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Illuminated

Jackie Castle. CreateSpace, $12.99 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-4811-9462-4

In the first of Castle's White Road Chronicles, 17-year-old Alyra begins to learn who she really is. Captured as a child by the ruthless king Darnel, she has no memory of where she comes from. Only when she meets with a man that Darnel has captured, a messenger of sorts, does she realize that she is somehow significant; she carries a medallion that is worn only by those who have "stood in King Shaydon's presence." Armed with this knowledge, Alyra determines to overthrow Darnel's rule and return to the land of her origin. The Christian allegory is obvious: King Shaydon represents God and Jesus Christ, and Darnel the Devil or forces of sin. Alyra's story is both heroic quest and spiritual journey, and Castle sets up the story well for the sequels. While the Christian allegory is solid, other elements are flawed. The story is set in medieval times, but the dialogue is peppered with contemporary slang, and the prose is stilted at times. This may satisfy allegory fans, but as fantasy fiction it brings little new to the genre. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Every Day Needs a Dog

Billi Tiner. Tinerbooks, $10.50 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-4993-7112-3

Tiner’s faltering contemporary is full of distractions: a stalker, a serial rapist, overly aggressive dates, and cute dogs that are more props than characters. Elizabeth’s life changes dramatically when she is fired from her high-powered public relations job without explanation. She’s immediately offered a job as the president of an animal shelter. She accepts, not for the best reasons, but soon starts to enjoy the work, the dogs, and the shelter volunteers, especially big-hearted Paul. Tiner attempts to portray Paul as the knight rushing in to rescue the damsel in distress, but he comes across as a possessive and jealous guy with a hero complex. His propensity to violence may be excusable at first time, but he lashes out repeatedly, despite Elizabeth’s requests for him to back off. Despite the setting, the dogs don’t get much of the spotlight. The framework is there for a heartwarming romance, but the story falls short. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Honeymoon Trap

Kelly Hunter. Tule, $2.99 e-book (104p) ISBN 978-1-940296-59-3

Hunter tells this tiny jewel of a tale with an unabashed gusto that matches her heroine’s sparkling panache. One of Eli Jackson’s best friends is Fuzzy, a fellow gamer he hangs out with online on Friday afternoons for an hour of role-playing games and light chatter. When Fuzzy, also known as Zoey Daniels, shows up in the irrepressible flesh (and a delectable purple gown) at a gamers’ convention on Australia’s Gold Coast, Eli is shocked by their instantaneous sexual connection. But the obstacles to romance are significant: Eli still isn’t over the death of his previous girlfriend, and Zoey has a few issues about which she’s being uncharacteristically discreet. The emphasis is on startlingly direct communication and the headlong rush of impulse, leading to a marvelous, funny whirlwind of a romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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More than Music

Elizabeth Briggs. CreateSpace, $12.99 trade paper (310p) ISBN 978-1-4996-0799-4

Predictable but sweet harmonies characterize Briggs’s new adult debut, the first in the Chasing the Dream series. Maddie Taylor is a rising college senior with a particular gift for nearly flawless musical recall. She joins a friend’s band for a reality-show audition, thinking it’s a temporary arrangement until they find a new full-time bassist. The fine print, however, has her staying for much more than one song. She reluctantly gives up a prestigious internship to follow her rock-and-roll dream—and soon she’s falling for the band’s intense lead vocalist, Jared. Will they be able to traverse the quagmire of a televised music competition while maintaining their integrity as a band and as individuals? The scathing indictment of reality-show consumerism and the well developed characters carry an otherwise unexceptional plot. For all its music-scene edginess, the tale is a well-worn standard that gets lost in overplayed details and manufactured intensity. Agent: Kate Testerman, KT Literary. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Year We Fell Down

Sarina Bowen. Rennie Road, $8.99 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-0-9910680-0-5

Bowen (Coming In from the Cold) imbues the first Ivy Years new adult contemporary with heart and soul. Ice hockey has always been college freshman Corey Callahan’s passion—until a serious accident leaves her unable to play, let alone walk unassisted. While moving into one of Harkness College’s two wheelchair-accessible dorm rooms, Corey meets hockey player Adam Hartley, a former teammate of her older brother. A drunken dare caused Adam to break his leg, which relegated him to the neighboring room and a season off the ice. Despite the disdain of Adam’s society-princess girlfriend, Adam and Corey hit it off quickly, bonding over their injuries and a shared love of an hockey video game—and soon Corey wants more. But does Adam? Alternating points of view, Bowen skillfully conveys the roller-coaster emotions of two damaged young adults trying to find their way through tough issues and makes us care deeply about what happens to them. This page-turner will have readers eagerly awaiting Bowen’s next book. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Curvy Girls Club

Michele Gorman. Notting Hill Press, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-4991-7933-0

Gorman’s novel is a laugh-out-loud, heartwarming tale of four “curvy” friends who are sick of spending their time stressing over every bite of food, and who decide to take back control by organizing a social group they call “The Curvy Girls Club.” The heroine is Katie Winterbottom; prior to the formation of The Curvy Girls Club she spent her days cold calling pharmacies while working at a call center and also unsuccessfully lusting after a colleague. Her nights were occupied with attending weight-loss meetings and generally feeling bad about herself. That all begins to turn around after Katie and her three friends, Jane, Ellie, and Pixie decide to ditch the weight-loss meetings and start a social club, where feeling good about yourself and your curves is the main motto. However, once Katie begins to lose weight unexpectedly, she’s faced with the possibility of a drastic change to the life she’s made for herself. This is a delightful book of friendship, acceptance, and belonging for anyone who has ever wondered: “What if?” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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One

Ron Glick. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (412p) ISBN 978-1-4961-0025-2

With all the subtlety and grace of a raging bull in a china shop, the first installment of the Godslayer Cycle harkens back to long nights spent with fantasy role-playing games in a friend’s basement. Nathaniel Goodsmith’s fate is to be an instrument of the Pantheon of old gods—long thought dead by the people of the realm—in the coming war with the unimaginatively named New Order of younger gods. Tasked with this mystical imperative, he must go forth to find the first of the nine swords forged by the old gods before agents of the New Order can thwart him. Nuggets of creativity, like the old gods’ intriguing approach to gender, are briefly explored but overshadowed by the crowd of characters and their clumsy, overly verbose dialog (“We would infect this New Order and cripple it afore it can deliver unto us a death blow”). Details are lovingly expounded, ad nauseam, grinding the narrative to a screeching halt. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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