Showing posts with label borrowed from the library. Show all posts
Showing posts with label borrowed from the library. Show all posts

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: Tor.com; 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 fiancĂ© 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: Tor.com; 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: Tor.com; 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, 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 fiancĂ©e. 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.

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 ourselves...no 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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

28208687. sy475 Title: It Devours 
Series: Welcome to Night Vale #2
Author: Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardback
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Collins; October 17, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novel Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a mystery exploring the intersections of faith and science, the growing relationship between two young people who want desperately to trust each other, and the terrifying, toothy power of the Smiling God. 
Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret

“Not everyone believes in mountains, yet there they are, in plain sight.”

I’ve listened to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast on and off over the years, and I don’t know why I put off reading the novels for so long. I enjoyed It Devours!. It’s just like an episode of the podcast. There were a number of familiar faces—like Cecil Palmer, Carlos, and others. And while It Devours! is a book (with some illustrations, but it isn’t mixed-media; no interviews or transcripts, etc.), it’s told in a similar tone as the podcast that makes the weirder aspects of the town seem like normal, everyday occurrences—which for Night Vale it is. However, that’s part of Welcome to Night Vale’s charm, and I’m glad It Devours! captured some of that.

This book was something else. From the very first page, it starts out by saying not everyone believes in mountains, which is a pretty accurate example of the kind of logic that exists in Night Vale. Time behaved oddly. There were helicopters that didn’t run on fuel. And there’s even a house that’s there, but everyone says it doesn’t exist anyway. What’s causing the massive holes that are steadily devouring Night Vale? Who is Darryl? What is the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God? Those are just some of the questions that needed to be answered, and how they were eventually explained was what I liked most about the book. As such, the mystery was great. I was drawn into the story from the very first chapter, and the villains were sufficiently creepy—yet unassuming at times—with the means and motivation to do what they did.

The majority of the story is told from the perspective of Nilanjana Sikdar. She has a job at Carlos’s lab, and most of her acquaintances are from said establishment. She’s competent in situations when she needs to be, and despite all that happens, she returns to habits from her daily life whenever she needs to solve something. Nilanjana pretty much embodied the feeling of moving to a new place, feeling like you don’t belong, and trying to find out where you fit anyway. I liked the moments when she began to accept Night Vale for the way it was, as well as how she navigated the situation with the mysterious holes.

I truly enjoyed It Devours!. I don’t think the series has to be read in order, especially if you’ve already listened to the podcast. That being said, I’m definitely going to read the first book in the series, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Review: Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

34386617Title: Binti: The Night Masquerade 
Series: Binti #3
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the Library; Paperback
More Details: SFF
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor.com; January 16, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
The concluding part of the highly-acclaimed science fiction trilogy that began with Nnedi Okorafor's Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning BINTI....
Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse. Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her. Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all....
Before I get started, I wanted to clarify that while I try to be as vague as possible, this review may contain some minor spoilers for the first two novellas of the series. You’ve been warned.

After the cliffhanger end of Binti: Home, I was excited to dive back into this world and these characters in the finale novella of the trilogy, Binti: The Night Masquerade. For the most part, this novella answered the lingering questions I had—about how Binti’s story would end as well as the mystery of her “edan”. The ending was kind of open-ended in a way, but it still brought about the resolution of some of the personal and external conflicts that have plagued Binti since the first novella. Change is hard. Monumental and life altering changes are even harder, and Binti had to come to terms with the ways the events of the trilogy have affected her.

I liked the progression of the story. The politics from the previous novellas were back, and with the treaty in place, I could see how Binti could believe the conflict had settled. However, the rivalry between Khoush and the Meduse restarted and with deadly and destructive consequences. There was danger, but I liked how Binti remained true to her ways even in the face of overwhelming odds. Parts of the story were emotionally impactful but all too fleeting, because I was able to guess what would happen next. So, some parts of the story were a little predictable, and other scenes leaned a little into the territory of being a deus ex machina. I also won’t say too much about how the mystery of Binti’s “edan” was solved, but I have to admit that it made me laugh—not because it was funny, but instead it was just so…random that I couldn’t help but see it in a more humorous light.

The aliens—and even Oomza University—were all creative and unique, and I really loved those aspects of the story. And I know I keep mentioning the ship, Third Fish, but it was one of my favorite characters in this one, along with its baby: New Fish. So, when I say the technology in this trilogy is one of my favorite aspects because of its creativity, I really do mean that.

While there were a few “meh” aspects about The Night Masquerade, it was still a fitting end to Binti’s story. As a whole, the Binti trilogy was worth the read, and I look forward to reading more novels by Nnedi Okorafor….

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

30038654Title: Binti: Home
Series: Binti #2
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; paperback
More Details: SFF
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor.com; January 31, 2017

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day. And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders. But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace. After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?
I liked Binti: Home more than I did the previous novella in the series. It felt like more of a complete story. A lot of the things I questioned about the first novella were addressed here including if there was any lingering animosity between the Meduse and the Khoush, and how Binti’s friendship with Okwu would affect her time as a student at Oomza University. The first novella was really about one girl traveling from home, whereas in Binti: Home it focused on her journey of traveling back to earth after feeling that it was time to face not only her family but the elders within her community as well. And that was one of the strongest aspects about the novella.

The story picks up a year after the end of the previous novella. Binti is attending the university, but her life is no easier. She has no friends other than Okwu, but seems to enjoy her studies. I also liked the direction that the author took with the character. Okorafor included the fact that Binti experienced nightmares and panic attacks, which necessitated her having to attend therapy. I liked the inclusion of this detail, because it addressed the direct ramifications of everything the character had been through in the first novella. The focus of the trilogy has always been Binti, and she went through a lot. It was a trial both figuratively and literally with themes of self-discovery, and confronting misconceptions and prejudices that have been taught. This is why the progression of Binti’s character was one of my favorite aspects about the story.

There were new characters introduced here, and I liked them well enough. And as was true with the first novella, I liked the technology here. There was also the return of the ship from the first book, Third Fish. (Listen, I just like this ship okay.) Also, the environments described throughout the story were as cool and innovative as the societies sustained by them.

So, Binti: Home was great. The ending was quite a cliffhanger with the fate of a lot of key characters in Binti’s life virtually unknown. Luckily, I had the foresight to check out Binti: The Night Masquerade from the library at the same time as Binti: Home. So I know what my next read will be....

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

37534756Title: The Girl with the Dragon Heart
Series: Tales from the Chocolate Heart #2
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Middle Grade; Fantasy 
Publisher/Publication Date: Bloomsbury Children's Books; November 6, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth. Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting these visitors. Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

Picking up sometime after the end of The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, the sequel focused on Silke—a friend of Aventurine and promotional handbill writer for The Chocolate Heart—and what happens after she accepts a job offered by the crown princess of the kingdom: spying on the royals of Elfenwald. Long held secrets come to light and exciting twists lead to a story full of magic, dragons, and of course chocolate. So, The Girl with the Dragon Heart was as wonderful as I thought it would be. Burgis created unique and interesting characters, and many familiar faces returned for another adventure. The setting seemed to come alive with descriptions about the architecture, daily life experienced by the characters, and even details about some of the inner-workings of the palace as well as places outside Drachenburg. An aspect of the book worth noting was the friendship between Silke and Aventurine. The dynamics were great. Through thick and thin, they looked out for each other even when Aventurine, who is a dragon, didn’t think she needed any help. The royals of Elfenwald were interesting. I liked Burgis’s portrayal of fairies. They were regal, but also quite disconcerting at times. Plus, their reasons for visiting Drachenburg were suspect from the beginning, and when they finally made a direct appearance on page, they made Silke’s mission anything but easy.

Overall, The Girl with the Dragon Heart was a quick read and excellent sequel to The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart. I look forward to reading more books by Stephanie Burgis....

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

36118682Title: Wicked Saints
Series: Something Dark and Holy #1
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Young Adult; Fantasy 
Publisher/Publication Date: Wednesday Books; April 2, 2019

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself. A prince in danger must decide who to trust. A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war. In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy....
There was a lot of hype for Wicked Saints, but I was still immensely excited about it. It was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019 and sounded like a story that would appeal to my love of fantasy novels. I mean the synopsis talks about an interesting dynamic between magic, gods, and religion with contrary beliefs to act as an antagonistic foil to the MC’s cause. And while there were a lot of interesting ideas here as well as action and magic, I just didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. Parts of the story felt a little vague, and I never really got a good sense for the setting beyond a few key locations. That being said, the overall plot was good, the hints of history behind the central conflict were interesting enough, and the story was fast paced. So Wicked Saints was by no means bad. It was still a good story.

Blood was one of the big themes used in Wicked Saints since it was tied to the magic of the Tranavians. There was a lot of death and morally gray character in the book from both sides of the conflict. Nadya was kind of interesting, particularly how her magic worked and the relationship she had to the gods who spoke to her. However, at time I felt like her character got a little lost once she met Malachiasz. I mean everything he said she just believed it when she didn’t even really know him. Ironically enough, my favorite parts of the story were actually from the prince’s perspective. Despite his faults, I preferred his overall character arc to Nadya’s.

On the other hand, you have the gods, who were enigmatic and omnipresent when they wanted to be. I would have liked to see more of them, because they were interesting. They did make comments here or there, but they remained mostly in the background for much of the story, even during some of the scenes when they were around to help Nadya. There was a demand for such absolute, unquestioning devotion to the point where Nadya initially came off as extreme and close-minded. The same could also be said about the Tranavians.

Like I said, everyone was more or less morally gray in this story.

I’m still a little conflicted about how I feel about the ending of Wicked Saints. There were some really good parts to it when the momentum picked up and stuff was happening, but then there were others scenes that left a “meh” feeling. The clues were there, but man, Nadya just…let me not. Still, the ending, had its high points, and I have so many questions about the gods and Nadya's origins.

Ultimately, Wicked Saints was a promising opening to this series, and I want to read the next book to see what fallout the characters will face for what happened.

Have you read Wicked Saints? Do you plan to read it?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

25667918Title: Binti
Series: Binti #1
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Paperback
More Details: Science Fiction; Fantasy; Novella
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor.com; September 22, 2015

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs. Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach. If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive....
I’ve read a couple of books by Nnedi Okorafor before—namely Akata Witch and its sequel, Akata Warrior. I liked both of them, and since then Binti has been on my TBR list. I liked Binti. It was a quick read, and a pretty unique take on a coming-of-age story. It was one girl’s journey to a university while struggling with the expectations placed on her by family. And while the story was an interesting one, I was conflicted about parts of the ending. It was good, but after everything that happened, there were aspects about it that were almost too neatly done. I did like the technology here, particularly the descriptions of the ship—“Third Fish”— which Binti boarded toward the beginning of the novella. I liked what Okorafor did with the Meduse, especially their unique appearance. I also liked Binti’s character, and that’s a good thing since the novella was from her perspective. Her hesitation and doubt about the decisions she was making were clearly illustrated in the narrative: she was chasing her dream while trying to maintain a feeling of being connected to the traditions of her family. At the same time she was going against their wishes while having to leave them behind on earth. Overall, Binti was an interesting read. I’m looking forward to eventually reading the rest of the trilogy.

Have you read Binti? If so, what did you think about it?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

34942741Title: The Consuming Fire
Series: The Interdependency  #2
Author: John Scalzi
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Science Fiction; Space Opera
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books; October 16, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken. Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power. While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy... and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre....
So, The Consuming Fire picked up where The Collapsing Empire left off with the collapse of the Flow being an imminent threat to even the Interdependency itself. This was one sequel that lived up to my expectations, and answered some of the questions I had about the Flow, the Interdependency, and where the story would go after the revelations at the end of The Collapsing Empire.

Where do you go when easy and far-reaching space travel is on the verge of going away? What can you do when the forces of nature are actively working against you? The situation presented an interesting conundrum, and the characters—all across the board—reacted differently; sometimes for the greater good, or for wholly self-serving reasons. There was Grayland II who wanted to do what was best for the people of the Interdependency. Yet, there were others who were in it for selfish reasons, wanting to believe the collapse is—as the synopsis states—just a myth. At the heart of the story, there was a lot of political intrigue—full of betrayals, plays for power, and so on. It was expected because the main characters were dealing with the imminent collapse of the Flow, and whatever ramification came from it. That also included the fate of the central government of the Interdependency. The Consuming Fire also touched on some interesting topics, such as the subject of denial of actual facts, and those in power trying to maintain it during a time of crisis. It’s something that was done well.

There was also more information about the Flow, which specifically delved into more about the collapse. Even if it wasn’t specific about what the Flow is, or where it came from. That being said, it still presented some interesting questions about the history that predates the Interdependency's inception.

Overall, The Consuming Fire was great. I liked the characters, and the twists were unexpected and exciting. Now, I’m very excited about what could happen in the third book in the series, The Last Emperox....
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