Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review: Smith

Book Review: Smith by Sam B Miller II 

Goodreads Description: Jake’s Father is an archeologist who is in Israel to complete a dig on King Solomon’s Temple. As an eighteen-year-old American, Jake is unwelcome by the people in the territory. Defending himself against the townspeople is a constant torment. Through a map Jake finds on his Father’s desk, he and his friend Avner decide to explore a newly discovered chamber. At the end of a dark and deserted tunnel, Jake uncovers the treasure of King Solomon’s Power ring. He puts it on his finger and feels his life changing. 

Jake passes off the ring as a replica, but he starts to hear a voice that belongs to Smith. Smith provides him guidance on how to deal with his newfound powers. Jake wants to learn all he can about his new secret ring. Smith encourages him to sharpen his fighting skills by joining the Army. Is Smith leading Jake to a newfound life where he can become a hero? Or will the decision to join the military endanger his life? Will Jake find out the ring he wears is good or will it be of evil intent? And who keeps trying to steal the ring? 

My Review: I was given a review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

For an American living in Israel, life isn’t easy for Jake Goddard. Between the street gangs that eye him as easy prey or his archeologist father who can barely look at him, Jake just tries to get through the days by kicking it back by the fire with his friend, Avner, or playing video games. When Avner wants to explore some nearby archeological sites in search for treasure, Jake tags along for something to do. But when Jake discovers a ring in a leather pouch, his whole life flips upside down. As soon as he puts it on, a commanding voice named Smith appears in his head with a single mission: to make Jake as great as King Soloman, the original owner of the ring. Jake’s path to world domination seems straightforward: join the army, get the girl, rule the world. Unfortunately, commanding a magical ring that gives Jake control over demons, the weather, and animals is not easy to hide, and before long people are lining up to take it from him. When Smith starts to see everything as a threat, Jake has to decide for himself: is being ruler really what he wants? And who’s really the one in control? 

Let’s start with the characters. There’s a relatively small cast of characters in the book, primarily because when a character is introduced, they’re almost immediately killed off. Jake and Nava are the main characters, and though they have more page time, they were arguably no more developed than background characters. They were very underdeveloped in the sense that they had no motivations, wants, or desires (I still don’t know what Jake actually wanted out of this whole experience), there’s no real personality that I can definitely attribute to the characters, and there was not a lot of consistency (Avner wanted to search for treasure and Jake tags along, but later in the scene it’s Jake who’s really motivated by treasure.) More so, as a main character, Jake was really underwhelming. Throughout the entire book, he makes only a handful of his own decisions. All his other actions throughout the book are him following orders, whether from Smith or other authority figures. Even the decision to go to the dig at the beginning of the book is Avner’s. Jake does not shape the story; he is shaped by it, which makes him a very boring main character. Even at the climax, after he’s been taught how to control the powers of the ring, Jake chooses not to, and lets Smith take over, simply because he’s “better at it.” The lack of agency makes it really difficult to cheer for Jake. He never makes any hard decisions, so he never has to take responsibility for his actions. 

As for the female characters, every single one was a misogynistic caricature. The first female characters to actually make it onto the page, which didn’t occur until 30% in, were a bunch of nameless pregnant women who are saved from a burning building by Jake. They do little more than faun over Jake in the process. The next female to appear is Sauerbrum, a female colonel who is rude to an exaggerated extent that doesn’t make sense for her character or her position. Then we see her continually shut down by the other males in the scene and eventually dismissed for insulting the main character. Not that there aren’t awful women out there, but Sauerbrum’s character was stretched to an extreme, where it didn’t feel natural in the scene. Finally, we are introduced to Nava, who is supposed to be a “strong female character,” because she’s a solider, knows how to handle a weapon, and is apparently higher up and well-respected. Despite all of this being told to the reader, we are never shown any of this. In every fight, Nava plays the role of a damsel in distress and never shows us that she’s a capable fighter. As further proof that Nava is little more than a sex object in a soldier’s uniform, the scene where Nava and Jake first meet ends with: “Smith remained silent as Jake watched [Nava] walk away. “I wonder what she would look like in high heels instead of the regulation flats.” Smothering a grin, he returned to inspecting handbags.” Nava as a sex object is further reinforced when her only major plot influence can be summed up as her saving Jake with her love. At another point, she tries to run away from Jake after seeing him literally murder people in front of her, and Smith uses his powers to physically stop her, which had such heavy rape tones that it made me uncomfortable. As well, Smith is constantly sexualizing women all around him, reducing them to possible “concubines” or “queens,” and then belittles Jake for not going along with it by assuming he must be gay (and let’s not even go into unpacking that homophobic comment). I understand that was intended to be part of his character, as others tended to admonish him at times, but it was so overdone that by the end of the book the comments just became annoyingly repetitive. 

As for the plot events, much of the story felt forced and really unrealistic. There was no organic flow to the story, and much of the events actually didn’t make sense. For example, the Prime Minister has Jake come with him to New York as part of his security detail, where they are attacked by assassins. After the assassination attempt, the PM decides that Jake should have time off to “see the sights.” I can’t fathom any situation in which after an assassination attempt, a prime minister would reduce their security. The book is full of questionable content like this. Characters made unrealistic or unexplainable decisions that served to push the plot forward, but made no sense in the context of the scene. It’s like all the characters were on train tracks that moved them to where they needed to be. On top of that, many events just couldn’t happen without some sort of explanation-- a man is electrocuted but the dog biting him is fine, PM is shot and dying then a minute later is up and running like nothing is wrong, one minute they’re in New York and then they’re in Israel with no explanation, during a ceremony a man runs away and dies screaming for no reason with no explanation of what happened. I could go on. My favorite inaccuracy was a scene where Nava is shot in the arm with an AR15, and though it’s described as a little gunshot wound that’s quickly bandaged up and never mentioned again, an actual hit from an AR15 would have probably taken her whole arm off, and at the very least it would have required reconstructive surgery. These unrealistic incidents are unfortunately not easy to overlook, as they are everywhere and embedded deep into the plot, and I found myself continually pulled out of the story by things that didn’t make sense or weren’t properly explained. 

 The nail in the proverbial coffin had to be the over-the-top violence that didn’t actually have consequences. Smith, as the ‘interface’ of the ring, has incredible powers which included reality-bending magic. Smith can turn gunpowder into sand, break through walls-- there’s no defined limit on Smith’s powers, which makes his murdering sprees all the more frustrating. Smith decides that all ‘threats’ need to be handled through violence, so faceless henchmen are killed like it’s going out of style. In most cases, Smith ‘explodes’ the threat by popping them like a bloody, fleshy water balloon. Admittedly, I thought that imagery was cool at first, but it quickly loses its power. Moreso, the killing in this book is indiscriminate. Anyone who appears to be a slight threat risks just exploding. More so, Smith kills innocent people too-- like the cops who happen to notice Smith murdering someone in an alleyway-- and Jake doesn’t express any disgust or horror-- or any kind of revulsion. Instead he’s completely complacent with the killings until near the end of the book, where Smith is just massacring people left, right, and centre. Only then does Jake start to protest, though those protests don’t go much further than telling him to stop, nor does he express any sort of emotions or thoughts about it. Jake just changes his mind, probably because by this point in the book the violence is so outlandish that the reader can’t even support it anymore, but by then it’s too late. At about 60% in, I began rooting for the villains because I felt so bad for them. Ultimately, Smith can bend reality, which means he could stop these people in a million different ways, and still chooses to kill them. Even when Jake takes control of the powers, he still chooses methods to stop the bad guys that will kill them, i.e., their guns appear inside their own bodies, or he makes their bones disappear, etc. These methods are even more horrifying than Smith’s, because Jake is literally torturing these henchmen to death in the worst possible way, and yet it’s portrayed as somehow him doing the “right” thing. More so, all these deaths come without consequence. Jake can kill people and nothing really happens to him or the plot. 

When it comes to the writing itself, the book was at times hard to understand, and I found myself re-reading several passages because they didn’t make sense. There’s an obvious lack of editing to the book, which shows through passages such as, “A fellow soldier, Dave Fischel, fell out of an upper bunk screaming epitaphs,” and: “The woman with a name tag ‘A. Sauerbrum’, a winced expression and wearing the insignia of Colonel was first to speak.” There are a lot of punctuation errors that caused confusion at times, as well as little to no description which made it hard to get a sense of setting. There were no stakes, aside from some hastily thrown in stakes at the climax, and no real tension or mystery to keep the reader engaged, other than the confusion of random assassination attempts coming every other page. There is switching of point of view character mid-scene, and the villains and their motives are not explained well, which leads to a lot of confusion. There was even an instance where a character’s name was spelled wrong, which showed a complete lack of care for the book as a whole. 

All in all, I would have recommended this book to guys who enjoy self-insert violence fantasies, but because of the difficulty I had reading it, I don’t see that many could stick with the book long enough to get invested. 

TL;DR: 1/5 stars. Three words: misogynistic gore porn. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Excerpt: Tracing Shadows

Today, in partnership with Rockstar Book Tours, I'm stoked to bring you an excerpt from Tracing Shadows, a YA fantasy by Alex Lidell which released on April 8, 2018. There's also a giveaway below where 3 winners will receive a box set of Alex Lidell's Tide Series, as well as an ebook of Tracing Shadows. Don't forget to check out all the other reviews, interviews, and excerpts from the other blogs in the tour.

About the Book:
Title: TRACING SHADOWS (Scout #1)
Author: Alex Lidell
Pub. Date: April 8, 2018
Publisher: Alex Lidell
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 312
Find it: AmazonGoodreads

To protect the throne, seventeen-year-old spy Kali must play a male guardsman trainee by day and royal lady by night. 

Orphaned and trained on a spymaster’s remote estate, Kali is a scout who works alone in the shadows. But when a terror group threatens the Dansil throne, the king forces Kali to accept a mission at the palace or forfeit her sister’s life. 

Suddenly thrust into the light, Kali must infiltrate high society as the royal Lady Lianna while penetrating the servant ranks as Kal, a male guardsman trainee. It doesn’t help that Trace, the harsh and enigmatic captain of the king’s guard, is soon assigned as both Lady Lianna’s palace escort and Kal’s commanding officer. 

As Kali edges closer to the truth behind the violent group’s identity, she uncovers dangerous secrets that could bring her mission to a brutal end. A scout’s job is to observe and report, never to engage . . . but if it means saving her sister and kingdom, Kali may have no choice. 

TRACING SHADOWS, by Amazon bestselling author Alex Lidell, is the first novel in the Scout series. Perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce, Leigh Bardugo, and Sarah J. Maas. 

“Not so fast.” Trace’s voice jerks me short. “You’ve made yourself a part of this as well. Full name?”

My stomach tightens, but I step forward and touch my fist to my chest. “Kal Cassidy, sir.” My voice is even, respectful but undaunted.

“Well, Kal,” Trace’s body fills the entirety of my vision. “I would not presume to question His Highness’s word that you were, in fact, on duty as his personal protection this evening. I must thus conclude that your lack of weapons, report of activity, and basic safety considerations are a delinquency. Have you anything to say for yourself?”

A fair accusation. And a smart one. Trace cannot discipline the prince directly, but he certainly can punish Kal. Conveniently, it would send a message of consequences to the prince while discouraging a trainee from trying similar antics again. If Trace hadn’t attempted to scare me into submission earlier, I’d even grant him a bow.

“It’s not Kal’s fault!” The thread of desperation in Wil’s voice makes me swallow a groan. The prince might think he’s helping, but his obvious discomfort only serves to make Kal a more valuable whipping boy.

“On the contrary,” Trace says. “It appears Kal is the only one at fault.” He shifts his attention back to me, lowering his voice. “Unless . . .”

My chest tightens. Unless? There is an “unless”?

Trace’s shoulders spread, that subtle shift of weight designed to frighten me, and his voice drops even further. “Unless the trainee has a different version of events to share before I decide on his punishment?”

About Alex:
Alex Lidell is the Amazon Breakout Novel Awards finalist author of THE CADET OF TILDOR (Penguin, 2013). She is an avid horseback rider, a (bad) hockey player, and an ice-cream addict. Born in Russia, Alex learned English in elementary school, where a thoughtful librarian placed a copy of Tamora Pierce’s ALANNA in Alex’s hands. In addition to becoming the first English book Alex read for fun, ALANNA started Alex’s life long love for YA fantasy books. Alex is represented by Leigh Feldman of Leigh Feldman Literary. She lives in Washington, DC.
Join Alex's newsletter for news, bonus content and sneak peeks:

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive an eBook set of Alex’s TIDES SERIES & an eBook of TRACING SHADOWS, INTERNATIONAL.

Tour Schedule:
Week One:
April 9, 2018: A Backwards Story - Review
April 9, 2018: Confessions of a YA Reader- Excerpt

April 10, 2018: Zach's YA Reviews - Review
April 10, 2018: Reese's Reviews - Review

April 11, 2018: Book-Keeping - Review
April 11, 2018: History from a Woman’s Perspective - Review

April 12, 2018: Myth and Magic Book Club - Review
April 12, 2018: BookHounds YA - Excerpt

April 13, 2018: Smada's Book Smack - Review
April 13, 2018: Paulette's Papers - Excerpt

Week Two:
April 16, 2018: Read. Eat. Love. - Review
April 16, 2018: Zooloo Book Blog - Excerpt

April 17, 2018: Lauren is Reading - Review
April 17, 2018: Book Briefs - Review

Today: The Underground - Excerpt
Today: Don't Judge, Read - Review

April 19, 2018: Adventures Thru Wonderland - Review
April 19, 2018: A Dream Within A Dream - Excerpt

April 20, 2018: The BookWorm Drinketh - Review
April 20, 2018: TwoChicks on Books - Excerpt

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Blitz: A Skin of a Dragon

Hey all! Today I'm excited to turn my spotlight onto A Skin of a Dragon by Frances Jones, a YA fantasy that released on March 17th. We've got an excerpt from the first chapter and a giveaway for a $20 Amazon gift card. The new cover for the ebook is below as well, which means DOUBLE the cover beauties in this post. So, without further adieu, let's take a peak at A Skin of a Dragon.

A Skin of a Dragon
by Frances Jones
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release date: March 17, 2018

After a chance find in a smugglers’ cave, Tom Wild is kidnapped by a stranger and whisked away to London to face a secretive and ancient group of magicians. He is presented with an agonising choice: join them and forsake his old life and family forever or face a grisly death. Tom quickly realises that all is not as it seems and that the group’s leader is engaged in a dangerous game of magic, power and war. At stake is the future of England, her King, and the very existence of magic.

Chapter 1

My mother believed I possessed the gift of foresight. I was born at the stroke of midnight under a full moon, a curious time bestowing special abilities upon newborns, or so the midwife assured my parents. Yet, despite my mother’s belief, I had no sense of the shift my life was poised to take one rainy day in mid-September 1648 as I peered into a rock pool in search of crabs.

I wrinkled my nose and dangled my line into the water. The grey sea sloshed around the rock on which I stood, met by the rainwater that trickled down in rivulets from the cliffs above. Summer wasn’t yet a distant memory, but the storm of the previous day had been a sharp reminder that autumn had arrived. Peggy, my wiry-haired mongrel, watched the gulls scavenging amongst the rocks but had yet to summon the energy to chase them. Beside me my sister, Lizzie, shivered and looked forlornly back to the beach.

'To think the fields were ploughed but a fortnight ago,' she muttered.

I felt a tug on my line and lifted an enormous crab out of the rock pool, but Lizzie was distracted. She glanced up at the sky as a finger of sunlight broke through the clouds overhead. 

‘Zooks! Look at the sun, Tom! Mother will be starting supper.’ She grabbed her bucket of crabs and scrambled back across the rocks. ‘Don't forget the tobacco for Father,’ she called over her shoulder as she crossed the beach towards the lights that were beginning to twinkle in the windows of the cottages that made up the tiny hamlet of Osmington Mills.  

I replied with a wave as I set my bucket on a ledge out of the wind and began the slippery climb to the smugglers’ cave. It was a precarious route in wet weather, with fissures into which one could quite easily slip and become stuck, but in an hour's time the tide would be in, cutting the cave off from the beach entirely. 

The rocks were slick beneath my feet, and the drizzling rain soaked right through to my skin as I clambered from one to the next. This exposure to every extreme of weather that the Dorset coast endured had weathered my complexion into a freckled ruddiness. My usual mop of sandy curls now lay plastered against my forehead, and my eyes squinted against the rainwater that dripped from my brow.

As I set my feet on sand once more, I stooped to pick up a small wooden box nestled between two rocks at the mouth of the cave. It was perfectly plain, cylindrical in shape, with an elaborate lock formed of tiny brass cogs, dials and pulleys, some of which were clearly missing or broken. I looked back to the beach. Only the smugglers ever came here. Perhaps it belonged to one of them- except that all the smugglers in Osmington Mills were far too careful to leave anything out in the open. There were crevices and tunnels that wound right into the heart of the cliffs where contraband was cleverly concealed from the prying eyes of the customs men. There was no need to leave anything in plain sight. Besides, the little drift of sand piled up against the box seemed to indicate it had been deposited there by the sea.

'I bet it's from that shipwreck yesterday,' I muttered to Peggy as I tucked it under my arm and ducked into the cave. The entrance was just a few feet in height and submerged at high tide, but inside it widened and rose steadily above the tide’s reach, opening out into several passageways and crevices scooped out by the sea in ancient times. It was a perfect smugglers’ cave.

I selected one pack of tobacco from a pile of goods stuffed into a cleft in the wall and tucked it into my belt. With the crabbing line, I lashed the box to my back. I would need both hands to scale the rocks back to the beach.

Outside, the wind had picked up, and the drizzle was replaced with great spots of rain. Across the beach, a flicker of firelight glowed in the mouth of another smaller cave beyond a rocky outcrop. 
''Tis a fool who ventures out with a storm about to break,' I thought to myself.

Thunder rumbled overhead, and the foamy white tips of the waves collapsed against the rocks with an intensity that had become a familiar sight over the past week. The few fishing boats that had braved the rain were now gone, safely moored in the harbour. Everyone was braced for another mighty storm.

About the Author
Frances lives in Shropshire, England with her husband and two pet rabbits. She started writing to fill her evenings while her husband, a former Grenadier Guard in the British Army, was away. A Skin of a Dragon was inspired by the Tower of London ravens which her husband told her about after one of his guard duties at the Tower. Folklore and the history of magic are also a continual source of inspiration.

Aside from writing, Frances’ other passion is rabbits, and she spends far too much time watching videos of the furry critters online!

Author Links:

As an exciting extra, the new cover for the ebook!


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Book Review: Our Dark Duet

Book Review: Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab


KATE HARKER isn't afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she's good at it.

AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.



Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims' inner demons.

Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?

My Review: Verity has fallen. The monsters have risen. And Kate Harker is nowhere to be found.

Our Dark Duet takes us back to Verity six months after the events of the last book, to a city overrun with monsters. The North side has fallen to Sloan and his army, while the FTFs on the South side struggle to keep the shadows at bay. August works with the night squad to snuff out sinners or monsters, determined to do what must be done to save Verity. Meanwhile Kate is living an almost normal life in Prosperity since her father's death, aside from the monster hunting. She can't keep away from the monsters of Verity, and so when she discovers a new creature-- a Chaos Eater-- that leads her back to Verity, she doesn't hesitate to follow it. The monster is one Kate has never seen before-- a shapeless creature that cracks the minds of its prey and turns them into murderers-- and it may be more than she can fight. Because with a single look, the Chaos Eater cracked something in Kate, and the voice of violence won't stop whispering in her ear. At any moment, she could fall to its power and turn into just another mindless killing machine. But to save Verity, stop the monster, and save herself, Kate will have to stay in control as long as she can.

All right, so first off, I fell absolutely in love with the new monster in this book. Probably not the most common thing said in book reviews, but it was really cool to see a monster that brought out the monstrous parts of humans. If the corsai, malchai and sunai were a representation of the repercussions of violence, then the Chaos Eater is a symbol of that tipping point inside us all, the crack that turns us from human to monster. Especially because it was implied that those affected by the Chaos Eater didn't necessarily kill blindly, they targeted people they already had a grudge with-- old coworkers, ex-lovers, etc. There's a great quote by Nietzsche that was in the front of the book which so perfectly sums up the monster: "He who fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster-- if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." The Chaos Eater is literally described as an abyss, and it gets into its victims heads through eye contact, so it is possibly the most literal translation to that quote, which was really cool to see. As well, all of the passages from the Chaos Eater's point of view were written in prose. I loved how the passages really captured the essence of the monster within such short chapters. Plus, it was just cool to be inside a monster's head for once. I mean, when do you get to see the monster's point of view anyway?

If there was one word to describe Our Dark Duet, I would have to go with atmospheric. Every scene is incredibly vivid, and creates a tension so thick, it was like I could hear a movie soundtrack in my head hitting all those low notes that make you slide to the edge of your seat. Schwab accomplishes so much with so few words. Description is threaded through the action, so even though there's a lot of description, the action doesn't stop in order to set the scene. This book shows such a mastery of tension, as even minor scenes build up a terrible dread when little danger is actually present. It makes this an incredibly hard book to put down. I found the pacing to be even better than in This Savage Song, as even though there was a similar setting shift in the first book (school to monster fighting, and now Prosperity to Verity) it didn't feel as abrupt in Our Dark Duet. What was happening in the first setting fed into the events in the second setting much better in this book. As well, since a lot of the world-building had already been established in This Savage Song, the sequel was able to focus on action from page one.

We're reunited with some familiar faces-- or should I say the survivors from the first book-- and greeted by some new characters that really change up the dynamic. As well, we get to see the characters we love under a whole new light: Sloan drunk on power, August falling closer to darkness, and Kate forced to restrain herself. The cast feels completely different from the first book, in a fresh, exciting way. As well, we are introduced to a new Sunai named Soro, who could probably be described as agender or genderqueer. Soro goes by they and remains ambiguous on gender, and it was so natural for their character that I couldn't imagine them any other way. Soro fit seamlessly into the world, no one questioned their gender, they were simply allowed to be. It was so nice to see a character who didn't fit the binary in a fantasy setting, as usually if they're in a story at all, it's only to represent the struggles of being non-binary. It was really refreshing to see a non-binary character simply exist unquestioned like the millions of cis characters before them. As someone who identifies as gender-fluid and has considered going by they/them pronouns, that representation was really awesome to see.

The issues that I did have with the book were relatively minor. It would have been nice to know where the Chaos Eater came from-- even just to touch on it would have been nice. I felt like there was so much build up about Isla's true form throughout the two books, that when it actually happened, it felt rather underwhelming. If it hadn't been hyped up so much (I swear the phrase "Our sister has two sides. They do not meet." must've been in the duology like 50 times.), it wouldn't have left me with a feeling of: "That's it?" I also wished the book would have touched on why Kate was able to resist the monster when no one else seemed able to. Even a simple explanation, or alluding to an explanation, would have been helpful and lessen that "chosen one" feeling.

All in all, Our Dark Duet is a masterpiece. It made me cry, it made me smile, it made me feel magical in a way only words do. If you are a lover of fantasy, you cannot go wrong with picking up a book by Victoria Schwab, but this one in particular is something tragically beautiful. It's like being hugged and stabbed at the same time, because although this book has its truly sad moments, there's a lot of beauty tied up in the struggle.

TL;DR: 5/5 stars. A tragically beautiful story of the monsters within us, the monsters around us, and what it really means to be human.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Review: Full Fusion

Book Review: Full Fusion by NJ Damschroder 

Goodreads Description: Eighteen-year-old Roxie Sebastian lives a charmed life, and she knows it. Too bad she can't feel it.

All her life, she's felt disconnected from the world around her. Everything changes just before graduation, when she's drawn to an eerie, brilliant light-which narrowly misses her as it blows up her friend Lincoln's car. Clearly someone's after Roxie, and finally Lincoln tells her the truth: He and Roxie are angels, beings from another dimension, and that light is her soul, separated from her human body in a traumatic birth.

Once a skeptical Roxie rules out the other possibilities-like Lincoln created this delusion to escape his abusive father-she accepts her gut-deep knowledge of the truth. But someone has been screwing with her light, using it to commit crimes, and their actions are about to cause irreparable damage to two worlds: the one she lives in, and the one she can't remember.

Aided by her best friend Jordan, her boyfriend Tucker, and Lincoln, Roxie tracks down the criminal and uncovers many more secrets not only of her past, but of the history of their race on Earth. And then Roxie faces a horrible dilemma-the only way she can stop them from ripping apart both worlds is to fuse with her light...which could be tainted by the evil with which it was used.

My Review: I was given a review copy of Full Fusion by Rockstar Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Eighteen-year-old Roxie Sebastian has always felt lost in life, disconnected from her loving family, devoted friends, and even her own emotions, but she always considered herself normal. Until the night a brilliant white light destroys her friend, Linc's, car in a blaze of fire and Roxie discovers she's an angel who was separated from her soul during a traumatic birth. That angelic soul, rife with power, has fallen into the hands of a man named Phillip Porcini, who seems to know way more about the angels than he should. Roxie sets off to get her soul back with her best friend, boyfriend, and her friend Linc, who is actually a full fledged angel sent from another dimension to help Roxie regain her soul. But Phillip plans to use her soul to open a gateway between dimensions, which could end up destroying both worlds. The only real way to keep the soul out of his hands is for Roxie to fuse with it and become a full angel again. But have the crimes Phillip committed with the soul tainted it? If so, could fusing with it turn Roxie into something evil?

Where to start with this book. When I picked it up, it seemed like a fun, light-hearted ride through an urban fantasy setting. When I finished, I felt about as far from "fun" as you could get, but it had me questioning: is this simply a book not written for me? Most YA I connect with very easily, but there are a certain subset of books that are written for a young teen audience that have little appeal for adults. Does that make them bad? Not necessarily. After all, adults are not the target audience of YA. It wasn't written for them, it was written for teens. That's something I keep in mind while reading YA, and definitely applies somewhat to this book. Do I think a thirteen year old girl would enjoy this book a lot more than I did? Absolutely! Hell, if I was thirteen I probably would have enjoyed this book a lot more, because I would've been in the maturity bracket for it.

The book itself was written well, with a simpler style lacking flowery prose. There were times where the description was a little thin, but not in a way that really took away from the story or made it confusing. The pacing moved nicely, and so the story itself was very easy to read. The fundamentals were there, but it was the story itself that made me falter. Starting with the characters, we have Roxie, who is a very obvious Mary-Sue. She has a perfect life, perfect family, doting mother, plenty of money (I'd die for a pool in my backyard), a gaggle of besties who do everything she wants, good grades, and is the "nice girl." The only thing missing from the Mary-Sue package would be the cheerleader checkbox. As for the rest of the main characters, they were all really flat with no motivation outside of Roxie. Even Linc, who was arguably one of the more developed characters, was still little more than a typical YA bad boy: dark hair, brooding, rough home life, aggressive under a guise of "protection," obsessed with the main character, etc, etc. Even the bad guys, who were driving the plot for most of the book, were about as developed as bumbling cartoon villains that resemble the Three Stooges.

The book itself was filled with classic YA tropes and cliches: the Unqualified Protagonist, a love triangle, the Gullible Martyr, Unambiguous Bad Guy, I Didn't Know I Had Powers, a bit of Chosen One, etc. I was hoping the author would play around with these tropes a bit, but they're about as predictable as can be. In fact, most parts of the book are highly predictable, and the actual actions taken by characters to move the plot forward are pretty sad at times. Roxie charges into an enemy lair with no plan after dumping her supplies and is surprised when she opens the door and finds bad guys, the villains are professional criminals but can't physically overpower a few teenagers (most without any powers), an explanation for how the bad guys found them was just "Science. The methodology isn't important." (I sh*t you not). The list could go on. It seemed like there was very little creative thought put into the actual actions or plot in the story, which made it kinda boring to read, and made the characters (all of them, good and bad) come across as incredibly stupid.

All the "meat" in this story, per se, was in the romantic tension. The love triangle between Roxie, her boyfriend, Tucker, and their friend, Linc, was what ultimately kept the book moving. And it's the very reason why I could see a lot of younger teens really enjoying this book. As much as it leans into heavy cliches, the romantic plotline fulfills that "dirty little secret" read that you know is bad, but you like it anyway. There were little parts of me getting caught up in that romantic subplot, and I found myself enjoying it most out of the book, probably because it seemed like there was more effort put into it. Up until this point, I could have recommended this book as a read for teens and say adult YA readers might not enjoy it, simply because it wasn't written for them. What made me change my mind from "this book isn't for me" to "this book is bad" came down to the messages it was sending.

The first message being very sexist, as about three or four times throughout the book, and in very minor ways, the main character refers to how girls are weaker than boys. It tried to play it off as "it's not sexism, it's just fact," and then as Roxie stating it's "one of the reasons she didn't like being a girl," and then finally by the last mention, the author gives up all pretense of trying to sugarcoat her opinion: "Bing went with Jordan, and I heard her hissing her displeasure at even more sexism. But I felt better, anyway. Call me an anti-feminist, I don't care." (Direct quote). I'd like to play it off as a character trait, but it has no other influence on the story, and is just an ideological piece that the author seems to be hammering into the reader, finalizing it by having Roxie (who sort of initially resisted the sexism, or called it out for what it was) settling in that she's happier this way (that her girl friend has a man to protect her during a fight) and that she's proudly anti-feminist. What kind of message does that send to young girls, who are devouring this book for the romantic plotline?

The second message, which really broke the book for me, was that cheating was okay. Much of the romantic tension between Linc and Roxie was heightened by the fact that Roxie was dating Tucker, and so they couldn't be together. Of course, during the climax, both characters forget or don't care about this, and Linc kisses Roxie anyway. Nobody is mad at each other, nobody feels that guilty, and instead it becomes a thing that "Tucker must never know," until Tucker reveals he does know at the end, and forgives Roxie anyway. Which made me feel awful for Tucker, because even cardboard cutouts don't deserve to be treated like crap. The message comes across that it's okay to cheat, that things will work out okay because she loves both of them and so it can't be bad. There are literally no repercussions that Roxie faces from this and she manages to shrug off the problem, which comes across as pretty heartless.

The part that infuriates me the most about the above two messages is that the book is written specifically for young YA readers, and that's obvious by reading it. So these messages feel specifically targeted towards that young audience, and that's where I draw the line. Entertainment is one thing, but knowing your audience is much more important.

TL;DR: All in all, 2/5 stars. An uninteresting YA romance with decent writing and awful anti-woman messages.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Giveaway: Full Fusion

Hey all. Today I'm excited to bring you a giveaway of FULL FUSION, a YA fantasy full of angels and romance, in partnership with RockStar Book Tours. The bottom of the post includes a tour schedule full of reviews, excerpts, and interviews, so make sure to check them out when you enter the giveaway.

About The Book:
Title: FULL FUSION (The Fusion Series Volume 1)
Author: NJ Damschroder
Pub. Date: June 4, 2014
Publisher: Dragonsoul YA 
Pages: 322
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Find it: AmazonB&NiBooksTBDGoodreads

Eighteen-year-old Roxie Sebastian lives a charmed life, and she knows it. Too bad she can't feel it. 

All her life, she's felt disconnected from the world around her. Everything changes just before graduation, when she's drawn to an eerie, brilliant light-which narrowly misses her as it blows up her friend Lincoln's car. Clearly someone's after Roxie, and finally Lincoln tells her the truth: He and Roxie are angels, beings from another dimension, and that light is her soul, separated from her human body in a traumatic birth. 

Once a skeptical Roxie rules out the other possibilities-like Lincoln created this delusion to escape his abusive father-she accepts her gut-deep knowledge of the truth. But someone has been screwing with her light, using it to commit crimes, and their actions are about to cause irreparable damage to two worlds: the one she lives in, and the one she can't remember. 

Aided by her best friend Jordan, her boyfriend Tucker, and Lincoln, Roxie tracks down the criminal and uncovers many more secrets not only of her past, but of the history of their race on Earth. And then Roxie faces a horrible dilemma-the only way she can stop them from ripping apart both worlds is to fuse with her light...which could be tainted by the evil with which it was used. 

About NJ:

Natalie J. Damschroder is an award-winning author of contemporary and paranormal romance, with an emphasis on romantic adventure. She has had 24 novels, 7 novellas, and 16 short stories published by several publishers, most recently with Soul Mate Publishing, Entangled Publishing, and Carina Press. She recently debuted her Fusion Series, a young adult paranormal adventure series, with Full Fusion, as NJ Damschroder. Learn more about those books here.

Natalie grew up in Massachusetts, and loves the New England Patriots more than anything. (Except her family. And writing and reading. And popcorn.) When she’s not writing, she does freelance editing and proofreading. She and her husband have two grown daughters, one of whom is also a novelist. (The other one prefers math. Smart kid. Practical.)

Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive a Box Set of the FULL FUSION Series, US Only.
Rafflecopter Code:

Tour Schedule:
Week One:
3/19/2018- Caffeine And CompositionInterview
3/19/2018- A Gingerly ReviewReview

3/20/2018- Twirling Book PrincessExcerpt
3/20/2018- The UndergroundReview

3/21/2018- Elley the Book OtterGuest Post
3/21/2018- Wonder StruckReview

3/22/2018- Am Kinda Busy Reading- Review
3/22/2018- Two Chicks on BooksGuest Post

3/23/2018- BookHounds YAInterview
3/23/2018- two points of interestReview

Week Two:
3/26/2018- Always MeExcerpt
3/26/2018- RhythmicBooktrovertReview

3/27/2018-Smada's Book Smack-Review
3/27/2018- Wonder StruckExcerpt

3/28/2018- books are loveExcerpt

3/29/2018- Reading for the Stars and Moon- Review
3/29/2018- A Dream Within A DreamExcerpt

3/30/2018- Paulette's PapersExcerpt
3/30/2018- Diary of an Avid ReaderReview

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Author Interview: Elliot Gavin Keenan

Today on the Underground, I'm excited to bring you an interview with Elliot Gavin Keenan, author of On Being Insane: In Search of my Missing Pieces. You can find my review of his memoir here. Elliot wrote about his college years studying psychology while dealing with his autism and bipolar diagnoses and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. Currently, Elliot is working on his PhD.

What genre do you write and why?

Memoir and lyric essay, mostly, but I also branch out into poetry and lately I’ve been writing a fiction piece. I like to sample different genres, and use whatever form is most conducive to the story I want to tell. I would say my single favorite form is lyric essay because I feel like I have the most freedom when I write that way.

Tell us about your latest book.

On Being Insane is a memoir that focuses on my years as a college undergraduate while going through a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. That said, it also dives into my childhood, giving insight into what it’s like to grow up with an autism diagnosis. I think the major theme of the book is the importance of neurodiversity.

Who are your favourite authors?

One of my favorite writers is Maggie Nelson. I fell in love with her work after reading her book Bluets. I also really like the work of Kay Redfield Jamison, whose memoir An Unquiet Mind was a major inspiration for On Being Insane. And, of course, I have to mention John Elder Robison, who is not only an excellent memoirist but a passionate advocate for autistic people who I have had the pleasure of meeting several times now.

What advice do you have for other writers?

Be truthful to the story you’re telling; be brave (especially if you’re writing memoir!); and be almost-recklessly bold. But not quite recklessly. It’s a fine line, one that I mostly dealt with in the editing process – but when you’re churning out the first draft, I say you should put it all to the page.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

I have a Tumblr blog (, which is one of the best ways to connect with me.

Who is your favourite character in your book and why?

My favorite character is the speaker’s mentor, Dr. Pinball, who is all at once an absent-minded professor and a sage-like figure dispensing timeless wisdom. He’s kind of a good-hearted goofball.

How long did it take you to write your book?

I wrote the entire book in about a year.

Who designed the cover?

The cover is actually derived from a painting I did myself!

What are you currently reading? 

NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman – a book I should have read long ago!

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

I love tabletop games, like Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and Settlers of Catan. I also will be spending a good deal of time studying from now on, since I’m in a psychology PhD program at UCLA.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Book Review: Silver Girl

Book Review: Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk 

My Review: I was given an ARC of Silver Girl through a partnership with Rockstar Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. 

Silver Girl transports us back to the 1980s in a flurry of Tab and typewriters, where a nameless narrator has escaped her past by moving away to college. There she meets, Jess--beautiful, brave Jess from a wealthy Chicago family who flies through life with reckless abandon. As their college years progress, the narrator and Jess become closer at the same time that the chasm of secrets widens between them. The narrator is desperate to keep her past a secret-- from Jess as well as the reader. Meanwhile, she spirals into self-sabotaging behaviour that throws all of her relationships onto the rocks. The narrator struggles to reconcile the person she wants to be--wanted, loved, and finally a person of value-- with what the circumstances of her past push her to be-- the “monster.”  As the narrator falls from grace throughout the book, she continually minimizes her behaviour to the reader and lies to all those around her until it becomes difficult to trust her. Is the narrator telling the truth, or lying to the reader like she lies to her friends and family? Who is the narrator, really, and what about her past has left her so damaged? 

An incredible character study, Silver Girl is all about relationships: between best friends, between sisters, between parents and children. The book has no discernible plotline, in the same way that real life doesn’t either, but is written with a comfortable pace and mysterious tension that keeps the reader turning pages.  Right from the first page, the mystery of the narrator grabs and doesn’t let go-- who is this girl? And what is she running from? The book begins on the day the narrator moves into the freshman dorm, where she meets Jess for the first time. The end of the chapter gives us some interesting foreshadowing when Jess decides the narrator isn’t afraid of much, and while the narrator doesn’t agree with her, she also doesn’t object. “She could believe what she wanted, and I didn’t have to lie.” As their relationship develops, we see how the narrator bends the truth: not always by outright lying (though she lies a lot by the end) but by letting people make their own assumptions without challenging them. The narrator is especially fascinating because as her downfall progresses and we see her turn to destructive behaviours, her actions are at first understandable, but she continues to escalate until the character you once sympathized with becomes unlikeable. All of this was done without resorting to dramatic lengths—the narrator doesn’t haven’t to scream or use violence or key anyone’s car to be destructive—which is a pleasant subtly. 

As well, every character was so beautifully flawed! Even little Penny was both the darling, innocent victim as well as a troubled, disruptive brat, which was so awesome to see! Pietrzyk doesn’t shy away from the dark side when creating complex, dynamic characters. When she shows the characters’ dark sides, it’s not in an attempt to sway the reader’s opinion. The characters simply are-- their good and bad parts--and this allows the characters to have more nuance. 

The writing itself is both lyrical and to the point, both wildly expressive and yet down to earth. The writing style focuses heavily on mundane details, and the observations that come out of those details were both beautiful and tragic. I really loved the level of detail, as I felt it helped reveal things about the narrator as well as set a vivid scene. However, there were times where I felt the book veered too much into detail, which slowed down some scenes. The book was written in a non-linear fashion which worked so well. Because the story is not about a plotline and more about revealing the characters’ true “character,” the non-linear progression was effective in tricking the reader into making their own assumptions about the narrator. This non-linear style allowed the author to revisit scenes later in the book and reveal more information, which could totally change the reader’s perspective of the situation. The non-linear style is another way in which the narrator manipulates how the reader sees her, which made for an interesting read.  

Despite this grand fall, Silver Girl gives us a lot to connect to. The narrator finds a way to redeem herself at the end, and figures out how to reconcile her past with the person she wants to be. All throughout, we see the depth of the narrator and Jess’ friendship, as well as the bonds of sisterhood as Jess loses one sister and gains another, while the narrator struggles with what to do for her own sister. All of it speaks to a human experience that’s both messy and profound, that means nothing and everything all at once. 

TL;DR: All in all, 4/5 stars. An incredible character study of a college girl who can’t stop running from her past, even when it starts to hurt the people she loves. 

About The Book:

Author: Leslie Pietrzyk
Pub. Date: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Unnamed Press
Pages: 272
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Find it: AmazonB&NTBDiBooksGoodreads

It's the early 1980s. Ronald Reagan's economy will trickle down any day now, and Chicago's Tylenol Killer has struck: an unknown person is stuffing cyanide into capsules, then returning them to drugstore shelves.

Against the backdrop of this rampant anxiety, one young woman, desperate to escape the unspoken secrets of her Midwestern family, bluffs her way into the fancy "school by the lake" in Chicago. There she meets Jess, charismatic and rich and needy, and the two form an insular, competitive friendship. Jess' family appears perfect to the narrator's wishful eye, and she longs to fit into their world, even viewing herself as a potentially better daughter than the unappreciative Jess. But the uneven power dynamic chafes the narrator, along with lingering guilt about the sister she left behind. Her behavior becomes increasingly risky - and after Jess' sister dies in murky circumstances and the Tylenol killer exposes the intricate double life of Jess' father, she finds herself scrambling for footing. Nothing is as it seems, and the randomness of life feels cruel, whether one's fate is swallowing a poisoned Tylenol or being born into a damaged and damaging family.

SILVER GIRL is a cousin to Emma Cline's The Girls and Emily Gould's Friendship in its nuanced exploration of female friendship, with the longing of Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter.

About Leslie:
Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. This Angel on My Chest, her collection of linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October 2015. Kirkus Reviews named it one of the 16 best story collections of the year. A new novel, Silver Girl, is forthcoming from Unnamed Press in February 2018. Her short fiction and essays have appeared/are forthcoming in many publications, including Hudson Review, Southern Review, Arts & Letters, Gettysburg Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, River Styx, Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Salon, Washingtonian, and the Washington Post Magazine. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and often teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. Raised in Iowa, she now lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Giveaway Details: 

3 winners will receive a finished copy of SILVER GIRL, US Only.

Ends on March 20th at Midnight EST!

Rafflecopter Code:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rafflecopter Link:

Tour Schedule:

If you enjoyed my review, check out some of the other stops on Silver Girl's blog tour! 

Week One:

February 26, 2018- BookHounds YAInterview
February 27, 2018- The Book TowerReview
February 28, 2018- BookishRealmReviewsReview
Today! - The UndergroundReview
March 2, 2018- Confessions of a YA ReaderExcerpt

Week Two:

March 12, 2018- Don't Judge, ReadInterview
March 13, 2018- Daily Waffle - Excerpt
March 14, 2018- Hauntedbybooks13Review
March 15, 2018- Pretty Deadly ReviewsReview
March 16, 2018- A Dream Within A DreamExcerpt