How to Be a Supervillain: And Love Life Doing It

How to Be a Supervillain: And Love Life Doing It

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

I have to say that reading this book, it might have had more of a disadvantage than others I’ve read. Some might notice that there’s been a decent amount of time between this review and the last one I’ve done. To put it plainly, I’ve had some teeth pulled and have been recovering, on top of other issues. This meant things weren’t getting done the way they usually are, and this is the book I happened to be reading while everything was going on. It took me a while to finish, and even now it’s been a while since I finished it to the time I started writing this review.

That said, I don’t think it’s a bad premise for a book. Generally, there aren’t many errors or anything like that. The artwork in the book is amazing, so major kudos to the artist.

I never quite got into it, though. I think it’s because the book sounded too much like a real self-help book, and was a bit too formulaic. I could see how things would be structured before reading it. Narrator would bring up a problem. Narrator would say that problem doesn’t have to get them down because X. Narrator would give examples of villains who didn’t follow said advice and were okay, or villains who did follow said advice and how it worked for them.

At times the text could have been written for anything. For example, there’s a whole part about dealing with stress. It wasn’t particularly villain-centric, and could have been placed in any self-help book.

I feel like the book missed some golden opportunities and ended up following this pattern. For example, in the beginning of the book it puts the definition of a villain, and then the narrator criticizes the definitions. The narrator tell about how villains have a message for the world and their actions are only considered ‘bad’ based on societal norms. But this leaves open some things that could have been addressed by the narrator. If he doesn’t like the current definition, how would he define it?

Also, in an example he gives, there’s someone who is for animal rights, and therefore does things to try and bring attention to this message. If the narrator considers this a noble cause, and essentially the basis for the actions is ‘good’, why the narrator then identify as a villain instead of a hero? I feel like this is another thing that could have been addressed that wouldn’t have followed the formula used throughout the rest of the book.

While the idea is good, this would be a tricky book to write without falling into a pattern that felt safe like that. Maybe now that it’s fully written, the author could look at it again and find more ways to add variety in the way it’s presented. I think being stuck in this genre held the book back, but it doesn’t have to. This guy is a villain, he’s there to break the rules! Have him break the rules of how self-help books are written and add something new and different.

I give it a 6/10. It may entertain some people, and there wasn’t anything particularly ‘wrong’ with it, but early on I found myself waiting to see the same pattern.

Nadia’s Heart

Nadia’s Heart

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

It’s been a few days since I finished reading this last book, but I believe I remembered everything I wanted to say.

First off, there are some interesting ideas and strong visuals. When I picture Georgeonus in metal armor and hover-skates, with a metallic voice (even though he technically doesn’t speak), it’s an image I like. The idea of having a main character who is missing a heart is a good plot point. It makes one wonder what’s up with that. Another unusual thing for this book that I don’t often see is the voices. Some characters are literally voices and nothing else.

It has a strong, unique magical atmosphere to it that I think could be really great, and I liked those bits about it, but I think there are some problems that got in the author’s way.

First, dialogue. I have a strong feeling the author feels uncomfortable or unsure about writing dialogue, or maybe doesn’t enjoy it. There are lengthy parts where no one says anything. Conversations tends to be short or even overlooked.

Here’s an example: The main character, Nadia, is going to fly away from a castle she’s being held hostage in. She’s instructed to take someone with her, so she goes to the kidnapped children and picks one to take with her.

He was a boy of about five-well, all right then, six. She had been corrected by him as fast as a whip.

We don’t get to hear his first line of dialogue. As a matter of fact, we don’t get any dialogue between them as she picks him out of the kids and leaves.

We get a description of him, and they leave, and then this.

The boy insisted he was not cold. Indeed, his brows furrowed defensively at the accusation. Nor was he afraid, he said, since he was the son of Jasper.

We don’t hear Nadia ask him if he’s cold. We don’t hear the boy deny it. We just get told that this happened, and because of this I had trouble connecting to the characters. It was like being told about their personalities instead of witnessing it in action.

They spend an extensive amount of time traveling, which was another issue. As soon as Nadia meets Georgeonus and goes with him, it feels like constant travel for almost the entire book, which leads to lengthy descriptions of everywhere they’re going. From when they start they hardly talk. It’s just travel travel travel, and Nadia doesn’t know what’s going on and then they travel more and she doesn’t know what’s going on. She and Georgeonus don’t say much to each other and they do very little together, so it’s hard to feel any connection. Same with Richard, the boy she takes later. The book takes much more time talking about the places they’re going than developing the characters. There’s little explanation for what’s going on, either, so it was easy to get lost.

The last thing that created a problem for me was the lack of transitions. This can be a little hard to explain, but I’ll try.

So, at one point they’re taken hostage in a castle. Nadia finds Georgeonus, who is hurt. He tells her to take his armor and leaves. She’s been next to his body as he’s lying down and taking off his armor, so she must be sitting or on her knees. Then, she’s putting the skates on, and she can’t be standing up when she’s doing that, either.

She obeyed. She carefully brushed the dirt from her feet, and then felt them surrounded by warm plush. They were too big, but the buckles kept them fastened around her ankles. When Nadia looked down she lost her balance and fell.

See the problem? Sentence one, two and three, she should be sitting down and putting on skates. Sentence four she’s suddenly falling over, with nothing between those two things to say that she had changed positions. There was no transition between her sitting and her standing up, so I spend the whole paragraph imagining her on her butt and suddenly she’s falling over.

There’s another point that Nadia and Georgeonus are flying over sleds going up a mountain path. She falls and lands on a sled. Because of the force of the fall the sled sways and Nadia is worried about going over the cliff. I’m picturing them going up a steep cliff, a girl falling into their sled, the sled being pushed towards the cliff and swaying because of the force of her fall, and then… She sits on the supplies and it starts talking about where the dogs are going. I suppose it says “They rolled away from the cliff”, but I never felt like it said anything about the sled correcting itself after a being shoved to one side, so I had still been picturing an uneven weight distribution. This sort of thing happened a lot to me in the story.

Also, a girl just fell from the sky into their sled. You’d think this would warrant someone saying something, but it doesn’t. No one says anything about this, including Nadia.

So, there’s interesting stuff going on here. It’s just hard to keep track of in the constant traveling with no explanations, characters not saying anything, and sometimes feeling like a detail was left out between sentences. Particularly the seemingly missing dialogue in spots made it feel as if the book hadn’t been completed – as if the author was planning to go back later and put that in.

And I would like to see that. I feel like the author has something unique here. Maybe find a beta reader, or someone who can help point out which parts drag on or get confusing. It had a promising start, and then it focused too much on one thing without fleshing out other aspects. There’s good tidbits that want to come through – for example, Nadia is asked where her parents are. She doesn’t know, but she realizes she hasn’t even thought about it, which is weird. Most people would wonder what happened to their parents and she actually wonders why she hasn’t. The book needs more things like that, where I actually get some insight to how a character thinks, feels or acts, instead of a series of things happening. I hope to see more it re-worked a bit in the future.

I give it a 6/10.

The Sweet Ones

The Sweet Ones

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

This is another case of ‘I finished reading a while ago but I didn’t have time to write a review’. But this was a very short story and I remember it fairly well.

I’m neither for nor against the zombie apocalypse genre. I think a zombie story can be done very well, but I don’t get the current zombie craze. This was like a snippet of a zombie story.

The main protagonist is a small child named Tommy. He’s about five, and traveling with his mother, who is only called “Mother” (fair enough, it probably would be the only name a child that young would know her by) and a man named Bill. They’re being chased by zombies, or ‘sweet ones’, so they’re driving away hoping to find someplace safe. They eventually come upon a house that they decide to try and barricade.

Some soldiers also happen to come to the same house later, and as a small group they try to defend it when the zombies get there. That’s essentially the entirety of the story, leaving out the details of exactly what happens.

Before the soldiers arrive, Bill has been injured. Naturally, when the soldiers do show up they assume that his injury is from a zombie. They manage to argue for Bill to stay. “Mother” scratches her leg every now and then and I already knew what was going to happen. That isn’t to say there wasn’t any tension – this story paints some pretty frightening zombies. Not because they’re super fast or anything, but because they’re smart. They know to do things like reach inside of a door and turn the knob, or climb up and break in the second floor of a home.

That made me wonder how they had even survived this long. These zombies tracked them for miles and miles, got to the exact house they stopped at, and then proceeded to attempt various methods of getting in. If they knew the zombies could do this I’m not sure why they would bother stopping at anything other than a fortress. Mother and Bill had argued about whether to continue or not, and it seems like the only wise thing to do would be to check for supplies and continue. Your average home isn’t going to be that secure when it comes to intruders that have no reason to fear to police or anyone else from stopping them.

Zombies make it into the kitchen because someone forgot to lock the door and one of the soldiers is killed. They barricade off that part of the house as best the can, then they hear something upstairs, and a soldier goes to clean up the upstairs rooms. All the while Bill is barely able to move because of his injury but tries to help and Mother keeps scratching her leg.

Tommy is left wondering if they’re going to be able to keep ‘the bad people’ out. It is a tense situation (which, again, left me wondering how they survived this long if zombies are this resourceful, but I guess I can assume some people must have gotten lucky). The writing is fine and I was wondering if they were going to make it.

The biggest question for me was the ending. Not that I don’t get what it was going for. Tommy is scared, and Mother hugs him to comfort him. Then she turns and bites him. The soldiers have to kill her and, because he’s bitten, they kill Tommy, too. Bill’s injury was the red herring, and while they were busy arguing whether it was okay to keep him around it turned out Mother was the one bitten the whole time. I wasn’t surprised by that, I saw it coming the second she scratched her leg.

I didn’t get her motivation. Did she not know she was bitten somehow? It seems like it would be hard to miss. If she knew and hid it, why? She knew she was going to be near Tommy and that she’d end up killing him that way. Was it part of the disease that she felt the urge to hide it until she could eat them? Her actions seem to be protective of him before she turns, so I’m not sure if that’s it.

With how short the story is we don’t get to know the characters very well or understand their motivations. I’m not even sure why Bill is traveling with them. I’m guessing they met up at some point, but maybe they knew each other before the zombie break out.

It’s not bad. If all you’re looking for is to read a short, desperate struggle, you would probably enjoy it. It’s not long enough to get indepth with the characters it introduces. It doesn’t stand out in any particular way to me, but I wasn’t bored. I think it could be pretty good with some editing, and perhaps extending it. For me it needed more to it. With the short length of the novel most of the characters were little more than names and I was left wanting more explanation.

I give it a 6/10.



I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

I actually finished this book maybe a week ago, but I was too busy to write the review, so my memory won’t be as fresh for this one as most.

The first thing I noticed going into this book was the formatting. I tried not to let it taint my view, but it interrupted the flow of the story. No page breaks, awkward paragraph breaks, page numbers, the book title and author name inserted in the middle of sentences, etc.

Normally, I don’t include pictures, but I think it’s important to show this:

When I started the book and there was suddenly a number after a sentence, I thought I had gotten to a new chapter. I was confused until I realized that it was supposed to be a page number, even though it appeared in the middle of a page.

Now, to the actual book. Remedy has lost his parents, is now being raised by his grandparents, and because of the pain he was going through he accepted a demon. The book could be good at times at showing painful situations, but I did feel the plot was weak. Mainly, I never felt convinced that Remedy had a good reason to accept the demon. The demon just approached him weirdly at a funeral and told him to let him enter him to take the pain away. There was nothing about it that was particularly convincing.

As a matter of fact, I would say that the demon did very little trying to convince him at all.

“It hurts, doesn’t it?” he asked. He had a deep raspy voice that didn’t fit his figure. He was a tall slender man somewhere in his 60’s.
Remedy didn’t reply. Tears waited on the edge of his eyes and the smallest push would send him to his knees weeping.
“You know that pain in your chest that reaches down into your gut?”
“What do you want?” Remedy asked with tears falling down to his shirt.
“I can take your pain away,” he said. “All of it.”
“Give me permission to enter you.”
“What?” Remedy asked, taken aback.
The corners of the old man’s lips rose in a smile. “I promise you, the pain you feel will be gone and you will live without that sorrow, if you let me into you.”
“What? No.”

Here I cut out a part where the demon stands around while Remedy has a flashback about his family.

“Make it stop,” he breathed with the last air in his hurting lungs.
“Let me in.”
Remedy tried forcing another inhale but still couldn’t.
The absence of air set his chest on fire. He felt like he would implode at any moment.
“Please,” Remedy croaked.
“Let me in,” the man hissed.
“Okay, okay, just make it stop,” Remedy pleaded.
“Do I have permission?”

The demon didn’t really do anything. He just sort of stood around and forcefully said, “Let me in”, something that isn’t particularly impressive. It’s much more likely that someone would continue to tell him to go away because he’s annoying and being insensitive. There wasn’t anything about it that felt like it made sense for Remedy to do.

So the book had some creativity with torture, but I thought the plot and characters were lacking. Chapter titles like “A KNIFE TO MEET YOU” didn’t seem to fit the bleak atmosphere of the book, either.

There are about five characters besides the demon. I wasn’t big on Remedy, because he had a lot of negative thoughts about other people, which didn’t make him fun to be around. Vernon is his grandfather, who turns out to be an abusive Bible thumper. Mary is his wife, who I can’t say much about besides she puts up with him and seems to be a bit nicer. Harmony is the girl he has a crush on, who I can’t say a lot about, either. Grace is her protective sister, who is painted in a bad light because she’s protective but she’s probably the best character in the book. We don’t see enough of most of them to form an attachment.

When Vernon is first introduced, Remedy seems to have happy memories of visiting him, but once we find out he’s a Bible thumper he turns into nothing else. We never see the side that Remedy seems to have better memories of. Mary seems to exist because he’s required to have a wife.

Harmony exists to be a love interest, and Grace exists to get in the way. The characters all felt like they were playing those exact parts and didn’t have much more to them.

There was another smaller thing that was bothering me.

“Remedy,” something spoke. The voice was more like a hiss rather than a solid sound.

“Let me in,” the man hissed.

“Honey,” the demon hissed.

It kept saying ‘hiss’, but then there weren’t any “S’s”. Normally I’ll brush off this sort of thing, but it happened a few times so it distracted me.

Eventually, the demon possesses Remedy’s body and starts using him. He never feels scary. This was actually the part of the book where I almost wanted to roll my eyes, because the demon senses that Harmony is a virgin and, of course, tries to rape her. I just sighed at that part, especially because there’s nothing in the book that suggests the demon would even care. It’s just there because ‘demon’, and that’s supposed to be a good enough excuse.

I will say that considering the plot of the rest of the book, I do sort of like the ending. I think it could have used more explaining – we get hints in the book, but we also get things that contradict those hints. I’m going to explain the ending here so if you don’t want that part spoiled then skip the next paragraph.

In the end, it turns out he’s been possessed for a long time and has been locked up in a mental hospital when he finally wakes up. This is hinted at as he goes through his possession and other versions of himself that he meets imply that he’s been stuck there for a long time. However, while he’s going through the torture in his mind, he also feels things that happen on the outside. When his body gets stabbed his shoulder hurts. So, they say he’s been there for a long time, and at the same time he feels things that are happening when Harmony and the others are fighting his possessed self, which would indicate that it’s happening at that time, not far into the future.

So, in the end, I didn’t feel a strong attachment to this book. I didn’t get a strong sense of characterization from anyone, and the plot seemed to exist as a backdrop for torture scenes. I think the ideas need a lot more work.

I give it about a 5/10.

Whispered Echoes

Whispered Echoes

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

So, how to start this. This book had some good ideas. It revolved around Alyx, and her ability to see ghosts, most importantly the ghost of her sister. She’s put in a mental hospital because of it, where people are doing experiments on people like her. She finally escapes and goes to a school for people with her kind of powers, and she keeps trying to figure out a way to save her now possessed friends at the mental hospital. It could work.

I think where it falls short is characters and description. Character-wise, there were so many characters who spent so much of the time being mad that it was hard to get attached, as well as a lack of understanding about how other characters would feel or naturally be. When Alyx arrives at the school, Transcend, her mother’s former friend, Xan, is the worst example of this.

Alyx has essentially just escaped a dangerous hostage situation from a mental ward, where she’s been held captive for years and had to fight with possessed people for at least several months, including people who are now attacking her who used to be her friends. Xan is perfectly aware of where Alyx has been. You’d think it would be obvious that a girl like this would have some problems, regardless of whether or not she’s insane because she sees ghosts (which is normal in the school). So how do they prepare to handle a new recruit who is coming in after fleeing for her life?

They don’t seem to at all. They allow other students to openly shun her, they get mad at her for not immediately knowing the ins-and-outs of how they do things, they get mad when she’s in class and explains to the other students what people being possessed is like, etc. She’s told that they use their powers to help people in high positions earn money and get intel and they show no interest in helping her with her “all my friends are possessed by evil people and will be killed soon” problem.

I thought it was odd when Alyx first got to the school and refused to say that she wanted to be there to help her friends. Her excuse that ‘people don’t like to be used’ seemed weak, and in the end it turned out to be a forced plot device.

Alyx’ only friend is her new roommate, who seems to be the only one interested in helping her out. They go back to the hospital and manage to exorcise one of the nurses. The nurse promptly kills herself when she’s back in her own mind and remembers everything she did. When they return to the school Xan ends up demanding to have a talk with her.

Xan demands that Alyx trust her and tell her the real reason she’s at the school, and in order to earn her trust she seemingly decides to take her rock climbing. But, rather than helping her or teaching her, she forces her to do it, climbs to the top on her own and leaves the inexperienced Alyx hanging in the middle. When Alyx doesn’t give answers that she likes, she messes with the rope holding Alyx up and threatens her.

“Sorry, my hands slipped. If you don’t want them to slip again, make sure I can trust you, Alyx.”

When Alyx gets to the top she angrily asserts that Alyx has to trust her, and complains about Alyx going back to the hospital with Skye without telling her.

The problem is, Xan has never been any more likable than she is at that moment. She’s angry, she’s not particularly warm to Alyx, she gets mad at her for talking about possession in class when Alyx would have no reason not to talk about her experience, she allows other students in her class to be rude to her… What has she done to earn Alyx’ trust? This is all after Alyx has basically been told that she wouldn’t get any help from them to begin with.

Then she climbs down without Alyx and leaves. She leaves Alyx, an amateur, on top of a rock-climbing thing on her own in the middle of a storm. You know who I wouldn’t trust? I wouldn’t trust a person who yelled at me, threatening my life, and then dumped me in a life-threatening situation for no reason. Xan is horrible. Her points about Alyx being selfish fall completely flat.

“You still don’t get it, Alyx. Can’t you see how much you need to learn, that you need us to teach you? You have to stop thinking of yourself all the time. You have to let us in. Trust us.”

Yes, trust the person leaving you dangling on a rope in a storm when she tells you how selfish you are for wanting to save your friends’ lives. Alyx is so selfish, not wanting her friends to die. And all of this was something Xan should have predicted easily even with Alyx not telling her. She knew where Alyx had been. Alyx talks about her friends’ predicament. She knows Alyx has come from a horrible situation, and she does pretty much nothing to assist her. Nothing to try and earn her trust, nothing to make her feel welcome or comfortable, nothing to help her integrate or get along with the other students… Xan should be tied up and dangled off a cliff.

A lot of other characters feel like they just sort of exist. For example, Pashmi. She just sort of wanders around with some science-box-thing that does readings. I don’t know anything about her beyond that. She pops up once in a while and that’s it. Suddenly, at the end, she’s going along to help Alyx at the hospital. I’m not sure why besides “science”. She’s just suddenly in on it, no real connection to Alyx or anything.

Then there’s the descriptions. Many times I got lost in how long something took, where it took place, or it would mention something and I would be thinking, “Wait, that happened?”

When she originally gets to Transcend the description made it feel like she drove a few minutes. Later it says that it was hours. Because her sister’s ghost has disappeared, a familiar is summoned for her. It describes it, then the book sort of seems to forget about it for a while, and I was left wondering, “Wait, what was that about?” Then, it suddenly pops up again down the line as ‘her gargoyle’, and it felt weird and disconnected how it completely disappears to the extent that I was wondering if she did get a familiar or if I’d misread it, and then bam, suddenly there again.

When they go to the hospital at the end and they’re inside trying to exorcise the spirits, there’s suddenly mention of a fire, and I was wondering when, where and how a fire happened. Then, not long after that, there’s suddenly mention of ‘going with the medics’, and I was wondering when, where and how medics were suddenly there. Maybe there were some sort of mentions somewhere beforehand, but the descriptions often left me lost and wondering where stuff was popping out from.

So, there’s some good ideas, but with so many angry characters and action that was hard to follow I couldn’t get that into the book. If I’m supposed to like a character like Xan, I think he actions would need to be reassessed and I’d need to be shown something other than her spending 95% of the time being a jerk to agree with her.

There are other things that I won’t hold against it because I believe they’re meant to play into the plot. Ghosts are being kept at Transcend, and when Alyx sends one to the other side it makes the people very upset, even though they can’t only be sent away if they’re ready to go. They’re keeping spirits around who are ready to move on and using them. I think this is a good way to hint that Transcend may not be a great place. It drills it in a bit harder later with her sensing trapped, upset spirits. Maybe if Xan is part of the evil side of the place her character would make more sense, but I’d still recommend it be toned down a bit so that it would make sense for Alyx to trust her.

So, it’s a mixed pot. There’s some good ideas with the ideas and plot, but I don’t think the author properly conveyed what they were going for all of the time. I’d give it about a 6/10.



I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

This review will discuss some content that is NSFW.

I can sum up what I had a problem with in this book very quickly. It’s overwritten. Surprisingly, for how much information it gives the readers, I was often left confused because I wasn’t given the right information.

Now, the story itself is all right and ends with a bang. It was too much work to get there, though. It felt like there was a thesaurus involved, with words like “trapezius”, “cumulus” and “phalanx” being tossed in. It felt like every noun required at least one adjective, and every insignificant action could have an entire paragraph dedicated to describing it. For example, there was a decent sized paragraph about Saint looking slightly in a different direction. Many times the descriptions in these paragraphs included things like descriptions of clothing or the colors of different body parts, no matter what they were doing.

Here’s a few examples:

Julia reminded Saint so much of Shana, the long, wavy blonde tresses falling over a delicate pointed expression sharpened with a sensual pen, dark eyes gleaming with a piercing love thrusting through the contentment of loneliness Spike resonated.

(Yes, this is talking about Cowboy Bebop). Anyway, do we need to be told the pen is sensual? What does a sexy pen look like? The phrase “eyes gleaming with a piercing love thrusting through the contentment of loneliness Spike resonated” is so oddly written that it’s hard to be sure what it’s even supposed to mean.

It’s far from the only time something is worded strangely.

Shana’s painted nails digging into his lanky yet defined back while Saint dug into the wet walls of her details.

The dark threshold widened, the darkness in the living room brightening with the living embodiment of a sunray standing on the rotted out front deck with her veil of dirty blonde hair covering the sadness Saint felt dripping from her soft diamond countenance.

This is continuous. The purple prose is pronounced, and often takes away from a scene rather thans adds to it.

Saint and Shana found themselves in the thralls of ecstacy, Saint’s pronounced nostril taking in the scent…

…his phalanx filling Shana.

Saint jammed his cocktail sausage sized thumb…

In the sex scene do you really want to immediately send us up a character’s nose? And with his phalanx, that makes me think of a finger or toe, but the way the scene was described made it seem and if he lifted her up, sat on the bed, and she was on his lap. I’m not sure if a wrong word was used or if this was not going the way I imagined. And randomly describing people’s thumbs as cocktail sausage sized just seems silly.

We treated to all of these overwrought descriptions, and at the same time I often wasn’t sure where they were or even who some people were. Many pages into the book I didn’t know if they were at their house, at a hideout, or what. I’m guessing now they were at their house, but I honestly couldn’t even tell you for certain. The night after Saint goes out with Shana, he ends up spending time with Mariah. I don’t know who Mariah is. The book talks about her like I should know, but I have no clue. Maybe it mentioned her connection at some point between talking about what pants they were wearing and what color their lips were, but I don’t remember seeing it.

Many times, less is more. We don’t need to be told bricks are “cherry” colored, we know bricks are typically red. I don’t need the flow of dialogue interrupted to tell me someone is wearing a “wrinkled black polo and ruffled navy blue denims”. I can’t tell you much of anything about Shana, beyond what she looked like and the fact that Saint was obsessed with her. What aspirations did she have? Why did Saint like her, other than lust? How did she end up in this sort of life? No idea.

So, while I think it came to a decent conclusion and I don’t regret reading it, it’s not something I’d want to go back to. There were a few errors (“But Saint would nothing of slumber”), but my main issue was the style it was written in.

It’s a short book, so if you’re curious it wouldn’t take very long to look at it. I give it a 5/10.

The Return of the Key

The Return of the Key

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

“The Return of the Key” is basically a fantasy story about a world of fantasy creatures connected to our own. The world is supposed to be closed off but for some reason creatures from it are crossing over to the human world and people are disappearing. Eliza, a human, becomes friends with Gwen, someone who is half human and half fae, and when she gets kidnapped one day Gwen follows her over to the other world to save her.

There are parts of this story that work for me and parts that don’t. I’ll say right now my favorite part was the ending – and not because of the cliche “finally, it’s over” reason, but I actually liked what the very end did. I wasn’t expecting it in the previous pages leading up to it.

I think the part that made me struggle a little was the writing. Especially in the very beginning, it would have a lot of telling instead of showing, and it did this with important things. I never felt like I saw Eliza and Gwen as friends. More like they met, then we’re told they spent a lot of time together and were best friends, and we never really see it. I think the same was true of a lot of characters.

Some of the writing felt stilted. For example, it would start off describing a scene and something else would cut in. Like, Eliza is being told the story of a fisherman who found a strange clock-like device. Then, at the end of the paragraph, it sticks this in:

Somehow, this clock-like device had become entangled with Eliza’s fate, thought she was yet to know it.

…but he did have good cause for standing by Eliza, as you will find out later.

So, you see, the slightest trigger…

The only thing I could picture was a random narrator talking over a movie.

We’re told what the characters are instead of shown.

This was how a friendship between an unlikely pair began. Gwen, an over-confident tombow of sorts loved wearing oversized sweatshirts with her patched jeans; her beauty radiated, and everywhere she went she drew attention with her lithe walk and strange charisma. The only jewellery she wore was a plain silver necklace adorned with the rare peridot gem at the centre of a lead. Eliza was the exact opposite of Gwen-unassuming, self-doubting, and considered herself average and thus not needing distinguishing clothing to make her stand out unnecessarily. She rarely drew attention and always preferred to keep it that way, but together the two girls had a chemistry that was unexplainable and almost immediate.

And that’s it. We’re told the personalities instead of shown, and told they have chemistry instead of shown, which made it hard to get invested in their relationship or feel any connection.

There were parts that made me tilt my head. I haven’t been everywhere in the world, so I can’t speak to what’s normal everywhere, but this did stick out to me:

“It’s Gwen’s ma working up some magic, John,” said a voice from the back of the classroom.
“Oye!” Gwen shouted, spinning around to give Aaron Spindler a piercing look again.
“Ok, settle down you two,” John said, in a less-than-authoritative tone.

Gwen’s mother disappeared a long time ago and at this point could probably be presumed dead. So, a kid is making fun of another kid’s dead mother and that’s the reprimand?

Just a bit later it’s pouring down outside and for some reason Eliza seems irritated that a teacher offers to give her and Gwen a ride home. I actually wasn’t sure why, because it would get them out of the rain, plus people have been disappearing so it would be safer.

The romance suffered the same fate. I honestly have little idea what Eliza and Arden saw in each other besides thinking the other was hot. I have no idea what interests they share or anything else.

It was the first time she had had a proper look at him, and she stared at his beautiful face and became embarrassed, as she was lost for words. He blushed with delight, appeased that his feelings were shared.

They blush at each other and that’s about it. They give each other shy looks in the story and never really have a connection beyond that.

There are the occasional errors, like “We call it Annwn1” (should be superscript but it’s not) or “…knew the answer toAnd it was.”, but not a ton.

Later on in the story the stilted feel of it dissipates a bit, but there are some other issues. Female villains come off as histrionic, and one is even called that. I wouldn’t say much, but it did seem like there were a lot of women having overblown emotions.

Things that the story said didn’t always add up with what it showed. Like when it introduces Loridel, the narrative states that the reason her people are shunned is because their emotions will be wrong for the situation and they go from normal to grandiose in a second. The story then goes on to show Loridel controlling her emotions several times.

Loridel felt a good cry coming on. She resisted it easily…

Loridel will be annoyed by her, and then awhile later the narrative will say she found “what she was certain to be a lifelong friend” without anything that really seemed to support the narrative.

I guess the “tells without showing” basically covers most of the complaints I have. Because of this relationships seem weak because we barely get to know the characters together, we’re just told they get along. Characters don’t match up with their descriptions so things will feel off, like the story will say Gwen rarely gives up, but it’ll say this after it’s shown Gwen giving up the last few times we saw her.

The story itself has a lot of promise. Having people mysteriously disappear has a lot of potential to be creepy. The overall world is fine, though it could be polished (background characters on the world feel very much like the background, never questioning obvious stuff). I think it just lacked impact for me because of the style of writing and the way it would drop information early on instead of letting readers learn it or see it with Eliza (blatantly stating Arden had mysterious reasons to join Eliza, stating that a device that was found would be connected to Eliza’s fate…)

I would say it needed another readover to get rid of some of these things that slowed down the story or took the reader out of the story, and then catching some little inconsistencies. There wasn’t anything that I found particularly offensive. I did mention I liked the ending the best. I do think that sets up something that could make an interesting sequel.

If the story sounds good to you? Go for it. It’s all right. What I described kept me from getting really into it, but it might not bother someone else.

I give it a 6/10.

Calves In The Mud Room

Calves In The Mud Room

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. The entire book takes place over maybe a day, and it’s a snippet of the life of a boy in a broken home. I tend to go into books blind – sometimes it helps me judge the book for what it is. Not always, but there’s plenty of times where I dive straight into a book, and that’s what I did here. Knowing nothing about it, the title “Calves in the Mud Room” sounded a lot sillier than the book is.

The overall plot is pretty simple. Wade has been asked to go with her to a dance by Glory, a cheerleader. On the day of the dance the cows on his farm start giving birth, and because his mother and step-dad are extremely unreliable people in his life, he has to take care of the cows himself. He ends up going to the dance late and Glory is mad at him. He deals with a variety of issues, from cows’ and calves’ lives depending on him, an abusive stepfather, his peers shunning him and having to take care of his little siblings.

I wasn’t as captivated by the book as some other reviewers seem to have been. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. There’s a lot of talk about the prose, but it wasn’t really for me. It works fine at some parts, but there were a lot of lists that I thought were unnecessary.

The back of the old truck hauls scattered stems of straw and alfalfa leaves, a scoop shovel (no handle), a pitchfork, a dented spray can of DW40, a rusty set of tire chains, a flattened box of windshield wipers, one battery cable (black), an empty red gas can (no cap), a wad of bent-up barb wire, miles of orange twine, a spool of electric fence wire, rubber irrigation boots, a run-over straw hat, an empty tub of horse vitamins, and one old fallen-down cowboy boot with the spur still riding the heel (left foot).

Wade collects a bent screwdriver, an ice scraper, a heavy-duty metal cutter (you could cut a car open with this puppy), a socket set still in the red plastic holder, two Crescent wrenches (one about four inches long, the other about two feet), a hoof scraper, a flashlight (still works), an unopened can of Udder Balm, and one frozen flat glove (right hand, hole in thumb).

On the dash sits opened and unopened mail, bills and statements, a flier for a used hayin’ package (cutter, baler and rake) marked down from 25 grand to 17; a cigar box full of paper clips, rubber bands, pens, pencils, two black sharpies and four silver dollars (minted in 1896); a box of horseshoe nails, a red Conoco Hottest Brand Going to-go cup, an empty staple gun, a pocket calendar from Barlow’s Feed with appointments and the day’s temperatures, and the calving log book for the last few years (#9919 eats rocks).

He removes the garbage, recycling, dog food, bottles of bleach, detergent, household sprays, cleaners, rat poison, boots, shoes, jackets, gloves and hats. Anything the calf might get into.

There’s broken glass, pizza crust and French fries under the coffee table. On top are Burger King bags, a greasy pizza box, half-eaten slices, specks of mushroom, chunks of cheeseburger, decapitated Bud Light longnecks, a passed out bottle of Cuervo Gold and a smashed fifth of Black Jack.

This sort of listing sneaks into some of the dialogue, too.

Medium lapels, three button, single vent, silk interlining, sharp, clean lines at the shoulder, fitted under the arms, tapered at the waist with a slight flair.

Yeah, she’s going to make some wannabe mid-level-executive-master-of-the-universe dude a real good trophy wife. Get her own McMansion out there on Dry Lake, Lexus SUV hybrid, Nordstrom card, Costco membership, jet ski in July, downhill in January, a little tennis on Tuesdays, a little golf on Thursdays, a nanny, her skinny double pump vanilla latte no whip, couple of brats on Ratlin, drag her droopy boobs and sorry cookie dough baby butt to Curves for some cardio, maybe some yoga without the meditating-touchy-feely-tofu parts.

At times the dialogue was strange to me, and sometimes things were unclear. He flashes back to a discussion with his grandfather when he puts on his suit. They talked about suit his grandfather gave him and the grandfather’s time in New York after coming back from Korea, then suddenly it’s back in the present without much indicator. You might assume that a switch from past and present tense would be the indicator, but like many books that use present tense it often shifts, so in the middle of a flashback it says:

He’s too young to be familiar with…

If I were to describe the prose, for me it was reminiscent of old 1990’s roleplays on telnet. (I know, this is a pretty specific example). Way back when, people would use telnet to roleplay in text over the internet. These places were called MU*’s (MUCK, MUD, MUSH, MUSE…) People could create a character and set things like text descriptions for them, and when you ‘looked’ at another character you would get their description. The current closest thing to this would probably be something like character descriptions in WoW, but I’m less familiar with that.

Anyway, when people wrote these descriptions they would always try to make them as fancy as possible. You wouldn’t have “black hair”, you’d have a “waterfall of ebony strands”. Never blue eyes. Always “sapphire orbs shimmering in the moonlight”. It was purple prose at its finest. When I started this book that was the first thing I thought of. We start off with “juicy fruit lips,” “dark chocolate eyes,” “honey-streaked corn silk hair,” etc. Now, every sentence wasn’t like that, but it was enough that I was occasionally lost when an excessive description was used for something simple. In the very first sentence I was confused because I didn’t know where the character was and after a lengthy description of a girl it was telling me his headlights were falling on “rump roast, rib eyes, t-bones, tenderloins, flank strips, hot dogs and moo-burger…” (there’s those lists again). I thought he might have been related to a butcher or something and was literally looking at hanging meat.

To me, for a joke “rump roast” would have been plenty. It would have been short and simple. It spent so time telling me all kinds of meat that I thought he was looking at meat before it told me it was a full cow. Here’s part of the original (the first line is too long, I’m not going to copy it all):

Visions of Glory Schoonover […] vanish the instant the truck lights sweep through the pin streaks of snow and gunmetal fog and land on the smoky blobs of rump roast, rib eyes, t-bones, tenderloins, flank strips, hot dogs and moo-burger piling up at the gate and blocking Wade Summers’ way.
Stupid cows. Stand in cow shit all day cows.

I think it’s too lengthy. I’d prefer to see:

Visions of Glory Schoonover […] vanish the instant the truck lights sweep through the snow and land on the rump roasts blocking Wade Summers’ way.
Stupid cows. Stand in cow shit all day cows.

You get to the point quicker without getting too convoluted. Cows are blocking his way.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the story at first. It seemed depressing to me, and I’m not usually one who goes for depressing. Reading some other reviews though, I did see someone else’ take on it that I liked, about how one good person (his grandfather) can make a big difference in someone’s life.

Every single other person seemed to be horrible, including Wade at times. Maybe it’s just me, but the women seemed especially awful. I’m not even talking about Glory and the fact that she and her friends were upset at him for being late for their date. That, I get. Mostly. It seemed a little odd to me that she would ask if something like “giving birth” could wait. Maggie was ready to ditch her own date for him. Rochelle had sex with him and then seemed suddenly mad at him the next day (she was most confusing because nothing had happened between them in the lapse of time). Even grown women are saying things like:

“Hon,” she says in a low voice, “with a big pony like Rose Stuffle, just use a fold of blubber instead of her vagina. She won’t mind and you won’t know the difference.”

That’s not even getting into his mom being a drunkard and selling off things he was supposed to inherit from his grandpa behind his back. There’s a constant feeling of anger coming from 90% of the characters and sometimes it’s unclear why. Maybe that’s why I just couldn’t get into it.

I wouldn’t say that this was a bad book, but it wasn’t for me. As a warning for some people who might be sensitive to this, not all of the calves survive.

I’d give it a 6/10.

Manwha Review – Bride of the Water God (volumes 1-4)

Bride of the Water God, Vol. 1

I bought this for my niece because the cover looked great and I was told it would be fine for someone her age, but I wanted to read it first before I gave it to her.

The artwork, overall, is beautiful. Just like the cover, I found most of it pleasing to the eyes. There were instances of things like awkwardly long torsos or stiff poses, but for a comic I would say it’s better than average in the art department.

The story is what really hurt it. The basic plot is something we’ve probably all seen before: Somehow girl ends up with powerful guy, powerful guy is kind of a jerk but he has a heart of gold really (or so we’re always told in these kinds of stories). Everything felt incredibly rushed. For example, it probably wasn’t even ten pages in and she had been sacrificed. So, as you can imagine, when she’s calling for her mom later on because she misses home it feels incredibly flat. We didn’t spend any time with her family, how could we feel invested in her mother? Or any other family member?

Characters just popped up out of nowhere, announced themselves, and then were gone often, and sometimes they looked similar to other characters and it would get confusing. I guess Soah had a female friend in Suguk, but I don’t know what her name was, and she looked a bit like Soah to me so I wasn’t always sure who it was.

What this book really needed was to slow down. I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if the entire first volume was spent setting up the fact that she was going to be sacrificed, and how horrible that was for her, her family and the village. If we got to see the people suffering and why they would make such a decision. And then, maybe at the end of the first volume, she ends up in Suguk. It would have given the reader time to get engrossed in the story and understand what’s going on. If I hadn’t read the summary for volume 1, I think I would have been extremely confused. I was confused at points even when I did know what was supposed to be happening.

I think the author might have been so excited to get into the cliche ‘love triangle’ portion that the rest of the story suffered. Very little actually happens, and yet the entire volume bounces around in a hectic dance of mini-scenes. She’s in Suguk meeting the water god? Oh wait, suddenly three new people. Who are they? We get some names thrown at us and I guess they’re characters now, even though I couldn’t tell you a thing about any of them.

Then maybe she’s suddenly getting lost and stumbles upon another new character. And at one point suddenly she’s going out with her friends or something, and suddenly dog. Just just appears and happens out of nowhere constantly. This story needed to stop and focus on one area for a little bit, establish that, and then move onto other things once it had a solid foundation.

From my understanding this is her first attempt at storytelling, and you can tell. It’s possible she’s improved her skill, so I plan on reading the next couple of volumes to see (I have 1-4). There are some cute asides/jokes in it, it’s just doesn’t have a strong enough narrative.

Bride of the Water God, Volume 2 (v. 2)

In the art department, it still looks pretty good as a whole. The main problems I have are that it can be hard to tell what’s going on when there’s action, and it can be hard to tell where characters are actually supposed to be. I am getting the kind of feeling like they’re floating around in space, because you can have panel after panel of nothing behind them. There needs to be more establishing shots that give a clear understanding of where they are. I barely ever have a clear idea of where they’re standing beyond what the character might say.

The story-telling has improved from the first volume, while the story itself hasn’t really. In this volume it finally slowed down to give it some focus. I had a better idea of what was going on, and there weren’t new characters being constantly shoved in my face. Some characters started to get some more backstory to them. So, it was a noticeable improvement in that way. The story itself, on the other hand, was sort of cliche and didn’t go very far. She spends most of the time trying to figure out if Habaek and Mui are the same person. It goes slow enough now that I can keep up with what’s supposed to be happening for the most part (although it still has issues with lack of transitions and bouncing around), but it really doesn’t take advantage of its setup.

I wish this this artist had been paired up with a good writer who could have taken the exact same ideas and made them incredible. I feel like she’s just interested in a love triangle and everything “big” about the story gets pushed into the background. The fact that Soah has been separated from her family and is in a new world is barely felt at all. As is being surrounded by dangerous gods. ‘Plot points’ always seem to come back around to how it effects her love interests, rather than being explored or developed on their own.

While I wasn’t wowed by the story in this volume, I did feel better about it than the last volume. If the author continues learning and improving with each volume I could see how she became very popular, because the art is quite nice to look at (mostly just needing more backgrounds, better establishing of the area around the characters, and better transitions). Long ago I read the first volume of “From Eroica With Love”, and while that series had a mediocre start the author learned quickly and at about the third volume I couldn’t put it down. This is Mi-Kyung Yun’s first try, and I can see improvements in the pacing in the second volume. While I’m not invested in the romance, I do hope that I see her honing her skills more in the next volumes, because there’s a lot of promising raw talent in her.

Bride of the Water God Volume 3

Like with the second volume, the story itself hasn’t really improved but the pacing is better than the first volume. In this volume, there’s more melodrama as Soah is sent back home and her memories are taken away. Of course, she’ll only remember Habaek if she really loved him. That’s pretty much it.

I got really confused with the part with Yeon-Hwa. When Soah goes back home, the villagers accuse their family of running some sort of scam to get money, and because of that she’s hated by the villagers. Of course, Habaek is hoping that she’ll remember his name when she sees him. Then, suddenly, there’s a girl telling/singing stories to kids and acting as a musician to earn money. Habaek appears to her and starts following her around.

I thought maybe this girl was supposed to be Soah, taking on another name and changing her look a bit to try and earn a living because the village hated her, and figured that’s why Habaek followed her all over. But then she ends up in jail and then she’s out of the story? I’m so confused. What did she have to do with anything? Why did Habaek follow her around? I have no idea.

The story still suffers a lot from obsession over who everyone loves and nothing else. For example, after three volumes, I couldn’t tell you a single thing that Soah is interested in. Hobbies or whatever. All that matters is who she thinks is hot. Same with Habaek. I can’t tell you anything about what he likes to do except be grumpy. As you can imagine, the same could be said for all the other characters, too.

There has been far too much saving of damsels in distress. In this volume in particular I felt like women were getting grabbed and guys were demanding ‘you know what’ before someone would dive in and save them. I’d like to see some of these characters take more initiative. Oddly enough, Yeon-Hwa probably showed the most initiative and I don’t even know why she existed. We can at least see her holding a job and demanding pay, even going as far as trying to rob people. With everyone else things mostly seem to just happen to them and they react.

Even with her being with her family we still see almost nothing of them, and when we do see something it’s pretty flat. I wish Soah would at least say something like, “Yeah, Dad, I kind of do hate you for selling me off” instead of puttering around passively. At least it would show some feeling besides pining for someone.

The artwork is the same as the last couple volumes. Nice, but also not necessarily good at showing backgrounds and space around characters. There’s often a lot of nothing behind characters.

Bride of the Water God Volume 4

So, this is the last volume I have and I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with the series. I enjoy the artwork, but the author needed a lot of help on this series. This volume dove back into being more confusing again. For example, Mui and Soah were talking when she was back at home. Suddenly, a girl who wasn’t there in the previous panels is clinging to Soah’s leg and yelling at Mui. I had no idea who she was or where she came from. It was only later that I figured out she’s probably Soah’s little sister. Who I didn’t know existed. It’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with this series. Because things aren’t set up, characters just appear and we’re told how they connect to Soah and that’s it. We aren’t shown anything to establish how they feel about each other.

Dong-Young appears and is apparently a childhood friend of Soah who is of a higher status and loves her. He proposed to her in the last volume and in this volume she accepts. There’s a bunch of melodrama about Mui being jealous that she’s going to marry someone else and wondering if they really love each other and such.

The story needed a big overhaul. She really needed a good writer to help her pull things together. Everything is flat because the story doesn’t do anything for characters to earn their accolades. Habaek/Mui talks about being deeply in love with Soah, and Soah is supposed to be in love with him, but what have they ever done? They’ve sort of grumped at each other a couple of times and that’s it. Does he even know her last name? (Does she have a last name?) We’re told how characters feel about each other but aren’t shown it.

Same with Dong-Young. He just appears out of nowhere and we’re told he’s her childhood friend, and that’s about the extent of his character. He exists to be a plot point and make Mui jealous. He just pops out of nowhere suddenly and we’re informed of their history, and there’s no feeling of a real connection at all because we never see them as childhood friends or anything.

Once again the story bounces back and forth between flashbacks and current times and it’s hard to tell what’s happening sometimes.

I haven’t talked about it before but I’m going to address the translation here. I do this all the time so I feel fairly confident talking about it. I should probably say I’m addressing the ‘localization’ in particular. I don’t know Korean and I haven’t seen the original comics, so I can’t say how accurate the translations is. It seems like it’s pretty competent.

There’s occasionally some awkwardly worded phrases. Generally, when translating something like this, I consider the goal to be making it sound smooth enough that it doesn’t sound like it’s a translation. I’m not talking about leaving honorifics like “-nim” in, though. That’s a choice, and something I’ve done in the past with certain translations.

There are places in the dialogue where it feels a bit too directly translated. To explain, usually what I do is I translate and then I smooth it out. This means cutting out awkward words to make it sound more like what someone would say (and it’s done even more extensively in subbing, because then people have a limited amount of time to read the text when it appears on the screen). So, to examine a bit of dialogue, here’s a line from the book:
“Sorry to say this, but I’m not going to back off. She was mine first.”

In this situation, Mui is arguing with Dong-Young over who Soah should be with. It’s perfectly understandable, but the wordiness of it takes away from the impact it could have, and it sounds more like a direct translation than how someone would speak in English. You could say the exact same thing something like this:

“Sorry, but I’m not backing off. She was mine first.”

Or something along those lines. It’s more direct, curt, and probably reflects the character more.

Does that mean I’m saying the localizer did a bad job? Not really. It sounds like an easy job but it’s not. It’s constantly balancing how much you want to change the original text, often worrying about losing the meaning or straying too far from the source, and using a lot of your gut feelings when it comes to what it sounds like. This can be especially painful when you love a work or have a lot of respect for it and don’t want to change anything. It’s more like an art than a science, and you want to do the original work justice.

I’ve also heard horror stories before about people translating/working on manga who were getting painfully underpaid, and to make anything close to a living wage they’d have to churn out a ridiculous amount of pages in a day. I have no idea what the job market is looking like in this field right now since I freelance and make my own schedule, but I could imagine there’s still some amount of expecting people work for low pay out of love for comics.

So in these volumes you do see lines that sound like a direct translation, but it is generally understandable (when you aren’t confused by the story itself, anyway).

The author has been pretty successful and made many more volumes of work since these. I hope she got some help with her storytelling in that time. Paired up with a good writer she could make some pretty incredible works. I’m not completely turned off from reading any of her works in the future, but I will stop reading this one and maybe check her out again with one of the later works.

I give it about a 6/10. The art is great, but it’s confusing and cliche. The author has a lot of potential that hasn’t been fully taken advantage of.

Camp Arcanum

Camp Arcanum

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

(Spoilers within)

The basic story is three men, Marc and his two employees, Eleazar and Michael, go to a new town in order set up a renaissance faire. This new town is full of witches and such, though, and they end up dealing with magical forces. Marc falls for a pretty witch, Brenwyn, but she has a sleazy ex-boyfriend who wants her back (Jeremiah). It’s well-written. The author puts in amusing asides and keeps a sense of humor throughout the book.

Marc said nothing, but he said nothing in a very churlish and hostile manner.

(In response to demons being summoned on the property, Marc says:)
Steve would never get liability coverage if the insurance companies found out.

The flow is generally good and its easy to read the majority of it. The banter between characters is good. I thought the personality clash between Eleazar and Michael was handled well, and even when Eleazar was insensitive (Michael is gay) it felt like it would fit his character, and he probably wouldn’t even understand what was wrong with his actions (trying to make Michael appreciate women).

Action was written well and there were a lot of clever set-ups.

There are some errors, though not enough that it took me out of the story. The biggest one I saw was “We’re men with power tools and were not scared!” because the line was copy and pasted several times with the typo in it.

So, why the rating?

It didn’t always work for me. I was fine with Marc’s movie date with Brenwyn at first, but when flipped out he dealt with it the worst way possible just for the sake of hurting Brenwyn and causing tension. In that situation, where he thinks he might be having a delusion, I understand why he would want to leave, but shouting that he didn’t want to be near her wasn’t necessary. He didn’t even try to make an excuse, which seems like something most people would do. Not even a “I’ll explain later, I just really need to go now”. He went straight to yelling at her. At the same time, she really doesn’t take the hint here or later.

Then he was cutting down trees and pretending they were the witches, including Brenwyn. I get why he would pretend they were the other witches, but why her? Brenwyn hadn’t done anything to make him mad. She invited him out, he had a panic attack, and she tried to comfort him doing it. There’s nothing rageworthy that she did (yet). She invited him to a rowdy movie event with witches. He was warned it would be rowdy and crazy. It turned out to be rowdy and crazy, then he gets mad that it was exactly what he was told it would be.

About Brenwyn herself – at first I was fine with her. Although they had some decent banter, I was never charmed with her, and I pinpointed the reason why after a bit and it got much worse later.

The main thing is that she presents herself as a mind reader, and not a tactful one. She’s constantly saying or doing things that, if she isn’t reading your mind, make it seem like she is. This isn’t charming. Imagine, for a second, if someone hopped onto your computer and started reading all your private e-mails, then came over to you and started reciting things from your e-mails. Would you be thrilled? Probably not. It’s a huge invasion of privacy, and even if you had someone who couldn’t help reading minds they would still have to learn how to handle that in a graceful, less creepy way that wouldn’t send off alarm bells.

Here’s an example: Privately, while discussing with his employees how to hire some workers, Marc says he wants people with “Strong backs and weak minds”. This doesn’t get put in the ad. Later, when he visits Brenwyn, she says that he’s looking for “strong back and weak minds”, the exact same thing he said in private.

Now, let’s give a different scenario. Say you knew a woman who went into a town to do some work. She meets and attractive guy. That guy starts very blatantly mentioning things that she said in private. Would you suggest:

1) She be charmed by his odd behavior.
2) She put on her running shoes and run, run, run as far as she can from the creepy stalker.

Just because it’s reversed and it’s a woman saying creepy, stalker-like things to a man doesn’t make it better. She doesn’t have the right to invade his privacy, and if she can’t help it then she could easily try to at least seem normal. She could have told him the same information without using the exact phrasing that he said in private. It’s like she’s rubbing it in his face that she knows things she shouldn’t, and the book gives her a free pass because she’s ‘hot’.

I mostly overlooked that part of it and could still enjoy the book just fine “because story”, but then she did something that was just heinous to me.

“With some luck,” Brenwyn continued, “I could get you placed in the same room where your brother hung himself. You would have to get used to sleeping without sheets, of course.”

No. No. On what world is this a person you would ever want to speak to again? Marc confessed, albeit admittedly very soon after meeting her, that his brother had tragically committed suicide after a lengthy time suffering from schizophrenia and this horrible incident still haunts him. A good person who has only known him for a little while does not turn around and shove that in his face. On top of that, she does it because of one of these situations:

Marc: Oh, hey, there’s a fire down there. I better make sure it’s safe.
Brenwyn: No, don’t go down there, it’s dangerous.
Marc: Why?
Brenwyn: I’m not going to tell you!
Marc: I can’t just let people have unregulated open flames in the middle of the woods. Tell me why it’s dangerous.
Brenwyn: No! I refuse to tell you things to let you make an informed decision and fully intend to make this decision for you (and then will undoubtedly get mad when you didn’t blindly do what I said)!

Most of the time in things like YA novels you’ll see guys doing this to women. Making a decision ‘for their best interest’ while refusing to explain anything ‘because’, so the female character doesn’t get to make their own choice and if they don’t nod their head and listen to whatever the guy says they get mad, even though it’s their fault. It’s not any more fun when the roles are reversed.

I can understand in books when the villain refuses to share information, but I hate when allies randomly decide to hoard information for the sake of making something unnecessary happen. And guess what? Marc goes to check the fire, and she still doesn’t explain, so her plan of “not explaining and telling him not to go” doesn’t exactly work.

I enjoyed the fight after that, though I didn’t understand why Marc didn’t immediately destroy the second circle that the “man in red” (anyone reading will know exactly who it is the second the fire pit is mentioned) stepped into. He knew to destroy the first circle so they wouldn’t be safe, so why would he let him just hop right into a second circle? Especially when he was up to trouble. There’s no way it could be said that he didn’t believe in any “witch stuff” after what he’d seen. This could have been fixed with something blocking him from being able to destroy the second circle, but as it is he just didn’t.

Then there were nine people in total, Marc took out seven, and five were left standing. That left me confused.

As I mentioned, Brenwyn started out okay for me. The mind reading stuff I thought would have been irritating to deal with in person, and no one likes a know-it-all, but I was willing to overlook it. Then her mentioning the suicide in such a terrible way happened. Then not informing Marc of what kind of danger he was walking into. And then, when he starts avoiding her, she won’t stop coming around, and that whole stalker scenario comes up again.

Jeremiah calls Marc to inform him that he’s an amplifier for magic and that’s why people want him, and that gets him more upset at Brenwyn. He also tells Marc that Brenwyn had cast a charm spell on him. When she finally pops up to confront him in person she acts like he’s not allowed to decide he’s not interested. Not only has she been continually coming around when he’s obviously avoiding her, but when he flat out tells her that he doesn’t want to see her she gets threatening.

“You had best leave the woods as soon as you can,” Brenwyn snarled.
Nothing short of dynamite is getting me off my job site.”
“So be it,” Brenwyn snapped.

Then she summons lightning to hit a nearby tree. At this point I thought the book was going make her just as much of a villain as Jeremiah, maybe even more so – which was interesting! It would have been awesome to switch things up like that, and something I wouldn’t have expected in the beginning. I really hoped the book would let her turn out to be bad. Unfortunately, shortly after that Marc is hanging out with his two employees and says this:

“And she never hurt me the way I did her,” he said finally.

This is the note I made for that line: “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

First, by this point he knows that she was interested in him because he was a magic amplifier (later corrected to “fixing magic”), and it hasn’t been that long so her saying she loves him isn’t convincing in the first place. Second, the way she brought up his brother’s suicide was even worse than the way Jeremiah did. She kept him in the dark about danger, didn’t care if he didn’t want to see her, started threatening him when he told her to go away, and this isn’t even taking into account some of the physical injuries he got because of things that she could have prevented or at least told him something about. In a way she comes off worse than Jeremiah because he’s not trying to act like an angel. Heck, he at least told him the truth about why people wanted him. If Jeremiah hadn’t told him how long would she have strung him along in the dark?

Marc, on the other hand, told her he didn’t want to see her. Marc’s right, she didn’t hurt him the way he hurt her. She did way, way unforgivably worse, which is all forgotten and the book treats this as if Marc did something horrible. He had good reason to be mad at her. Even though her casting a charm spell on him turned out to be false (which then just makes it weird again that even the gay man is infatuated with her… The way they treated her made a lot more sense if it was a spell, and she uses it plenty later so she definitely abuses this power) she still wanted him like a magical accessory and didn’t tell him about it, among other things. Even if he didn’t have a reason to be mad at her, he has every right to decide he doesn’t want to date her. The reason she’s getting mad is because she won’t leave him alone when he obviously and blatantly says he wants to be left alone, and then he gets mad and yells.

From memory, besides the first encounter I described at the movie before, the worst thing Marc did was bring up the fact that she slept with Jeremiah before. Which was really strange. The first time it was brought up it was handled fine and he didn’t make a big deal about it, which makes sense. A 38 year old man should not be shedding tears that a woman he has met had a life before him. But the second time he acts as if she was sleeping with Jeremiah while she was with him, which was bizarre.

I held out hope that how enchanted they were by her would be because of a charm spell but it didn’t happen. Even the text acknolwedges how weird it is with “It was embarrassing to admit he’d fallen so hard for someone he knew absolutely nothing about.“. Instead, all blame for the problems was placed on Marc and Brenwyn was treated as a sweet, pure angel who was wronged.

This made the latter part of the book aggravating for me, because there was such a great opportunity for the book to take a new, interesting direction and it went into something so overused. She mopes. Everyone bashes on Marc for “being stupid”. Including Marc. It gets frustrating to watch everyone blame Marc for… something, I’m not sure exactly what other than “not wanting Brenwyn” or “being mad at Brenwyn because she did things he should be mad about”.

(Said by Brenwyn) “Don’t be cruel,” she said,” as much as Marc has done to deserve it.”

Seriously, what did he do? I read the whole story and the most he did was yell a few things. For some reason there’s no real blame on Brenwyn for anything. Marc tries to make up with her. Etc etc.

There’s an end fight scene with a giant demon that goes fine. There is a girl that Eleazar was having a one-night stand with there. I was puzzled why the three guys from out of town were handling the demon far better than someone who lived in the area. Hasn’t she heard of this kind of stuff all her life? Why was she having a break down? There was plenty of reason to be scared but she didn’t have to be useless. The book even calls her a “hysterical female”. The rest of the fight went pretty well and she luckily didn’t take up too much of the time.

The fight ends with Brenwyn returning the demon to his ‘caster’ (Jeremiah) and Marc being horribly injured. It drags a bit there as Marc gets sent to the hospital and we suddenly get some things from the hospital staff’s point of view. Then there’s more stuff that makes me think even worse of Brenwyn.

Apparently, Jeremiah has killed several people using magic. Some guy named Throckmorton shows up who has been investigating the strange deaths surrounding Brenwyn and Jeremiah. So, he’s listing off things like someone nearly drowning in her tub while taking a shower, someone being mauled to death by a bear, and someone else getting pecked to death by birds:

“…Hodgkiss, mauled by a bear – in the outskirts of Cleveland. Kiyoshi Tayama, pecked to death by a ‘murder of crows,’ as you said in your statement.”
“The inquest said it had to be chickens.”
He went on with no acknowledgement of her little jibe. Throckmorton had no sense of humor.

He is describing horrible, brutal murders. Not just that, but of people she at least had contact with. The book writes it as if I’m supposed to find him bad for not finding this hilarious, but the fact that she’s making jokes about the brutal murders of people she knew does not make me think highly of her. This is another instance where she just comes off as worse than Jeremiah to me. She’s upset that this man investigating deaths that are constantly happening around her had, at some point, thought she was involved. Because not only are people not allowed to break up with her, they’re also not allowed to suspect her of things if people keep getting brutalized or murdered around her.

Then he gets into his suspicions of Jeremiah being involved in the murders, and if it hadn’t already been cinched for me this would have done it.

“So, you won’t do anything to help?”
“You do not know the terrible price for fighting him on his own terms,” Brenwyn said. “I am not afraid of him, but what I might become. It is best to simply let him destroy himself.”

So Jeremiah is blatantly murdering people and her choice of action is, “I’m going to sit and watch and let it iron itself out”? When she went to the movie date with Marc there were three hundred other witches she was hanging out with, and it was established she knew them all and was popular. When Marc fought Jeremiah, there were nine people, including Jeremiah. If three hundred witches wanted to do something to stop Jeremiah, I think they could. And “magically murdering people when I feel like it” seems like a thing they would want to put a stop to.

At least three hundred people should be able to figure this out. She’s condenscending and rude to this guy who wants to stop the murders and then sits around and watches murders happen when she has an army she could raise. Later on she says, “If only I could punish him-“. Considering what the book has shown us, I think she could more than sufficiently punish him if she bothered.

Jeremiah walks in after Throckmorton leaves and sexually assaults her. She retaliates, and it’s treated like it’s a bad thing that she defended herself. I know this is supposed to be some sort of control thing, but you’re allowed to defend yourself when you’re attacked. You are not bad if you defend yourself. You have every right to. I’m not sure why she stayed to chat with him for so long, though.

When Jeremiah goes home the demon that was ‘sent back to its caster’ has finally shown up and torn his house apart. I was excited to see what sort of fight there would be, but there wasn’t one. He doesn’t even really cast a spell. He tells it to go away and it does. That’s it. A bit disappointing after the last fight.

Marc gets healed up by the witches and things end with Jeremiah mad about his house and plotting revenge and Marc recovering in the hospital. It’s obviously meant to go on after that. The overall story was mostly easy to read, it just had so much potential that wasn’t taken advantage of. Unfortunately, Brenwyn’s band of witches never show up for a demon fight or anything. We actually don’t see too much of them. The whole idea of Brenwyn using Marc was brushed to the side to have her be a flawless love interest (or, at least her flaws are ignored by all). At the end, when the demon shows up at Jeremiah’s house, it just leaves.

The writing is enjoyable, so the missed chances can be extra frustrating because I wanted to read them.

This book suffers because it centers around how great Brenwyn is and how she can never be anything but awesome. This sometimes even pushes other characters out of mind. For instance, Michael has just learned that his boyfriend, Lance, is one of Jeremiah’s gang. We never see much of them together but it’s told that they were getting along well. When Michael asks Marc about Brenwyn, Marc answers:

“Can’t you two obsess about your own sex lives?” Marc snapped.

Marc and Brenwyn’s relationship takes the center stage, so they can mope about each other all they want, but when Marc tells Michael to worry about his own sex life right after he found it his boyfriend is McEvil there’s no apology or interest or anything. It seems mostly forgotten that he just lost his boyfriend. The obsession with Brenwyn messes up the book, which is just another reason why it would have been great if the obsession actually had a threatening origin.

There are a lot of unfortunate implications in this book and if you’re sensitive to that I would recommend against reading it. For example, in the beginning of one chapter there was this:

…he had found a lovely Lithuanian communications student with a diminishing facility for English as she reached her maximum capacity for alcohol. They had been able to communicate on a much more primal level…

Upon starting this chapter, my first thought was, “…So, Eleazar raped a drunk girl?” which I doubt was the intention of the author. It colored the beginning of a chapter in a dark light when it began with that. Then there are other things that some people will recognize. The bisexual character being portrayed as highly promiscuous and wanting to have sex with pretty much everyone. Marc, the gay man, “threw like a little girl“.

The one that worried me the most was Michael’s relationships, though. From the beginning Eleazar doesn’t think Michael appreciates the female form like he should and did things like leave blow-up dolls for him. I wrote that off as Eleazar being an idiot. I didn’t mind it too much because it fit his character. Michael started dating Lance, as mentioned before. We don’t really see much of them. But then a woman who works for him, Anietra, catches a beam before it hits his head and smiles at him, and “Michael found himself responding in spite of being her supervisor. And her being a girl, and all.

That instantly struck me as a “No, don’t.” When I hoped it was just him being more amiable towards her it said: He just couldn’t ever tell Lance. Why? He’s gay. It shouldn’t need to be said, but gay men aren’t into women.

It’s not mentioned again in the book. Then, when Marc is upset about Brenwyn and they’re at their base of operations, Eleazar pulls out some stand-ups Michael has created for target practice for the ren faire. The last one uncovered is of Brenwyn.

So – you’re in love with her, too?” Eleazar asked.
“Don’t ask me to explain.” Michael said with a shrug.

Later, when Michael is at the hospital with Eleazar and Brenwyn, Brenwyn touches his hand.

With her hand on his, Michael felt a rush of love and confusion, with just and aftertaste of terror, a mix of emotions he’d only felt since he’d come here to Arcanum.

This plot point isn’t resolved in this book, but I really, really hope this isn’t Michael being ‘fixed’ and liking women. Not only does the book have him show interest in one man and two women, but the gay man turns out to be the evil bad guy and the women are, of course, good and wonderful. On top of the bisexual being the big bad. Maybe it’s not the intent, and I hope it’s not. People who aren’t gay or bisexual, or haven’t been around gay or bisexual people, might not realize that things like the “promiscuous bisexual” are hurtful stereotypes.

Since the plot point hasn’t been resolved in this book I can’t say for certain where it’s going, but I think a gay man reading this book would probably be pinged by Michael’s sexual interests. People have tried to “fix” gay men in horrible, cruel ways in real life, and it’s still a thing (though thankfully becoming less popular these days). Just like lesbians have to deal with the awful thought process some people have that “they just need to find the right dick”, gay men have to deal with the same thing. Like Eleazar in the book thinking he can shove boobs at Michael and he’ll suddenly like them. You wouldn’t think that I could shove a penis in a straight man’s face and he’ll suddenly be into it, would you?

So, to wrap things up, it’s written well, it has a good flow, there’s some nice action, there’s clever banter, but the love interest is treated like a goddess in all she says and does and subjects are brought up or brushed over that may offend some people. You’ll probably be able to tell whether or not this will bother you based on the review.

I give it a 6/10.