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Review of Taming Shadows

Taming Shadows by Fiona Skye
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars.

Paranormal fantasy is the breakfast cereal of my reading menu: a default choice, a guaranteed, all-nutrients-included basic entertainment value. It feeds the hungry imagination even when there’s nothing outstanding to make it memorable.

This book is a nice, full bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. That is praise. I love CFSBs. I ate up Taming Shadows in an evening (what, don’t you eat cereal for dessert? I do.) Then I went right to Amazon for Silver Shackles that night, and gobbled it down the next day. I even rummaged around the bottom of the box, so to speak, wishing there was more.

Any paranormal that makes me sit up and say, “Oo!” is a pleasant surprise. Taming Shadows satisfied my appetite for story without leaving a stereotype aftertaste, and I especially liked the well-rounded characters and world-building that hinted at a lot of serious background research.

The story pours out with the ease of tipping the box. (Hey, I have an analogy here. I will use it up.)  A main character with tragedy in their past, touched by the supernatural, working with old allies and new friends, wrestling with personal as well as magical problems, facing some peril and personal issues at once…yeah. This book has all of that, along with some excellent original touches that kept me waiting to see what would happen next.

This is not to say it astonished me. All the paranormals I’ve read, from erotic romance to noir mystery or even portal crossovers, have so many elements in common that I accidentally take books home from the library twice, not realizing from the description & cover that I’ve read them already. This one stands out, but it doesn’t break away from the pack entirely. That’s part of what made it a comforable read.

This is not the book for someone looking for “something different, something totally original, something daring and a little outrageous.” It isn’t slices of salmon sautéed in garlic served with a pear vinagrette reduction and toasted almond slices. Nope. It’s a big tasty bowl of yummy, crunchy, could eat it every morning all week with no regrets tastiness.

Extra points for a remarkable lack of the usual indie-book rough spots in sentence structure, basic grammar & word choice. That was like getting a secret toy surprise in the box! Dig into the sample feature. If you like that, you’ll enjoy the whole thing.

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Review of Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is the perfect example of what I call a great cotton-candy read. Cotton candy is sweet, sticky and fun to consume, yet even while I’m enjoying it, I know it’s nothing but air and sugar that will rot my teeth. Bad cotton candy leaves me with a queasy sense of disappointment. Good cotton candy tastes so delicious I’m willing to accept a little brain rot as the price of indulgence.

This is excellent sugary fluff.

I’m picky about my steampunk. It shares some innate problematic issues with cyberpunk, another genre that inspires ambivalence in my heart. In both, style is more important than substance, science is often relegated to the status of stage dressing, and atmosphere is all. I prefer steampunk that snuggles up to paranormal or science fantasy elements. The inclusion of an obvious MacGuffin, whether it be called aether or outright magic, means I can more easily suspend my disbelief about the fun clockwork gadgetry.

Lady of Devices doesn’t do this, but I gave it a try anyway. It plays so fast and loose with basic physical science and engineering that if I’d paused for even a second during the read, I would’ve been laughing out loud at the factual inaccuracies. Ah, but I didn’t pause. The plucky heroine’s narrative voice, the capers and conspiracies, the delightfully-described action — all those things distracted me from the ridiculousness.

Other less than thrilling aspects: the story plays a bit fast and loose with cultural/historical presentation as well, with most characters falling too neatly into stereotypes for my taste, and villains with motives so simplified they approach melodrama standards. The characterization of Our Heroine’s attitude wavers between prissy and plucky at times; although she settles on the progressive side of the fence toward the end.

And there’s a love triangle. Sigh.

The romantic sub plot is a messy one, though, and neither match is made in heaven. The refusal to let that one element go the predictable direction is what made the book stick with me, and the other messy bits of this story are what really won me over. The world has a lot to offer, and nothing ended up quite where it seemed it was going all along.

That intrigued me enough to keep going with the second book, and I can say that unlike a lot of series, this one just gets better with each book so far.

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Review of Aqua by Tracy Korn

Aqua: Book One by Tracy Korn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thumbnail: a solid, engagingly written entry into the YA dystopian arena, well worth a look.

Aqua has the feel of the best Heinlein juveniles, where personal courage, teamwork, and science win the day. It has interesting scientific and societal underpinnings, and action-driven plot, and a cast of liable and hate-able characters. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh new SF voice or a series that promotes a positive outlook towards science and problem-solving the way to a better future.

The descriptions are sharp, the world is intriguing, the protagonist is brave and bold but not perfect, and the supporting cast fall into easily recognized archetypes without hitting any big red stereotype buttons. Formatting concerns and some discomfort with the premise prevent me giving it four stars. I enjoyed the character interplay enough for 3.5 stars, which would round up to 4, but presentation affects my enjoyment. The layout had serious issues, and as the plot advanced, the science got murky and puzzling.

I read Aqua soon after the ebook was released on Amazon, so there’s hope the formatting has  already been addressed, but I can only review what I saw. And the scientific development issues aren’t going to bug most people as much as they did me. In books I prefer either full hard explanation or hand-wavy acceptance, and this one fell in the gap between.

There are lots of explanations, and certain technologies are critical to plot, but..well. To avoid throwing spoilers in the mix, I’ll say only that some advances were so far ahead of others that it felt like the implications either not considered, or not explained away enough to help me dismiss them. That might seem minor, but it jars me out of the narrative when I can immediately see applications for something that would totally change the society that came up with it.

Entertainment mileage will likely vary based on reader tolerance for (1) formatting oddities like random changes in line spacing and paragraph structure and (2) cinematic presentation of science in their science fiction. Last but not least: cliffhanger alert.

In summation: I liked Aqua, I can recommend it to certain audiences (and I will grab the next one because I’m hooked) but it didn’t fully satisfy me as much as I think future books by the writer will.

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Review of Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica

Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The important things first: in my not-so humble opinion, A. M. Dellamonica is a writer of top-notch fiction, a wonderful world-builder, and a joy to read. I first came across a work of hers on, and then I hunted down everything I could find so I could read it all.

This book took me longer than usual to get around to reviewing. For months now I’ve enthusiastically recommended it to all and sundry but never got around doing the formal write-up. Too many things I pointed out as positives in conversations looked oddly like negatives when I wrote them down.

In the interests of getting this posted before Book 2 comes out, I’m going to skip the overview and plot synopsis parts that give me so much trouble and go straight with my books-are-food analogy: This is a delicious ratatouille. Or maybe a casserole. It’s an entree that gets better when allowed to stew for a while in memory, and also one that improves on revisiting. Basically it’s a pot full of delights. It has a little of a lot of familiar elements, not a lot of any of them, and all of them are easily identifiable but combine in scrumptious sometimes unexpected ways.

This book has plenty of reviews online to tell you more about the plot and details. I’ll put in this much: it’s a portal fantasy with unconventional protagonists and a setting real enough that the antagonists aren’t always evil. The cultures and characters are far different and far more complicated than they appear on first introduction, and the reader learns about them as the main character does, through her eyes as she is dropped into the unknown.

That’s a rich, immersive style I enjoy, revealing a setting that goes all the way to the bottom of the bowl. I recommend grabbing a metaphorical spoon and digging in. That way you’ll be hungry again just in time for the next installment.

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