July Book Review

Things were pretty uneventful this month, but I’ve put a lot of effort into revving things up for the fall, so stay tuned for some pretty spicy reviews and campaigns (giveaways !!) coming up!

#1). The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Being a creative writing student feels pretty impossible sometimes, because I have hundreds of years of the literary tradition to catch up on, as well as staying up to date on new releases. I picked this book up on a recommendation from a professor, to start filling in the gaps of more recent fiction history that I’ve been missing out on. I really enjoyed McCarthy’s prose, but overall felt that the plot of The Road was lackluster, especially thanks to the weak ending.

#2). The Tower by Nicole Campbell – This was a self-published YA book that I received in exchange for an honest review. Check out my thoughts here!

#3). The Last Gambit by Om Swami – Another self-published YA, a coming of age story about an Indian boy determined to become a chess master, that I received in exchange for on honest review. You can find the full review at this link.

XX. Shelby Jo

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June Book Review

In the past, I have proven that I am very bad at reading over the summer (because I have less responsibilities to shirk? Who knows.), but things went surprisingly well in June. Well, surprisingly average, I guess.

#1). Black Blade by Alexander Charalambides – This is a self-published book that I read in exchange for an honest review. You can read the full review here and find the book on Amazon.

#2). This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – It goes without saying that Victoria Schwab is a fantastic world builder. Like sickeningly fantastic. The dystopia that she created in this book was incredible, and kept me turning the pages above any other element of the story.

#3). Ahe’ey by Jamie Le Fay – I received a galley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It’s one of the best self-published books I’ve read so far! Check out all of my thoughts here, and find the book on Amazon.

**I love reading manuscripts, ARCs, and self-published books! If you’re interested in feedback or a published review of your book, contact me for more information.**

#4) Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – I’m so torn over this book. I adored the prose, but the characters were so frustrating and one-dimensional, that I can’t really say I liked it.

 

‘Black Blade’ Review

‘Black Blade’ Review

“Black Blade” is a YA fantasy adventure by Alexander Charalambides. It follows young hero Lance and his outgoing best friend Megan as they are thrown from the terrors of high school to a magical quest in Avalon.

Charalambides’ first book falls right in step in the tradition of Rick Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson, with its witty, down-to-earth dialogue, free indirect style, and loose fourth wall. The similarities drew me to the story immediately, and brought out the strongest part of the narrative: the characters.

Lance is the shining element of “Black Blade,” as I’m sure Charalambides intended. When his quest and enchanted weapon is thrust upon him, Lance charges fearlessly into battle, telling Megan, “Look…to be honest, I can’t say I figured this would happen, but it always felt like it should.”

Lance echoes the thought of any young person who has spent their days immersed in stories like his. He is meant for more. There’s adventure waiting for him; he knows it and he craves it. This should be enough to drive the narrative forward and keep Lance on his quest, but other elements are thrown in to further raise the stakes. Most of those decisions were unnecessary to me; they cluttered the lore of the the story and required too much exposition.

The voice does read more like a middle grade story than a YA one, until the introduction of three guide-like figures from Avalon, including one who compulsively curses her way through the book.

The introduction of these three raises other narrative issues, as well. The pace of “Black Blade” requires pithy explanations of events and an almost constant stream of dialogue, but with five regular characters, back and forth dialogue without speech tags quickly becomes confusing.

Charalambides begins POV shifts at this point too, without clarifying time or setting changes, or signifying the switches in any other way. The timeline becomes muddled here, but could easily be fixed with a format that indicated POV jumps. Clarifying these would further shore up the characters, and in turn drive the narrative forward. Everything is connected here, showing that “Black Blade” truly has potential, with clearer movement and cleaner copy.

I give “Black Blade” by Alexander Charalambides 4 / 5 stars. It’s an easy and entertaining read, full of colorful and well-developed characters.

“Black Blade” is now available for purchase on Amazon.

XX. Shelby Jo

‘Blood Orchid’ Review

‘Blood Orchid’ Review

Blood Orchid is a YA fantasy novel by Claire Warner. It’s the second in the Night Flower series (read my review of The Black Lotus here) and picks up immediately where the first let off.

I’ll admit, that’s one of my favorite tropes; if the immediacy is done well, it multiplies the suspense without the reader catching on. It was hard not to catch on in Blood Orchid. It begins with the same wandering perspective as the first book, briefly touching each character’s mind to remind the reader of “tragic” ending of Black Lotus.

And then Warner proceeds to dwell on those events for the first half of the book. Without warning, at that halfway point, the narration jumps forward twenty years. The characters are still single-mindedly focused on one task, but have yet to have any rational discussion about that task on the page.

As a reader, I don’t generally mind being left in the dark about the protagonist’s intentions — it can often lead to engaging discoveries down the road — but when those characters continue to make the same mistakes and have the same conversations over the course of twenty years, I start to wonder what the plan is.

More so than The Black Lotus, it seems that Warner, too, lacked a plan for Blood Orchid. Like many middle or sophomore books, it was simply a string of events, without an overall arc to the plot.

Full of copy errors and without well developed characters to make those events interesting or entertaining, the book as a whole falls flat.

The Black Lotus left room for redemption and possible success for the Night Flower series, but Blood Orchid  failed to seize that opportunity.

XX. Shelby Jo

‘Black Lotus’ Review

‘Black Lotus’ Review

The Black Lotus by Claire Warner is a YA fantasy novel following protagonists Justin and Melissa as they uncover secrets in the English court of 1752.

Warner’s story shows great creative potential, but the execution falls flat, pulled down by cliche characters and repetitive writing.

One of the central issues of the book — the first in the “Night Flower” series — is Melissa struggling with the idea of an arranged marriage while simultaneously dealing with her debut season in court. Warner explicitly resurfaces the issue countless times, when it is already evident in Melissa’s dialogue and actions. Melissa’s family is sympathetic to her feelings, but the conversation about her rights as a woman never ventures beyond complaining.

In the same glossed-over way, Justin and Melissa fall into a love-at-first-sight relationship; they continually mention their deep feelings, but never delve into what those feelings actually mean.

They’re the typical characters to fall in this supposedly passionate and inexplicable way: the fiery young woman, who is upset at her situation and just cannot seem to fit into her role, and the mysterious, handsome rake (every character in “The Black Lotus” has apparently agreed to repeatedly call Justin “a gamester and a cad”) with a bad reputation. It makes their dialogue effortless, sure, but that’s about it; Justin and Melissa’s characters don’t affect the plot in any natural way, and they hardly inspire any curiosity from the reader.

Warner’s description’s of decadent court life are rich and elaborate, moving the story along more than any other element of the book. They are just exotic enough to hint at the fantasy to come, a subtlety that Warner would do well to expand into the other elements of “The Black Lotus.”

I don’t doubt that Warner’s name could be among other celebrated YA authors before long, but this book bears all the marks of a debut, and does not wear them well.

XX. Shelby Jo

Summer Book Review

Happens at la-ast!

Surprise, surprise, I’m back. Here are some catch-up, mini reviews of all of the books I read over the summer.

#1). Pardon Me by James Roberts – This was a self-published book I read in exchange for an honest review. You can find the book on Amazon, and check out my review here.

#2). The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan – Finally, a Riordan book with a new plot arc; I thought this book was delightfully entertaining and showed far more potential than any of Riordan’s other recent work.

#3). An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – This book was engaging and fast-paced, and the world-building was so, so interesting, but I low-key hate both of the main characters. *Sorry*

#4). The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury – I was so confused by this book. I don’t even know what it was about. Love triangles and unloving parents and undeserved fate – what else is new?

#5). The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer – Laxmi Hariharan – This was a self-published book I read in exchange for an honest review. You can find the book on Amazon, and check out my review here.

#6). Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy – Reedy is such a good writer. This book flowed gorgeously, and wove in multiple themes, but ended with the plot feeling somewhat incomplete.

#7). Sketches of the Wigwam by Mack Moyer – This was a self-published book I read in exchange for an honest review. You can find the book on Amazon, and check out my review here.

#8). The Young World by Chris Weitz – I found this book funny more than anything else; it tried so hard to be aware and progressive that it became practically ridiculous.

I’m glad to get that all off my chest! Of course, I am behind on my goal, but I will make up as much as I can over the next two months and be happy with whatever I manage to accomplish.

XX. Shelby Jo

May Book Review

I survived my first year of college! Woo woo! Obviously, I did a terrible job posting last quarter, but I’m hoping to get things back on track this summer (which I know I’ve said a million times already), so stay tuned!

#1) The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – Although the actual conclusion of the series wasn’t quite everything I hoped it would be, this book was amazing. It maintained all of the character development from the previous books and GAVE ME SO MANY FEELINGS.

#2) Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – Even though I enjoyed it, it took me forever to get through this book. I will forever love (and be in awe of) The Lies of Locke Lamora, but this was probably the last Gentleman Bastards book I will read. I just really dislike Lynch’s plot arcs.

#3) Burning Suns Book 1: Conflagration by Lisa Wylie – This was a self-published book I read in exchange for an honest review. You can find the book on Amazon, and check out my review here.

#4) Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle – I adored this book! It has a fantastic and relevant concept, with an interesting perspective and engaging narrative voice. I enjoy it as a stand alone, but I liked it enough that I may continue with the series.

Have a great week!

XX. Shelby Jo