Monday, November 28, 2016

Infected - ABB Review

This weeks ABB review is of Infected: The Shiners by Tara Ellis. Infected is a YA novel that starts on the brink of what can best be described as an apocalyptic event. I gave it 4 stars.

An alien plague. A sixteen-year-old girl. A fight to save the world.

When a rare meteor shower unleashes a mind-altering infection, the people Alex loves begin to change. They’re smarter, faster, emotionless, and they have a plan. One that doesn’t include her.

Guided by cryptic clues left behind by her deceased father, Alex follows a trail of increasingly shocking discoveries. Earth’s history isn’t what she learned in school, and a new hive mind threatens to rewrite the future.

Alex is a fighter, but pursued by both friends and an unknown enemy, it will take everything she has to fulfill her destiny. Desperate to save her little brother, she flees to the mountains surrounding her home, where the only chance for humanity has lain hidden for thousands of years.

Infected starts off right before everything in Alex's world changes. She's already been through the loss of her father two years prior, but that's just a precursor as to what's coming. On the night of the Holocene meteor shower, Alex, her family, and pretty much her whole town is out to watch the show.
Every five thousand years this shower goes past and it's been the talk of Alex's family, even before her father was killed. I already knew from the blurb what this shower is going to bring, but Alex doesn't know that.

This story starts off really slow, despite beginning at such a key moment. I'm not sure why it felt slow, but it did. 

I was also frustrated by Alex and her brother's Jake super-sensitivity to wrongness. They didn't actually have any powers so their ability to automatically sense something was off felt more like the author was making sure the readers didn't miss the foreshadowing. 

It was a lot like being on an Easter Egg hunt and Mom's stopping by each egg, no matter how cleverly hidden and shouting, "OH WOW I THINK THERE MIGHT BE AN EGG HERE."  And you're going, "Wow, Mom. I'm like 12 years old now. I can find my own eggs." 

So after awhile I'm looking sideways at Alex and being like: 

In all honesty, I don't think it was the author's intention, but it did take some of the fun out of figuring out when things were hints at "this shows things are about to go off the rails."

But then . . . it happened. I'm about 25% of the way into the book and crap hits the fan! I mean I'm sitting there going WHAT!!! Whoa, no way. Whoa. Oh dang.

And it didn't stop. First there's this note from her dad that's like, "I'm probably dead, and if you're reading this A, B, and C has happened. You have to do this, and you can't do that." I'm going AHHHHHH, he knew! I mean it was fre-aky. I got the heebie-jeebies just reading that letter.

From that point on I was just sucked in. It was scary as heck! Like not horror scary but like, pass me a blanket and a cat, read this in the daylight, and DON'T SNEEZE kind of scary.

 It's hard to explain that creeping sense of doom. Everything is wrong, horribly wrong, and I'm staring at the page unable to look away. Nowhere is safe. No one is safe. The world is just screwed up!!! And then she locks her door, sticks the chair under the knob and I'm shouting, "Why the fungus are you barring the door, but leaving your brother unprotected?" No, no, no, go grab him and have a slumber party in your room. Then lock the door, the window, like 50 times and take turns standing watch. IT'S NOT SAFE!

And then she wakes up in the middle of the night because her mom comes home late(yeah, when it says everyone's messed up, it really means everyone), she goes and listens by her bedroom door and can sense her mom's on the other side aware that she's doing just that. Oh my gosh!!! How does she sleep after that? Her mother was creeping me out!

And then the school goes from, "Hey we're closed because there's an epidemic." to "We're open, precious." I'm going, no bad, don't go, don't go!!! Warning bells are going off. AND SHE GOES!!!

I'm now hiding under my bed with my blanket and covering my eyes. I just know it's NOT going to go well. And then I sneak out, read some more and it's back to "oh crap, oh crap. Oh freaking no way." Alex walks into the room and every head in the class swivels towards her and gives her the deathly stare of ultimate doom.

The whole time she's at school, I'm just waiting for things to fall apart and then they do and I'm like AHHHH. And then we find out what happened after school and I'm like AHHHHH.

My experience with this book can be summed up in one short video. Yeah, this was me.

Then finally Alex decides, okay brother and friend dude, we need to bail . . . like yesterday. She rushes home and bad stuff is going down and I'm like IT'S TOO LATE!!! They're going after Jake! Not Jake! He's just a kid! Alex is on the big sister warpath though and she's like . . . you mess with my brother, I mess with your face.

They narrowly escape and they're fleeing to someone who'll hopefully help them. You'd think okay downtime. YOU'RE WRONG!! I was on such high alert that I was like, trust no one trust no one. The guy they went to see would be like, "Have a cookie." And I'd be going, "Why? Is it poisonous?" And he's say, "Let me take your bags." And I'd be like, "No, you just want to steal them!" I don't think I would've trusted my own mother by that point. It didn't matter if nothing creepy was happening, I was way beyond trust and relaxing.

Now the pieces are starting to fall together and smart guy helps them understand some things. Now they have to find the cure, or rather, they have to find where the cure is being stored and activate it to vaccinate the population.

But we're dealing with people who are not only emotionless, but super fast and smart. I mean, our characters are going, "we need to stop and buy food." One goes into the store to buy something to eat and they can't stop worrying afterwards that that one little stop would be their undoing.

See . See. See. It's not just me that was uber-paranoid! And then every time she leaves her brother alone I’m like, NOOO something bad’s going to happen!!!

I'm pretty sure Tara Ellis was cackling when she wrote this book.

Overall, this was a gripping story that had a slow start, but once it took off it just snowballed all the way to the end. I flew through the rest of the book and had lots of AHHHHH moments. It was that blend of terrifying that made you go, oh no, oh no, oh no, but it won't make it so you're unable to sleep or haunted by nightmares. 

The characters were well-done, as was the tension. I liked that Alex and Chris were friends, but that(at least in this book) it wasn't heading straight for a romance. It's nice to see two characters who can just be friends and not immediately set off fireworks. I liked how Alex and Jake solved the clues and how the three were trying to figure out how to operate in a world gone mad.

It was interesting how the virus chose to infect people with the most mixed bloodlines. I'd be essentially screwed if this virus hit. It made me think if people had known in advance there'd have been some crazy marriage restrictions to keep bloodlines pure. 

There's a bit of Egyptian lore mixed into this which both complimented Alex's heritage and what's going on in her world. There's some funky dreams and two instances of a strange voice calling her, but I honestly didn't think much about them. I never expect my dreams to make sense and I was so caught up in the drama that I forgot to think about what the voice might mean. 

I will be reading book 2 in the future and again, this book got 4 stars from me.

Find it on Amazon.
Learn more about Tara Ellis and her other novels on Facebook and Twitter 

About the Angry Book Blogger series and disclaimer found here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Reading Challenge Update #4

Books 7 and 8 of my classic reading challenge are complete!

Wuthering Heights was a book that I finished and felt very . . . strange about. I'd say it was the most surprising of all my books in the fact that I didn't expect such a story to grip me. I gave it 4 stars and it really does deserve every one of them. It's a story I'll never read again because it's not one of those things I wish to revisit. That sounds worse than it is, but the truth is there's so many books out there I haven't read that I rarely ever reread anything, no matter how much I liked it.

Wuthering Heights isn't a book I'd choose to reread even if I was in the mood because it wasn't one of my favorite books ever, but also because it was so depressing. Truly Emily Bronte was a skilled author and the fact that she could write a book where every character was detestable and still manage to grip the reader is amazing.

This is a book about people. Lots of people. At least that's how I see it. People who make bad choices and then those choices effect other people and in turn those people become horrible human beings and pass on more darkness. There's this feeling of watching a car pileup where the car after car rear-ends the person in front of them when reading Wuthering Heights. It's an extremely well-written book with such a variety of characters who each stand out as individuals to such a degree as to seem real.

The people within the pages of Wuthering Heights elicited a good deal of emotion from me. I shed a few tears, I despaired, I avoided reading it before bed or late at night as the amount of depression it exuded was so intense I knew it'd disturb my sleep. More than that, I've never before faced such a desire to reach through the pages and kill so many fake people. It's true! I hated most everyone in this book and wished them horrid deaths of which I would've carried out myself if I could've leapt through the pages.

And here's where the spoilers come in as I rant(I'm sorry, but this book messed with my emotions and now I'm going to take it out in writing).

Mr. Earnshaw is the first character of the story within the story. He wasn't the world's greatest dad and had some flaws, though he wasn't a horrible person. Despite not being able to adequately raise his two kids, he goes out and "adopts" a kid he picks up on the road without consulting his wife or children on their feelings. This leads to some tension in the house. The boy, Heathcliff, becomes friends with the daughter, Catherine(who we'll call Cathy to avoid confusion later). But the Earnshaw's other child, Hindley, never gets along with Heathcliff. Earnshaw brings this kid into his house and causes havoc, dooming his family to suffering long after he's gone. He then plays favorites with Heathcliff and listens to Joseph(who sadly lived through the duration of the book) about how evil his children are.

This just causes more strife between the three youngsters that sets up the rest of the book. Earnshaw dies and Hindley becomes man of the house. I couldn't quite forgive Earnshaw for his poor parenting, but that turned out to be the least of my character quibbles.

Joseph, as referenced earlier, was the crotchety old manservant who's dialogue was nigh on unreadable. I could only make out about half of what he said with great difficulty. It was enough. Joseph drove me bonkers. He was a ranting loony bird who wanted nothing more than to tattle and cause trouble. He was a nasty, gossiping old man that probably was mentally unwell.

Now man of the house, Hindley might've turned out to be a tolerable person if he hadn't lost his wife and had to deal with Heathcliff, but as it were he turned into quite the villain. Hindley made life miserable for Cathy and Heathcliff. He was a mean man who became worse with drink, which he was often drunk. His treatment of Hareton is what made me lose all sympathy for him. How anyone could be so nasty to their child . . .

I HATED Heathcliff and Cathy. They deserved each other. They were selfish, vicious, poisonous people. Neither one cared for anyone or anything but themselves. Even their love was selfish. They said they loved each other, but they didn't treat each other like they did. Cathy's worst crime was involving the poor Lintons. The parents died from whatever disease she had. The son married her and ended up in a terrible marriage. The daughter got caught up in the whole mess and married Heathcliff who abused her terribly. Her son then got dragged into it and he(his name being Linton) turned out to be a horrible person as well. Spineless little worm who had just as nasty a disposition as his father(Heathcliff).

The only person I felt bad for was Hareton. Poor Hareton. Caught up in the middle and used by Heathcliff to the point where he didn't even realize it. Nelly, the storyteller, at times seemed decent yet she lacked the backbone and the resolution to do good when good needed done most. The person who she tells the story to, Lockwood, is a shallow man who just wants entertainment and briefly entertains the idea of marrying Cathy and Edgar Linton's daughter(Catherine, hence the wanting to avoid confusion), but then moves on despite knowing the terrible history to leave everyone to their fates and only returns to hear the rest of the story by chance.

Isabella not letting Hindley kill Heathcliff upset me. WHY!!!?? Her reason was stupid and I think of how much suffering could've been avoided if she'd just shut her mouth.

I think that was a good part of the problem. People kept having these stupid weak moments of sympathy and those moments screwed themselves and other people over later or just enabled the monsters in this book to keep going.

Little Catherine wasn't as wicked as her mother, but she was exceedingly dumb and didn't listen to common sense. No one deserves to get tricked into a house, locked in, and forced to marry anyone(and beaten), but I couldn't help yelling that if she'd just used her brain or listened to Nelly or her father none of it would've happened.

So WHY the four stars? Because it takes a powerful good writer to pull that much emotion from a reader. Because the story drew me down, down into the quagmire of misery and I never once fought to escape. I couldn't look away, couldn't stop reading. No matter that the ending couldn't be good(and really, it did end up being only tolerably brighter than imagined), no matter how I hated the characters, I had to keep going. I know they're fictional characters, but I wish all sorts of evil on Heathcliff and Cathy's heads(even though they're also fictionally dead).

I held off on giving this five stars because of two reasons. One, I'll never read this again. I couldn't put myself through that trauma. And two, it was too long. By the time I hit about 70% I was emotionally spent and felt like I'd been ran through the wringer for days without rest. There's only so much a person[I] can take of that kind of emotional abuse through writing before it gets to be too much. I powered through the last 30% because I needed to finish and move on to brighter things.
I also felt that this book did a great job of showcasing the various forms abuse can take and how it negatively impacts so many people. Emotional manipulation, physical abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, deception, etc. It's so hard to notice those things when you're stuck, but I hope people read this and by seeing it happen to someone else, maybe they'll be able to identify abuse in their life if it's happening and take steps to remove themselves before they end up like any number of these characters.

A powerful book and I'm glad I read it.

  Book number 8 was Dracula, which I'm sorry fans, but I hated. I not only gave it 1 star but it became the first book of my challenge that I did not finish. I didn't write a review for this(outside of this post) as I like to either finish a certain percentage of a book or have a solidly good reason beyond "wasn't holding my interest" or in this case "I don't like horror and this was horror and I knew that."

This was the last book I chose for my challenge and I only chose it because of the number of people who'd recommended it to me when I was taking suggestions. I am not a horror reader, at all. I hate horror stories, movies, books, etc. I fully accept that it was silly for me to choose a horror novel, even an old one when people had less disgusting ideas. (I'm sure modern horror books are way worse)

I honestly tried to suffer through this, and it wasn't "scary" but I don't take nasty elements well and I tried to ignore the first few references to vampire snacks since they were fairly detail-less, but when children were brought into the picture and a mother stood outside begging . . . I won't go on, but I'll say that it made me ill. I put the book down at that point and realized that I'm not in the camp of "read something that disturbs you just because" camp. I've very sensitive when it comes to children being hurt, abused, killed, etc. and I can honestly take very, very, very little of that in my fiction and seeing even a title of a news article on such a subject will make me tear up. Mommy hormones, I swear.

Anyway. I can't say much on this one that'll be a good review for those who enjoy the horror genre or where this falls in storytelling terms. I didn't enjoy it and I'll choose more wisely in the future.

My last post for books 9 and 10 will be coming soon! Eek, the end of the year is almost here and though I've finished all my books for both of my challenges, I'm very behind on my blog posts.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Firethorn Crown - ABB review

For today's ABB review, I'm happy to share one of those rare books that makes it onto my favorites list. A book I'll reread over and over and that'll have a spot in my library. Obviously I gave this one 5 stars. Here is my review for The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doué.

Princess Lily, the eldest of twelve sisters and heir to a mighty kingdom, desperately seeks a break from her mother's matchmaking. Tradition forbids marriage with the man Lily loves, so she would rather rule alone than marry someone who only wants the crown.

Fleeing an overzealous suitor, Lily stumbles into a secret underground kingdom where she and her sisters encounter a mysterious sorcerer-prince and become entangled in a curse that threatens the safety of her family and her people. Lily can free them, but the price for freedom may be more than she's willing to pay.

I'm a big fan of retellings, I love the genre, but sadly there's a lot of misses as well as hits. Now this story, wow, what a cover, it has to be said. That is a simply gorgeous cover. I've been burnt before, so I tried not to get my hopes up too high after seeing it and reading the blurb. But I couldn't get it out of my head and finally bought it. It immediately jumped to the front of my to-read list and despite telling myself not to get too excited . . . I did.

And I LOVED IT!!! Let me explain how much I loved it. I loved it so much I'm going to gush about it, and I almost never gush. I loved it so much that even though I'd been doing non-stop party prep for the past two days and the party itself the following day, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning reading it because I couldn't stop.

I finally scolded myself into going to sleep, and after the party the next day, I was up until after 1am finishing. From the start, this book had me hooked.

Immediately we're thrown into a situation that we don't fully understand. Lily is in a maze, but they WHY is left hanging for a few pages. Is she fleeing? Playing? Lost? Trapped? Is this the underworld? I had to keep reading just to know what the heck she was doing!!

Then it's revealed what's going on and shortly after that Lily bumps into Runson. Ugh, that guy . . . I officially hated him for every scene he was in. The guy is a complete creep! He traps Lily, has no physical boundaries, and then he LICKS her hand. Yeah, licks it, like a cat, or a child. My children are in the hand licking stage because they like to play kitties.

People, hand licking is never romantic, it's just plain gross! Especially if the owner of the hand doesn't like you! Just . . . don't. So right away Doué did an excellent job of setting up Runson as repulsive and making me side with Lily. I wanted her to escape from him, and every time they crossed paths I got all "Noooooo, ick, run, blech." Runson's goal, of course, is to convince Lily to marry him. He thinks he's hot stuff and can't imagine someone would say no, and takes zero hints. When Lily's curse hits and she can't speak . . .  it makes things interesting.

I've had a hard time putting my love into words, so hopefully now that I've had a few days to think about it, I'll manage. The Firethorn Crown had everything I love to see in a book. It had well-developed characters I can loath or love as I'm supposed to, characters I want to see more of, a romance I can believe and cheer for, a plot that keeps me guessing(hard to do with a retelling), and amazing descriptions.

There's a certain difficulty that comes with the story of the 12 dancing princesses. Let's face it, that's a lot of characters. Like the dwarves in the Hobbit, if you have a large group in settings like this, it's best to NOT try and make all of them fully developed. I really liked how the sisters were handled in this regard, a couple of them stand out and are fleshed out with personalities, while others are mostly names.
Lily, the oldest and the MC. Lily knows how to lead and stand up for herself. She's not as upfront and bossy as some characters, but she's no shy flower either. Lily loves her sisters, and she'll do anything for them. She's not afraid to stand up to people, like her mother. I LOVED the scene where Lily told her mom off. So many times I read/watch stories where the characters HAVE to be polite and doormat-ish around their parents just because "it's my parent." No, I'm sorry, being a parent doesn't give anyone an automatic pass to act however they like.

The fact that Lily stood up to her mom, without name-calling or anything, and told her how it was had me cheering her on. I was jumping around and yelling, "Go Lily, Go Lily!" Her mom's so lost in her own personal world, she ignores her kids and how they're feeling. She doesn't care how they're feeling or what they want. And then when Lily is unable to speak and CLEARLY something isn't right, instead of parenting to figure out what's wrong she's like, "Yo, make me a declaration peeps that says anyone who does my job for me and finds out what's wrong can have any kid they choose to marry." And she just wants to know because she's annoyed that Lily isn't choosing a husband, not because she actually CARES(heaven forbid) about her daughters.

Melantha, I so want to hear more of her story. She's the princess packing daggers and who's friends with a prince who tends geese. She's the one wearing boots to go dancing and taking charge when Lily isn't able to speak.

Gwen is the second oldest and we're told would be considered "better" for the role of future queen. She's extremely proper, and stuffy.

Hazel is the only blonde in the group and seems to be considered the prettiest. It's stated that she wants to catch a man who's high ranking. But then she meets someone who doesn't qualify, but who she is attracted to nonetheless. I'd be curious to see more of her story just based on her potential love interest.

Neylan I found the most fascinating of the 11 sisters. She's kind of . . . strange. There's something about her. Like she has a gift or something. Almost like she has some sort of uncanny intuition and always knows what to say and would probably make most people uncomfortable with her way of talking. I really liked her.

Bay, like the list of sister's below, I didn't get a good impression of(whether by design or personal draw to certain characters), but she has an ex-sorcerer bodyguard and since sorcerer's are like outlaws in this world and none of the other sister's has a bodyguard, I'm so voting for she's an undercover sorceress. Even if I'm wrong, I've got to know why.

Coral, Ivy, Wren, Ruby, Azure, and Junia didn't stand out to me though I know Coral had red hair and two of those girls were twins and I think Azure was Melantha's twin.

I think by not trying to make all 12 princesses stand out, the author allowed herself space to work on the other characters. There's a lot more men in this retelling than I'm used to, and I loved it. Besides the ever creepy, can't take a hint, Runson, there's Prince Holic, the man who's supposed to be there for Lily, but finds his attention occupied elsewhere.

Holic, even though he's obviously not Lily's love interest, is a nice guy who fills that role of a big brother. I liked that the male roles weren't "king who only gets angry about his daughter's slippers and makes the stupid proclomation" and "King of the underworld who's just evil" and "Love interest for FMC."

Then there's Prince Orin, who spends his days as the goose boy. I mean, talk about down to earth! Sure, it's also obvious he's not Lily's love interest, but he's a neat guy who wants to help and is pretty much down for any crazy thing the girls come up with.

And then, there's Tharius. The prince of the underground realm. Wow, he was *shudders* dark and scary, but also so very real. Like the guy has been underground his whole life, his parents are dead, and the only people left are a few old courtiers and shadow people(fake). You can tell he's never really had parents to teach him right from wrong or how to act around people. He's lacking social skills and morality. Yet there's some part of me that was going, he's a product of his circumstances. There was something about making him more human that made him scarier. He was a whole different type of evil.

And last, but certainly not least, is Eben. Eben is a guard who right from the start whewwww. The chemistry between him and Lily would knock anyone of their feet. It's so rare I meet two characters and right from the start I'm thinking, you need to get together!!! But this time, I so did.

One of their very early interactions, Eben's obviously jealous. He knows he's a guard and Lily's the crown princess. And boy, does he FEEL it. I'm yelling at the book, "Argh, Eben!!! She loves you! You don't need to be jealous." He so badly wants to take Runson to the woodshed, but Lily not giving the command makes him wonder why. The tension between Runson and Eben . . . feel the heat.

And then there's this maze in the middle of the garden that's all strange and weird-like(it's midnight, I'm allowed to be all over in this review). No one but the princesses go in, except for the hand licker. The maze changes, grows over, shifts, adds things.

The first time the girls go into the underworld, I had chills. I wanted to crawl under my blankets. I'm thinking, "Go back, go back! Scary! Danger!" It was like watching giant spiders hide in trees over a path while unsuspecting victims walked beneath. You just KNOW something bad is coming.

What was absolutely brilliant is how the girls don't go forward out of stupidity, but because going back is impossible. I always get annoyed when a setting is sending bad vibes. The creepy organ music starts playing, darkness creeps in, the plants wither, there's no animal noises, and Sally May just skips along the path singing as loud as she can in her bright yellow cloak.

Not this time folks! Girls start thinking, oh yeah, something ain't right. They try to go back a few times and DENIED!! I'm like AHHHHH, too late!!!

Next thing you know, they're stuck in Tharius's curse and they have to break it. The girls can't speak about the curse or they'll faint. Lily "shouldn't" speak at all or she'll doom them all. So there's Lily, having to remember not to talk and Runson's like ooh, she can't say no!! Not like he was ever good at listening.

Between Runson in the above world, and Tharius in the underground kingdom, Lily has almost nonstop pressure to marry someone and remembering not to talk is a drag. Tharius gets more demanding the more she hesitates, but luckily the sister's protect each other and find ways to take the pressure off of Lily.

Now besides all of the great storytelling and characters, I absolutely LOVED the descriptions. Beyond words really. I just want a picture of this world. A picture of the kingdom under stone, and the maze. So vibrant and real.

"They passed topiaries with leaves of moldy jade trimmed into mangled geometric shapes, feathery tulips of coal-edged plum, and roses of blackberry, indigo, and grizzled sage, the colors somehow vibrant and dark at the same time. Pale baby’s breath and moonflowers offered contrast to the deep hues. Near the edge of the pathway huddled clusters of pitch-black mushrooms with cracks that oozed an orange glow, like the lava fields described by Travelers from the north."
How can you not be impressed! It was simply exquisite and I'm immensely jealous of Doue's talent. Falling asleep here, and I don't want to give anything away, but this has been my favorite book this year, and I've read some really good books.

I'll be buying myself the paperback of this book, and when book two does come out(which better be soon!), I'll buy the paperback of that right away because I can't imagine being disappointed by it. I know I'm sleepy while writing this, and I've never been good about ranting in favor of books. It's so hard to fully express why I love stories, and I can only hope I did this one justice.

I can definitely recommend this one as my top read of 2016 and say that the beautiful cover matches a beautiful story.

Yeah, I'm going to be that annoying person who harasses an author telepathically until they release the next book.

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Pick up your copy of The Firethorn Crown today!

About the Angry Book Blogger series and disclaimer found here. 

About the Angry Book Blogger

About: My Angry Book Blogger(ABB) series features reviews that have inspired a lot of emotion from me. These are posted on Mondays, though if I don't have content for a week there'll be nothing that Monday.

Disclaimer: I receive no compensation for any review done on my blog(or elsewhere). All books reviewed are books I have selected out of my personal reading pile. I buy, borrow, download for free, or win all books reviewed unless otherwise stated. All reviews are unsolicited. I do not accept review requests as I have a very busy life between family and writing. And when I do take time to read, I have a massive to-read pile.

My promise: Opinions posted in my reviews are just that, opinions. I'm not out to make or break anyone. I want to offer my opinion to hopefully help readers find something new to read or avoid a book that may have issues they also dislike.

I know many readers are afraid to post reviews below 3 stars(and some even afraid to post 3 star reviews). I am not one of them. No, I don't want a review to come back and bite me, but I feel honesty in the reading world is essential.

Variety: I post negative and positive reviews here for three reasons.

1. Balance - I like to offer more than just one extreme.

2. Relief - If you've ever had the burning desire to tell the world about an amazing book, or the desire to rant endlessly about a terrible one, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's a great release for me to be able to slap emotions churned up by a book on a post that in turn intrigues or incenses other people.

3. Trust - This is the biggest reason. When I tell readers that I LOVED a book, I want them--I want YOU to believe me. If you know that I'm not afraid to share a negative experience with a book, you can believe that when I say I had a positive one that I mean it. I WANT people to trust me when I say a book is good.

Authors(myself included) need to take negative reviews in stride. Cry to a close friend, but keep it private. And we shouldn't make readers afraid. Sadly, too many negative experiences have caused reviewers to hide their dislikes.

Reviews are great for authors to learn, to grow, and yes, good ones are great pick-me-ups. But I see negative reviews as being a resource for readers only. Most of the time, they'll only upset the author, so best to avoid reading them. Think of it this way. If you were looking online at a shirt and you see a negative review(or several) that says, "I'm broad-shouldered and this was very tight on the shoulders." and you are built the same, you can move on. That negative review just saved you a lot of time and hassle and money. It saved the person selling the shirt from having another unhappy buyer and another negative review.

I've been saved from lots of bad purchases by negative reviews. I've also not paid attention and bought items that I read the reviews for later and realized there were people who warned against the problem I faced. THANK YOU! Thank you to reviewers of all sorts. I don't want to be annoyed by picking up something that won't work for me. And sometimes the issues stated are not issues for me and I buy the product.

Thank you to reviewers out there who give their best, honest opinion without personally attacking the creator/seller. Thank you to the people who read and enjoy my ABB series.

My Mission: To take bad experiences and save you the pain. To vent some frustration while making you laugh. To introduce you to amazing stories and get you excited along with me. And again, to make you laugh. I like making people smile and if the humor in any of my reviews makes you happy, I feel successful. So even if you just drop me a comment ever and say, "Thanks for the laugh!" I'll be preening like a peacock.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fairytale Anthology Interview with Author Matthew Dewar

I'm so excited to share this! My writer's group has been hard at work to put together an anthology of fairytale retellings: From the Stories of Old.

Today I'll be interviewing one of the authors, Matthew Dewar, on his story The Female Warrior: a retelling of the ballad of Mulan.

Kristen - For your story in the anthology, you choose the Ballad of Mulan. Did it make writing your story easier or harder having a ballad to work from?

Matt - At first I almost chose something else to base my retelling on, because the Ballad seemed confusing and quite the challenge as it was relatively sparse on details, but the more I read it, the more I realised that it was perfect. The lack of specific details gave me a huge amount of freedom in my retelling.

Kristen - That addresses exactly what went through my mind. I was trying to decide if lack of details would make it difficult, or give you more freedom. I love that you saw the freedom it gave you and ran with it.

So what made you choose Mulan and what inspired the creation?

Matt - Mulan is inspirational in that she doesn’t rely on anyone to help her. She perseveres, and it is that strength of character that saves the day. I wanted my story to be inspirational in some way to the reader and show them that no matter the odds, there is always a chance at success. I took Mulan’s character and plonked her in the future where the world has been corrupted by greed. She handled herself quite well if you ask me!

Kristen - That she did! As you know, I had the privilege of getting a peek at an early draft and I was impressed even then(with Mulan and you!).

Can you share an excerpt from your story?

Matt - “Despite all the deaths, and all I have done, when I die, nothing will change if I can’t do something right now. Bundling up all my energy, I launch myself between the two men.”

Kristen - Love that line! And leading right up to a conflict which I guess we'll have to read the anthology to hear how that goes!

If you were to participate in a later volume, what story do you think you’d tell?

Matt - Good question! I would love to contribute again in the future and I have a few ideas bouncing around. One idea I have is for a retelling of The Elves and The Shoemaker that I think would work quite nicely. 

Kristen - For some random questions! You live in Australia and we’ve talked a few times about the wildlife there. Is there anything in Australia that WON’T kill you? Have you ever had any scary encounters?

Matt - Probably the only thing in Australia that won’t kill you is the koala bear, as long as you keep an eye out for their nasty cousins – the drop bears! 

My Dad and I were fishing on a boat once and we weren’t catching anything. I was bored and hot so I decided to jump in the water for a swim. Just before I was about to jump in, I saw this huge shadow swim up to the boat and it looked like a dolphin. The closer it swam, the more I realised it was a shark, not a dolphin. If I had have jumped in a few seconds earlier, who knows what might have happened.

Kristen - Oh gosh LOL. I think I would've been terrified at the thought of what almost happened. I can see the shark, swimming along, minding his own business, and then out of nowhere this human lands on his head. The shark's already been having a bad day, he had a fight with his best friend, you see, and this . . . this is the last straw.

Last question. You recently traveled to Canada, what was your favorite part of that trip and do you have any pictures you’d like to share?

Matt - I saw killer whales in their natural habitat and hiked up a few mountains. I won a snowball fight and spent the day at Disneyland with a fellow writer and friend, Katelyn Barbee, who is also featured in this anthology. The highlight of my trip was watching the Vancouver Canucks take on the Arizona Coyotes in ice hockey. I love ice hockey and I wish Australian winters were cold enough to play! 

Here is a picture I took from the top of Banff Mountain. Imagine waking up to that view every day!

Kristen - You say you wish they were colder, but I seem to remember you talking about being freezing in your nice balmy weather and bundled up in layer about layers. :D I don't think you could handle ice and snow like Canada!

Thank you for stopping by, Matt. My mom bought me a copy of the anthology for Christmas and I loved it!

From the Stories of Old is available on Amazon(Kindle or paperback).

Matthew lives in Perth, Australia, where he works as a physiotherapist and group fitness instructor. He enjoys taking his dog for walks, and making the most of the Australian sunshine and beaches.

Follow Matt on Twitter!

If you're interested in following the blog tour check out the previous stops by the other authors!

Julian Elliot on his retelling of Urashima Taro
Allie May on her retelling of Sleeping Beauty
J.L. Bernard on his retelling of The Little Mermaid

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Redemption - ABB Review

Today's ABB review is for The Redemption by M. L. Tyndall, which I gave 2 stars.

Lady Charlisse Bristol sets off on a voyage in search of a father she never knew, only to find herself shipwrecked on a desert island. Near starvation, she is rescued by a band of pirates and their fiercely handsome leader, Edmund Merrick. Will Clarisse win her struggle against the seductive lure of this pirate captain? While battling his attraction to this winsome lady, Edmund offers to help Charlisse on her quest-until he discovers her father is none other than Edward the Terror, the cruelest pirate on the Caribbean. Can Edmund win this lady's love while shielding her from his lecherous crew and working to bring her father to justice?

The strong points of this is the writing style, little to no errors, three-dimensional characters, a very visual world(you could see what was happening), and the author clearly did her research on seafaring as the sailing aspect was impressively written.

For those things, I gave it two stars.

The book started off strong. Charlisse has taken control of her life and fled her uncle's home to find her father. She's shipwrecked alone on a tiny island, but is able to fend for herself to a degree. Now I personally hate it when there's royalty, or some other "pampered" person who is put into a "take care of yourself" situation and they're either completely useless and brain-dead or they're magically skilled and prepared for any hardship.

Why? Because just because someone isn't used to hardship doesn't mean that they're unable to think logically. But it also means that unless they had an unusual upbringing, to be ready for a quest where they're roughing it is laughable. I want a balance, and at the start, it looked like Charlisse had that. She knew enough to find water, bring a bucket, hide in the trees at night, but she didn't really think past that to things like fire, shelter, or fishing so when she ran out of fruit on the island, she wouldn't starve.

Luckily, or not, a band of pirates lands on her island and she waits until they pass out drunk before sneaking in to get some food. Turns out one pirate isn't asleep. Merrick drinks little, and therefore is sober and alert. Since Charlisse is ill, he makes sure she's brought back to health, yada yada.

Charlisse is in her historical undergarments(white) and goes for a brief dip in the ocean. She comes back, and well, we know how that is. Merrick does a leering glance from head to toe. She tells him off and later in his pov we get to see him mentally berating himself. I won't lie, I got REALLY excited!

I'd just been complaining about men in books being creepers and not respecting women and not having the character think, "oh gosh, I should treat women like people and not candy displays."

But from that point on everything went downhill. I mean COME ON. Where do I even start. Okay, let's start with the creeper Merrick. Because Merrick is the "least" creepy guy, it's supposed to make him good. Charlisse isn't officially a prisoner, but this guy is her only ticket off the island and it's not safe outside of his cabin, so she lives in the cabin.

Occasionally she sees Merrick, usually at dinner and bed. Despite knowing how frightening it'd be to be female and trapped on a ship with all men who want to get a piece of you, Merrick does nothing but make Charlisse uncomfortable. He gets in her personal space, says creepy things, and despite regretting leering at her, he KEEPS doing it. I respect the struggle, but the whole sorry, but go right back to doing the same thing is not cool.

When I thought you know, nice, romantic pirate, I was thinking something more like Wesley.

The guy is supposed to be reformed and working on being a better person, but he just barely restrains himself from taking advantage of Charlisse and never stops being on that edge where Charlisse(or the reader) can be 100% sure of his motives. And suddenly it magically becomes okay. Like, he kisses her, and then they're in love, and from that point on all the stuff he's doing is okay because he now loves instead of lusts her?
BUT get this!! They only spend a little time in the evenings together where they do nothing but fight while he makes her uncomfortable and she's not sure if she should be scared of him or not!!

Charlisse is a terrible character who has zero control of her own destiny and is like a prop that's bounced from place to place. First she's stowed in Merrick's cabin, then she's scurried off to a house to hide while Merrick does man things, and then the ONLY time Charlisse takes any initiative since the very beginning of the book is to leave the house to go to a tavern with no weapons, defense, or telling anyone where she's going so that she can speak to Edward the Terror, the most ruthless pirate on the seas, and ask him nicely to admit he framed Merrick. Say what??!!?!
AND THEN she gets snatched by one of the nasty men in the tavern, duh, she knows it's not a good place, and is rescued by Edward because he wants to kidnap her for himself. She's then stuffed in the hold of the ship for x amount of time, only to be brought out by the other bad guy, Kent, and stuffed in his room for awhile, and then Edward finds her and brings her to his room, and there she pretty much stays until Merrick rescues her. And I mean, he first attacks the ship, rescues her that way, and then rescues her from a pirate who decides to snatch her for some fun play time because she didn't stay in the room because she wanted to watch. And then she's again snatched by Kent and used as leverage. I mean really? really? Am I the only one seeing this!! Sorry for double memeing you, but it has to be done . . .

Charlisse is almost always someone's hostage, or stuck in someone's cabin, even if it's "for her own safety." And let's break the above paragraph down now that we know how many times she's been kidnapped/used for leverage.

FIRST, everyone and their neighbor(sorry, but there's no polite way to say this) wants to bang Charlisse. Is there no other women in this world? Because EVERY. SINGLE. MAN. Has absolutely no goals beyond screwing Charlisse. Merrick at least holds himself back, but every pirate and tavern dweller does not. Desensitizing people to rape, or in this case attempted rape, is so not cool. But the sheer amount of times Charlisse is almost raped in this book made it really, really hard to not after awhile not care. Part of the issues is Charlisse didn't care! Trying to put myself in that position, I would imagine I'd be pretty shaken or emotionally messed up. Charlisse is unfazed, and because she's not reacting and it becomes a frequent plot device, I stopped being fazed by it.

So Kent, the other bad guy is shown to be a problem and Merrick just keeps letting him go, and he keeps coming back and causing issues. He's on his upteenth attempt to get his paws on Charlisse and she kicks him so hard in the stomach that he flies backwards and hits the wall and is knocked out. But then Charlisse is "too weak" to move the bloody idiot away from the door so she can get out. I kid you not, she sits down on the edge of the bed and waits for him to wake up. I AM NOT JOKING!! She's so weak she can't move the guy? Right, yeah, whatever. Even if she is, what person wouldn't keep trying. Inch by inch, with hours to spare, she could've done it. She doesn't tie him up, shoot him, nothing. I'm sorry, if someone made multiple attempts to rape me, and I was "too weak" to move him away from the door, I'd be taking the pistol and shooting him.

Maybe that makes me a terrible person, but the guy has sinister intentions, and guess what? He wakes up and tries again!!! TWICE!! (it's amazing how many times Charlisse almost gets raped and doesn't) She stayed up most of the night, with a gun in her lap, to do who knows what, fell asleep, and then he woke her up and had the gun back. But that nights rest was enough to rejuvenate her and Charlisse had no weakness issues for the rest of the book.

This book isn't called the Redemption for no reason. Everyone and their dog gets redeemed in this story. I'm not against redemption, but some of these people were just unbelievable. I think I've already crossed the spoiler line, so I'll just say one of them was Edward. The guy is a terrible person who slaughters people just to get to someone. He frames Merrick, tells him he hopes his daughter is beautiful because . . . well just guess. He then snatches his daughter and stows her in his ship with the intent of forcing himself on her, but after two false starts, he decides to bury her in the hold and leave her to rot. Which gives Kent an opening to drag her up to his room. 
There is no sign ever that Edward is a good man, or is changing. But suddenly, at the end, Merrick is like "hey, I know we're like mortal enemies, but let's put the past behind us." And he goes sure!!! For my daughter who I all of a sudden love and respect . . . I won't spoil the rest, but yep, that happened.

The reeaalllly fun part about all of this is reading the blurbs for the next two books and well, yeah, it made me laugh. 

There's other issues with this book, but I think my big 3 should be enough to cover it. To recap:

1. Charlisse is a prop with no agency or purpose besides being the "thing" all of the men are fighting over. She's completely incapable of taking care of herself or thinking logically. She survives through sheer dumb luck and other people looking out for her. It's characters like Charlisse that are the reason readers are demanding strong, female characters.

2. Constant attempted rape and lewd behavior towards Charlisse used as a plot device. Charlisse has no ill side effects from repeated attempts, and the only point of the behavior was to constantly put the FMC in danger and try and toy with reader's emotions. Bad form.

3. Merrick doesn't fight his old nature and win. Instead he repeatedly behaves inappropriately towards Charlisse, and despite saying he regrets it(to himself) after most instances, he never changes, but instead we're told that they now love each other so it's okay if he acts like that. That's not winning over a bad habit, but rather the author writing in an excuse so the character doesn't have to change.

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