 

Whelp, When The Light Goes Out, bad things continue happening to young Ami. High schoolers stuck in the middle of an evacuation with no parents sounds like a recipe for disaster. To be fair, it wasn’t all their fault.

 

The narrative at the beginning is deceptive: it opens like a Young Adult would. With characters introduced and conflict established, the tone takes a hard left. An unexpected hard left. Readers feel the same sense of urgency as Ami. They start to panic with her. Word choice and sentence structure set the pace well. The plot makes appropriate twists and turns. And the plot, as a whole, wasn’t an industry standard. I kind of liked that.

 

What I liked most about the characters was that they were real. They weren’t perfect do-gooders with a penchant for saving the world. They’re flawed: they drink, smoke, do drugs, and break the law. Yet they’re not the antagonists. Nor are they “bad apples.” All were real people, not boring cutouts. All of them feel like different people. The series of events that occurs does wonderful things for their character development. While they weren’t always getting along, their disagreements weren’t over-the-top. They served as learning experiences, and the writing acknowledges that. The narration did well to show and not tell the story.

 

Character descriptions I felt lacked, but scenery was perfect for the writing style. So were actions. I little issue picturing what was going on at a given time. For the most part, I felt as though character had realistic reactions to all their mishaps. There was no “sudden superhuman strength” to get them out of jams.

 

Let me tell you that I enjoyed the romantic subplot in this one. Shocking, I know. I’m such a stickler when it comes to romance. It didn’t follow the standard formula, which was fabulous. Especially since writers have a tendency to use a toxic formula for teen romance. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m not going to say much more. But. This was a well-done subplot.

 

A few noticeable errors did pop up from time to time. Most of the writing was pretty solid otherwise.

 

When The Light Goes Out is a nice read. Slow to start, but once the action starts, it doesn’t stop. It will actually keep you turning the page.

 

Buy it here!

 

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I Am Epic, By Daniel Robledo

5_7_17 I Am Epic

4 stars

Let me preface this review by saying how much I adored I Am Epic.

 

Part of a larger collection of AI, 3p1c is a bot sent to scavenge for useful remnants of the human culture. He stumbles upon one such remnant, and goes against his programming to keep it safe.

 

It follows a lot of tropes handed down by the “AI becoming self-aware” plot. That made I Am Epic predictable in some ways. What made it stand out was the setting: humanity was already wiped out. Yet it didn’t have a steampunk feel to it. It embraced The Last of Us-style setting. Everything wasn’t all “gloom and doom” with a dark, gritty feel. It was upbeat. Hopeful. The entire tone is set by 3p1c’s childlike curiosity and wonderment.

 

The writing is equal parts technical and evocative. 3p1c’s interactions with others are very robotic, thusly true to his character. The voice of the narration manages to change something emotional happens. You feel your chest tighten, even though you know how things are going to play out. You follow along with 3p1c’s ups and downs as he discovers himself.

 

The story made sense and progressed at exactly the right pace. It drip-fed the readers the right amount of information without being overwhelming.

 

Now on to the reasons why I can’t rate this any higher, after gushing like that.

 

There’s so many glaring errors. Not only misspellings, but grammar, paragraphs, and format. There’s also a slight lack of detail when it comes to world building, and it leaves enough for you to feel satisfied. But it leaves some questions unanswered. It was a weird sort of feeling I had at the end. I was full, but I still wanted more, a little more meat to the world, if you will. Especially since it ended in the perfect way to not want a sequel. It did so many things well and right that there should be only one. As amazing as it was to read in its first form, I can only imagine how good this would be with some extra editing.

 

Because of the story quality and writing style, I’m going to justify the higher rating. While numerous, I still can’t say that it was all that bad. It’s such a weird thing to say, I know. I don’t know how the author pulled it off, but they did. I Am Epic thoroughly impressed me.

 

Buy it here!

 

Names of Power (The Angel), by Travis Galvan

5_7_17 Names of Power

4 stars

Names of Power reads very much like a young adult book. It feels jovial, goofy, lighthearted–much like Maximum Ride, by James Patterson. Except narrated in third person, rather than first.

 

We follow siblings Bo and Ren on a very supernatural journey. With some help, they uncover a series of mysteries that will change their lives forever.

 

The authors’ hook is pretty intense without context. It sets a very promising narrative.

 

The very first thing that jumped out at me for this novel was the family dynamic. Ren and Bo come from a very loving home. With a single father, no less. Both of which are so nice to see in YA. Their father is so supportive and loving–sometimes a little too much. Brother and sister have arguments within normal parameters. They all love each other. The author sets up that this novel won’t follow all stereotypes.

 

For the most part, it doesn’t. Ren is a girl that’s not always thinking about boys. She’s smart, capable, and doesn’t need rescuing. She’s not “the chosen one destined to save the world” (yet). Her character development isn’t focused on love and finding “the one.” She gets a storyline that’s about her, and not a plot device that allows someone else to take the spotlight. I thought her character development went in a clear, logical direction.

 

It’s fast paced, so all the action feels nonstop. These kids never rest. Sometimes things felt too easy–like their father being too accepting, but it works. Everything flows from one scene to the next, without any weird breaks or jumps. The tone and style are very lighthearted. Very positive. Even when conflict happens, it doesn’t feel like it gets anyone down.

 

The story is well put together. Everything gets tied up, and makes sense from beginning to end. Even the mystery is well done. It takes unexpected twists and turns and unravels at the right pace. Characters feel like contributors to the resolution. All the information presented to the reader feels necessary, and never feels overwhelming. I can say without shame that it kept me guessing.

 

There’s a little editing needed, but nothing deal-breaking.

 

Given the title and the ending, Names of Power (The Angel), sets itself up as only a fraction of the actual story. It introduces a complete mystery, with a larger one lurking behind. This sets the stage for a story arc of epic proportions.

 

Buy it here!

Quantum Door, by Jonathan Ballagh

5_3_17 Quantum Door

4 stars

 

Saturated by an overload of hackneyed tropes, the young adult genre needs more to stand out. Somehow, Quantum Door does exactly that.

 

Brothers Felix and Brady use a drone to take a peek inside their neighbor’s yard. A door opens and they’re no longer in Kansas. What door, you ask? Why the door to another dimension, of course.

 

It’s an interesting take of the “kids transported to another world and become embroiled in their conflicts” trope. There’s a modern Horizon Zero Dawn feel to it. What I like most is that it doesn’t succumb to the stereotypical landscape. In the parallel dimension, where machines rule, things are still bright. Steel and industry aren’t a major theme, natural reclamation is. I picture the landscapes of The Last of Us when describing the setting.

 

Wow, two video game references in one review? Quantum Door was visual in all things but characters. While I have no problems imagining the scenery, characters are a little harder. Their descriptors make them feel pretty generic. Personalities weren’t generic, their appearances were.

 

Personalities read great. Characters were different from one another. Brady and Felix didn’t fight a lot, which was amazing. Oftentimes internal conflict gets taken out on family and friends. It leads to constant arguing and hostility as an overused plot device. The “broken family” trope, if you will. Male and female interactions weren’t romanticized, which was so awesome. I love reading books that allow characters to be friends and nothing more. It allowed Nova, the girl, to have thoughts and personality beyond only a boy. She was her own person, and not tethered to another character.

 

Style was well-suited. It feels like a young adult novel, but is still appealing to adults. The plot never gets too complicated. There’s plenty of conflict to go around. Plot twists happen in logical ways. Story progression and character development go hand in hand with pacing. The reader never feels like there’s an information dump–they’re drip-fed background information. We, as readers, get to learn and grow with the main characters.

 

Quantum Door also breaks out of the “machines take over the world” trope in an interesting way. I love where this novel deviates from the norm. It’s enough that it feels different, yet still holds true to an age-old formula.

 

An excellent young adult read. Well written, full of rounded characters, and a plot that ties things up neatly. Very fulfilling.

 

Buy it here!

 

Woofed Cookies, by Greg Bauder

4_30_17 Woofed Cookies

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Aimed at teens, Woofed Cookies reads more like it’s geared towards small kids. The writing style is super-simplistic.

 

True to its name, Woofed Cookies is about a dog named Cookie that saves its owner by vomiting everywhere. Alright. That’s…unique. Young Peter manages to get himself into sticky situations. Of course, little Cookie comes to his rescue each time. The relationship between dog and owner was cute.

 

Structure was off. Paragraphs needed better breaks between subjects. Instead, they were all lumped together in one long-winded piece of exposition. Some editing should take care of the grammar and punctuation issues. Characterization was alright. They were all straight-forward and easy to identify without much problem.

 

The story itself progresses along in a believable, logical manner. All the way until the end. I have so many issues with the last “problem” that Peter encounters. To me it feels like a bad plot hole in a horror movie that makes the reader roll with it. Another route would have definitely been preferable.

 

This could be a cute book for little kids. It demonstrates that something considered a hindrance (vomiting) can still be useful. Not everyone’s disability keeps them down. So, the positive message was there, the execution needs some work.

 

Buy it here!

Dragonsoul, by Kayl Karadjian

4_27_17 Dragonsoul

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This was so. Cute.

 

Gloom and doom have got people feeling a little…gray. In a literal sense. Denyth is a young boy whose life consists of nothing but gray. Kid’s never seen a color before, though he has heard of the legends. Of a place called Evenar. And dragons. But that’s only a legend, right? In the first few pages, the author immediately sets the tone of the novel.

 

We’re also introduced to D-Zero, the king’s personal go-to guy. He’s the kind whose deprived personality fits in with the rest of the world. D-Zero also goes to show how anti-heroes can distinguish themselves from villains. The line between good and bad is as gray as the rest of the world.

 

The story narrates back and forth between a few characters. All are necessary to move the story along. Point of view switches were smooth. Flashbacks were not. They happened without much transition, though the author tried to be subtle. I had to re-read often to see why things changed.

 

Each subplot serves to add another layer to depth of the world. It’s obvious great care and thought went into the creation of the setting. The description and style choice between the two lands change to alter the mood of the reader.

 

A few errors slipped through editing. Obvious, but nothing deal-breaking. Some of the narration sounded a little too stiff and formal. Out of place, even.

 

I liked the way the dialogue flowed and how smooth character interactions were. Each character was different. Each on had their own voice, something made easy to discern. All were well-rounded.

 

Character development was fabulous. A story line unique to each character was present. They all faced different hurdles at different times and the differences showed. The best part? It was all accomplished without a silly little romantic subplot.

 

Whether I’m reading too far into thing or not, this novel felt rife with metaphors. Reminded me quite a bit of The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis. The Gloom feels like a metaphor for the monotony of everyday life, and feels like one for depression. It creeps into the hearts of even the brightest soul and changes them. The author does an excellent job of conveying that feeling.

 

Intentional or not, the metaphors make the story feel more relatable. And did I mention how cute the story was? The moment we’re introduced to Littlehorn, I fell in love. The bond and interactions shared between Littlehorn and Denyth were so adorable.

 

I enjoyed the authors’ writing style and imagination. Fantasy lovers are sure to get enjoyment from this novel.

 

Buy it here!

Joaquin’s Ghost, by Mike Hershman

4_26_17 Joaquin's Ghost

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Joaquin’s Ghost reads very much like a novel geared for younger audiences, like Nancy Drew. Or Babysitters Club. The style is very simplistic, as is the mystery. Alberto and Toru discover a washed up hand on the beach. So begins the mystery. Who killed him? Why? Why are Joaquin and Three-Fingered Jack so important? Beyond motivating two young kids to be sleuths, that is.
Things are confusing in the beginning. More than once I had to go back and re-read the same sentence. Alberto, the narrator, throws a bunch of information out at once. Trying to get the characters and the setting straight to start with is more work than it should be. Once the story moves on a chapter or two, things get easier. Still, keeping track of the minor characters requires your full attention. That was frustrating.
The setting was on the unique side. A time when immigrants were a big deal, and racism was more blatant than today. California, 1910. Alberto and Toru both deal with these, without making them the subject of the novel. And–as only children can–they offer up opinions wise beyond their years.
Joaquin’s Ghost needs to go back for heavy editing. Grammar and punctuation were awful. There were hyphens everywhere—and in places they didn’t need to be. It made reading frustrating. Breaking things up in the wrong places undermined the tone. I wound up jarred out of the story more often than I’d like.
Given the basics of the novel, I didn’t expect a whole lot of character development. Which was good, because there wasn’t any. Should this be a mystery series, then development would likely happen over a period of time. One book might have more life lessons than others. If that’s the author’s intent, then things work out.
I did like the characterization. Toru and Alberto were both likable. They acted and reacted as kids do. They asked a million questions and the adults (for the most part) indulged them and answered. It was nice to see this dynamic.
Language barriers weren’t addressed well. A bad mixture of Spanish and Japanese words peppered the novel in inappropriate places. I get what the author was going for, it wasn’t carried out as well as it could have been.
If this could get some editing, there is a good idea there. It has potential to be a cute book for a much younger audience.
Buy it here!

Deity’s Soulmate, by Angelina Kerner

4_25_17 Deity's Soulamte

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Deity’s Soulmate is an interesting amalgamation of Greek mythos and modern storytelling. Modern in that it takes place with current amenities, so to speak. While the deity’s can go anywhere and to any time, the story itself feels like it takes place in the year 2017. Gardenia, Apollo and Athena’s daughter, starts her journey creating her very first universe. Like all her relatives before her. She is in fierce competition with Harvest, daughter of Hera and Zeus. Both women are always trying to one up each other. As a result, it pushes Gardenia to make the most important decision of her life.

 

I can say without a doubt that I don’t like Gardenia’s character. Based on her familial background, I know the readers are supposed to sympathize with her. I can’t. The more the story progresses, the more we see that she’s the same as everyone else. Demanding, rude, self-centered, and petty. Read: everything a Greek deity’s described as. So, while her personality is canon, I don’t find her likable. Or relatable. Negative traits in a character are good things, usually. Not very many people seem to grasp that fact that they’re needed for a full personality. Unfortunately, Gardenia’s outweighs her good traits. And it feels so over the top it’s like she’s trying to show off. Trying too hard.

 

There isn’t much in the way of character development. Gardenia does everything with relative ease. Magic is what she relies on. It does everything for her. No limits in sight. This gives her an unnatural advantage during her quest. Cheapens her victories, if you will. There’s a vague idea that somewhere, somehow, she’s struggling to fulfill her task. I have yet to see it.

 

The writing style was very fast-paced. It suited the story…for the most part. There was a lot more telling than showing. Telling can be useful. This case was very overdone.

 

The pacing of the story itself felt off. Every so often Gardenia would do something, only to have years pass. Except it doesn’t feel like years have passed. It feels like Gardenia is vomiting her story out. That everything is happening one right after another. The fact that her character stays the same from beginning to end doesn’t help. Generally, with the passage of time, people change. Gardenia didn’t.

 

Deity’s Soulmate has potential. It’s hard to find Greek mythology that hasn’t been overdone, and this novel can do it. It would take some work. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

 

Buy it here!

 

Moon River, by Amber Tran

4_24_17 Moon River.jpg

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Moon River takes place in Stream Ridge, West Virginia. Everyone knows everyone and it’s thirty miles to the nearest store. About as backwoods and redneck as you can get without embracing the stereotype.
Abigail is our narrator here, a third grader who has a crush on Ryan Mills. And she doesn’t let you forget it. She takes the reader on the journey of her life all the way until high school. Don’t worry, Ryan Mills goes with us.
For millennials, this novel will be nostalgia in your hands. Abigail grows up during that pivotal time where technological advances exploded. We share her first time with MSN messenger. The emo-goth phase with the Tripp pants that Hot Topic sells. The more the story went on, the more I found myself comparing her friends to mine when I was that age.
All the characters are easy to identify with on one level or another. They’re kids, of course, doing the stupid things that kids do. Teasing, backstabbing, tears, and boyfriend stealing everywhere. There’s so much going on in Abigail’s life that it would be easy to get lost. That didn’t happen. Moon River is well-organized and well-paced. Keeping track isn’t an issue.
The author’s writing style is solid. Abigail’s tone in the beginning is simple and childlike. It reflects her personality well. Her use of description helps the reader keep track of everything, not only her. Glimpsing the lives of other characters allows a better understanding of Abigail’s story. This is where a lot of first person novels go wrong—and one that Moon River gets right. As she gets older, there is a subtle, but noticeable shift in her narration.
The lack of overused tropes in Moon River was refreshing. There were one or two, as expected from every novel. What sets Abigail’s story apart is the approach. The story unfolds in a way that doesn’t feel cliché. It also had a rather unpredictable ending. It helped serve as the final note in Abigail’s character development. The moment where the readers realize that she’s no longer a child. The moment Abigail realizes that she’s no longer a child. As the reader, the level of empathy felt along the journey will be strong. Once you get to the end, you’re left with a strong, proud feeling. Determined, even, if there are challenges in your life that need dealing with.
Moon River took me back. The story itself mimicked things that I’ve experienced. That many people have experienced. Definitely worth the read.
Buy it here!

Aversion, by Kenechi Udogu

4_24_17 Aversion

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Averters prevent things from happening that would alter a person’s fate. With their mind. They have these things called ‘jolts,’ which allow them to see a crisis. From there, it’s the job to make sure they avert the crisis (see what I did there?).

 

Gemma Green is an Averter responsible for doing exactly that. But her first one goes wrong. Now she has to fix it.

 

Both the idea of the Averters and the overarching story are interesting. It’s creative. And the unravelling of the Averter mystery is well done. Everything ties together nice and neat.

 

It does a lot right for being a first novel. The appropriate, tantalizing amount of foreshadowing and background story. There’s a lot of information thrown at the reader in the first few pages. It’s told in first person, so it reads like a boring introduction. It’s very dry and formal. Not the best of starts for the story. Instead of drip-feeding the reader information, it’s all thrown in at once.

 

I’m not a huge fan of the stereotypes that followed. Gemma, of course, was the “girl that’s not like other girls.” She doesn’t like makeup or boys. Her emotions are so unavailable that she’s mean to everyone. The loner. Overused, but bearable. Then there’s the jock that can’t stop thinking about her after the Aversion goes wrong. Important to the story, but executed in a cheesy manner.

 

There were a lot of long, drawn out paragraphs and run-on sentences. The reader spends a lot of time in Gemma’s head. Dialogue interrupted every once in a while, and we receive a lot of good exposition in the process. Predictability was rampant throughout the exposition. Because it follows the tropes most YA novels fall into, it’s very easy to guess what’s going to happen.

 

I’m sad that it chose to follow the tropes that it did. Aversion holds a unique idea, weakened by following an overdone formula. Grammar and style were alright. Gemma’s tone was fitting for her character. It held that condescending note that many first person stories tend to have.

 

It’s still ends in a way that makes me want to read the next one. Averters are curious things. I’m interested to see where things go from here.

 

Buy it here!