Review: When Stars Die by Amber Skye Forbes

When Stars Die

When Stars Die by Amber Skye Forbes
Read: September 7 – September 9, 2013
Advance reading copy.

Many thanks to Amber Skye Forbes, whom I follow on Tumblr. She provided this review copy in exchange for an honest review. I don’t normally review Amazon-only books, but I did this time, as Amber is something of a friend.

Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Price: $3.99
Format: Amazon e-book

Goodreads Book Blurb:  “Yet, even when stars die, they leave a lasting impact through their light, their diamond brilliance as they scatter their material to form new stars. When people die, they leave the same impact with the footprints they leave on people’s hearts. Even the ones who feel insignificant go out, leaving behind dust that can nourish the world anew.”

Amelia Gareth’s brother is a witch and the only way to save her family from the taint in his blood is to become a professed nun at Cathedral Reims. However, in order to become professed, she must endure trials that all nuns must face.

Surviving these trials is not easy, especially for Amelia, who is being stalked by shadowy beings only she can see. They’re searching for people they can physically touch, because only those they can touch can see them. Amelia soon learns why she is being stalked when she accidentally harms her best friend with fire during the third trial. Fire is a witch’s signature. The shadows are after witches.

Amelia must decide what to do: should she continue on her path to profession knowing there is no redemption, or should she give up on her dream and turn away from Cathedral Reims in order to stop the shadows who plan to destroy everything she loves?

My Opinion: Ok, I really agonized over writing this review. Amber is, as I mentioned, something of a friend. We were following each others’ personal Tumblrs long before she was working on releasing When Stars Die. I read the book, and then I was confronted with a very serious concern. How do you tell a friend that you didn’t like their book?

I offered not to publish the review, but Amber, being an awesome person and very reasonable author, recognized that not all of her reviews would be positive and encouraged me to go ahead. And then I got really sick and in a bit of a blog slump, so I am only NOW writing the review. I am SO sorry it took so long, but here we go.

There wasn’t much that I liked about When Stars Die, unfortunately. I really wanted to like the book, but there were just too many things that rubbed me the wrong way, as a reader.

The few things I did like? The setting was every well flushed out. The world had a very interesting premise, if it was a little religiously heavy-handed for my tastes. Amber’s prose, I found, tended to be a little on the purple side. But there were a few phrases that just shimmered and made me think that with more polish and more writing, the prose could be taken from where it is, which for me was a bit of a hot mess, to something elevated.

And now, the things I didn’t like.

Amelia was not a likeable character for me, at all. Her motives change partway through the book. First she wants to stay at Cathedral Reims for her little brother, but then she wants to stay for herself all of a sudden. It would be an OK shift if it didn’t happen in the span of a page or two.

The other big issue for me was that the style and even some of the phrasing was very modern, yet the book is set in the 1800’s. In that time, they wouldn’t have known what happens to stars when they supernova, or that most of the stars in the night sky are actually dead. They wouldn’t be using matches, which weren’t invented until the mid 1800’s in reality, not to mention when they became used widely.

Adding the above two notes to the general unpolished state of the prose, and I had a hard time finishing the book.

Bottom Line: A really great book in theory, but lacking the polish and execution to take it to the necessary level.

NetGalley Review: Dead Letter Office by Kira Snyder

Dead Letter OfficeDead Letter Office by Kira Snyder
Read: August 18 – August 20, 2013
NetGalley Selection

Many thanks to Coliloquy for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley!

Published: January 11, 2012
ISBN: 9781937804022
Price: $4.99 USD
Format: E-book

Goodreads Book Blurb: When Celia’s father is killed in Afghanistan, she moves with her mother to New Orleans, the city where her father grew up. Struggling to adjust and haunted by troubling dreams, Celia finds comfort in new friends like Tilly, a practicing witch, and Donovan, the son of police detective. On Halloween, bizarre supernatural occurrences rock the city. Celia meets the mysterious Luc and finds a letter, over a hundred years old, addressed to her.

The paranormal repercussions continue when Celia learns that Luc is the restless spirit of a young man murdered in 1854, only able to assume solid form at night. And then, to her shock, Celia finds that the letter, which describes the suspected murder of a man in 1870, contains uncanny parallels to the present-day death of Abel Sims, a homeless veteran.

With help from Luc, Tilly, and Donovan, Celia races to solve the murder—and the mystery of the letter—using both magical and forensic clues.

This is an Active Fiction title
“Active fiction” is a new type of e-reading experience that allows the reader and the author to interact with each other and the text in new and different ways.

My Opinion: What really piqued my interest about this book was the “active fiction” label. What is this so-called “active fiction”? It sounded really interesting and cutting-edge. Yeah. “Active fiction”? Choose your own adventure. I have nothing against choose your own adventure books, I used to love them as a kid. But it is not a new concept, and I felt really cheated. Not to mention that the way I chose, there were only (I think) three choices to make. So the whole “active fiction” thing fell really flat for me.

The rest of the book was alright, but not stellar. Case in point: I never felt like I wanted to go back and see what I was “missing” with the choices I didn’t make while choosing my adventure. I didn’t read all the choices, as my copy was running out of time.

I am not a fan of love triangles, and Dead Letter Office has one. There were other stereotypes. The father killed in Afghanistan was kind of pointless, from a reader standpoint. The popular girl versus the weird witch was very cliché. While none of it was exceptionally badly written, it was still there, and that was bad enough.

I read this book a while ago, and nothing really stuck with me to today when I am writing the review.

Bottom Line: A mediocre middle-grade choose your own adventure book riddled with cliché.

Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the StarThe Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Read: June 7 – June 9, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

My Opinion: I liked, but did not love, this book. I love historical fiction. I loved the idea of a paranormal young adult book set around Jack the Ripper. I went into this thinking it would be a thriller, and I was really disappointed on that front.

The big problem with The Name of the Star is pacing. A large portion of the book is taken up with the mundane frivolities of the main character moving to a new city and settling into a new school. The tension didn’t build in the first little bit, and I didn’t feel any real connection to the characters to make the boarding school setting one I was dying to read about.

Also, can I just say… Jazza? Not loving that name. Boo was a little more bearable, because it was an obvious short-hand. But Jazza kind of drove me crazy.

Johnson writes well, I won’t dispute that. I found nothing that made me really glower when it came to prose – stylistically that is. It was just the flat characters and the pacing that made this a three day read instead of a one day read.

The last 50-100 pages of The Name of the Star do pick up considerably, and I blew through those. I really liked how Johnson wrote the romance (because all YA has romance). It wasn’t the “you are my soulmate” that permeates so much YA these days, but rather “I really like you, so let’s make out”. I seem to recall it was a little insta-love for my tastes, but there were also some difficulties, which was appreciated.

The Bottom Line: I don’t know if I will continue with this particular series. I personally found that the tension and thrill was lacking. This makes me think that perhaps Johnson’s contemporary YA may be better suited to her strengths. So that is where I will turn my attention next with this author.

Advance Review: The Wrong Girl by C.J. Archer

The Wrong GirlThe Wrong Girl by C.J. Archer
(Advance copy courtesy of C.J. Archer via NetGalley)
Read: May 24 – May 25, 2013
Release Date: June 1, 2013
Price: 3.99 USD

Goodreads Book Blurb: It’s customary for Gothic romance novels to include a mysterious girl locked in the attic. Hannah Smith just wishes she wasn’t that girl. As a narcoleptic and the companion to an earl’s daughter with a strange affliction of her own, Hannah knows she’s lucky to have a roof over her head and food in her belly when so many orphans starve on the streets. Yet freedom is something Hannah longs for. She did not, however, want her freedom to arrive in the form of kidnapping.

Taken by handsome Jack Langley to a place known as Freak House, she finds herself under the same roof as a mad scientist, his niece, a mute servant and Jack, a fire starter with a mysterious past. They assure Hannah she is not a prisoner and that they want to help her. The problem is, they think she’s the earl’s daughter. What will they do when they discover they took the wrong girl?

My Opinion: Going in to reading The Wrong Girl I had no real expectations. It caught my eye on the NetGalley catalog because I love me some Gothic mystery with a touch of paranormal. In that sense, I wasn’t disappointed.

However, at a mere 139 pages long, I did find The Wrong Girl to be a little disappointing overall. The action moved at a good pace, and I remained engaged with the story and the characters. But at the end, there just weren’t enough pages to answer all the questions that were raised throughout the course of the book. I recognize it is only the first book in a series, and I hope the questions are answered at a later time, but I wasn’t instilled with any sense of urgency by the end that the questions I wanted answered were of high priority.

I was impressed with the fact that Archer did her research with the time period, and there weren’t any discrepancies, barring a few involving propriety. I noticed that dialogue and behavior bordered on irreverent for the times without crossing over into simply being wrong. I also really appreciated that with so few pages, Archer didn’t devote any words to the trite young adult romance that seems to take precedence in literature these days.

I found Hannah repeated herself a lot, as the book is written from her perspective. She meditated on being the wrong girl for a good chunk of time, and later on other things. I wish those words had gone elsewhere. Overall, though, I didn’t find Hannah’s mind a hard place to be. She is a likeable character.

Bottom Line: I found this to be an enjoyable read, though I wish it was at least double the length. There are a lot of dodgy self-published works out there, but this is the first I have read that gives me hope for the market as a whole.

Review: Wide Open by Deborah Coates

Wide OpenWide Open by Deborah Coates
Read: February 23 – February 27, 2013
Personal read.

Book Blurb: When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Something happened or Dell’s ghost wouldn’t still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell’s loss, think Hallie’s letting her grief interfere with her judgment.

The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn’t have to. 

As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace.  Soon, someone’s trying to beat her up, burn down her father’s ranch, and stop her investigation.

Hallie’s going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.

My Opinion: I saw this book in the “New” section of my library’s website, and it seemed interesting. I didn’t really know what I was getting into with it. I think I expected more general fiction/mystery with a ghostly touch. But instead I got weird. Like. Just very odd.

The premise (reading the Goodreads blurb) of Wide Open is OK enough, but for me it seemed like there were too many forces at play in the book. We had ghosts, we had the fact that Hallie is in the army, we have the big bad and his ancient power. And they didn’t really play nicely together. Not to mention that the fact that Hallie is in the army doesn’t really play much of a role in the book, except to give her a) a reason for seeing ghosts, b) a timeline, and c) something to repeat every few pages. Points A and B could have easily been taken care of by something else.

Pausing on Hallie for a moment, I have a bone to pick with how she was written. Swearing all the time does not make a badass character. Being in the army does not make a badass character. There needs to be a certain attitude, and I really didn’t find that Hallie had that. On the subject of characters in general, I didn’t find anything stellar here. Boyd was pretty typical sidekick, and the rest of the characters are firmly secondary.

The pacing of Wide Open was weird to me. A lot of time was spent investigating without really finding anything out. All the while, Hallie is counting down the days in her head until she has to leave to go back overseas. I imagine that Coates was trying to instill a sense of being rushed, or panic, but I didn’t feel it at all. I didn’t get emotionally invested in the characters or the story. I was mildly curious to see how it would end, but it didn’t have a great ending either. Not enough explanation for my tastes.

Bottom Line: Wide Open has too much and not enough going on. It didn’t grab me, and I wouldn’t recommend it.