I needed a good romp

Jacob’s Orb by James L Mayor

425 pages

Self-published on January 14, 2018

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Step into the forest with Jacob and discover the forgotten power of the white orb.

“The sign in the sky is nothing more than a moving star, Jacob. Don’t be so foolish as to believe in magic.”

Jacob would have normally listened to his father, but the strange orb that he discovered with his friends had caught the attention of his adventurous spirit. Jacob is soon forced to embark on a terrifying quest to rescue his family from a power that they had refused to believe in.

Jacob’s Orb reminded me why I love YA fiction.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Mayor has a knack for vivid writing that doesn’t bog down the action – I felt like I was 15 again, joining Jacob and his friends on their harrowing quest to save their village. The storyline was well-paced, keeping the stakes high as the characters faced obstacle after obstacle, and I flew through the entire book a single sitting. I couldn’t help myself! There were some truly thrilling twists that I never saw coming – a refreshing feeling after reading perhaps more than my fair share of rather predictable YA novels.

The main character, Jacob, was my favorite part of the whole story. The book not only gives him plenty of external conflict to fight against, but also gives his internal conflict a good bit of screen time. I loved seeing his character development unfold in such a well-written and organic way. Jacob’s Orb touches on themes of working together and making sacrifices, which makes it a book I’d be happy to plop in front of a young reader.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’d be that it really needs one more pass by a proofreader. There are an unfortunate amount of misplaced punctuation and word choice issues that look like they might be the work of autocorrect. The story drew me in enough that the errors didn’t put me off, but fixing those issues would take this book from good to great.

Still, I highly recommend Jacob’s Orb to young adults and the young at heart. It’s a lightning-fast romp that you won’t want to put down.

I was captivated

Worldwielder, by JM Vaughan

410 pages

Published on July 30, 2017 by Aeternal Books

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Melissa Mabrey isn’t like other sixteen-year-olds. From the time she was four, she’s been able to see the colors of people’s minds, colors that reveal to her their true feelings, desires, and fears. She’s only met one other person who’s like her—her best friend Kyle. But two years ago, Kyle mysteriously disappeared, and she hasn’t heard a word from him since.

Until today. In a book carried by a stranger, Melissa finds a desperate plea for help from Kyle. Following his clues, she’s hurtled from our world into the Gallery, a gateway to millions of worlds. Each world is entered through a painting, and each has a different “pull” on the minds of its occupants. There are pulls that make people grow calm in the face of peril, or flee from shadows in terror, or kill each other, or forget things forever.

But for Melissa, there’s nothing scarier than the unknown, and now she must traverse countless perilous worlds to find Kyle, fending off ruthless barbarians, the Gallery Guard, and her friend’s captors. Along the way, she’ll discover the truth about what she and Kyle are—a truth so terrifying her life will never be the same.

Worldwielder is nothing short of phenomenal.

Vaughan has woven one of the most creative and enthralling fantasy worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I’m not even sure how to begin explaining everything I loved about this book – do I start with Melissa, who isn’t a Strong Female Character™, but an actual strong female character complete with fears and flaws and the badassery to face them? Or do I start with the rest of the characters, major and minor alike, who all wrenched at my heartstrings in one way or another? Or maybe the writing itself, which was superlative – full of luxurious description without being overwritten, and so evocative that the most dramatic of the twists and turns made my heart start beating a little faster.

On top of everything else, this book avoids every YA trope and pitfall that tends to drive me nuts. No shoe-horned romance, no info-dumping, no nonsensical, unruly magic system, and no shying away from putting the characters in actual danger with actual consequences.

Look, I’m running out of adjectives, so I’ll keep it simple: Worldwielder is a breath of fresh air in the YA genre, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Lots of potential, but something’s missing

The Legend of Dollaretta, by Cherry Gunzenhauser

218 pages

Published on August 10, 2017 through Amazon

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The 17-year-old (vampire) Demi Chevalier is angry, fed-up and socially indifferent, yet she has accepted that Elizabeth Rose Convent will be her home for the next two years. She anticipates many hindrances, but does not expect her curiosity to be so deeply ignited by what she is told of the Convent’s infamous legend of Dollaretta.

According to the legend, those who speak of Dollaretta will find themselves fated to peril, and incidentally, the first student to tell Demi about the legend, finds herself in a grave situation. Demi refuses to acknowledge the strange coincidence, although there is a part of her that begins to feel a deep-rooted sense of paranoia. For the next few weeks Demi experiences vivid nightmares about the legend then as if to test her better judgement, she is confronted by a student who is convinced that the legend is real. Despite the eerie and suggestive nature of Demi’s nightmares, she tries to tell herself that paranoia is to be expected under the given circumstances.

Gothic? Check. Vampires? Check. Graphic novel? Check. The concept of The Legend of Dollaretta caught my imagination, and I really wanted to love it, but unfortunately, it kind of misses the mark for me.

The main issue is that the artwork just didn’t captivate me. All the characters look extremely similar – the same faces sporting slightly different hairstyles – and that made it difficult to differentiate them. The backgrounds are also rather plain, which doesn’t do the setting any favors. Take a look:

The writing wasn’t enough to carry the novel either. Between the occasional misspelling (‘heredatory’ for ‘hereditary’) and some awkward phrasing (‘a journey of paranormal complexions’), I just wasn’t hooked.

The premise was super intriguing, and I’d love to see Dollaretta reworked with stronger storytelling and a more diverse-looking cast.