Review: Storm Grey by Sarah Jane Avory

Goodreads Blurb:
Briley the witch and Smokey are back!
Beware of the grey…
A storm is coming, threatening to bring death and destruction to the village of Maepole. Ghroda the forest spirit knows it, and young witch Briley has witnessed its terrifying effects during a vision.
Fraught with worry and unable to convince the villagers, only her talking cat Smokey and the new man in her life Jorin believes her.
But for whatever reason, Ghroda is not concerned about the storm, gives Briley a stark warning:
Beware of the grey… it comes for you…
At first Briley is confused and bewildered.
Until a group of strange warriors from the far north arrive at the village, all heavily armed, all dressed in grey…


The Briley Witch Chronicles series is up to book 6, I think.  I liked the first well enough to give this second one a try. I liked this one too. Smokey the cat is a hoot, I always enjoy a good coming-of-age journey, and it’s an intriguing premise/world.  The writing is designed to be accessible to younger YA readers, well  under the complexity of what I’ve been absorbing lately, so it zipped by incredibly fast. I probably would’ve finished it in a couple of hours if not for a number of issues that jarred me out of the narrative.

I hit a certain threshold of “I’m loving this, but…”  so it goes to a 2.5 on my personal scale and a 3 for Goodreads and Amazon.

But many of my issues are matters of personal preference. The presentation is heavy on exposition and low on explanation; mileage varies a lot on that point alone.

I craved more depth on the background of almost everything. I’m an immersion reader. I love being dumped into an existing setting, but I prefer to know why and how that setting works, not just what it is. I kept being bobbed back to the surfaces of the story’s whats. Things and people were the way they were, with no reasons or history detail sprinkled in to explain them. Why were particular people are trusted or not? Because. Why people are allowed privileges and others are not? Because. Why is the tech level is where it is, and exactly how did systems (economic, social etc)  develop? No idea. That’s where I would’ve loved more exposition. The world is clearly rich, but I felt stuck on the outside of the bubble.

And I know the protagonist is a teen and impulsive, but I got some reader whiplash from her lightning-fast mood changes and continual acting out with the barest of justifications.  I’m not a stickler for the “don’t tell, always show” principle, because after all, it’s called storytelling. BUT. I kept being thrown by people behaving in certain ways, because I was told they believed one thing but they then acted against those beliefs. Other people really like getting full rundowns on characters’ emotional states at all times.

Bottom line: I would say,  trust your first reaction to the Look Inside. It’s a really good story with some excellent twists & turns, plus extra bonus points for some great snappy dialogue. Other elements fall hard into the Your Mileage May Vary category, but the indicators of what those are is pretty clear right from the first chapter.

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Review of A Dragon Problem by Rick Rossing

A Dragon Problem: The Dragons of Phelios, Book IA Dragon Problem: The Dragons of Phelios, Book I by Rick Rossing

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fun book, and reading it whiled away a pleasant afternoon. I recommend it to people who love a good portal fantasy the way I do, and I’m following on Amazon so I can grab the next in the series as soon as it comes out.

The author has a clean, straightforward storytelling style, and the first-person point-of-view in this book brings out the best in it. The setting is a basic fantasy world (magic, dragons, semi-feudal societies warring over territory and power) Nothing notably twisty or shockingly original, but all perfectly enjoyable. The story is YA-friendly with a romantic pairing that never goes behind closed doors.

I would put 3.25 stars if Goodreads would allow fractions.

You may well ask, why the compliments but not more stars? Because I am a mean and horrible person. No, wait, that isn’t it. Because I am a literary snob? Bwahahahahaha. no. I like all kinds of books in all genres, and I enjoy a wide variety of writing styles and levels of complexity.

I am an avid reader, however, with a lot more books in my brain than my Goodreads profile indicates. (I am also lazy, and rating hundreds of extensive bibliographies holds no appeal.) My experience does influence my evaluation.

A book has to have something special to even catch my eye these days, and I don’t start from five stars and subtract. Like a figure skating judge, I start at zero, and a book has to earn my interest and respect one character, one trope, one plot twist at a time. “I liked it” describes my satisfaction level for a lot of good books.

I would put 3.25 stars if Goodreads allowed halvsies, but not more. This one hit some personal buttons about character depth, convenient coincidences, and plot-driven motives (the romantic sub-plot especially) The writing and ideas are good enough I wish there was more than the basics, and that’s where the .25 comes in. But when there’s no one in the book for me to relate to, then it won’t ever get more from me.

Nothing red-flagged;  it’s just a lot of the usual: strong woman warrior who conveniently still needs rescue and of course falls in love with the male hero, everyone trusts the outsider hero because a wise elder gives the seal of approval, modern dude comes in and unites the natives who can’t fight the evil themselves until he points the way…

There’s a reason these are popular tropes. They’re satisfying and fulfilling for many people. I don’t happen to be one of them. I’m bored when the only characters who share my gender in an adventure tale are sidelined and/or treated as a prize–and the stereotyped romantic dialogue made me roll my eyes. Plenty of lip service is paid to the strength and importance of the female protagonist, but in the final analysis, everything she does and says is aimed at helping the hero and serves to make him look good. Yawn.

So. Read the “Look Inside,” and if the main character makes you smile, then grab this one up and enjoy the adventures.

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

Child of a Hidden Sea (Hidden Sea Tales, #1)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 Tor.com, 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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