Urban Fantasy

Review: Win the Rings by K.D. Van Brunt

Win the Rings
Image from K.D. Van Brunt; used by permission

Title: Win the Rings (Cracked Chronicles #1)

Author: K.D. Van Brunt

Genre: Urban Fantasy

The Army’s most valuable weapon is not any kind of gun, missile or tank. It is kids—kids who are special, trained, lethal. Jace is one of them. She has been the property of the Army since they found her when she was five. But the Army does not control all special kids. Gray is one that got away, and he has spent most of his sixteen years hiding from the Army.

Now, the Army has found out about Gray and they cannot allow him to roam free. Operating on the theory that it takes one to catch one, Jace is sent out with a special ops squad to hunt Gray down, but Jace is not the only one pursuing him. She has competition, and the competition is after her too. What ensues is a desperate chase through city after city as duty and honor collide with love and sacrifice, as Jace must decide whether the enemy of my enemy might be my friend.

I was not super excited about this book going in. The cover was meh (yes, I judge books by their covers) and I didn’t understand the title, but the back cover copy sounded just interesting enough that I said, “why not.”

Jace reminded me a lot of Max from the Maximum Ride books, if Max had never escaped the School. And trust me, that’s a high compliment – Max is one of my all-time favorite characters. She didn’t have Max’s sarcasm, but she had the tenacity and the awesome kick-butt skills. I loved her.

I also enjoyed Grey, who was actually a point-of-view character. He was Jace’s opposite in many ways – much less violent and angry, and a lot fewer skills – but while I loved Jace for the awesomeness, I loved Grey for his humanness. He loved his sister and was willing to make a lot of sacrifices to keep her safe.

This was like the best of both plots. There was Jace’s side with the army stuff and impressing the heck out of people who aren’t accustomed to the idea of a shapeshifting teenage government agent. Then there was Grey’s side, living on the run, using his shapeshifting to steal from thieves, and trying to live some semblance of a normal life. Even the details of shapeshifting were great. It was all completely fabulous.

Win the Rings was a surprise hit for me. I absolutely loved it. And I can’t wait to read the next book, whenever it comes out.

I received a free review copy of Win the Rings from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Cracked Chronicles:

Prequel: The Demler Incident

  1. Win the Rings
  2. Currently Untitled (February 2015)

Report Card

For more on my grading system, please see my About page.

WIN THE RINGS scored a 3.7 (A)

Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

Review: Chasing Xaris by Samantha Bennett

Chasing Xaris book cover
Image from Samantha Bennett; used by permission

Title: Chasing Xaris

Author: Samantha Bennett

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Chandler Bloom starts her day like every other—on her surfboard and away from her smothering grandparents. It’s the only way she’s been able to cope since the hit-and-run that killed her parents two years ago. But when a shark nearly turns Chandler into breakfast, a loner surfer named Ari saves her life. Which is great, except that he also triggers new questions about her parents’ deaths. Before Chandler can ask him more, Ari disappears. Desperate for answers, Chandler decides to track down Ari with the help of her best friend Jordan, a surfer guy who’s totally in love with her. The search leads to Ari’s home—a hidden island that can only be found with a form of light called xaris. But Chandler isn’t the only one searching for the island or the unearthly elements found there. Her parents died protecting it, and if Chandler doesn’t come to grips with what she’s really chasing, she could be next.

I actually finished this book a while ago. It just took me a long time to buckle down and write a review. Why? That took me a long time to put my finger on.

I went through all the usual reasons I find a review difficult. Disappointed? No, I really enjoyed Chasing Xaris. No strong feelings one way or the other? Nope, this falls solidly in “like” territory. It really needed more work before publishing? That’s not it, I didn’t catch any problems.

I really liked Chandler – brave and curious, sometimes impulsive, and trying hard to bury her pain. Chandler’s friend Jordan was great enough that I wish he’d have gotten more page time. Ari’s mystery-guy air annoyed me in the beginning, but I liked him much more once Chandler discovered his secrets.

The plot was also enjoyable. Chandler thinks her parents were killed in a car crash until Ari accidentally lets slip they were murdered. So she starts searching for why and by whom – and also tries to figure out a little more about Ari. A surfer girl, a murder mystery…I even loved the story concept, which was a little bit mythology and a little bit sci-fi and a little bit something else great.

So why didn’t I love Chasing Xaris? I’m still not sure. But I do know that it’s not the book, it’s me. It’s not a bad book – actually, it’s really good. I’m sure there are many people out there who will love Chasing Xaris as much as I think I should have. But for whatever reason, it didn’t click with me.

I recieved a free review copy of Chasing Xaris from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

Review: Aether Warriors by Dean Ravenola

Aether Warriors book cover
Image from Dean Ravenola; used by permission

Title: Aether Warriors (Hidden War #1)

Author: Dean Ravenola

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Young Chase’s life is suddenly turned upside-down as he discovers he has been chosen as an Aether Warrior. He is the last member found of a small group of gifted children that will be trained to lead a war that has been ongoing secretly for centuries. Strange creatures, hidden bases, and perhaps even a betrayal lie in store for Chase as he follows his destiny.

So why did I pick this up? Partly because I like magic stories, partly because it generally sounded interesting, and partly because the author is nineteen years old. As a teenage writer myself, I’m always happy to support one brave enough to publish his writing on his own.

I liked Chase. He had a not-so-idyllic childhood, but he still turned out okay – friendly, caring, and loyal, if a little bland. I wish he had more time between arriving at the Golden Scales base and the traitor being a traitor to discover and show off his skills. But overall, I enjoyed reading about him.

I don’t want to say a lot about the other characters, for risk of revealing the traitor. (Unfortunately, I found it really obvious who the traitor was, but it’s hard to say how much of that was just my plot psychicness.) But I liked almost all of Chase’s team. The exceptions were Juno, who wasn’t really social (and whose name always made me think of the Roman goddess of motherhood, even though this Juno is a guy), and sometimes Jasmine, who rubbed me the wrong way.

The story starts off pretty basic. Weird stuff happens, Chase unleashes supernatural abilities and gets taken away to join a secret group of similarly gifted people. Then it gets a little more exciting, with a mythical creature zoo (of sorts), magic and magical weapons, powerful relics, and, of course, a similar group of magic people that are evil. And there’s a traitor. There weren’t a whole lot of layers to it, but I enjoyed the magical action and watching Chase’s team operate.

And I found it interesting and a little amusing to note that the evil magic group in the last urban fantasy I read, Dark Flame Rising, was also called the Dark Flame.

I really don’t like writing this, but I’ve always promised honest reviews, and I feel this deserves a mention. The writing was not as good as it could have been. This is one of those books were the basics of a good story are there. There’s plot, protagonists, antagonists, action, and all the elements of a classic hero’s quest fantasy. But the author really needed another year or two of writing practice under his belt. (I say this as a writer myself – I see a lot of his mistakes in my own older works. Practice can work wonders.)

I did enjoy Aether Warriors, which is why I’d urge Dean Ravenola to take another look at it. It has some awesome potential, but it will need a little help in getting there.

I received a free review copy of Aether Warriors from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Hidden War series:

  1. Aether Warriors
Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

Review: Dark Flame Rising by J.A. Pederson

Dark Flame Rising book cover
Image from J.A. Pedersen; used by permission

Title: Dark Flame Rising (The Keegan Crowe Chronicles #1)

Author: JA Pederson

Genre: Urban Fantasy

When Keegan Crowe’s grandmother drags her to Turtle Springs, the desert town she swore never to return to, Keegan hopes to discover something about the parents she never knew. But the fourteen-year-old hacker discovers unbelievable claims – secret societies, mythical creatures, and black-magic baddies. Everyone pressures Keegan to believe, but she’s not buying this crackpot story. She undertakes a quest to both avenge her parents and challenge their outlandish claims. But the ancient elements are at war, and time grows short. To save the world, a legendary treasure must be found – and Keegan holds the key.

I thought Dark Flame Rising‘s orphan-with-magical-heritage and evil magic users premise was a little uncreative, but it had a cool title and I liked the cover. And a magic-based fantasy with a computer hacker? Keegan’s computer skills sealed the deal.

I liked Keegan for the most part. She was smart and stubborn and didn’t always think things all the way through. And for a fantastic hacker, she didn’t spend as much time on the computer as I would have thought. Sometimes she got too stubborn or made a bad decision, but overall, I enjoyed her.

Cody, Keegan’s maybe-more-than-friend from town, unfortunately fell flat for me. Keegan had a crush on him, but besides the fact that he was cute and nice, I didn’t know much about him.

Chitra, one of Keegan’s friends from the school, was good. She was quiet and sweet, but she could stand up for herself, too. In this book, she was just following Keegan along most of the time, but I hope she gets to lead her own adventure in book two.

Ford was another one of Keegan’s friends from the school, and I hope he plays a bigger part in book two. He had very little page time in Dark Flame Rising, but I think I’ll really like him once I get to know him.

I was delighted to find myself surprised at some of the plot twists. It starts off a little unremarkable – strange people, strange place, nobody will tell Keegan anything so Keegan looks for answers on her own. Then once she gets most of the answers (which is easier than I would have expected), it becomes a stay-ahead-of-the-bad-guys thing, with Keegan’s stubbornness kicking in as she tries to help even though the adults forbid her to. I very much enjoyed it, and I’m now extremely curious to how the rest of the series will play out.

I did have a slight problem with the magic system – but it was me and not the book. Sometimes even the “good magic” seemed a lot like witchcraft, which bothered me. But most of the time it was fun and interesting.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It wasn’t knock-my-socks-off fabulous, but I’d be happy to read book two.

I received a free review copy of Dark Flame Rising from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Chronicles of Keegan Crowe:

  1. Dark Flame Rising
Urban Fantasy

Review: Sweet Venom

Sweet Venom book cover
Image from smallreview.blogspot.com

Title:  Sweet Venom

Series: Sweet Venom #1

Author:  Tera Lynn Childs

Genre:  Urban Fantasy

Back Cover:

Grace is looking for a new start in San Francisco – but things get a little scary when a minotaur interrupts dinner.  Gretchen is tired of monsters keeping her out into the wee hours on a school night, but during a routine monster riddance, she runs into a girl who could be her double.  Greer has her life pretty well put together, but it all changes when two girls who look almost exactly like her show up on her doorstep.  The three girls are descendants of Medusa, the once-beautiful gorgon maligned by myth, and destined to spend their lives hunting the monsters.  But the monsters are suddenly breaking all the rules…

Review:

I’ve always loved Greek mythology, and this sounded like a completely original take on the Medusa myth.  And when I found a free ebook version, I snatched it right up.

Grace was an environmentalist, a vegetarian, and a total geek – full scholarship to a super-prestigious, exclusive high school, computer nerd (with rudimentary hacking skills), the whole shebang.  If I had to take a guess, I would say she’s the youngest sister – she has the more peacemaking, let’s all be friends and stick together ideas.

Gretchen, I also liked, but in a totally different way.  She was the tough, kick-butt one of the bunch.  She could be harsh, which was understandable, but if I was to guess, I think she’s the oldest sister.  She has those more bossy, protective tendencies.

Greer didn’t come in until more than halfway through the book, which, from the summary, I didn’t expect.  She was also more bratty than the others – which is explained in a way that made me feel sorry for her.  Her parents didn’t care, her boyfriend was a jerk…  It was totally obvious to me that she was better off killing monsters.

And speaking of killing monsters – that wasn’t nearly as integral to the plot as I thought it would be.  Sure, they were there and they were a threat, but Grace, Gretchen, and Greer accepting each other as sisters seemed to be the main focus of the story.  It wasn’t really a bad thing, mainly because it was done so well, but it’s not what I expected.

About the only thing I had a problem with was jumpy transitions.  At first, I thought that little triple asterisk scene separator got list in the transition to ebook, but then it would jump back and forth – Gretchen in school, Gretchen fighting a monster in a back alley, Gretchen in school – in alternating paragraphs.  Occasionally, I would have to reread a paragraph or two to figure out where (and when) in the story I was.

I enjoyed the story.  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it just the same.  And I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Sweet Shadows.

Oh, and quick random side note about the title:  It’s not just catchy. There really is some literally sweet venom in the book.

The Sweet Venom series:

  1. Sweet Venom
  2. Sweet Shadows
  3. Sweet Legacy