Anita's Haven

books, thoughts, stories, poetry, interviews, writing

SOREN by D. M. Cain – my review

Soren is a children’s fantasy book for the preteen and teen generation, although I have to admit I read it in two sittings. Being a fan of fantasy myself, and working with students of all ages, I know this book will appeal to many. 

The characters are well-set, my favourites being Dash and Callista, and there are plenty of magical events and creatures to satisfy a teen fantasy fan (even some honouring the author’s commendable writing influences, I dare say). The descriptions are clearly laid out but not burdening the story, the suspense really written with feeling, rhythm and even a tease; ending chapters on a cliffhanger gets you moving immediately to “just one more chapter”. Having also read this author’s Phoenix Project, it is obvious that D. M. Cain has a natural knack of vividly describing action scenes, especially hand-to-hand duels. The language is excellent, not over-simplified for children but just enough of a challenge.
My favourite part of the book (except for Dash:) is how the author depicts the (royal) family – with past trauma behind them, and the fears of the oncoming prophecy, they are still that imperfectly perfect family of different kids, a moody dad and a slightly controlling mother.

I am glad the story has many possibilities for a sequel, as it is obvious Soren will soon have his followers, the rebel with a (special) heart that he is.

This review will also appear on Readers Review Room with a gold bookworm. 
Amazon link

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GUMMSHOES: MISSION 1 by Erica Gore – my review

Erica Gore has certainly become one of my favourite preteen writers. Having read some of her Taya Bayliss books, I was interested in the new Gummshoe series and it certainly does not disappoint.

This will be a review lacking favourite bits and quotes, as Gummshoes is a detective story and spoilers are the last thing I’d want to give you. But have no doubt – kids will love reading this short, intense mystery tale with a positive message. Erica Gore has once again managed to write a clean and fun read, incorporating bullying, family issues, sports and geeks, teenage crush and proper friendship into one. The characters are easy to picture (Olly is my favourite for now) and relate to (Frankie in the library reminds me of some children). Although the language is not too complicated (in fact, perfectly balanced for this age group), the author never underestimates the readers, providing them with dialogue, descriptions, sounds, smells and feelings which will draw them into the story just as effectively as in the Taya Bayliss series (if not better:). 

The Perfect Plan in the end brought a huge smile on my face, as a mother and a teacher, and I will definitely be recommending this teen detective story to my friends and students.

This review will also appear on the Readers Review Room, awarding the story a gold bookworm.

This book on Amazon

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LIVING THE WRITE LIFE by Traci M. Sanders – my review

Talk about coming across that perfect book at exactly the moment you need it! I started it yesterday and finished this morning. I had been following this author’s blog segments on writing before this book was published, and eagerly awaited to see how the entire book would turn out. It makes me so content to see it is even better than I could have hoped. Not only is non-fiction difficult to write in an interesting and palatable way, but it is almost impossible to preserve a friendly, personal voice which is easily readable, non-preachy and thoroughly appealing.

Whether you are already a writer or hoping to be one, or simply a person with dreams trying to set definite goals into motion, this book will give you inspiration, motivation and even lists of practical, applicable advice on how to turn dreams into doable plans. Aspiring writers should definitely check it out! The format is clearly laid out, so you can easily go back to the tips you liked or need to ‘revise’, but what appealed to me was the personal touch throughout. I recognized myself in plenty of situations, tackling family, work and author aspirations. I have learned some things while reading, some have been put into the right perspective and with some, realizing that I am not the only one battling such creativity-driven ‘symptoms’ and side effects was assistance enough.

The author offers lots of advice, supported by quotes, experience and research, but her goal is not to preach or criticise, but clarify, compartmentalize and encourage. We all need pep talks once in a while, and this certainly is one. Some may expect more numbers and data, but for me, there is just enough ‘maths’ here to support my art. Learning to differentiate critique from criticism, and turning dreams into plans is certainly something all of us could benefit from, regardless of our age, profession and origin. Congratulations to the author. 

Amazon link

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BEYOND DEATH by Deb McEwan – my review

This book has been lying in my kindle reader for a while, because it is not the sort of read you just nibble on as a fun snack. With so much death as 2016 drew to a close, it seemed an appropriate topic to tackle.

I have to admit I had no idea what to expect ftom this story, but the premise seemed intriguing and the catchy beginning hooked me from the start. Writing about the paranormal is like dancing the thin line between poignant and unsubstantial, but author Deb McEwan certainly has important things to relay. Despite the afterlife topic and the element of ghost, angels and devils, the author manages not to turn this into a horror, but more a contemporary family drama. In fact, the horrible events in the book keep happening in the “real” life, not in the beyond. It felt gratifying to read how the villains are dealt with, although the author never makes it all peachy and nice, aware that the battle of evil vs. good is eternal.

Interesting plots and subplots which all intertwine and merge, clean writing and an uncommon premise will keep your interest throughout the story, especially if you like reading about angels and the afterlife. We all wonder what comes next, right?

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THE RUNNING GAME by LE Fitzpatrick – my review

Having read the introductory, teaser short story Safe Haven, I was immediately attracted to the Reacher Series, hoping it would not let my expectations down. Safe Haven grabbed me instantly with relatable, yet extraordinary characters and a wonderfully relentless action pace, and I am thoroughly pleased to say the Running Game not only does not disappoint but even enhances the experience. 

This paranormal thriller, dystopian yet not depressing (hmm… well, no, it offers hope throughout, trust me), revolves around an unusual group of men balancing the thin line between trying to save (or betray) a tremendously fascinating young lady named Rachel from a lunatic underworld lord, as well as the government who have been persecuting Reachers, terrified of their amazing supernatural powers. The author deals with the everlasting fear of the unknown by those trying to harness powers beyond human comprehension for a simple motive such as greed; she displays violence and oppression as their ultimate strategy, and shows us the simple, down-to-earth everyday people trying to get by day in and day out, and form semi-meaningful relationships and semblances of a normal life. I am trying to avoid spoilers here, because the plot is absolutely worth it.

An obvious master of developing characters and plots, LE Fitzpatrick is a highly promising author who engages the reader on various levels and has you rooting for one or more of them, hating and loving them at the same time. It is not easy to write about supernatural powers and/or the lowest of the lowlife and still manage to make your readers grow fond of them, but Fitzpatrick’s love for her characters is completely infectious. I will not divulge my favourites, simply because there are several of them. They are all survivors, and hence the hope I mentioned earlier. The Running Game is a relentless survival story which kept me up reading. My favourite part is seeing how many of her characters’ secrets the author is still keeping from us, which makes me eager to read on. Onwards to The Border Lines then!

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The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon SCHOOL DAY, vol.2 by Ellen L. Buikema – my review

This is a fun and educational story, with all the usual school issues touched upon, but not preached about. The characters are all various animals. When you read the story you will see the auhor made really good use of personification, drawing similes between the behaviour of children and animals in a funny way. The illustrations are simple, inobtrusive and helpful, and my daughter liked them. Each chapter brings us a different school day, but all are linked with an unusual friendship developing.

What kid doesn’t like going on a school trip and being with friends out of school? Placing the school trip in a museum, the author will certainly draw attention to biology and history, and using animals as characters helps the children relate and raises their interest in various animal species’ origin and behaviour. 

Baking cookies together with your friends, and chocolate ones on top of all? Another thing everyone loves to do. I enjoyed the little hints the author leaves for us to see the bully Boris has issues of his own, and the way she makes Charlie eager to treat Boris as a friend. Certainly encourages positive behaviour! When Charlie gets ill, every parent will recognize the phases, so the story lends itself to being read by the child alone or with a parent. 

The science experiment chapter reminded me of the rare fun lessons in biology and chemistry we did, and how much experiments and team work really help children learn about life and each other.

The interactive activities after the chapters are interesting, simple and fun, and children will definitely enjoy them. I was looking forward to predicting them!

All the characters are likeable and the book sends a very positive message, allowing for mischief, skirmish and curiosity as natural part of growing up. It is a clean read which promotes friendship and learning, which will certainly make me recommend this story to educators and parents working with children from about 5 to 10 years old.
This review was written for the Readers Review Room and deserves a gold bookworm.

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ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE: POETRY TO CELEBRATE LIFE by Tracy Miller – my review

Writing poetry is a sort of therapy in its own right, but when you are able to dedicate each poem to someone who matters to you in life, someone close, someone you admire, that makes it a unique gift to them. 

It is difficult to review poetry, seeing as it is so personal to the poet and, in this case, the muses, and yet – I find poets to be truly brave for baring their souls and intimacy, and it is a shame not to leave a review. Formatting a poetry ebook is a tough task, especially when you write poetry without punctuation, but the author made breaks using asterisks, which helps. 

As each poem is dedicated to a friend, one might think only they will find meaning, but you may all recognize similar people you know in all walks of life or sides of the world – people who inspire and uplift us, even when they are not at their best. You may just find yourself appreciating them more as you read through the lines. The poet’s style and rhythm are consistent, and the poems don’t lend themselves to rushing through. My favourite was When Sorrow Becomes Victory.

If you like poetry which is simple, though by no means simplistic; poetry that is unencumbered by complicated wording or robotic rhyme; poetry about people’s strengths and weaknesses, you may well enjoy reading and/or even gifting this book. Oh, a piece of advice – although poetry is intimate, you might try reading it out loud somewhere, be it in the privacy of your room or the boundless freedom of the woods. It adds dimension.

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ETHEL’S NEW HOME by Kathy Rogo – my review

What a lovely children’s book! Author Kathy Rogo has created a charming story about a little hamster running away from her numerous family so she wouldn’t have to wait her turn every single time. Plenty of siblings in large families will identify with Ethel. 

The illustrations are simply adorable, although the layout (exchange of text and images) is better in the first half of the book. The writer’s narration finds the right balance between simplicity and complexity. The children might appreciate a bit more dialogue, especially between the siblings, because they usually relish in acting, and the story lends itself to role play so easily. The scene when Ethel runs into the cat offers an excellent role-playing opportunity.

The ending is gratifying, as Ethel is safely back home with her loving family, and the pets even get a bigger home. I believe parents will enjoy reading and discussing this with their children, learning and teaching about sharing, patience and appreciating the safety of home.

This review will also appear at Readers Review Room.

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THE OLYMPUS PROJECT – The Phoenix Series Book 1 by Ted Tayler – my review

If you are into thrillers about current terrorist attacks and you are also hoping for some sense of justice gratified, The Olympus Project is definitely your kind of book. Well, book series, to be more precise.

With fully developed histories for each character, the author introduces us to a secret organisation bringing punishment upon those who avoid the usual legal punishment. In an old-style elegance in narration and action, reminisicent at first of Roger Moore’s James Bond movies, gaining pace and action as the plot develops, we are led beyond the scenes of hidden, condoned, imminent and past crimes, and we are offered gratification to know they will be wiped out from the face of the earth. 

The thriller offers this enticing concept – vigilante organisation getting at those who elude the justice, sort of like the Avengers, minus the superhero stuff. Would YOU like to be drafted? However, where does one draw the line? Who decides what is right or not? I always wonder. Here is a quote which drew my attention to the issue: “the collateral damage is unavoidable. We have to think of the greater good.” The greater good is the phrase that always creeps me out. The author does not dwell on this or preach; he provides a cool account of events, no mushy emotional stuff, simply intense action, plots and execution. As the interaction between characters deepens, you get lured into guessing what will happen with the mysterious Athena, how long Colin the Phoenix can keep his cool about her, as well as about the assasinations and missions he is sent on, no matter how well justified they seem.

The Olympus Project is bound to have its readers’ following and I am glad there is an entire series available. Fans of secret agents, spy matters and action have a full meal served here.

Note: This review will also appear at Readers Review Room  Do drop by there for a reading recommendation, or join as a reviewer if you will. 

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YIELD by B.J.Tiernan – my review

Having read Standing on a Whale by this author, and enjoying the writing of B. J. Tiernan, which posesses elegance and grace, modesty and strength, I rejoyced at her new book.

Yield has surpassed my initial expectations. It retains all the qualities of Tiernan’s first novel, but is also profused with intimacy, warmth, and finds such instances beauty in the overall ugliness in life, contrasting history with fiction, the Vietnam war with an average woman’s search for love.

Marley is a strong leading female character, a fighter, an imperfect woman in an imperfect world, trying to make her life as perfect as possible. She has no superpowers, does nothing spectacular, makes mistakes, but manages to preserve love in what she does. Marley Cover can teach girls and women a lot about yielding to the fact that life is imperfect, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up; that choices may be wrong, but they are ours and if we make them, we need to accept them for the sake of our peace of mind. 

Only when we have a peace of mind can we truly love ourselves and be a positive influence on the people around us. Nothing has to be perfect – it just needs to be the way we choose to make it. The writing shows the author’s remarkable strength of being able to teach so much by not preaching at all. 

All the plots and subplots, leading characters and the smallest details, from the intro quotes to the news and scenery, have been woven together into a wonderfully told life story. This is the kind of book that will not change the world, but it may change at least one person’s life, and one person’s life is that person’s world. And each person matters.

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