Refugee Road by Nikki Landis

Too much violence

This book needs to come with warnings. There are really a few things that grate on me here, the first being the amount of domestic violence, which we have absolutely no warning about in the blurb. We are told that Darren is dangerous, but not how dangerous and violent he is. He also isn’t the only one, with another character injuring Lizzie for the fun of it as well. If you have any issues with any of this, best to walk away and stay away.

The next is that, after three years, two people suddenly seem to decide that they’re in love with Lizzie, and want to make their intentions known, just at the point she rediscovers the one she lost, who she fell in love with at 15. It’s damned confusing! Lizzie obviously chooses Alec, as the blurb indicates, but Darren appears to use his sudden increased interest as an excuse to dominate her, and physically punishes her, despite his declared feelings, for insubordination.

Then there’s the timeline. I misread it at first. I assumed that it was all supposed to be taking place around 1945-6, but then Lizzie’s home on the Militia base doesn’t add up to that – domestic appliances that wouldn’t have been available then. So I went back and reread the description: “It was nineteen forty-five, or similar enough.” The Militia movement has been going on since then, when Hitler apparently surrendered and WWIII started. So this war has been fighting for all those decades up until the modern era. The USA is in ruins, with the President firmly in charge of the Militia, who control everything. Except the Refugees. But they try. But this is the thing that gets me most: if they’re stuck in this time warp, how on Earth do they have mobile phones, modern appliances, etc.? They have antibiotics, modern medicines, sonograph. It’s extremely confusing. Yet they still apparently dress like it’s 1945, too.

The romance itself was great, but would have been so much better if it wasn’t for the distractions mentioned above. I was actually shocked by the domestic violence. Now I can cope with it if prewarned, but I don’t expect to be thrown into someone being abused. As I mentioned above, for those triggered by these sorts of scenes, there really needs to be some warnings.

Lizzie settles into domestic life quite easily, despite the fact that she used to train daily, keeping fit to a high level. But, of course, everything is far too easy…

Really, this needed a far more concrete background. All the scenes were descriptive, but those little niggles kept me from enjoying the story completely.

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

*I received a free digital ARC via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a 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.*

Wide Asleep by Arizona Tape

Great idea, needs a little work

So here we are, primarily focused on Yen (11 out of 16 chapters), and the two side characters she bumps into, Rover (3/16) and Dahlia (2/16), plus a strange side plot that doesn’t quite make much sense – we get brief snippets about a plot against the government at the very beginning and the end, with a tiny detail connecting into it, but without more details throughout, it feels a bit out of place.

The fact that it is supposed to be dancing around the three characters made me feel somewhat disappointed. And, considering there is supposed to be some sort of slow-burn romance starting up, apart from the brief flutter in the very brief encounter, there’s nothing really to say anything is going to happen.

The impression I got was that we were supposed to hear much more from the two side MCs. Maybe it might have been better if their stories were split out across the three books? I’m not sure, but I did miss really getting to know them, as Yen’s story dominated so much.

Anyway, the story is about sleep deprivation, sleep being the currency used in this world. You can only get tokens to sleep if you work, and how many tokens you get for each of sleep, food, and other stuff, depends on your level in society, with “A” being the highest and “C” being the lowest. Considering it all, “C” citizens, with their low morals in order to survive, probably have it the easiest. Although we don’t come across any “A” class citizens to compare with.

So, the idea is good. And you are only allowed to attend the Academy if you do well on your sleep tests – those who can cope with a level of sleep deprivation are allowed to have more. Quite twisted, in a way, with most citizens walking around in a permanent level of sleep deprivation.

This needs, obviously, some work to become a finished story. As I said, I’d like to hear more from the other two MCs, plus there’s some work needed to tidy everything up. But I do think that, once the work is done, that there is a really great story to be had here. And romance in a dystopian world is a wonderful thing, so please give it!

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

*I received a free digital Beta copy via the author in exchange for an honest review*

Avoiding the Abyss by A.C. Ward

Too much abuse

This book starts straight off the bat with Aubrey getting a beating by her mother. It is given under the guise of “training”, because Aubrey is a bad fighter, but it is very clear that her mother detests her. Yet, Aubrey remains throughout her staunch defender.

Others amongst the rebels pity her, but do very little to defend her, because her mother is the “hero”, the one who rules the rebels and is renowned as the best fighter.

Everything is turned on its head when she is captured by government, yet not at all in the ways that she expects. She keeps on supporting her mother, even secretly, right up to the last. Even when she does find out the truth, can she keep supporting someone who her entire life has seen her as useless until it’s discovered she has powers?

The ending, or perhaps more late middle to end, were the only redeeming parts of this book. The way the abuse is treated just appalled me that I nearly stopped reading after the opening scene. The latter parts made the universe interesting, enough that I want to continue the series, but I can’t ignore that beginning.

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

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

Reigning Magicks by Candace Osmond and J.J. King

An interesting start to the series

Front cover

This is an alternative take on the time-travel romance (from what I’m aware of and have read, anyway), where the female of the pair magically travels into the future instead of the past, in order to find her true love.

Well, OK, it is somewhat more complicated than that, but that is at least part of the basic principle behind the story.

Ashlynn searches for the local seer in order to find a way to not be forced to marry a Warlord from another clan. She is granted one wish, which unexpectedly catapults her into the future. Does she find a way to return to her family, after her sister has taken her place in the union, or does she choose to stay and create her own path?

I was a bit sceptical of the storyline at first, but it rounded off nicely. Am looking forward to the next book!

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Four Bodies in Space by Luna Harlow

Agatha Christy in Space

This book started full of a truckload of well-worn clichés, making it read like Agatha Christy in space. The first murder, particularly. The first two chapters were just cringe worthy with their typical set up. But, instead of the infamous Hercule Poirot appearing to analyse the scene, we have the Spock-like Solaris.

Luckily this character is partly what eventually made the book interesting. Once I got past all of the clichés bouncing from each wall, there was a reasonable story there waiting, with a handful of well-written characters, in between further clichés. It was enough for me to eventually ignore the continuing clichés, and not cringe too much at the ending, to actually enjoy the story.

Solaris is analytical, but has a curiosity that makes her occasionally dance across the line towards insubordination. Good job that others find her intriguing enough to let her misdemeanours pass, especially considering that she appears to lead them in the right direction towards solving the puzzle.

This Poirot-Star Trek cross is good fun, if you can cope with all the clichés (I hope my continued mention of clichés doesn’t turn into a cliché). There’s enough there that I’d definitely be happy to continue the series.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Grimm’s Dweller: The Complete Trilogy by Arizona Tape

Magical help for Herr Grimm

This story focuses around the stories of Wilhelm Grimm, with a twist – in this version, he receives magical help from a being known as a “Dweller”, a being that inhabits story universes.

I’m not going to review each part separately, as each passes quickly, but I will comment on them.

The first part is dedicated to how Grisella met Will and their relationship at the beginning, creating the stories together, even though she isn’t supposed to get involved in the actual creating of the universes.

The second part involves Grisella watching from a distance, after Will has fallen in love with and married someone else, and the children he has. But she still keeps an eye on his universes, trying to hold onto his memory by dwelling within them as much as she can.

The third part is dedicated to the end of Will’s life, his final stories, and the reuniting of the story companions. It’s this third part that is the best.

The first two parts barely held my attention. They lacked something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The second part started to improve, with more depth to the story about stories. But it was the third part that really brought it all together. The reason for this is simple – emotion. Suddenly we’re faced with strong emotion as Will comes to the end of his life. How each deal with this is a heartbreaking journey with only one outcome. Suddenly my investment in the story intensified as the emotions did; there was finally a connection for me.

All stories have to end, but Grisella guards the universes so they don’t.

If the story parts had continued on in the slower manner, then this would have received a lower rating. But, purely for that ending, I have to bring it up.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*

Rats: Tori (complete) by Laura Greenwood

Fun Steampunk adventures

This book is all three stories in one, so I will review each individual story below.

Ruler of Rats

The series starts us off with Tori and her three husbands looking to take over the “Rats” – the people so low of class that anyone of actual class pretends that they don’t exist. They have no official status or place in society at all. But, they have their own society, of sorts, which has traditionally been organised to benefit whoever is in charge, but Tori wishes to change that. But, in order to take over the Rats, she has to perform a task – steal a well-guarded necklace.

This was a nice, fun adventure, but what I found it lacked was the purpose of the mission; this item obviously has some value, so what is its story?

The book does end with a time jump, but it doesn’t disturb the continuation of the story in the following book.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Collector of Rats

In this second adventure, Tori decides to call in a debt. But, considering how the story has gone so far, it won’t be easy at all. She needs all her wits about her to complete the task, along with the assistance of her beloved husbands. Luckily the target doesn’t know about her relationship status, so they are able to play their difficult mark together.

This, for me, was the least interesting of the three stories. There was minimal adventure, with the main part of the story being the encounter with the “villain”.

This story also ends with a time jump, which left me to start wondering about what their ages must be at this point.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – Sort of liked/OK

Yuletide of Rats

This, I must admit, was the best of the three stories, most prominently for attacking such a complicated subject. It had a “nice” twist in it, with a historical reveal that actually linked back to one of Tori’s husbands. In fact, two of her husbands were affected by the situation. It is hard to say anymore without actually revealing any spoilers!

This also ended with yet another time jump so, if I’m assuming they’re still around eighteen when they start, it would make them in their late forties by the end of this story. Not such spring chickens anymore!

Oh, and there was a sort of reference to the necklace from the first book, but it was a little bit dismissive, really. In the end, there was no mystery?! That was probably the most disappointing part of it all.

Rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

All stories considered, there was some fun to be had across their broad spectrum. With all the usual Steampunk accessories, like steam cars and airships, as well as some steam pistols (I must admit, I still prefer flintlocks). It gave a flirty nod to the genre, rather than bringing flesh blood to it.

And another thing to note, there is a surprising lack of children about. Now, no sex is fine, as you can have plenty of fun in a book without it, making this more a young-adult story, but it did feel a little like there was something else missing.

Final rating (rounded up): ★★★★☆ – Really liked

Beyond the Northern Lights by Arizona Tape

A boy meets girl story with a twist

The boy is a terminally-ill human; the girl is an alien light being. Both are alone and lonely, until they meet by chance under the Northern Lights.

This I found slow to get in to, with the first couple of chapters with Ben and Y’me talking to themselves not really pulling me in. I had to wait until the middle of the book before it actually became interesting, when Ben and Y’me finally meet and start talking to each other.

The funniest part for me was their discussion about “silly human behaviour”, like (paraphrased), ‘why does paper beat rock?’ ‘It just does…’ And, my favourite one, ‘Isn’t ketchup technically a fruit smoothie?’ Haha!

Up until that point, I wasn’t so impressed with the story, but as it started to progress from there on, it slowly warmed to me. Then, the ending – it was probably one of the most profound things I’ve read in a long while. The last paragraph just took my breath away and gave the story such wonderful roundedness.

It’s a story that requires some patience, but once you’re in there, you will be hooked.

Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked

*I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.*