Serena’s Review: “The Space Between the Stars”

30981910Book: “The Space Between the Stars” by Anne Corlett

Publishing Info: Pan Macmillan , June 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit…

Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.

Soon Jamie finds other survivors, and their ragtag group will travel through the vast reaches of space, drawn to the promise of a new beginning on Earth. But their dream will pit them against those desperately clinging to the old ways. And Jamie’s own journey home will help her close the distance between who she has become and who she is meant to be…

Review: It’s been a while since I’ve read and reviewed a sci-fi novel for the blog, so when I was looking for what to pick up next, I decided that now was a good time to fit this book into the reading list. Unfortunately, what I got was less sci-fi and more interpersonal drama, of the kind that I don’t particularly enjoy.

Looking at the book description, there were several things that intrigued me with this story. Not only is this set on another world in a time when space exploration and colonization is fairly common place, but the author throws in a nice humanity-ending virus to the works. I love survival stories, the more extreme the better. And how do you get more “out there” than strand your protagonist on a world light-years away, potentially the only one alive on this planet and with no way of contacting Earth? So, you see, the premise was awesome.

And the story starts out upholding this premise. We jump right into the action with Jamie waking up, alone, sick and confused. Even more creepy, the disease that she has survived kills its victims by essentially incinerating them. All around her is floating the dust of her peers, all that remains of them. Unfortunately, the story goes off the rails almost right away.

In only a matter of pages Jamie meets up with a few other survivors on her planet, something that seems statistically bizarre. There is a lot of detail about the rates of survival at the beginning to really show how deadly this disease was supposed to be, but then it’s immediately undercut by the fact that Jaime finds others quickly and easily. They all simply meet up in town. And, look at that, in a few days they also get a call from a passing ship and they meet up with a handful of other survivors and are off the planet in only a few chapters.  So, nope on the “sole survivor” bit of this story!

Things like this always just frustrate the hell out of me. Part of it was a marketing failure for this book. My expectations weren’t properly managed so I went in expecting one thing and got another. But then the author also actively misleads readers in the first few pages with all the discussion about how deadly this virus is and the fear that Jamie lives with for the first few days (few pages) when she thinks she’s alone and the odds aren’t in her favor. But, of course, the odds mean nothing.

From here, the story shows its cards for what the author was really wanting to write: a character study for Jamie as she deals with the past trauma of her divorce and a miscarriage (all happening several years ago and which she was fleeing when she moved to a planet on the edge of the galaxy). And, while this isn’t the type of story that I typically enjoy, I might have been able to get on board if Jamie herself hadn’t been such an incredibly unlikable character.

She spends much of her time feelings sorry for herself, contradicting her own thought processes, and going off on the other survivors around her. The plot conveniences are sprinkled throughout to further fan the flames of her inner struggles. The other characters who surround her are perfectly primed to present Jamie with worldviews and opinions that challenge her own. But none of this leads to any deeper reflection on being the survivors in a depleted universe, but instead present opportunities for Jamie to come across as judgemental and hypocritical. And most of all, self-involved. She’s the main character, so yes the story is her story. But this is a main character who thinks she’s the main character or something. It’s all about her feelings, her pain, her loss, all the time.

Beyond this, her decisions and opinions were all over the place. In one chapter she’s condemning a character for not doing something, and in the next she’s getting in their face for doing that same thing and risking them all. These types of inconsistencies only made Jamie a harder character with whom to sympathize.

It became abundantly clear that the author was wanting to write a “women’s fiction” book and added space because…? I’m not sure? This book could have taken place on any location on Earth, separated by a continent or something, and Jaime could have gone through the same emotional path elsewhere. The fact that there were sci-fi moments sprinkled here and there only made it more challenging when the book again dove into Jamie’s inner arc.

There were a few interesting side characters who accompanied Jamie on this journey, but, again, all they did was make me wish to follow their stories instead of the one I had. So, in conclusion, this book mostly did a good job making me wish it was a completely different book. One that more closely followed the book description and marketing it was given (sci-fi, survival story) and that followed a more relatable and sympathetic main character. Perhaps for fans of more contemporary reads, women’s fiction in particular, this may be more of a hit. But for fans of sci-fi, beware. You’re mostly getting “whining in space” with this one.

Rating 5: Jamie may be one of the few survivors in this universe, but she wasn’t one I cared about.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Space Between the Stars” is on this Goodreads list: “Stories of Survival.”

Find “The Space Between the Stars” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.4): Under Devil’s Wing”

31808199Book: “Outcast (Vol.4): Under Devil’s Wing” by Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, Februaru 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Answers are given and secrets are revealed as Kyle Barnes and Sidney have a conversation that will change EVERYTHING. Kyle has never been in more danger. 
THE WALKING DEAD creator ROBERT KIRKMAN’S latest horror hit is now a Cinemax TV show. Collects OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA #19-24.

Review: It’s been awhile since I picked up the “Outcast” series. Almost exactly a year, as a matter of fact, and though it was awhile from the past volume I had high hopes that I would easily fall back into it. Especially since I had overall really quite enjoyed the previous collections, and like the variety and creativity that Kirkman has brought to what could have been a typical possession story. So after reminding myself where we left off in the last volume, I came back to Kyle, Anderson, and Sidney ready for more. But unfortunately, the bloom has kind of come off the rose for me when it comes to “Outcast”.

I am fully willing to admit that perhaps I let too much time pass between readings. A year is a very long time to leave a storyline hanging, especially one that moves at a slow and meticulous pace such as this one. But as I was reading through with the promise of ‘answers given’ and ‘secrets revealed’, I felt like I was once again just kind of waiting for an explanation that didn’t really come to fruition. One of the biggest complaints that people seem to have with this comic is the steadily parsed out pace that it takes, and up until now that hadn’t really bothered me. But I think that when it does move slow like this, you really do need to start giving people more to keep coming back for, be it answers, or explanations. We’re getting a lot more questions thrown at us instead. And implications of a conspiracy that seems to be far more in depth than we as readers could have ever imagined, but I was more frustrated by this revelation than compelled by it.

I will say that I did enjoy getting background on Sidney, our resident ‘demon’ and main antagonist. By getting this background, we did get a little insight into who these possessions can affect their hosts, sometimes in more positive ways than we may think. Sidney is by no means a good person, but we find out that before he started housing his ‘companion’ he was leading a very violent and destructive life. Once he was ‘possessed’ (if one can even call it that. We’re definitely moving away from Biblical thoughts of demonic possession), some of those more violent urges were, according to him, quelled. It definitely twists the thought that demonic possessions can only make a person worse; and it definitely makes the readers start to wonder just what is going on, and what kind of role ‘outcasts’ play in this world. There is a particular scene between him and Anderson that might be a hint as to what exactly Kyle is dealing with here, but it’s still wrapped in vagueness and secrecy.

The other significant storyline in this was that now Amber, Kyle’s daughter, may be in some sort of danger from the group that Sidney has formed. Now that we are past the ‘Kyle tried to kill her’ storyline, as Allison knows the truth of all that, I’m hoping that we’ll get a bit more from Kyle’s daughter, and that perhaps there are some shared abilities between him and her. I still contend that this series needs to give the women a bit more to do, so if we could give Amber and Allison more than just be held on a pedestal for Kyle to worry about, that would be great.

Also, not enough Megan and Mark. I wanted more than just a few pages of them, as I sitll find them to be some of the more compelling characters in this series.

My plan for “Outcast” going forward is to pick up the next volume ASAP and see if it can jumpstart my interest. As of now, I could see myself letting it fall to the wayside again because of how slow it continues to move, but my hope is that given where some things ended up in this volume, the next one will have some major moments in it.

Rating 5: I feel like my interest in this series is waning. We are still being tantalized with the promise of explanations, and yet have little to show for it. While it was cool seeing a Sidney centered arc, I’m losing patience in how slow this slow burn is.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.4): Under Devil’s Wing” is not on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Angels and Demons”, and “Cancel Your Plans… Hellz a Poppin’!”

Find “Outcast (Vol.4): Under Devil’s Wing” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

 

Book Club Review: “Every You, Every Me”

9972838We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2011

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 700s (The Arts)

Book Description: In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he’s been unable to sleep, spending night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as it sounds, Evan’s starting to believe it’s Ariel that’s behind all of this, punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself. Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every Me is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author.

Kate’s Thoughts

“Every You, Every Me” was my choice for Book Club this time around, and it was my gut reaction when I got the 700s (aka The ARTS!) of the Dewey Call Numbers. I knew that this book was written by David Levithan, but that the photos that were interspersed throughout the book were taken by Jonathan Farmer and given to Levithan as he was writing the story. Levithan wouldn’t know what the next photo would be, and then would have to fit it into the narrative. The concept of this was a fascinating one to me, and I thought that the photos angle fit into the Dewey theme. I haven’t had a lot of luck with ‘concept’ novels such as these, as I was one of those folks who didn’t absolutely adore “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and decided to give a hard pass to the “Asylum” series. But my reasoning was that hey, it’s David Levithan.

That said, this wasn’t the thrilling mystery with appropriate and aching teen pathos that I had hoped it would be. There was a great idea here, and glimmers of that idea shined through from time to time, but all in all I felt that “Every You, Every Me” never quite evolved beyond a concept. Evan is our narrator, and he is telling this story through stream of consciousness diary entries and through the photos that he is receiving from an anonymous source. He is set up as an unreliable narrator from the jump, with parts of his diary entries crossed out (but not enough that the reader can’t read the redacted thoughts). It was a little heavy on the crossing out, but I felt that it was a fairly effective way of showing his personal struggles instead of him literally saying ‘I AM CONFLICTED ABOUT ALL OF THIS AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL OR WHAT ROLE I PLAYED’. Evan himself was both interesting and maddening. Maddening in that goodness gracious was he the epitome of emo teen angst kid, so much so that our book club joked about how much My Chemical Romance and Evanescence would be on his iPod.

Fun Fact, a playlist of his favorite songs was officially created by our book club member Anita. See the bottom of this post to access it.

giphy11
(source)

But along with Evan being so hopelessly angsty, he was also very fascinating as a character, mostly because I felt that Levithan did a VERY good job of portraying the mind of someone who has gone through a very upsetting trauma. No deep spoilers here, but what I will say is that Evan has lost his closest friend Ariel, and he thinks that it is all his fault. While Evan is the narrator and protagonist, this story is really about the mysterious Ariel; who she was, how she was, and where she has gone (which is the main mystery of this book). They have a deep and codependent friendship, and the more you learn about Ariel and how she treated Evan, the more, I think, you get to understand why he is so, so warped and moody in this whole thing. I definitely found Evan to be more sympathetic as time went on, but also stopped caring about what happened to Ariel and who is harassing Evan BECAUSE my opinions of Ariel changed so much. Which is a bit callous of me, within the context of the book, but the sheer manipulation within that relationship just made me uncomfortable and angry and uncaring towards her endgame.

The ending, though. Again, I don’t want to go into deep deep spoilers here, but it felt so tacked on and so clunky that it kind of threw the book off kilter for me. I know that it kind of harkens back to one of the bigger themes in this book (i.e. no one really knows every side of a person), but it almost felt a bit TOO unrealistic in how it all played out. I’m fine with a huge twist coming through, but I want at least SOME groundwork for that twist to be laid out.

So while I was kind of disappointed with “Every You, Every Me”, I did like the characterization that Levithan created for his main players. The concept is unique enough that I would say pick it up just to see how this neat writing exercise turned out, but don’t expect to be super blown away by it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I have read a few David Levithan books before this one and have mostly enjoyed them. He is particularly strong at writing believably complex teenage protagonists who are not only relatable to teens themselves, but also to adult readers. Other than this knowledge of the author, all I knew about this book was a vague understanding of it being a concept book with the photographs being sent to him as he wrote the book. I, like Kate, have never particularly loved the concept books I’ve read in the past. Too often I feel that the author ends up relying on the images to depict much of the drama of their story, thus paying less attention to, or becoming simply lazy with, their own written descriptions. Powerful writing doesn’t need the support of photographs, and while they can serve as a nice backdrop, I don’t love the idea of a story becoming dependent on them.

For the most part, I think that Levithan walked a nice line with the art in this book. The photographs were interesting and he managed to (mostly) tie them in nicely with the overarching plot of the book. There’s a great theme of what it means to know someone that runs throughout the story, and this concept ties neatly with a conversation that seems to always swirl around the small glimpses of a person that are caught in specific photographs. I loved this idea, that like photographs, we’re only ever seeing small glimpses of an entire person. And that another person (another photograph) will see/capture an entirely different side of that individual. These themes were probably my favorite part of this book.

Other than this, I did struggle with the story. Evan is not the type of narrator that typically appeals to me. He’s conflicted and self-questioning to the point that his angst and confusion are more off-putting than sympathetic. I wanted to shake him at multiple times during the story, and frankly had a hard time taking him seriously. As we learn the truth behind his concerns, I could better understand his reasons for feeling the way he does. But that doesn’t wave away the execution of those feelings that presents him as a whiny, overly emotional teen boy who is hard to invest oneself in.

Further, I was not a fan of the crossing out text tool that was used so much in this book. Not only did it negatively play into the already annoyingly self-involved angst machine that was Evan, but at many points in the story the basic function of cross out text seemed to be misunderstood. In some ways, yes, it makes sense for a story like this with a semi-unreliable narrator like Evan to cross out some parts of the text and through these reconsidered aspects of his writing, get a better understanding of his thoughts and character. But at times, especially towards the end of the book, huge sections of the story were crossed out and the format was being used more to indicate a flashback than to highlight a questioned thought of Evan’s. I think the format read as a bit pretentious, and by the end of the story, I was so distracted by it and how it was being used that it was actively throwing me out of the story.

I also agree with Kate about the ending. Without spoiling anything, the explanation of the photographs seemed to come out of left field and a lot of hand waving and hoop jumping was done to explain portions of the mystery. It felt tacked on and unearned.

Lastly, as this entire mystery revolves around Ariel, we learn a lot about her and need to understand the role that she played to all of these friends, specifically Evan, who are all so distressed by her loss. And, like the character of Evan, I couldn’t really get behind the appeal of Ariel. At Book Club, we all had a bit too much fun coming up with all the crazy explanations for why all of these characters seemed so obsessed with Ariel. None of our explanations were favorable to her.

Ultimately, I think this book touched on some very important themes, specifically those having to do with the fact that people are made up of multitudes and that no one person can ever fully know another. But the execution was shoddy with the crossed out text, and Ariel and Evan were pretty unlikable all around. Add to that the fact that this isn’t a favorite genre of mine (no fault of the book’s), and I didn’t end up loving this one. Alas, they can’t all be winners!

Kate’s Rating 6: A fascinating premise with some interesting things to say about trauma and loss, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. Add in a clunky solution and you have an okay book, when it could have been a great one.

Serena’s Rating 5: Good themes were bogged down by the restrictions of the concept art, an angst-fest leading character, and a dud of an ending.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the device of the photographs that was used in this book? Did you feel that Levithan did a good job of incorporating the random photos he received into this story? Do you think this story needed the photos to feel fully realized?
  2. Evan is our protagonist, and his relationship with Ariel is the crux of this book. What did you think of him as a narrator? How did you feel about him at the end vs at the beginning?
  3. One of the big mysteries of this book is where Ariel is and what happened to her. Were you invested in this mystery, and invested in Ariel as a character?
  4. Another theme of this book is that people tend to have different sides of them that they present to different people. Could you relate to this concept? Do you have different sides of yourself that different people see?
  5. SPOILERS: Let’s talk about the ending. What did you think of the reveal of Dawn, Ariel’s secret best friend that Evan and Jack didn’t know about, being the one sending the photos?
  6. This is what one might call a concept novel, using photos to drive and tell a story as they are presented. What are your opinions on this kind of book (similar to Miss Peregrine, or Asylum, etc)? Did EVERY YOU EVERY ME confirm those feelings, or buck them (in whichever way that may be)?

Reader’s Advisory

“Every You, Every Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Involving Mental Health Issues (2000s-Present)”, and “YA Books With Pictures”.

Find “Every You, Every Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper

And now…. the aforementioned playlist! Thanks to Katie, Alicia, and Anita who helped compile the list, and to Anita for putting it together!

 

Serena’s Review: “City of Lies”

342865371Book: “City of Lies” by Victoria Thompson

Publishing Info: Berkley, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Like most women, Elizabeth Miles assumes many roles; unlike most, hers have made her a woman on the run. Living on the edge of society, Elizabeth uses her guile to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But brutal and greedy entrepreneur Oscar Thornton is out for blood. He’s lost a great deal of money and is not going to forgive a woman for outwitting him. With his thugs hot on her trail, Elizabeth seizes the moment to blend in with a group of women who have an agenda of their own.

She never expects to like or understand these privileged women, but she soon comes to respect their intentions, forming an unlikely bond with the wealthy matriarch of the group whose son Gabriel is the rarest of species—an honest man in a dishonest world. She knows she’s playing a risky game, and her deception could be revealed at any moment, possibly even by sharp-eyed Gabriel. Nor has she been forgotten by Thornton, who’s biding his time within this gilded orbit, waiting to strike. Elizabeth must draw on her wits and every last ounce of courage she possesses to keep her new life from being cut short by this vicious shadow from her past.

Review: Victoria Thompson is a very prolific mystery author, with another long-running steampunk series, that somehow I’ve completely missed! But, as nice as it is to discover a new author with a long-running series, it’s also a bit intimidating to look at as a whole. With that in mind, I was thrilled to learn that she was starting a new series just this fall. Problem solved: get in at the beginning of this series and have another series to happily follow for years to come! Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, you also have to enjoy the first book for this long-game plan to really work. And while there are pieces that I enjoyed here and there, “City of Lies” just didn’t do it for me.

The story starts off well enough with readers meeting Elizabeth Miles in the midst of a complicated con. These first few chapters started off so promising. This entire con, and the role that Elizabeth plays within it, is smart, snappy, and intriguing. She is presented as an independent and wily woman making her way through the world in maybe not the most ethical manner, but one that is definitely interesting to read about. And then the con goes wrong and she finds herself on the run, and suddenly caught up with a group of women protestors. And right away, the book went off the tracks for me.

While those first few chapters were short, they did a lot to convince me that Elizabeth was a heroine who was canny and had managed to make a life for herself in a way that is only accessible to the brave and street smart. But once she’s on the run, I immediately began questioning all of her decisions. Was getting arrested (and then shipped far, far away to another prison), really the best way to avoid goons chasing her down the street? I mean, I’ve seen “The Bourne Identity” probably more times than I should admit, so I’m all for the “get lost in the protestors” method of evasion. But notably, “go to prison and then buy into a hunger strike” is never a part of his plans. And if Bourne’s not doing it, neither should you!

Part of the problem was that I never became very interested in the women that Elizabeth meets here. I had to repeatedly page back to remind myself what was distinctive about each of them. And while, obviously, their protest movement is historically important, it just read as…blah. Which almost seems like a feat in and of itself.

leslie-knope-warrior
What I’m saying is Leslie Knope did it better. (source)

I was also not digging the romance. This book seems to walk the line between many different genres (historical, mystery, romance), but isn’t fully committing to the common expectations of any of them. The romance was too chaste. The history was too plan. The con/mystery element fell to the way side (also the original book description on Goodreads is completely misleading , referencing Elizabeth chasing down a killer in D.C., which isn’t right at all).

While Thompson’s writing seems solid, this book simply didn’t seem to have much new to say or offer for any of the genres that it covers. And Elizabeth, who started strong, quickly fell into a character rife with confusion and unclear motivations. As I haven’t read Thompson’s other series, I can’t say if some of these complaints may just be that her writing style and storytelling choices just aren’t for me or whether this is an outlier from her previous  books. Maybe some time I’ll pick up one of those and see, but this book lands solidly in the middle of the road for me. I didn’t hate it, but I also won’t remember it. For fans of Thompson, however, and perhaps those who like more chaste historical romances, this might be worth checking out?

Rating 5: In one word: bland.

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Lies” is a new title and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Most Anticipated Historical Mysteries for 2017.”

Find “City of Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Goblins of Bellwater”

33973968Book: “The Goblins of Bellwater” by Molly Ringle

Publishing Info: Central Avenue Publishing, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-galley from NetGalley

Book Description: Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out.

Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.

Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.

It’s a midwinter night’s enchantment as Livy, the only one untainted by a spell, sets out to save them on a dangerous magical path of her own.

Review: First off, thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book! I’ve had my eye on it for a while, with its intriguing description mixing goblin trickery, a romantic plot line, and set in my own home region of the Pacific Northwest. It was a quick read and I buzzed through it in one day, however, I did have a mixed reaction to the story as a whole.

The description sums up the plot pretty well, so I won’t re-hash much there. And the portions of the story that stuck to this plot were strong. The goblins themselves were probably the most intriguing part of the story. It was clear that the author had a clear vision and voice for these otherworldly beings, and their magic and mischief jumped off the page with every scene they stole. I loved the mix of the dark, wet forests of the Puget Sound area that are the perfect setting to hide a mysterious and dangerous fae realm. The goblins were tricky, smart, and best of all, viciously witty. We also got much more actual characterization for a few of the goblins than I had been expecting, backstories and all, that added greater depth of meaning to the choices they made and their interactions with humanity, in particular, Kit and his family.

As I said, setting the story in the Puget Sound worked well for this plot line. All too often fae stories always pop up in the typical places like Ireland and Great Britain. But at the same time, the tropes of the area seemed to jump out at me in a kind of grating way. Of course Skye is a barista who loves art and the woods. Of course Livy works for the Forest Services and is first introduced while kayaking around the sound. Of course Kit is a chainsaw sculpture artist in his spare time. It’s just a bit too on the nose.

Reading the description, I remember it mentioning that this was a contemporary romance, so perhaps it’s on me that I focused more on the fantasy elements and assumed the romance was a supporting piece to this story. Especially for the first half of this story, the book is almost purely a romance novel, and not the kind that I enjoy.

Look. I’ve read my share of romance and I’ve read my share of YA romance. This book is in the unfortunate position of existing somewhere between the two. Our main characters are all adults, early to mid twenties (though here’s another problem: Kit and Livy are constantly referring to themselves as “long-time bachelors.” Um. Guys. You’re barely at the mid-point of your twenties! It seems like such an easy fix to write them in their 30s, a choice that I think would have fit their more mature characterization much more naturally). But for some strange reason, the author chose to write about everything before and after the sex scenes themselves. Which would be fine if she was setting out to right a clean novel.  But the before and after descriptions are of the very unclean, erotic variety. Way too many descriptions about condom management, and some pretty smutty imaginings on all characters’ sides. So then to fade to black at the critical moment…just read strange.

Not to mention that there was a noticeable shift in writing style during these romantic subplots. During the fantasy story lines, the authors writing is strong and assured. But the romantic plot lines seemed to stumble around, filled with disjointed sexual language, an unfortunate bout of magically-induced instalove, and just a whole heap of awkwardness where there shouldn’t be any (phrases like “soak up her hotness” and “congenial sex” were used a few times too many for my taste.) It all read as very strange. Kit and Livy’s relationship was definitely the stronger of the two, but even it progressed in a way that didn’t seem to fit comfortably alongside the other subplots. It’s hard to put my finger on just what felt off about all of this, but something did. I will give credit for the author’s choice to make her two women characters older than their love interests, something you don’t often see in romance novels.

Towards the last half to last third of the story, the fantasy elements began to take over the story again, and I felt like the book gained back a bit of its footing, ending on a strong note. All of this to say, I have very mixed feelings about this book. Part of it is a failure of expectations on my end, and a general preference for A.) fantasy stories and B.) romance novels that are going to at least commit to being a romance novel, something this one always seemed to shy away from. But the story also felt awkward at times and uncomfortable in its own skin, some dialogue didn’t land as solidly as one would hope, and all four characters weren’t equally strong, with Kit and Livy washing out Skye and Grady.

The publisher is hosting a massive giveaway for this book, however, so you have the chance to judge for yourself! If you enjoy clean (for the most part??) romance novels with more of a hint of fantasy (rather than fantasy with a hint of romance), you might find yourself enjoying this book more than I did. Never hurts to give it a go! See below for full descriptions of the prizes available. Open to U.S. entrants only and running late into October!

Enter the Giveaway!

 

Rating 5: Right down the middle. I didn’t particularly love it, but I didn’t hate it either.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Goblins of Bellwater” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Goblin Books” and “Books about Faery.”

Find “The Goblins of Bellwater” at your library using WorldCat

Prize Descriptions

Grand prize package:

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• $10 Starbucks gift card
• “Flowerwatch” necklace/pocket watch
• Artistic guided journal/sketchbook
• Copy of Brian Froud’s Goblins!


Air prize package:

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Air-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea
Earth prize package:

 

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Earth-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea


Fire prize package:

 

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Fire-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea


Water prize package:

 

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Water-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

 

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…

giphy
(source)

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.”

giphy14
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!

Kate’s Review: “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star”

29633017Book: “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” by Brendan Fletcher, Annie Wu (Ill.) and Sandy Jarrell (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, November 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Black Canary world tour begins here! But instead of playing sold out areas, the band is scouring the globe in search of their missing lead singer, Black Canary herself.

Following the rockin’ conclusion of Black Canary, Volume 1: Kicking & Screaming, Dinah Lance has disappeared and now she finds herself in the clutches of a mysterious white ninja who might have more in common with the Canary than anyone expected. In this continent-spanning adventure, secrets from Dinah’s past are revealed, questions about the future of the Black Canary band are answered and faces are melted with epic rock ‘n’ roll and action brought to you by a comics supergroup including writer Brenden Fletcher (Batgirl) and artists Annie Wu (Hawkeye) and Sandy Jarrell (Meteor Men).

Review: As I’m sure you all remember, I am a big Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, fan. There’s something about her carefree and badass attitude that I really enjoy, and I was excited to find that she had her own “New 52” arc in the DC Comics world. While I love her in the supergroup Birds of Prey, it was nice seeing her get some time to shine all for herself in “Kicking and Screaming”, the first in the “Black Canary New 52” series. We also got to see a new group of awesome kick butt women in the form of her band: Paloma, Lord Byron, Ditto, and Bo Maeve. So when I finally grabbed “New Killer Star”, I was thinking that I would get more adventures of this group of awesome ladies.

But….. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

We pick up with our poor Dinah Lance being held captive in a strange prison-like setting. Her bandmates don’t know where she is, and the fate of the band hangs in the balance. It was a little hard seeing the group separated, as I feel like they only make each other stronger. I was also a bit frustrated that we kind of found ourselves in a situation that I wasn’t totally on board with, as Dinah being held in a strange prison by strange demon cultists perhaps because of who her mother was seems so old hat to me. I appreciated seeing a bit of the mother/daughter drama and baggage regarding Dinah, but it kind of felt like it came out of nowhere, as I don’t THINK that there was all that much in “Kicking and Screaming” (I could be wrong, I just don’t remember any)? By the time Dinah and her bandmates were reunited for a final showdown with the demon cult, we get taken into a completely DIFFERENT direction with a speculative arc that takes Black Canary into a potential future-scape of her life. And when the story does eventually get wrapped up, we still have a couple of side stories that have nothing to do with the original story arc, some of which aren’t even “Black Canary” titles. It felt like a bit of a mess, to be honest, which was such a disappointment because I so enjoyed “Kicking and Screaming”. I’ve looked around and it looks like one of the problems is that the DC “Rebirth” event happened, in which the titles in DC were rebooted yet again. So of course this was going to interrupt this fairly new series. The wrap up came fast and it was hard to swallow.

But there were things that I did like in “New Killer Star”. We got a fun side story in the “Gotham Academy” storyline involving the band’s tour manager Heathcliff, who was a former student at that boarding school. So we did get to see the band in action in that story, as well as my favorites from “Gotham Academy” like Maps and Olive. It turns out that he and Pomeline may have had a thing!!! I’m super down for all that, so that was a fun little crossover story. There is a stand alone story with just the Band that doesn’t involve aliens or demon cults, which gave me the girl power camaraderie that I felt the actual arc didn’t have. We also got a nice little insight into the new “Birds of Prey” arc, which brings Batgirl and Black Canary together again, as well as bringing back Huntress to round out the group. I highly enjoy “Birds of Prey”, and while it was a bit disappointing to see that yes, indeed, Oracle is a thing of the distant past, it was also good to see her recognized not just as something negative. But my praise for these things ultimately goes to show that the actual final arc for Dinah in her main comic series was a bit too weak to stand on it’s own two feet.

So while the stand alone stories were good fun and everything I was looking for, the actual finale to the “Black Canary New 52” arc fell kind of flat. And it worries me that some of the “New 52” series I’ve been following will end just as abruptly. All that said, I will look back fondly on “Black Canary” and her band as a whole, because when it was strong it was super fun. It will be interesting to see where “Rebirth” takes all of these characters. But for now I bid adieu to my girl Dinah, and hope that when we meet again she’ll be everything she was in this.

Rating 5: A weaker end to a promising start, “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” wasn’t as fun as I hoped it would be. The standalone stories are pretty good fun, but that only emphasizes my disappointment with how the main arc ended before “Rebirth” happened.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” is not on any Goodreads lists (oddly enough), but I think it would fit in on “Ladies in Capes”, and “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Black Canary (Vol.1): Kicking and Screaming”.