Book Review – Halflings by Heather Burch

After months of promoting Halflings by Heather Burch, I finally finished it.  It would have been a quick read, coming in at just under 300 pages, had life not gotten in the way, but I guess none of us have control over that.

What is Halflings about?  From the inside cover:

After being inexplicably targeted by an evil intent on harming her at any cost, seventeen-year old Nikki finds herself under the watchful guardianship of three mysterious young men who call themselves Halflings.  Sworn to defend her, misfits, Mace, Raven, and Vine battle to keep Nikki safe while hiding their deepest secret – and the wings that come with it.

 A growing attraction between Nikki and two of her protectors presents a whole other danger.  While she risks a broken heart, Mace and Raven could lose everything, including their souls.  As the mysteries behind the boys’ powers, as well as her role in a scientist’s dark plan, unfold, Nikki is faced with choices that will affect the future of an entire race of heavenly beings, as well as the precarious equilibrium of the earthly world.

When I first discovered this novel several months ago, I was intrigued by the concept.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, not that I was a fan of ‘angel’ books.  In fact, I’d never read an angel book before, but I love Young Adult fantasy and this seemed to be right up my alley.

After reading it, I have to say I was split on my reaction to it.  Halflings has everything a Young Adult urban fantasy novel should have:  a cute, strong heroine, extra-cute hunky guys, a little romance, and a few bad guys.  What it doesn’t have, in my opinion, is a definitive plot.

The novel opens on a strong note:  Nikki is running for her life from a pack of hellhounds gnashing at her heels.  Lucky for her, the hunky Halflings come to her rescue.  But why?  The answer to that question isn’t really explained, nor is the reason why she’s being chased.  We have some hints…the mysterious Omega Corporation, genetic testing, antique weapons dealings…but as to a plot?  I couldn’t find one.  There is no beginning, middle and end to a single scenario.  Nikki doesn’t discover the answers to why she is what she is or why she was chosen.  We don’t learn why she was being chased by the hellhounds.  We learn what she is, but we don’t know how she became what she is.  There are a bunch of leads like endless wires hanging from a vast network of computers, but none of them go anywhere.  The balance between the questions raised and the questions answered is uneven.  I didn’t feel there was any sort of wrap-up, conclusion to anything.  As an author, I found this extremely unnerving.  It also may be why I’m so critical.  Sorry Heather.  🙂

Yes, there are half-human, half-angel hunks:  Mace, Raven and Vine.  Our heroine, Nikki is 17, is an artist and loves motorcycles.  Mace, Raven and Vine are Halflings, creatures caught between heaven and earth with so much to lose should they fall in love with a human.  Mace is a gentle soul who does everything right.  Raven is dark, mysterious with a touch of ‘bad boy’.  Nikki, of course, is drawn to both.  Vine…well, we don’t learn much about Vine except that he’s sort of new to this whole “Halfling” thing.  He sort of hangs around in the background and is occasionally thrown in, almost as an afterthought so the reader doesn’t forget about him.  I suspect he will hold a bigger role later, but for now, he’s just there.  There are other Halflings that are introduced, but like so many others, their characters aren’t fleshed out enough to answer any questions.  In fact, they sort of confuse things even more by creating new questions.

There are other sub-characters in the story…the teacher…the Halfling’s overseer, Will…the mysterious Damon Vessler…Nikki’s parents and Bo.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel connected with them as much as I wanted.  There is an unexplained mystery hanging around Nikki’s parents that’s not fleshed out enough.  Nikki knows something is up, but she doesn’t pursue it nor does it seem to faze her.  I felt there should have been some suspense, some tension, but Nikki’s reaction to all the red flags and the mystery surrounding her parents fizzles.  In fact, her parents’ presence seems almost arbitrary.  I also felt there was a huge hole missing at the end, like a chapter was missing or something.  The story and suspense surrounding Nikki’s parents just snapped, crackled and popped.   There should have been several OMG! moments, but there weren’t.

Then there were two deaths, both of which should have affected Nikki in profound ways.  One should have played over and over again in her mind like a movie.  It should have affected her future decisions.  She shouldn’t have been able to push it from her mind so easily.  It should have stuck with her, made her more suspicious of those around her.  Her reaction, however, seemed unattached and certainly not the way I would expect anyone, much less a teen, to react.  The other death should have left her, and us, heartbroken, trembling, tears streaming down our faces.  Once again, the emotion wasn’t there.  I felt cheated.

Nikki’s BFF, Krissy, should have played a bigger part, and the villain wasn’t villainy enough.  I suspected this individual from the beginning, but the big reveal was a letdown, kind of like stubbing your toe and saying “ouch’.  I did feel Nikki’s anger at the end, but it was short-lived.  I wanted her, the Halflings to do something, anything, to the villain, but it didn’t happen.  I was left scratching my head and thinking, ‘Is this the end?’

As for the narrative, I found it to be full of clichés and clunky descriptions that at times, weighed the storyline down.  I wanted the action of the first line to continue throughout the book.  Instead, it came in spurts, and while the spurts were exciting when they came, there weren’t enough of them to sustain the pace usually found in YA novels.

With all this said, I still enjoyed the book immensely and would recommend it.  There were some funny scenes between Nikki and the Halflings that left me chuckling and the romantic moments got my heart pulsing and wanting more.  Like Nikki, I couldn’t help being drawn to both Mace and Raven.  I can see the 15 and up female readers loving this book and craving more.  There is definitely room for expansion and the introduction of new characters to help Nikki figure out what she is and what her role is to the Halflings.  I can envision girls sympathizing with and wanting to be like Nikki.  They will also pick sides.  Does Team Mace or Team Raven have a familiar ring to it?  I personally like Raven.  Then again, I’ve always been attracted the dark, handsome ones with brooding eyes.

From my understanding, there are talks of a movie somewhere down the line and a prequel is already available through several venues.  The second novel in the series is scheduled for release in September 2012.

While Halflings has its flaws, as do most novels, they are not enough to keep this reader away from reading more in the series.  In fact, I’m looking forward to this angelic three-way romance where all players stand the chance of losing everything…including their hearts and souls.

Out of 5 stars, I give Halflings a 4.  Happy reading!

Interview with Halflings’ Author, Heather Burch

  If you haven’t heard about Halflings yet, you will.  This book is already hitting Top Teen Picks on the Barnes and  Noble bookshelves.  Heather is filling up her free time with book signings, interviews, blog tours and television appearances.  That’s why I’m super pleased she agreed to an interview with little ole me.   So, here goes.

Me:  Heather, please tell us a little bit about yourself.  Where are you from and where do you live now?

Heather:  I grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Southern Missouri. Really beautiful part of the country. When my husband and I married, we moved several times with his family. I guess we all have a bit of gypsy blood. I’ve lived in Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and my favorite Florida.

Me:  What got you into writing?  What inspires you to write?

Heather:  I’ve always written. When I was a teen, I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories and some things that weren’t really poetry or short stories … but they were my thoughts and I put them on paper. I’m really inspired right now by my two boys. The youngest is fifteen. He’s very much like Mace and my older son is very much like Raven … except they don’t have wings.

Me:  What is your favorite novel of all time?

Heather:  That’s really tough for me to choose because my tastes change. I can’t even decide on a favorite color. It all depends on how I feel that day! But, if I had to pick one book I’d say it’s The Divide by Nicholas Evans. It’s beautiful and tragic and disturbing. And today, it’s my favorite of all time. (My favorite color today is red.)

Me:  Who is your favorite author of all time?

Heather:  Man, you just aren’t giving me a break, are you? Stephen King. Huh, I think it will be him if you ask tomorrow or the next day or the next. What do you know? I’ve learned something about myself. I do have a constant favorite. It’s the King! Honestly, I’m not a horror fan anymore. But I love King’s writing and his ability to crawl inside the skin of his characters. Sometimes, when I’m having trouble with a character I ask myself, “What would Stephen King do right now? How would he get inside this character’s mind and heart?”

Me:  What is your favorite book that came out within the past couple of years?

Heather:  Oh, this one’s easy! Hunger Games. Beautifully done. I’m reading Firelight by Sophie Jordan right now and there’s just something magical about how Sophie puts words together. I met her a couple weeks ago when we were on a panel together. She’s really super and I’m looking forward to more books in her series!

Me:  Tell us a little about Halflings.

Heather:  Hunted by men and demons, Nikki Youngblood entrusts her life to three half-human, half-angel young men. The Halflings are sworn to defend her, but Nikki is more than she seems and it will take all of their power to keep her safe. When both Mace and Raven fall for Nikki, not only are their lives on the line, their eternal fate is jeopardized.

Me:  What inspired you to write this story?

Heather:  I knew some day I wanted to write a story about characters with supernatural abilities. I think love triangles are fabulous to explore because it causes the characters to have to dig deeper into who they are and what they really want. I love action, so I wanted something with a lot of action in it. But I didn’t have any plans to write this kind of story now. It was what Donald Maass calls a “Breakout Novel” and I thought I’d work on it for years. Well, I wrote book one in four months. It just poured out of me. Plus, I knew the multi-book story arc. Honestly, I didn’t know if anyone would like it at all. It was odd and different and certainly not what we were seeing on the shelves at the time I wrote it. Now, there are some similar books. It’s so weird how that happens. Ideas are like rain. They fall from the sky and whoever happens to be looking up can grab them. I happened to be looking up that day.

Me:  Who are your main characters and what makes them special to you?

Heather:  Nikki is our heroine and she’s strong and brave. I’d like to be more like her. J She’s an artist who rides a motorcycle and isn’t a girly-girl.

Mace is the natural born leader. He plays by the rules. Mace is a perfect choice for any girl.

Raven is the bad boy. To him, rules were made to be demolished. But there’s more to Raven than just rebellion. He’s got the heart of an artist—something Nikki finds irresistible.

Both Mace and Raven fall for Nikki. And she falls for both of them.

Me:  If you could give your main characters any advice, what would it be?

Heather:  “Settle in for the ride, this is going to be a long journey!”

Me:  All editors, agents and publishers are looking for that thing that makes a story unique. What is that unique factor with Halflings?

Heather:  To find the “it” factor, you need a high concept idea. Halflings is a high concept. In fact, at one national writing conference they used it as an example of what a high concept was. I’ll try to describe. Think of your story in terms of mass appeal or at least mass understanding for a large audience. A high concept idea will resonate with most people. When you hear, “Terror in the water” what do you think of? Jaws, right? Of course, that concept resonates with all of us. We understand and feel the terror.

Halflings high concept is “X-Men meets Cinderella.” When you hear that, you have a sense of what the story will give. Action of X-Men, romance of Cinderella.

Here’s another. “Fairytale characters trapped in our world.” Know what that’s from? The new TV series Once Upon a Time.

I think the publishing industry is looking for high concept ideas. Find that and you’re probably on your way to a breakout novel!

Me:  In short, can you give a brief timeline how long it took you to write the book, find an agent, then published?

Heather:  Four intense months for book one. I finished it and started querying. It landed on the desk of the agent I have now after it finaled in a contest. But she didn’t feel like she could sell it. She really knew the market and it was the almost polar opposite of what editors were asking for. They wanted dark, dark, dark books. She personally liked the story, but just didn’t feel she could sell it. Then the tide turned. After one year, she called me and said she felt like the market was ready. She’d even ran the idea past a few editors at places like Simon and Shuster and Little Brown. They were both really enthusiastic and said they’d like to see it. So it took her one year to sign me as a client.

It took six weeks for her to sell the three book series.

We signed the contract with Zondervan Harper Collins in January, 2011 and book one released in January 2012.

Me:  What has been the most exciting and rewarding part of this journey?

Heather:  Encouraging others to follow their dreams. My family had to make sacrifices (I left a job making 40,000 a year to stay home and write.) But, their commitment to me was amazing. Even though we became a one car family for a few years, they continued to support me and my desire to be a published author. They made my dream a reality. And sharing that with others who have the same dream is very rewarding. If you have a supportive family around you, nothing is impossible for you.

Me:  Are there sequels in the making?

Heather:  Guardian, book two releases in September. I’m working on book three right now.

Me:  What words of advice would you like to give to aspiring authors?

Heather:  Don’t quit! Don’t give up. Understand that sometimes things aren’t right for the market at a given time, but you’ll know when the time is right. Send out. Collect rejections. I tell people that if they don’t have fifty rejection letters from agents, they aren’t even trying. Understand that for an agent to take you on, it’s a very personal thing. They have to LOVE that book. When you begin hearing, “I just didn’t fall in love with it enough,” from agents, CELEBRATE! Because that means you are really close to selling.

Most importantly, (and this advice comes from Roxanne St. Clair) Write your butt off everyday!

WRITE. You must write. And when that book is done, polished and shining, write another. Then another.

One more thing. Join writing groups like RWA. Great instruction on craft, story and characters.

Hope you guys enjoyed the interview.  Now go out and get your copy of Halflings!

New Author to look out for – Heather Burch

Guys, this series looks amazing!  If you or anyone you know is a fan of YA fantasy fiction, this series will fit right in.  I have got to get her on my blog when the book comes out.

Check out her website and read all about the Halflings.  I am stoked and ready to buy.