ARC Review: The Waking Dreamer by J.E. Alexander

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 343
Format: ARC ebook
Publication Date: September 22, 2013

Summary: Seventeen-year-old orphan Emmett Brennan remembers nothing of his past—not the boiler room in which his needle-ravaged mother gave birth to him, nor the Druids who tenderly delivered him. He can’t remember the cabal-summoned Revenant that clawed itself from shadow to hunt him, or why his mystical midwives hid him from the necromantic creature. Approaching adulthood, he is unaware of the dark forces that still search for him or the mysterious sentinels who secretly protect him, but on the eve of his eighteenth birthday that will change. The Revenants will find him. Only the young woman from his dreams can help him confront all he was once made to forget. Together, they will brave the nightmarish landscape Emmett’s waking world will soon become.

Review: Writing this review has felt a bit like ripping a bandaid off. I’ve been putting it off but it’s not going to be any less painful so I might as well do it and get it over with. “I didn’t like this book” doesn’t even scrape the surface of my vast, shimmering disappointment of this book. The first portion was really good. Emmett, the main character, was interesting and full of pop culture references that made connecting the strange, supernatural subworld to our real world a bit easier. The first scene is of his birth and it’s so well-written that it blew my mind. However, as soon as he gets confronted with his first enemy, things go sharply downhill.

The main problem with this book for me was the ridiculous pacing (or lack thereof) and the gratuitous violence. I’m not opposed to violence in books and I do find it necessary sometimes. I have no problem reading it and I enjoy a well-written and well-planned action scene, no matter how jolting it is. This book was nonstop fighting, death, and gore. The entire plot is based around violence, but not to any sort of point. There’s supposed to be some deeper story about Emmett’s connection to this community that fights against these supernatural creatures but that is completely washed over by poorly-timed fight scenes. Each fight scene lapses into short, badly-written “development scenes” that only ever result in the characters finding themselves in a new fight scene. The moments between don’t build the characters or explain anything. Besides being annoyed and a little grossed out by all the violence, I was confused. It was an unpleasant combination and I almost didn’t finish the book.

Character development was also largely nonexistent. One of the main characters (supposedly) is Amala and without giving anything away, she is not developed at all in the story but yet, it’s clear that by the end, we are supposed to like her. I don’t buy into characters like that. The author has to work to make the audience enjoy or hate or feel something about the character and Alexander only really did that with Emmett (and even that fell apart) and Kieran, the only other character who has something of a personality that is unfortunately ultimately subjugated beneath the violence. **MINOR SPOILER** Most of the characters the reader is introduced to are immediately killed or disappear as soon as they are introduced. Their deaths are disgusting but not emotional, leaving the reader feel a sense of pointlessness to any of the new characters who get introduced. **END SPOILER**

Overall, this book completely missed the mark for me. Not one thing from the plot to the characters were well-developed and at the end, I just felt disappointed, confused, and extremely disturbed by all the unnecessary violence.

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Review: Librarian by Brian Fence

Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 432
Format: Ebook
Publication Date: May 16, 2013

Summary:  Lenna is a librarian. She’s not a mage, an adventurer, or a fighter. She enjoys life between the stacks in her quaint harbor hometown of Port Hollish. But when an old childhood friend comes back under false pretenses, she becomes all these things and more, shedding the life of a librarian. She finds herself in the midst of what she feels is a novel, caught up in the power of one of three Godstones, powerful magic gems that could have devastating consequences should they find the wrong owners.

Review: This is Brian Fence’s debut novel and it was brilliant. I can’t imagine a more skillfully-crafted, original debut for what seems will be a promising series and a promising author. I went blindly into this book after entering its Goodreads giveaway for signed copies (which I did not win). To be honest, the cover caught my attention more than anything (can you blame me?). I bought it for Kindle for $4 and having read it, I would have paid at least double.

I really loved this book. It was fun, imaginative, well-written, and inspired. From the beginning through the end, everything worked for me and the end made me wonder when the sequel will come out. I would like to signal boost this book and encourage any lovers of fantasy, steam punk, or a good adventure novel to read this. It has a disappointing amount of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and it really deserves more attention.

Lenna, the main character, was likeable. She was honest with herself and the reader, flawed and complex with real motivation that kept her actions consistent through the story. Lenna is my ideal heroine: sometime to admire who isn’t god-like and perfect. The other characters were equally well-crafted and diverse. Some of them were introduced too close to the end for my liking. I would have preferred to read more about them, but it gives me something to look forward to in the sequels!

The writing was absolutely superb. Everything was beautifully described, free of hackneyed cliches, and it had a real rhythm to it. One scene blending neatly into the next without any confusing transitions or lapses in focus. There were some issues with the pacing of the story in my opinion. At over 400 pages, the middle portion was a bit lacking in action and the end was a tad rushed but overall, it didn’t adversely affect my pleasure.

I look forward to Apprentice, Librarian‘s planned sequel and I look forward to anything else Fence writes. I am a faithful fan to a very undiscovered read and I highly recommend buying a copy of Librarian and enjoying the ride for yourself.

Review: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 512
Format: Ebook

Summary: The Art of Fielding is about five characters–Henry, Schwartz, Owen, Affenlight, and Pella–and how their lives and interactions dance in a tangled web together. The story focuses on Henry’s path as a shortstop who gets recruited by Mike Schwartz to Westish College in Michigan. After three years of practice and extreme training under the heavy influence of Schwartz, Henry becomes a star on the field. His dreams skyrocket until one bad throw rattles all five intertwined lives and sends Henry into a downward spiral out of the spotlight.

Review: First, I’d like to emphasize that while this book has lots of baseball and seems to be based around it–a bonus for me because I love baseball and my team is having a horrible season–it is a character-driven novel and anyone can read it without losing anything from the baseball parts. Harbach describes the game very eloquently, one of the many aspects of this books that I enjoyed, but he also writes five very complete, dimensional characters who envelope the reader in their lives and affairs.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the novel. Harbach builds Henry up into a hero-like character, young and fresh with potential, hope, and enthusiasm for baseball. I was inclined to adore Henry from the beginning. Henry’s fall from grace is heart-breaking and despite some of his more questionable actions, I couldn’t help but still root for him the entire book. I also enjoyed Pella’s character, a strong young woman trying to reclaim the youth she left behind when she dropped out of high school, got married, and moved to San Francisco. Her anti-rebellion back into college and into her father’s house makes for a refreshing character who is desperate to just be a normal college kid. As a character story, it was well-done. Each character has their strengths and flaws, deep personalities that make them all distinct and wonderful to read about.

Now let’s talk about what I didn’t like: pretty much the entire second half of the story. The middle felt long and drawn-out. Some of the characters side-stepped their carefully-constructed personalities in very uncharacteristic ways. There were a good 100 or so pages that simply could have been omitted. I almost lost my interest which is unfortunate because I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. While the characters remained relatively strong, I lost interest in the story. Everything got very messy very quickly and there was no relief for the reader past the half-way point, no hope to cling on to and this is too long of a book to be left stranded like that.

The other thing I didn’t like was the ending. I absolutely hatted the ending. It felt cheap and I finished the book feeling like I had been gypped. After investing many hours into reading a long, drawn-out book, the end felt like a cop-out. Overall, I was a little disappointed by this book. I wanted to like it so badly and 200 pages in, I would have given it 5 stars in a heartbeat. The ending really left a bad taste in my mouth. I will explain more why past the spoiler barrier so continue at your own risk.

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