The Frost Eater

Posted on April 9th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Today’s review is for The Frost Eater by Carol Beth Anderson. Spoiler (for the review, not the book) I absolutely loved this book. I feel like the last few reviews are making a liar out of me when I say I don’t give out five teaspoon reviews often.

About the Author

Carol Beth Anderson lives in Texas with her husband, two kids, a dog and a bunch of fish. She has some hobbies I can definitely appreciate, such as making sourdough bread and knitting. Like many of the other authors I’ve feature on the blog she is extremely active on Twitter. And now TikTok, apparently, haha. You can find her on Twitter here.

Book Details

The book is available in eBook and Paperback from Amazon, as well as in audio from Audible. The eBook is $2.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited. The paperback is $15.99 USD, which is what I paid.

The paperback is roughly 385 pages of actual story (there’s a sneak peek of book 2 at the end I’m not counting). It’s a pretty large trim size book, so there’s a lot there.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design


External design first. I really like the cover on this book. I do think it’s maybe a little busy for my tastes, but it is genre appropriate and the text is easy to read. I might have clicked on this on Amazon. However, I got sucked in by snippets and tweets about the 3rd book of the series, so that’s hard to say. I give the cover 4 teaspoons.

Interior design. The book is nicely formatted. I did not notice any issues. The scenes are well delineated in both print and eBook. All around a professional looking interior. There’s really nothing special, no extra charm or fluff. 4 teasppons.

Average for design is 4 teaspoons.


4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

Click here to read the blurb.

I find the premise of this interesting. Two young people from very different backgrounds form an uneasy partnership to find a third missing teenager. It has a quest-y sort of aspect to it and fits some tropes. Searching for a lost love, for example. However, just reading the blurb it doesn’t feel like an overly rehashed story.

4 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters

Anderson’s characters are wonderfully imperfect creations. Krey is an arrogant hot-head, but underneath that beats a heart of gold. Nora is naive and more than a little socially awkward, but she genuinely cares for her friends and her people. Ovrun, who has no special gifts or station, is arguably the best of them all.

I really appreciated how Nora and Ovrun actually had practical reasons to deny their budding relationship, rather than just a vague “duty” sort of argument you often see in monarch type fantasy books.

The genuine friendship and affection that develops between the main trio is very well written. It develops over time and in a believable manner. There’s a slow opening up as Krey learns to trust Nora.

5 teaspoons for characters.

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Plot

There is a lot of plot here. I was starting to get suspicious of the direction it was eventually going to go pretty quickly, but Anderson really kept me second-guessing my own instincts. Everything is well paced. I was never bored. Once the story really got going I had a hard time putting the book down to do other things. Nothing stood out to me as being a crutch or out of place.

5 teaspoons for plot.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding

There is so much to unpack in the world-building here. From the magic system, to the history, to the biology.

It’s not really explained outright how humans came to be on the planet the story takes place on (after all, it’s in the past and a lot of records are toast), but to me it felt like the hints pointed to space travel, perhaps? Definitely a sci-fi flavor. There are of course plenty of alien speices that are now perfectly normal to the humans living on the planet that drive home how this is not Earth.

However, something apocalyptic happened that knocked out half the population and the tech. That event is referred to as “The Day.” Definitely gives the book a sort of post-apocalyptic vibe, although many generations have passed. The little snippets of Nora’s ancestor’s memoir really bring what it was like to live right after “The Day” into perspective and deepen this aspect of the worldbuilding.

The fallout from “The Day” results in some interesting things besides death and mayhem, including the onset of magical abilities in the humans who survived. I really enjoyed the magic system. The only other magic system I’ve read about that is even remotely similar was from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. This combined with dragons really amped up the fantasy vibe.

Anyway, I could go on and on about all the cool details in the worldbuilding, but I might end up giving away spoilers. 5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

I really enjoyed Anderson’s overall style and tone. The prose is engaging and the dialogue is both dynamic and believable. It really suits the genre without feeling forced on overly juvenile, which is something I’ve noticed in some “YA” books.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Audio

This is a new section for me. The Frost Eater is the first book I’ve reviewed on the blog to actually have an audio edition available at the time of reviewing.

I listened to portions of the book in audio, alternating between listening and reading the paperback copy. The sections I listened to were really well done. Anderson is an excellent narrator, and I didn’t notice any real difference from professional audio production. Maybe an audio snob would, but this casual listener did not.

5 teaspoons.

Final Thoughts

The Frost Eater is hands down the best YA book I have read in a long time. Maybe ever. Someone give this woman a movie deal and then don’t botch the adaptation, please.

Although the genre is slightly different, this really put me in the mind of YA bombshells like Divergent and Hunger Games. I think it’s that partly post-apocalyptic flavor. Yet, it had that fantasy/sci-fi edge that I personally really crave.

All in all, excellent book. I’m really looking forward to diving into the next two in the trilogy.

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The Shield Road

Posted on March 22nd 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Today I am reviewing The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves. This one is a bit different from my usual reviews for a few reasons. The first is because I am working from a digital ARC. The second is because The Shield Road is not a traditional novel. Rather, it is a collection of interwoven short stories. This caused me some mental gymnastics with my categories, but we’ll get on to that in a minute.

Full disclosure, I did receive this ARC for free with the expectation that I would review it. This however does not impact my opinions in any way, shape, or form. My thoughts, as always, are my own.

About the Author

Dewi Hargreaves is a UK-based fantasy author and illustrator of absolutely stunning maps (yes, I’m editorializing and fan-girl-ing just a little bit. I love maps, leave me alone). Check out the amazing map he made of the world in The Shield Road.

As with most books I’ve reviewed lately, I wound up reading The Shield Road through my interactions with the author on Twitter. You can find him here.

About the Book

I don’t have the absolute final print version in front of me, but the PDF was about 154 pages to give you an idea.

It will be available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon and ebook from Kobo at the end of March.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design

I can only speak to the digital version at this time, but I really like the cover on this one. It’s simple, clean and fitting to the genre. I love the blue-on-blue monochrome. The lettering is well contrasted and very legible. Five teaspoons.

This review is a little unusual in the sense that I don’t have a physical book, nor a final ebook. I’m reviewing from a PDF ARC. Now, the formatting of that ARC is beautifully done, but since it’s not the final book I am not going to count my rating for the interior towards the final rating. Still, it’s great.

So for design I give the book 5 teaspoons based on the exterior.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

The Shield Road begins as a collection of interwoven short stories. Each character begins with their own goals and their own mission, introduced independently. At first, it’s really difficult to see how they will all come together, but still very intriguing. Although this is not stated outright, I took the Shield Road to not be the literal road the characters are following so much as a metaphor for the life they are leading and the adventure awaiting them.

Of the few short story collections I’ve read, none have really had this idea of forming a larger plot. Usually, you see something more like a collection of short fairytale retellings or even unrelated stories. I quite like the idea of weaving together a larger tale from independent stories. In a way, reading The Shield Road is not really all that different from reading a normal novel, but I could totally see reading any one of these in a fantasy lit magazine and enjoying it by itself.

Premise is 5 teaspoons.

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Characters

The one downside to the format of this book is perhaps that there’s just so many named characters, and we don’t get to hang out with any one of them for very long at first. Still, Hargeaves manages to pack great pieces of characterization into each and every story. Each individual feels real and fleshed out in their moment. Then, as the stories come together, we start to focus in more on specific characters, such as the Bladekin and the Princess.

The single character with the most depth in my opinion is Talfrin, the Bladekin. Most of the later stories focus on him and the characters who join him in the main conflict of the series. The inner turmoil that Talfrin feels is palpable, and the changes in his character as he’s impacted by certain forces are slow and devious.

Characters gets 5 teaspoons.

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Plot

What’s interesting about this book is because it is a grouping of short stories there’s really a plethora of plots I could discuss. There’s also a common thread weaving through them that is fascinating. As I read each story, I found myself wondering how its individual puzzle piece would fit into the overall picture. I was not disappointed.

I give plot on both the individual story level and overall 5 teaspoons.

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Worldbuilding

I don’t know how Hargreaves crams so much worldbuilding into each individual story. The art of showing “just enough” is difficult when writing a novel, but in my opinion it is even more difficult in a short story. Each of Hargreave’s stories has enough worldbuilding to be enjoyable and understood as its own unit. And yet, together they create a sprawling landscape. Masterfully done. 5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

I am absolutely in love with Hargreaves’s prose. It’s just… chef’s kiss. Despite the tight format of the short stories, there’s so much evocative detail. I think the best way to describe it would be to say that there is a very “literary” quality to it. Once again, 5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Final Thoughts

I very rarely give out 5 star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Part of the reason for this is because to me “meets expectations” is 3 stars. That means I found the story entertaining and the author hit the bare minimum for character and plot. A 4 is a book I genuinely enjoyed. A 5 is “blew my socks off.” To date, I have given only one 5 teaspoon review on the blog, although I also came very close with M.A. Vice’s Birthright.

So, a 5 teaspoon review is a very high bar to clear. Hargeaves cleared it with room to spare with The Shield Road. He pulled off what can be a very tricky format with grace and aplomb. I was fascinated right up until the very end of the book. And although the conclusion was satisfying, I was still left craving more. I really hope we get to see more of the rich world he has created in future works.

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The Marked Princess & The Searching Songbird

Posted on March 15th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

This review is going to be a bit different from my usual posts because today I am actually reviewing two for one. Today’s review is for The Marked Princess and The Searching Songbird, books 1 and 2 of The Shendri Series by E.P. Stavs. And the reason I decided to do this is because book 3 of the series The Unclaimed Wolf comes out tomorrow, March 16th. So I want to encourage everyone to pick up all three on launch day!

I’m going to do my best to keep this review spoiler free (which is really hard when you’re reviewing the sequel at the same time).

Originally, I was going to post my review of The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves today, but since that’s coming out at the end of the month, I decided to do The Shendri Series first. So stay tuned for that next week!

As usual, I am not being compensated in anyway for this review. I purchased both books on my own. My opinions are, as always, my own.

About the Author

So, these books are another Twitter find for me. They came highly recommended by one of the other author’s whose book I featured recently. You can find that review here. I have not interacted with E.P. as much, but what interactions I have had were lovely, and I can recommend her as a great follow on Twitter.

From her author bio, I can tell you that E.P. currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. She is originally from New York. And apparently she is also a coffee fiend like yours truly.

Check out more of her bio here.

About the Book(s)

The Marked Princess weighs in at 200 pages in print, while The Searching Songbird comes in at 217. Both books are available in print and Kindle eBook. If you have Kindle Unlimited you can read them both for free, or you can pick them up for $2.99 a piece. The paperbacks are $12.99.

I was rushing to get this review out, so I did not get a chance to ask the author about whether or not there are plans for audio editions. I will provide an update on that when I can.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design

Exterior first. I love the covers on these. I love the beautiful simplicity. They also really feel like they belong together in the same series. My only complaint would perhaps be that I don’t know that they really convey the genre well. Since this was a (highly recommended) Twitter find I can’t say for sure if I would have scrolled past them or not. So I’m going to give cover design for both books four teaspoons.

Interior Design. Both books are formatted consistently, which I appreciate in a series. In the print editions the chapter headings are nice, and fit the vibe. The font choice is nice and legible. The use of italics for inner thoughts is consistent. The only real formatting issue I noticed was the occasional widows and orphans in the print editions, particularly in The Searching Songbird.

One minor thing that drives me a little crazy personally (and this is going to sound so nitpicky) is that book 1 is printed on cream paper and book 2 is printed on white.

Now. There is a map included in both books— and you all know how I feel about a good map. This one is alright. I don’t know if the style of it quite fits. I would have really liked to see something more hand-drawn in appearance.

All in all, I give the interior for both books 4 teaspoons.

That brings us to 4 teaspoons overall for design.

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Premise

The overall premise of the series is that the female protagonists are descended from ancient warrior women who fought a demi-god and prevented him from taking over the world. Each girl has inherited the warrior spirit and powers of her ancestor.

All in all, the building blocks that Stavs uses are pretty standard YA Fantasy tropes. In addition to a “chosen few” we also have tropes such as “the rebellious princess,” “enemies to lovers” and “childhood friends to lovers” just to name a few.

That being said, the execution of these tropes is very well done, as we will discuss further when we get to worldbuilding and plot.

Premise gets 4 teaspoons.

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Characters

Since these are YA Fantasy Romance, I’m going to focus specifically on the couples in this section. This may be minorly spoilery for The Marked Princess since early on there is an indication of a triangle. I don’t think it’s enough of a spoiler to really hurt the enjoyment of the book, but proceed with this section at your own caution.

Josselyn is the “Marked Princess” of Eldour. In some ways I think she had the shallowest arc of any of the main characters. Most of her character growth is centered on figuring out her feelings for Alex and Edmund. Her dialogue was great, though.

Alex is like Josselyn in the sense that much of his character arc is concerned with learning to fight for the things that he wants. In this case, what he wants is Josselyn. The change in him is honestly, somewhat abrupt, but believable given the circumstances. Still, I did not find him as interesting as some of the other characters. To be honest, I was borderline Team Edmund at one point.

Lily had a great character arc, probably the best in the series so far. Much of The Singing Songbird was about Lily coming into her own as a woman and discovering her own inner strength. I found her to be believable and well written. If had one complaint at all about Lily, I would say she forgives perhaps a touch too easily.

Draven is of course Lily’s love interest and would-be kidnapper. I found him to be a delightful counterpart to Lily. The dialogue between the two of them was quite snappy and fun. His change of heart as he gets to know her is well-written and does not feel abrupt or out-of-the-blue.

And as a bonus, there’s Edmund. Poor Edmund just keeps getting the short end of the stick. Although Joss’s childhood friend got relatively little screen time in either book, he was a charming character and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. I suspect there’s much hidden beneath his playful exterior.

Overall, each character definitely had their own distinct voice. Reading about the leading ladies especially really felt like reading about two distinct personalities. I didn’t feel like Lily and Draven rehashed anything we already experienced with Joss and Alex (always a danger with serial romances).

At the end of the day, I found the main characters in The Searching Songbird to be much more interesting and well-developed than The Marked Princess. For this category, The Singing Songbird takes a full 5 teaspoons, leaving its predecessor in the dust with 4.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding

The worldbuilding starts off strong in The Marked Princess and only gets stronger in The Searching Songbird. The cities they visit– particularly in the second installment– feel like real places. When the characters talk about other countries and cities, it really feels like they’re talking about real places they have seen or read about.

I’m also pleased with how the author treated the subject of discrimination and the “Kalo” who seem to be somewhat analogous with the Romani peoples in our world. She has characters correcting other characters when they use a pejorative (at least, in the second book), and distinctly shows the Kalo people in a generally positive light. That said, if you find the word gypsy to be offensive, this may not be the book for you.

I give worldbuilding a solid 4 teaspoons.

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Plot

This is a category where my ratings are once again going to diverge. I’ll start with The Marked Princess (ya know, since it’s first).

Overall, I found the plot of The Marked Princess to be predictable. There really weren’t a lot of surprises. Even so, it was a fun, well-paced romp that hit all the right notes and came to a satisfying conclusion. Plot for book 1 gets 3 teaspoons.

Now, The Searching Songbird on the other hand… you got me, E.P. I’m normally pretty good at predicting the direction things are going to go (although not as good as my mother, never watch a movie with her you haven’t seen) but I was a bit surprised in the end. I was delighted by resolution of the book’s main storyline, as it sets up plenty of new conflict for the upcoming books. Plot for book 2 gets 5 teaspoons.

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Writing

I really adore E.P.’s writing style. Both her prose and her dialogue are snappy and fun. Her characters are generally well-written and delightful. Both books are well paced. If I had any complaints, it would be that I could occasionally do with just a bit more description. Still, I have to give E.P. Stavs 5 teaspoons for pure enjoyability in both installments.

Final Thoughts

The Marked Princess comes out to a final score of 4 teaspoons. Although immensely enjoyable, it is — in my opinion — a far weaker installment than its successor. There was much that I found predictable or standard for the genre. I would have liked to be surprised a little more often.

I have a whole discussion about why I don’t give out 5 teaspoons very often in next week’s review (that I actually wrote before this one) so I won’t get into that here. Nonetheless, The Searching Songbird is a rare, solid 5 teaspoons for me. Not only did it continue with the fun, snappy style of its predecessor, but it brought new depth and maturity to the table. Stronger, more interesting characters and a plot that manages to surprise lift it up to the next level.

Bring on book 3.

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Hot Tea & Tall Tales – 2
Heirs of Eternity

Posted on February 3rd 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Introduction

This week’s review is of Heirs of Eternity, by Franc Ingram. This is the first of two books in the Euphoria Duology. The second book, Kings of Euphoria, was released earlier this month. A full review of it is upcoming in this video/blog series.

View the video review here.

Disclaimers & Disclosures

Full disclosure, I am personally acquainted with the author. We are in both in the AkroNaNoWrimo group for National Novel Writing Month and Facebook friends. This does not influence my opinions on the book, and I am receiving no compensation for this review, except maybe some free press. I say that assuming I’ll get linked from her blog. You will link me, won’t you, Franc? Pretty please?

About the Author

Franc is a local author from North East Ohio. She like good food, white wine, and has a dog named Mya. You can find her on Facebook, Goodreads, and her blog.

Book Details

First, how does this book only have two reviews on Amazon? I know more than two people have read this book. Only one review of the paperback on Barnes & Noble at this time of this writing.

Heirs of Eternity is available for sale in paperback ($10.90) on both Amazon and BN.com. It is available as an ebook for Kindle ($2.99, which is what I paid).

Amazon estimates the length of this book at 282 pages for the Kindle edition. The print edition weighs in at 279 pages.

Ratings

Design  3 teaspoons of tea leaves

I want to preface this section by saying that putting together an indie book is hard. Everything is done by the author or at the author’s expense. And unless you really love that sort of thing, typesetting and layout a print book is a chore. I’ve done it myself. It’s even worse when you don’t have the right software. So keep that in mind.

I have mixed feelings about this cover. The art has this dreamy quality that is enticing, but to be honest, I don’t think it fits the story. This book is jam-packed with action and monsters and heroes and cool SciFi stuff that borders on magic… But that just does not come across on this cover for me. Now, what it does have going for it, for those of you who watched/read my last review and know my pet peeve, is that it leaves the characters completely up to the readers’ imaginations.

It’s like, I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s strong or eye-catching for its genre. I think if I didn’t know Franc and know the book was out there, I probably would not have found this in the vast, vast world that is Amazon’s Kindle Store.

The interior design of the book isn’t great. It’s left aligned. The headings are nothing special, just bolded. It’s kind of like reading somebody’s term paper from a design standpoint. It doesn’t take away from your ability to read the book, but it doesn’t add anything either.

What I DO like about the interior is the spacer used between scene shifts within a chapter. The cool little pop of binary makes my nerd heart sing. For the enquiring minds that want to know, the little 100101 sequence seems to come out to a % in ASCII.

Premise4 teaspoons of tea leaves

The story has a cool sci-fi fantasy premise. The science is kind of so far gone that it enters the realm of magic. To the average person who doesn’t understand, what the heirs can do really does seems like magic. The Masters of Earth, Skies, and Animals all have these powers that stem from being part supercomputer. I really the like idea behind the Heirs and the three kings with Oleana as their mentor. Where I struggle a bit is with the “ultras” the first generation hybrids mentioned in the blurb. Something about them just rubs me wrong, so that keeps premise from five teaspoons for me.

Characters 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

This story is extremely character driven. Oleana is a such a flawed character. And beautifully so. She’s a strong, but broken character, and that’s really what sells the story for me. She’s bearing the weight of the memory of their failures alone, and the memory of watching the other heirs die, repeatedly, just beats on her psyche. She struggles against addiction and the need to complete the job she’s been given.

Lorn, Lysander, and Leith are the other heirs. They didn’t come off as strong in this book for me, but I think book two is where they’re really going to come in to their own. I will be doing a review of it.

The other major character I want to talk about is the main villain, Cornelius. I’m sorry, Franc. That name just makes me chuckle so much, because all I can think about is the fairyprince from Warner Bros 1994 animated film, Thumelina. He’s supposed to be this big, bad ice-demi-god kind of thing, and all I see in my head is autumn fairyprince. To be fair, I’m probably the only person who makes that association, but it’s just hilarious to me. That aside, Cornelius doesn’t have much of a character arc. He’s a pretty typical maniacal all around bad guy who is drunk on power and wants to keep that power for himself. He sees the Heirs as a serious threat to that power.

So that’s the big conflicts of the story, Oleana against herself and Oleana against Cornelius. The two of them are diametrically opposed to one another.

There’s a lot of other characters in the book. The cast is quite wide. But we would be here all day if I tried to get into them all.

Worldbuilding 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Once again, being scif-fi, worldbuilding is so important to the story. And the world is huge. Franc built a lot of world! It’s got different cultures, and you can see it in the places that the main characters travel to, and when they encounter the Failsea warriors. It’s a culturally rich book, which I enjoy. Again, the Ultras just kind of bug me, and that keeps it from being a perfect five for me. All in all, it’s a strong world, and I look forward to seeing it develop further in the second book.

Plot 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

It does have a twist at the end I didn’t see coming, so that was nice. It’s a pretty typical high-action adventure type plot with a journey. The plot really isn’t anything special, but events develop logically and it’s well paced.

Writing 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

The writing in this book is strong. It’s descriptive and emotive where it needs to be. Oleana’s struggles are well portrayed.

Final Thoughts – Overall 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

It was a strong story. I recommend it for fans of the sci-fi/fantasy genre. If you’re looking for hard sci-fi, probably not the book for you. I think if a second edition was released with a little more professional polish, the book would hit a solid five teaspoons for me.


If you are an indie or small press author and are interested in being featured in my reviews, please contact me at reviews@sara-cleveland.com with a subject line of “Hot Tea & Tall Tales Inquiry.” The subject line helps with inbox rules so I see your email faster.

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Hot Tea & Tall Tales – 1
That Time I Broke Time

Posted on January 28th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Introduction

This week’s review is of the That Time I Broke Time, a debut novel by indie author Sarah Emily Lelonek. It is listed as YA and SciFi/Fantasy. Currently, it is enrolled in Kindle Select. Enrollment in this program means that it is only available for purchase through Amazon’s Kindle Store, or through Kindle Unlimited. I do not have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, so I paid the reasonable purchase price of $3.99 (at the time of this posting).

View the video review, here.

Disclaimers & Disclosures

Full disclosure, I am personally acquainted with the author. We are in both in the AkroNaNoWrimo group for National Novel Writing Month. This does not influence my opinions on the book, and I am receiving no compensation for this review, except maybe some free press (like a blog link, or a Facebook post. Twitter is nice 😉 )

About the Author

Sarah Emily Lelonek is a new author from Akron, Ohio. She holds a B.A. in English from Kent State University and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Tiffin University. She has a yorkie named Joey.

You can find her on

Book Details

That Time that I Broke Time is estimated at 165 pages by Amazon. The typical reading time, again according to Amazon, is 3 hours and 18 minutes. I did not clock myself as I did not read the book all in one sitting, but I am a quick reader and this estimate seems fair. At the time of this writing, the book has one 5 star Amazon review.

While the book is currently only available as a Kindle ebook, Sarah says that she plans to release it as a paperback this coming April. I will attempt to remember to update this post with the additional availability. It is currently only available in English, and I am not aware of any plans for translation at this time.

A sequel is planned for later this year. I will attempt to remember to update this post when that becomes available. Also, I will do a review.

Ratings

Design  4 teaspoons of tea leaves

First, I will say that cover really fits the target genres. It’s got all the things I would look for as a reader in SciFi/Fantasy cover, particularly with a bent towards the YA portion of the genre. Color. Action. It makes me want to read the book.

One thing about the cover bugs me though, and I find that this is a common occurrence for me not only with indie books but with many, many traditionally published novels. The picture of the main character on the cover does not (to my mind) line up with the written description. Early in the story, Ellie describes her hair as “long, chestnut brown hair” and later as a “dark mane.” The girl on the cover is blond! Blond!

Okay, so that’s really just a pet peeve of mine, and it doesn’t detract from the fact that the cover is well done and eye-catching.

Four teaspoons.

The “interior,” if you will, is pretty much what you would expect from an ebook that has been put together well. The chapters are clearly delineated with pleasant looking headers, and scene shifts are well indicated. I’ve definitely come across ebooks where the latter was not the case, and it gave me a form of mental whiplash.

No teaspoons lost there.

 

Premise 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

The blurb reads:

The future doesn’t freak out Ellie Evensten. Being a product of the 2100s, Ellie is accustomed to hovers, holos, and even time travel. Ellie knows all about time travel from her adopted parents, but they didn’t mention how the time travel gene mutates with every generation of new travelers.

Now at age eighteen, Ellie is starting college with her best friend and boyfriend. Life is almost perfect. That is until she finds herself dealing with a whole new reality: Ellie is actually her parent’s birth child. She can not only time travel, but also break and bend time on her own volition.

Ellie’s life does not become easier with her new abilities. When Ellie’s parents are abducted, she not only faces an evil organization set on controlling time travelers worldwide, but she must also learn to cope with her own emotions before she breaks time for good.

There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff to dig into here, but let’s get this out of the way first: the book follows a trope. Well, a blend of tropes.

The protagonist discovers (bonus points for on a significant birthday) that she isn’t who she thought due to some secret about their family or the circumstances of her birth. Oh, and now she has awesome powers, too!

This has been done. And done. And done.

“Yer a wizard, ‘Arry!”

Here’s just a few other examples, besides J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter:

  • Rand Al’Thor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series
  • Shea Ohmsford in Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara
  • Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Anakin Skywalker (the whole dang family, really) in George Lucus’ Star Wars (the movies or the novelizations, take your pick).
  • Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels aka True Blood for you HBO fans.
  • Percy Jackson in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
  • Diana Bishop in Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches
  • Richard Cypher in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series.

I mean, I could go on for days. I didn’t even list all of the ones my friend helped me come up with when my brain got stuck.

But the reason it’s been done so many times is that. Heck, I even have an unfinished manuscript with the same trope! It’s a pretty good launchpad for all sorts of crazy adventures. Every story I just mentioned (aside from my unfinished one) is well beloved for totally different reasons, vastly different plots (although some do follow similar archetypes in other respects), in part because they all put their own twist on the trope.

In this case, the twist is that the protagonist is a carrier for time-traveling genetics that she had believed she could never have possessed, due to her parents faking her adoption. Points for originality, because I’ve read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, and I can’t remember coming across that combination before. It’s an intriguing premise. The science behind the TT gene itself is glossed over (yay, suspension of disbelief!). And honestly, I’m glad the author chose not to just throw a bunch of physics babble in there and bullshit the reader through it. The main character didn’t know how it worked, admitted as much and we moved on.

But, while it’s not the hard and heavy footnote-laden steamroller that a Michael Crichton novel would be, That Time I Broke Time does it’s best to explore some of the big questions outside the protagonist’s own turmoil. In particular, the story tackles a big one: what would the governmental and societal reaction to such a power be?

So, the premise, in my opinion, is great. I give it five teaspoons. But now that leads us into the execution, and that is where many a grand premise goes to die. Bwahaha!

Okay, just kidding.

Characters 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Main Protagonist – Eleanor “Ellie” Evensten 

At the beginning of the story, Ellie is… how do I put this? I find her just annoying and self-absorbed, but in that I-just-turned-18 sort of way. The good thing about this is that it gave Ellie plenty of room to grow as a person from the first sentence to the last. What Ellie has going for her is a good character arc. And because we are in her head the whole time, we really get to see the changes in her as the plot moves forward. She shows progress as a character through the story as she begins to look outside of herself.

Main Antagonist – Kyle 

Kyle starts out the story as Ellie’s boyfriend. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be much to his character besides the fact that he’s a dick. I don’t even like having to say that word on camera, but it’s pretty much the best summary of his persona there is. However, Kyle doesn’t spend too much time on screen, and I find his flatness forgivable, especially since the real villain of the story is much more complex.

Ellie’s Family

I’m just going to lump all the Evenstens together here. Ellie’s family is supportive almost to the point of being irritating. I don’t think they actually reprimand her for a single thing the entire story, even when they probably should have. They’re very loving, doting parents, but again, they seem a bit flat as characters despite the absolutely freaking massive secret they’ve been keeping from their daughter. Grandpa, too. He seems to lack some depth for the badass he seems to be. I’m hoping for some more development of Gramps in the next installment.

Ellie’s Friends

The best friend (Nat), the childhood best friend (Taylor), and the new probably future bestie (Ying) to round it out. The friends where just interesting enough not to be complete paper-cutouts for me. I feel like you could replace a couple of them with totally different people and I don’t think it would have affected the story much, if at all. Moving on.

All in all, Ellie’s strong character arc is what saved this portion for me. Everybody else just felt a bit flat for one reason or another. Still, it feels like there’s some great potential in some of the side characters. I really hope they get a chance to shine in the future. Three teaspoons.

Worldbuilding 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

I teetered between 3 and 4 teaspoons for this section.

In any kind of fiction, but particularly speculative fiction, worldbuilding is paramount. You have to make enough of the world feel real that the reader can suspend their disbelief for the really crazy parts. That Time I Broke Time seems (most of the time) to find a nice balance between overt in-your-face acts of worldbuilding (hover cars, because future) and subtly (like the evolution in teen/college-age alcohol/drug culture). There was obviously a lot of thought put into several key aspects of the world in which Ellie lives. The society and governmental structures that have formed in this world are well thought-out and make sense (at least to me) given the technologies described. But then there are some things that just seem like they were popped in as either being throw-away, expected because of the future-world premise, or plot crutches, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

I think the thing that put the worldbuilding over the top for me and into the solid 4 teaspoons was the International Time Traveling Organization (ITTO) and its genuine nefariousness. It’s all the the terrible things that can go wrong with a governmental body with too much power and not enough oversight. The true evil in the story, the ITTO as a natural result of the TT gene is what makes this story for me. It answers the big “so what?” about time travel. We have humans with the super-ish ability to go back in time? So what? We have to regulate them! But where do we draw the lines? I’m so excited to see where this goes and how it develops in the sequel.

Plot 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

This is another section where I teetered on what score to give. I’m going with the 3 teaspoons, and here’s why.

On one hand, the story keeps moving. It’s well paced. It’s slower where it needs to be and faster where it needs to be. The action is good. There’s a good level of anticipation and suspense.

And yet.

Some things in this book were just too dang easy. The “modern” medicine really just felt like a crutch. There’s an entire scene based around it that I felt could have just been completely skipped. Like, completely, and nothing would have been lost from the story.

Some of the help the receive is also just, so convenient. I would have liked to see more trial and error, more struggle for the characters.

Writing 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

First, let me start by saying that Sarah is a talented writer. Her writing has a clear voice and presence. She does well with evoking all five of the senses. By the end of the first digital page, I had a strong sense that I was going to enjoy this book on pure style alone. And she didn’t disappoint.

I did notice a handful of editing mistakes, but honestly, they were minor enough that I didn’t even care. If I had not written down reminders and highlighted them all on my Kindle I probably would have forgotten all about them. I’ve seen far more egregious mistakes in professionally published books that went through only heaven knows how many rounds of editing, copying editing, and proofing. Heck, my own debut novel probably has worse editing mistakes. I’m too much of a coward to look at this point because there are so many print copies already out in the world.

Final Thoughts – Overall Rating 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

 

I liked this book. I’ll be honest, I originally didn’t think that I would. That Time I Broke Time was a fun read. It’s not overly lengthy, and can be enjoyed of an evening if you’re a quick reader. It’s well written and well put-together. Although it could have used some fortification in some areas, the plot was interesting, and the premise was stellar.

A note on the genre labeling, to those who are wondering if this book is appropriate for their teenagers. While this book is targeted to a YA audience (according to Amazon), if I were personally asked to label this book, I would call it New Adult (NA). Sarah does not shy away from the profanity. There were a few f-bombs within the first five or so chapters. The first chapters show some questionable behavior (drinking, substance use) before getting into some rather adult stuff.  If your child is less than 15 I would consider pre-screening the book first.


If you are an indie or small press author and are interested in being featured in my reviews, please contact me at reviews@sara-cleveland.com with a subject line of “Hot Tea & Tall Tales Inquiry.” The subject line helps with inbox rules so I see your email faster.

 

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