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Review: Alex McKenna & the Academy of Souls by Vicki-Ann Bush

Book Info:

Alex Mckenna and The Academy of Souls
Alex Mckenna Series
Book Two
Vicki-Ann Bush

Genre: YA, Paranormal, LGBTQ
Publisher: The Parliament House Press
Date of Publication: October 20, 2020
ISBN: 979-8697729533
ASIN: B08HCFGHXJ
Number of pages: 314
Word Count: 61,823
Cover Artist: Shayne Leighton Machova

Tagline: The Dead Need Him


Book Description:
After surviving a harrowing case, Alex McKenna just wanted to rest. Unfortunately, his plans are interrupted by the ghost of seven-year-old Haven, who is lost in an in-between realm.

Despite his great-grandmother’s warning, Alex crosses the bridge between the living and the dead, sending him and his girlfriend into the world of the Academy of Souls, a high school for dead teens who are unable to complete their journey.

There, Alex meets Ophelia, Haven’s teenage sister, who’s been searching for her for more than a century. Together, with a few friends he meets along the way, Alex must cross the treacherous terrain of the Underworld in-between, to save Haven from the clutches of the Soul Gatherer and reunite the sisters.

Excerpt:

The streetlamps illuminated the black empty sea of asphalt. A quiet calm laced the row of sleepy houses. Alex reveled in the tranquility. So much noise constantly filling his head, any semblance of stillness wrapped around his mind like a child’s favorite blanket.

            In the center of the glass, a small sphere of light caught his attention. At first, he thought it was in the yard. Leaning forward and squinting, he realized it was a reflection coming from directly behind him.

            Jumping up, he spun around. Growing in diameter, it was beginning to spin.

            “Hey, whatcha doin?” Margaret said groggily.

            “Stop. Babe, slowly move to your left and come over here by me.”

            “Why? What’s going on?”

            Margaret gingerly slid to the left as Alex instructed, and then quickly scurried by his side. “What do you see?”

            “It’s the vortex opening, the gateway to that girl, Ophelia.”

            “Alex, please be careful. Remember what your Gram said. Don’t get too close,” Margaret pleaded.

            “She’s there, it looks like a bedroom.”

            “What’s she doing?”

            “Sitting on the bed, she’s covering her ears.”

            The wind whipped around the vortex howling like a wolf speaking to the full moon.

            “I don’t hear anything?” Margaret turned to Alex.

            “It’s like a high-pitched howl. It’s deafening. Wait. It’s quieting down. She sees me.”

            “What’s she doing now?”

            “She’s coming closer.”

            Alex leaned closer to the anomaly.

            “Alex, back up.” Margaret tugged at his t-shirt.

            “Babe. I gotta do this. Please. Let go of my shirt.”

            Margaret reluctantly let the fabric fall from her fingertips.

            Alex inched closer.

            “You are Alex McKenna, right?” Ophelia asked.

            The anxious teen widened her eyes in anticipation.

            “Yes. I’ve seen Haven. Who is she?”

            “She is my sister.”

            “I think she’s in trouble,” said Alex.

            Ophelia floated off the bed and stood directly in front of the entrance to the living.

            “I’ve been searching for her for years. She was taken by a man, a Soul Gatherer. I think she is counting on you to help.”

            “I think she is, too.”

            “Can you?” Ophelia’s eyes widened.

            “I can try. Where are you? Is it The Academy of Souls?”

            Ophelia’s chin dropped.

            “Yes. You know about my school?”

            “I do.”

            “Oh no.”

            “What is it?’

            “The gateway. It’s closing!” Ophelia shouted.

            Alex heard the desperation in her voice as he helplessly watched the circle shrink. The wind cried out once again, as it violently thrashed around the outer edges of the bridge between the dimensions.

            “I have to go.” Alex tasted Margaret’s lips. “I’ll be back soon.”

            “What the hell? No. Alex. You can’t,” Margaret shrieked.

            “I love you,” his voice trailed.

            Alex stepped into the center of the storm. The vision of Ophelia rippled, traveling to the rim of the circle, and splashing into the void. “This shield is my power to protect against evil, this shield keeps out harm. No dark entities shall pass through this shield. As I will it, so shall it be.”

            Sawing to fill his lungs with air, he pushed forward and landed on the floor of the dorm room. Gazing up, Ophelia stood in front of him, her mouth wide open.

            “Ugh. My head hurts. Where are we?” a voice echoed.

            Alex winced. His heart punching the walls of his chest. Whipping his head around in a frenzy, Margaret was lying on the floor beside him.

            “No, no, no, no. What the fuck, il mio amore.” Alex scrambled to her side.

            Ophelia moved closer. With her pointer finger, she quickly poked his shoulder and retracted.

            Alex didn’t respond. His focus was Margaret.

            “How could you do this? Why did you do this?” his voice strained.

            “I couldn’t let you go without me.”

            Alex kissed away the saltiness from her cheeks. With the back of his sleeve, he gently patted dry her eyes.

            “Alex?” Ophelia murmured.

            The couple turned to the bewildered Ophelia Wetherton.

REVIEW:

Vicki-Ann Bush’s second installment in the Alex McKenna series, Alex McKenna & the Academy of Souls, offers plenty of teen mystery solving and clever paranormal world-building. Fans of paranormal urban fiction may get some enjoyment out of this book if they can ignore formatting issues and consistent editing issues.

The novel opens with protagonist Alex McKenna finishing one of the most taxing cases of his career before literally jumping into another case (and another world) with his girlfriend. I adore Bush’s execution of Alex as a transgender protagonist and how he copes with his physical and emotional needs. It’s presented in a realistic way that doesn’t seem preachy or overtly educational.

I was enamored with the world-building of the Academy and its denizens. It was interesting to learn how places like the “in-between” and “The Nowhere” functioned in relation to the world of the living, even if it became a little confusing at times.

All-in-all, I was prepared to fully enjoy this novel and its characters. Unfortunately, the lack of a thorough line edit made the journey through this world quite a difficult one.

After the first chapter, we were introduced to a sizable cast of ghost teens, which is where I found it difficult to invest in the overall plot. There were several secondary characters introduced who offered little to narrative. I found myself questioning if the story actually needed them to be there.

This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if we didn’t spend a large chunk of the book with them. Ultimately, I found their characters to be largely unnecessary outside of having people for the main characters to interact with besides themselves.

Awkward sentence structure made it difficult to figure out who was speaking during dialogue, but the biggest culprit was the overuse of commas. They were often used in the place of periods and semicolons, often in places where a comma wasn’t needed at all.

An example from the novel:

“Visiting family that had migrated to a warmer climate, was a yearly trip he’d have to miss this time.”

Beyond grammar and formatting, there was way too much telling and not enough showing. A character would reveal they were upset, and this would be followed up with text explaining why instead of allowing the character to convey the emotion organically.

I also would have liked a bit more background on a few characters who showed up to help solve very specific problems. It was a little too convenient at times for “this character who knows how to enter this very specific dimension” to suddenly appear and rectify the characters’ plight.

Overall, if you can ignore the abundance of grammatical errors and superficial characters, you’ll probably enjoy this book. I adored the protagonist as well as the world-building. I believe with a proper line edit, this book could at least be a decent page-turner. We need more LGBT protagonists, and I hope Bush continues to hone her craft for any potential future installments.

Alex McKenna & the Academy of Souls is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

About the Author:

Originally from New York, Vicki-Ann currently resides in Nevada. Writing Young Adult paranormal, she finds inspiration from events that have been in her life for as long as she can remember. Inheriting the sensitivity to the
supernatural from her family, they continue to be an endless source of vision and access to behind the veil
.

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