It's a shame, then, that their books are so much less exciting than their stories. Hocking is best known for her Trylle novels: Switched, Torn, and Ascend. All three, which sell for less than $3 each, hit the upper reaches of Amazon's ebook best-seller list earlier this year. The trilogy's heroine is Wendy Everly, a regular teenager who one day learns that she's ahem a troll. Sorry, a troll princess. It soon transpires that Wendy must master her latent troll powers and save her troll community from some other, evil trolls who want to destroy their troll way of life, all while she navigates her extremely messy and complex troll love life.
Hocking, it's safe to say, is not a stylist. Her work reads like a high school creative-writing assignment, full of typos and misused words and lifeless language. But while wordcraft may not be her thing, Hocking definitely does have something. Despite its faults, the trilogy zips along pleasantly enough, and although the books aren't remotely in the same league as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, they do poke at the same pleasure centers. Hocking has some storytelling chops: The Trylle books make you want to know what's going to happen next.
The same cannot be said about her latest novel, Virtue. Subtitled A Fairy Tale, it's a bunch of goopy romantic nonsense about to summarize a story that's too complicated and ridiculous to fully explain here an angel who falls in love with a demon. The unlikely couple's all-consuming passion just might save the world from the ultimate evil, assuming they can battle their way past a dragon, an evil stepmother, and some truly awful prose. ''She kissed him fervently, standing on her tiptoes to taste him more deeply,'' Hocking writes. ''A fire burned inside, spreading a fresh wonderful heat all through her.''
Locke's Donovan Creed series is decidedly more adult, in both style and substance. Creed is a former CIA operative who's now the ''deadliest man on earth,'' an equal-opportunity assassin tracking terrorists for the government while performing hits for the Mob. The tone is tough-guy humorous, equal parts macho violence and dumb dirty jokes. The latest, Vegas Moon, features characters with forced-funny names like Dr. Phyllis Willis and Fast Eddie Pickles, and a flimsy plot about a lethal computer chip implanted in Creed's brain gets padded out with a weirdly detailed pasta recipe and an impassioned defense of airport baggage handlers.
The pasta sounds pretty good. Otherwise, Vegas Moon doesn't have much going for it, and the book's neither suspenseful nor especially clever. Locke's idea of a zingy line is ''I lock the front door, then move through Phyllis' office like clap through a whorehouse.'' It's cheap stuff, which makes sense given that the book sells for just 99 cents. To be fair, Vegas Moon isn't much worse than any number of disposable paperbacks available at your local airport at a far higher price. But if you're after a bargain, why not wander down to the library and pick up one of the world's best novels for free? Trylle trilogy: B- Virtue: D Vegas Moon: C