Science Fiction

Review: The Never Hero

Cover of "The Never Hero," featuring the silhouette of a person with short hair holding a staff and crouching; there is a city in the background
Image from T. Ellery Hodges

Title: The Never Hero

Series: Chronicles of Jonathan Tibbs #1

Author: T. Ellery Hodges

Genre: Science Fiction

Back Cover:

When Jonathan Tibbs awoke in a pool of his own blood, there wasn’t a scratch on him to explain why. In the days that followed, a violent and merciless otherworldly enemy came from nowhere. It killed in the streets, all the while calling out for its challenger, but only Jonathan understood the trespasser’s words. That was the night he discovered he had been drafted into an ongoing conflict, a war outside the grasp of mankind’s memory. Now, the man Jonathan had seen himself becoming is not the man who can endure his future.

The first installment in this mind-bending action adventure series, The Never Hero is a gritty and honest look at the psychological journey of a man forced to forge himself into a weapon. Abandoned with little guidance, and finding himself at the mercy of a bargain struck far beyond his reach, Jonathan races to unlock the means to surmount the odds. All the while, fighting to understand the mystery behind a war between two species, raging outside of time and memory.

Confronted with the knowledge that, should he die, no one will ever know he was all that once stood between mankind and the enemy; Jonathan must decide who he is willing to become to save a planet that can never know of his sacrifice.

Review:

The whole concept of The Never Hero intrigued me – a mysterious attack quickly followed by a monster, a war nobody knows is happening, and of course, the classic “only the main character can do anything about it.” It was too good to pass up.

Jonathan was an interesting character. An average college student victim of a really, really weird attack and suddenly required to fight for his life at random intervals with no explanation as to why. A surprisingly large amount of the story was him dealing with his emotions – fear, frustration, anger, and other not-so-nice stuff. He got progressively darker as the story went on. And while I can’t say I particularly liked him as a person, I really enjoyed reading about him as a character.

There was a surprisingly large cast of secondary characters, too – Jonathan’s three roommates, Collin, Hayden, and Paige; Paige’s boyfriend; his new neighbor and her brother; Heyer, Jonathan’s mentor-ish figure who knows about the monster attacks; and many more. At some points it was hard to keep track of the really minor ones, but the more important ones all had distinct personalities and made for a good group of characters.

There’s so many plots all weaving together that I don’t even know where to begin. There’s the whole thing with the monsters (what they’re doing there and why), which doesn’t hardly get touched on until the end. Then there’s Jonathan’s emotional struggles, which were surprisingly deep and brilliant in many places; his struggles with relating to people post-attack, both his roommates and the pretty girl next door; his attempts to balance a normal-seeming life with the dangerous parts; and even several chapters of people who are working against him (some of whom even surprised me). This book did an amazing job of weaving so many things together into one great and complicated story.

I had two main problems with this book. One was punctuation – The Never Hero really needed a good copy editor. The other was length. In the middle, the story covered Jonathan’s training and his struggle with his emotions repetitively with nothing new happening, and it really dragged on a little too much.

While it’s not a perfect book (but honestly, what book is?), The Never Hero was even better than I expected – a well-executed brilliant concept woven into a tapestry of plots and characters that made for a fantastic read.

The Chronicles of Jonathan Tibbs

  1. The Never Hero
  2. The Never Paradox

I received a free review copy of The Never Hero in exchange for a review. This generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Update 2018:

The Never Hero/T. Ellery Hodges sponsored an episode of Overly Sarcastic Productions! Overly Sarcastic Productions is a YouTube channel that talks about storytelling tropes, classic myths, and ancient history with a healthy dose of humor, sarcasm, and pop culture references. The Never Hero sponsored an episode about the “save the world” trope, and I highly recommend you watch it.

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Paranormal

Review: The Hobbymen

Cover of "The Hobbymen," featuring three silhouettes - in the middle, a man holding a tennis racket; on the left, a man with glasses and a tie holding an umbrella; and on the right, a nun holding a baseball bat; behind them is a set of pointed white teeth
Image from Tim Owens; used by permission

Title: The Hobbymen

Author: Tim Owens

Genre: Paranormal

Back Cover:

Sister Liliana has not been having the best of days. Between running away from the convent and then being thrown into a desolate prison, she has started to lose hope of having a fun Wednesday. That is until she meets two strange men with a rather peculiar hobby: Amateur Monster Biology. From ancient monsters to urban legends, Geoff and Book are out to separate truth from fairytale, no matter how bizarre or ridiculous that truth may be. And as they have found, there is truth in everything.

Soon Liliana is caught in a whirlwind of adventure as they show her a side of the world she never thought existed, filled with fantastic creatures hiding in plain sight. But just as it seems her life is finally turning around, the group get a foreboding message from an unexpected, sinister source. Are the three of them in over their heads this time?

Yes…the answer is yes.

Review:

This is one of those books where I can’t put my finger on exactly why I picked it up. Maybe because it sounded like a unique concept, or maybe it just sounded a little off-the-wall and fun. Either way, when the offer landed in my inbox, I said yes.

And when I got the book, Tim Owens had doodled inside the front cover:

100_1347Which was really cute and thoughtful and just made me that much more excited to read it.

The characters were fun. There was Liliana, the failed nun with an interesting past; the research-obsessed, bookish Book; and the hyper-optimistic, gregarious Geoff. At first, the characters seemed like they were going to be pretty flat – but as the book continued, there was a pleasantly surprising amount of development and back story.

The mythology was a little wonky. I expected a combination of mythology from different lore, considering the finiding-the-truths-behind-legends research of the Hobbymen. What I didn’t expect was the biblical stuff. (I think the idea of behemoth  from Job 40:15-24 was wrong, but that’s my personal interpretation.) I thought the idea of the evil deities/forces of other religions being Satan by different names was an interesting concept – and perhaps not wrong. Anyway, that’s definitely something worth further consideration.

The basic plot was pretty much laid out for you on the back cover. But there were so many other little things. A huge part of it is Liliana trying to come to terms with her past. And another is goofy Geoff and serious Book’s relationship. And another is Liliana trying to get used to the Hobbymen’s everyday craziness. Despite the deadly threat hanging over their heads, the entire book was just … fun.

This was clearly a self-published book – the formatting was a little wonky and it was in need of a good copy editor. The missing commas drove me crazy. But they weren’t extremely glaring errors, and it only detracted a little from my enjoyment of the book.

The Hobbymen had its faults (the poor-punctuation-hating part of me wished it had been copy edited better and a few of the jokes fell a little flat), but it also had a lot of things going for it. It was lighthearted and fun, had surprisingly great characters, and was even thought-provoking in spots. I would definitely recommend it.

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

Science Fiction

Review: Elevated

Cover of "Elevated," Featuring a person jumping above a city; they have semi-transparent bird wings
Image from Daniel Kaplan; used by permission

Title: Elevated

Series: Elevated Saga #1

Author: Daniel Solomon Kaplan

Genre: Science Fiction

Back Cover:

Rose never wanted to be an Elevated. She refused to have her power unlocked on Elevation Day, unlike her other classmates. The irreversible treatment reveals powers that range from a benefit or a nuisance. For her father, it transformed him into an Unsound, forcing him to a life of exile.

Rose’s choice is taken away after a chance encounter with a previously undiscovered power activates her ability. Living as an Undocumented Elevated, Rose needs the help of others who hide under the government’s radar to learn to control her unwanted power. Among them, she unravels secrets about the treatment, the powers, and what happened to her father. Fed up with lies, Rose wants nothing more than to learn the whole truth – even if it means accepting her fate as an Elevated.

Review:

I picked this book up because superpowers. The idea of everybody getting latent superpowers activated when they reached a certain age – and the powers ranging from epic to useless – sounded great.

Rose was okay. At first, she kind of annoyed me (honestly, what kind of person doesn’t want superpowers?), but as the book went on, I liked her more. She had a stubborn streak and a tenacity that I really enjoyed. But despite having superpowers, she was a very normal girl, which felt strangely refreshing.

There were various other semi-main characters in this story. I liked Rose’s friend Aaron, mainly because Rose’s and his relationship reminded me of me and my friend Ryan – he’s blunt and irritating, and sometimes I wonder why we’re friends, but we are. Elliott, a guy Rose meets on Elevation Day, was enjoyable – at first, he was adorable and slightly awkward, but he eventually became a good friend. Zach kind of annoyed me, because it seemed like the only reason he was even in there was because he was handsome and occasionally useful.

The whole learning-the-truth thing was not as major as I thought – it was kind of entangled with a find-Rose’s-dad plot. People are hiding things about Unsounds, and Rose decides to figure out what. A bunch of friends, old and new, and a frenemy get involved, and they use their powers to investigate things. Plus there’s an underground conspiracy theory/resistance movement, which was a fun touch.

To me, the best part of this book was the idea. I loved the concept of activating latent superpowers. I totally want my latent superpowers activated. (Which made me kind of annoyed with Rose at first, because if you have the opportunity for superpowers, take it!) Sometimes I would have rather read about someone figuring out what power they have than the plot that was actually there.

I did liked Elevated. It was a fun book, and I didn’t guess a lot of the resolutions. The concept was great, and I loved reading about a world where almost everyone had superpowers. I’m not sure I will read book two, but I did enjoy this read.

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

The Elevated Saga:

  1. Elevated
  2. Catalyst
  3. Unsound
Contemporary

Review: The Thursday Night Club

Cover of "The Thursday Night Club," featuring a lit lamppost with snow falling around it
Image from Steven Manchester

Title: The Thursday Night Club

Author: Steven Manchester

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

Five college friends have been getting together every Thursday night to share humble meals and an abundance of laughter. But when tragedy takes one of them, leaving the others to question the fairness of life, the Thursday Night Club decides to embark on a contest in memory of the generous spirit of their fallen friend. The objective of the contest is simple: whoever performs the kindest deed by Christmas night wins the pot – four quarters. And there are only two conditions: the benevolent deed must be anonymous, and it cannot cost a single penny to pull off.

As the four friends undertake the contest, the healing begins and they become inspired beyond their expectations. There might be a winner in this competition, but it is very clear there will be no losers.

Review:

I picked up this novella on a whim – partly because it was short, and partly because I liked the concept of a “good deeds” competition. It took me a while to get around to starting it, but once I did, I devoured it in about an hour.

The Thursday Night Club is very short, bordering on short story length, so I can’t really say I got to know any of the characters really well. There were Kevin and Randy the pranksters and Jesse the slightly-less-prankster, all typical college guys, and Ava and Izzy, nice if somewhat bland girls.

The plot is pretty simple, and pretty well explained in the blurb. Surprisingly, the character who dies doesn’t die until about a third of the way through the book. The first third focuses on a prank war between the boys – which was okay, but was not what I signed up for (plus, I’m not a huge fan of pranks).

The good deeds competition, though, was awesome. I loved watching the four remaining friends figure out ways to help people and meet specific needs in their community. It made me want to go out and do something for people in my community. And there were some great life lessons on generosity and helping people, too. (And it was also kinda Christmasy, which made me happy since Christmas is so close.) I honestly wish that part had been longer.

I expected to enjoy this story, but I didn’t expect to love it – or to feel so inspired when I finished. It left me wanting to go out and do something like that with my friends. Or maybe just do something on my own. I recommend the read just for the story, but maybe once you’ve read it, you’ll be inspired to help people, too.

I received a free review copy of The Thursday Night Club from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

 

The Marian
Post-Apocalyptic, Steampunk

Review: The Marian

Cover of "The Marian," featuring a male face wearing goggles on a black background
Image from Taylor Hohulin; used by permission

Title: The Marian

Author: Taylor Hohulin

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Steampunk

Back Cover:

Fifteen-year-old Ethan Denby doesn’t know how he got on the Marian. He just woke up one day inside the body of its captain.

The Marian is unlike any ship Ethan has ever seen. It crawls on long, metal legs over dunes of salt in search of water, despite laws granting exclusive harvesting rights to a corrupt organization known as HydroSystems Worldwide.

HydroSystems is closing in, tensions are mounting aboard the Marian, and on top of all that, Ethan is beginning to think the dreams he’s been having aren’t completely harmless. If he doesn’t get home soon, Ethan could die inside someone else’s body in this wasteland of a world. The only way back seems to be through a place known simply as the Cloud, but how can he convince the crew to take him there when it means confronting a dangerous cult and venturing into a place where the very fabric of reality has worn thin?

Review:

I participated in a blog tour for this book when I was supposed to be on a blogging break. That just tells you how excited I was to read this. A little bit steampunk, a little bit post-apocalyptic (both genres that I really enjoy), body-switching, and a place where reality isn’t always reality? Sign me up!

I liked Ethan more than I thought I would . But he was pretty mature for his age, and brave despite being in a dangerous, confusing new world. I wouldn’t call him a leader, but he could stand up for himself. I usually have trouble connecting to younger characters, males especially, but I really enjoyed Ethan.

Even though Ethan was the only character major enough to get his own paragraph, the other characters were all great. Brilliant mechanic and Ethan’s new friend Jackie, Jackie’s tough and intelligent sister Bonnie, ex-mercenary and the Marian‘s new captain Percy…even the cook, who only said about three lines the whole book, had a unique personality.

The Marian has a two-pronged plot. First is Ethan – how did he end up here and how can he get home? The second is the world – scavenging for water and discovering that HydroSystems is perpetrators of a huge conspiracy. Both plots were great, and they were kind of interconnected. They both had things to do with the Cloud. The Cloud doesn’t really show up until near the end, but it seems like everything in the world is connected to it. It’s a really weird, creepy, fascinating thing.

My only problem with the book:  it was too short! Due to quite a few loose ends, I think it’s first in a series. I didn’t like that – not because I wouldn’t enjoy spending another book in this world, but because I wasn’t aware of it going in. I guessed how things would play out, and the book ended before I could see if my plot psychicness was acting up or if this was one of those awesome books that made me draw wrong conclusions.

I had very high expectations for The Marian, and it delivered. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, whenever that happens.

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

What Dreams May Come
Paranormal Romance, Romance

Review: What Dreams May Come

Cover of "What Dreams May Come," featuring the silhouettes of two people kissing in a misty forest
Image from Beth Honeycutt; used by permission

Title: What Dreams May Come

Series: In Dreams #1

Author: Beth M. Honeycutt

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Back Cover:

Reality is overrated. Or so Ellie Cross has always believed.

Ellie is ordinary and invisible – the kind of girl who would loan her lunch money to anyone, but not the kind of girl to get noticed. Well, except by her nagging mom and the class bully. But Ellie has someone she can turn to whenever she has a problem. Though some might call him an imaginary friend, since they’ve never actually met outside of dreams.

And, sure, Ellie knows it’s kinda weird to have a friend no one else can see. But since he isn’t real, she can tell Gabe anything without ever worrying that he’ll ditch her for someone cooler or blab her secrets. And so what if she happens to have an itsy-bitsy crush on her reality-challenged friend? Who’s it hurting, really?

But things are about to get complicated, because there’s a new guy in school. A guy with hauntingly familiar eyes. A guy who knows things about Ellie that he shouldn’t have any way of knowing…

Review:

If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you know I am really not into paranormal romance. So what convinced me to pick this up? Pretty much the first line of that description. Because honestly, half the time I think reality’s overrated. I’d rather read a book.

I liked Ellie. She’s one of those shy sweet girls who’s awesome once you get to know her, but it takes a little effort to get to know her. And I can totally relate to her liking something better than reality – dreams for Ellie, fiction for me, but it’s the same principle.

The only thing that bothered me about her was her lack of spine. I get it that not everybody is like me. But I’m the kind of person where if somebody called me fat, I’d say something like “It’s called curvy, and I’m rocking it!” So Ellie’s ignore-them-and-try-not-to-cry strategy annoyed me. But I’m positive there are plenty of bullied girls out there who can totally relate to her.

Gabe was almost too perfect. He was sweet and strong, amazingly caring, attentive, and a great listener. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him and really wish I can find a guy like him. He just seemed almost too good to be true.

I tried about five different ways to condense things happening in this book to one sentence, but they all make it sound boring. The story is Ellie trying to figure out if new-kid Gabriel is the same person as dream-kid Gabe. But there’s so much more than that. It’s a mixture of her desire for love and her struggle to realize she’s actually worth loving.

I went through a lot of the shyness and self-image issues Ellie went through when I was in junior high. Reading it now, I enjoyed it because I remembered the struggles. If I’d read this in junior high, it would have blown me away.

And bonus: the romance is extremely sweet and completely clean.

What Dreams May Come is actually first in a series, but I think the ending was actually a pretty solid wrap-up. It’s one of those books where if you’re looking for a stand-alone, this one will work, but if you desperately want more of these characters, there’s more on the way. I don’t think I’ll be continuing the series, but I certainly don’t regret this read.

I received a free review copy of What Dreams May Come from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The In Dreams series

  1. What Dreams May Come
  2. Where Nightmares Walk

 

Urban Fantasy

Review: Win the Rings

Cover of "Win the Rings," featuring a person's face superimposed over the image of a desert with a city skyline in the background
Image from K.D. Van Brunt

Title: Win the Rings

Series: Cracked Chronicles #1

Author: K.D. Van Brunt

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Back Cover:

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.

Review:

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:

  1. Win the Rings
  2. Dance of the Pink Mist
  3. A Freedom to Fight For

 

Fairy Tale

Review: Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen

Cover of "Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen," featuring a drawing of a girl in a red coat holding a book walking through a snowy pine forest
Image from Sam McCreedy; used by permission

Title: Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen

Series: Liberty Frye #1

Author: J.L. McCreedy

Genre: Fairy Tale

Back Cover:

This is the story of Liberty “Libby” Frye, a young girl from the American South, who finds herself lured to a foreign land where she falls into the clutches of an evil witch with sinister plans. Libby will need to rely upon her wits and courage, as well as the help of some friends, if she hopes to save not only herself, but also those dearest to her.

Review:

I’m pretty sure I had a good reason when I picked this up, but come time to write a review and I can’t remember what made me want to read this.

Libby was okay. I think the main reason I didn’t like her a lot is she was 10. She had a bold, fearless personality that I’m sure I would have loved in a teenager, but I wasn’t so crazy about her as a ten-year-old.

I think the story really should have been about Ginny. She went from shy and timid when Libby met her to brave and courageous at the end of the book. The problem was it almost felt forced, since she didn’t have as much page time as I think she deserved.

The basic idea was a good one (and I’m not going to say too much, since you find out what’s going on along with Libby). But I feel like there really needed to be more. The last quarter Libby starts figuring out what’s going on, and then it’s over. It probably wouldn’t bother an upper-elementary kid, who would just be excited for book 2, but I wanted more detail.

I didn’t love Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen as I thought (or wished) I would. It really had nothing to do with the book – I’m just outgrowing middle grade books. I’m disappointed, because I have loved middle grade since I discovered it. But I think it’s time I left middle grade to its target audience.

I received a free review copy of Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Liberty Frye series:

  1. Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen
  2. Liberty Frye and the Sails of Fate
Post-Apocalyptic

Review: Blackout

Cover of "Blackout," featuring a dark photograph of the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. with barbed wire in the foreground
Image from Madeline Henry

Title: Blackout

Series: Darkness #1

Author: Madeleine Henry

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Back Cover:

One wall divides life from darkness. After the worldwide Blackout, America built a concrete wall—the Frontier—across the middle of the nation to isolate its precious electricity in the top half. Everyone below the Frontier was forsaken, and now only a few survive in the grim region known as the Dark Zone.

Sixteen year old Phoenix Troublefield endures the dark with his girlfriend, Star Windsong. When America announces that it will trade electricity for immigrants, Phoenix and Star sacrifice themselves for the power that might save her younger brother. On the other side of the Frontier, they find America is not what they expected, and instead they are thrown into a shocking and deeply personal contest that threatens to destroy their love. When the chance comes to escape back into the Dark Zone, it may already be too late.

Review:

I almost decided to ignore this book. The author sent out an ARC offer and wanted the book read and reviewed within a week. But the plot looked interesting. So I went against the part of me that said “you have your graduation open house coming up and there’s no way you can read and review that in one week!”

And I’m very glad I did.

I probably liked Phoenix so much because he was a lot like me – he had a lot of anger he wasn’t always sure what to do with. He also had some kick-butt skills with Magic (his rifle), and loved Star a heck of a lot. I didn’t really expect to like him much, but he got under my skin and made me love him anyway.

Star was Phoenix’s complete opposite. She was sweet and innocent and cared so much about everyone, and had a gift for making everyone like her. But I think she has more strength than anyone gives her credit for.

Phoenix and Star were the main characters, but there’s so many others. Dangerous and ridiculously smart Elecktra, child-like Tinder, even Star’s brave little brother who’s only in two scenes. They all felt amazingly real.

I’ve read quite a few post-apocalyptic books, but this one is really different. Instead of trying to rebuild the world after the apocalypse, it’s more of a group of underprivileged survivalists trying to navigate a world of high-class people they despise. Plus a competition. And there’s a lot more going on than anyone suspects (me included).

I devoured Blackout in one sitting. It’s one of those books where the characters got under my skin like close friends and the plot captured my imagination. I didn’t want it to end! And I can’t find anything on book two, but I need it soon.

I received a free ARC of Blackout from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Darkness trilogy:

  1. Blackout

 

 

Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Review: The Smiley Killer

Cover of "The Smiley Killer," featuring the face of a woman staring towards the viewer and the face of a man turned towards the woman; both faces are superimposed over the image of a city in the evening
Image from Julia Derek

Title: The Smiley Killer

Author: Julia Derek

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Back Cover:

Seventeen-year-old Riley has been fascinated with crime investigation since she discovered CSI on TV. So, when it’s announced a serial killer is loose in the city, hell-bent on killing girls like Riley’s little sister, Riley’s on full alert. Not even Mark, the super hot college boy pursuing her, can get her mind off the case.

A victim found near the research lab where Riley’s friend Alyssa volunteers makes Riley think she’s found a lead: The killer’s signature—sad smileys—appears in the lab, so it seems the killer could be someone working there. Riley alerts Alyssa and the two notify the NYPD. But the police dismiss their claims.

Convinced she’s onto something, Riley embarks on her own investigation together with Alyssa. When another victim is found near the lab, it seems they’re close to finding the killer. Problem is, their prime suspect is a scientist’s younger brother—who happens to be Mark…

Review:

Though you wouldn’t know it from the genre counts in the sidebar, I love YA thrillers. I just have a hard time finding good ones. So when The Smiley Killer showed up in my inbox, I trusted my reader’s instinct that said this one is good and said yes.

Riley was interesting. She was a little like a bulldog – small-ish, but fierce and stubborn. It’s established early on that she’s a black belt in karate, and I expected that to play a bigger part than it did. (And as a fellow martial artist, I wanted more karate butt-kicking). She was actually pretty normal.

I don’t want to mention any other characters for fear of revealing who the killer is. The culprit is the last person you’d expect, unless you’re like me, in which case your suspicions will bounce between a likely suspect and the real culprit.

I do feel a need to mention, though, that I would have liked the romance between Riley and Mark better if Mark wasn’t so perfect.

I haven’t read a lot of murder mysteries/hunting serial killers books, so I don’t have much to compare The Smiley Killer to. But it was excellently done. All the important little details were woven seamlessly into the story without actually looking important.

At some points there were details that I thought could have been removed, but then I got to the end and they were actually essential. Someone who was meticulously analyzing every detail could figure out the killer, but a reader who’s just devouring a good story would be taken by surprise – which is the way a good mystery should be.

The Smiley Killer was an awesome serial killer mystery/thriller. And just when I thought everything was wrapped up neatly, a twist is thrown into the works, the book ends, and now I want book two. But Unnatural Born Killers isn’t out yet …

Update: According to Julia Derek’s website, The Smiley Killer is a standalone companion to her Girl Undercover series. There is no book two.

I received a free review copy of The Smiley Killer from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.