July is about to end, and following in my fellow judges’ footsteps, I’ll give you my first update on the progress I made this month. Please note, that this is only my opinion and my ratings, and these books still can end up as semi-finalists if one of my fellow judges deem them worthy.
Once we have a couple of books all of us thinks won’t make it, I’ll write up announcement posts. Until then, you can follow our progress on my SPFBO page
! Learn more about my team and fellow judges
Without further ado, here comes what I’ve been up to in the first month of the competition. I’ve sampled 7 books alltogether – read about 25% of each – and decided to ditch 5. I liked 2 enough to read on once I’ve sampled all 30 books. In this post I’ll only talk about the 5 that didn’t make it for me.
The Procurement of Souls by Benjamin Hope
Magnus Drinkwater is close. Close to harnessing enough power to fuel his modified pocket-watch and stop time. But the answer continues to lie out of reach and when his daughter discovers a young woman no longer in possession of her soul, it quickly becomes clear that his own frustrations are the least of his worries. Someone with altogether darker machinations is busy working to their own design.
Dr Weimer is manoeuvring in the shadows, harvesting the souls from small-time criminals and turning their empty bodies into his mind-dead minions. But he too needs more power. Greater soul potency to reach his vision. And he’ll do whatever it takes. No matter the cost.
As the body count rises and Magnus follows a bloody and violent path through decaying city slums and dockyards; city ministerial buildings; and St Villicus’ monastery with its subterranean catacombs, he unearths more questions than answers. What is the link to the violent death of his wife two years before? What secrets are his colleagues hiding? Is there anyone he can truly trust? He must forge alliances he never thought possible and ultimately decide: just how far is he willing to push his own principles of science to power his device and keep the city safe?
Two scientists. Two ambitions. One bloody adventure…
|Series: stand alone
||Genre: steampunk, mystery
|Number of pages: 301
The Procurement of Souls was the first book I’ve read for SPFBO this year, which is a thankless place. I mean, whatever you read first can set the tone, especially since I’ll read about 25% of all 30 books. If I’m being honest – and why wouldn’t I be? – I had mixed feelings about this one. I liked the Victorian-like setting and the first chapter set the somewhat grim tone by introducing the villain, Dr. Weimer. Although I haven’t read this book from cover to cover, I can only hope he gets a bit more 3 dimensional and we learn what drives him instead of being cruel just because he is the villain. Actually, my biggest complaint regarding The Procurement of Souls is its characters. I couldn’t stand Clementine, one of the other MCs, a young lady who decides to take matters in her hands and starts to investigate. She and her father – a doctor – soon find themselves in the thick of things. They both are a bit flat as characters, and I couldn’t make myself care about any of them. The plot itself seemed interesting enough, and a bit of polishing this book could have been better.
Jess, Rising by D.M. Guay
One town’s secret. One girl’s transformation. One love’s fatal burn.
A supernatural love story with deadly consequences, for fans of Beautiful Creatures and Twilight.
Seventeen-year-old Jess Flowers sees the killer in visions. He slaughters the helpless with fire and lightning. And she’s next on the kill list.
Billy Combs is the gorgeous outcast with the electrifying secret. He’s stolen Jess’ heart, but his own past may be darker than he’s let on.
As the body count ticks higher, a growing pile of evidence links Billy to the crimes. Jess’ heart says no. But she’s the new kid in isolated Salt Creek, Ohio, a town with a life-changing secret, a town where people aren’t what they seem, a town where it’s hard to know who to trust. A town that’s transformed her.
Can she tame the mysterious powers surging within her and identify the real killer before it’s her turn to die?
Winner, 2016 Romance Writers of America Joyce Henderson contest for young adult romance (under its original title, Girl with the Sun on her Heart).
|Series: Guardians of Salt Creek #1
||Genre: YA, paranormal romance
|Number of pages: 218
YA, and paranormal romance especially is absolutely not my cup of tea, so I went in with low expectations. It started pretty strong with Jess’ dream which instantly drew me in. But then a side character, Vic appeared and I had this really strong need to slap her hard. Repeatedly. Possibly with something heavy. She is herself the typical YA character, who things being a friend means she has to match Jess with one of the macho guys – about whom she thinks are perfect, while looking down on those who are different – when Jess clearly grieves and goes trough a hard time thanks to her family. The way Vic acted or talked about people just plain irritated me. Jess herself could be an interesting character, if she got some more attention during the writing process. And since we are talking about writing, one other thing that irked me were the sudden scene hopping. For example: one moment they are on the way to school, the next she talks to Vic on the corridor.
As far as I’ve read, this book builds on tropes and clichés and offers nothing new to the genre. Which is not a bad thing, if you like a book with 2D characters, insta love and super powers.
The Werewolf Whisprer by Camilla Ochlan, Bonita Gutierrez
The Kyon Virus (also known as KV, Wereflu, or The Affliction) is a sudden-onset viral infectious disease that attacks the entire body, transforming the muscular and skeletal structures of the host. The Kyon Virus manifests in hosts in a variety of ways, leading to the three-tiered classification of the Were: Hound, Feral and Werebeast. No known cure for the Kyon Virus exists, nor can the symptoms be treated. It is estimated at the initial outbreak (see K-Day) one in twenty Californians contracted the disease.
Ferocious werewolf virus hits L.A.
Werebeasts rampage through the streets.
The city’s in chaos.
Lucy Lowell jumps right in to help the Afflicted. And she has a bizarre knack for making the feral creatures sit and stay.
Her sister-in-arms, Xochi Magaña – a fierce drink-slinger with an affinity for shiny, sharp weapons – is desperate to free her Werebeast brother.
Thrust into the space between violence and death, the two women try to battle the tragic fallout of the werewolf apocalypse.
But keeping Angelenos from clawing each other to bits is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Welcome to the werewolf apocalypse. Hope you’re locked and loaded.
You’ll chew right through this urban fantasy like a hound through a milk bone.
Grab your copy today.
|Series: The Werewolf Whisperer
||Genre: urban fantasy, paranormal
|Number of pages: 424
I have some mixed feelings about this one. Nowadays I don’t read much urban fantasy, though I have nothing against the genre – it got me into fantasy in the first place – in general. This is a fast paced one, with a double timeline – on one hand we follow Lucy and Xichotl in the present as they try to make business out of taming people who turned into Hounds or Feral (those affected by the virus can turn into Hound, Feral and Beast depending, which means they have different characteristics and thus different behaviours). On the other hand, we learn about how they got to know each other and what actually happened 2 years ago when the virus broke out in California. The idea is neat, and it really is an easy read. Lucy and Xochitl compliment each other well. Even so, somehow the idea of people being kept as pets – even if they are affected by a virus and all – just not sitting well with me. From the look of things, events really start to happen around the time I stopped reading. Though I don’t really feel the urge to continue, I can recommend it if you like a fast paced urban fantasy featuring werewolves, a conspiracy theory and two kick ass female leads.
The Thorning Ceremony by Andrew Einspruch
A slightly OCD princess. Her ambitious twin sister.
And the worst rite of passage in the history of all the realms.
Princess Eloise Hydra Gumball III is on track to become the Future Ruler and Heir to the Western Lands and All That Really Matters. That is, if she can survive the grueling training of the demanding Thorning Master, stave off her sister’s desires to take on the role, and get through the horrific Thorning Ceremony.
The Thorning Ceremony is a humorous story set in a unique fantasy world that features weak magic, equality between species, way töö mänÿ ümläüts. It’s a funny and witty prequel novel to the Western Lands and All That Really Matters series. If you like quirky, clever characters, lively dialog, and a fun Discworld-ish fantasy setting, then you’ll love this book from Andrew Einspruch.
Pick up The Throning Ceremony today, and dive into the freshest fantasy series in years.
|Series: Western Lands and All That Really Matters #0.5
|Number of pages: 189
This one really didn’t work for me. I couldn’t really decide if this is supposed to be a comedy book or should I take it a bit more seriously – neither works, by the way. It’s about twin princesses who are about to go through a ritual at the end of which they become eligible for the throne. It starts off slowly with a few scenes that are working as fillers but aren’t really interesting. Instead of learning more about the Ceremony itself or why it’s important, we get this boring few pages where the girls are going about about two commentators who were bickering on the margins of the pages written about the Thorning Ceremony.
Out of the twins, we follow Eloise more than Johanna – which is a pity, because I have a feeling that I would find her a little less irritating. I did find the Thorning Master somewhat entertaining though, the first person who actually put the princesses in their place, and make them dealing with things they never had to before.
The Thorning Ceremony is not a very long book, so it can be read in one sitting – once you got over the names and enterily too long titles, that is.
The Vessel of Ra by Catherine Shaff-Stump
While traveling in Venice in 1837, Lucy Klaereon, in order to save her family’s honor and her immortal soul, decides to commit suicide by drowning herself in the Grand Canal. Unfortunately for Lucy, she is rescued. Her rescuers believe they can separate her from the demon Ra, whom she is destined to fight because of an ancient family pact.
What Lucy does not know is that her rescuers have their own agenda. Paolo Borgia, head of a deposed magical family, wants to use Ra for his own purposes. Lucy is given an alternative, to separate herself from her demon and family, which she gladly welcomes. When she finds out the truth about Ra, Lucy’s purpose changes from not only freedom, but to righting an ancient wrong.
Octavia, Lucy’s older sister, is in pursuit. She has been trained since birth to kill Lucy when Lucy loses her battle with Ra.. At the ritual to free Ra, the two sisters clash with surprising results. Octavia is possessed by Ra and Lucy is determined to free her sister and keep Ra from reshaping the world in his image.
There is one small problem. Lucy has been murdered. However, she’s not about to let a small detail like that keep her from correcting her mistakes. Lucy will save Octavia, even if it kills her again.
|Series: The Klaereon Scroll #1
||Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy
|Number of pages: 265
When we got our books assigned, this was one of the ones that picked my interest. And though I didn’t love it, seems like a decent read still. I symphatised with Lucy being short and underestimated by everyone, most of all by her family. The story is set in 19th century Europe – Venice, most of all – and follows the story of Lucy Klaereon mostly, but there are other POV characters such as Paolo who saves her life and is destined to play an important role in the coming events – he might end up being the love interest too, though that’s just my guess – and Olivia, Lucy’s sister. This book has magic, demons, complicated relationships and a bit of a predictable outcome. I wish we learn more about the magic system and the Klaereon family’s relationships with demons (especially Ra) – and why they brainwash their own children. It’s actually an easy and fast read so it can be finished in a setting or two. I recommend if you like intrigue and a main character who has every odds against her and still keeps fighting on. All in all, I quite liked it and may read it on one day, but I have to part with it for now.
Thanks for the reviews, Timy! It seems like as a reviewer you have a similar turn-off to me: if the characters are flat or unlikeable, there’s not much that can save a story.
(PS your blog post format is really visually stunning? Love the site design!)
Anyway, back to my usual nerves and/or pretending this isn’t happening!
Yeeah, I like a good world building but characters are important. They have to make me involved, to care about them – or hate them, alternatively.
Thank you! I could think of ways to improve the design to be honest, but out of the free options I liked this best – or could make it look like I wanted. There are some functions I’d like to have, but I guess I brought the most out of it – hiring a graphician to make all of my banners and feature images didn’t hurt either 🙂