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.*

The Time of Jacob’s Trouble by Donna VanLiere

Not what I was expecting

I would absolutely love to say that I wasn’t the intended audience for this book, but unfortunately I would be wrong. The author’s intent is that everyone reads it, no matter their background, to better understand Revelations and the end of times, and by so doing come to Christ…

As soon as I opened the first pages of the book, and saw which Bible each character was reading, I should have walked away right then. Seriously, being a non-Christian, I couldn’t care less! So it soon became obvious that it wasn’t what I hoped for – a literary exploration of some Biblical ideas. Why can’t someone write something like that without being religiously involved?!

I really tried to see the story amongst the pages, to appreciate the limited amount of actual storyline, trying to ignore the postscript telling you nearly every page to refer to the Biblical explanation of the events that were happening. Some of it did actually have me hooked, but some of the rest was droning, repetitive, and just uninteresting. For the rest, the truth is the overly pushy nature of all the Christian stuff just got to me.

Put it this way, the book actually ends at page 185/63%. The other 37% is entirely dedicated to explaining the Bible (and why am I nice enough to capitalise that word?!) and, oh, that’s where it’s revealed what the author’s true intentions were with this story. After the first couple of pages of the last part, I just skipped the rest. The story was done, there was a cliffhanger waiting for the next, and the rest was just uninteresting babble.

So, as I said, this book was entirely not for me. I’m not a Christian, I don’t want to be preached at. And for that reason, despite what could be good about this author’s works, their purely Evangelistic aim of this book has put me off reading anything else of theirs. Despite all that, well, I didn’t dislike it completely, which surprises me no end. Yet that is still not enough to encourage me to read the sequels. It would need to be far sturdier, and lose all the Biblical and preachy stuff, for me to even consider it.

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

*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.*

Mistaken Identity by Beth Urich

Could have been better

There was so much that could have been right about this book, but so much that went wrong, too. It’s probably obvious that it’s the author’s first book, even though it has been recently updated.

Kate is the typical reporter, really: pushy, desperate, sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. So of course, she’s the one who has to solve the puzzle, too. And what makes it even more complicated? Oh, right – her father has been accused of the murder, an investigation which just happens to be led by a Detective Sergeant who is also an ex of hers. Who does she actually know who isn’t involved in the plot somehow? Add to that, she finds out that her current boyfriend was keeping secrets from her as well.

It had some nice twists and turns, but in the end just wasn’t gripping enough. Too many clichés, nothing concrete. Although the ending, which could probably have been seen coming a mile away, was still a nice twist, even if it didn’t save it. Especially as some of those final scenes were the worst, just drove me mad, with all the dithering. If someone is going to shoot someone, they just get on with it! Hanging on too long just loses all of the suspense.

Anyway, an OK read, but nothing great.

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

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

The Goblets Immortal by Beth Overmyer

Just shut up already!

First thing to note here – this is the start of a series and ends on a cliffhanger, with no sequel mention as of yet, nor a series for it to be based in. Although, I assume, it will be based around these Goblets Immortal.
[Edit: Just noticed on Amazon that the sequel is due to come out next week and that the series is, indeed, entitled “The Goblets Immortal”]

Now next, to explain my title. Our MC, Aidan, you could pity him in the beginning. He lost his parents in some freak accident, where he is charged and outlawed for making them disappear. Then his only friend in the world turns on him, apparently for money, greed making him want more. But that is where the sympathy stops.

Once Aidan chances upon Slaine, he takes turns in treating her terribly and then regretting his actions, even minor actions, with a lot of his thoughts being riddled with remorse. This, of course, confuses Slaine, who is quite used to abuse, as she can’t make head nor tail of him. Neither can I. I mean, at one point he’s close to going too far, in a strange drugged state, then spends another page full of remorseful thoughts.

Then there’s the magic. We’re led full tilt into all the magical terms, without a single explanation of what they mean until one or two chapters later. It’s just confusing as hell.

The general storyline was OK, with the usual hijinks that come with an adventure fantasy (I don’t even want to call it “epic”), and the “hero” being able to get them out of trouble quite easily. But, I just don’t know. With all the annoying elements of Aidan, I just wanted to step into the book and punch him most of the time. Reading other reviews, it turns out that I wasn’t the only one.

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

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

Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton

Darkness on the Sound

This story is based on a fictional Scottish Island, Stoirm, based in one of the Scottish Sounds. Now there are a couple of straits in Scotland with the name “Sound” as far as I can figure out: either “Inner Sound”, close to Skye, or “Sound of Islay”, between the islands of Islay and Jura. I’m not sure which is meant, but there are a couple of islands in either area which could give you that “small island community” feel. Not that I’ve ever been to Scotland, let alone a remote island with one main town where everyone knows each other.

So I took my ideas of what such a small community would feel like based on my very limited experiences of a small village community where, yes, everyone knows each other, and not always in a friendly way.

This small community on Stoirm has its secrets, which no one repeats, and must stay in the past. But that is all about to be stirred up with the return of Roddie Drummond, who was “not proven” of murdering his girlfriend, Mhairi, 15 years previously, and Rebecca Connolly, who not only wants to dig into the past to find out the truth of what happened to Mhairi, but also wants to discover why her father left the island in his youth, and why he never talked about it.

There’s a lot of twists and turns into finding the truth, which not only the islanders, but some dangerous men (such a typical cliché, them being Eastern Europeans) want to keep well hidden.

The trouble is, the truth. Well, the truth is not exciting at all. And the truth of why Rebecca’s father left, it didn’t give the impact expected, either. The most action to be had was in what appeared to be a homophobic attack on two of Rebecca’s new-found friends. That aside, Rebecca defying everyone to get the story she’s looking for, which is just as much her boss as the islanders themselves, is just as cliché as some of the rest.

The best part about this book, apart from the cover (the main reason I picked up the book in the first place), was probably the place descriptions. Thunder Bay was described beautifully, as a place that must be visited, and the scenery on the routes was just as detailed.

It’s a shame, really, as there was so much that could have been good and even better about this. In the end, I’m a little disappointed, with the grip not quite catching me completely.

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

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

Burn the Dark by S.A. Hunt

Poor Start to Near-Epic Finish

This book started off with a bunch of bad sayings, that made no sense whatsoever. Well, it was a review copy, so may have been updated by the time the book was released, but there is nothing more off putting (well, perhaps there is) than a bunch of author-created nonsensical sayings.

But, once I got into the book, despite the horror edge to the story, I actually quite enjoyed it. A few laughs, a few gory moments. A few excellent characters to top it off, with a few interweaving storylines.

The witches themselves are devious. And there is just something not right about that house… Yet Robin manages to go back to where she grew up and find out more about her past than she could have wished for, gaining a handful of trusty sidekicks along the way.

I might not understand much about the background or culture (typical Brit trying to watch US TV dramas and failing to get the context), but all in all it wasn’t bad at all.

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.*

The Laws of Great Enligtenment: Always Walk with Buddha by Ryuho Okawa

More miss than hit

When I saw this book available on NetGalley, I decided to give it a shot. I have a basic knowledge of Buddhist principles so, whilst I’ve read a handful of self-help books from different perspectives, I was intrigued as to what this angle would give.

From the off, I was disappointed. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are some interesting points and ideas in here, plus some folkloric background used to give examples of good and bad thoughts and behaviour. But two things ruined this for me: firstly, the author’s over-confidence that he is the best one to pass on this advice; secondly, the repeated mentions of suicide. I actually didn’t realise how bad the problem of suicide was in Japan until I read this book, and that was not what I was reading it for!

Post reading, I’ve barely kept a hold of any of the actual useful tips that were to be found amongst these pages, all because of those points mentioned above.

If it wasn’t for the author’s arrogance, then perhaps there might have been more to find inside this book. But, there again, when I looked up the author afterwards on Goodreads and saw the other types of books that were written, I shouldn’t be so surprised at all.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆ – Disliked

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