"Darklight" by Lesley Livingston

I reviewed the first in the series a little while ago and I was intending to write this up LAST week …but nothing goes according to plan so far this year. So if you haven’t read the other review OR the book itself and don’t want spoilers for the first book, maybe do one of those two things first!

The thing about this series so far is it’s pretty much unremarkable. A lot happens but nothing is actually happening. This isn’t a nitpick about this book, I find a lot of books I’ve read lately and in the past do this. They write a big elaborate story but literally nothing is happening – I refer to it as walking without going anywhere. The plot of this book is really basic but so much happens around it that it feels like a lot is happening. Basically: “Kelley has stolen jewellery a Leprechaun wants back, and Sonny hunts faeries.” 310 pages summed up into one sentence.

Now, I’m not saying the book is BAD, it’s still relatively enjoyable. But unfortunately I enjoy the OTHER characters more than I enjoy the main protagonists. Kelley has become the damsel in distress even though everyone talks about how amazing she is at fighting (this is my BIGGEST pet peeve with YA/Romance novels; having other characters praise traits that are never shown in the story), and Sonny has always bothered me so this book didn’t do much to change it. I love Tyff because her character is so off the wall, she actually stands out from the cardboard protags. Fennrys Wolf, another Janus, is also a riot, any scene he is in is automatically 10x more interesting.

With that off my chest – this story takes place 6 months after the first book. Sonny was instructed by Auberon (King of Faerie and Kelley’s biological father) to hunt down the rest of the Wild Hunt because of events in the first book spiraling and leading to their release. So Sonny is being a good changeling guard and has traveled to faerie to hunt them down. Once the Wild Hunt is dead that gives them access to kill Mabh (lesser Queen of Faerie and Kelley’s biological mother). Hijinks ensue? As for Kelley, they found out the charm she was given to muffle her Faerie powers was stolen from a Leprechaun and he wants it back. He spends the whole book chasing her. As an Irish descendant I feel like I’m supposed to be offended about the Leprechaun thing but then I remember a story my mother told me about my Great-Grandfather making her and her siblings sit around the kitchen table after they jokingly insulted the Fae to drink tea and leave out pennies from their own pockets (in the 60’s that was a lot of money!) …so …yeah, them Irish stereotypes …

(The offended thing is a joke, I just can’t help but think of that story whenever I read something about faeries.)

A bit more happens, but it’s a little too spoilery and end of book-ish, so I will just say a bit more happens than jewellery theft and hunting.

It’s enjoyable for what it is, a light fluffy read without much depth or substance, but still fun in its own right.

"Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman became one of those authors I have always wanted to read but for some ODD reason, never picked up a book. We even purchased his books for OTHER people but never ourselves. So, one day we were out looking for new books and I came across this one. So I made sure to buy it! Like most people, as soon as I found out another Gaiman series was turned into a TV show and it was starring Michael Sheen AND David frigging Tennant, I had to watch it. It was incredible so naturally, I needed the book.

The book follows the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale from the start of the world, their impact on the garden of Eden, and then to their impact on the end of the world. Being the two beings left on earth to shepherd humans either to good things, or to evil, they are of course left in charge of Lucifer’s son. You would think that Angels would want the son of Lucifer destroyed, but they want the Ineffable war just as much as Hell does.

Though …both places should have maybe kept a closer eye on their agents because …the Antichrist may have been misplaced.

So as you can imagine, most of the remaining story is about Crowley and Aziraphale trying to correct their mistake before their respective powers find out.

The story also draws in the Four Horsemen, witches, Prophets, and Witchhunters. It seems like a clusterfuck but it actually works. Gaiman and Pratchett’s humor really comes through in this story, so if you’ve ever read any of the Discworld series, you’ll see. I found myself laughing out loud several times.

I highly recommend this book, it is hilarious and endearing, and just plain interesting!

"Dorothy must Die" by Danielle Paige

I’ve seen this book around but never thought of it much past “might be interesting to read down the road”. Well, we were at the book store and they had the SECOND book on clearance for like $5 so I grabbed it. Not the first time I’ve read a book further in the series before the first, so I figured I could fill in the holes. But my husband saw it in my hands and made me look for the first one, which he bought me. So, I have the first two books of a series I’ve never read by an author I’m not familiar with. This is usually a bigger risk than I like to take, but here we are.

For the most part, it’s an interesting book. It is basically a published fanfiction, so if you’re very purist, you will not like this series. I really liked the fact Paige took the standard story and flipped it on it’s head – making Dorothy and her band the evil ones, and the witches are the good ones (ish, read the book and you’ll get it). And for a reason, not a retcon.

Taking place in Kansas, our heroine is a high school girl named Amy Gumm. One one hand, Amy is your standard typical YA female lead. Unpopular, clothes bought second-hand, no friends, etcetera etcetera. But, it wasn’t used to make the popular guy fall for her awkwardness, so point for that. What I really liked with the stereotypical YA girl was her mother is an addict. Amy describes her life looking after her mother after a bender, how their budget is drugs first and everything else later (hence the second hand stuff), etc. Most of the YA books that I have read don’t really touch on this subject (not saying it’s not out there, just that I personally haven’t read any), so it’s reaching out to a forgotten minority, which I love. But it also makes the rest of the story a little more believable. Lots of people send their heroine into a new magical world and she just falls in love with the first pretty boy and never looks back. Amy’s mother abandoned her during a tornado, so she believed there was nothing for her to go back to. Her mother didn’t want her, no father in the picture, no friends, no ties to Kansas.

Her poor little trailer ends up landing on the edge of a cliff and a mystery boy pulls her out before it falls. She is officially cut away from everything in her past life. But Oz isn’t how the books described it (in this world the books and movie exist, just no one realizes they are real). It’s barren, dead, and its citizens are nothing more than slaves. Munchkin town is empty save for one straggling girl.

She helps Amy learn that Dorothy came back to Oz, but not for a noble reason. She was addicted. To magic. Wheedling her way into the royal family, she becomes the Ruler of oz. Her group, including Glinda, work for her. The Tin Man and Lion are horrific hunters, looking for people that break Dorothy’s hundreds of idiotic rules (no sass …I’d be screwed). The Scarecrow has become something close to a mad scientist. Experimenting on people and creatures alike, binding them to machines, turning them into weapons. Glinda runs the mining operations, draining Oz of it’s natural magic so only Dorothy has access.

The witches in hiding find Amy and, cliche, believe she is some kind of chosen one who can defeat Dorothy. A cliche I will forgive since it works for the story.

As cliche and sometimes annoying as it is, I really enjoyed the twisted take on this book. I actually drew a dystopian version of the characters a while ago for work, so I love dark and apocalyptic versions of childhood characters. So I am actually curious about how the rest of the series will go!

"Rudi's Birthday Extravaganza" by Maxine Sylvester

Before I get into the review, this is book THREE and the previous review was book FOUR. When I downloaded the files they somehow ended up reversed in the folder and that’s just the way I read them. The books can be read on their own, but there are things that happened in this book that set up for the Reindeer Flying Academy.

I’m going to get this out of the way first, I cannot sing Sylvester’s praises enough! Even though these are children’s books and contain typical childish jokes and themes, it is still incredibly wholesome and heart warming.

This book is about Ronaldo’s friend Rudi and his birthday party. They are relatively long children’s books so she is able to include more of a story than just the party and develop the characters a little bit more and their relationship to others. With the upcoming Reindeer Academy, all the children are excited about going (only those with the best grades get the opportunity) …all except Rudi. Sylvester doesn’t shy away from real life, so Rudi can’t go because his father lost his job and they could no longer afford it with his extravagant birthday.

Many other things happen throughout this book leading up to the grand Birthday Party (where they got Monty the Moose the Magician!). Reindeer with frizzy hair, Ronaldo learning the power of honesty, bullies, and the power of a loving friend.

I highly recommend this series for anyone, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this book series is so much more than that.

"The Secret Circle: The initiation and the captive part I" by L.J Smith

There is a phenomenon in our bookish world that is not just uncommon, but almost completely unheard of. That phenomenon occurs when the MOVIE/TV SHOW is BETTER than the book. Up until a few days ago, the only book on that list (this list is completely my opinion, so take it as you will) was Inkheart – I will watch that movie all day long, but if I have to read that book again I will gouge out someone’s eyes. So sadly, I am adding another to that list.

My first introduction to the Secret circle was actually a marathon of the show. My step-dad and I somehow gravitated to the couch, put on that channel, and then remained glued to the TV the ENTIRE day. I found the series kind of slow but interesting enough that I wanted to keep watching.

The book doesn’t really have that charm. I went in with high hopes since I liked the show, and I have read LJ Smith before and her writing isn’t horrible. I keep trying to tell myself that it was published in ’92 and that was a very different time (like, dude, I was 7) so maybe that is my issue? Maybe it’s just not holding up well?

So, to dive in: my issue with the book started right off the bat. Our main character Cassie, your standard cardboard heroine, is preparing to head back to her home and friends, only to get the bad news that her estranged grandmother is dying and her mother wants to move there to look after her. Cassie’s reaction was to cry and freak out because her mother couldn’t possibly understand how hard it was to leave her friends and have to start all over again at a brand new school. As a child of a single mother – we moved around A LOT, it’s not hard, and even in ’92 they had that nifty little invention known as the telephone. Cassie just screamed self-centred brat …and it doesn’t get better through the rest of the book.

Cassie is forced to move into her grandmothers ramshackle house in the city of New Salem, and start school there. Cue every 90’s trope ever. Bad-ass biker chick, voluptuous succubus, big-tit cheerleader …and they all randomly hate Cassie even though they have never seen her before. They spread rumors and terrorize Cassie (even set OBVIOUS traps that she walks into and needs to be rescued from) because …their personality is “mean girl”? During said trap they try to light Cassie on fire, and Cassie needs to be saved yet again, only this time not by the tall-dark-and-handsome-cold-smoker-bad-boy (AKA every 90s trope rolled into one) but by a beautiful High School senior named Diana (I’m Canadian, so terms like junior, sophomore, and senior mean nothing to me, so sorry about that!). She is beautiful, caring, thoughtful, and just an all around wonderful person. It’s to the point it’s rather annoying. But, she is the complete contrast to some of the other members. Where Faye is curvy, dark, and sexual, Diana is slim, fair, and virginal. Diana cleans Cassie’s soot covered clothes and takes her home. From there the girls bond and even jokingly adopt one another as sisters. That part was cute, I will give it that.

Diana and the others are part of a secret group, a secret group that runs the school. Even the adults and teachers keep their distance and let them do as they please. A little unbelievable, but I will suspend belief a little. The group are the descendants of the New Salem’s founders …which were the true witches who managed to escape Salem during the witch Trials (I do have an issue with the “New Salem” thing, but I’m complaining enough about this book, I might as well leave my smaller issues out). With one member down, they need to bring another into their Circle, and the intended is a young witch named Kori. She is the younger sibling to two of the members already and a shoe in …until she is found dead at the bottom of a set of school stairs. This leads me to my next big issue with Cassie. She asked Diana to join the club, was told they have already let someone in and they can only bring in one yadda yadda, but when Kori died, they let Cassie in instead …and Cassie was bitter that even in death Kori was more popular than her.

And what would a YA book be without it’s forced love triangle? This one that was basically written with predictive text is definitely not one to break the wheel. Cassie met a young man before she moved to New Salem, and in their 5 minute conversation fell madly in love (because apparently she’s a Disney Princess) with him. Turns out, this guy has been dating Diana since childhood. So he is torn between his girlfriend and this girl he knew for 5 minutes that is apparently “unlike anyone he’s ever met”. Cassie’s immediate reaction upon finding out was to hate Diana. The girl she spent a week or so trying to find because she was so pretty and wanted to be friends with, who did everything she could for Cassie, asked for nothing in return, and adopted her as a little sister …all cause she was dating a guy Cassie had talked to for 5 minutes.

Everything about this book made me mad. But, it is not the most horrible thing I’ve ever read. It is a brainless read, predictable, but fun for what it is (high school witches of ANGST). I know it’s a popular series, but I have never been in the demographic that read these books or books like this, until I was an adult and already well enough read to realize the multiple fallacies. A young person 14 – 16 would probably like this book more than me, but the 90s references might go over their heads.

As for myself, this is the first and the last in the series I will be reading.

"Ronaldo: The Vixen Pederson workshop" by Maxine Sylvester

AKA: The review that did everything possible to not get written. It started when my e-reader wouldn’t connect to my computer. Odd. Nothing I did helped, so I did a factory reset. Cool, connects to the computer but won’t boot up without a download. So, I did that. Downloaded the proper apps, signed up for the proper things …and I can’t add files to the e-reader anymore, I have to purchase them through the app (I looked up how to just add files to the Kobo and nothing I found worked for me). Well. So I will be looking into an app for my tablet in hopes I can copy files onto that. But, what this all came down to is I had to read in snippets and spurts so it took me FAR longer than I would like to admit to read a kids book. (I work, so I don’t have as much time to spend around the computer, hence why I was trying so hard to get it on the e-reader.)

But, that also leads to the talent of Sylvester. Most books I can skip entire paragraphs and not lose anything of the story, but Maxine keeps her stories clipped and to the point that there are no lulls in her writing. Every sentence is just as important as the next. It leads a nice continuity instead of getting to a good part and having to spend three pages getting through filler.

I am not the target audience for her books (I will have another review for one of her books next week too) but I really appreciate what she conveys through her books.

Ronaldo, the reindeer, is this time whisked away to the North Pole (yes, that North Pole) to compete in a 4-day workshop with one of Santa’s reindeer. Once there everyone is split into teams of 4 and Ronaldo is separated from his best friend Rudi. He is teamed up with two other girls and a new comer Cupid. The little chubby reindeer is a horrible klutz and is seen frequently crashing into things and other people. Ronaldo is made leader of their small team and to lead by example he partners with Cupid.

Ronaldo learns a small secret about Cupid, one she doesn’t even really realize. It’s not that she’s a bad reindeer or just unable to learn …she can’t see. Reindeer never need glasses, maybe the occasional moose, but never a reindeer. So, Ronaldo, being a true leader and friend, does what he can to help Cupid. At the North Pole they met elves, and there was one elf in particular who always wore fancy, bright, fashionable glasses. With his help, they get Cupid in to an eye doctor and get her glasses.

People may not realize that this is still an issue. A friend’s young daughter recently got glasses and she was terrorized at school for it. So even something like a character like Ronaldo helping a friend get glasses, helping her get confident with them, and then everyone seeing past the “dorkiness” of it to see how amazing of a flyer Cupid actually was it amazing representation. When I told my friend’s daughter that I sometimes have to wear glasses too, and that glasses were actually pretty cool, she felt better about it. So if something so small as a kid seeing themselves reflected in a book character can make a difference, then it is proof we need books like this.

Like I said, I’m not the target audience, and I really love these books. I’m impressed that Sylvester doesn’t focus so much on the importance of Ronaldo “winning” the competitions he is put into, as much as the friendships, leadership, emotional, and impactful things that he chooses to do, or does not choose to do. And those are much more important than “winning”.

I recommend this, absolutely, to any kids. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, her stories have messages and themes that can be taken outside of the “holiday” setting and understood and enjoyed by everyone.

Guest post by D.Ellis Overttun

I thought the best way to get the word out there about my second book, Genesis: Vision of the New World, would be to give readers a background of the themes that run through the storyline. They are the things that resonated with me and inspired my writing. For those of you who are time-constrained, my wife, Natasha, has created the gif below. 

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As the title suggests, visions underlie the narrative in Genesis, two in particular. The first one is presented as a potential safe haven from the destruction of the universe that was the backdrop of the story in the first book, Universe: Awakening. The second is a genetically engineered memory of creation. The inspiration for this has come from the many doublets in the Bible, in particular “Genesis 1” and “Genesis 2”, that present two different timelines for creation. 

While a vision may seem very real to the person experiencing it, the question that arises is:  What will others think? Part of the answer can be found in societal attitudes and touches upon the issue of mental health. To the Celesti, a vision is a form of communication. There must be a sender and a receiver. Anything else is beyond the realm of reason and logic. It is an indication of potential mental impairment. On the other hand, the Gendu acknowledge the existence of phanai, those who can speak directly to their deity. As a consequence, they are more open-minded to the possibility.

Consistent with the theme of the Bible meets sci-fi, I have crafted excerpts from the Codices of Taru, the primary religious text of the Gendu. The literary style of these verses was modeled upon chapters in the Bible like “Genesis 5”, the lineage of Adam, and Professor Robert Alter’s commentary in his translation, The Five Books of Moses. Like the Torah, the Codices were written to be read aloud with a rhythm established by the deliberate use of the word “and”.

Where does the belief in a higher power originate? Can advanced technology be god-like as Erich von Däniken suggests? Genesis describes an encounter between two Celesti and orangs, a hominoid species that is on the verge of moving higher on the sapiens branch of the evolutionary tree. The orangs make a number of observations from this chance meeting. Their experience can only be described as supernatural: unexplainable by anything in their collective experience. But all observations crave an explanation. How do they extrapolate?

The orangs illustrate my rendering of the beginnings of language based upon the work of evolutionary biologist Professor Mark Pagel of the University of Reading. If we start with English, we can trace its evolution from Germanic and Romance languages back to Indo-European then Proto-Indo-European. A language like the orangs speak goes back to the first words, a very limited vocabulary comprised of a handful of nouns that emerged shortly after the evolution of the physiological apparatus to enable speech.

An experiment in genetics features prominently as the Celesti attempt to engineer a pliant servile class from orangs. Tok and Maag are captured in the wild and are subjected to extensive gene substitution that accelerates their evolution. 

Immortality is one of the characteristics of all divine beings. But how does that happen? Can you become immortal? From the point of view of science, the only way is to violate the second law of thermodynamics or the tendency of things to go from an ordered to a disordered state. Stated more clearly, the disorder in a system can never go down. But that leaves a possibility:  Disorder (or order) can remain constant. In my first book, Universe, I posit just such a place I called the “volume” filled with an energy called the “ether”. Now, this ether has been infused into the body of one of the main characters, and it would seem that he no longer ages. 

I felt the story needed a villain, someone really loathsome and repulsive. Enter Theodor. His demeanor has been based upon Bernardo Gui from the Name of the Rose. I describe an unnatural relationship that my new antagonist has with his sister, Myranda, drawn from the common practice among Egyptian pharaohs. He also has a predilection for young women, very young women. His predatory practices were influenced by recollections from the Me Too movement. However, there is a scene in the story extrapolated from my own life. In my first job after graduation, I was part of a group of new hires for a large company. One of the female members of our group was being harassed by one of the managers. When I found out, I wanted to send him a “message”. I didn’t, but I remember the feelings of anger and helplessness. I wanted to offer more than just my moral support.

Much of what motivates Theodor is power and recognition. However, he is not willing to work towards his goals. He is not grounded in merit only desire. His pursuit makes him culpable in the murder of four individuals. What follows is a cover up and investigation.

His ambition propels him to become Tendai, the leader of the main religious body on the planet. The elements of the election process have been drawn from papal succession. However, I have introduced a slight modification inspired by the acclamation of the people and the coronation of William the Conqueror shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

A lot has been swirling around lately about fake news. It prompted me to introduce a piece of technology I called “Veracity”, a computer program that verifies and classifies content uploaded to social media. It presupposes two things. First, a central authority has control of all content across all social platforms. Second, everyone accepts how the program operates. One of the inflection points of the storyline hinges on people accepting something they know is not true. It highlights what we want versus what is real and speaks to the larger issue of factual consistency versus narrative consistency

Background to Genesis:  Vision of the New World

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The focal point of the cover is a shadowy face overlaid on a planet with a sun peering from its edge circled by a single moon. It is an allusion to the word “vision” that is part of the title of the book. It gives the reader a hint of the story within. The scene could be anywhere except that the planet in the lower left-hand corner looks a lot like Saturn. In that case, the planet in question could be earth. Now, as the title says, this is a “Vision of the New World”. Is this our universe? The universe in Book 1 is 36 billion years old, a lot older than the current 14-billion-year age of our universe. So, is this a vision from the past? “New World” in the title would imply “no” unless this is about time travel into the past. (Since this is sci-fi, it is a distinct possibility.) Another solar system in the same universe configured exactly like ours? Perhaps. Or maybe, it is a vision of another universe.

Series Overview:

Author Q&A posted on The Magic of Wor(l)ds

Author Q&A posted on On The Shelf Reviews

Author Q&A posted on The Book Hole

Author Q&A posted on From Belgium With Book Love

Background to Universe: Awakening posted on Zooloo’s Book Diary

Cover Makeover Genesis: Vision of the New World posted on On The Shelf Reviews

Indie Spotlight – Terra Nova Series posted on beforewegoblog

Universe: Awakening – Excerpts and Commentary:

“Prologue” posted on Simply Phil’s Blog

Chapter 1 – “In the Darkness” posted on beforewegoblog

Chapter 2 – “Beyond a Program” posted on The Magic of Wor(l)ds

Chapter 6 – “Confessions” posted on Read Yourself Happy

Chapter 8 – “In the Darkness” posted on Zooloo’s Book Diary

Chapter 46 – “Tsai and Citrus” posted on Herding Cats

Chapter 60 – “The Awakening” posted on The Reading Chemist

Chapter 66 – “The Second Way” posted on The Tattooed Book Geek

Chapter 83 – “The Dream” posted on Reads & Reels

Chapter 85 – “Heron of Edenoud” posted on On The Shelf Reviews

For a deeper dive:

Universe:  Awakening

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Genesis:  Vision of the New World

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