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Monday, March 27, 2017

"Secrets of the Dragon Tomb: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb Book 1" by Patrick Samphire (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Patrick Samphire's Website Here

OVERVIEW: Mars in 1816 is a world of high society, deadly danger, and strange clockwork machines.

Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan wants to become a spy like the ones he reads about in his favorite magazine, Thrilling Martian Tales, but he’s far too busy keeping his eccentric family from disaster. All of that is about to change. In the north, great dragon tombs hide marvels of Ancient Martian technology, and the villainous archaeologist Sir Titus Dane is determined to loot one.

When Sir Titus kidnaps Edward’s parents, Edward, his sisters, and their mysterious cousin set off in pursuit across the Martian wilderness. Together they must battle Sir Titus’s minions, dodge hungry pterodactyls, and escape fearsome Martian hunting machines in order to rescue Edward’s parents and uncover the secrets of the dragon tomb.

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire is a classic adventure story, full of fun, humor and heart with stunning illustrations by Jeremy Holmes throughout.

FORMAT: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is a children's sci-fi/fantasy novel. It has historical elements, mystery, adventure, space travel, aliens, dragons, dinosaurs, and lots of creepy-crawly bugs/creatures. The novel stands at 322 pages. It was published on January 12, 2016 by Henry Holt and Company.  

ANALYSIS: When it comes to writing – and publishing – there is a desire to stick with what works. Authors and publishers alike are often afraid to step too far out of the literary world's comfort zone in a fear that something won't work. This leads to a slew of novels that are good, but relatively lacking in originality. So, imagine my surprise when I encountered the children's novel, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, which definitely doesn't conform to the norm.

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is a children's novel that mixes so much into a small novel. It has sci-fi elements, steampunk, English history, a little romance, adventure, and a touch of humor. This might seem like a hodgepodge of elements that when combined wouldn't work out, but Secrets of the Dragon Tomb makes it work.

Readers are taken back in time to 1816, but it isn't like anything you would expect. In this alternative world, Britain has successfully colonized Mars. Travel to and from, and even around, Mars is made possible by dragon pathways. Everything from the way people talk and act to the style of the homes and even the society hierarchy is similar to what would happen in 1816 Britain; the only difference is that people live on Mars. Living on Mars has its challenges, there are unique creatures that may or may not be friendly, native Martians, dinosaurs, and lots of undiscovered areas that could hold untold riches.

In this first novel of the series, we are introduced to Edward, a young 12-year old boy, who lives on British Mars. Edward longs to have exciting adventures that are similar to what he reads about in the books he loves, but he hasn't had the opportunity to experience these types of adventures. Edward's adventure begins when his father's steampunk-style invention known as the water abacus attracts the attention of some bad guys, the family goes missing, and somehow this all seems linked to the rumor that there is an undiscovered dragon tomb somewhere on Mars.

I absolutely loved Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, more than I thought I would like it. I was unsure how all the elements of sci-fi, space, steampunk, adventure, and history would mix together, but it was extremely well-done.

The first thing that jumps out at you Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is the world building. It is done in a way that makes it easily to understand what is going on. It isn't 'dumbed down' for children, but it is done in a way that makes it easy for younger readers to get an understanding of the historical and unique aspects. Even though it is geared towards the younger reader, older readers will be able to enjoy the world building as it doesn't feel as if it is solely geared to the youngest reader. In fact, I think older readers will be able to appreciate how much work went into creating such a detailed world.

The characters in Secrets of the Dragon Tomb didn't really grab my attention at first. Most of my focus was on the world building and action, but slowly the characters started to grow on me. By the end of the book, I had grown super attached to them and was ready for the next adventure.

I will say at times the humor isn't laugh out loud funny. It is more light hearted and will certainly put a smile on your face. Many times the definition of humor in children's books is farting, burping, and other juvenile elements. That isn't the case with Secrets of the Dragon Tomb. The humor is age appropriate for children, but it will still appeal to adults, too.

Overall, I loved Secrets of the Dragon Tomb. I wasn't 100% certain what I would get when I started reading it, but it was amazingly well done. I was surprised to see how well the historical, sci-fi, steampunk, adventure, dinosaur elements blended together. It was also refreshing to see an author willing to take a risk with his novel and have it work out.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something different, but who doesn't want to spend a lot of time reading a doorstopper novel. It is also great for children who are tired of seeing the same old, same old or for those who aren't committed to reading traditional fantasy novels. The adventure, mystery, and fast pace of this novel is enough to capture the attention of readers young and old.
Friday, March 24, 2017

"Daughter of the Pirate King: Daughter of the Pirate King Book 1" by Tricia Levenseller (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 Visit Tricia Levenseller's Website Here

OVERVIEW: There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

FORMAT: Daughter of the Pirate King is the first novel in a proposed duology. It is a YA adventure novel involving pirates with a heavy dose on the romance. The novel is told purely in the first person from Alosa's POV.

Daughter of the Pirate King stands at 320 pages. It was published February 28, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends.

ANALYSIS: Daughter of the Pirate King promises to bring readers a tough, female pirate captain who has just a dash of Jack Sparrow mixed in. Considering that pirates – and female ones at that – are rarely found in YA fantasy, I thought I'd give this novel a shot. I mean action, adventure, and a female pirate captain? What more could you ask for?

In many ways, Daughter of the Pirate King is very much a debut novel. I wouldn't say the writing is juvenile, but it reads like it was a first novel and has many problems I've encountered with a first debut novel from an author. Problems such as repetitiveness, inconsistent writing style, a heavy focus on romance when other elements should have been highlighted, telling readers and not showing them things, and a case of trying just a bit too hard to make the main character funny and likeable were some of the things I encountered.

Repetitiveness was a huge issue in this book. Alosa is, as the title suggests, the daughter of the pirate king. While this is a huge part of the story, it is mentioned ad nauseam. I am really not sure we went more than two or three pages without having someone – Alosa or the pirates that 'kidnapped' her – mentioning that Alosa was the daughter of the pirate king. If the pirates weren't saying "We are looking at the daughter of the pirate king", then Alosa was telling people and saying things like, "I am daughter of the pirate king. Do these people know who I am?".

When someone wasn't saying it out loud or Alosa was thinking it, she was reflecting on what being the daughter of the pirate. Her internal dialogue would include memories of being the daughter of the pirate king or thinking to herself that she was daughter of the pirate king. It was just a little bit too much.

The inconsistent writing style wasn't a huge issue, but it was noticeable at times. Most of the book both the narrated sections and the dialogue were written in modern English. Every so often there would be a random old time word thrown in. Something like 'Tis' or 'ye'. It wouldn't have been bad if it was during a conversation, but it was usually done in Alosa's internal thoughts. It was hard to understand why 99% of the time she'd talk normally then have a random old time word thrown in.

The romance issue was extremely noticeable. The novel revolves around Alosa trying to find a map on a pirate ship. To find the map, she gets herself kidnapped. This is what should have been the main focus of the novel, but instead this romance instantly becomes front and center to the novel. The minute the love interest is introduced, our "strong" main character immediately turns to mush. While she is fighting she thinks things like 'wow... why does he smell so good' or when being intensely questioned she thinks 'Oh you are so handsome. I wonder what you are like to kiss'.

Don't get me wrong, romance can be good for a novel and in some points necessary. It just seemed to push everything aside and made what should have been the main plot seem secondary. It is also extremely frustrating when a female character is supposed to be super strong and tough, and then the minute a good looking guy walks in her brain turns to mush and her thoughts center on his smell, hair, body, voice, etc.

Telling and not showing was another huge issue in Daughter of the Pirate King. Almost everything that happened, all the information and world building was told to the readers. This was usually done through very long, lengthy monologues given by the characters.

Some examples of telling instead of showing include the following situations. Alosa is supposed to be this tough, no nonsense pirate captain. How do we know this? Because she tells us that she could beat people up, she could kill, that she is tough. Time and time and time again she tells us this, but she doesn't ever really show it to us. There is a brief fight scene here and there, and she even kills someone, but for the most part her tough persona is developed because she tells us she is tough.

Another example is her training and upbringing with the pirate king. The pirate king was apparently mean, cruel and really hard on Alosa. Readers are never really shown how this happens through memories or anything. Alosa just told us it was rough and hard growing up with him. It would have been nice to see some of the stuff instead of being told everything after the fact.

The last issue was – and this is just a personal opinion – I felt the main character Alosa tried too hard to be a female Jack Sparrow. The stuff she did just came across as immature instead of funny. For example, she is locked up in a cabin. She doesn't want to be locked in the cabin and she is upset. So she throws things on the floor, messes up the maps, jumps on the guy's clothing. When that doesn't work, she then hums loudly while he tries to sleep or makes noises so he can't sleep. Remember – Alosa is the toughest pirate captain, so you would think that her approach to things would be rougher.

In addition to the immature antics, Alosa has a habit of trying to have this witty banter with comebacks to everyone. Most of the time it just seemed like she was trying too hard, but sometimes – rarely – the conversations came across as funny and witty. It almost came across as a parody of Jack Sparrow, but I don't think that was the intent of it.

Even with all these problems, it would seem like I didn't enjoy the book. I wouldn't say that was the case. It was an average read. There wasn't anything that made it stand out and it was a fast paced novel. There were a few twists and turns thrown into the novel, but most of them were easily predictable which sort of ruined the 'surprise' element of them. It is also a debut novel so some of these issues may go away in the future. I believe if the book had been portrayed as more of a romance novel or had things been a bit more polished, it could have taken this novel up a notch and made it stand out.

I do think that there might be an audience for this book, especially if you go in knowing this is going to be a light-hearted, sometimes silly novel with a lot – and I mean a lot – of focus on the romance. However, if you are looking for rip-roaring, action and adventure with rough and tumble pirates, you will probably be fairly disappointed.

The question I am left with is – would I continue with the series? I would definitely give the second novel a chance. I understand debut authors have some kinks to work out and I see potential. I would say to weigh what I said and if you still find it interesting to give it a shot. It might surprise you and be a novel that you enjoy.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"The Valiant: The Valiant Book 1" by Lesley Livingston (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

FORMAT: The Valiant is a YA fantasy/historical novel. It is listed as fantasy because of its alternative version of history and doesn't contain any real magic or other typical fantasy elements. The Valiant stands at 372 pages and was published February 14, 2017 by Razorbill.

ANALYSIS: The YA genre has a habit of creating unique, likeable characters, but many books tend to 'fall in line' and follow a bit of a template format. That isn't to say they are bad, just they tend to all play out in a very similar fashion. The Valiant is one of those rare YA novels that starts out with a setup that makes you think you know what is going to happen and how things are going to play out, and before you know it nothing – and I mean nothing – happens the way you expect it to happen.

The Valiant starts off with Fallon training with her secret boyfriend. Fallon is trying a very daring and difficult fighting technique that very few have every accomplished. Learning this technique, and fighting, allows her to follow in the footsteps of her older sister – Sorcha – and become a part of her father's fighting team. Sorcha was killed several years ago in battle and there is a prophecy of sorts that says the same thing will happen to Fallon. Even with this prophecy in place, Fallon still wants to become one of the greatest warriors of all times.

The big day finally arrives and Fallon is set about to formally accept the invitation to join her father's troop of warriors, but things don't play out the way she thinks it will. Her father, instead of asking her to join as a warrior, announces that he has promised her hand in marriage. And who is she promised to? The brother of her secret boyfriend. Fallon is furious and storms out in a fit of rage.

This may sound familiar. A girl in love with a secret boyfriend, promised to the boyfriend's brother, and meanwhile she has her heart set on becoming a fierce warrior and living up to her older sister's huge reputation. It certainly sounds like the same old, same old, but sometimes books have a way of surprising you.

Literally, within the first few chapters, things took an unexpected turn and from there just kept getting better and better. Of course, there were a few things that were predictable or easily guessed at, but for the most part this book had a lot of unexpected twists and turns that made for an amazing story. I don't want to say too many of them because I think the 'unknown' is what made them so great, but things really aren't what they seem.

I will say that if anyone had asked me to describe this book early on, I would have said that it was one of those romance novels that are marketed as alternative historical fiction but are really just about love, romance, and love triangles. The beginning of the book certainly feels like that would be the case, but it turns out differently.

If you are planning on reading The Valiant and aren't a fan of romance, I give you this piece of advice – don't give up. I think, if anything, that is the biggest weakness of the novel, is that it starts off with a major romance almost shoved at the reader, and it isn't really indicative of how the tone of the rest of the novel. I feel people who might have enjoyed the novel could have set it aside because of its almost romance/love triangle beginning.

There are other aspects, besides the unexpected twists and turns, of The Valiant that make it outstanding. Livingston does an amazing job of detailing an Ancient Roman society. Readers aren't bogged down with huge paragraphs of historical context or descriptions, but everything from the culture to the political structure is laid out in a way that is easily understandable. I am by no means an expert on Ancient Rome, but I certainly felt as if I was right there

Another amazing aspect of The Valiant was the actual follow through of creating a kickass female character. Some novels promise that they have this amazing kickass, tough female and by the end of the book I think "I could take her". The follow through just wasn't there. Not with Fallon and even her supporting cast of characters.

Fallon was tough. The world she grew up in and found herself in was tough. She had to do a lot to survive that she never expected she would have to do. The other girls in the sisterhood of warriors were just as tough, just as brutal, and it really helped make this novel what it is.

The absolute last thing that has to be mentioned is the fight scenes that take place in the arena. I am a reader who prefers character development over action/fights, but this book really had me yearning to read more about what happened inside the arena. The action scenes were detailed, but not overly graphic and they were super suspenseful. I honestly felt like I was in the arena watching the women fight it out.

The Valiant is just the first book of a series, but I have to say the way it ends, it could very well be a standalone. There are plenty of adventures readers can be taken on it the future and I will gladly follow along, but it is a complete solid single novel.

The Valiant was a surprising read for me. I wasn't 100% sure what to expect or even if I would like it at all. What I ended up with was an amazing novel that really took me for an adventure and back in time. I can't wait to read the sequel. Give this novel a shot if you are a fan of Ancient Rome, kickass female leads, and action/fight scenes that are realistic.
Friday, March 17, 2017

"The Wish Granter: Book Two of the Ravenspire Novel Series" by C.J. Redwine (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Read FBC's Review of The Shadow Queen Here 
Visit C.J. Redwine's Website Here 

OVERVIEW: The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of SĂșndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague, who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.

FORMAT: The Wish Granter is the second novel in the Ravenspire series. The Ravenspire series is made up of standalone novels that are all fairytale retellings. It is not necessary to have read the previous book.

The Wish Granter is told in third person POV. Most of the story is told from Ari and Sebastian's POVs, but there are occasional chapters that are told from The Wish Granter's POV. The Wish Granter stands at 423 pages and was published February 14, 2017 by Balzer + Bray.

ANLYSIS: The Wish Granter comes hot off the heels of C.J. Redwine's first Ravenspire novel, The Shadow Queen. This time instead of retelling a fairytale that is super familiar to everyone, Redwine takes on the challenge of giving a lesser-known fairytale a new twist – Rumpelstiltskin. Of course, Rumpelstiltskin isn't unknown, but it isn't as commonly told in fairytale retellings as Snow White, Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast.

Looking back on The Shadow Queen, one of my biggest issues was the simple fact that while it had some plot twists, it just didn't feel like it had that 'it' factor to make it stand out from the other Snow White fairytale retelling. The Shadow Queen wasn't bad enough to make me stop reading the Ravenspire series, but it definitely lowered my expectations for future books which is why I was so surprised at The Wish Granter. It was a lot better than I expected.

It should be noted that while all the books in the Ravenspire series take part in the same world, they are standalone novels. It isn't necessary to read them all and you don't have to read them in order. There was a brief mention in The Wish Granter of the main character from The Shadow Queen, but it wasn't enough that it ruined anything or even confused the reader. I think the standalone factor really helped as it made it easier to judge each book individually.

The Wish Granter follows the story of Ari, who is a newly crowned princess. Her twin brother was just named king even though he wasn't the next in line to the throne, but he didn't get the title in the traditional way. He did so by making a deal with The Wish Granter, an old fae who holds the ability to help give people their hearts desire but at a huge cost. Ari sets out to find a way to break the deal between her brother and The Wish Granter. With the help of a very broken young weapons master named Sebastian, Ari will stop at nothing to discover The Wish Granter's secrets and find a way to beat him at his own game before he destroys the whole kingdom.

What really stands out in The Wish Granter is the character development. Ari, Sebastian, and even Alistair Teague (The Wish Granter) were all extremely detailed. Ari was a head-strong character. She was confident, knew where she stood in life, and when she made her mind up on something there was no stopping her. She wasn't your average tiny little princess. She loved to eat (sometimes a little too much) and she spent most of her time in the kitchen with the servants she grew up with as opposed to the royal elite.

Sebastian was a broken individual who came from a very dark background filled with neglect, abuse, and poverty. He wasn't handed anything in life and he worked his hardest to remain under the radar of Alistair Teague. His abusive background has made him stone-cold to emotion and reluctant to trust anyone. He doesn't want friends, he just wants to work and earn enough money to eventually gain his freedom. That is until he meets Ari who doesn't take no for an answer and wants to build a friendship.

Alistair Teague is an old fae who is manipulative, evil and just horrible. He preys on the weak and uses their desperation to his advantage. He is a bit of a fantasy drug lord. He manufacturers and distributes a heavy drug that many of the poorer people in the village have become addicted to.

While reading the story, you definitely grew to like Ari and Sebastian. You felt their emotions, their trials and tribulations, and really went on the journey with them. Alistair Teague, on the other hand, you learned to despise because he was evil, manipulative, and just out for only himself. Pretty much everything you come to expect in a villain.

I spend a lot of time talking about the characters in the story because The Wish Granter is very character center. The plot, action, and everything centers around the characters building relationships, changing, and fighting for the good of the kingdom. If the characters hadn't been as detailed or as captivating, I don't think the story would have been as good as it turned out to be.

There is some romance in this novel, but it develops in a way that is realistic. It also isn't 'forever and ever' love and more of what I would call a puppy love romance. Given the age of the characters, I think it is believable and helps add some depth to the novel.

C.J. Redwine does a really good job of taking the story of Rumpelstiltskin and giving it a new take. There were familiar elements, but for the most part this is an original retelling. I would definitely tell people who like fairytale retellings but didn't like The Shadow Queen to give The Wish Granter a try.

Overall, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Wish Granter. I really liked the characters and was immediately captivated by the story.  

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