The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Heart wrenching

This couldn’t be more beautifully told. Although, at the beginning, I was extremely sceptical. I’m not really a volleyball fan, so whilst I appreciated the detail in the story of all the gameplay, it was a bit lost on me. Yet, as the story gathered momentum, the story behind everything grips and doesn’t let go.

Sage, the superstar volleyball player, considered aloof to any outsider. Yet we soon find out that Sage isn’t all she appears to be. When Sage passes out during a match, it’s discovered that she has a heart condition which disqualifies her from playing. For life.

Len, short for Lennon, named after, well, her father is a huge Beatles fan, so should be obvious. She was once an amazing student, set for great heights in photography, yet everyone at school, including her teachers, have noticed she’s changed. The students typically laugh at her for being the weirdo, the odd one out, which just isolates her even more.

Sage is surprisingly sympathetic of Len, even before her diagnosis, yet she doesn’t understand at all. Once Sage receives her diagnosis, Len is the first one to notice that Sage is carrying a heavy burden of sadness. Len is also the only one to not judge, to not push her to be happy. Somehow, through these encounters, each seeks the other out, and develop a tenuous friendship, that may indeed save both of their lives.

As the story develops, all the signs are there of Len’s OCD, yet Sage is the first to truly notice and take an interest in it. Len, of course, in all her confusion, believes it to be something entirely different. The quirks of the condition are handled so well, the panic attacks, the obsessive behaviour. If you understand any of this in any way at all, then you can appreciate fully what Len is going through and how sympathetically it is written.

It’s near the ending when everything breaks lose, when Sage is on the verge of collapse after pushing herself too far, and Len comes to save her. Then Sage helps Len to finally confront what happened that changed everything. My Gods, I truly blubbed when Len was reunited with her sister.

This is a story of friendship beyond the lines, how two seemingly different teenagers meet and form a friendship from the ashes of disaster and devastation. By the time I got to the end, I appreciated, loved, and had a respect for it all.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Road Rage by Jessica Veen

What happened there?!

First off, I’ll start by commenting on the author, as she is listed as Jessica Veen on Goodreads and Amazon, but as Scarlette Hunt on NetGalley. There is an older book around written under the second name, so I assume that either can be an alias.

Anyway, on to the story itself. Well, it’s a… It’s… Yeah, it’s that. Pretty much. That’s to say that it had interesting parts, but was for the most part unbelievable. I mean, seriously, Rand is the only one that knows anything is off with this guy? And she is recruited by the FBI just like that, just because she happened to bump into and start a “relationship” with a guy who’s on the hunt for the same guy she is. And her first “mission” is something ridiculous to put her not only in danger, but at odds with everyone. Right, yep, that goes. Then there’s the time jumps, meaning that we learn more of what happened before, in a sort of chronological way, but at later points. There is no overall chronological story arc, which might have made it easier to read.

The story had potential but, to put it bluntly, was a raving mess! It’s supposed to be some sort of action-adventure-crime-thriller. OK – there’s crime, check. There’s action, check. Adventure? Thriller? Perhaps a little bit of thriller, but not so much. I think with how unrealistic everything was, it detracted from its thriller potential, big time. I ended up more bored at points than waiting with my heart racing for the next to happen.

With everything considered, there is nothing that surprises me about the book’s average rating.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆ – Disliked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

My Way to You by Catherine Bybee

Glorious

This book is half based on reality, centred around the events of the Californian wildfires of 2016, which the author personally lived through. From an outsider’s point of view, it is impossible to imagine, even when viewing the photos of the event, as it doesn’t give you even a small idea of the heat and ash, or the crazy mudslides afterwards. I haven’t even a clue of what the Californian countryside is like, either. But the author gives such vivid descriptions, that it pulls you in and puts you there at the scene.

Amongst all this craziness and disaster is a young woman, just 25, forced to grow up early after tragically losing her parents and as a result becoming responsible for her younger siblings, and a chance encounter with a Public Works supervisor, who is determined to save her home from impending floods and mudslides. Yes there is a little bit of insta-attraction here, but it takes time for a relationship to slowly develop as Parker slowly eases up on her control and gives in to Colin.

Parker has gotten so used to doing everything on her own, Colin nicknames her “Annie Oakley” as a homage to her gun-wielding independence and steadfastness. Parker quite happily shows herself all woman by nicknaming him in turn “TDH” (aka, “Tall, Dark, and Handsome”). But just because she finds him attractive, doesn’t mean that she’s giving him a single inch of her hard-won control.

Two very independent characters, set amongst a deluge of disasters.

Alongside them all are Parker’s siblings, who are surprisingly well behaved considering their respective ages. Although that is a lot down to Parker, giving up her sibling responsibility in exchange for a parenting one. Then there’s Erin, a frightened young woman who starts to settle and shine as the story moves on. Plus Colin’s ever-loving family, who play a strong side roll.

But despite all the good, there were a couple of disappoints for me. Firstly, it took a while before we learnt about what happened to Parker’s parents, and even that wasn’t a true answer. Then there was Erin, always looking over her shoulder, but nothing ever came of that thread. I was also expecting something more to happen with the strange man who suddenly appeared in their yard.

A story filled with grit and determination that, despite my minor niggles, I really enjoyed.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

A Rose to the Torch by Bartholomew Lander

Incredible world building

I can completely understand why people have a “Marmite” reaction to this (i.e. they either love it or hate it): if I hadn’t read the prequel to this, All Bleeds Through (ABT), then I believe that I would have been somewhat confused, too.

ABT lays out the basics of the universe, with tales set inside it that eventually all link together. This brings nearly all of those loose threads together, and shows how much each individual and story really are connected. When I realised this, I had to go back and check, and I was wowed.

Not only that, the mythology is set up brilliantly. We not only have the Hemomancers and Humans, and how they are affected by events and each other, we also have a whole background of religious mythology with such amazing depth to it, that it’s completely believable that it could be our world and not just an alternate universe.

As for the story itself, here we have Coral, and Gavin, alongside other characters who were introduced to us in ABT. It is primarily Coral and Gavin’s histories which are revealed here as being important to the story as a whole, neither of whom actually truly knew about their background and the true meaning of it.

Coral goes from being a scared, ambivalent teenager, to a strong wildcard contender. She’s supposed to be a “nought”, one with the blood type O Negative, who has no control over the blood of others. Yet there is a huge fight over her blood; in the hunt to kill noughts over the years, Coral is now perhaps the only one left, the only one who can save an evil lord whose blood was poisoned years ago in order to end the slaughter.

But, this is where it gets complicated for Coral: who is the real monster in this story? The lord who has tried to control all other hemomancers for more than a century? Or those willing to sacrifice Coral for the greater good?

Can Coral not only prevail but find a way to fight back? It’s not until the very end that she finds out who are true friends are, but by that time, will it be too late?

I must admit, my rating hovered back and forth on this, mostly due to the characterisation. But it all came together wonderfully, as the characters and the story developed. Most of all, towards the end, it was possible to understand the characters and their reasonings better. The ending was a total shock, but shouldn’t have been so surprising, really. No one is safe and what can go wrong, will go wrong, etc. So, along with all of the above, I just have to rate it highly, just like the prequel.

The final lines leave hope, despite the devastation. A nice way to make way for the sequel.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Back to September by Melissa Brayden

Romance not necessarily at its best

There were many brilliant moments inside this, but just as many terrible ones. To start with, a book about books should be exciting, especially with people who absolutely love books and reading, and share that as much as possible. All the geeky stuff, the shared knowledge to help people find their “perfect book match”. That was wonderful. It was the romance aspect that let this all down.

One thing I found difficult to handle was that there was more than one “high” point. We have everything going brilliantly, switching to things fading out, switching to things going fantastically brilliantly again (eked out so far that it became boring), up to things going dramatically badly, but ending with an HEA. I’m sure huge chunks of this could have been cut out, as it’s not the idea that the reader gets bored in the middle. So the dramatic part (which didn’t feel so dramatic), which is supposed to hit at two thirds, actually felt like it came late.

The HEA, once it finally did come (after we had a fake HEA before that) was a great ending. It’s just the journey to there that was far too messy for my tastes.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

*I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Wolf by Chris Fenwick

Needs time to grow on you

In the beginning, I was bored. The constant one-sided POV, with no intermittent dialogue, just dragged. What made it worse was that there were tense inconsistencies: moments of internal monologue in italics written in past tense, or a mixture of the two; moments when the tenses were confused amongst the rest of the story. As the story is all told from Cassidhe’s POV, you have to get used to her voice, and it didn’t warm to me at all in the beginning. Even when the first dramatic event happened, it was near impossible to empathise with her.

Things appear to change when she meets the wolves. The story starts to gain more depth, Cassidhe herself appears more interesting, as well as others that she meets. Although, even then, it takes time for the characters to appear more than one dimensional. The best part of the whole story, for me, was the final dramatic event where, even though Cassidhe was completely on her own, she finally had more character than she had had for the majority of the rest of the book. It’s for this reason alone that my rating finally reached four stars, rather than the two to three it was struggling with at the beginning.

An interesting upcoming point is how the pack is going to deal with the sexuality of the heir, when a key part of pack dynamics is based on the ability to produce children and secure the pack’s future.

Also, a side note is that the cover doesn’t really reflect the main characters, with their described colouring being different from what is shown. A minor niggle, if any, but I do like it when a cover helps to assist me in how to imagine the characters.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

All Bleeds Through: Ten Stories of Hemomancy and the World It Shaped by Bartholomew Lander

Dark, vermillion arts

This book is a compilation of linked stories. In it we see the very “human” side of Hemomancers (those born with the ability to control blood). It shows fear, jealousy, revenge, as well as stigmatisation and the effects of being ostracised from society, from mere bullying to being hunted down and killed. These are people who are both feared and reviled, sometimes correctly, other times less so (the hunting of Hemomancer children is seen to be as just as if they were fully-fledged adults, the fear is so great).

This is a book full of well-filled arguments, from both sides of the coin, from the Human side and the Hemomancer side, and how each action affects the other. We have murderers, thieves, but also scientists and defenders. In this book, through the stories, you come to truly understand what it is like to be a Hemomancer, or a Human living in fear of them. Never have I read a story that links different POVs to truly allow such understanding.

At the beginning, I wasn’t so endeavoured with the story, after reading the first part. But, by the end, as all parts started to link through, I was wowed. The end links into the beginning, to create a round circle that allows everything within this book to make sense. Each character has their own attributes, to allow you to live with them. The pain, the fear, the anger, the determination, it all shines through.

Quite a remarkable collection of stories that I definitely want to continue with.

Final rating: ★★★★★ – Loved it/couldn’t put it down

*I received a free ARC via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Devils Glen by Matthew Speak

Darkness descends

I took my time getting around to this book, so long in fact that Kindle Scout has now died and gone. But, no matter, I still own a copy of the book, so I have to read and review it at some point, don’t I…?

Anyway, this book was darker than I normally like to get in to. I was lucky that I didn’t have nightmares afterwards! But, I plodded on.

The beginning almost made me want to throw it at the wall, as it was so so boring!! The chapters were disjointed and unrelated. Some of the prologue material was repeated in the first couple of chapters. But then came glimmers of brilliance, that started to make the story interesting, so I persevered further. Plenty of creepy stuff to be had, but the main gore of the story didn’t happen until towards the end, like it came out of nowhere! Suddenly, blatant blood and gore, like the book is catching up or something for missing out on it sooner!

And, as it so happens, just around the point of the major bloody action is when the book was starting to get really interesting and it started pulling all together. Although there are still a heap of unanswered questions. Maybe the next book will resolve that, but I’m tentative as to whether I should pick it up or not.

My rating for this flew between two and five stars, depending on how the book was running, so I think I’ve chosen a fairly nice middle ground.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via the, now defunct, Kindle Scout program, and am voluntarily leaving a review.*