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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-03 21:13
Unraveling (#2 -- Unblemished Trilogy) by Sara Ella
Unraveling (The Unblemished Trilogy) - Sara Ella

Eliyana Ember doesn’t believe in true love. Not anymore. After defeating her grandfather and saving the Second Reflection, El only trusts what’s right in front of her. The tangible. The real. Not some unexplained Kiss of Infinity she once shared with the ghost of a boy she’s trying to forget. She has more important things to worry about—like becoming queen of the Second Reflection, a role she is so not prepared to fill. Now that the Verity is intertwined with her soul and Joshua’s finally by her side, El is ready to learn more about her mysterious birth land, the land she now rules. So why does she feel like something—or someone—is missing? When the thresholds begin to drain and the Callings, those powerful magical gifts, begin to fail, El wonders if her link to Ky Rhyen may have something to do with it. For light and darkness cannot coexist. She needs answers before the Callings disappear altogether. Can El find a way to sever her connection to Ky and save the Reflections—and keep herself from falling for him in the process?






*NOTE: This is a continuation of a series, so we have some spoiler-y material down below. Click away now if you haven't read the first book and don't want spoilers!




But if you have read the first book, then you know that when we last visited this trio -- Eliyana, Joshua, and Ky -- Joshua was pushing to make things official with Eliyana ("El") and Ky took off to try to track down his missing sister, leaving a big question mark around the feelings that had been building between him and El throughout the first novel.


Now here we are in the second installment. Unraveling opens with Ky still gone, and Eliyana preparing to take the throne as the new ruler of the Second Reflection (modern day NYC serves as Third Reflection, with portals between the realms). Joshua is still around, attentive to Eliyana though there IS still something about his motives that feels questionable. El continually tries to convince herself that Joshua is the right man for her but in her quietest, most honest moments she can't deny that something between them feels off. She also can't shake off persistent thoughts of Ky, endlessly wondering of his welfare & whereabouts.  


If you, like me, were solidly Team Ky during the entirety of Book 1, no worries! Your guy is back! But it does take time for his story to come to the forefront. While the traditional chapter format is used to alternate between the voices of El and Josh, Ky's chapters (in his voice) are shorter and simply marked "Aside". But from them, we do learn what he's been up to since the close of Book 1 and that he's picked up the ability to read El's mind, even from a distance, which at first spooks her, then annoys her to no end until she ultimately accepts, even comes to appreciate it, seeing that it only goes to illustrate just how closely their souls are bound to each other. But what of that pesky Kiss of Infinity... was it Josh or Ky that got the TRUE binding kiss? That's El's big inner question for the first half of this second book. 


The other big mystery is the Callings. Something is making the various Callings (powers people of the Realms are either born with or come into) diminish or die off altogether. Also, the Thresholds (portals) between the Reflections (realms) are weakening, leaving people to fear that they will be trapped in one Reflection or another for all eternity if the Thresholds completely shut down. El journeys all over creation, desperately seeking the answer to this mystery, hoping she'll find the solution before it's too late. 


Finding myself such a big fan of the first book, this sequel immediately went on my mental anticipated releases list once I heard it was in the works! Once I finished Unraveling, I checked out online reviews out of curiosity. Seeing page after page of 4 and 5 star reviews, I just had to accept I was clearly going to have to be in the minority on this one. Let me be clear, I didn't hate this book, but MAN, was it a disappointment compared to the first book! 


It started off promising. The action was there early on -- we have someone dead by Chapter 2 already! -- but El, what happened to you, girl?! Unraveling, indeed! You went from being fun and quirky in Unblemished to whiny and obnoxious here! El just keeps re-hashing the same questions -- almost verbatim each time, I might add -- OVER. AND. OVER. AGAIN. El's inner monologue seems to be chock full of endless questions.  I found myself wishing El had a little bit more "warrior chick" to her personality in this story. She likes to TRY to assert herself from time to time -- "I am your queen!" -- but she doesn't have the presence to back it up. She seems to rely too much on everyone else to give her a direction to go in, her own mind too busy being too busy coming up with the next pop culture reference. 


That's likely what killed a lot of the story here for me. The strength of the novel as a whole gets ruined by what feels like author Sara Ella's insistence on pandering to the younger members of the millennial crowd -- for example, ending a sentence with " #nojoke ", or incorporating such cringe-inducing analogies as "shake it off Taylor Swift style." Blech. And the song references. THE SONG REFERENCES. Starts off a few here and there. Then suddenly it's EVERY FEW PAGES. Sara Ella tries to get away with it by writing in that Eliyana thinks in song lyrics but sorry, some of those references felt awfully forced. 


I get that everyone in our trio here fall between the ages of 17-23, so to some extent, writing in that style can be expected. My gripe is that it is most definitely overdone. Additionally, the plot in this second book suffers the double shot of having plot or character minutiae overly detailed while unfortunately being not nearly as entertaining and taut as the adventure readers were given in Unblemished. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll add that part of me (interest-wise) tapped out once the personal connection between Ky and Joshua was revealed. It struck me as a very soap-opera path to go down, which certainly didn't help my already floundering attention. 


There just weren't enough surprises for me in the plot as a whole. About the only things that caught me off guard were 1) the scene with the coral caves -- THAT was inventive! 2) the danger Khloe got into near the end of the book... but then, evil IS so often seeking the innocent, isn't it?


So if I had such problems with this plot how did it still get three stars outta me? Well, because there were things about it that I did, in fact, find myself enjoying a good bit. I do still like the character Ky, even if his love El grated on me during this part of their journey. {At one point Ky tells El, "You will always be enough for me," which is sweet... definitely something one always likes to hear out of a loved one... but as the reader, ol' El wasn't quite enough for me.}


I also quite enjoyed seeing the evolution of the sisterly bond between Eliyana and Ebony. Who doesn't love seeing progressive maturity in characters as a story unfolds over time, right? :-) For those elements, I am still invested in this series and will happily try out the conclusion due to come out next year. 


I noticed that in her author acknowledgements page, Sara Ella gave a shout-out to "author friend" Mary Weber, who penned the Storm Siren Trilogy. I wonder if Weber weighed in on plot brainstorming sessions at all. If so, this actually gives me hope in a way, because I had much the same issue with that trilogy -- absolutely adored the first book, was sorta meh about the second, came back once again really enjoying the 3rd and last book. I look forward to seeing if I have a similar result with the conclusion of the Unblemished series next year.



FTC Disclaimer: Thomas Nelson Publishers,via both BookLookBloggers.com and TNZ Fiction Guild, kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.



ICYMI: My review for Book 1, UNBLEMISHED





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review 2017-02-24 07:00
Paul The Apostle: A Graphic Novel by Ben Avery, Illust. by Mark Harmon
Paul the Apostle: A Graphic Novel - Ben Avery,Mario DeMatteo,Mark Harmon

Experience the biblically based account of Paul the Apostle in COMIC BOOK format! Paul's life story, told to us in the Book of Acts, is filled with bravery, adventure, miracles, faith, and salvation, yet many people are not aware of Paul's amazing life. In Paul the Apostle: A Graphic Novel, the action packed Bible story of Paul is more accessible for kids of all ages, using a visual language they love and understand: science fiction comic books! This 144-page full color graphic novel uses awesome looking cartoon creatures, set in an action packed futuristic science-fiction universe.






While you may have been told the story of Paul the Apostle in church, you probably haven't heard it approached this way before! In this clever and artistic re-imagining, readers meet Paul shortly after he has been captured and imprisoned, awaiting execution. Coming to terms with his time on this mortal coil possibly coming to an end very shortly, Paul recounts the unfolding of his life's work, beginning with revealing that he began life as Saul, a guard dedicated to thwarting the message of the very people he would later count himself amongst -- proud and vocal followers of Jesus Christ. His work as Saul meant he would often arrest, imprison, beat, stone, even in some instances kill those who would try to spread the message of Christianity.



While on a road trip to Damascus, Saul is involves in a very serious motor vehicle accident. In fact, it sends him into a near-death experience that puts him face to face with big man Jesus himself. Saul comes back to life from this experience a changed man. Remembering his conversation with Jesus, Saul decides to change his name to Paul and start anew, spreading a message of love and kindness rather than animosity and intimidation through physical violence. 



above: I found the artwork in the dream sequences especially impressive!


This version of Saul / Paul the Apostle travels across many of the familiar locations described in the original biblical tale, and still incorporates many familiar historical / biblical figures (such as Emperor Nero), but in a futuristic, sci-fi like era. This is a little difficult to describe, and (if I may be honest) was even sometimes difficult to completely wrap my mind around while reading, but not so much that you can't keep up. It's a different approach, that's for sure, but I think that was kind of what Beartruth Collective (the publisher) was going for -- parents want their kids to learn their Bible stories but the stock version can sometimes come off as a bit dry and stuffy to young eyes & ears, so here's this fresh, innovative approach. Take a medium kids typically eat up -- graphic novels -- and tell the stories that way. 




My impressions


The Good: The overall quality of the book design in physical form is seriously top notch. Nice sturdy hardcover exterior, thick glossy pages inside that seem to really enhance the vivid color choices for the artwork. And that artwork! Holy cow, Mark Harmon (not THAT Mark Harmon, btw... sorry NCIS fans), you go! I freakin' LOVED the detailing in all the unique character illustrations here! As far as overall aestethic, I thought the design work was gorgeous! 


The Meh: While I like the unique concept of the book, the actual dialogue for the characters fell a little flat for me at times. Overall decent, I still had a good time reading Paul's story, but there were parts in there where it rang a bit corny, a bit trying too hard to be cool for the kids. There were also a few pages / panels where the text bubble layout got a little all over the place, so at times it took me a minute to figure out which way the conversation was meant to flow. 


I also noticed that the further along I got into Paul's story, the less it got to be about this sci-fi world and the adventures Paul went on... instead the dialogue turned more scripture heavy. Now, on one hand I can understand this because the point is for kids to learn Paul's story... but the point is ALSO to get kids interested... so as I was reading, I couldn't help but imagine some kids tuning out and closing the book once the story got pretty sermon-like and started to lose the storytelling aspect. Just my two cents. 




If your child has expressed interest in trying out graphic novels, but you are concerned about the potentially high levels of violence or sexuality in mainstream titles, this may be an alternative for your family. Beartruth Collective, at the back of this book, mentions plans to continue on with more adventures of other biblical figures in this graphic novel format, so I look forward to seeing what their future projects look like (once available)! 


FTC Disclaimer: Bookcrash.com & Beartruth Collective kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2017-01-16 06:24
Siren's Song (Siren Trilogy - #3) by Mary Weber
Siren's Song (The Storm Siren Trilogy) - Mary Weber

After a fierce battle with Draewulf, Nym barely escaped with her life. Now, fleeing the scorched landscape of Tulla, her storm-summoning abilities are returning; only . . . the dark power is still inside her. Broken and bloodied, Nym needs time to recover, but when the full scope of the shapeshifter’s horrific plot is revealed, the strong-willed Elemental must race across the Hidden Lands and warn the other kingdoms before Draewulf’s final attack. From the crystalline palaces of Cashlin to the legendary Valley of Origin, Nym scrambles to gather an army. But even if she can, will she be able to uncover the secret to defeating Draewulf that has eluded her people for generations? With a legion of monsters approaching, and the Hidden Lands standing on the brink of destruction, the stage is set for a battle that will decide the fate of the world. This time, will the Siren’s Song have the power to save it?









So here we are in the third installment of Mary Weber’s Storm Siren Trilogy and our protagonist Nym is still trying to defeat that evil Draewulf. Siren’s Song picks up pretty much right where Siren’s Fury left off. Nym is en route to rescue the captured Princess Rasha. Nym and her posse try to warn Rasha’s mother, Queen Laiha, of the dangers headed her way but the meeting doesn’t go as well as hoped. 


If you’ve worked your way through the first two books, you might remember Nym losing her Elemental powers. To compensate, she made a visit to a witch and picked up some powers more dark in nature. It proved to be a decent quick fix to get her Eogan back but now she has to figure out how to keep those dark powers from overtaking the good, light part of her soul. It was always funny to see how the bouts of foul weather would give away Nym’s rough mood days. X-D


“Never destroy what simply needs taming, Nymia. Mercy grows hearts more than bitterness.”


And how did I not pick up til now that Eogan is only 22?! Seemed so much older! And the “Skinny Love” reference... did Mary Weber slip in a Bon Iver reference in there?! :-)


Much of the same drama you’ve seen from earlier in the series continues here, only with the ramped up intensity that you’d expect of a series closer book. Some of my interest in the plot waned here and there whenever the battle scenes declined -- there are some wonderfully LARPy battles near the end! -- and talk of court politics increased. A little intrigue here and there I’m all for but some of it went on a little long. I do really enjoy this cast of characters though, so the humorous banter often pulled me through the drier parts. I also liked the tension that was built around the character Myles as his powers grew. It was fun to keep guessing if he would turn good or bad in the end. There’s also the adorable little boy Kel who brings some sweet levity to otherwise intense scenes. 


I remember noticing that Weber got a little heavy-handed with the fake swearing in the second book -- this book is put out by a Christian publishing house so when characters needed to swear, she had them using made up curses like “litches”, “hulls”, “bolcrane” (bolcrane doubles, also the name of a feared, deadly lizard-like creature within the Storm Siren world). Though the presence of that pseudo-swearing felt rather ever-present in Siren’s Fury, here in the third book it seems to fall off to nearly non-existent. 

I would’ve loved to see a few more scenes within the Valley Of Origin, but otherwise I thought this was a strong finish to this whirlwind nature-inspired fantasy series. Definitely an improvement from the somewhat lackluster plot of Siren’s Fury. This closing book features a strong ending with one pretty epic final battle. Those scenes in the final pages are seriously LOL adorable! 


YA fans, check out the shout-out to author Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) in the acknowledgements! It was neat to learn that he helped write the few chapters written from Eogan’s POV. 


POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: Because Nym using cutting as a way to process her internal pain throughout part of this series, author Mary Weber recommends that readers who might be triggered visit the website To Write Love On Her Arms (twloha.com) for information and help. 


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2017-01-12 01:59
Unblemished (Unblemished Trilogy - #1) by Sara Ella
Unblemished - Sara Ella

Eliyana is used to the shadows. With a birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her like he does: normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved. But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird. Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly. Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself?





Eliyana is just a couple weeks away from her eighteenth birthday when she tragically loses her mother, Elizabeth, in a structure fire. Not quite of age, her welfare is strangely left in the hands of best friend and next door neighbor, Joshua, who is only 21 himself. Eliyana has always struggled with fitting in, mostly because of a noticeable facial birthmark covering an entire half of her face. When Joshua came into her life he was the first person (aside from her mother) to treat her normally, dare we say even considered her pretty? But how is he supposed to be the legal guardian to someone so close to his own age? In just a matter of hours, El learns that that question is the least of her worries. 


A couple nights after her mother's funeral, El is persuaded to indulge in a night out with a friend. That night turns dangerous when a potential stalking turns into a definite kidnapping. In an attempt to escape, El is caught up in a mess of confusing, questionable sights, one being that of her mother! Turns out that whole death scene was a ruse to protect El. Just as Eliyana is trying to comprehend her mother NOT being dead, Elizabeth is kidnapped. Joshua pops up to explain to El and the reader just what all is going on.


Long story short: Josh is a member of the League of Guardians for one of seven Reflections or alternate realities accessible through Thresholds (think: portal). He was specifically assigned to protect Eliyana as she has something special about her that His Sovereignty, Jasyn Crowe, very much wants. Crowe is a servant of The Void, essence of all evil within The Reflections (something like Star Wars' "The Dark Side"). The Guardians are collectively trying to battle this by recruiting dedicated servants of The Verity (all that is truth, light and goodness). In this battle of good vs. evil, or Era of Shadows as Joshua calls it, Eliyana's birthmark indicates that she may have a most powerful role at the heart of it all. What turns out to be one of the biggest challenges for El is Joshua himself. He acts like a completely different person within this alternate reality El is thrust into... a man that is inexplicably cold and distant. In fact, he transfers the duty of protecting El to a fellow Guardian, Kyaphus (Ky). Multiple times, Ky tries to break it to El that maybe Joshua's "friendship" was just him doing his job but El can't let herself believe that. She's convinced there's more there, just ... for some reason Joshua is forcing himself to deny it. One way or another, she'll have to choose who honestly has her best interests in mind before it's too late to turn back. 


There were some things I noticed at the beginning of this novel that had me saying "uh oh, not another one..." Most noticeably, I spotted A LOT of elements that I've seen in various fantasy movies, tv shows and novels in recent years. Sprinkles of Once Upon A Time here and there... at times it felt like I could almost imagine Sara Ella's DVR line up. I'm not saying anything was directly lifted, I'm just saying if you're a fan of the genre, there is a ton of stuff here that you're likely to quickly recognize. First off was the similarities to The Never Ending Story: 1) mother dies 2) teased kid in this world becomes hero in alternate world 3) The Void = The Nothing >>> El has to find vessel of Verity to save world from The Void = Atreyu & Bastian have to stop the spread of the Nothing. Step away from Never Ending Story and you still see likenesses to Star Wars (especially when it came to that almost awkward link between Ky and El... Clueless-esque awkward). El transporting from NYC to the Reflection where she thinks her mother was taken = very 10th Kingdom. Even the tense triangle between Joshua, El and Ky was reminiscent of the Edward, Bella, Jacob business from Twilight -- there's even a blink-and-you-might-miss-it reference to one of the Twilight films. Oh and btw, I myself am totally team Ky throughout this whole book.


A jagged surface doesn't always allude to what truly lies beneath.



So, given that I was spotting all these similarities, I was concerned that this was just going to be a sloppy rehashing of popular fantasy plots from the past. Good news though! This one is a little shaky in the early portions but gets REALLY good after Act III! All the characters here are dynamic with great personalities (healthy doses of snark included) that keep the story moving at a fun pace. While the plot itself can get a little muddled and murky at times, I do think Sara Ella developed her characters admirably well, giving them all noticeable yet reasonable amounts of individual growth... some towards the light, others going dark... as it should be if you want your reader to get heavily invested! ;-)


Peer beyond the surface; you may find there a rose...


As for our protagonist, El, I liked her personality for the majority of the story. My one gripe with her is how she would persistently knock any meat-eater she came across yet she proudly rocked UGG boots. Weirdly though, her harping on this topic seemed to stop halfway through the book... guess everyone just got so caught up in the battle of good and evil there was no longer any time for meal breaks! 


So if you're all about any of those stories I mentioned above: Never Ending Story, Star Wars, Twilight, The 10th Kingdom, etc... or if you want to just dip a reading toe into the fantasy genre pool, definitely try out this one. I'm all set to jump into the second book of this series -- I need to know what all's gonna go down if / when Ky returns! -- but sadly Amazon says it won't be available for release until this summer :-(



FTC Disclaimer: Both TNZ Fiction Guild and Book Look Bloggers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-01-05 14:31
Siren's Fury (Siren Trilogy - #2) by Mary Weber
Siren's Fury (The Storm Siren Trilogy) - Mary Weber

Nym risked her life to save Faelen, her homeland, from a losing war, only to discover that the shapeshifter Draewulf has stolen everything she holds dear. But when the repulsive monster robs Nym of her storm-summoning abilities as well, the beautiful Elemental realizes her war is only just beginning. Now powerless to control the elements that once emboldened her, Nym stows away on an airship traveling to the metallic kingdom of Bron. She must stop Draewulf. But the horrors he’s brought to life and the secrets of Bron are more than Nym bargained for. Then the disturbing Lord Myles tempts her with new powers that could destroy the monster, and Nym must decide whether she can compromise in the name of good even if it costs her very soul. As she navigates the stark industrial cityscape of Bron, Nym is faced with an impossible choice: change the future with one slice of a blade . . . or sacrifice the entire kingdom for the one thing her heart just can’t let go.






*** Warning: We're discussing Book 2 of a series here, so heads up there's likely to be some spoilers below



Going into Siren's Fury, we find that Nym has lost much of her Elemental powers just as she was beginning to make them work in her favor. Now the people of Faelen are counting on her to defeat the evil Draewolf that caused so much trouble in the first book, but she's not sure how she's supposed to pull that off without her powers to guide her. Still, she doesn't want to cause any further fear or unrest, so she's choosing to hide the fact that her powers are gone until she can figure out how to either get them back or defeat Draewolf without them. Her search for answers will take her down one seriously dark path of choices.

Though Nym put a significant dent in Draewolf's army at the close of Book 1, he's now hard at work building his forces back up, all while having commandeered the body of Eogan (in the form of possession).


(spoiler show)


Even though her newly learned battlefield strategies went a long way to bring the war to a close, the Five Kingdoms are still struggling to maintain peace when it comes to border and trade agreements. Though Nym has been freed from the bonds of slavery, she is still being used as a pawn in a power struggle between the kingdoms of Bron and Faelen. Bron suffered a great loss in the last battle and now the people of Bron have built up quite a bit of bitterness against Nym. 


Nym's sort-of adversary, Myles, returns in this second installment. Here he offers her a way to save Eogan but Nym's friend, the Luminescent Rasha, warns that it's probably best if Nym doesn't trust him too far. Sure he has moments of being personable, but he also still puts off that air of maybe having ulterior motives to any gift or offer of help. But has Nym proven herself to be stellar at following directions or heeding warnings so far? Nah, not so much. 


Siren's Fury was something of a letdown after how much I became invested in Storm Siren. Not that it was terrible. Not at all. I'm still having fun with the series to be sure, something just fell flat here. If I'm being completely honest, a lot of the time I found myself just waiting for Eogan to get some scene time again! 


Nym's powers didn't seem as well-described -- it was tough for me to get a clear picture of what all happened with the "vortex" -- the plot felt less intense, just a lot of cold stares and threats thrown around. There was this sense of a lot of build up for virtually nothing happening (when compared to the first book)... other than a lot of sneaking around on airships and then getting caught. Multiple times. Seriously, why was everyone so bad at sneaking around in this book?


Characters are talking about how terrifying Lady Isobel (Draewolf's daughter) is but honestly I found Lady Adora from the first book way more chillingly evil than Isobel ever was. Isobel just sounded like a bratty kid trying to sound scary but never getting much steam beyond "Just wait til my dad gets here!". But I was caught off guard by her blip of a moment where she let down her guard and was what? Almost helpful to Nym?!


Weber continues to weave inspirational / motivational themes into her fantasy, which I love. Through her characters readers are delivered the message to not let their inner demons control them; no matter how dire the situation, there is always a choice to turn away from or fight against the darkness. Weber's characters also learn to fight evil with compassion and empathy... a lesson all the world could currently benefit from! 


Check out the acknowledgements page of this book and you'll spot some familiar names: Jay Asher, CJ Redwine, Marissa Meyer, Colleen Coble.


Have to say though, Mary Weber... not sure this arachnophobe can entirely forgive you for those two SUPER creepy spider scenes! Yes, I get that the spider was the symbol for the center of dark power but dang, you described those creepy crawlies TOO well! Blech. 

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