The Collar & Cavvarach by Annie Douglass Lima – Krillonian Chronicles Book 1

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The collar around Bensin’s neck announces to all that he is a lowly slave, downtrodden, abused by owners, and sold as those owners see fit. There is no going out in public without a Pass from the owner. Clothing, used or very used, is at the discretion of the owner. Meals are also dictated by them. There are almost more rules than one can count. In fact, there is even a rule book on slaves for these owners.

Bensin’s sister, Ellie, is only five years old. They have always been together and he can’t imagine a life without her. They are purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Creghorn. Bensin works the yard, runs errands, and does housework. Young Ellie babysits their infant, which she is very good at, keeping Baby Creghorn happy most of the time.

When their mother died, Bensin promised her that he would obtain freedom for Ellie. Slaves are expensive to purchase and it will take years to buy her freedom. So, Bensin hatches a plan to set her free, even though he will still remain a slave. One night, they sneak out of the house, walk a long while, hiding behind cars and in alleys. Still, they are caught by the Watch officers. They’re hustled to a station, where punishment is meted out: thirty lashes for being a runaway. At fourteen, Bensin is used to being beaten by Mr. Creghorn, who is as short-tempered as a person can get. On top of his thirty lashes, he knows he will get more by his owner once he returns. Bensin realizes life is about to get even harder, but he knows he can take it if it means freeing Ellie from slavery.

Soon, Bensin discovers that the Cleghorns are selling him and he will no longer see his sister. They are both devastated at the thought, but his owners have run out of patience, dealing with a runaway, and want him gone. He is sold to Steene Mayvins, who coaches cavvara shil skills. Since he has been trained in this sport, Bensin hopes to make money for his new owner by winning matches. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the tale of Bensin and Ellie.

This story caught my interest immediately. Bensin is an engaging character with a strong personality, which must be hidden to survive in this life of slavery. Just when I thought he is an adult in disguise with all the answers, he does some ‘kid’ thing and I was reminded of his age and the strong spirit within. There is a lot that goes on in each chapter; never was I left with a ho-hum moment. I did find Ellie to be a little overly mature for her age; I have some difficulty seeing a five-year-old carrying an infant or managing to get him into his crib. Also, for being a slave, I thought she was rather unaware of the danger they were in when they tried to make a run for it.

This book is about a youngster learning a life lesson: be patient, persevere, work through your fear, and do your best. Bevin has some struggles, but he always returns to his goal of freeing his sister. Once he is owned by Steene, he becomes even stronger through the adult guidance he receives. As he is coached to physically prepare for competitions and mentally prepare for his adversaries, he becomes an admirable boy that I took pleasure watching become a mature athlete who sometimes made the right choice, and occasionally the wrong. I believe most readers will enjoy this book.

The rating:

  • Genre & general reading age – YA fantasy, but readers of all ages will appreciate it.
  • Level of sexuality: None.
  • Is there graphic language: Very little.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? The Krillonian Chronicles book one.
  • Level of character development – I enjoyed all of the characters, even the ones I thought of as ‘bad’. They were very well presented.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

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Ashes to Ashes by Valerie Thomas

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Natalie and her brother, Ben, are new students and want to make friends fast. When they attend the high school bonfire, they become the entertainment instead, when Ben gets into a fist fight with Zack. Not knowing what to do, Natalie grabs onto the sleeve of the boy next to her, hoping he’ll step in and put a stop to it. Surprisingly, a girl comes forward and takes charge. Hoping to make a friend, Natalie introduces herself. Love Chapman is definitely not your average student. She tells Natalie to take her brother home and keep Ben away from Zack at all costs. A strange first encounter and not a particularly friendly one.

Natalie tries to pursue friendship with Love, who rebuffs her. Disappointed, Natalie finds friends in Jennie and Evan. Unfortunately, while she is busy making friends, so is Ben. To her dismay she discovers his new pal is Zack, a loner whose usual expression is a smirk or one with a stone-cold gaze. Either way, he gives Natalie the creeps.

Gradually, it is noticed that the school is plagued with tragedy. A student commits suicide after being seen talking to Love. Evan’s best friend is nearly killed in a car accident while Love just happens to be with him. Even Ben is not free of the bad luck Love seems to bring. While doing community service at a construction site he is injured in her presence. As Natalie’s suspicions of Love grow, so does her fear. This is not even the tip of the iceberg in this tale.

I am surprised that this story held my attention. I’ve read several YA books and there are some great ones out there, but it is usually a challenge for them to keep me glued to the pages. There are a lot of unanswered questions until the very end and I spent a lot of time pondering where the author was taking me. I think anyone who enjoys YA and mystery will enjoy this. It has a phenomenal ending that I never saw coming. Thank you Ms. Thomas. This is a completely engrossing and entertaining read.

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Young adult for teens and adults who appreciate some good YA.
  • Level of sexuality – These kids are too wrapped up in the drama to dwell on anything sexual.
  • Is there graphic language? I don’t recall any language that would scorch the reader’s eyes.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? There is a sequel coming.
  • Level of character development – The characters really didn’t change. They started with almost an adult persona and stayed that way. Other than Natalie cowing up with some wild idea that no one could talk her out of, most were rather sedate.

I’m more than happy to award this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

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The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay

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This is one of those books that has an intriguing premise, but just doesn’t quite follow through. I picked it up expecting something similar to the classic YA horror of the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books that I read as a teenager. It was a good attempt that fell short for me.

The story starts with a remote island that is home to a boarding school for the elite and talented. Unfortunately, our heroine is not in attendance for her academic, artistic, or athletic abilities. Unlike the other students, she is there because her parents happen to own the island. That is part of the reason she is surprised when she is chosen to become a member of the Guild, a not-so secret society of the coolest kids. It begins with her initiation, which is disgusting, but promising. It quickly went downhill from there, though.

The Kill game is a yearly ritual for the Guild. One person is the killer and they must come up with elaborate ways to “kill” the other members, until someone correctly guesses who the killer is. The book spends a good deal of time building doubt about several of the characters, but they do not actually have much interaction with Cate, our heroine. The other major character, Vaughn, is her childhood friend and is the most entertaining element of the book. Alex is the nasty leader, who is obsessed with the game. The rest blur into the background.

The back cover of the book promised danger, but there isn’t much and it is unimpressive. One girl has a robotic spider tossed at her with peanut oil on it, a dangerous attempt due to her allergy. It was supposed to be exciting, but it came across as silly. It wasn’t until the last tenth of the book that it actually picked up its pace. Finally, someone almost dies. It took far too long to get to that point. The ending is ridiculous and it is easy to guess the who, but the why is an utter disappointment.

I found that all of the characters were annoying, even Vaughn, my favorite. This is a YA novel, but the teen aspect was overwhelming and I could not connect with any of the shallow characters. It’s not a small book and I had to force myself to finish it. It turned out to be nothing like the gory, heart-pounding books of my own youth. Sadly, I cannot recommend this to readers, unless they are prepared for a slow, anti-climactic read. The author’s style is appealing. It is all the other parts of a story that are lacking.

Now, for the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Young adult and definitely for young adults. I enjoy YA, but this was a little too young.
  • Level of sexuality – There is a tad bit of kissing, but that is all.
  • Is there graphic language? No.
  • Did I cry? Not a tear.
  • Did I laugh? Nope.
  • Is this part of a series? No.
  • Level of character development – Basically non-existent.

I wish I had better news about this book. It is obvious that a lot of hard work went into this story, but the characters were flat and not particularly interesting. There was too much time spent running around in caves or on the beach and not enough actual danger. I am sorry to give it ⭐️⭐️ stars. I had hoped to find a new, exciting author, but I will probably pass on her work in the future.

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Barking Madness by Ryan Hill

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Beautiful senior Rosetta and her family have recently moved from Florida to a town called Ashwood. The high school is small, so she causes quite a stir; there aren’t enough pretty girls to compete with her. What the boys don’t realize, is that Rosetta is quite capable of seeking out handsome boys.

The first day is an exciting one, because she meets Tommy, who happens to be the star quarterback. His rippling muscles and cute face convince her that he will be her new boyfriend. Soon, they are considered a couple and she accompanies Tommy everywhere he goes. Friday nights are officially party night, with lots of drinking and hopefully drugs. The cool kids meet at Brad’s house, but across the street is Phil’s, where the other few gather. They never start drinking until Phil does and begin to fantasize about what it would be like to be a part of that group. Following suit, their little get-togethers break up the same time as Phil’s.

One night, Rose and Tommy are too drunk to drive, so they decide to walk through the woods, trying to make it home before her curfew. As they are laughing and stumbling along, Rose realizes they are being followed. Tommy is too drunk to realize anything. Suddenly, a large wolf confronts them on the path with a menacing growl. Tommy protectively shoves her behind him, and is sadly consumed by the wolf. Seeing her chance, she escapes, screaming. She never has a chance, though, and the wolf is right on her, ripping into her shoulder.

Michael, a very shy senior who has talked with Rose, even though she hardly knows him, has just left the party when he hears her screams, as he is driving past the woods. He runs to her rescue, chasing off the wolf and helps her to a neighboring house.

After the attack, Rose begins to have dreams of a masked man who threatens her and her family. She cannot begin to understand the reasoning behind them. About this time, a girl shows up in her room, who looks exactly like Rose. She comes and goes, seemingly on a whim, and Rose continually stops her from giving advice for all of Rose’s problems. At the same time, Tommy starts appearing, too. Being dead and all, he seems to be hanging around just because he likes her and has nothing better to do.

Although Rose is traumatized by Tommy’s death, it doesn’t take her long to pick out her new boyfriend, Zach, who happens to be known as a bully, only Rose doesn’t have a clue. His favorite victim is Michael, but she feels obligated to him and agrees to go to the carnival with him. In reality, she’s indifferent to him and as they enter an attraction, she loses sight of him, not caring. Michael has been cornered by Zach and his friends, who proceed to beat the stuffing out of him. Believing that Michael abandoned her, she finishes out her evening with Zach. Frighteningly, Zach meets the wolf and joins Tommy as a ghostly spectre who haunts Rose.

Gradually, Rose begins to see the good in Michael and he is constantly amazed by her beauty and kindness. As time passes, she realizes that she has a secret that she doesn’t know how to share with him or her family. More students fall prey to the wolf and join the ranks of her ghostly friends.

Now, for my take on the book. Rose is quite arrogant and I found her hard to like. In fact, I couldn’t sympathize with her at all. She is overly involved in others’ appearance in regards to whether they are worth her time. She is mean to Michael, but he forgives her because he believes he is in love with her. She sneaks out at night to get drunk, party, and do drugs. I thought that she set an awful example for others, especially her little sister. Being grounded for her behavior never stops her from going out anyway.

Michael has a severe ‘savior complex’. He just has to throw himself into harm’s way to save everyone, which happens on more than one occasion. He is crazy for Rose, but she doesn’t warrant his devotion. Of course, Michael being tongue-tied half of the time, does not earn him brownie points.

Overall, the book was repetitive, long, and definitely YA. I don’t think adults will be too interested, but I think it is well put together. There is no wandering far off topic or getting lost in large groups of characters and their activities. The ending pops up all of a sudden, isn’t terribly exciting, and then it’s over.

For the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – paranormal for young adults.
  • Level of sexuality – low.
  • Is there graphic language? Very little.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? No.
  • Level of character development – none.

I give this book ⭐️⭐️ stars. Good effort. Some strong points. Not for me.

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Worthy of Love? by J. Lea

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This book is a mix of good and bad, depending on the audience. Looking back, if I had read this when I was fifteen I probably would have loved it. Now, I’m torn. It’s marketed for adults and has a wee bit of adulthood to it, but mostly it reads like a young adult novel.

It starts out with Lori, who has a secret that leaves her believing that she is unworthy of love, hence the title. Due to said secret and the suicide of her father, which is partly due to this secret, her mother moves her and her brother across the country to Colorado. Here, she believes she can have a fresh start, supported by her best friend Elias. It’s the summer before her senior year of high school and she meets perfect Parker. They go out a few times and it turns into love. Then, another secret pops up that tears them apart. Can their love endure? It is a romance novel, so you guess.

It was refreshing to have a male character who is not an alpha male beating on his chest and throwing the willing maiden over his shoulder. I enjoyed how he was respectful and when they first meet it’s appropriately uncomfortable, yet intriguing. Most relationships that begin between strangers have that awkward, self-conscious period in the beginning. Most romance novels now skip right over that, because everybody is beautiful, sure, and cocky. Not here; it was far more realistic.

An important part of the story is the abuse she suffered when she was fourteen. It was mentioned right away, so it’s not one of the big, bad secrets. As the memories briefly appeared, they were predictable and read like many other books that lack detail. Still, they were hard to read. It’s never easy to read about an innocent teen suffering in such a manner. Surprisingly, since it was a catalyst for the story, it didn’t actually get that much attention. I feel it would have had more impact if there was more to it. In all, it probably saw about twenty pages out of three-hundred.

The secret of Parker was painfully obvious from the moment she met him. I liked him, though; he was a generally sweet guy who winked a little too much and called her ‘honey’, which made him sound older than he was, but he was still nice. Sadly, his jealousy got old very quickly. Since I had been well prepared for the “surprise”, I was disappointed that he handled it just like a teenager. He was twenty-five, but acted sixteen, but she was eighteen going on sixteen, so they were a perfect match.

Her big, dark secret was also something else that was extremely predictable. In my opinion, it was a disappointment. I had expected something horrific, like she killed her molester, or she had cancer, anything that was truly life-shattering. She continually stated that it made her unlovable, and I can see how it would be a huge life adjustment, but it was hardly something that should hold her back. If someone can’t love her for this small detail, they are the ones who are unworthy of love.

I read the print version, so I do not know what the digital version looks like. This one was obviously translated. From what language, I do not know. There were many typos and sentences that did not flow correctly. The spacing was off and there were times I thought that maybe it was the start of a new scene, only to find that there were extra spaces added that meant nothing. Then, there were many instances where there was one extra space, but it actually was a new scene. It was confusing, and overall, I had to constantly look back a paragraph to figure out what was happening.

It’s not all bad. For a teenager, it could be a dream come true fairy tale. For an adult, it could be an annoyance or it could be a sweet, yet shallow love story. It all depends on the reader. This author has more than one book and they each have raving reviews, so it is up to you to decide. I feel that the author tried to make a good story, but the build-up was an utter disappointment. Everything was predictable, including the ending. Would I read it again? No. Will I read anything else by this author? It’s doubtful, especially since this was supposed to be an adult book, but clearly wasn’t.

Now, for the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – It’s a romance and supposedly for adults, but it read just like YA fiction.
  • Level of sexuality – She thought about it a lot. There were a few scenes that contained magic fingers or tongue, and arousal on both sides, but they were extremely minor and the dirty deed was described as “worshipping each others’ bodies all night long”. The wee bit included was anything but enticing.
  • Was there graphic language? I think once, maybe twice.
  • Did I cry? I admit to shedding one tear of relief.
  • Did I laugh? I didn’t, but there were moments that I believe were meant to be funny.
  • Is this part of a series? No.
  • Level of character development – I found it a bit poor, but not to the point where I threw it against the wall. It was first person Lori and I found her a bit lacking, Parker was very one-sided, and the only character I actually appreciated was her loyal, goofy best friend Elias.

I really wish I could give this more stars, but I felt misled. I picked it up partly because of the beautiful cover and partly because the blurb made it sound mysterious. Unfortunately, there was no mystery and it was just another predictable teenage drama. If I was still in high school, I would probably give it more stars, but as a grown woman, I have to give it ⭐️⭐️ stars. I think the author put forth a good amount of effort, but it was not what I had expected and it didn’t have the deep, dark, painful secrets that it alluded to. While it was definitely not for me, I suggest you find out for yourself.

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