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Defy, by Sara B Larson, 5 Star

A fantasy heroine is forced to disguise herself as her twin brother, and join the royal guard as well, to escape ‘a fate  worse than’. This main character is strongly written and enjoyable, as are the supporting cast, and the plot and subplot, saving the kingdom and herself, are smoothly blended.

From the start this doesn’t feel like a debut novel. The pace hardly falters throughout, a seriously good YA debut. The setting is credible and the plot, while a touch simplistic, is certainly applicable to the younger end of the target readership as well as the older. If I’m honest, the love triangle did perhaps flag little in  the middle section but the risk/cost elements were woven well enough to hold my attention, and the denouement was a relief in that it avoided at least two solutions that would have disappointed me.

I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Scholastic Press, 2014
Isbn- 9780545597586

Wrecked, by Priscilla West1 Star

Traumatised college girl meets conflicted boy, with tattoos. Attraction. Secrets. Misunderstandings. Plus martial arts and kittens!

At first sight this book had everything going for it. Its New Adult label suggests a depth appropriate to the subject and the opening where heroine is rescued by hero looks equally promising. After that though the book… dawdles. Most of it is concerned only with the two main characters – there aren’t really any others to focus on anyway – and a very teen ‘will they wont they’ plot that felt much more YA, especially since the ‘voice’ and actions also match that label.

Truth: I was waiting for the larger plot to kick in, something less egocentric, but it never did. I’d have to label this one a YA book with a bit too much sexual content to fit.

In many ways I regret this negative response. The writing was generally fluid and the characters we did meet were engaging, surprisingly so considering the heroine’s rather juvenile self-involvement. But ultimately this was a story that promised much more than it delivered. The final 10%, where the plot finally caught up, wasn’t near enough to make me want to plough through a whole second book to find out what actually happened.

Blackbird publishing, 2013
Isbn- 9751494244385

Wall Street West, by Cristina Guarneri. 0 Stars

A novel that portrays an expose of corruption in politics? Sorry, what this really exposes is the writer and the self-publishing company she paid.

Despite a ‘true story’ tag at the start, it’s soon obvious this is fiction, if only because no real politician could survive with such rambling thought processes. The opening, especially, hops from one topic to another with little structure and less logic. The characters are cardboard, the dialogue clunky, and the layout splattered with faults. I got 40% in and gave up, and that far only because I felt obliged to. I can see that the book might appeal to students of politics, its simplistic approach might be useful in some respects. But as fiction it failed to impress on all fronts.

I was convinced even before I checked that this was self-published, and it’s a poor product for this writer’s money. As far as I can see it was neither edited nor proof-read. Sorry, really, but this one gives writers and publishers a bad name.

[Note: since I originally reviewed this novel, the publisher appears to have removed it from review. Can it be that I wasn’t the only one making such remarks? Either way, if you see this one I’d strongly suggest spending your hard earned cash on something else.]

Infinity Publishing.

Trans-Siberian Express, by Warren Adler. 3 Stars

A US cancer specialist is sent by the government to treat the Russian leader, hoping to keep him alive till a summit conference. Unfortunately for him, the hero stumbles on a plot to nuke China. He suspects that a ‘bonus’ trip on the Siberian railway is either a delaying tactic, or something more permanent. A good choice for train enthusiasts, perhaps, since almost all the action is on the train. But for me, not so much.

Honestly, this is both good and bad. The story began well but then seemed to lose the initial plot, the international threat, and devolve into a collection of mildly interesting characters and their individual problems, some quite unrelated to the threat and the story didn’t seem to be moving forward much.

By halfway I realised I was skimming, waiting for something more important to happen. Eventually the real plot resumed and the book ended on the topic it started with, but I was left feeling the hero’s expectations were hopelessly unreal. He might have been surprised by the ending but I doubt many readers would.

So not bad but not good either? Some elements made me think perhaps the writer was aiming for a film option and oddly, I’m positive I’ve read this before, a long time ago, so I’m not sure it’s actually a new book.

Stonehouse Productions, 2013
Isbn 97816292212982

The Pleasure of Memory, by Welcome Cole. 4 Star

Fantasy in which mercenary Beam, an outsider from birth, meets a legendary sword which leads him to a greater destiny, to people he has no intention of helping, but does, and enemies that might need to be allies. Maybe this précis sounds lacklustre, but it wasn’t meant to. This is a classic adventure with action, humour and all the risk you’d expect. It’s well worth the read if you don’t mind a slow start, since after that most of the story was a 5 star performance. The plot was intriguing and the characters awesome.

Possible spoiler alert: I’m told that the ending turns out not as bad as it looks [I complained it wasn’t what I wanted] so I’m waiting for the sequel to find out. Oh and the author tells me she’s re-assessing the opening section, so you never know…

Caelstone Press, due out late 2013
Isbn 9780989424905

Lights Over Emerald Creek, by Shelley Dividow. 4 Star

Take one teenage girl confined to a wheelchair in Australia, add music, then a young man in Scotland, and stir. What do you get? Time travel. Not usually my favourite topic but this one worked for me so I’d say give it a go.

The writing was generally excellent and the main characters strongly drawn and engaging. The plot sets off at a canter and sustains its initial pace. The only thing that fell short of a 5* rating for me was, alas, the ending, which didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Having said that, this is one of the best time travel fantasies I’ve come across.

Hague Publishing, due Feb 28, 2014
Isbn 9780987265265

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