Just as I kicked off our elimination round, it’s my pleasure to make our first semi-finalist reveal as well!
So, how we are going to proceed? As you know, each of us already cut three of our titles. We’ll share minireviews of our remaining titles and at the end of the post, we’ll reveal which book(s) we picked to be our semi-finalist(s)! In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing group reviews of each of the semi-finalists then we’ll reveal which of them made their bloody way to the top of our batch. Sounds fun, isn’t it? Let’s get down to business then, as I have an announcement to make!
In the elimination round I said goodbye to three titles: Rogue’s Kiss by Andrea L. Staum, The Guardian of the Ward by Reginald Lewis, and Pigeon by Olga Werby (full elimination round post here). Below are my thoughts about the rest of my batch, in alphabetical order:
Secret Legacy by Carissa Andrews
A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES meets LOCKE & KEY in this completed new adult series!
I always wanted supernatural powers.
The day I got my acceptance letter from the Windhaven Academy, I knew my life was about to change – BIG TIME. I expected to find out I could phase through walls or control people with my mind. But what I became was far more complicated than I ever imagined.
You see, I come from a long line of witches with incredible power that spans centuries.
I just didn’t know it.
But unleashing my powers is just the beginning. There are forces bigger than anything I ever imagined… and they’re coming for me.
Sure, Windhaven Academy is a school for supernaturals.
But what I am will provoke an ancient curse that will pit me against fate.
And now, no one is safe.
I went into Secret Legacy with an open mind. I used to read a lot of YA romances – supernatural or not – but those years are already behind me. That’s not to say I don’t pick up one or two along the way, but I don’t seek them out anymore. And so, I didn’t really mind this book falling in my lap. The first 20% went by in a breeze and I was compelled to read more – so much so, that I later came back and finished the book. Upon reflection, that first 20% seemed a bit rushed, like the author wanted to get the setting out of the way for the central plot – a mystery regarding Autumn’s ancestry – which as result made me want a bit more solid worldbuilding – about the Academy, the supernatural in this world, Autumn’s relationship with her parents. Especially her dad, and while that gets a bit explored, I felt that relationships between the characters were a bit too superficial for my tastes. Autumn and her love interest, Wade gets together super quick, though their relationship smooths out in terms of pacing, it still remained a bit too cheesy.
As for the characters themselves, I liked Autumn well enough, even if I never really connected with her. At times it felt like she was a couple of years younger than 20, but I liked that she knew what she wanted to be – a forensic scientist – and that she was tireless when it came to getting the answers that were denied to her for so long. Wade I never was sure about, and on the whole, I don’t think I liked him very much even if it seemed his feelings were genuine. We also have the obligatory school jackass, and the cool twins Autumn makes friends with.
The writing was easy to get into and I liked the school setting too – even if we really didn’t get much of the lessons (or magic for that matter) itself – as well as the way Autumn searches for answers. It was a nice mix of romance and mystery, with a bit of witchery and haunting thrown into it. Once Autumn settles in her new home, that’s where the book really starts to come together and get entertaining. Can’t say I was really surprised by some of the revelations, but I was invested enough to read it in about a day. I can definitely recommend it to those who enjoy books like this.
Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater
A little bit of sin is good for the soul.
Gadriel, the fallen angel of petty temptations, has a bit of a gambling debt. Fortunately, her angelic bookie is happy to let her pay off her debts by doing what she does best: All Gadriel has to do is tempt miserably sinless mortal Holly Harker to do a few nice things for herself.
What should be a cakewalk of a job soon runs into several roadblocks, however, as Miss Harker politely refuses every attempt at temptation from Gadriel the woman, Gadriel the man, and Gadriel the adorable fluffy kitten. When even chocolate fails to move Gadriel’s target, the ex-guardian angel begins to suspect she’s been conned. But Gadriel still remembers her previous job… and where petty temptations fail, small miracles might yet prevail.
Olivia Atwater explores love, grief, and the very last bit of chocolate in this sweet modern fantasy, full of wit and heart. Pick up Small Miracles, and enjoy a heavenly faerie tale from the author of Half a Soul.
I admit, Small Miracles was one of the books in our batch that instantly caught my attention. When I reached the “fallen angel” part in the blurb, I was sold. Mentioning angels is a sure way to perk up my attention. I’ve never read Olivia Atwater‘s books before, although I’ve heard a lot about Half a Soul and intended to read it at some point.
This book focuses on Gadriel (not to be mistaken for Gabriel), a fallen angel of petty temptations, who has strong views on chocolate not being a sin. As a favor for their heavenly sibling, Barachiel, Gadriel agrees to tempt Holly Harker to sin some, which sounds simple enough, but we know things are never simple. As Gadriel tries to figure out what is going on, they get to discover some long-lost parts of themselves.
Gadriel is a fun and interesting character, and a flawed one as you might expect from a fallen angel. At first, I found it weird that everyone took it in stride when one moment he appeared male, then female, without asking questions much, then again, who are we to question how others want to appear? Ultimately, I liked that Holly, her niece and everyone else around them just accepted Gadriel as they are. Which is one of the messages of this book, although probably not the main one. Still.
Being set in modern-day London, there isn’t much worldbuilding per se, and a lot of that happens in footnotes. Some might fight that insufficient or annoying, personally, I enjoyed the added tidbits and religious references.
Small Miracles is a short book with 250 pages that can be easily read in a day or over a weekend. What I found refreshing about it is that it has a bit of a slice-of-life feel to it. The conflicts are small scale, there is no world-threatening big baddy, no imminent war on the horizon. It’s about the life of a family who knew grief and has no idea how to mend the gap between them. It’s about love and friendship and self-discovery and acceptance of others.
The Eternal Muse: Desecration by Rick Waugh
When a song is a weapon, who can wield it?
Piper is a minstrel whose music incites forbidden magic. He lives in fear of being charged with heresy; the church uses the same power to crush offenders, without mercy or hope of redemption.
His problems have cost him both the woman he loves and his growing career as a minstrel. Worse, he’s entangled in the politics of the capital, attracting the scrutiny of the priests. Terrified they’ll turn him into a mindless beast, he runs.
Can he learn to control the magic, and use it to slice through centuries of the church’s lies? Or will he end up as the priests’ latest victim, all ability to feel hope, love, or even hate ripped from his mind?
The Eternal Muse: Desecration is the First book in the Eternal Muse High Fantasy trilogy.
Desecration was also one of the books that caught my interest early on, which I guess was predictable as music gets center stage in this high fantasy novel.
We are thrown right in the middle of the political intrigue with the prologue which was a bit confusing, to begin with. But it’s also clear that Waugh spent a lot of time with worldbuilding even if we get a big dose of it in a short time which requires attention and some patience to puzzle out. Those who enjoy high fantasy in general with a lot of political intrigues will probably like this book. And by the first 20%, I was intrigued enough as well. Piper makes an interesting enough character, a wandering minstrel with some hidden powers even he doesn’t fully understand yet, which makes him a liability in the eyes of the Church. And he gets even more scrutiny when he agrees to work with one of the most influential lords in the kingdom, who also happens to be the husband of his late lover which adds an extra layer to the whole situation.
I was intrigued enough to continue reading, but upon returning, I quickly lost interest. It just really didn’t work for me – the writing was good, but a bit dense for my liking, the dialogues a bit eye-rolling, and I was just mostly confused by who is who and who belongs to what religious faction and what their goal is. And in the end, Piper wasn’t a charismatic enough character to make me engaged in his story. I got the sense that there are high stakes for political machinations and a threat of war. In the hands of someone who likes books like this more than I do, it might have done better in the competition, but alas, I was not the right audience after all. Which is a shame, really.
The Wandering Three by MJ Carstarphen
On top of a cliff at the edge of the world, in a land long forgotten by the fools who wander tall on two legs, lives an ancient tree who’s spent many mortal lifetimes silently observing the world around him. Until one day, a magical mistake turns the tree to gold… and brings him to life. Now free to wander a world he’s only dreamed of, the tree heads for the mountains, hoping to discover all the beauty and joy that exists beyond his home.
With new friends at his side, he soon learns the precious gift which gave him life is both a blessing and a burden, desired by those who hold treasure above innocent lives. The world is a much darker place than he expected, yet more wonderful in ways
he never could’ve imagined.
But there is a price to pay for being a wandering tree and his journey will teach him that the true difference between being alive and living is worth its weight in gold. It’s a life he never knew he wanted, filled with moments that will root themselves deep in his soul and wander in his heart forever.
I really got lucky this year as I got a bunch of very interesting sounding books, including The Wandering Tree. It starts off with the leprechauns having one of their rites, when something goes wrong and they accidentally turn a tree into gold and bring it alive. A fight ensues about who the gold belongs to, but it’s part of the tree now. As the tree gains its freedom for the first time in a very, very, very long time, it decides to go on an adventure and discover the world for itself.
I loved the idea and the premise and the book certainly has a fairytale-like atmosphere. It also has an episodic structure, these stories are building on each other. As I was reading, I wondered what the target audience really was. For middle graders the writing seemed a bit too purple prosey, using a lot of fancy words sometimes even I didn’t know, which I think would be harder for kids to understand. On the other hand, the story and the way dialogues were written – up until the point I read it – seemed a bit too simplistic for adults (that’s not to say they wouldn’t enjoy it, though). Eventually, this turned me off from reading past the 20% mark. I just wasn’t invested enough to find out what happens to the tree.
So that’s my rather good batch. I have to say, I was pretty happy overall with what I’ve got this year and I’d like to thank all the authors who submitted their books. Some surprised me (either in a good or bad way), and some exceeded my expectations. But, in the end, I had to make some decisions. My process was the following: I read up to about 20% of each of the books in my batch, then I read those that interested me the most until I came to a final decision. After the slush piling, I was left with 3 books that captured my interest:
Before opening any of my books, I expected Small Miracles and Desecration to be in the running at the end, and my predictions came true. I, however, did not account for Secret Legacy. Which ended up to be one of the books I’ve read to the end. The other was Small Miracles. While I liked many things about Desecration, it eventually became clear that I wasn’t able to connect with it as much as I would like with a book that I’d send into the finals. And so three became two:
Secret Legacy and Small Miracles are two very different books, both of which I really enjoyed reading and would recommend to others as well. In the end, though, I had no question in my mind about which of these two books would become my champion. In a way, I knew it the moment I read the first page. Thus, our very first semi-finalist is…
My congratulations to Olivia Atwater and I can’t wait to hear what my fellow judges will think of this absolute gem of a book!
To keep up with our progress and the competition, please check out our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page!