First and foremost, thank you to the authors again for sharing their literary world with The Critiquing Chemist and the Bookish Boffin!
With this second set of SPFBO eliminations, The Critiquing Chemist and her Bookish Boffin, along with Lynn’s Books, are working their way through Phase One. Elimination posts, such as this one, will serve as a general announcement regarding the titles to be cut with a short spoiler-free overview included for each novel. For books read to completion, the spoiler-free overview will be expanded upon in the following days with a full review post for each eliminated novel. That being said, it would be appropriate to add the following disclaimer that DNF books will not have their own post outside of the initial elimination one. Full posts will follow the traditional formatting style for reviews on The Critiquing Chemist by including a spoiler-abundant insight section in addition to the overview sans spoilers. The eliminations and semifinalists will ONLY be announced in specific posts regarding those aforementioned topics and not in the individual novel full reviews.
Without further ado, our second set of eliminations can be found in the next section. Please keep in mind that these titles are in no particular order or ranking, whether within this post, or the rest of our Phase One cuts.
Current SPFBO7 Reviews (*Eliminations):
- *Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
- Deathborn by CE Page
- *Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
- *Stranded by Rosalind Tate
- *One of Us by ML Roberts
- *Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C Marks
- *Book of Secrets (Merged Series #1) by Claudia Blood
- *Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
- *Lycoris in Moonlight by Kova Killian
- *Face of Glass by Damon L. Wakes
- *The End of the Line by David Nelson
- *Ghost Line by M.A. Poole
- *Hunters by Jon Ford
- *The Crown of Death by David Schratz
Ghost Line by M.A. Poole
Overview (No Spoilers):
Unbeknownst to the mundane community, the world is full of magick. While this is a secret for now, tensions are steadily rising between those who don’t want to hide anymore and those who worry that exposure will result in strict rules and regulations (or worse). Just how far is each side willing to go to achieve their goals? Sarah Cohen, for one, would rather sit on the sidelines with a bag of popcorn and watch as the drama unfolds than get involved. Besides, her job at a call center in Philadelphia keeps her busy, helping the Departed come to terms with their newfound status and recommending ways to use the karma they accrued in the land of the living. Despite a boss who goes out of her way to find fault in everything Sarah does, she stays at Ghostline because her coworkers make it all worthwhile (and she needs the paycheck). Just when she thinks the company will finally be swayed to hire more customer service representatives to handle the endless stream of calls they’re receiving, the calls just… stop. Management may deem it a natural lull in call volume, but Sarah isn’t convinced. Why are the Departed acting strangely? What’s changed?…
Ghost Line by M.A. Poole came out in January 2021 and is the second book in the What Magick series. According to its blurb, books 1 through 3 can be read out of order, with greater overlap planned in the future. Since I haven’t read book 1, I agree that this novel works as a standalone, without expectations of prior knowledge. The first thing that stood out to me was the cover, as it’s done in a style that I really liked. As I settled into the tale, it was easy to get lost in what was going on. Ghost Line is written in first-person present tense, giving a front row seat to the action surrounding Sarah and allowing readers to get to know her well along the way. In addition to general descriptions, her thoughts are also used to add snarky commentary to the dialogue. LGBTQ+ representation is featured throughout, first and foremost by Sarah herself who is queer. Aside from a select few, the majority of the characters are interesting but don’t get much depth beyond what Sarah tells us about them. I would’ve also liked to have learned more about the magickal groups running things in Philadelphia (perhaps they were more prominent in book 1).
For those who know Philly well, you may be happy to know that this novel appears to highlight places (and acronyms) that actually exist. Not only do characters rely on SEPTA for transportation, but some portal hopping also takes place in this novel. Other fantasy elements in this book lean more toward the paranormal side of things, with ghost hunting, psychic abilities, witches, and necromancy. There is also a romantic subplot that is sweet to watch unfold. Poole does a good job using many different events to move the plot along and build suspense. The first third of the book is spent introducing characters and immersing the reader into the world, the second third has events happening away from the main character that continually drive one to wonder what is going on, and the last third places the main character in the thick of it as the book comes to a close. Things get wrapped up for the most part, but it felt kind of chaotic, answering questions I didn’t know to have and leaving explanations for some of the more dramatic moments leading up to the final showdown implied rather than resolved. Overall, this novel has an interesting premise with plenty of directions available to take the story in the future!
Check out the full spoiler filled review for Ghost Line Tuesday!
Hunters by Jon Ford
Overview (No Spoilers):
Hunters is an interesting take on what would happen if werewolves, vampires (Vampyrii), humans, and fae attempted to coexist politically, albeit tensely, after a violent war killed a significant portion of the world’s population. Despite relative peace having been achieved, key players of the various species are still actively scheming toward their own ends, risking all-out war. This dynamic creates both suspense and tension, especially as the motivations and conspirators are deliberately obfuscated by Ford until the opportune moment of reveal.
Ford fits an ambitious quantity of perspectives into Hunters, which could make it difficult to get absorbed into the story as the reader encounters seven different POVs before experiencing a repeat. That said, once connections were revealed and the story progressed, my curiosity was piqued and it was hard to put down this book.
Toward the end of this literary work, the overlapping mutual connections between the key characters, regardless of species, became expected and arguably too convenient. Despite this layer of predictability, I found that, rather than take away from the overall story, it worked to add depth and fill in the backstories. And although Hunters features numerous characters, Ford creates complex dimensionality for many of them, while still leaving enough mystery to keep the reader intrigued.
Once the story begins to take shape, the reader can feel the tension build as Ford steers the narrative toward one key event. With a massive plot twist and major reveals in the final chapters of Hunters, peace hangs on by only the slimmest of margins. Can war somehow be avoided, especially with the mastermind and their motivations still waiting in the wings pulling strings?
Check out the full spoiler filled review for Hunters on Wednesday.
The Crown of Death by David Schratz
Overview (No Spoilers):
“Sometimes myths get it wrong.”
All thirteen-year-old Jay Adrastus has to do is make it through one more day of school before he’s free to sleep in, read more Tolkien, and enjoy time with his family over Christmas break. Unfortunately, things don’t get off to a good start: Jay wakes up late and nearly misses the bus. In the rush of things, he forgets to grab the meal he skipped breakfast to make, leaving a school lunch as his only option for food. What Jay never could have predicted is how this series of events puts him face-to-face with a cafeteria worker intent on destroying him, all because of a prophecy. The attack reveals a mysterious calling and dormant skills he’ll need to master without delay if he wants to navigate a world that he hadn’t even known existed. To figure it all out, he’ll need to trust his instincts and work closely with others, something Jay’s largely avoided in the past since he tends to prefer the company of books instead. And to top it all off, he’s only got five days to stop his new nemesis or risk the end of the world. No pressure.
Published in August 2020, the Records of the Blessed series by David Schratz kicks off with The Crown of Death. Based on its cover and title, I’d expected something that was headed in a darker direction, so I was pleasantly surprised by the story within. The content seems to be in line with an upper Middle Grade read, complete with clever chapter titles. That said, I’d like to give fair warning that there are a few instances of police brutality, where excessive force is used as a means to create conflict. Overall, it has a vibe that echoes the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, as it also focuses on characters from Greek mythology in the modern world. In this book, Olympians are no longer able to visit Earth, forcing them to rely on those they’ve blessed to carry out their wishes and deal with any monsters that show up. This dynamic paves the way for a variety of mythological characters to be woven into the story. Mainly set in Chicago, the plot embraces the wintry weather and downtown atmosphere of the Windy City, offering the adolescent characters plenty of time to strategize as they walk to new locations and rest in alleys.
Schratz has crafted a team of protagonists worth rooting for. Even the primary baddies have depth and compelling backstories. Jay provides a first-person perspective that reads a bit as if he’s recounting the tale with funny asides. One thing that did tend to pull me out of the story is how Jay has a habit of commenting on what another character always (or never) does behavior-wise after they’d only just met. All told, Jay shows growth over the course of the novel, embracing what works best for him (i.e., doing things on a whim, without making a plan in advance) and allowing himself to be vulnerable with newfound friends. Jay’s companions on this journey are fellow teenagers, Xavier and Kaylie. Xavier has an inquisitive nature and is more than willing to share what he knows. While Kaylie is more guarded, she is certainly spunky and loyal. The three of them work well together because they value the unique strengths each of them possesses and have confidence in each other. I was also pleased with how the narrative emphasizes the idea of being yourself. All in all, The Crown of Death uses Greek mythology as the foundation for a fun adventure featuring lessons on friendship.
Check out the full spoiler filled review for The Crown of Death Thursday!