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REVIEW:  Battle Scars by Sheryl Nantus

REVIEW: Battle Scars by Sheryl Nantus

Battle Scars by Sheryl Nantus

Dear Ms. Nantus,

I like to start out all of my reviews by thanking the author for taking the time to write a story that captivates and delights audiences. This one is no exception. Rebecca Desjardins is a somewhat outcast – both by choice and by the fact she’s mated to a full human reporter – Felis cat shifter. Yet family always finds a way to pull her back in. This time, it’s in the form of a job. She’s contracted to find a missing teenage Felis girl, and the case becomes complicated right from the start when it’s discovered the girl ran off with the son of her family’s archenemy. Together, Rebecca and her reporter boyfriend, Bran, take to the streets of Toronto to find the missing Juliet and her Romeo – embroiling Bran in a world he left behind and tangling Rebecca in a mass of intrigue and lies worse than any cat-infested yarn ball.

One of the things that stood out for me was Rebecca’s compassion. Given her job as a private investigator and the fact that she’d been so long estranged from her Pride, she shows a remarkable amount of restraint and care for other Pride members in somewhat untenable situations. That she feels so strongly about dragging Bran into things he so desperately wanted to forget and understanding of his sacrifice speaks well of her character – and seems so unlike a feline as to be unbelievable.

While the story was entertaining and I enjoyed getting to know the main characters, it was missing that spark of life. All of the pieces were there and they fit together in the right ways, but the overall picture was lackluster and somewhat tarnished. I had difficulty with descriptions of the Pride, as a whole, for example. I know cats. I know the feline temperament. I understand the mixing of humanity in with the supernatural and the need to remain hidden slash band together for safety in numbers, but no cat I’ve ever encountered in literature, media or real life would give any quarter when something stood between it and what it wanted. The repeated notion of “Pride doesn’t kill Pride” didn’t ring true for me. It was almost as though you were trying to apply canine pack law to felines – which is usually the point the feline looks at you and promptly goes to hork in your brand new shoes and shred the curtains. There were also several places where one of the characters would do something particularly cat-like, or openly talk about Pride business in front of humans (or taxi drivers – they seemed to be a species unto themselves) and there would be an immediate mention of the need for secrecy. I had a serious case of whiplash from going “But wait a minute, didn’t Rebecca just talk about Pride in front of a human …”

The Shakespearean aspect of the story, complete with young lovers from rival families, was a nice touch and gave the story more traction than I would have thought. I particularly liked the way you didn’t gloss over what life was like on the big city streets for young runaways and more mature homeless alike. It felt a little overbearing at times, however, as if this were a topic dear to your heart that you couldn’t –quite- let go of for the sake of the story.

“Battle Scars” is very aptly named. All of the scars, emotional and physical, are honestly earned during literal battles. They are a portion of the character’s road map in life and are displayed proudly throughout the story, in both subtle and overt ways. The fact that not all scars are physical, and not all of them heal, is readily apparent. But there is just something indefinable missing. There is a disconnect somewhere between the characters and the plot. Each one, on its own, is great, but they don’t quite mesh together smoothly. They work together, though perhaps not in the ways intended.

So, for this square peg in a round hole of a book, I must rate it a C-.

Mary Kate

As a reader who’s old enough to know better and young enough to not
care, I’ve breezed through the gamut of everything books have to
offer. As a child, I used to spend summer days happily ensconced in
one of the Philadelphia public libraries, reading everything and
anything I could get my hands on, thanks to the love and support of my
parents and aunts – teachers, mothers and/or librarians all. One aunt
started me with Nancy Drew books (whose pages are worn from hundreds
of re-reads) while another thought I needed introduced to C.S. Lewis’s
land of Narnia. By the time I was 8, I’d read everything the library’s
children’s section had to offer and had “graduated” to the adult room
downstairs. Fortunately for my very supportive parents’ sanity, I
didn’t discover romances until college. My days are currently spent
working in law enforcement (dispatchers unite!), working with first
responders, and trying to dig my writer/editor/reviewer husband out
from his latest pile of books. I’m a devoted fan of all manner of
romance (though I prefer my romance to have a hint of laughter and
self-awareness), mysteries, and urban fantasy.

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REVIEW:  Random by Lark O’Neal

REVIEW: Random by Lark O’Neal


Dear Ms. O’Neal,

I’m not quite sure where to begin. This is a very odd book. I’m still dipping my toes into new adult so I’m not as well-versed in the genre as others, but Random struck me as a novel that fails to live up to expectations or even to the cover copy.

Jess Donovan is a poor waitress working at a local diner. Her mother died in a freak accident. Her step-father lives on disability and the birth father she barely remembers lives on the other side of the world.

Then one day a car crashes through the diner where she works, destroying it in the process. Now out of work, Jess has to find a way to make rent. She’s broke. But the accident also brought Tyler Smith into her life and everything begins to change.

I find it ironic the title of this book is Random because never has a title been more fitting for a novel. I guess that’s a sign it was a deliberate choice. But when it comes to a reading experience, I prefer a more cohesive narrative. Individually, the scenes are fine. But together? There’s barely anything holding the story together. We follow Jess’s life from one random moment to the next, hoping for the story to kick into gear. But it never gets off the ground.

I also just didn’t care for her love interest. Tyler is a rich boy who’s rebelling against his privileged family by majoring in art and working as a cook at a coffee shop. I personally can’t buy into that fantasy but I know the idea of an artsy person breaking free of family expectations is appealing so I’m willing to roll with it.

But it’s his interactions with Jess that really rubbed me the wrong way. As I said, Jess is poor. She lives paycheck to paycheck. Barely. Tyler obviously doesn’t. He has a trust fund. His parents pulled strings so he could go to a local college that he subsequently flunked out of. Privileged doesn’t even begin to cover it. But anytime Jess makes a reference to her background and history: starting to work at age 14 or not having a computer at home, let alone internet, Tyler gets upset. He tells her she has a chip on her shoulder and to stop making him feel bad about being rich. Sounds to me that the person with the problem isn’t Jess.

I know Cinderella narratives are a staple but this one really turned me off. Being poor is Jess’s reality. It’s not her fault he’s uncomfortable with seeing how the lower class lives. She can’t hide it to make Tyler feel better, which is exactly what he wants. I think she has a right to be a little suspicious about why this rich boy is taking an interest in her. To be honest, I spent the entirety of the book convinced Tyler was slumming it, as they say.

Another thing I thought the book was missing was intensity and angst. The heroine is 19 so I think there should have been more. Jess is portrayed as an old soul but even old souls have melodrama in their lives at that age. She certainly had enough fodder. Jess starts out the novel dating a guy from a rock band who she later breaks up with after an altercation. Major drama, right? Yet it’s not written like that, which only contributes to the oddball feeling of the novel.

To be honest, if anything, I’d say this book reminds me more of women’s fiction than new adult. It has a very even keel to the narrative rather than the dramatic ups and downs I’ve come to expect from NA. Bad things happen in the novel but I never get a sense of how they affect Jess or cost her anything. That’s the kind of lack I mean.

I can sort of see what Random is going for. Jess has drifted through life, letting things happen, rather than seizing control. The story is about her learning that. And while she finally begins taking steps in that direction towards the end of the novel, the book’s other flaws along with a clumsily executed cliffhanger just make it hard to appreciate. C-

My regards,

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