Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Review: The Case Study of Vanitas by Jun Mochizuki

30621341. sy475 Title: The Case Study of Vanitas
Series: The Case Study of Vanitas Volume #1
Author: Jun Mochizuki
Source/Format: Gift; Paperback
More Details: Manga, Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Yen Press; December 20, 2016 (First published April 22, 2016)

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Step once more into the imagination of Jun Mochizuki, creator of New York Times-bestselling PandoraHearts! A tale of vampires and curses set in a whimsical and dark steampunk Paris unfolds! On the streets, rumors abound of a clockwork grimoire said to sow curses among the vampires. Now, guided by the Book of Vanitas, the gears begun to turn, and the story of two men, Noe and Vanitas, takes shape...
I haven’t kept up with manga by Jun Mochizuki for a while, but I was curious about her latest series, The Case Study of Vanitas. The story so far seems fun and quirky, but there are also a number of hints and vague statements that are already strongly alluding to the tragedy that is going to take place in this series. Even so, I liked the first volume of this manga. It does a lot of heavy-lifting by introducing the main cast of characters, the alternative and steampunk version of Paris, as well as some of the history, lore, technology, and the magic system present in this world. There were several points that were particularly fascinating to me, such as some of the abilities that the vampires + others displayed throughout volume one—particularly the titular character (Vanitas) as well as the book of Vanitas (I really want to know what’s going on with that). The vampires here are interesting. It doesn’t appear that they’re affected by sunlight—although there could be a reason for that explained in later volumes, we’ll see—although they do have some of the more usual traits such as strength, quick healing, immortality, red eyes, etc.. It also seems that moons + astrology have some significance in the story, and I want to know more about it. Volume one also mostly wrapped up what appears to be the first arc of the series, and there were many hints of what’s to come. So I’m interested, and I want to see what goes on in volume 2.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Review: In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

38244358. sy475 Title: In an Absent Dream
Series: Wayward Children #4
Author: Seanan McGuire
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date:; January 8, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should. When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she's found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well...
Lundy was a character who I always thought of as interesting, even though she only appeared in Every Heart A Doorway. I liked what I saw of her character. So it was nice to get a story from her perspective. In the same vein as Down Among the Sticks and Bones, In an Absent Dream is a prequel story. It told Lundy’s backstory including her adventure behind the door that opened for her: in a world called the Goblin Market. The story was big on being “sure” about many things, with wanting to live in whatever fantasy world that wanted you being one of them—which is a question that most of the characters of the Wayward Children series are eventually asked. It was also about following the rules as well as the consequences of breaking them. The Goblin Market—which is a pretty accurate descriptor for the kind of place Lundy went—was a market, and it was a land ruled by fair value. So even in the Goblin Market there were still rules. It was also uniquely different from some of the other worlds visited in prior books—not just in terms of the landscape and the permanent residents—but for how people, like Lundy, who went there could go back several times before being "sure" had lasting effects. I also liked all the characters who were introduced in In an Absent Dream. They were as interesting as the world they inhabited. All of it made for an entertaining story.

All in all, I enjoyed In an Absent Dream. It satisfied my curiosity about Lundy’s character and the Goblin Market. Now more than ever, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review: The Princess Who Flew With Dragons by Stephanie Burgis

48138914. sy475 Title: The Princess Who Flew With Dragons
Series: Tales From the Chocolate Heart #3
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Middle Grade; Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Bloomsbury Children's Books; November 5, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Princess Sofia of Drachenheim is sick of being used for her older sister’s political gains. At twelve years old, she’s already been a hostage to invading dragons and a promised future fiancé to a wicked fairy. Her only comfort lies in writing letters to her pen pal and best friend--Jasper, a young dragon whom she's never even met. When Sofia's older sister sends her on a diplomatic mission to far-off Villenne, she's meant to play the part of a charming, smiling princess. But when an accident leads to her exile from the city, Sofia is free to wander as she pleases for the first time in her life. And when Jasper's food-mage sister Aventurine turns him into a human boy, Sofia thinks life can't get any better. Until… the legendary ice giants of the north attack, trying to reclaim the territory that they lost centuries ago. With the dragons and royals frozen in ice, can Sofia and Jasper save their families and kingdom?

Another enchanting and strong-hearted fantasy, set in the same world as The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and The Girl with the Dragon Heart.
The Princess Who Flew With Dragons was an excellent follow up to The Girl With the Dragon Heart. There was less chocolate this time around, and much of the familiar cast of characters wasn’t present. That was because the story was told from Princess Sofia’s perspective and it took place outside of Drachenheim—mainly in Villenne and also the snowy territory of the Ice Giants. However the story was just as fun and adventurous (and full of dragons) as the previous books in the series. Princess Sofia has appeared throughout the series, but she was mostly a side character in the adventures of others. So it was nice to finally get a story from her perspective. Being able to read from Sofia’s perspective was helpful with further understanding her character. The story—and Sofia’s attempts at being diplomatic during her trip to Villenne—put a spotlight on her insecurities and fears about not living up to the title of princess. I appreciated the narrative choices Burgis took with Sofia’s character arch. The lessons, as well as how the situation between Sofia and her old sister, Katrin, played out, was among one of things I liked best about The Princess Who Flew With Dragons. I also liked seeing more of Aventurine’s family—particularly Jasper—as well as all the new characters and places introduced in this book.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Princess Who Flew With Dragons. It was a great story, and the ending was satisfying. If you’ve read the other two books in the series, then this one is a must read.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

27366528Title: Beneath the Sugar Sky
Series: Wayward Children #3
Author: Seanan McGuire
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date:; January 9, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Note: this synopsis contains spoilers for Every Heart a Doorway. 
When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.) If she can't find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests... A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do. Warning: May contain nuts.
**Note: this review may contain minor spoilers for Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones. You have been warned.**

So far I’m really enjoying the Wayward Children series, and I’m determined to get caught up with all the current books before Come Tumbling Down comes out next year. After I read Down Among the Sticks and Bones, I was more than excited to finally pick up Beneath the Sugar Sky. The synopsis had me excited for all the possibilities the story could hold, and it turned out to be everything I was looking for.

I loved this story. Not only were more of the other worlds visited in Beneath the Sugar Sky—like Confection and The Halls of the Dead—I also got see to all of my favorite characters again including Nancy, Kade, and of course Eleanor West—who had a rule about no quests, and while it finally got broken, it was for a good reason.

No matter how brief it was, it was also great to be back in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Since beneath the Sugar Sky wasn’t a prequel like Down Among the Sticks and Bones, I got more of what I wanted, which was to see what happened to the characters after the way Every Heart a Doorway ended. There were a few new characters, like Cora, who had recently left her own world. I liked her character, and she reminded me a little of Nancy in Every Heart a Doorway. Like her—like most of the students at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children—Cora had reasons to want to remain in her fantasy world, but ultimately she had to adjust to the sudden changes in her life after that door was shut. One thing that this series does well is how it addresses relevant issues by directly incorporating them rather than shying away from, or only hinting at them. So it often came up as something one or more of the characters had to deal with. Beneath the Sugar Sky also does this with Cora’s character. There was also Rini who, at times, spoke quite frankly, but she was a thoroughly entertaining character (I would take a story entirely from her perspective, I’m just saying).

Beneath the Sugar Sky was an excellent and highly entertaining sequel to Down Among the Sticks and Bones. I plan to read In an Absent Dream as soon as my library hold comes in.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

31450908Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Series: Wayward Children #2
Author: Seanan McGuire
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date:; June 13, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. This is the story of what happened first… 
Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline. Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got. They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted. They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices...
Jacqueline and Jillian Wolcott, otherwise known as Jack and Jill, were two of my favorite characters from Every Heart a Doorway, especially Jack. The twin’s story wasn't completely unknown to me, especially since their history was explored as much as the other characters were in Every Heart a Doorway. One of the things I had wanted to see more of in the first novella was the worlds that the students of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children had gone to before their stay at the school. Down Among the Sticks and Bones pretty much satisfied that curiosity. Since the story was about Jack and Jill’s history, there was an in-depth look at The Moors, as well as everything before and up to when they opened their door and walked through it.

One of themes explored throughout Down Among the Sticks and Bones was how the choices made by parents could positively, or in this case, negatively affect their children. The Wolcott’s, Serena and Chester, were inexperienced at parenting and they never bothered to try and learn to do better. The choices they made played such a prominent role in how—and who—the twin’s eventually grew up to be. It was sad how damaging it was, but without it there wouldn’t have been a story. I also liked getting to see the characters of The Moors, who were mentioned in passing in Every Heart a Doorway, on page. They were everything they were described to be, and I would take another story featuring them.

Overall, Down Among the Sticks and Bones was an excellent follow-up to Every Heart a Doorway. It might have been a prequel story, but it doesn’t even matter. This series just keeps getting better and better, and now more than ever I’m excited to start reading Beneath the Sugar Sky.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney

42642065Title: A Dream So Dark
Series: The Nightmare-Verse #2
Author: L.L. McKinney
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Young Adult; Retelling
Publisher/Publication Date: Imprint; September 24, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Still reeling from her recent battle (and grounded until she graduates), Alice must abandon her friends to complete her mission: find The Heart and prevent the Red Lady's rise. But the deeper she ventures into Wonderland, the more topsy-turvy everything becomes. It’s not until she’s at her wits end that she realizes—Wonderland is trying to save her. There’s a new player on the board; a poet capable of using Nightmares to not only influence the living but raise the dead. This Poet is looking to claim the Black Queen’s power—and Alice's budding abilities—as their own. Dreams have never been so dark in Wonderland, and if there is any hope of defeating this mystery poet’s magic, Alice must confront the worst in herself, in the people she loves, and in the very nature of fear itself.
The thing with sequels is they can go either way, good, bad, and anything in between. In the case of A Dream So Dark, it was the kind of sequel that got me excited for the next book in the series. I enjoyed it more than I did A Blade So Black. It was the kind of Alice in Wonderland retelling I’ve been looking for. I mean there was everything from a little bit of a mystery to interesting characters, Sailor Moon references, lots of scenes in McKinney’s version of Wonderland, plenty of action, and some pretty entertaining twists. That is to say, A Dream So Dark was worth the read.

From here on out, there may be minor spoilers for the first book. You have been warned.

The story picked up pretty much after the end of the first book, and it followed Alice as she dealt with the fallout of her most recent battle and about what happened to her friend, Chess. In a general sense, I liked the overall story. There was plenty of action to keep me turning the pages. And while I could guess some of what would likely happen, I didn’t know the full story—like the motivation behind the antagonists plots, and how it would all come together and playout in the end. So, I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

The setting was much more developed, and I liked that more of the story took place in Wonderland. It was such an interesting and colorful place, and I liked getting to see more of it—especially the people, the towns, the different kinds of creatures, and so on.

I loved the character development that happened in A Dream So Dark. At the end of A Blade So Black, I had a lot of questions about Alice’s character—and I still have a number of them—but I liked the direction the author took with her character. This time around, Alice was definitely more prepared. She had learned from her past mistakes, and she was ready for a fight. I thought it was great. Another thing I was a fan of was how much more present Alice’s family was. Like there was always the issue of her absences and her mother not being a fan of it or her lies, at all. So there were these really great scenes between her and her mother. There were also scenes with her grandmother as well (who, by the way, was an absolute delight and one of my favorite additions to the story; she’s a character that I want to see more of). I also liked Alice’s friend, Courtney (also known as Court). She was such a personality. She had some pretty entertaining one-liners, and I loved all the scenes she was in. There was also a little more about Addison Hatta’s history, which I liked.

All in all, I really enjoyed A Dream So Dark. It was a great addition to the series, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Review: Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

25526296Title: Every Heart A Doorway
Series: Wayward Children #1
Author: Seanan McGuire
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date:; April 5, 2016

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children....No Solicitations....No Visitors....No Quests...
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter. No matter the cost.
Lately, I’ve been reading some of the backlist titles that have been on my TBR list for a while, and Every Heart A Doorway was one of them. Portal fantasy is one of my favorite fantasy elements ever—stories like Coraline and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman, and Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova—so Every Heart A Doorway was right up my alley. The story wasted none of its 173 pages, and by far, my favorite part was the very concept at the center of the novella: children returning from different fantasy worlds, and after going on such fantastical adventures (and often wanting to go back to the worlds that cast them out) a school that takes them in while they try to readjust to the people and the lives they left behind.

There were a lot of aspects about the novella that I absolutely loved. Such as the themes explored in the story and the setting, Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The introduction of the school not only introduced Eleanor West, it also set up the some of the basic rules about the Home for Wayward Children and magic that would later play a bigger role in the story. It turned out to be one of my favorite story beginnings that I’ve read so far this year. The characters were a unique bunch, and while some of their worlds could be called similar in some small way (in terms of the classifications used in the story), the traits that made them interesting were distinctive. Those traits were often shaped by the worlds they’d visited (and called home), for example Nancy and her “stillness.” There were a lot of different worlds needed to fill the story, and the ones that were talked about were unique and interesting. I almost wished those worlds would have appeared on the page (which is one of the reasons why I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the series).

All in all, Every Heart A Doorway was as excellent a read as it was the beginning of a series. The ending, while a satisfying conclusion to some points (and for some characters) in the story, it still left the door open for more. I’m looking forward to getting caught up with the series before Come Tumbling Down is released in 2020.

Have you read any of the Wayward Children series?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

248596Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Series: n/a
Author: Ray Bradbury
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; hardback
More Details: Fantasy  
Publisher/Publication Date: First published in 1962

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope's shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show's smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes - and the stuff of nightmare.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of those classic books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I wanted to read it before the year was over, and now I can mark it off my TBR list. Something Wicked This Way Comes was good. I liked the story and the characters, especially the friendship between Jim and Will. While it wasn’t exactly a ghost story like Dead Voices by Katherine Arden, it did deal with powerful and mysterious forces, as well as the consequences of what someone would do to remain young forever. There was the carnival, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, so there were some scenes where the characters interacted with the rides and games. However, there was never a moment when there wasn’t something odd about the newcomers to the town, like the carnival and the way it arrived in the middle of the night. As the very first page of Something Wicked This Way Comes says, “One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight.” It led to the increasingly dangerous and nefarious situations that seemed to touch every corner of the story. I liked what I read. So Something Wicked This Way Comes was the perfect October read.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15783514. sy475 Title:The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Series: n/a
Author: Neil Gaiman
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Horror
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Books; June 18, 2013

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy. Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
When I first started reading Neil Gaiman books again, I had a list of stories I really wanted to read. The Ocean at the end of the Lane was one of them. It was good, but it wasn’t my favorite book by this author. So while there were some parts I genuinely liked about the book—like the Hempstock’s and the fantasy elements (namely the duck pond that’s also an ocean)—the story, unfortunately, was one that didn’t click all the way with me.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story about a middle-aged man recounting memories of his childhood from a time when he was about seven. I didn’t realize at first that the character remained nameless throughout the whole story, and looking back, I didn’t carefully read the synopsis. However, the main character not having a name didn’t bother me in the slightest, due in part to the writing, which was excellent. There was a somber tone to much of the story, because the pivotal events were always somewhat sad and definitely frightening. It was a story about memories, and there was horror and fantasy.

I think my main problem with this one was parts of the story itself. Given that the events are being recounted by the character when he’s older—and how short the book was—the stakes in the story sometimes seemed low. Because I always knew, in the back of my mind, that everything would turn out okay.

Other than that, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was an interesting tale. I liked it, and I will likely read other books by Gaiman in the future.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review: Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

43069601. sy475 Title: Dead Voices
Series: Small Spaces #2
Author: Katherine Arden
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Middle Grade
Publisher/Publication Date: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers; August 27, 2019

Synopsis from Goodreads...
Bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces. 
Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie's watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE. With Mr. Voland's help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help--or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.
Dead Voices is a terrifying follow-up to Small Spaces with thrills and chills galore and the captive foreboding of a classic ghost story.
Earlier this year, I read Small Spaces, Katherine Arden’s first middle grade novel. I was overjoyed when the atmospheric writing that I liked about the Winternight Trilogy was also present in Small Spaces. So I was excited when I first learned that Small Spaces was getting a sequel, and oh man, Dead Voice did not disappoint. With a story full of twists and turns, Dead Voices was delightfully spooky and just as atmospheric as the first book in the series. But it wasn’t so scary that a younger audience wouldn’t be able to enjoy the story.

Dead Voices picks up sometime after Small Spaces. Its winter, and Ollie, her friends, father, and Coco’s mother were on their way to a lodge. After the events of Small Spaces, it was a much needed vacation. However, it wasn’t long before trouble started, and the ghosts did, well, what ghosts do at isolated lodges in the middle of a snowstorm: they haunted. It’s one of the aspects about the story that stood out the most. The ghosts and the lore surrounding Hemlock Lodge reminded me of the story-within-the-story in the first book, also called Small Spaces. It revealed some of the backstory, and how the history influenced the current situations the characters faced as well, all without slowing down the story. It was excellent.

Another thing I liked was the tone of the story. The atmospheric writing, combined with the story, antagonist, and the setting, made for a great ghost story.

It was also great getting to read another story from the perspective of these characters. I liked all of them. In fact, I liked Ollie more in Dead Voices than I initially did in Small Spaces. Her circumstances were different, and this time she had her friends. I liked the dynamics between Ollie, Coco, and Brian. I also liked the development Arden did with their friendship, as well as their personal character arcs. They each had moments to shine, where their skills took center stage.

Overall, Dead Voices was an excellent follow-up to Small Spaces. If you read and enjoyed the first book in the series, then this one is a must read.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

38886181. sy475 Title: Neverwhere
Series: n/a
Author: Neil Gaiman
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; hardcover
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: BBC Books; September 16, 1996

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks. Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere....
Neverwhere is one of those books I kept saying I was going to read, but I never got around to it until now. The story was an excellent blend of a time period thoroughly entrenched in a modern time and fantasy elements. It was urban, gritty, and magical all at the same time. And it reminded me a little of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland. Although, it wasn’t a world at the back of a wardrobe, or an odd place following its own rules—or lack of rules—found at the bottom of a hole. No, Neverwhere was set in a place that was closer than anyone would have expected. It was another London, or as it was called in the story, London Below. There was so much I enjoyed about Neverwhere. I guess it was just my kind of story.

Richard Mayhew was a protagonist who, at first, lived a safe and comfortable life. He was a young businessman, and he was in a stable relationship with Jessica, his fiancée. That all changed when he met Door by chance one day. As the synopsis states “there are people who fall through the cracks,” and Richard does indeed become one of them. And when his good deed backfired on him, it was interesting how he handled himself now that his life was irrevocably changed for the worse. I liked the characters in Neverwhere. I don’t want to say too much about the secondary characters, but I have to at least mention Door. Door was a delightful character, and my only regret is that the rest of her family didn’t have a chance to appear on page. Door’s specific ability—a trait known to her family—was one of my favorite aspects about her character.

London Below was such a fascinating place to read about. Like Wonderland, London Below was a mysterious place that followed its own rules. There was a way of life down there, an order to things. So all manner of people and animals and monsters and angels—places seemingly outside of time or reality—existed right below the streets of London. I’m not going to lie, it was kind of awesome.

The story was great and atmospheric. There was action, and there was always a sense of danger to the situations the characters ended up in and the places they went. There was an element of cat-and-mouse to the story: a chase that spanned from the beginning to the end. Speaking of the end, it was open-ended in a way, but I was still satisfied with the conclusion of the story.

So far, Neverwhere is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. And here I thought Coraline would be hard to beat as my favorite book by Gaiman, but I was wrong.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review: The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire

43233639Title: The Unkindest Tide
Series: October Daye #13
Author: Seanan McGuire
Source/Format: Publisher; Bound ARC
More Details: Urban Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: DAW Books; September 3, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Hundreds of years ago, the Selkies made a deal with the sea witch: they would have the sea for as long as she allowed it, and when the time came, she would call in all their debts at once. Many people assumed that day would never come. Those people were wrong. When the Luidaeg—October "Toby" Daye's oldest and most dangerous ally—tells her the time has come for the Selkies to fulfill their side of the bargain, and that Toby must be a part of the process, Toby can't refuse. Literally. The Selkies aren't the only ones in debt to the Luidaeg, and Toby has to pay what she owes like anyone else. They will travel to the fabled Duchy of Ships and call a convocation of the Selkies, telling them to come and meet the Luidaeg's price...or face the consequences. Of course, nothing is that simple. When Dianda Lorden's brother appears to arrest Dianda for treason against the Undersea, when a Selkie woman is stripped of her skin and then murdered, when everything is falling apart, that's when Toby will have to answer the real question of the hour. Is she going to sink? Or is she going to swim?
I took The Unkindest Tides with me while I had jury duty, and suffice it to say, the story kept me thoroughly entertained during breaks. It’s not the first book I’ve read by Seanan McGuire, but it is the only one I’ve gotten around to reading from the October Daye series. Even though it was the 13th book, I read it anyway—partially because I had no time to get to the other 12 novels in the series before the start of my jury duty. Regardless, I had no trouble following the story, getting invested in the characters, or interested in the world. I loved the story, and it’s probably my favorite book I’ve read by McGuire to date.

The synopsis tells a lot about the book, and the story pretty much delivered on every front. The story starts calmly, but it takes off when the Luidaeg arrived and announced that she intended to collect on debts owed to her. There was mystery, action, and a cast of wonderful characters. The world McGuire has created is probably one of my favorite urban fantasy takes on the fae. It was often a strange and interesting world, particularly with how the everyday side you and I would know met with the magical side. One location that was of interest to me was the Duchy of Ships, which is where the book primarily took place. It was such a creative place to set a story, and I thoroughly like all the details about it from the politics to the architecture, and even some of what local life was like for the people who lived there. Also, I like that there were unique characteristics to each kind of fae and the magic present in the story.

Generally speaking, I liked all of the main characters. October Daye was interesting enough, and I liked the relationship she had with Tybalt. They clashed over certain subjects, but I was a fan of the way they talked it out with one another. The Luidaeg was another one of my favorite characters from the story. Her history and that of her children was long and tragic, and I understood why she would want to be “Cousin Annie” as an escape.

I don’t know everything there is to know about the series, and I probably missed a few references to previous books, but overall The Unkindest Tide was a great story. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to diving into the previous books in the series and other novels by Seanan McGuire. Have you read any books from the October Daye series? If so, are you planning to read The Unkindest Tide?

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher for this review, thank you!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

ARC Review: Word to the Wise by Jenn McKinlay

43203098Title: Word to the Wise
Series: Library Lover's Mystery #10
Author: Jenn McKinlay
Source/Format: First to Read; eARC
More Details: Cozy Mystery
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley; September 3, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
It's no-holds-barred murder, in the latest page-turning Library Lover's Mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Hitting the Books. 
Lindsey Norris is finally getting married to the man of her dreams--but it's not all roses for Briar Creek's beloved library director, as gardening enthusiast and town newcomer Aaron Grady gives the term "book lover" a whole new meaning. Inappropriate looks and unwelcome late-night visits to Lindsey's house have everyone from the crafternooners to Lindsey's fiancé, Sully, on edge. When Grady's dead body is found staged outside the library and all the clues point to Sully, Lindsey knows it's up to her to dig through the hidden chapters of Grady's previous life to find the real culprit and clear Sully's name. But becoming a thorn in the killer's side is not without its consequences, and the closer Lindsey gets to the truth, the more determined the murderer is to make her just a footnote....
I’ve been looking forward to Jenn McKinlay’s follow-up to Hitting the Books since I read it last year. In Word to the Wise, some of the themes—like harassment and climate change—leaned toward the more timely side. McKinlay nailed the unusual weather patterns, enabling actions of others, the emotional toll, and the disconcerting characterization of characters like Aaron Grady. Because of that, there was an eerie—and sometimes exasperating—feel to the whole story. The mystery was anything but straight forward, and the twists were especially twisty in this one. As such, Word to the Wise was a page-turner. It also turned out to be one of my favorite installments in the Library Lover’s Mystery series.

At first, everything seemed great for Lindsey Norris. She had her job at the library. She was getting married to Sully. And I was happy about the development, because it meant that the romantic subplots of previous books were finally beginning to pay off for the characters. Plus, the stages of wedding preparation were fun, okay. However, once the mystery of who killed Aaron Grady began, some of that happiness evaporated. I liked the mystery here, because the suspects had sufficient motive to want Grady gone. He was a creep who used his reputation as an upstanding citizen as an excuse, a cover, to get away with harassment and stalker behavior. But, just like there was more to Grady, the mystery was also a complex issue. Nothing was as it seemed, and the twists kept coming.

The characters were as great as always. In particular, I liked the library staff who worked for Lindsey, as well as many of the other reoccurring characters. I liked the setting as well. Briar Creek is a small, idyllic coastal town: if you’re familiar with this series, then you know what it’s like, and there isn’t much more to say about it.

Overall, Word to the Wise was an excellent addition to the series. If you’ve read any of the previous books, then this one should be on your TBR List.

About the author...

Jenn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several mystery series and will be debuting a new women's fiction series in June 2017, starting with the title About a Dog. She lives in sunny Arizona in a house that is overrun with kids, pets and her husband's guitars.

Disclaimer: This copy of the book was provided by First to Read for this review, thank you!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

ARC Review: Well Met by Jen DeLuca

43189874Title: Well Met
Series: n/a
Author: Jen DeLuca 
Source/Format: First to Read; eARC
More Details: Contemporary; romance
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley; September 3, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
All's faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author Jen DeLuca. 
Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him? The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying? This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek....
I was here for the renaissance fair and stayed for the characters and romance. However, there was a lot more to like about Well Met than that. Everything from the writing, characters, story, and of course the romantic elements were done so well. At times, there were even hints of a will-they-won’t they kind of situation. So, I have to say, Well Met by Jen DeLuca is probably one of the most interesting, fun, and charming romance novels I’ve read in a while.

Well Met was a quick read, and the story was pretty straight forward. It was easy to get into and also the kind of book that kept me turning the pages, because I was so invested that I needed to know what happened next.

I liked the main character, Emily, especially after she was roped into volunteering at the annual renaissance faire in Willow Creek. I liked Emily’s emotional journey from beginning to end. She had issues to work through, and I liked the progress she made. Toward the beginning of the novel she was stuck in her past. While she was a good aunt and sister, she had a tendency to willingly put others before and above herself. So, I knew she would have to work on that before she could open up to anyone else, value herself, and move on with her life. I also liked Emily’s family—her older sister, April, and her niece Caitlin. I loved the bond between the three of them, especially Emily and Caitlin. She was very much the cool aunt kind of character, and I thought it was great that she was willing to do the faire so Caitlin wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity. There was a whole host of other side characters—including Simon—and they were as interesting as Emily. I liked the bits of backstory and glimpses of their usual lives outside of the faire.

I also liked the romantic relationship. Since the novel takes place toward the end of the school year and over a summer, I liked how gradual the relationship felt as it developed. The banter was a whole lot of fun since the characters often did so while using their faire personas. Speaking of which, one aspect that stood out was the renaissance faire. That’s a good thing, because it was such a large part of the story. The renaissance faire worked very well as a setting for the romance to take place. It was such a unique thing to do, and I enjoyed reading about how the faire came together: the auditions, rehearsals, costumes, and even during the summer when the event was going on.

Overall, Well Met was great. If you’re a fan of romance novels with a unique spin, then I would recommend giving this book a try. As for me, I’ll be over here waiting for Jen DeLuca’s next novel.   

About the author....

Jen DeLuca was born and raised near Richmond, Virginia, but now lives in Central Florida with her husband and a houseful of rescue pets. She loves latte-flavored lattes, Hokies football, and the Oxford comma. Well Met is her first novel, inspired by her time volunteering as a pub wench with her local Renaissance Faire.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by First to Read for this review, thank you!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

23129410. sy475 Title: Welcome to Night Vale
Series: Welcome to Night Vale #1
Author: Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor 
Source/Format: borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy 
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial, October 20, 2015

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
From the creators of the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find matter where we live. 
Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge. 
Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked "King City" by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can't seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels. Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton's son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane's started to see her son's father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it. Diane's search to reconnect with her son and Jackie's search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: "King City". It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures...if they can ever find it.
After reading It Devours!, I decided to go back to the first book in the series, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel. I was immediately intrigue by the synopsis, and I was ready to be back in Night Vale from the perspective of a different character. This time, the story is told from the perspective of Jackie Fierro (the local pawnshop owner), and Diane Crayton, Josh’s mother. Both of them are reoccurring characters in the series, and it was great to have a story from their perspective. And what a story it was!

The mystery of the book revolved around something as seemingly innocuous as simple slips of paper. However, considering that this was Night Vale, it was quickly apparent that simple and innocuous weren’t the right words to use about the situation. The papers were being delivered to people by a “man in a tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase,” and they only said one thing: King City. I liked the overall story. The mystery was interesting and there were enough twists to keep me turning the pages.

The novel also showed the characters in their daily lives, including at their jobs. In Diane’s case, it also highlighted her personal life: she was a single mother who worked hard to raise her son, Josh. While Josh spent a lot of time wanting to know who his father was, which caused some friction between the two. Even so, I liked the bond between Diane and Josh. Individually, they were great characters, but I enjoyed reading the scenes when they were together. Jackie and her routines were also interesting. I enjoyed reading about how she ran the pawnshop (plus the rules for pawning an item), as well as how being nineteen for seemingly forever/decades/however long began to weigh on her as the story progressed.

At its heart, Welcome to Night Vale is a story about mothers and their children. It was also about Night Vale's ways and the odd way time flows—or doesn’t flow—and how it affects the relationships between others. Night Vale is a strange place: it’s a town fraught with danger where even going to the library is a perilous adventure in and of itself. And it was interesting to see the town from the perspective of parents who’ve raised their children there.

Overall, I enjoyed Welcome to Night Vale. It was a great story. Now more than ever, I’m excited for the third book in the series.
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