Hello, dear readers!
Welcome to my second batch of results from my SPFBO books, Phase 1. If you’re confused why I’m here posting about this, you might want to check out this post. If you want a refresher on how my system works or the fates of the first five books I read in October, check out the lengthy reminder here.
So, a quick overview of my thoughts over my five books for November. I’ll go ahead and get the gut punch out of the way. Originally, I planned to have one semi-finalist from each month, totaling three semi-finalists from my batch of fifteen. Then, I’d select one “finalist” to send to my partner, The Alliterates, while she sends me her “finalist” and then together, we choose our ultimate, true finalist to send on to Phase Two. (Sorry, I realize it can be a bit confusing with how my finalist might not be our group’s actual finalist, so trying to make it as clear as I can).
That being said, though most of the books in this group were quite solid, I didn’t fall in love with any of them. And for a book to be a semifinalist for me, I need to fall in love with it. I need to be swept away reading and not be able to put it down. Especially since this is a contest and I’m going to have to cut down to one to push forward to the final round to begin with, so each semifinalist needs to be a strong contender that I’m going to struggle to cut.
So, I’m sorry to say, each of these five have fallen, resulting in no semi-finalist for November. But, I also encourage you to check them out, as they are quite good and some of these, after I don’t have so much of a time crunch, I might go back to and finish.
Author: Travis M. Riddle
Published: Jan. 2017
Amount Read: 69 out of 524 (13%)
Blurb: Miles went to sleep tucked tightly in bed in his Austin apartment and woke up in the middle of a damp, dark forest in the kingdom of Rompu, a land being torn apart by a civil war between its king and queen.
Miles has few companions in this vast kingdom, which is filled with fantastical animals and flora yet sprinkled with familiar items like digital clocks and vinyl records. As he searches for a way to return home, he discovers that certain memories trigger magical abilities: he can shoot fireballs from his palms, heal with nothing but a touch, and more. But as he struggles to make sense of this new world, his thoughts are punctuated by painful memories of his sick grandmother, quarreling parents, and an icy school therapist.
When Miles learns that a monstrous entity flying through the countryside and killing for sport was summoned from a portal to another realm, he believes this creature is the key to learning how to open another rift and return home. Tracking down this beast and mastering his newfound magical abilities may be the only way for Miles to help save Rompu and get back to his family in Texas.
I believe this book was simply an unfortunate case of falling into the hands of the wrong reader. Though I adore fantasy (obviously) and don’t mind a good portal fantasy, either, middle grade has never really been my wheelhouse, so I think this one just missed the mark in that I’m not familiar with that age range. That said, I did find it was a little confusing, to start out with. I realize that Miles doesn’t really know what’s going on, either, but the way it was written makes it difficult, as a reader, to figure out whether he’s currently in this made up world or if he’s actually at home (and perhaps this is purposeful?). Also, there were a couple moments at the beginning where the POVs seemed to switch (from Miles’ POV to Mortimer’s) and that was a little confusing, too. I think my biggest issue was the couple of instances where Miles would ask a question, Mortimer would answer it and then it would cut straight into narration, instead of continuing the dialogue, so I felt some of the conversations were cut off before they could truly be conversations. However, it was very well written and the tone was perfect for that age group. I could totally imagine a nine-year-old speaking and thinking the way that Miles is portrayed (and his humor was also spot on) and I could not get enough of that cover art. Unfortunately, this portal fantasy just felt a little bit too young for me and, even though I did enjoy what I read, it didn’t ensnare me completely.
Title: Coven Queen
Author: Jeramy Goble
Published: October 2017
Amount Read: 185 out of 607 (30%)
Blurb: Acorilan’s monarchs are bred to die, and Jularra’s turn draws near. She and her ancestors have ruled at the mercy of the malicious Voidwarden–the price for saving Acorilan during a centuries-ago war. Burdened with the expectation of an early death but having little control over her fate, Jularra prepares to succumb to the ancient pact. Can the discovery of a long-lost power allow her to finally break the bonds of dark magic that have tormented her family for centuries?
This one started out so strong. The writing, which was well done, pulled me in immediately and with an opening scene like the one we received, it was hard to not become completely invested in the queen and her daughter and wonder what was going to happen next (I won’t go into more details, because I don’t want to spoil it). For the first 50-70 pages, I’d say, it was fast paced and intriguing, and I was pretty excited. But once I reached the middle section, it started to slow down a bit, pacing wise, and the decisions that Jularra made were questionable and didn’t seem to fit the character who had so much fire in the first two chapters, i.e., her excessive drinking and her escapades away from the palace, especially after an assassination attempt. There was also a lot of focus away from both the assassination attempt and the spoiler that I don’t want to spoil, which I felt were the two main aspects that the focus should have been on? Yet even almost reaching 200 pages, we weren’t really focused on either of these elements and some of the scenes involved Jularra and sex were just really…out of place, for me. Don’t get me wrong: sex scenes don’t put me off and a well-written one can make a book so much better, but because I didn’t understand Jularra and her contradictory harshness over her staff having affairs juxtaposed with her own wanton displays put me off, which shows that I really didn’t get a chance to understand her as a character. Paired with my aforementioned concerns over the focus of the plot, even though this book started on really strong and had some good writing, I decided to stop reading it and cut it from this contest.
Title: The Pendant Path
Author: Jane Barlow Funk and Steven Boivie
Amount Read: 244 out of 523 (46%)
Blurb: Kenji Okado has a secret. Trained since birth to be the ultimate weapon against a threat that might not even exist, he is struggling to navigate high school. His world changes for the better when popular student Hyrum Decker becomes his lab partner, but little does Kenji realize how his newfound friendship will be tested when he and Hyrum discover the hidden potential of a family heirloom.
Elsie, an apprentice clockmaker, is struggling to achieve Journeyman status in a place where being half British isn’t an asset. Recently, she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her. But that’s the least of her problems, now that her brother Xan has stolen a priceless artifact from the local crime lord.
Two teenagers. Two parallel worlds. Destined never to meet until they stumble upon the secret of the pendant path.
I thought the writing in this was really strong. The way it was written drew me in (but, of course, I can’t figure out how to properly describe ow it was written aside from well), but the characters were definitely what kept me reading up to almost half the book. Kenji and Hyrum’s relationship I think is what drew me in the most. I definitely expected Hyrum to be a cookie-cutter stereotype, yet he wasn’t. Kenji is also so well written with his quirks and the way he speaks is perfect, fitting into his backstory so well. I think, without the type of backstory he has, the way he is written would have been off-putting, but knowing his backstory, it just shows the level of care these authors put into their characters. I also liked Elsie and thought her world was really interesting and would have liked to spend more time with it.
That said, it was the pacing that honestly made me decide not to finish this book or push it forward. I thought the book started off a little slow, but, like I said, strong writing and strong characters can make up for it. And it did start to pick up a little bit, once we got more into the main conflict and discovering what the pendant did. But I hoped to be further into the action and meat of the story by the time I reached the halfway point of the novel and it felt like we were still setting things up. I just wanted to get to things a little bit quicker. If it wasn’t in a contest, I might have finished it, but it just wasn’t enough to hold my attention for the moment, so unfortunately, I cut it.
Title: Never Trust a Vampire
Author: Vivian Lane
Published: June 2018
Amount Read: 50 out of 223 (22%)
Blurb: The people we save look at us like we’re superheroes, or guardian angels, but we bleed.
And sometimes, we even die. Becoming a paladin means sacrifice of self.
Saving innocents is always top priority, so when the vampire Adam asks for Agent Seven’s services to rescue children from L.A.’s reigning vampire, The Agency won’t let her refuse. Company motto is the only good vampire is a dead one, so what makes this guy different from all the rest? This feels like a trap.
Will Adam prove her wrong, or be her downfall?
Since I love a good vampire and werewolf urban fantasy as much as the next person, I was eager to see what sorts of twists and uniqueness this story brought to the genre. Unfortunately, I struggled to follow the narrative in that the train of thought, almost like a stream-of-consciousness-type of writing style, continued to jump between current, in-scene events and past experiences without a lot of clarity between which was which, making it really hard to cement myself actually in-scene and evaluate what was actually going on. The dialogue often told details that could have been portrayed in another, more organic way through the narrative, i.e., a character would say something they obviously know and then another character would call them out on it, so it was only for the benefit of the reader. While I did enjoy Adam’s chapters and was curious about Simon and the reincarnation of his wife, Della’s chapters were a bit confusing and I struggled to figure out exactly what the main plot was, with so much jumping around in time and narrative. I stopped after 50 pages, though if you’re a sucker for vampire books, here’s one you might have missed!
Title: Hunters of Life and All That Matters
Author: Matthew Thompson
Published: January 2018
Amount Read: 50 out of 342 (15%)
Blurb: A Domino Galaxy Stand-Alone.
In a galaxy three billion light years from Earth, creationism on the planet Coalesce comes naturally as nature itself. Millions of DNA-carrying organisms erupt from beneath her surface, forming giant sapphire swarms which snake across the sky; their mission: to coalesce and cocoon a new breed of life in order to claim back the world, or so the theory has come to pass.
Mackenzie Scott is a freelance CSC hunter (Coalesced Specimen Control). Haunted by his father’s death, troubled by his illegal substance abuse, he is amongst the last bastion of freelancers. Government-funded CSC United dominate the skies now, forecast to take full responsibility of controlling the Coalesced Specimen within the next decade.
But Mackenzie fights to keep the freelancing tradition alive, and for what matters in life: to locate his father’s killer; to overcome his drug addiction; and to become something more than a friend to his childhood sweetheart Lucia.
However, violent tremors have been shaking the world of late, indicating a colossal swarm is brewing beneath the surface. And it’s predicted that a CS5, known as a Destructor, will descend on the planet this season. Are CSC ready?
I thought this was a terribly creative book, with the idea of new creatures/aliens being born frequently and hunters going to study or kill them. I honestly wanted to play a video game version of this story, like an RPG, because I think that would be a lot of fun. The writing was pretty solid and I enjoyed reading it (though I was much more invested in the story of the characters in the prologue than when we switched to our actual main character, tbh). However, this book is definitely a science fiction novel. Sure, it has elements of fantasy, but it’d definitely be shelved in the science fiction section of the bookstore, so unfortunately, I’m cutting it from the contest, even though my curiosity was piqued by it.
There you have it, my thoughts and mini-reviews from my November batch of books! Commiserations, of course, go out to these authors, as it’s never easy to be cut from a contest (trust me, I’ve been there). But if any of these blurbs seem interesting to you, please, don’t hesitate to check out these authors and continue to support our self-published community of writers by buying and reading their books, writing reviews and retweeting about their work!
I’m going to go stuff my face during all the Thanksgiving festivities, so I’ll be offline for a few days. But after that, I’ll eagerly get started on my December batch of books!