Review: Enchanted by K.K. Allen

Book 1 of The Summer Solstice

 

Title: Enchanted

Author: K.K. Allen

Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult

First Published in 2014

Self-Published

Series: The Summer Solstice

Rating: 5/5 stars

Note: I purchased this book as a freebie. However, this aspect didn’t influence the review I wrote or the rating I gave this book.  In this review, you will find only my honest thoughts and opinions about the book I’ve read!

I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite themes is family secrets and boy what a life-changing secret the protagonist is about to discover in the book I’m going to review today! Enchanted is the first instalment in K.K. Allen’s Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy trilogy entitled The Summer Solstice. In this novel, we follow Katrina Summer’s story, a teenage girl who is unaware of the special bloodline she comes from for almost sixteen years. After her mother’s unexpected death, Kat moves to Apollo Beach, Florida, to live with her estranged grandmother Rose, she has never met before, a respectable yet mysterious lady, who acts cold towards her at first, but things will change as they get accustomed to each other. As Kat’s sixteenth birthday approaches, she experiences strange visions and vivid nightmares whose hidden messages she’s unable to grasp.

At first, Katrina is an insecure teenager and she feels a little awkward in the wealthy neighbourhood she moves in because she used to live a modest life in a bubble her overprotective mother built for her in order to hide the truth from her. Kat was also in foster care for a while and she went to public school, but she was laughed at and considered a weirdo. As time goes by in Apollo Beach, Kat befriends Alec Stone, the cute boy next door who helps her adapt to her new life, but she can’t tell him anything about her visions or her secret powers because it would reveal the true identity of the inhabitants of the community. Encouraged by Rose and her friend Charlotte, Kat learns about the family history of The Summers and she’s trained to control her powers. Of course, like any teenager, Kat makes some mistakes that almost cost her life and her visions and nightmares gradually come to fruition like horrible prophecies or trials she must go through in order to show her ability to right the wrong and to become a better person. Kat will also meet a lot of outlandish people through her wealthy grandmother, who is an important figure in the community and most people admire her for her involvement in keeping the town healthy and safe. Kat basically enters into a period of transition from the quiet and uneventful life she has lived with her mother, to the one that leads to her life-purpose: “there is a circle of life before you and it all begins on the day of your sixteenth birthday.” (Loc. 999)

I know that this review is a bit vague, but you need to discover the book at your own pace and I assure you that you won’t regret a single second that you have read it. However, all I can say is that reading about the stories and legends Grandma Rose told Katrina gave me chills down my spine. To a certain point, I felt confused and my head was full of information which is actually a good thing because I felt that the author did her research well. Though Kat considers her grandmother to be a bit insane when the woman talks about the special powers her granddaughter has inherited from her ancestors, in the end, all makes sense and the only thing Kat has to do is learn to master elemental magic and accept her new identity.

The writing is beautiful, visual and full of colour while the story is suspenseful and a real page-turner that doesn’t let you put the book or your reading device down. The characters are well fleshed out, the situations are realistic with the exception of the visions and nightmares that torment Kat, which make your heart skip a beat; Kat and Alec’s relationship is sweet (not excessive like in other books) and you root for them and, you cannot help yourself but love Grandma Rose even when she is stern with Kat. Charlotte is also a lovable character, even more than Rose, because of her kind and affectionate nature that makes me think she is a mother figure to Kat.

In short, the experience I had with his book was amazing and besides a few editing slips, I don’t have anything bad to say about it. The parts about magic and the stories about The Summers’ family history and Kat’s ancestors are truly fascinating and I had to pause for a minute or two to take it all in. The descriptions of Apollo Beach and Tampa Bay were so vivid that I was transported there through K.K. Allen’s writing. I highly recommend this young adult contemporary fantasy novel to anyone who loves elemental magic, myths and family secrets. There are still some unanswered questions and some fresh ones at the end of this first instalment, but there are two more books to satisfy one’s curiosity. I would really like to pick them up somewhere in the near future.

Review: To Read or Not to Read by Vincent Hobbes

Title: To Read or Not to Read

Author: Vincent Hobbes

Genre: Horror, Short Story

First Published in 2011

Published by Hobbes End Publishing, LLC

Rating: 4/5 stars

“I rent time for people to read, Frau McClain. Time for people who have no time to spare.” Strauss’ eyes twinkled. (Loc. 192-193)

I picked up To Read or Not to Read by Vincent Hobbes a few years ago and I rated it pretty low because I didn’t know at the time that I was reading a short story belonging to the horror genre. However, now I thought that I needed to reread it and re-evaluate the story because I grew up as a reader and I’ve read a more diverse range of books than I used to four years ago.

This story revolves around a quaint little bookstore named Strauss Books after its German owner’s name, Mr Günter von Strauss, a secret place known only to a few people. Despite the fact that Strauss is a mysterious and eccentric old man who rips out pages from the books he stacks to keep his clients safe, he is very polite and friendly to the people who enter his bookstore, including Shelby McClain, the woman whom we follow throughout the entire story. Should she follow her instinct and leave this odd place or should she give in, pick a book and see what happens? Are Mr Strauss’ books magical as the customers claim? Read and you will find out!

I love the concept of a magic bookstore, where you can buy time to read and experience the book of your choice for a few minutes. It’s a bit like in Eliade’s novella, where time flows differently after you close the door behind you and the rules of the outside world just vanish away. The story has a steady pace, it’s suspenseful, the writing is simple but it suits the narrative well and the characters have distinguishable voices. I personally wanted to learn more about the German librarian, who seems to be a kind of link between two very different worlds.

I hope that this review sparked your interest in reading this short and enjoyable book. Personally, I’m glad that I finally gave it a second chance, it was definitely worth it. Happy reading everyone!

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Book 1 of Oz

 

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Author: L. Frank Baum

Genre: Children’s Books, Fairy Tal, Adventure

First Published in 1900

Year of Publication of This Edition: 2012

Public Domain Books

Series: Oz

Rating: 5/5 stars

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” (p. 102)

I recently found myself in the mood to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, a childhood favourite I’ve read in Romanian and partially in English. As most of you already know, it is a fairy tale about a poor little girl named Dorothy, who lives in Kansas with her aunt and uncle. Her dull life changes when a cyclone makes their house rise up into the air and drops it into the magical Land of Oz.

There, Dorothy and her little dog Toto encounter the inhabitants of this place: the Munchkins, the Witches and other outlandish beings, but also the three friends who accompany them on the way to the Emerald City, where the Great Wizard of Oz lives. The strange creatures that Dorothy befriends are the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. I think that it is redundant to tell you more about this story because it is a beloved children’s classic and that says already a lot about it.

Dorothy’s adventures in the Land of Oz made me feel like a child again and I’m glad I read it once more. Though I love the movie as well, I think that the book is more complex than it because there are more adventures and characters in the book than in the 1939 film. Even though the dialogue is a bit repetitive sometimes and Dorothy’s three talking friends are less developed than the characters from the fantasy novels of our times, I enjoyed this classic fairy tale.

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

Book 2 of The Chronicles of Narnia 

Title: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Author: C. S. Lewis

Illustrator: Pauline Baynes

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Children’s Books

First Published in 1950

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Series: The Chronicles of Narnia

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’m almost sure that many of you love C. S. Lewis’ fantasy book series The Chronicles of Narnia, so I wanted to surprise you with my review for the second book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I haven’t read the rest of the books, but you can write in the comment section why you love this series or which book is your favourite.

As you already know, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy novel which revolves around the lives of four siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie) who are sent to the countryside to escape the Blitz. While they explore the old house of Professor Digory Kirke, the children find an empty room where the only item of furniture is a wardrobe, which is actually a secret passage to the enchanted land named Narnia. It’s always winter there, but Christmas never comes. Gradually, each of the four siblings enters into this fairy-like world, where they encounter Tumnus the faun, Jadis the White Witch or the self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia, Mr and Mrs Beaver, Aslan the Lion or the true King of Narnia, and other magical and mythical creatures.

The kids initially go on a mission to save Tumnus from the witch’s castle, but when some old prophecies need to be fulfilled and spells to be broken, the siblings undergo adventures they have never dreamt of. I also want to add that there are very obvious religious symbols in this fantasy novel, but I won’t get into that. If you are interested in this topic, please check out Raluca’s article posted in two parts about J. R. R. Tolkien’s literary masterpiece The Lord of the Rings.

Though I loved the movie and watched it a few times before actually reading the novel, I also enjoyed most of the book for the depiction of Narnia, its characters, but also for the beautiful writing and plotline. Until next time!

Review: Gates of Heaven by Pamita Rao

A Fantasy Action Adventure Series

Book 1 of Balthasar Family Saga

 

Title: Gates of Heaven

Subtitle: A Fantasy Action Adventure Series

Author: Pamita Rao

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Year of Publication: 2015

Published by P.S.R. Publishing Limited

Series: Balthasar Family Saga

Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a free copy of this book after I signed up for the author’s no-spam newsletter.

Warning: This book contains mature content not suitable for children!

“It was a myth well known to anyone in Tireol that the enchanted forests hid the gates of heaven created by gods. The gods used the gates to travel between various realms to observe and guide the life force that they helped create.” (Loc. 165-166)

Gates of Heaven is the first instalment in the fantasy adventure series Balthasar Family Saga written by Pamita Rao.  On Planet Myrth, King Creed reigns over the entire land, but his thirst for power didn’t quench with the vast territory he already owns; he also wants to conquer other realms beyond Myrth. To make his greedy wish come true, he needs to pass through the gates of heaven, which are located somewhere in the enchanted forests, but they reveal themselves only to enlightened people.

Though Creed learned to use dark magic from the sages while he was exiled by his father, King Balthasar, he has never found the magic gates like the former king did many years ago. When Queen Elora gives birth to a son, Creed’s trusted sage’s prediction comes true. Neelahaim will possess more powers than his father and he will be able to pass through the gates to unknown lands. What would a twisted totalitarian ruler like Creed do to make sure that he will not let the opportunity to go through the gates of heaven slip through his fingers? To plot the killing of his newborn son, of course, by performing a dangerous ritual through which his son’s powers would be transferred to him!

However, the queen senses what Creed is up to, so she has a plan of her own, meant to keep him safe with the help of her estranged family. Here’s where Alaira and Horace (Elora’s sister and brother) step into the picture; they are as skilful and intelligent as the queen herself, but they are more like tricksters. There are also Freddic and Klink who help their friends not only to get into the castle but also to return safely to Nimah.

Creed, the King of Tireol, is the main villain of this story even if most of the time he seems evil without reason. An explanation would be his belief that King Balthasar loved his subjects more than him. I said before that Creed is a tyrant, a greedy person who uses his power and dark magic to get what he wants without caring if he causes suffering or destruction around him, and for some strange reason I compared him with Emperor Nero because they are both cruel and selfish.

In contrast, Queen Elora is a skilled warrior and an intelligent woman, but she accepts to marry Creed in order to keep her family safe. Even if she doesn’t love the King, she has strong motherly feelings towards her son, for whom she risks and sacrifices everything including her freedom. Though Elora wasn’t able to see her family again after marrying Creed, she can’t ask anyone but her dear sister to protect and take care of her child.

As for Alaira, I don’t have a lot to say, though she’s the protagonist of the story. She is brave like her elder sister, skilled in the arts of swordsmanship and archery, a true trickster, but a girl with strong family bonds and a soft heart for her father (Reddan), siblings and her nephew. She promises to protect the child even if it means risking her life to let him live.

The plot follows different characters, that’s why we have multiple points of view: Freddic (Alaira’s friend and love interest), Creed (King of Tireol), Queen Elora, Alaira, Horace etc. The pacing is fast, the story is very visual, but there were some weird word choices especially in the first half of the book, which made it difficult for me to focus on the story. Here are a few examples just to give you an idea: “she sensed darkness in him” (Loc. 372), “You do not deserve to rule this throne” (Loc. 553), “she turned her to him” (Loc. 564), “to sneak the prince from under the king’s nose” (Loc. 652). The main themes of the story are: good vs. evil, love for one’s family, courage, devotion, and the sense of belonging to a community.

Now let’s talk about world-building. On Planet Myrth, which initially made me think of a science-fiction setting, we have Tireol, Taelk, Griesmal and Nimah. People work in small but loving communities; they trade goods with the aristocrats for protection (as Freddic’s family did). In this world there are also slaves and servants, who are beaten by the guards and noblemen, there are sages like Drahim, and magical creatures like trolls and Ghimish. There are myths, pretty vague beliefs in gods, history of Tireol (the story about Balthasar) and some politics, an essential part of every fantasy novel. Even though the book can be read like a fairytale, it has mature content such as macabre or death scenes which are not suitable for younger readers.

To wrap it up, I hope that my review stirred your interest in reading Gates of Heaven. It was a pretty interesting book for me, though there were some things I didn’t understand or resonate with, but if you’re a fan of high fantasy or adventure, give it a chance.