Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The Outcasts: City in Ruins by K.C. Gray


Genre: Urban Fantasy/Coming of Age/Young Adult

Description:

“When fifteen-year-old Sophia Goodman meets Billy Carter and touches his hand, her very essence hums with pleasure. Sophia is so addicted to his touch she ignores Billy's strange behavior. It's obvious he's hiding something, but by the time she realizes Billy isn't as he seems, she finds herself thrust into a world filled with magic and mythological creatures.”

Author:

“K.C. Gray holds a Master of Fine Arts from Eastern Kentucky University.
She was born and raised in Hopkinsville, KY. Currently, she lives in a land of fantasy and only pokes her head back into reality to share her experiences with others.”

To learn more about Ms. Gray you may visit her website or Facebookpage.

Appraisal:

Sophia Goodman is an angst-ridden fifteen-year-old girl who finds solace in a special place deep in the woods behind her house. One day she meets a mysterious young man there about her same age. They seem to have a few things in common and when he touches her she is overcome with a feeling of peace. Mesmerized by Billy Carter’s touch they start meeting in her special place nightly. 

Then Billy gets impatient and starts manipulating Sophia. That is where the story lost me. Billy has big secrets. The world he lives in is well developed and described. The characters are diverse and their dialogue fits the story well. I just couldn’t get invested in Sophia or Billy. Especially when Sophia turns out to be just as selfish and manipulative as Billy. I could find no integrity to grasp hold of.

Bottom line is I don’t think this book was for me. Other than the numerous proofing issues the story has a nice flow. It’s about a harsh world with a detailed history, a rigid ruler with a manipulative wife, and a prophecy. This prophecy may or may not include Sophia if she has any say in the future.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

There are a few F-bombs dropped.

Format/Typo Issues:

I came across several minor proofing errors such as missing, extra, or wrong words.

Rating: *** Three Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: Chasing Fireflies by Imogen Rose


Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Young Adult/Coming of Age

Description:

“It’s that nothing age—too young to actually do anything but old enough to want to do everything. So, we wait, always chasing tomorrow. But sometimes, there is no tomorrow. That realization hit me hard, a real epiphany. I knew I had to do something to make it all worthwhile, and not just for myself. But also for her.”

Author:

Dr. Imogen Rose is an immunologist turned full-time author. Her two series (Portal Chronicles and Bonfire Chronicles) feature paranormal characters aimed at young adults. Chasing Fireflies is a departure, with nary a demon, troll, or any other creature you won’t find in the real world.

Appraisal:

On the surface this is a fun story about teenage hijinks, but lurking in the background is a consideration of some of life’s big questions. The story focuses on three teens. Atticus who prefers to go by the nickname Fitz is the protagonist, but two girls, Maddie and Tamsin, figure prominently in the story as well. When a schoolmate dies these three decide to honor her in their own unique way. In the planning and execution of this tribute (details would be a bit of a spoiler) Fitz and his sidekicks gain a fuller, more mature perspective on life. Yeah, they grow up just a bit. While an obvious fit for the young adult reader, it's a story that will appeal to an older crowd, too. Even grandfathers like me.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

Review is based on a pre-release copy and I’m unable to judge the final production version in this area.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: Made In Paradise by Donna Fasano


Genre: Romance

Description:

“Her child is alive! For ten years Amber has believed her child was lost to her forever. Then an unexpected inheritance leads the lovely doctor back home… to the man she’s always loved. There she discovers her beloved Jon is a bachelor father, and the little girl he is raising is their daughter!

Jon has vowed to protect and cherish his child, yet he opens their lives to let Amber in. But this dedicated father is no longer the young lover Amber remembers. Can she uncover the tender man she has never forgotten, and convince him to take a chance on their newly formed family, and their own true love?”

Author:

“USA Today bestselling author Donna Fasano is a three-time winner of the HOLT Medallion, a CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award winner for Best Single Title, a Desert Rose Golden Quill Award finalist, a Golden Heart finalist, and a two-time winner of Best Romance of the Year given by BigAl's Books & Pals Review Blog. Her books have sold 4 million copies worldwide and have been published in two dozen languages. Her novels have made the Kindle Top 100 Paid List numerous times, climbing as high as #1.”

You can learn more about Ms. Fasano on her website or stalk her on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Ms. Fasano does it again. She takes a life-changing situation for a couple of teenagers and almost turns it into a fairy tale. Years later, after Amber Holloway’s father passes away, she comes across a bank book for an account she knew nothing about. She soon heads back to her old hometown in Pine Meadows, NJ to learn more about this account and its balance.

Made in Paradise is an enthralling story of the girl from the wrong side of town and an older boy from a wealthy family who fell in love with each other over ten years ago. When Amber and Jon Weston meet again, both of their worlds are turned upside down. There is no doubt in Amber’s mind that the little girl standing by Jon’s side is her daughter, who she had been told was stillborn. Neither Jon nor Amber can deny their attraction is still there, but there are lies from the past they both must come to terms with. And then the wicked witch of the west, Jon’s mother, makes her presence known again with disastrous consequences.

The characters are all well drawn and their dialogue is realistic. One of the best features of this story is Sydney, Jon and Amber’s almost ten-year-old daughter. Ms. Fasano captured her essence perfectly. The fact that Jon has done a good job raising her alone can’t be denied. Sidney is a treasure and her dialogue and actions were entirely age appropriate.

Amber and Jon’s journey is a wonderful story of a new beginning for a life they thought may have been lost forever. An excellent book that will twist your emotions, but leave a smile on your face and in your heart.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

Made in Paradise is book two in Ms. Fasano’s newest series, A Family Forever. Book one is A Beautiful Stranger.

Format/Typo Issues:

I noticed no issues with proofing or formatting.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: S is for Serial by D K Greene


Genre: Thriller

Description:
"Peter has spent a lifetime trying to forget who he is. After decades of running away from his father's murderous past, Peter has finally settled into his Witness Protection identity. He has a job, a girlfriend and the normal life he's always dreamed of. All of that is put in jeopardy when Inspector Douglas comes looking for help uncovering more bodies.

Given the task of reconnecting with his murderous father to gain valuable information in unsolved cases, Peter must decide if he has the stomach to be the hero that the lost victims deserve. When his well intentioned therapist and Inspector Douglas push him to dig deeper into the case, Peter is faced with the realities that some family ties are simply too much to bear.

A witty tale that tromps through the countryside of the Pacific Northwest, author D. K. Greene delights in this newest addition to Serial Murder lore."

Author:

"Favourite books: Heartsick, Evil at Heart, Night Season, Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain. The Martian by Andy Weir. Until The End Of The World series by Sarah Lyons Fleming. I love to read, research and write. When I'm not enjoying books, I also knit socks, bake bread and watch Game of Thrones in bursts. I love the outdoors and am enjoying learning about farming."

For more visit D.K. Greene's Facebook page.

Appraisal:
The premise of this book is credible and engaging. A serial killer, Ollie Roberts, promises to lead the authorities to where bodies are buried if his son, Peter Wilson, (an assumed name on the witness programme) is allowed to work with him. Inspector Douglas, (Dougy) who arrested the killer and knows him well, talks Peter into engaging with his father again - for the sake of the families who want to find their loved ones. Peter, whose life is quiet and settled now, is reluctant but eventually agrees to do this.
The day comes when he accompanies his father, and Dougy, (and several other policemen) to the woods. Ollie tells him he should murder someone himself so they could better understand each other and when Peter says he has never wanted to kill anyone, Ollie says:
          “Good Lord, son. Maybe you ought to talk to someone about that
There is a lot of black humour in this book which makes the reader laugh even though the subject matter is horrible and not funny at all. And some parts are just plain funny:
          " . . . a swooping haircut that makes me wonder where his hair actually begins and ends. He flips his head to the side as if he's about to have a seizure but then I realize he's just trying to get the wild hair out of his eyes . . . "
We realise very quickly that Peter is a strange man; he has an odd relationship with his girlfriend, Elsie and definitely gets more out of sex when he's on his own. Although he has a home and a job he is not as settled as you might think. He goes to Jeanne for psychotherapy but rarely tells her the truth; he likes going to see her because he fancies her and thinks she fancies him.
Ollie is a bully, manipulative but charming and Peter finds it hard not to fall under his spell again. Dougy, the policeman, seems to be a warm, loving person, perhaps too fond of his prisoner but believable all the same.
This is a very well written book; the narrative is compelling and moves along swiftly and the dialogue is terrific.
However, the entire book is marred by the unrealistic ending. It is so puzzling that it seems to make a nonsense of the premise itself, and indeed, of the whole story. I had planned to give it five stars as it is so very, very good but because of the ending I am deducting one star.
Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK
FYI:

Some grisly, gory parts

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.
Rating: 4 stars ****

Reviewed by: Joan Slowey

Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: Working Stiffs by Scott Bell


Genre: Dystopian Thriller

Description:

“In a time when civil liberties have been eroded and unemployment has exceeded Great Depression levels, nanotechnology provides the ability to reanimate the recently dead. Far from zombies, but nothing like their former selves, ‘Revivants’ are a ready source of cheap labor able to perform simple, routine tasks. Great news for some sectors, but for many, the economic and social impact is devastating.

Enter Joe Warren—an unemployed college dropout, who is self-absorbed and disinterested in the world’s problems. All Joe wants is a job, food on his table, and a cure for his girlfriend’s lingering illness. What Joe gets is a stint in jail with a bunch of self-proclaimed freedom fighters, and coerced to become an informant by federal government agents.

Joe is forced to examine his me-first attitude, and in the process learns that some things just might be worth fighting—or dying—for.”

Author:

“Scott Bell holds a degree in Criminal Justice from North Texas State University, and has enjoyed careers in both asset protection as well as sales. With the kids grown and time on his hands, Scott turned back to his first love—writing. His short stories have been published in The Western Online, Cast of Wonders, and in the anthology, Desolation. Yeager's Law is his first published novel, but there are two more due for release next year, and more on the way.

When he’s not writing, Scott is on the eternal quest to answer the question: What would John Wayne do?”

Appraisal:

This is a story of two distinct parts. It opens as a cyberpunk-styled romp through a future world where human society is being disrupted not by robots, but by Revivants (nanotech driven zombies). Told in first person by Joe Warren, who is possibly the most smart-mouthed and sarcastic character I’ve ever come across, I found myself flipping through pages of fresh writing and laughing at Joe’s wisecracks. Try these: “I snagged Jamil by his fancy dress jacket--the material caressed my fingers like it wanted to blow me.” or, in reference to his ill treatment during interrogation by the cops, “they beat you like cake batter,” and, “Ramirez studied me the way a surgeon examines colon polyps.” One more: “‘Ah!’ Rogair made a noise like he’d discovered masturbation.”

There were a bunch more, but hopefully you get the idea. Every page is littered with grin-worthy smug irreverence.

The dystopian world is fairly stereotypical (big business and government=bad, poor working stiffs=good), but it was revealed nicely through the action with only a smattering of dogma or political pretentiousness from the author. The last quarter of the story focused on the final conflict between the bad guys and the Resistance. Here, the writing morphed into action/adventure with little or no reference to future-tech. This did make the novel a little schizophrenic for this reader. I preferred the cyber-punk stage, and the change of focus late in the story did shoehorn in a number of new characters which diluted the tension somewhat.

But overall, this was a terrific read, unusual, tongue-in-cheek funny and hyper-paced. If you enjoy characters like Joe Warren and/or action sequences teeming with bullets, I think you’ll have a lot of fun spending a few hours in Scott Bell’s dystopia.

Buy now from:            Amazon US     Amazon UK

FYI:

Although all of them seemed necessary to me, there are many, many F-bombs.

Format/Typo Issues:

Very clean copy. I found only one typo!

Rating:  ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Toy Soldiers by Michael G. Keller



Genre:  Adventure

Description:

An American hedge fund analyst is sent to appraise an African mine that is controlled by a brutal warlord. When the financier is kidnapped by child soldiers and dragged into their bloody rebellion, he becomes entangled in their struggle and must choose between claiming the immense wealth he worked so hard for, or throwing it away and risking his life for a slim chance to save theirs.

Author:

Michael G. Keller is a filmmaker. Toy Soldiers is his first novel. For more about Keller, visit his website.

Appraisal:

Toy Soldiers is a compelling read in the way a B movie might entice a viewer to keep watching to determine if it is campy or simply bad and having determined it is bad to wonder if it can possibly get worse. On the last point, this story does not disappoint.

The premise of Keller’s story is that greed of global corporations is the cause of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s humanitarian crisis, specifically the demand for coltan, a metallic ore used in electronic equipment. That would be fair as far as it goes, though it ignores refugees from the Rwandan genocide and other tribal wars that have affected stability in DRC for decades and predate demand for coltan. Further, ending all consumption of conflict minerals would not starve tribal warlords of funds. They can and do turn to agricultural products, extortion and other means.

If Toy Soldiers is intended to portray the scope of the DRC conflict, it misinforms. If it is intended to show the human cost through the eyes of its victims, it fails. None of the characters are credible as their actions and emotions are rendered as caricatures by Keller’s puerile writing style.

“He pummeled the mercenary with his pistol, looking him right in the eye as he battered his face into mush.”

“The absent-eyed mercenary spotted Sebu and gasped. Sebu shot his face off.”

“The mercenaries torched huts and dragged young girls, kicking and screaming, into the jungle to satisfy their beastly urges.”

“The children looked up in horror, at the colossus looming over them like a nightmare. He blotted out the sun. They tried to dodge around him, but he swatted them both to the dirt with the back of his ogreish hand.”

The following sentence describes food of boys trying to survive in the jungle and exemplifies the writer’s lackadaisical regard for accuracy.

“Cassava root was pure starch and empty calories, with virtually no nutritional content.”

Starch itself is a nutrient, providing calories needed to avoid starvation. According to “nutritiondata”web site, cassava contains: vitamins--A,C,E K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, B12, pantothenic acid, choline, and betanine, along with minerals--calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

Inept handling of a humanitarian crisis aside, the novel is an affront to English literacy.

Diction errors

 “Their vacuous stomachs screamed and pleaded for more,” Unless Keller actually wants to say the stomachs were devoid of intellectual value, I assume he means “empty.”

“Moses’ men leapt up on the truck bed and plucked the new recruits down onto the dirt.” One plucks up, not down. Confused with plunked?

In a limousine, “The general sat unnervingly close by Kaufman’s side, with menacing bodyguards lurking across from them.” Lurk means to wait in hiding as though to ambush, difficult to do in the back of a limo.

Metaphorical sins:

“The setting sun splattered across the sky like a fried egg”

“Exhaustion finally hit him like an avalanche.”

 “Perforated like Swiss cheese, the man’s blood spattered all over him.” (How does one perforate blood?)

Embarrassing alliterations

 “Lantern light lapped against his eye sockets, only making him look angrier.”
“The birds took flight, frantically flapping…”

 “…they ceaselessly swallowed shots” and also “ranted at a rickety podium…”
After a gun battle, “The children…giggled with glee as they sprinted away, through the twists and turns of the wilderness…”

Say what?

“He wasn’t near death – he had somehow passed it, shuffling onward like a headless chicken.”

“The currency trader pried his stunned eyes up from his screen to force a truckling smile.”

“We haven’t found him yet, sir,” the soldier truckled.

 “He had felt flurries of air from several of the rounds whizzing by his head.” Snow flurries, leaves flurry; shock waves made by bullets do not flurry.

“…reached for his AK, but a grizzled foot pinned it to the earth.” Foot covered in gray hair, an old Sasquatch?

“Sebu’s eyes were glassy and delirious with fever.” Delirious eyes?

Clich├ęs ad nauseum:

“The orphans jumped out of their skin.”

“Bang –a rifle accidentally discharged and scared the boys out of their skins.”

“Excuse me,” he called down in a meek voice. Even that made the trekkers leap out of their skin…”

 “You’re alive!” Lumumba exclaimed, literally jumping for joy.

“There was no corner of the market free of monkey business – nothing new under the sun.”
Pretensions

 “The markets were so fraught with sound and fury, but ultimately signified nothing…“

It may be unkind to suppose the writer is trying to imply wisdom through cynicism (and plagiarism). Markets determine how much I pay for a gallon of gasoline or a pound of bacon. To me that’s not nothing.

“The upswings were a drunken orgy of celebration, while the drops were punctuated with melodrama and teeth gnashing.”
Why? Surely traders in a hedge fund would hold both long and 
short positions.

“The corporate animal fed on cash and it grew fatter so it could swallow more 
and more; and it even excreted a little sewage, so people would buzz around like flies, clamoring to do its bidding for a few stray droppings.”

No further comment but an apology for the many risible bits of egregious writing that I have left out.

In an afterward, Keller wrote, “Eagle-eyed editor Nicholas Morine helped trim the fat and punch up the action.” Mr. Morine must then be held equally accountable for the result.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

In February 1967 at the age of nineteen years and six months, I debarked the MSTS Gordon onto an LST and landed in Da Nang as a member of the 3rd Marine division. I find this novel’s cartoonish depictions of real-world horror viscerally offensive. As stocks editor (now retired) of Bloomberg’s Tokyo bureau I interviewed analysts, strategists, traders and economists and attest that no such person as Kaufman has ever existed. He is described as both an analyst and financier. Analysts have deep and current knowledge with narrow scope. Financiers hire analysts. I am the author of Dollar Down and Tokyo Enigma, have a humble appreciation for good writing and disdain only for writers too lazy to study the craft.

Anyone interested in the DRC, might read Jason K Stearns’ Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. It was published in 2012, but remains an enlightening work. Those following current debate over the Dodd-Frank Act might watch what happens with Section 1502 dealing with DRC conflict minerals. It has been both praised and damned.

Format/Typo Issues:

Numerous:

Rating: * One Star

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: A Company of Roses by Megan Goodenough


Genre:   Thriller/Mystery

Description:   

This is a treasure hunt in the ‘history and mystery’ genre. Cas is sidekick to charismatic, beautiful Lacey. Lacey goes missing, leaving behind a trail of destruction and a set of enigmatic clues to an Elizabethan treasure. Cas will have to find a courage and resourcefulness she's never known before if she's going to find the treasure and, with it, save her friend.

Cas races across Brighton, London and some stunning English landscape (you could follow her progress on a map) searching for and solving Lacey’s clues. The clues include appearances from Mary Shelley, Ada Lovelace, Queen Elizabeth I and other strong women from British history with whom you may be less familiar.

The end of the journey is more personal than Cas could have imagined as she finally unearths the British Government’s most well-kept secret, and faces the organisation sworn to protect it.

Author:   

Megan Goodenough is a British author, a graduate of York University with a degree in archaeology. She’s been short-listed for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, long-listed for the TS Eliot Award and won competitions with BBC Writers Room. This is her first novel.

Appraisal:   

I enjoyed this a lot – to the point where I couldn’t put it down. If you like historical mysteries this will appeal to you. If you enjoy Dan Brown’s clever clues (especially if you find the violent deaths and severed body parts in his books a tad superfluous) you will enjoy this. As you can see above, Goodenough’s expertise is in areas which feed the creation of this sort of novel. Readers familiar with the British Tudor dynasty will be aware that Tudor works of art were chockful of symbols. Her research (even – or perhaps particularly – if it has led to imaginary artefacts) is first class yet her learning is placed lightly on the page. Goodenough draws strong, engaging female characters. She leavens the book’s action with wit and humour, and even permits her characters some introspection when time serves. The result is a real page-turner.

The book is set in the present. The two female protagonists are young, talented artists. Cas is drifting through her life, intending to get a grip on it soon. Or maybe not. Then suddenly she has to shape up much more quickly than she intended. So, the book is as much a rite of passage as it is a thriller.

Cas and Lacey are delightfully believable. I have had a relationship like that. I have had that revelation about it. Cas’s vacillation about Reuben (the single major male character) also rings true. How Cas handles a gun made me think the author picked one up for the first time as research for this book and put the experience accurately on the page. Cas’s dead gran is beautifully drawn: a character from beyond the grave, but none the less potent for that.

Up until the end I thought that the prologue was an unnecessary give away. It isn’t, it’s a clue. The motivation for finding that which is lost changes two-thirds of the way through. At first I thought it was wobbly plotting. It isn’t, it’s a change of motivation which shows the heroine (for she is more than a protagonist) becoming a finer human being.

For readers in the US (which is most of you, I think) brace yourself for British spellings. But as a quid pro quo you get descriptions of British places that only a Briton in love with them could provide. The Great Court at the British Museum is the standout example (it is stunning and she does it justice: trust me, I’ve been many times) and there are a number of others.

If the book has a flaw, it is that some of the information fed to the reader at the beginning of the book isn’t very helpful until one reaches the end. Which could also be a good reason to read it again.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:   

There was a susurration of little typos in the file I read. Hopefully these have been hunted down and eradicated in the published versions.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by:  Judi Moore

Approximate word count:  90-95,000 words

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: Atlas, Broken by Jeremy Tyrrell


Genre: Literary Fiction

Description:

Henry Ludlow’s existence erodes as modern life takes its toll in the torture of a thousand cuts.

Author:

Jeremy Tyrrell is a software developer by day and writer in his off time. He has worked in a variety of fields; from retail hardware to burger boy, from store maintenance to tutoring, from janitor to programmer.

Appraisal:

Atlas, Broken is told in a powerful voice that reminds at once of Ogden Nash and Franz Kafka. Walter Mitty meets the bug of The Metamorphsis. The fact that it is self-published is condemnation of the current state of letters.

The author himself called Atlas, Broken a depressing tale and some early reviews praised it for dealing with depression. I didn’t see it that way, but rather as a story of Every Man, even the giants among us. Sam Houston, the hero of the Texas revolution and a Unionist who was unable to prevent the state from joining the Confederacy, considered his life a failure. George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, famously wrote “My work is done, why wait?” before he killed himself.

Tyrrell uses humor expertly, not to take the edge off his stark look at the human condition, but to hone the edge to razor sharpness. Highly recommended.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

None worth noting

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: Sam Waite

Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Trials of Magic (The Hundred Halls Book 1) by Thomas K. Carpenter


Genre: Urban Fantasy/Magic/Coming of Age

Description:

“Aurelia ’Aurie‘ Silverthorne is one of the best and brightest to ever apply to the Hundred Halls, the only magical university in the world. To be accepted, she must pass grueling trials that claim the lives of aspirants every year.

But more than her desire to practice magic is at stake.

Aurie's little sister has been courting powerful forces in hopes of protecting herself from the beings that killed their parents, but alliances come with complications. As things spiral out of control, and dangerous foes arise at every turn, Aurie knows the only way to protect her sister is to pass the trials—even if it means making a terrible sacrifice.”

Author:

“Thomas K. Carpenter writes in diverse genres including: YA dystopia, post-cyberpunk sci-fi, steampunk, historical fantasy, and alternate history. His Top 50 Bestselling series the Alexandrian Saga can be found on Amazon. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, two kids, and one oafishly large Labrador retriever.”

Visit Mr. Carpenter online at his website or stalk him on Facebook.

Appraisal:

Aurelia and Pythia Silverthorne are magical sisters who lost their parents when they were young and were raised in foster homes until they were old enough to live on their own. Aurie is the oldest and almost twenty now. This is her last year to take her Merlin’s test, which will determine whether she will be accepted into one of the Hundred Halls for further magical education. She has always felt like her parents deaths were somehow her fault, and therefore, it is her job to protect her younger sister. Pi, who is two years younger than her sister, is old enough to take her Merlin’s as well. Pi has chosen the house of Coterie, an elite house in which she needs to find a sponsor. The one she approaches is a master wizard who gives her an impossible task to complete, which with the unwitting help of Aurie, she manages to complete. This is just the beginning of their problems.

Aurie is the book smart sister who has put off taking her Merlin’s to care for her younger sister when she was ill. Pi is the street smart sister more willing to take risks, both have their strengths in different areas and they work well together. Their love and devotion to each other pulls them through many tough spots.

The plot is multilayered and moves fast as the girls are set with unique challenges during their Merlin’s. And then trying to fit into the houses they are assigned to. There are many rivalries between the students, but they manage to find a couple friends they can rely on. Each sister has her own story arc and their paths cross occasionally. However, when Pi comes across a deeper darker conspiracy in the Hundred Halls the girls start working together, putting both of their lives in danger. Aurie learns the hard way that book learning will only get you so far in life. She must look within to find her real strength.

I think this will be an interesting series to follow. The challenges, characters, and settings are well defined. The dialogue is entertaining and draws the reader in. I also found Mr. Carpenter’s use of magic unique.

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

FYI:

There are several F-bombs dropped.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant proofing errors.

Rating: **** Four Stars

Reviewed by: ?wazithinkin

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words