Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Stray (Touchstone #1) by Andrea K. Höst

When Cassandra Devlin left school on her final day of classes she thought she was headed home to prepare for a night of partying with her fellow graduates. But somewhere along the way she inadvertently traveled through a gateway away from Earth and onto another planet.

Alone, lost, and without resources other than what she had in her school backpack, she located a waterway and followed it downstream in hopes of finding civilization. Instead she came to a strange, deserted community constructed of blocky, white stone buildings.

Surviving there a month, she is discovered and rescued by a pair of young, black-clad soldiers (Setari) and taken to their home base, KOTIS, on the island-city of Konna, on the planet Tare. There she receives medical attention and is implanted with a device that helps her understand and learn the Taren’s language.

She is what they call a “STRAY,” and she’s not the first one that’s been found. There have been others.

Throughout the story, Cassandra expresses her desire to return home, but as she tries to figure out how to accomplish this, she is developing relationships with her rescuers and becoming embroiled and invested in their fight to save their world from destruction by the horrible creatures, the Ionoth, coming through the ENA. Her Setari friends believe that should she breach the ENA again to return to Earth she may draw the attention of the Ionoth and cause them to attack Earth just like Tare.

Told in first-person in the form of Cassandra’s diary, author Andrea K. Höst has developed an imaginative and compelling storyline in an interesting world. Familiar yet very different, the planets of Muina and Tare, and the concept of the ENA remain mysterious to the reader even at the completion of this first book in the Touchstone series. (The ENA is defined as “a dimension connected to the thoughts, memories, dreams, and imaginations of living beings,” however, it is a very real and scary place in the novel, filled with shadowy locations and dangerous creatures.

There are also a multitude of characters introduced (so many that there is a list of characters included at the end of the book.) While I enjoyed Stray, it took some effort to keep reading; the story develops slowly. Many of the characters are only superficially sketched out right now but I’m guessing some will become more substantial as the series progresses. I will definitely be going for the next book in the series, Lab Rat One, soon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Darker Shade of Sorcery (The Realmers #1) by William Collins

I loved this book!

Evander “Evan” Umbra never knew his mother or father, or anything about them. He was found abandoned in the forest as a newborn and reared by “Gran” until her death five months ago when he was sent to a children’s home for orphans. Since arriving in London he’d been visciously bullied by the neighborhood gang but still he steps when they target a smaller boy. As he’s beaten by the gang members, Evan sees a mysterious black mist emanating around him. Before he can wonder much about it, the beating ends and the mist disappears.

When Pete, another orphan at the home, goes missing, no one see or hears anything. His room is covered in blood so it is assumed that he’s been murdered and carried off. Then Evan sees a frighteningly, repulsive stranger lurking outside his school one day, watching and waiting, it seems, for him. After school, the bullies chase Evan down and as they pound on him, the stranger appears and reveals his true form – a horrible, nightmarish spider-creature. It kills Ollie, the gang leader, and attacks Evan. This time, instead of the black mist, Evan shoots green fire from his hands hitting the creature. But the creature survives, grabs Evan, and takes him through a portal to a different world as a gift for his queen.

Evan is saved from the queen by a silver-haired man and taken through another portal to the realm of Veneseron where there is a school for individuals just like him – Venators – Demon-Hunters!

Simultaneously in America, Brooke Carn is picked up by three Arch-Realmers – Arantay, Lok, and Tyrell – and taken to Veneseron. She, too, is to begin training as a Demon-Hunter. She meets Evan when he is attacked by a demon in his room at the Fortress. Along with others in their same Novice class, they form a group of friends and allies as they discover their skills in sorcery and try to keep Evan safe from further demon attacks.

The story is fast-paced and never dull. The characters are fun, interesting, and much like teenagers anywhere. There are some similarities to the Harry Potter series but it is different and entertaining. I was thoroughly engrossed once I started reading it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

EBBA, The First Easter Hare by Leen Lefebre

Somewhat difficult to follow due to a rough translation from the original Dutch into English, EBBA, The First Easter Hare, is the reimagined origin story of the Easter Bunny.

In this country, the tradition of the Easter Bunny (or “Osterhase”) is thought to have come to the U.S. via German immigrants in the 1700s. Their children made nests out of grass for the egg-laying hare where it would leave its colored eggs. Other sources say the association of a rabbit with Easter or Spring, in general, goes further back in time and was the symbol of the goddess “Eostre,” a goddess of fertility. Rabbits, of course, are known as early and prolific breeders.

In this new take, Ebba and her parents live in a dark kingdom ruled by her uncle, the cruel King Stern. It is a lightless place where the kingdom’s subjects are slaves: the males serving in the army protecting the borders and murdering any other creatures found inhabiting the kingdom. Females are expected to spend their lives gathering food for the king and his army.

One day, Ebba’s father, Atta, approaches his brother, the king, and requests to leave the kingdom for a place beyond the borders that is rumored to be sun-filled and free. The king refuses and they argue, but Atta goes anyway leaving baby Ebba and her mother, Hulde, behind with the promise to return one day and take them to their new home in the promised land.

Time passes, and Atta doesn’t return. Hulde and Ebba keep a low profile hoping for the day when they, too, can escape the dark kingdom until one day, while out gathering food, they discover a rabbit warren that has been destroyed by King Stern’s soldiers. Hidden away in a remote section, Ebba finds a clutch of runner’s eggs overlooked by the army. Ebba and Hulde decide that Ebba must take the unhatched eggs to the promised land beyond the borders to the runner mother that had desperately hidden her nest and fled when the army attacked. And so, begins Ebba’s journey to the borderlands and the adventure it becomes.

This is Book Two in a four-book series for middle graders and older that centers around one of each of the four seasons. (Book One was a winter tale.) Imaginative and short enough to hold the attention of children, it would benefit from some fine-tuning of the language to clarify what is going on and being said. Many times, I was halted in my enjoyment of the story because the word usage was just clunky and off-putting or didn’t make sense.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Zombies from Space ... And Vampires by Angela B. Chrysler

Zombies from Space …And Vampires by Angela B. Chrysler is an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it novella in which UFOs arrive and deposit aliens that look and move and eat humans like in the classic horror movie zombie sense. The main character is 19-year-old Aria who witnesses the arrival of one of these UFOs and the immediate disappearance of her father, her only close relative. As she stands there in complete disbelief of what she is seeing, she is grabbed by a mysterious stranger who comes out of the shadows and sinks his teeth into her throat. The next thing she is aware of is waking in a castle on Singer Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. The mysterious stranger is Caius and he wishes to keep her with him in the castle on the island as his guest but before she can figure out what he’s about she’s rescued by two black clad women, Cin Dixon and Kylie.

Cin takes her to a ship, the “Slush Brain,” moored in the river, captained and crewed by an assortment of interesting and quirky characters. Before they can float safely out of reach of the aliens on the nearby shore, they are alerted to the predicament of another fleeing crew member. Chess, who has the barely sane, Max, in tow, is trapped by the surging horde of aliens at the water’s edge. The crew rescues Chess and Max from the aliens (known as Weeches) but before they can get the ship underway it is attacked and destroyed by Caius and his group of followers. The crew finds themselves back on land and fighting for their lives and freedom.

An interesting forward to the novella explains the origins of both the story and the characters – a writing project incorporating the author’s real-life friends. I thought this quite fun! The story moves swiftly and probably should be read in one sitting for maximum entertainment though not required, of course. The novella could benefit from some additional editing just to make the story flow a little better but if a hiccup here and there doesn’t bother a reader it is definitely an entertaining time.

I received a free copy of this novella through Goodreads. This is my unbiased and voluntary review.