Serena’s Review: “Shadowcaster”

30253091Book: “Shadowcaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publication Info: HarperTeen, April 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Alyssa ana’Raisa is the reluctant princess heir to the Gray Wolf throne of Fells, a queendom embroiled in a seemingly endless war. Hardened by too many losses, Lyss is more comfortable striking with a sword than maneuvering at court. After a brush with death, she goes on the offensive, meaning to end the war that has raged her whole life. If her gamble doesn’t pay off, she could lose her queendom before she even ascends to the throne.

Across enemy lines in Arden, young rising star Captain Halston Matelon has been fighting for his king since he was a lýtling. Lately, though, he finds himself sent on ever more dangerous assignments. Between the terrifying rumors of witches and wolfish warriors to the north and his cruel king at home, Hal is caught in an impossible game of life and death.

Review: I told Kate that I was struggling with how to start off this review because I have noticed a trend in my own reviews: nit-picky focusing on covers! I mean, the fact that I devoted time to griping about this cover in the limited word count available for our little features in “Highlights” posts…and then STILL want to rant about it more here? But I will resist, so please refer to our “April Highlights” post for my thoughts on this travesty.

“Shadowcaster” is the second book in Cinda Williams Chima’s “Shattered Realms” series that takes place a generation later in her “Grey Wolf Throne” world. I struggled with the first one, feeling that the characters were less interesting than the original cast and that the romance was a bad example of insta-love. So going into this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Which, as it turns out, was the appropriate approach as, in many ways, this is almost a second beginning to the series. We’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters and a timeline that is largely running alongside the events of the first book. There were still aspects of the series that I am struggling with, but I did find myself enjoying this book more than the first (a bit of a trend, I’ve found with this author, as I had the same experience with her first series in this world.)

This time around, our two main characters (though there are several others with POV chapters, including a few from Jenna, a character from the first book) are Lyss, the reluctant heir to the Grey Wolf Throne, and an Ardenian captain, Halston, who after being capture by the enemy begins to learn more about the other side of this war and story.

First off, I think the main reason I enjoyed this book more than the first was the fact that I enjoyed both of these main characters more. Lyss especially was very fleshed out and well drawn. Her struggles with identity and with her relationship with the queen, her mother, are thoroughly explored throughout the course of the story. After her sister’s death, a sister who Lyss and the entire country revered as the ideal princess heir, Lyss finds herself in the impossible role of needing to fill those shoes. Further, her own talents for warfare and military strategy, combined with her physical fighting prowess, call her to a role of action. Throughout the years, she has gained respect and acumen for her success in the war against Arden, but whenever she returns home, the duties of ruling chafe, especially given her penchant for frank and perhaps less diplomatic language and ideas. All of this, plus the shared loss of all their family (or so Lyss believes, not knowing as we do that her brother lives) creates an ongoing tension point in her relationship with Raisa, the queen. Lyss was a brilliant character, and her journey throughout the book neatly tied the plot’s action to Lyss’s own growth and challenges.

Halston received less page time, but he too was a compelling character. Throughout the story, Halston’s story makes it clear how difficult life in Arden is. Politics is tangled around every aspect of life, with the fear of angering the cruel king tinging every decisions. After being captured by Lyss and her troops, Halston begins to see the falsehoods that have been spread by the King about the war and the northern country with whom they fight. However, loyalty and a fierce desire to protect his family must drive his every decision.

One of my primary concerns with the first book was the insta-love relationship that seemingly evolved out of nowhere. With that in mind, I was extremely pleased to see the more developed and extended relationship that was drawn between Lyss and Halston. Both characters are given the proper amount of time and shared experiences to make a budding relationship between the two enemies believable. I was much more invested in this relationship than I ever was with Jenna/Ash.

While Ash was referenced in this book, only Jenna had page time out of the original characters. Ultimately, while I did like elements of her chapters, especially now that we have her dragon pal to appreciate, I did question these inclusions. Her story line felt largely separate from the rest of the action and her reference to Ash only reminded me how much I disliked that relationship from the first book. There were a few plot points that were introduced and helpful to driving the larger story line crossing between books, but these chapters were so few and so disconnected from our main characters and plot that I question there inclusion.

Adding to all of these POVS is another, fourth perspective from a young man who has a mysterious gem or mage mark on the back of neck similar to Jenna’s. His role is more important to the driving factors in this story, and as a character I found his story and history interesting.

However, all of this highlights my biggest concern with this book and now the series as a whole. There are so many characters! The first book had around 4 POVs if I remember correctly, and this one introduced another 3. It was obvious in the first book that certain narrators were stronger than others, and the rushed elements of the book (the romance, specifically) I directly attributed to the choice to include so many. There is simply not enough page time in an already lengthy book to fully develop this many characters and their relationships with each other. So, here, we are given even more characters. And while I liked the main characters in this story more than I did those in the first, this just presents me with more concerns. Even in this book I found myself skimming through characters’ chapters (specifically Jenna’s) to get back to Hal and Lyss. What’s going to happen going forward when they all need to share page time together? I don’t want to lose the awesomeness of Lyss, for the less interesting Ash. Or, even worse, focus on the shallow Jenna/Ash relationship at the expense of Lyss/Hal.

While I enjoyed this book more than first, largely due to the strength of its main characters, I came out of the reading experience even more worried about the direction of the series as a whole than I did in the first. After that book, I had hoped that my concerns would be addressed by spending more time with Jenna/Ash so that I could get more on board with these characters and see their relationship flesh itself out further from its unfortunately rapid beginning. But now not only is that not the case, but I’ve been given character alternatives whom I enjoy even more and who are ultimately will have to give up their page time and stories to these originals. Not only do I not know how all of these characters will be given their due in a limited number of pages left in the series, but I now have a strong bias for/against a few of them. But I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, fingers crossed.

Rating 7: A stronger book than the first, but one that raises questions for the series as a whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shadowcaster” is a newer title and isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Music in Fantasy Fiction.”

Find “Shadowcaster” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “Flamecaster”

Kate’s Review: “The Devil Crept In”

29430798Book: “The Devil Crept In” by Ania Ahlborn

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

Review: Summer is here and my summer childhood memories have a lot of ‘wandering through the woods’ in them. My childhood home was near a wooded area along the Mississippi River, and my sister and I would wander down to a secret waterfall and to the banks of the river. So there is something a bit familiar about a story that involves children spending their time exploring in the woods. I’m thankful that nothing bad ever happened to us while on our adventures, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy reading about bad things happening to other people in the woods! So I was very interested when I heard about “The Devil Crept In” by Ania Ahlborn. Kids disappearing in a forest that holds many secrets? Oh hell yeah, I’ll read that, I’ll read the HELL out of that!

But I think that the ultimate problem I had with this book was that it kind of had two stories going on, and though they sort of connected, there were too many questions left behind for both of them. To really review this, I’m going to go into spoilers for this book, so that’s a warning to you all who may want to read it. And for posterity…

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Our first story is the one that is put in the description of the book. You have Stevie, an awkward and lonely ten year old in a fraught home life. His older brother Duncan is a bully, his Mom doesn’t really understand him, and his stepfather Terry is abusive and cruel. His only friend is his cousin Jude, who has problems and behavioral issues of his own, as he’s carried quite a bit of rage in him since his father died. When Jude disappears, Stevie is obsessed with finding him, even if he’s heard stories and rumors about the woods and those who have disappeared before. Specifically a young boy named Max, who disappeared and whose body was found weeks later. While those around him want to believe that Jude just ran away, Stevie thinks that the weird shadow he’s seen in the woods, especially around an old abandoned house, is the real answer to Jude’s disappearance.

The second story involves that house. A woman named Rosie lives there. Years before she was married to a doctor, and she desperately wanted children, but couldn’t carry a pregnancy to term. After a traumatic miscarriage, she drove down to Big Sur in a tizzy, and met a strange biker hippie named Ras. He asked her what she would do to have a baby. And she said “Anything.”

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Hasn’t anyone ever read “Faust”?!?! (source)

After she goes home, shortly thereafter her husband dies in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, she discovers she’s pregnant. For whatever reason that I didn’t think was properly fleshed out or explored beyond “I already am anxious around people and how mortifying to be a pregnant widow!”, she stays isolated in her cabin the woods and basically gives birth to a monster, who likes to eat flesh and blood. She names him Otto, and is perfectly fine with the fact he grows up eating cats, dogs, stray animals, and then….. Max Larsen.

So you see where this is all going. Jude disappears because he falls into the thrall of Rosie and Otto. But he isn’t killed by Otto, and when he gets home, he keeps hearing the siren’s call to go back and be with them. So there is a connection between story one and story two. And I loved that I could see the woods and the atmosphere, as well as the creepy shadows out in the trees or on the porch or through the window. That is the kind of creep that I live for. But boy oh boy, do I have so many questions that are never explained or answered. Sometimes this is okay. But in this case, t’s done in a way that comes off as less ambiguous and more forgotten about. My biggest issue is that Ras storyline. Ras plays such an important role in this book for obvious reasons, but he we don’t get any answers about him. What is he? What are his motivations? Is he the Devil? Is he a servant of the Devil? How does he keep track and tabs on Otto and Rosie (because it is implied near the end that he does), is it because he’s magic? I don’t necessarily need all the answers about this guy, but I would like a little more to him as opposed to just being a super convenient plot device! There is also some ambiguity at the end, which I WILL keep under wraps because it’s relevant to the endgame, that didn’t quite sit well with me. I had a hard time figuring out if it was the case of an unreliable narrator, or a magical system that was at play, or people unable to believe or accept the things they see. And also, WHY is it that Jude seems to be able to be possessed by Otto all of a sudden? So now Otto can astral project? It was a lot of mythos that didn’t have much rhyme or reason, and only worked because it needed to work for the story to progress.

Also, I had a hard time with the characters and their personalities. I understand that our protagonist and his family are flawed and have all had hard lives, but for a horror story to be very effective you need to care about the characters to some extent. If you don’t, you won’t be afraid for them. I was afraid for Stevie, because he was pretty sympathetic, but everyone else was pretty cardboard cut out antagonistic (always fun to see the evil stepdad knocking kids around, or the mean older brother hurling anti-Semitic comments here and there) or simpering (Stevie’s Mom and Aunt Mandy are understandably passive, but it was hard to deal with when their passivity leads to their kids being hurt). I basically was just waiting for them all to have horrible things happen to them so I could move onto the next moment, and then onto the next story. Which isn’t how I want to feel when getting to the end of a horror novel.

“The Devil Crept In” had promise, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m not looking at the woods I can see through my kitchen window and feeling afraid, so you know it didn’t bring the scares. I’ll stick to “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” if I want lost child and scary nature fiction.

Rating 5: Definitely had some creepy moments and imagery, but there were too many threads that were left untied. Plus I couldn’t find much to like about the characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Devil Crept In” is new, and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Books To Avoid While Pregnant”, and “The Devil Made Me Do It”.

Find “The Devil Crept In” at your library using WorldCat!

June 2017 Highlights

Summer is finally here, which makes both of us pretty happy! The weather is warm, the outside is inviting, and the days are filled with possibilities for fun and socializing! We have a new set of books that we’re excited for this summer, and we’re going to start with our June Highlights!

Serena’s Picks

32075662Book: “Our Dark Duet” by Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: June 13, 2017

Why I’m Interested: The review won’t be up for a few weeks yet, but SPOILERS, I very much enjoyed “This Savage Song,” the first in this YA fantasy duology. The tenuous peace between the north and south side in a city plagued by monsters has been broken. Kate is off hunting beasts in the waste land and August is left to be a good soldier, using his Sunnai abilities to help save a city seemingly bent on its on destruction. It seems to be a pattern with Schwab to separate her protagonists from one book to the next, so I’m excited to see the impetus will be that draws these two back together and how this whole crazy situation will resolve!

31450908Book: “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” by Seanan McGuire

Publication Date: June 13, 2017

Why I’m Interested: This novella is written as a companion (?) or sequel (?) to “Every Heart a Doorway” which introduced us to Jack and Jill, two girls returned from a dark and dangerous world and who are each…coping?…in their own way with their sudden and forced return to the “real world.” Here we will get their story, in what I’m sure will prove to be a very dark, tragic story. We already have hints of what these girls’ lives were like in this mysterious land of science and vampires, but I’m sure this will be a deep dive into all the sad feels.

22817331Book: “Now I Rise” by Kiersten White

Publication Date: June 27, 2017

Why I’m Interested: “And I Darken” was probably one of the biggest surprise hits for me last year. What started with a bizarre concept, Vlad the Impaler but as a teenage girl, morphed into a complex, and tragic, character study into both Lada (girl!Vlad) and her brother Radu who share a complicated love for their childhood friend Mehmed, a boy who is also the heir to an empire that Lada has sworn to fight. The last book ended with Lada setting off on her own to re-claim her homeland, a task that is seemingly impossible due to her gender as well as the complicated political, cultural, and religious conflicts overtaking the region. The last book blew me off my feet with the surprisingly serious historical take the author managed to create even in the midst of such a the bizarre concept as a female Vlad. But now I’m prepared! And super excited!

Kate’s Picks

32620309Book: “The Party” by Robyn Harding

Publication Date: June 6th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: “The Party” sounds like it’s going to be a ‘When Sweet Sixteen Parties Go Bad’ kind of romp, which sounds like it’s just the right amount of salacious and sudsy for me. And you know when something like this goes horribly wrong, there is going to be a domino effect that threatens to expose the dark secrets of a perfect family. I’m not certain if there is going to be much mystery to this one or not, but it’s implied that there are twists and turns that will make you question just how innocent everyone is in this whole thing. I like domestic dramas with thriller elements, so I hope that this one delivers.

31147267Book: “The Changeling” by Victor LaValle

Publication Date: June 13th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I really enjoyed LaValle’s horror novel “The Devil in Silver” as well as his short story “The Ballad of Black Tom”, and so I feel like it’s a good bet to give this one a try as well. This newest book of his sounds like a dark fairy tale, in which a man tries to find his wife who has disappeared after committing some kind of horrific act. Given the title of the book I’m going to go ahead and assume it involves a child or their child. LaValle has a penchant for the disturbing and creepy, and I feel like this book could be deeply haunting as well as beautiful.

32735394Book: “Every Last Lie” by Mary Kubica

Publication Date: June 27th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I really liked Kubica’s “Pretty Baby”, and while I wasn’t as enthralled with her more recent book “Don’t You Cry” I like her writing enough to give this a whirl. In this one Clara, a wife and mother, is devastated to lose her husband Nick in a car accident. She’s relieved that their daughter Maisie is okay, but starts to wonder if it really was an accident when Maisie starts having night terrors. I’m sure that there will be a lot of twists and turns in this book, and I’m hoping that it will be a thrilling read.

What books are you excited for this month? Tell us in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “The Alloy of Law”

10803121Book: “The Alloy of Law” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor, November 11

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Centuries after the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity – railroads, electric street lights, and skyscrapers. Waxillium Ladrian can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After 20 years in the dusty Roughs, in the city of Elendel, the new head of a noble house may need to keep his guns.

Review: I have resisted reading this book for a while based completely on my utter love of the first Mistborn trilogy and the continuing and endless sadness that came about in the wake of leaving that cast of characters behind. However, Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors and while I impatiently wait for the next book in his current epic fantasy series, I decided that it was about time to check out “The Alloy of Law.”

First off, while this book is technically the beginning of a new a trilogy and can be read without first reading the original “Mistborn” series, I would strongly recommend doing that first anyways. Sanderson does a good job of re-describing his world and the elements of his magic system, especially with regards to how these abilities are changed in this new industrial era, but there’s still a lot of strings that need to be picked up from the first book. As I said, I read and loved the original trilogy, but it has been years since I finished it, so in many ways I was coming into this book with similarly new eyes as a first time reader. I had just enough knowledge to know what I was missing, essentially. There are references to the original cast scattered here and there (particularly their influence on the various religions that have formed in the last three centuries), and the complicated magic system gets a brief re-fresh, but the fully detailed accounting of the ins and outs of all the various abilities are not presented again. As I said, the book is technically approachable as is, but I feel that new readers are missing out on quite a bit if they don’t read the first trilogy before diving into this one.

Sanderson is best known for his brilliant magic systems and once again he does not disappoint. Many elements that show up here are carry-overs from the original, but as even the name of the book itself implies, over the years these abilities have merged and changed with the creation of metallic alloys. Essentially, allomancers are those born with the ability to swallow and “burn” flecks of different metals, each metal granting them a distinct ability. Our two main characters, Wax and Wane each have a combination of these abilities. Wax has one of the most common gifts, the ability to push against metals, as well as the ability to increase/decrease his own weight. With Wane, Sanderson introduces one of the new allomantic powers, the ability to create time bubbles; he is also able to store/use health, allowing him to heal wounds with stored health from self-enforced sicknesses. These abilities were all incredibly well thought out and utilized throughout the story. In particular, I loved the exploration of how allomancy has changed in a new industrial era that now has things like railroad lines, guns, and many other metal creations that would affect how allomancers can use their powers.

The western setting was also a nice change from the original trilogy which adhered to a more typical fantasy setting. Government, business, society as a whole, has all moved forwards from the cataclysmic events of the first books. I’ve particularly enjoyed this recent trend of western/fantasy crossovers, but I understand how the appeal might be strange for fans looking for more traditional fantasy. And, while the western elements were engaging, it was also clear that Sanderson’s strengths lie with the fantasy portions. There were a few bits that felt too on the nose or too closely mirrored classic western storytelling for me. I applaud the effort, but wish he had been a bit more gutsy with the setting and western style as a whole.

Characters wise, this book is solid. Fans of Sanderson will be familiar with the character type that Wax represents: strong, lawful good, a conflicted hero who must choose to join the fight once again. I like this character type however, so while Wax felt familiar in many ways, I still very much enjoyed reading his story. Wane was a great counter balance to Wax, less serious and bringing the more raucous joy to the book. The main female character, Marasi, sadly, felt less fleshed out than I have come to expect from the author who brought us the awesome Vin. There was all together too much blushing on her part, and while she was crucial to the success of the group’s plan, she was also a damsel in distress a few too many times. The other two main female characters had potential, but had so little page time that they each felt rather one dimensional in their own way. Lastly, for characters, I will say that I very much enjoyed the villain of this story. In many ways, the villain’s perspective was relatable and sympathetic, something that always makes for a stronger nemesis, and his abilities were sufficiently intimidating for readers to respect the challenge he posed for our heroes.

I very much enjoyed “The Alloy of Law.” My biggest concerns (the less developed world-building with the western setting and simpler female characters) can all be laid at the foot of the book’s shorter page length. I’m used to Sanderson’s fantasy tomes and all the goodies that come with spending hundreds and hundreds of pages on one story. However, even with the condensed page length, this book was a solid start to a new trilogy in the “Mistborn” world, and I am excited to see where the story goes from here!

Rating 8: Only suffering for not being longer and letting loose the full power of the author’s creativity and characterization!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Alloy of Law” is included on the Goodreads lists “Gunpowder Fantasy” and “Most Interesting Magic System.”

Find “The Alloy of Law” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Feedback” by Mira Grant

22359662Book: “Feedback” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Orbit Books, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Book Description: FEEDBACK is a full-length Newsflesh novel which overlaps the events of New York Times bestseller Mira Grant’s classic Feed and follows a group of reporters covering the Democratic side of the Presidential campaign.

There are two sides to every story…

Mira Grant creates a chilling portrait of an America paralyzed with fear. No street is safe and entire swaths of the country have been abandoned. And only the brave, the determined, or the very stupid, venture out into the wild. Step inside a world a half-step from our own in this novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.

Review: And we get another zombie story! The zombie story is one that is still riding pretty high, thanks to “The Walking Dead” and it’s continued (though perhaps wavering) popularity. I’ve been into the zombie genre ever since high school when me and my sister (I was sixteen, she was twelve) sat down and watched the original “Night of the Living Dead”. Though she was absolutely horrified by the disgusting cannibalistic violence on the screen, I was completely into it, finding it to be scary and unsettling and super fun. Now I’m in the thirties and I still can’t get enough, though I’m more interested in unique takes on the genre as a whole. I’ve mentioned Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” Series here before, and while I really do enjoy it for it’s creativity and the badass blogging main character Georgia “George” Mason, I felt that the rest of her team of bloggers (including hot headed brother Shaun) to be not as endearing. However, a world where zombies came about due to the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer merging and mutating is SO enjoyable that I love the universe that she has created.

So enter “Feedback”. While “Feed” and it’s sequels “Deadline” and “Blackout” follow the Masons and their turn from political bloggers to targets of government ire, “Feedback” is something totally new within the same timeline. This time we’re following another blogging team, this one a bit more scrappy and independent. You have Aislinn “Ash” North, an Irish Irwin (aka blogger who goes into the thick of zombie danger for clicks and likes) who has attitude and snark for days. You have her husband Ben, a Newsie (news blogger) who married Ash to give her U.S. citizenship (as being a lesbian in post Rising, incredibly zealous Ireland was a bad spot) who is loyal and determined to get the truth out there. You have Audrey, a fiction blogger who is hiding from her past. And you have Mat, a techie/make up blogger who is genderfluid and hoping to end up as a make up artist to the powerful of this world. So when they are approached by Susan Kilburn, Democratic Governor of Oregon and Presidential Hopeful, to follower her on the campaign trail, much as the Masons are doing with the Republican front runner, this team is thrilled. And of course, much like in “Feed”, all does not go well.

While my love for George Mason will never be replaced by anyone else, I have to say that “Feedback” was super enjoyable and Ash was a great protagonist! She has a little more attitude and is a little rougher around the edges than George, and she wears her heart on her sleeve, which made her very easy to connect with. You get the sense from the get go that she and her team have had to fight tooth and nail to get where they are, and while sometimes she could be a little precious in her toughness, she always had her vulnerabilities laid out. As a whole I enjoyed this team more than the bloggers at After the End Times because in one book you got a sense for each and every single one of them, even with it being filtered through a First Person Perspective. I also liked that in this book there was far from societal speculation in regards to how different countries would react to the zombie plague, specifically Ash’s home country of Ireland. Ash, a lesbian who has no interest in fitting into societal norms, was highly oppressed in Ireland, which became a far more conservative and patriarchal state after the rising. It felt very dour and yet realistic to address the fact that in reaction to something as awful as a zombie apocalypse, some countries would put stake into zealous and restrictive morals such as forced breeding and the debasement of those who don’t wish to lead that kind of life. Grant tackles a lot of social issues in this book in regards to sexuality, race, and gender, and it was nice to see these things cropping up as important matters to address.

The plot itself was pretty good too. The intrigue and cloak and dagger issues of someone deliberately planting zombies at various political gatherings is something that we might remember from the original “Newsflesh” series, and to what ends this all will shake out. But seeing this group of journalists stumble into it quicker and more accidentally was fun, because it made for a lot more action as the consequences came to a head. I will keep it vague here, because you may want to read “Feed” and it’s sequels first, but let’s just say that Ash and her team are a bit more aware and have more time to make some decisions in regards to how to proceed. But that also kind of leads to the problem I had with this book, which I am going to talk about in it’s full spoilery glory. So yep, that means you get a

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Ash and her team eventually end up running away from the (redacted) threat, hoping to make it into the wilds of Canada. But as they are moving their way through the Pacific Northwest, they are kidnapped by a group of survivors run by a cruel and misogynistic despot who intends on creating a new society literally underground. His name is Clive, and he decides that Ash is going to be one of his many companions who he will eventually use to have an array of children to keep the human species going. Mind you, this happens about two thirds of the way into the book. This storyline is something that 1) we have seen many times before in our zombie fiction, from “28 Days Later” to “The Walking Dead”, and 2) is far too large of a plot point to introduce so far into a narrative. It honestly could have taken up an entire book of it’s own, so to try and shoehorn it in felt rushed and disingenuous. I really did not see a point to it. HAD this book ended with them being taken by this group, and HAD that story been saved for a second book in a series, it would have made more sense. Even if it would have been a bit old hat, it still could have been fleshed out enough that I would have been able to give it something of a pass. As it was, it just kind of felt like Grant wanted one more hurdle for this group and this was tossed in and rushed through. That was pretty aggravating.

I should also mention that I really liked Georgia Dolenz, the woman who did the narration for this audiobook! She was great at varying her voices for each character, and held consistent accents for the characters who had them.

So while “Feedback” isn’t necessarily as strong as “Feed”, overall I liked this team more than the team in that series (Georgia Mason aside), and would SO read more about them. The book kind of ended on a note of finality, but I could easily see Grant picking them up again and telling us more. I hope that she does, because I am still hungry for more stories about the Kellis-Amberlee Zombie Universe!

Rating 8: A fun and new group of bloggers are a great addition to the “Newsflesh” series. Had it not been for a random detour too far into the plot, this could have lived up to the greatness that was the original “Feed”.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Feedback” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of now (can’t understand why not),  but I think that it would fit in on “Awesome Zombie Books for Girls/Women”, and “Are YOU Ready for the Zombie Attack?”.

Find “Feedback” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Brother’s Ruin”

29964674Book: “Brother’s Ruin” by Emma Newman

Publishing Info: Tor, March 17, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

Review: I’m trying to increase my short story/novella reading, and so I was excited when I heard about this new steampunk, fantasy novella put out by Emma Newman. And while I feel like the novella aspect of the book may have weakened aspects of the story, overall, I was very pleased with this story which is the beginning of what looks to be an ongoing series.

Charlotte is in hiding. Not only is she a successful illustrator who must publish under a false name to hide her gender which might cripple her chances at success in a male-dominated profession, but she’s also a talented mage. And to be a mage is to give up one’s life to God and Country, be removed from one’s family (though the family is compensated based on the potential ability of their soon-to-be-lost family member), and be trained into serving in the elite Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. Charlotte has no interest in losing her family, her burgeoning profession, or, worst of all, her fiance. Mages aren’t allowed to marry, and as Charlotte is already engaged to a perfectly pleasing man, so being discovered for the Latent that she is would be catastrophic. Instead, when her family hits hard times, her father recognizes the signs of a magic in his house, but falsely attributes it to his son, and brings in the society mages to test him for abilities. Charlotte must help her brother trick them into accepting him into their group, all while solving a dark mystery into which Charlotte’s father’s debts have dragged them all.

I very much enjoyed the originality of this world. The mages’ society is both something to be esteemed and feared, and this balance is struck again and again throughout the novel. Families can greatly profit from sending a family member to be trained, but they also lose their loved ones in the process, and that loved one gives up the chance to lead a normal life. In one of the opening scenes, Charlotte and her brother witness a young boy being dragged away from his mother once he’s been discovered as a Latent mage. The horror and the tragedy of this early scene is an important reminder as the story progresses and the true danger that her family faces at the hands of her father’s debt collectors becomes clear. It would be easy to question why Charlotte doesn’t simply bring herself forth. In many other fantasy series, having great powers is always shown as a purely good thing. But the sacrifices that come with this life are made clear throughout the entire story. Not only does one give up one’s planned life, but the mages society itself is not without its own dangers and dramas.

Charlotte was a very good lead character. Through her eyes, we can see the fears that have driven her throughout her entire life. Not only does she need to hide her magic, but her own success as an illustrator, a profession that she shares, nay exceeds at, with her own father. He, of course, is unaware of this commonality and the fact that Charlotte has spent much of her own money supporting her brother, in particular. Also, right away, her relationship with her fiance is set up as a challenge. Charlotte has not been honest with him either about these aspects of her life. In truth, her closest relationship is with her sickly brother, the only one to fully know her.

One of the bigger challenges for me in this story was the introduction and use of the mage who aides her in investigating the debt collectors. He is presented as a very attractive man whom Charlotte is drawn to right off the bat. However, throughout the story he routinely misleads her, sends her into dangerous situations without giving her complete knowledge, and out-and-out manipulates her. This behavior is explained, but, for me, he never quite recovers as a heroic character. While Charlotte and her fiance are clearly not well-suited (talk about a wet blanket relationship), I wasn’t as able to forgive the flaws of this new love interest as easily as Charlotte seemed to. The end of the book sets them up to work together in the future, with only the barest hints of romance alluded to (she’s still engaged, mind you), so I’ll be curious to see what comes of this going forward.

My only other struggle was with the pacing and the writing in spots. Charlotte had a few revelations that felt out of the blue and un-earned, and the pacing was jarring in the middle when the plot had to gallop along to cover all the multitude of plot points that were jammed into such a short story. I feel that the story could have benefited from an extra 25-50 pages to fully flesh out the deeper emotional beats and ensure that the plot ran more smoothly.

The world building was strong, however, and Charlotte was a fun main character, so I’m definitely on board to see what troubles she finds herself in in the future! And to see what becomes of her brother, Ben, another character I very much enjoyed who is now trapped in a magical society that thinks he is more than he actually is.

Rating 7: A great start to a new series, if only rubbing up a bit against the restraints of a shortened page length.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Brother’s Ruin” is a newer book and not on any relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Popular Steampunk Fantasy Books” and “Novellas by women, about women.”

Find “Brother’s Ruin” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Halloween Party”

176271Book: “Halloween Party (Fear Street # 8)” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: Interlibrary Loan from the library!

Book Description: The invitation arrived in a black-bordered envelope. Inside, the card showed a coffin with the inscription “Reserved For You.” It was perfectly fitting for an all-night Halloween party on Fear Street. But Terry and his girlfriend Niki wondered why they had been invited. They barely knew Justine Cameron, the beautiful and mysterious transfer student who was throwing the party.

The party was well under way when the lights went out. That’s to be expected at a spooky Halloween party. But when the lights come back on, there was that boy on the floor with the knife in his back. Just a Halloween prank? Maybe. Maybe not.

For Terry and Niki the trick-or-treating has turned to terror. To their horror, they realize that someone at the costume party is dressed to kill!

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: We start in the Fear Street Cemetery, where Terry and Niki are going for a leisurely walk before going to a Halloween party. It is Halloween night after all. Niki, who is almost totally deaf but can read lips, remarks that she forgot her mask behind at a tombstone they were looking at, and goes to retrieve it. Terry follows because he worries about her or something, but as he catches up he hears a horrible scream. Deciding they need to book it, but now, Terry and Niki run for the gate… and are confronted by a zombie!! Except it’s not a zombie, it’s a dumb jock named Murphy who is also attending the party. He implies that it’s going to be a wild night, and I have a feeling they don’t know the half of it.

We go back in time two weeks when this mismatched group of teens at Shadyside High get their invites to popular new girl Justine’s upcoming Halloween party. Terry’s invited, as is Niki, as is his friend Trish. Terry thinks that maybe Niki won’t have a fun time since it sounds like none of her friends are invited, but Niki, being super kind, says she wants to get to know Justine better. And oh boy, Justine lives on Fear Street in the old Cameron Mansion, whose owners had been killed in an accident years before which sounds super intriguing and the perfect place for a Halloween party! Lisa, school newspaper girl, tells them that apparently Justine and her uncle have been traveling the world and have now settled down there. In biology class Terry is talking with Ricky Schorr (of “The Overnight” fame!) who says he’s been invited too, and when the rest of the guests has been revealed (only nine? Seems quaint) Terry is dismayed to find out his ex-best friend Alex is on the list. Alex dated Niki before she dumped him and hooked up with Terry. Seems like bad form, but what do I know? When the guests find out about each other, they, for whatever reason, decide to divide into a Geeks vs Jocks kind of scenario, though Justine claims she just wants to get to know all of them better. Resident bullies Bobby and Marty ask why they aren’t invited, and Justine blow them off. They jump on their motorcycles (preferred mode of transport for bullies in Shadyside) and drive away. Justine reiterates that only those on the list can come, no dates, no one else. Jocks vs Geeks/Wimps is reiterated, and Alex and Terry find themselves on opposing teams (poor Terry is a wimp I guess). Niki is upset that they’re fighting over her.

A prank war between Jocks vs Wimps starts at school, as a warm up I guess. Terry is mad that Niki still talks to Alex, saying it’s because they’re on ‘different teams’ but we all know better and Niki is no fool and won’t be told who she can and can’t talk to. Terry finds Bobby and Marty harassing Justine about not being invited to her party, and scares them off. Justine is pretty flirty with Terry, saying she’s glad that he and Niki are coming. WHen he gets back to Niki’s locker, there’s a note inside that says ‘You’ll Wish You Were Blind Too’. Terry is convinced it’s Alex, but Niki doesn’t want him to start anything. Instead they go out for pizza. They see Justine there, on a pay phone. Niki, able to read her lips, says that she’s saying that she’s going to ‘make them all pay’.

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(source)

Not to be swayed by possible threats upon their lives, it’s now Halloween and they are still going to the party. They get to the front of the house with Murphy (who scares Terry again, this time with a fake spider), and then are let into the Cameron Mansion. And it is DECKED OUT, as Justine, dressed like what can only be Elvira based on the description, is playing an impeccable hostess. There’s food from all over the world, all places she and her uncle Phillip have lived (he is there as the chaperone and dressed like a clown. Choices, Phillip). As the guests all arrive and the dancing begins, Justine encourages them to dance really fast. They do, but then the music stops and the lights go out. Phillip goes to investigate, as Justine says that she didn’t plan this. When the power comes back on, one of the partygoers, Les, is on the floor with a knife in his back!!

But it’s just another joke, of course. Score one for Team Wimp! Terry and Alex exchange some words and Niki, wanting to be friends with everyone, agrees to dance with Alex, much to Terry’s chagrin. So Terry dances with Justine. But the dancing only lasts so long, because Bobby and Marty, ON THEIR MOTORCYCLES, crash into the party. They rough up Alex and Terry a bit, throw their weight around, but then the party guests come together to force them to leave. It all seems so pointless. Justine isn’t down with calling the police, and insists that they just keep partying, because the treasure hunt is going to start soon! Each guest is given a list of items hidden in the mansion. Niki takes this opportunity to do some snooping, because she just doesn’t quite trust Justine. She goes into Justine’s room, and finds some things that strike her as odd. First of all, there’s no desk. HOW IS SHE SUPPOSED TO STUDY WITHOUT A DESK? There’s also a picture of a couple from the 1950s. What’s more intriguing is that inside the closet there is a release that reveals an even LARGER closet, with lots of clothing that Justine has never worn to school before, such as evening gowns, stoles, and fur coats. Niki goes into the bathroom and finds prescriptions for a woman named Enid Cameron. She decides to find Terry. Presumably because she’s a teen and just found a serious score of pills they can experiment with?

Terry, on the other hand is really cleaning up on the treasure hunt. But when he opens a closet, he finds ALEX HANGING FROM THE CEILING, BLOOD DRIPPING ONTO THE FLOOR! He gathers up his team and Justine and brings them back to the closet, but the body is gone!! Turns out, and I’m sure you guessed it, the body is now on the bed and it’s just Alex’s Halloween costume stuffed to look like a real person, with fake blood and everything. Alex scores one for the Jocks. This all seems so sociopathic. Terry realizes that he still cares about Alex, because why else would he have been so upset? I mean, you thought a body was hanging in the closet, dude, anyone would be upset. Niki tells Terry what she found and her suspicions that Justine isn’t what she seems, but Terry blows her off. Justine announces that the Jocks Team wins the treasure hunt, and as she’s giving Alex a box of Parisian Chocolates, the banister she was leaning against GIVES WAY AND SHE FALLS TO THE STORY BELOW!! Luckily she lands on a couch and is unharmed outside of a sore wrist. Phillip says that someone sawed through the railing!!! Still wanting to just be the best hostess ever, Justine wants to forget about it and continue the party. Terry is jealous when Alex and she share a moment.

Niki still doesn’t trust Justine, and she and Terry fight. He accuses her of being jealous of Justine because she still has feelings for Alex, so she decides to go sleuthing on her own. The lights go out again, and when they come back on Justine says they’re going to play ‘tell us the worst thing you’ve ever done’, a true corker of a party game. Terry worries about Niki and goes to find her, but instead FINDS LES’S BODY IN A CLOSET WITH A KNIFE IN HIS CHEST!! And this time there’s no prank!!! He gets partygoer David to come with him, and when they return to the scene of the crime the body is gone! Someone threw poor Les on the roof! They pull the body back into the house, and cover him with a blanket. They try to call the police, but the phone lines are cut . They try to find Phillip but he’s nowhere to be seen. Someone in the house is a murderer. They look out the window and see a bloody clown costume. The other party guests start to panic, but they can’t leave because Angela sprained her ankle and Niki is nowhere to be found. David volunteers to go to get help, while Terry and Alex go looking for Niki. David finds that their cars tires have been slashed, and while on the road runs afoul a drunken Bobby and Marty. While scuffling he slips and hits his head, and Bobby and Marty decide they have to hide his body.

Terry and Alex find Niki, who has been knocked out and left in the basement. She wakes up and tells them she went back to the secret closet and did more snooping, and found a newspaper clipping about a couple who died thirty years prior, 26 year old Edmund and 20(?!) year old Cissy. They were killed in a car accident where teenagers were drag racing and hit their car. The teens survived, and they all happen to be the parents of the party guests one way or another! The couple left behind a baby girl named Enid. Niki is convinced that Justine in Enid, and also almost thirty, WHICH IS THE MOST HORRIFYING THING OF ALL. They confront her in front of the other guests, but she plays if off like all part of the joke…. Until she locks them all in a room. She confesses to them through a security gated window that yes, her parents were killed in a car crash, and she and her Uncle Phillip have come back for revenge. She then plays a tape of a car accident and sets the house on fire. Like ya do.

Niki continues to be awesome. Being deaf she isn’t distracted by the sounds of car crashes, and remembers that Justine mentioned a dumbwaiter system. She finds the system, and gets Terry and Alex to operate it and lower her down, hoping to find a way out through the basement. She finds a boarded up window, and starts to kick it out. A hand grabs her, but it’s just Mr. Complicity himself, Uncle Phillip, who has been tied up and left to die as well. She unties him, and he grabs a crowbar and they get the boards off the window. They scurry out, and then go to the security grate. Phillip pries it off and the teens are free! He tells them that he wanted revenge for his brother’s death, but then changed his mind. But poor Justine/Enid was hellbent. David comes out of the woods, not dead, just suffering a konk to the head, and the police are on the way. Justine tries to kill herself by jumping into the fiery blaze, but Terry and Alex stop her, nearly getting themselves killed like IDIOTS. But their combined stupid selfless act helps them bury the hatchet once and for all, just as the cops arrive with an ambulance. Niki asks what will happen to Justine, and Phillip says she’ll get the help she needs. Niki ends the book with “It’s always Halloween on Fear Street”.

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We’re letting it slide because she’s too wonderful (source)

Body Count: 1. Les never saw it coming.

Romance Rating: 4. Niki and Terry are happy enough and he calls her ‘Funny Face’ which is cute. But he sure likes to dismiss her and she’s WAY too good for him.

Bonkers Rating: 6. The twist was fine but after the whole time traveling ghost plot of “Haunted” it’s not really jumping off the page.

Fear Street Relevance: 7. I mean it takes place in a mansion of Fear Street and the cemetery is the way to get into said mansion.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Then, as everyone watched in shock, two gleaming motorcycles bombed right into the living room!”

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(source)

That’s So Dated! Moments: This was yet another one of those ‘updated’ versions of a “Fear Street” book. But we still get references to tape players (in spite of the fact the song ‘Get UR Freak On’ is playing). It’s weird seeing the blatant ‘gotta relate to the youths’ changes, as at one point Ricky is described as being ‘punk’d’. ALSO, I just want to say that they never bothered to change the time period for Justine/Enid’s parents’ deaths, still saying that the photo of them was a 1950s couple which would have made her QUITE A BIT OLDER THAN THIRTY when this new ‘revamped’ version was published in the mid 2000s.

Best Quote:

“Niki wasn’t the prettiest girl in Shadyside, or the smartest, but she as definitely the most special.”

Wow. Just…… WOW. And yet she ends up being probably the most likable “Fear Street” heroine we’ve gotten yet, so EAT ME, STINE.

“Halloween Party” was pretty middle of the road bordering on mediocre. Niki was the only thing I liked. Next time we’re tackling “The Stepsister”.