Review of Cobwebs of Youth by Rose Auburn

cobswebsofyouthSummary: ‘Cobwebs of Youth’ is a contemporary, romantic novel set in the London suburbs. It tells the story of Lara Cassidy who realises her dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator like her father. Yet her happiness is short-lived and she is plunged into uncertainty as Robert Kennedy, the mysterious stranger she first encountered ten years earlier, comes back into her life. Will Lara finally be able to lay her Father’s ghost to rest and fully embrace what the future holds?

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cobwebs of Youth is a lovely book, let me just say. Lovely is the first word that comes to mind and sticks with me as I recount my experience reading this novel.

I am quite familiar with British novels, having recently read The Girl on the Train and The Woman in Cabin 10. I am also a fan of British shows, such as Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock. Being an American, I pick up on the differences in the English language when I step into a British novel. And it’s lovely.

The characters in this book are very realistic and relatable. Their dialogue reads so fluidly, so naturally. That is probably my favorite part of this story, and it’s a character-driven, dialogue-driven story told in third person-limited narrative, so what a pleasure to read Lara Cassidy’s journey of finding herself.

It may sound like another modern mundane romance story, like another journey of self-discovery. I admit, this arch is overdone these days, yet it works so well most of the time. When done right, as it is in Cobwebs of Youth (which is a great title, by the way), these types of stories can resonate with many people.

The book opens with an 18-year-old Lara visiting her father, against her mother’s wishes. Her parents are divorced. When she arrives at her dad’s house, she finds he is with a French woman. She feels betrayed, no longer the first woman in her dad’s life. She is at a vulnerable age. She and her best friend, Jen, go to a local pub to drink away their sorrows. While there, Lara meets an older biker man named Rob, who comforts her. She is both intrigued and put off by him.

A decade passes. Lara’s dad has died, and she moves into his house. She is in a relationship with attorney Ed, a guy who, according to Lara’s mum, has a good job and is a good match for Lara. Lara is an artist, an illustrator like her dad, and has a big project coming up to illustrate a children’s book called Puddle. It may be her big break where her career is concerned, but she finds herself severely unhappy. She attends one of Ed’s work parties, where everyone is only surface-level and rubbing noses. She has felt little affection for Ed for months, and he seems equally distant, more concerned with his job than their relationship. They finally end it.

Lara almost steps back in time by returning to the pub where she met Rob, unable to forget him all these years. As fate would have it, he is there again. They start talking and strike up a relationship. Rob is everything Ed isn’t. Jen and Lara’s mum don’t approve of her dating a biker, but she feels more alive with him than she has in her life. She rides a motorcycle for the first time and feels exhilarated. She meets new people. She is head-over-heels in love with this mysterious guy.

But life is never easy. As much as Lara wants to get away from the past, it’s still part of her. This story is a beautiful exploration of a young woman’s struggle to come into her own.

There are some grammatical errors in the book, but they don’t detract from the story or the great dialogue.

4 out of 5 stars

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Review of The Son of Alpha (The Legend of the Sky-Titans Book 1) by Raleigh Daniels Jr.

skytitansSummary: In post-apocalyptic America, two orphaned children raised as sharecroppers live together in a fragile, farm home. Michael Gilliganson Jr, the son of the world’s greatest mercenary, Mopy, acts as the sole guardian of his little sister, Nya, after the death of their parents. But when the NeoMen (humanoid dinosaurs) invaded their small town, they take Nya hostage. Michael, who must now live up to his parent’s legacy as the legendary Sky-Titan to save his sister, is gifted with his father’s Badge of Alpha, a blue and yellow, badge-like device that gives him the ability to transform into the therianthropic god, Alpha to fight against the emergence of the tyrannical dinosaur dominated empire led by the evil King Mungfalme. He then joins forces with legendary werewolf hunter, Val Helsing (now known as Pappy), Jullian the Iota Eagle, the Vendor, Mr. Dalton, The Duke of Washington, and newcomer Samantha as they fight against the Dinosaurs to save and protect mankind from the brink of annihilation.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The book opens with Michael and Nya Gilliganson living on a farm in post-apocalyptic America. They are orphans, so Michael cares for his younger sister. They go about their lives in seemingly normal fashion for the time period, but it’s clear that they are just trying to mind their own business and survive. While at the market one day to get produce, they meet a young boy named Thames, who is also an orphan. They take him home. That’s when things start to get interesting.

Thames is not an ordinary boy, which we find out when Michael drops Nya and him off at the schoolhouse one day. Thames and Nya quickly develop a close bond, and Thames is fiercely protective of Nya. When a bully picks on them at school, chaos ensures. Things unravel, and what was once a benign relationship turns complex, even sour. Thames is not who he appears.

Meanwhile, back home, Michael makes a discovery that will change his life. He finds the Badge of Alpha, which gives him immense power. He is the son of two legendary Sky-Titans, who battled the Neomen (dinosaur-men who invaded Earth and took over). An intense battle plays out right after he gains power from the badge, and not even understanding what’s happening, Michael is joined by the fruit vendor from the marketplace (Pappy). They fight some demonic creatures, who seemingly appear out of nowhere and are looking for the badge.

Not only do we get the story of Michael and Nya, but we also read about the Neomen through a letter that one of them, General Yalen, is composing to King Mungfalme. Yalen begins having reservations about how the Neomen are treating (more like mistreating) humans. He befriends a human named Samantha, who is one of the prisoners on the ship he’s on. His hostility toward the Earl who is in charge on the ship grows daily.

There are many exciting action sequences in this story, which read quickly and keep the reader engaged, although some of the scenes are hard to follow because there is perhaps too much going on in just a few pages. This book is anything but boring, but it is filled with typos, grammatical errors, tense changes, and punctuation problems, which make the reading clunky. I am unsure if this novel was edited at all, but it doesn’t appear to be. If it went through an edit, I believe the story would read much easier and flow better.

The characters are all interesting, and their different voices are clear. However, the constant change of point of view reads odd. I feel that this story would work better told in third person instead of the switching first person views.

There are some lovely passages, showing a clear sense that the author has the ability to write beautifully, but then there are several sentences that read unevenly, repeat the same word, or have extraneous words in them. Again, if edited, I believe this would clean up much of this and help tell the story better.

The content of the story is solid and good, but due to the level of other issues mentioned above, I didn’t feel I could enjoy it as much. I also admit that fantasy is not a genre I read much, so while I am sure others may enjoy this type of story more, I found it good but not great. It was an easy book for entertainment, yet I didn’t feel fully invested in the characters enough to care what happened or feel for them.

3 out of 5 stars

Favorite quote: “Just before I ran to this discarded hill, I heard voices, a melancholy rainbow of voices pouring into my head like a raging waterfall.”

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The Son of Alpha (The Legend of the Sky-Titans Book 1)

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Review of The Lamp and Lantern by A.E. Vaughn

41qh2iBbcaLSummary: The first series in the Lamp & Lantern contains ten episodes that portray a search for a legendary fictional gold mine lost in a cursed region of the northern Rocky Mountains. Along the way the cast of characters are drawn together by a common lust for gold as they reminisce about the past, speculate about the lost fortune, and share in the success and misfortune of those around them. In their pursuit of the lost mine they endure a myriad of challenges from this world and the next.

The target audience crosses between those that enjoy modern stories and television about outdoorsmen, survival, gold fever, and paranormal and unexplained mysteries. It brings many historical and modern concepts together to provide a new twist on a gold rush in today’s world. The manuscript simultaneously comments on people, large corporate deception, and greed while being intertwined with the reinvention of love in the main characters eyes.

During the first series the reader meets Jonathan Daxter, who spent much of his childhood with his grandfather and uncle searching a remote section in northern Idaho for the Lost Lamp gold mine. After growing up and moving away, Jon returns home upon the passing of his grandfather. He soon realizes that he has reached a breaking point in his career and relationship, and rekindles his long forgotten lust for the lost mine as a way out of middle class normalcy. Jon gathers a team of trusted friends and colleagues with whom he pieces together clues from stories and maps forgotten in history. Along the way they navigate through difficult mountainous terrain, encounter eccentric people, stumble upon clues lost in time, and cross over into a seemingly paranormal world lost in the remoteness and mystery of the area. In the end of the first part of the series the reader is left to believe that certain team members have fallen, others have split, and others may have indeed stumbled upon the Lost Lamp mine – and perhaps much more.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel opens with a 15-year-old Jon Daxter out in the Idaho wilderness with his grandpa Jim and his uncle Roger.  Jim tells his grandson stories about the lost gold mine they are searching for.  Jon knows finding this mine has been his grandpa’s life ambition, and he has gone out into the woods many times in search of it.  Right off the bat, there is a lot of narration used to tell the backstory of the mine.  It feels like the author is eager to give the reader as many details about the legendary mine, and it comes across as an information dump.  It’s too much too soon.  Grandpa Jim is an interesting character, but he could have been rendered more three-dimensional if his character hadn’t been used primarily as a source of giving information.

When Jim has a sudden stroke by a creek upon the trio discovering a symbol of the lamp on a tree, at a place they’ve never been before while on their search, it seems like that’s the end of the journey for Jon.  The narrative fast-forwards twenty years, and Jon is an executive in a large company in corporate America, highly unhappy with his lot in life.  He’s been living with the same woman since college.  The woman, Paige, has nothing better to do than laze about their apartment and watch T.V. and spend all of Jon’s hard-earned money.  Jon is clearly unsatisfied with where his life has gone.  His dreams in his youth have vanished to give way to a bitter, middle-aged man who hates his job and his relationship.  This is an interesting development for Jon’s character.  I like that he is given more of a backstory than just lusting after the gold like his grandfather.

All these years, Grandpa Jim has been catatonic from the stroke.  He has spent most of that time in nursing homes, but he comes home to die.  Jon is called back home because his grandpa is dying.  It’s been years since Jon has been back to Hayden, Idaho.  He sees his grandpa one last time, and miraculously, Grandpa Jim briefly becomes conscious and tells Jon some information regarding the lost gold mine.  He imparts cryptic messages, such as “The lamp lights your way, and the lantern guides you out.”

Jim passes away.  Jon meets up with his old high school buddy, Shim, while out drinking one night at home.  They get to talking about old times and the gold mine.  Shim is a colorful character who has some great lines.  

Then Jon must return to his unhappy life.  He is clearly done with his job.  The reader wants just as much as Jon to be out of his company, a place full of uncompassionate people who are only driven by greed.  While the corruption of a large company like this is believable, I am not sure everyone would be such a jerk as they are shown.  Only one coworker seems to care that Jon lost his grandfather.  This doesn’t match up with my life experience.

Jon finally decides to leave his job and his girlfriend and take up the torch from his grandpa.  He wants to find the lost gold mine.  He returns to Hayden and immediately asks his uncle Roger and his friend Shim to help him.  They begin gathering a group of people to help, those who have skills necessary to navigate through the harsh wilderness.  The group grows in size and meets to discuss what is already known about the mines and what their plans are.

The novel becomes several chapters of the characters sitting around talking about the above. There is very little action. Several characters seems to serve no purpose other than being source of information, so their lengthy paragraphs of dialogue come across as information dumps. People don’t talk like this. If you have a group of seven people sitting around, there is going to be much more exchange in the talking, especially when discussing something as dangerous as cursed mines that are surrounded by all sorts of lore, from ghosts, to landforms that change, to extraterrestrials, to the gate to hell, to wild Indians killing people, to people disappearing when they go looking for the mines, etc.

The idea behind the mines is certainly full of merit. It could make for a high-action, high-suspense, high-mystery, high-thriller tale, if only the characters would actually get off their behinds and get out there and actually search for the gold mines!  We have to wait through 75 percent of the book to finally get to the point of action!

I also like the idea of Jon having a sudden awakening in the middle of his life and realizing he’s been wasting his time doing unfulfilling things, and it taking the death of a loved one to finally snap him into action to make something out of his life. But the ideas alone are not enough. The story lacks a lot of momentum.

There is far too much telling going on, too little action. I would like to see more showing and action. I thought I was going to be reading about a dangerous, life-threatening expedition to find this gold mine, and instead, I feel I have been sitting in a room, growing bored as I listen to a bunch of guys talk and talk and talk. And why is the group just guys? Where is a woman in the crowd?

There are some saving moments of dialogue, especially between Hurk and Travis, two of the guys recruited to go on the trip. But again, it’s just not enough to drive the story forward.

There are also many punctuational errors and spelling errors littered throughout the book. I am not sure if this story went through an editor, but it doesn’t appear to have done so.

I wanted to enjoy this story more, but unfortunately, it just didn’t keep my interest.

2 of out 5 stars

Favorite quote: “The lamp lights your way, and the lantern guides you out.”

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