Book Review: The Cyber Effect, a Dire Read About Internet Psychology

I have no trouble admitting that I very much hesitated to write this particular review of the book The Cyber Effect by Mary Aiken. It is non-fiction explanation of the ways in which human behavior changes online, by a cyberpsychologist. It is a deep, thorough examination of the psychology of the internet as a relatively new and expanding space, and it is a very depressing one at that.  As a book, it fulfills the parameters of its title, is technically sound and structured. Its sources are credible and robust. But, as a description of the human race, it leaves much to be desired. And to the extent that it describes in great detail the many evil uses to which the internet has been put, one might expect that, in the interested of balanced science, it would also describe its positive uses as well, or at least its possible positive uses. But in that, one is disappointed. It is a dire read of internet psychology.


“Technology is not good or bad in its own right,” says the author. “It is neutral and simply mediates behavior, which means it can be used well or poorly by humankind.” Given that introduction, one would indeed expect, or at least hope for an examination of both the ways it has so far been used “well” and the ways it has been used “poorly” by humankind. Instead, it describes only  how the internet has caused an explosion in the normalization of fetishes, addictions, and cases of hypochondria. “You don’t have to be an expert in the subject of online behavior to have observed that something about cyberspace provokes people to be more adventurous.” And, “once behavior mutates in cyberspace, where a significant number of people participate, it can double back around and become a norm in everyday life. This means that the implications of the online experience and environment are ever evolving and profound, and impact us all–no matter where we live or spend.”

While knowledge about the proliferation of humankind’s evils as facilitated by technology and the internet is helpful in combating it, so is knowledge of the healthy life practices, especially those proliferated by the internet. A whole chapter is spent documenting the necessity of nursing mothers looking at their babies’ faces while nursing, as opposed to their screens, for example, based on the author’s anecdotal experience of watching one mother looking at her screen instead of her baby’s face while nursing. A balanced perspective would have included a listing of any studies that have been done documenting how many mothers do in fact look at their babies versus how many look at their screens.

gamer-generation-coverAlong those same lines, many pages are devoted to the ways and reasons why a boy or girl with any kind of an ADD or depression diagnosis will most likely become addicted to online gaming. While parents of those children, I’m sure, are aware of that possibility, they may not be aware of the positive effects of video games, as described in Jennifer Comet Wagner’s The Gamer Generation: Reaping the Benefits of Video Games or in various studies cited by TIME magazine in its analysis of the Cognitive Benefits of Video Games. This is not to say that a knowledge of the very possible, very negative implications of over-involvement in cyberspace is not important, but by its very existence and by the author’s own admission, too deep a knowledge of such things can be an evil in and of itself.

One could easily argue, as many have done, that any call to balance the debate about the overall value of the internet, and technology in general, is a call to ignore its more ghastly applications, to live in gleeful and willful ignorance. That is not what I advocate by providing this negative view of The Cyber Effect.  While I know that humankind can indeed be depraved, and that the internet has definitely exacerbated that tendency, I have, perhaps, knowledge of some of the more practical and positive uses of technology, having interviewed many wonderful women who’ve done so for

I am reluctant to review any book negatively because I know the great amount of work that goes into writing them. But it is not the book itself with which I take umbrage; it is its subject matter, its fatalistic view of humankind as defined by its use of the internet. No viable alternatives or positive steps are really given, other than those suggested by a listing of other countries’ approaches to cyberspace regulation. Those alternatives are called for, though: “We need to do more for families, and stop expecting parents to paddle their own canoes in cyberspace,” for one. “We need to start funding law enforcement better, so it can do its job in cyberspace. More resources are needed, and more teams need to be trained in this work. Academics and scientists need to be more flexible and responsive. We should bring together a large, diverse team of people to discuss and brainstorm about how best to redesign [the internet].” A much more in-depth discussion of these possibilities would have balanced out the book greatly.


Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of the book through NetGalley. All opinions provided herein are my own.


Book Review: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, a Journey

There are but two kinds of books in this world, in my mind: those that take you on a journey, and those that don’t. The journey a book can take you on can be a physical one, if it describes different places well enough that you can envision them in your mind’s eye, or an emotional one, if it portrays characters and struggles that feel real. A journey can also be one of imagination, if both the settings and characters are depicted realistically and powerfully and the plot and style of a book are executed with finesse and artistry. The better all four of those elements are, the farther one is able to journey into one’s imagination, regardless of the book’s genre. The Forgetting, a book by Sharon Cameron, falls distinctly in that former category. It took me on such a journey that making my way back to real life when I was done took a little bit longer than usual.

The Forgetting

the-forgetting-coverThe premise is that no one in the fictional town of Canaan remembers more than 12 years into their past. Enough records have been kept that they know this happens, and so everyone is obsessed with writing everything down in journals that they keep on their persons at all times. This way, they will be able to reconstruct their lives after The Forgetting. The main character, Nadia, is unique in that she is the only person who has never forgotten. She can remember the anarchy that comes right before each Forgetting, when everyone does whatever they want because they know that no one will remember it. She will do anything to prevent that from happening again.

It is a premise that would seem to be so far apart from our reality that it would impossible to allow for any kind of journey.  But the details provided about Nadia in the first few chapters are so distilled, so poignant, that one cannot help but wonder what it would be like to be able to remember a family that no one else has any recollection of.  And those details lead naturally to a description of the setting–a city somewhere called Canaan–which is not medieval or modern, ragged or rich, but is described in such detail as Nadia runs through its streets that I could easily imagine myself running beside her. And, in the case of this book, the setting is very much tied up with the plot. One could even say that it is an outgrowth of it.

But if you think that premise is strange, you might think its eventual explanation even stranger. It reminded me somewhat of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, the third book in the Chaos Walking series, of which The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book. But, by the time you reach that explanation, you’re so wrapped up in the intricacies of the things that Nadia tries to do to prevent The Forgetting that the explanation makes perfect sense. I can only dream of having the talent for plotting that Sharon Cameron does.

The Caretaker

caretaker-coverBy contrast, The Caretaker by Josi Russell is a book that has what some might say is an equally strange premise. Its main character, Ethan Bryant, finds himself the caretaker of 4,000 passengers in cryogenic sleep aboard a ship bound for a planet called Minea. He is resigned to being the only person who is awake, until the ship suddenly wakes up another passenger: a beautiful engineer who, along with Ethan, soon discovers that the ship is instead bound to a destination where they will be enslaved by a highly-advanced, hostile alien race. It starts off feeling real, giving us relatable emotions and familiar routines, and even “leads us into the strangeness,” as Orson Scott Card would say, slowly. But by the time it gets to the explanation, the setting is so utterly foreign and the other characters so difficult to imagine that I became lost. My journey through that book was incomplete and unsatisfactory, I’m sorry to say.

Both are worth reading, though, if nothing else but to gain an appreciation for the beauty of the journey and skill of the person who takes you on it.


Name a book that has taken you on a journey.

I purchased The Forgetting at Costco, and The Caretaker on Amazon.

Book Review: Positive Discipline Parenting Tools

If there’s one truth I’ve learned as a parent, it’s that not all parenting books are created equal. I have read many in my time–E is for Ethics by Ian James Corlett, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and The Everything Guide to Raising Adolescent Boys by Robin Elise Weiss, to name only a few–and some have become my bibles, my go-to sources of wisdom when I feel like I’m falling short in that area, while others…not so much. Recently, I read Positive Discipline Parenting Tools by Jane Nelsen, Mary Nelson Tamborski, and Brad Ainge. Thankfully, it has become one of the former: an enlightening and realistic book that helps me see my children and their behaviors in a new light. It also gives me hope for the improvement of both mine and theirs.



The main premise of Positive Discipline is that all punishments and rewards should be eliminated as disciplinary methods, and that they should be replaced with a kindly and firmly administered system of encouragement that addresses the basic needs of children to belong and feel significant. When I first read that in the introduction, I was instantly skeptical, sure that eliminating all rewards would take away what motivation my kids have to help around the house and do their homework, and that eliminating all punishments would make them think that they could get away with anything. But I was intrigued; as a parent, I’m always trying to make sure that I’m doing the best I possibly can for my kids, which for me means, in part, keeping up on all the best parenting techniques, and using those that best apply to our circumstances. Unless my kids are perfect, which they won’t ever be, and I and my husband are, which (sadly) we won’t, I’m always on the lookout for better techniques. Those described in Positive Discipline, at least the ones we’ve implemented, have been effective in reducing misbehaviors and increasing family harmony.


My Criteria for a Good Parenting Book

Obviously, that is one of my criteria for the quality of a parenting book: that the techniques it recommends actually work. My other criteria are as follows:

  • Are those techniques explained in enough detail that it’s easy to understand when and how they should be applied?
  • Are real-life examples given?
  • Does the author acknowledge the difficulty of consistently applying any disciplinary technique?
  • Is the author qualified to speak on successful parenting techniques? If so, what is their background? Do they have kids of their own?
  • Do any of the techniques described have elements in common with those recommended in other parenting books I’ve read?


The instructions provided about how to be kind and firm, given in chapter one, are a good illustration of how Positive Discipline passes my test.  “Have you noticed how often two people with opposing philosophies about kindness and firmness get married?” the author asks.

hands-718561_1920-1One has a tendency to be too lenient. The other has a tendency to be too strict. Then the lenient parent thinks he or she needs to be more lenient to make up for the stricter…parent. The strict parent thinks he or she needs to be stricter to make up for the more lenient…parent. So they get further and further apart and fight about who is right and who is wrong. In truth, they are both ineffective. The trick is to be kind and firm at the same time.”


That makes sense; I’ve seen that time and again in my own marriage and in others as well. A couple of in-depth examples are provided by Mary and Brad, two of the co-authors, about how that dichotomy looked in their family.  Then, Mary acknowledges: “Many parents struggle with this concept.” But then she provides a solution for a “coming together,” if you will, of those two opposing approaches, in the form of a list of options that I thought was very helpful:

  • Validate feelings: “I know you don’t want to stop playing, and it’s time for dinner.”
  • Show understanding: “I know you would rather watch TV than do your homework, and homework needs to be done first.”
  • Redirection: “You don’t want to brush your teeth, and I don’t want to pay dentist bills. I’ll race you to the bathroom.”
  • Follow through on an earlier agreement: “I know you don’t want to unload the dishwasher now, and what was our agreement?
  • Provide a choice: “You don’t want to go to bed, and it is bedtime. Is it your turn to pick a book or mine?”
  • Validate feelings, give a choice, and then follow through by deciding what you will do: “I know you want to keep playing video games, and your time is up. You can turn it off now, or I will.”


Redirecting and providing choices are techniques that this book shares with Parenting the Ephraim’s Child: Characteristics, Capabilities, and Challenges of Children Who Are Intensely More by Jaime Theler and Deborah Talmadge, a book that has been especially helpful in raising my son with ADD.


But it’s not just because this book met my criteria that I liked it. Nor is it because the authors do indeed know what they’re talking about, possessing among them two advanced degrees in related fields, and being the parents of a combined twelve children. It’s also because it helped me realize some of the latent attitudes and beliefs I hold about myself when my children that very much influence how I parent.


So, yes, I highly recommend this book. It will be released November 15th, 2016 by Crown Publishing.

What parenting books have you found most helpful? What are your criteria?

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley.  All opinions contained herein are my own, honest-to-goodness feelings.




Book Review: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan: a Fascinating Read

Oh boy, have I been reading like crazy lately…along with working, slaving over homework with my 13-year-old (if anyone has some hints for helping me with that, let me know) and my 7-year-old (weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth), helping to run a Reflections contest, preparing Sunday School lessons, attending various extended family functions, working on writing some grants for my son’s elementary school, and writing posts here and for my writers’ club. I’m in the middle of Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (a mix of Mortal Instruments and Caribbean legend), Caretaker by Josi Russell (sci-fi), and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audiobook). I just finished Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. I don’t read non-fiction often, but when I do, I love books like this. It was fascinating.



Book Review: Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire is the memoir of a young woman who suddenly wakes up in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, with no memory of how she’d gotten there. “Days before,” says the back cover, “she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper.” It’s the story of her abrupt and unexplained descent into madness, her month in it (of which she has no memory but which she pulled together from the journals of family members, doctors’ notes, and surveillance footage), and recovery from it.


It is both fascinating and well-written, a treasure because it has both elements. Susannah is detailed in her descriptions of her behavior, her explorations of the various hypotheses put forward by doctors to explain it, and the incredibly convoluted journey towards diagnosis and treatment. When she wakes up, she becomes violent, psychotic, and bent on escape. During her hospital stay, she finds herself repeatedly holding her arms out in front of her body like a zombie, not sure why but unable to control the movement. She also becomes, by turns, paranoid and catatonic.


It is a book that reveals the fragility of the human mind, one of the many ways in which things can go wrong. It makes you at once so very thankful for the sanity that you enjoy while also heartsick for Susannah and her family. It reminds me a lot of Chris Sizemore’s book I’m Eve, a memoir of a person who had at least several personalities and was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder when it was still a relatively new diagnosis. If I had another twenty-four hours in my already-crowded days, I would spend them reading memoirs of people dealing with various kinds of mental illnesses and other issues, so that I can better understand what it’s like to live with them. I’m looking forward to reading The Price of Silence: a Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness, and Altered Perceptions, a science fiction/fantasy anthology that is kind of like a bonus DVD full of deleted scenes and alternate versions of some of my favorite authors’ books, written in support of Robison Wells, an author (you have to read his book Black Out) and victim of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I know what it’s like to love someone who has a mental illness, I even deal with it somewhat myself, but I don’t understand all kinds, nor all neurological disorders in general. So, here’s to greater understanding.

Can you recommend other memoirs of people with mental or neurological illnesses?

Three Book Reviews in One: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

This week, I give you three book reviews in one: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, and The Winner’s Kiss, all part of the Winner’s trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. Altogether a rousing and emotional, if somewhat ponderous, speculative fantasy series about a young woman, Kestrel, who is the daughter of a general, the owner of a slave, and an unwilling lynchpin in an emperor’s plan for domination.


16069030The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t agree with this review more, left by Goodreads reviewer Kim: “I can’t speak to the hype, but I can speak to the quality of the book. This is a very, very good YA fantasy. Superb world-building without info-dumping. Well-rounded characters and a romance that allows for the hero and heroine to actually get to know one another. Clean, spare writing that at times, especially toward the end, rises to lyrical beauty. Intelligent—I can’t emphasize that enough—intelligent plotting and strategy (an essential but often sadly underdeveloped element of any book involving politics). Interesting, thought-provoking nuances of slavery, empires, war, and freedom. And an end that allows for the complexity of the book’s cultures and characters and, while setting up for a sequel, also works well as the finish to a standalone volume.”







20443207The Winner’s Crime
by Marie Rutkoski

This one got a bit more ponderous, but still packs quite an emotional punch.













20443235The Winner’s Kiss
by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was absolutely enthralled with book one of this series, The Winner’s Curse, I was less so with book two, The Winner’s Crime, and even less so with the final book. This book delved too deeply into military strategy and the complexities of Kestrel’s relationships with her dad and with Arin for my taste. It bogged down the plot immensely, I thought, until it was so heavy it could only plod along. Still, it was worth reading the entire series.


Book Reviews: Willowkeep and Winner’s Curse

This week, I finished reading two books, got half-way through another good one, read two NetGalley ARCs that need more work before they are publishable, and wrote the first 4,000 words of my next book. It’s been a crazy week book-wise, and this was in addition to work, getting my kids back into the school/homework routine, helping my husband find a little bit of comfort while he’s dealing with calcific tendonitis, not getting picked for #PitchWars, finding out one of my cousins was almost killed by a semi-truck and that the father of one of my best friends died. So, I guess it was a crazy week life-wise too.  I’m always reading, but I seek that literary haven more the crazier life gets. So, forgive me if I review more than one book in this post.

First, let me tell you about the two books I finished: Willowkeep by Julie Daines and Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.

Book Review: Willowkeep


Julie Daines is a friend of mine through our writers’ club. I was a beta reader for her book Eleanor and the Iron King, which I loved. I bought my copy of Willowkeep several months ago. It’s a Regency romance about a young woman, Charlotte Darby, who inherits a vast estate and is thus pulled out of the poverty that she and her little sister were raised in. It is also very much about the steward of the estate Charlotte inherits, a young man named Henry Morland, who comes to care for her as she transitions into her new role, and she for him, but they are restrained by their disparate situations, especially since his seems to be worse than hers was, and by those who plot to get Charlotte’s newfound fortune.

In some ways, it is very much a typical Regency romance, the development of the plot and of some of the minor characters dictated by the societal rules of the time and the roles they forced people into. And the names of some of the characters seemed already familiar, common in classic books of that era. But in more important ways, it is not typical. The setting, for instance, includes Charlotte’s hometown of Hull.  It is a harsh place, not only because of the trade upon which it is based (fishing), but because of the things that happened to Charlotte’s parents and siblings there. The depictions of those events give the setting and story more of a depth, even a darker element, than many other modern-published Regency books.

More importantly, though, the characters of Charlotte and Henry seemed particularly fresh to me. Charlotte never loses her cockney accent and never really tries to adopt the protocols of elite society. These omissions are not done out of any kind of spite; they just seem to be a natural effect of her general naivete and fierce love for her sister, who is developmentally disabled. Henry shows himself to be more than a proper steward when he develops a special knack for helping Charlotte’s sister, which ends up playing a crucial part in transitioning the plot from routine Regency to a sophisticated, emotion-driven saga. It is for that reason that I found this book to be a delight.

Winner’s Curse

Winner's Curse coverAfter Willowkeep, I immediately started and finished Winner’s Curse, and finished it within a couple of days. It was quite different from Willowkeep, but I loved it as well. It is a speculative fiction novel based on the purchase of a slave by the main character, Kestrel, and the development of an unexpected, ill-fated relationship between her and the slave. Though it “ended” with a total cliffhanger, it was beautifully-written, well-imagined, and intense. That’s one of my favorite words to use when describing books. I love for them to be intense.

If you’re thinking of reading this book, be warned: don’t buy or check it out without also checking out or buying its sequels Winner’s Crime and Winner’s Kiss because the story doesn’t end at the end of book one. And you’ll want to read this one all the way through, as I have.

Now, I’m reading Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s Regency magic. It’s Regency romance and magic–two elements that I’ve never seen combined in one book before! I’m enjoying it very much, and can’t wait to finish it and tell you about it.

My Book

While my first manuscript, Forced, is in the querying stage again, I’ve started writing another book. I feel like I shouldn’t be; it’s very, very hard to keep going when one is so busy and when one has faced so many rejections. But this story–which I hope will be a sort-of YA prequel to Inception, with a touch of Forty First Dates and Maze Runner–feels too exciting to not write, so I’ll give it a try. This is very much my way of being crazy.


What books have you been reading or writing this week? Tell me about them!

These Broken Stars cover

Book Reviews: These Broken Stars, and This Shattered World

I must start this book review by mentioning another book review site, The Book Smugglers, because it is from that site and its really good, in-depth reviews that I learned about These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman. The book is sometimes called “Titanic in space” because the crash of a giant spaceship is what sets off its main conflict. The daughter of the richest man in the universe, and a poor, orphaned soldier are the only two survivors on a terra-formed, unpopulated planet, and they both hate each other. But they have to get along in order to survive. This is not the first time that such a conflict forms the centerpiece of a story, but it is the first time that it has been done with such original effect.


These Broken Stars cover

I, for one,  loved the uniqueness of the plot and the premise, two young people marooned on a planet struggling to overcome the mindsets that keeps them apart. They must search for other survivors and for a way to communicate an SOS signal, so in that sense, the plot is tied inextricably to their movement along their days-long hike.  The evolution of their dynamic feels very real, such that you really feel for both main characters, especially since the story is told from both of their points of view. Lilac, the daughter, learns how and why she should really rely on herself more; not only that, her eyes are opened to the dark deeds of her father, who has kept her under his gilded thumb her entire life. And Tarver–his discovery of the fact that there are things worth protecting, not just dying for, but living for and taking care of–it’s a beautiful thing.

Were it just for those things, I would have rated the book highly. But then, a twist developed that was wholly unexpected, that brought in more of a fantasy feel, that lent a whole new dimension to the tale. I was, in fact, a very bad person when I read this, because I had to read it all through in one day! I felt like this book was well-paced, walking a perfect line between conflict and emotional development. It can be such a struggle to develop both simultaneously. It was one of those books that pulls you inexorably forward to find out what happens. A joy to read.


Here’s the cover description:

It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever? Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it. The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

Stars: 10 out of 10

Update: Second Book in the Series: This Shattered World

The second book in the series, This Shattered World, did not disappoint either, although it was about completely different characters. Here’s its description:

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met. Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the rebels. Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. His sister died in the original uprising against the powerful corporations that terraformed Avon. These corporations make their fortune by terraforming uninhabitable planets across the universe and recruiting colonists to make the planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion. Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war. As Flynn and Lee attempt to uncover the truth about Avon, they realize that there is a conspiracy on the planet that runs deeper than either of them could imagine, one that Lee’s former commander Tarver Merendsen only scratched scratched the surface of two years ago.

Everything about the second book is different–the characters, the setting, the conflict–but there is the same vividness of setting, starkness of conflict, and unforgettable characters. I wrote this in my Amazon review:

This was a 10 on my not-able-to-put-down scale! I loved everything about it. The plot had the impetus of a tidal wave. It was built around a conflict that was stark and very tense. Though this book’s setting is on a world very different from our own, I didn’t have a problem visualizing where things were taking place. The characters were marvelously believable and wonderfully drawn. There was exactly the right balance between internal monologue and external action; enough of the former to make the extreme changes the two main characters go through seem not only feasible but necessary, and enough of the latter to continually glue my eyes to the pages. Such a joy to read!

This Shattered World cover

Have you read the third book in the series, Their Fractured Light? If so, what did you think?

Book Review: Echoes of Silence by Elana Johnson

You guys. Have you read anything by Elana Johnson? She’s written almost thirty books, under either her name or the pen name Liz Isaacson. She’s local (i.e., Utah), super nice, and an awesome speaker. And her books are addictive. I just read Echoes of Silence by Elana, and it was not-put-downable.

Echo of Silence cover

Here’s the blurb:

Twenty-three-year-old Echo del Toro doesn’t know about the bride-choosing festivities the tyrannical Prince of Nyth has planned–until she’s taken from her home by five armed soldiers. She’s led under the cover of a magically produced storm to an opulent compound to join hundreds of girls, each vying to be chosen as the next Queen of Nyth.

As she plays the charade of falling in love with the Prince, Echo realizes three terrifying truths: He is hungry for her song-magic, he has a secret plot to dethrone his father, and he is not wholly unlikable. Faced with the strongest dark magician in centuries, Echo must know when to let her voice fly and when to hold her tongue, or she’ll find herself caught in the lasting notes of a song that can’t be unsung.

It is YA speculative fiction, set in a kingdom of indeterminate chronology and history. Most of the book takes place within the walls of the prince’s castle, and there are noble people, city gates, markets, and so forth, but no dragons or elves. There is magic, and it is a unique kind. It is based on music, wielded with song. In that respect, it is like my book Forced, which I wrote to explore the idea that the emotions one often feels when listening to music, or making it, could develop into actual powers. The magic system of Echoes is intriguing to imagine as it incorporates both the ability to create ethereal beauty, and to kill, as well as everything in between, depending upon the mindset of the wielder. That system, essentially, forms the basis of the plot of the book, as Echo, the main character, uses it to provide for and protect herself and her sister, and to avoid being taken advantage of for it.

Elana Johnson
Elana Johnson

Echo is a great main character, both despite and because of her lack of ability to control her tongue. She says whatever comes to mind, which often gets her into trouble. The combination of her musical power and lack of a verbal filter make for a great irony. The other characters, too, are equally as intriguing for the things they possess in spades and the things they don’t: Castillo, for his determination and lack of trust; the Prince (Cris), who carries little power but a great ability to understand people, Echo’s grandmother, who passes away before the story begins but whose memory and example linger on almost every page of the book.

This was an excellent read, full of the interactions of these fascinating characters and wonderful prose that made the story flow like a sonata. Ten out of ten stars.

Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet — A Wow Read

Reading a synopsis like this, what would you think?

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

Interesting, right? Unique, right? More than just the typical girl-discovers-she-has-magic book, right? Well, if you were to read the book this synopsis describes–Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg, you would agree that those adjectives do in fact describe the book as a whole. But I think you would also agree that they don’t even begin to touch the uniqueness and “wow”-ness that is this book.

Magic Bitter Magic Sweet cover

Perhaps it was because I finally had some time after a week and a half of extreme busy-ness, or because I was seeking some escape, but I read this book in less than a day. I have no idea how long  Magic Bitter is in terms of page count because I read it on my kindle, but I ate it up.

Here’s why:

the plot: it never goes where you think it will. It twists and turns and ends up in a place wholly unpredictable, somewhat beyond comprehension and slightly bizarre, but entirely in line with everything that happens along the way. It takes a true master to craft a plot like this. One  star out of two, simply because the ending was so…wow.

the characters: Maire is a wonderful main character, strong but enigmatic, unique but relatable. There are comparatively few other characters in the book, and I would have liked a few more details about Franc and Arrice, her caretakers. Two out of two stars.

the pacing: Perfect. Fast but not breakneck speed. Two out of two stars.

the style: Amazing. Told entirely in present tense, which makes what otherwise might have been too ethereal a book seem more “present.” Charlie truly has a gift for description. Two stars out of two. I’d give this one ten just for style, if I could.

the premise: Like everything else, unique. Two stars out of two.

Disclosure: I received a Kindle copy of this book through NetGalley. Magic Bitter Magic Sweet will be released later this week.