Awakening The Dark Rituals by Catrina Burgess

Around 11% into Awakening, I knew this was not going to be the book for me. The pace is easy to follow, story fairly straightforward, but the writing very problematic. For anyone who reads many books, substandard plotting and lack of writing chops can become insurmountable obstacles to enjoying a story. But for those who don’t see the cliches, I’m sure Dark Rituals will be a fun romantic read.


Story: Teen Colina is a former healer with an axe to grind and revenge on her mind. She seeks out handsome Luke to teach her the Death Arts – and will have to undergo horrifying rituals in order to wield the scary power of death.

For me, the roadblockers that prevented me enjoying this story are:

– Egregious Instaluv. E.g., within an hour of meeting the cute guy, he saves her, she saves him, she lusts after his half naked body, and ends up sniffing his manly scent while being annoyed at the other women lusting after her Luke. Honestly, we are given NO reason why he would be interested in her/her him other than his looks and her looks. Certainly, no personalities or characters were developed to get an insight into this miracle insta luv. It was this passage that really set it off for me, happening after meeting him 10 hours or so previous:

“He looked a bit dangerous and, well, let’s be honest – hot. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Girls on the street were turning to check him out as we walked by. I edged closer, pleased to find that today he smelled like cedar and leather. When I caught myself leaning in for another whiff, I forced myself to slow down and walk behind him.”

There was just too much silly romance and not enough plot.

– Characters were all over the place. E.g., Luke is first angry, then suspicious, then fawning, then laughing, then standoffish, then solicitous, then serious – all within about a 10 minute period of first talking to our character. It made all the characters very unbelievable since they reacted solely to immediately remarks or situations rather than having an intrinsic personality.

Here’s a good example from shortly after their first meeting: “He had looked at me before with both anger and amusement, but I wasn’t sure what emotion was not blazing from those dark eyes. They were filled with such intensity, and as he watched me his lips slowly curved up into a smile. It was the first time I had seen him really smile. I honestly don’t know what I would have done, but I didn’t get a chance to find out because as quickly as that smile had appeared, it disappeared.”

Luke, like the other characters, was either schizophrenic or poorly written. I’m suspecting the former.

– Guy saves girl who threw herself into danger stupidly. Do we really need another heroine who does stupid things that should get her killed/maimed but miraculously doesn’t? E.g., Colina goes running out into a magical battle armed with – wait for it – a baseball bat. What can she do? Nothing except get the guy hurt trying to protect her from her own stupidity. But hey, it furthers the plot since he accidentally gets her hurt so he can then fawn over her (instead of kicking her out of the house after roundly yelling at her, as he should have).

– There were a *lot* of cliches and overworn phrasing. I started wincing involuntarily while reading. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite” “I’m alive and kicking.” “Snug as a bug in a rug.” “Hang in there!” Not exactly creative writing.

– Really, really bad dialogue. E.g., his answer after just meeting her as to why he will train her in his forbidden death arts: “Because you were so desperate.” He inched toward me, “Because I saw something in your eyes that told me you needed to do this.” Great for romantics who don’t need any sort of reality in their reading but not for someone who enjoys a well written book.

All of the above take place within the first 15% of the book. I’m sure there is an enjoyable story in there – a mindless guilty pleasure for many. For me, I’ve come to demand more from the books I read and just couldn’t slot through this particular story. It was in great need of an excellent editor to go beyond the grammar issues and craft out a better story from the romantic goo and trope-ridden writing. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in romance, urban fantasy, YA | Leave a comment

Dire Steps (Sim Wars Book 3) by Henry V. O’Neil

Dire Steps continues the momentum of the first two books and opens up the mystery of the Sims a bit more. The series is now, for the most part, a 3-POV story of the Mortas family – patriarch Olech and his children Jander and Alyss. I still prefer Jander’s POV but as the story progresses, it is obvious why O’Neil has chosen to broaden the scope. It allows Jander to stay a grunt LT. for the ground level perspective while Olech with Alyssa tackle the political and power struggle angles.


With Dire Steps, each Mortas will become embroiled in a struggle. Jander fighting Sims, Alyss attempting to stabilize a mining colony, and Olech risking his life to take decisive steps to contact the alien entity from the first book. O’Neil does a superb job of setting up the mystery and machinations so that by the time the battles break out in the end, each is extremely fascinating, intriguing, and riveting in their own way. I applaud the twists and turns, machinations, and reveals – they are intricate but also logical and perhaps even inevitable. O’Neil never strikes a false note and the plot unfolds organically.

I am greatly looking forward to the next book in this series. So much is yet unexplained and I am eager to see where O’Neil takes the characters next.

Posted in science fiction | 2 Comments

The Vile Desire to Scream by Oisin McGann

The Vile Desire to Scream is short at 35 pages but in no way feels rushed or lacking. ¬†Intricate details are unveiled organically and this little kidnapping caper is quite satisfying from start to end. Although there is nothing in here that can’t be missed between novels 1 and 2, it’s still a greatly enjoyable read in one of the best world building novels in the urban fantasy genre. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.


Posted in alternate history, urban fantasy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant by Kate McIntyre

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant is an intriguing story built around a late Victorian/early Edwardian type of society. What we have really are two stories woven around one young man POV: a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery and an alternate universe urban fantasy in which elementals can be magically enslaved. The world building is superb and the split focus makes for a robust read.


Story: Young aristocrat Christopher lost his parents when air elementals mysteriously unbound, causing a revolutionary floating palace to fall to the ground. Now, years later, he protects a young sister whose unusually strong wizard skills would make her a target to be used and abused – all the while trying to keep financially afloat. With funds drying up, he uses his wordweaving talent to take a job as a secretary/assistant to a Deathsniffer – a detective. As he becomes embroiled in a case of a Duchess with a dead husband, his fragile balance of protecting his sister yet also earning enough income to keep them safe will become perilously endangered. For the Deathsniffer is a force unto herself and his sister doesn’t want to be hidden any longer.

Despite the proliferation of Holmesian type novels lately, this one avoids the boring “eccentric paired with grounded logical individual” archetype. Deathsniffer Farraday is quirky but also firmly grounded in reality (perhaps even more so than Christopher himself). Chris, meanwhile, is juggling so many responsibilities the he no longer has time for any of the obvious. It makes him a sympathetic character and also adds needed depth and dimension. Watson was, after all, always eclipsed by Holmes but that isn’t the case here. The result is some sharp and witty dialogue, more trenchant insight than humorous anecdotes

Because this is a fantasy (or perhaps an alternate universe), world building is so important. I greatly appreciated the little details – from fire emanating salamanders to distinctive job titles linked to ‘magic’ abilities – word weaver for writer, truth seeker for policeman, life knitter for doctors, etc. The were many clever choices made in the writing of this book.

The mystery to be solved had many surprising turns leading to a satisfying conclusion. Tantalizing hints are also given that Christopher is more than he realizes – and has a past that he, as an unreliable narrator, is clearly not aware of at this time. Those hints make me hope the next volume in the series is soon forthcoming. In all, a very enjoyable read of a solid urban fantasy/mystery. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in alternate universe, mystery, urban fantasy | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld

Although written by multiple authors, Zeroes finds its own voice and is consistent throughout. Using the Spiderman theme of, “With great power comes great responsibility”, the story follows the POVs of six characters who have inexplicably developed very unique abilities. The book remains grounded by making sure each power has both advantages and serious disadvantages; fortunately, none of the teens are sociopaths so we avoid a lot of cliches of the ‘kids with superpowers’ genre.


Story: Several teens who have powers have banded together loosely. Calling themselves “zeroes” (they were all born in 2000 and zeroes rhymes with heroes), they are working together to develop their unusual talents. Belwether, the leader, can inspire and influence. Scam has a ‘voice’ that can tell someone exactly what he needs to hear to give Ethan what he wants. Flicker is blind but can see through the eyes of others. Anonymous simply disappears and Crash can take down electronics. When Scam gets into trouble, the group find they have to save him; but doing so has consequences and people are hurt. As Scam accidentally gets them deeper and deeper, they will need to figure out their own place in the world in order to save each other from lethal drug dealers, exploding buildings, and some very interesting romances.

I really enjoyed all the characters. They were well drawn and there were none that I wanted to skip or whose viewpoint I found annoying. That’s important in a book with several POVs; usually, I find I like certain characters more than others and so POV changes were very irritating. But here, every POV change was welcome and I even looked forward to each new chapter.

Appreciably, the super-powers are not the usual X-Men variations. No telekinesis or mind reading here. And obviously, each of the characters has to learn to deal with the downside of their power. E.g., being anonymous means your parents don’t even remember you; Scam’s ‘voice’ knows exactly how to cut to the bone with words if he gets mad at someone; Crash is in severe pain around electrical systems. Interestingly enough, the powers seem to magnify in crowds – except Scam’s Voice and Crash’s electronics.

The story unfolds organically and moves briskly despite the somewhat large page count. The dialogue is natural and certainly little world building is needed since it is set in the modern day (though we never learn about why some y2K born kids have powers). There is a clear arc and the book ends on a satisfying note but with room for continuation. In all, a great read and one I enjoyed. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in urban fantasy, YA | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Infinite Loop by Pierrick Colinet

The best thing I can say about The Infinite Loop is that the artwork is quite lovely – very “Batman The Animated Series” feel to it (I kept waiting for the main character to don a Batgirl costume). But honestly, the plot was so heavy handed as to be plodding, dialogue disingenuous, and the story so unoriginally original as to be baffling. Every page is drawn/written not to further the story so much as slap you in the face with a MESSAGE.


Story: uh, time travel. Fight against discrimination and hatred. A T-Rex. Defying ‘the man’. Don’t do what’s expected. 70 Chevy Camaro named Beatrix.

Honestly, the messages of the book were so pedantic (how many ways can a writer shout the same ‘feel good’ message? Find out here!) as to be the only thing I remember or could see – and about half way through I began skimming to see if The Infinite Loop would go anywhere interesting. It became apparent about half way through that the messages WERE the story and anything else (T-Rex, girls snogging, time travel) were thrown in as decoration. Admittedly, I’m one of those people who feel that messages are best delivered in a subtle way that enhances, rather than completely derails, a story. There’s a lot of superflous material here to pad out the pages between the messages and a coherent story still fails to materialize.

Add in the cliches (e.g., our main character saying that love is useless so we have a smoking gun for the romance on the next page) and it became somewhat numbing after awhile. Lots of kinetic energy on the pages, yes – frantic but not necessarily engaging.

I really did like the artwork, though. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in alternate history, ARC, graphic novel, urban fantasy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola

This is, by far, one of the best books on the subject published today. Comprehensive, beautifully presented, lavishly photographed, and suitable for beginner to advance soap makers. Designed like the highest quality cookbooks, directions are simple and very easy to follow. This is a one-stop, everything included manual for the hobbyist or enthusiast.


The first section of the book details the soapmaking process: choosing equipment and molds, step-by-step cold-process soapmaking, all about oils, using herbs and natural additives, scenting your soap, and designing recipes. The rest of the book includes a wide selection of soaps to make, broken down into three categories: simplicity, pure beauty, colorful and creative.

The book is brimming with high quality professional photographs that show the process, tools, and final results. All of the bars presented are beautiful – from swirls to stripes to sandwich layered. You’ll almost not want to use them after you make them since they look so good. And with ingredients such as black tea, pale ale, and goat milk – they definitely beg to be used.

Safety is important (using caustic lye, of course) and calculations are important to ensure the bar is made correctly. The author covers all of these in detail to ensure that there are no costly mistakes or accidents. Fortunately, the directions are so easy and thorough as to really facilitate success with soapmaking.

Whether you have never made soap before and need a starting point – or a veteran soapmaker looking for inspiration, you’ll find it here in Pure Soapmaking. This is very well done and a treat, guide, inspiration, and bible for the art. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

Posted in crafts, hobbies, nonfiction | Leave a comment