Serena’s Review: “Jade War”

41716919Book: “Jade War” by Fonda Lee

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Previously Reviewed: “Jade City”

Review: After it took me so long to get around to reading “Jade City,” I wasn’t about to let the same happen for the second book in this series. I promptly started reading the sequel, and, sure enough, Fonda Lee has done it again. It was both everything I was expecting/wanting while also blowing wide the world and stakes that were set up in the first book.

Over a year after the events of “Jade City,” the Kaul family is still entrapped in the ongoing feud with their rival clan, the Mountain. While the Mountain was hurt by the sudden loss of one of their leaders, their calculating leader is nowhere close to finished. Throughout it all, Hilo and Shae continue to try to grow into their unexpected roles of leadership, while those closest to them try to find their own places. Wen, Hilo’s wife and secret ally of Shae, works in the open to provide an heir to the No Peak clan, while working behind the scenes to help gather information for Shae. And their adopted brother Anden finds himself exiled to a foreign land experience life for the first time out of both the shadow and the privilege of his powerful family.

“Jade City” was impressive in its detailed world-building, solid plotting, and nuanced characters who anything but paper cut-outs of typical staple roles. While the story left off with a wide open path ahead, I didn’t expect it to expand outwards as much as it does forwards. Meaning that the story moves ahead in unexpected ways, but the world itself and even our understanding of our main characters expands outwards in such a way that by the middle of the book I felt like I had been barely scratching the surface when I read the first book.

Through Anden’s perspective, the story expands past the borders of Kekon giving us not only new insights into the geo-political stagings of this unique world but offering a lot of commentary on the immigrant experience. Anden must learn new cultural norms, a new language, and confront the differences between the Kekon he grew up knowing and the smaller Kekon that his fellow immigrants have created for themselves in a new country. It was a really fascinating window into the feeling of familiarity yet continued displacement that is unique to an immigrant experience. While Anden sees elements of his familiar home, there are enough small changes and minor differences that highlight how the immigrant Kekonese community is essentially subculture all of its own.

The characters were also expanded upon and there were a bunch of twists here, specifically, that I didn’t see coming. Hilo, especially, had a few moments that really shocked me, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But this mix of traits that makes it hard to label him is the same thing that makes him read as so real. Flawed, desperate, constantly holding in his inner demons that push him towards foolish action. Shae also had an interesting story arc that I hadn’t anticipate. I continue to enjoy both Shae and Wen for the solid women characters they represent. Like Hilo, they are complex and we see their weaknesses and strengths laid out through the cool, objective, narrative of the story.

It’s a large book, and it fills it pages with as much continued world-building and expanded character moments as it does with plot. Readers looking for solid action might struggle with some of the slower paced portions. But if you enjoyed “Jade City,” than this book is a superb successor.

Rating 8: Bigger and better in every way! “Jade War” will leaving you craving for more!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jade War” is on these Goodreads lists: “Essential Silkpunk” and “#ReadPOC: List of Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color.”

Find “Jade War” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Darling Rose Gold”

49223060._sy475_Book: “Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Sharp Objects meets My Lovely Wife in this tightly drawn debut that peels back the layers of the most complicated of mother-daughter relationships…

For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.

Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.

Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she’s forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.

Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling…

And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

Review: Thanks to Berkley for sending me a print ARC of this novel!

In college my undergrad was a Psychology BA with a focus in Abnormal Psychology. Because of this, I have a vague (if not probably outdated) working knowledge of various mental disorders, so when I first heard about the case of Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard, the mother daughter duo that ended with Gypsy Rose murdering her mother Dee Dee, my mind immediately went to Munchausen By Proxy. For the unaware, Munchausen By Proxy is when a caregiver deliberately makes their charge (usually their child) ill, or hurts them in other ways. Given that Dee Dee had convinced many people that Gypsy Rose was sick in hopes of getting money and attention, and also poisoned Gypsy Rose and broke her down, making her completely dependent on her, she fits the bill to a T. When “Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel both ended up in my hands in print form, and in my email box as well, I was very interested to read what I assumed was going to basically be a novelization of the Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose storym, which felt a little salacious, though honestly kinda fun too. But Wrobel has managed to create a thriller novel that definitely takes elements from that case, as well as other Munchausen By Proxy cases, without making it feel exploitative.

“Darling Rose Gold” has two differing perspectives. The first is of Patty Watts, a woman who is just getting out of prison for abusing her daughter Rose Gold. Patty convinced Rose Gold that she had a number of health issues and that she needed to be confined to a wheelchair, when it reality she was making her sick by dosing her with ipecac and only feeding her half the calories her body needed. Rose Gold testified against her, and Patty is simultaneously holding a grudge, but also desperate to be near her daughter again. Rose Gold, on the other hand, has far murkier motivations. When you have Patty who is constantly twisting the truth, and Rose Gold hiding it, it makes for two unreliable narrators and an unknown path that we are taking with them. We know that Rose Gold is up to something, but we don’t really know what. I thought that Wrobel was excellent at capturing the voice of Patty, a narcissistic sociopath, and thought that her thought processes were spot on in terms of constantly victimizing herself and incapable of believing that she could be at fault for anything. She is very much a stand in for Dee Dee Blanchard, whose toxic and abusive personality came out after her death and the facade of perfect caring mother was shattered. I was far more worried about how Rose Gold would be portrayed, as to me the ultimate victim in the case this is taking inspiration from was Gypsy Rose. If Patty is an obvious stand in for Dee Dee, Rose Gold is far different from Gypsy Rose. Which is probably a good thing. As I mentioned before, you don’t know what her plan is. But as her side of the story and motivations slowly come to light, you get a complex character who is damaged, and a little twisted. Just how twisted is the question that remains to be seen when we dive in.

The mystery is definitely about what Rose Gold is planning. You get pieces from Patty’s POV, but you also kind of have to wonder if what she is experiencing is ACTUALLY something she’s experiencing, or if her own guilt and paranoia is messing with her head. The pieces that Rose Gold gives us are built up over time, as we look at her life directly after her mother was convicted, up until her mother’s release. Wrobel, as I mentioned before, carefully shows just what kind of person this abuse has turned her into. She never paints with broad strokes when it comes to Rose Gold. She can both be a victim and also an abuser, and she can be both sympathetic and quite unsettling. I really didn’t know what she was up to for a long while, and even when I started to piece it together on my own I wasn’t completely on point with the big reveal. It’s well plotted, it’s addicting to read, and it sticks the landing for a satisfactory end without stepping into arguably controversial territory when measuring it against the real life crime that occurred. While it didn’t really blow me away, I can safely say that I was happy with how everything sussed out, and Wrobel makes a notorious story very original and new feeling.

“Darling Rose Gold” is a creepy and addictive thriller. I really enjoyed my time with it, and think that anyone who was captivated by the Dee Dee Blanchard Murder, or Munchausen By Proxy in general, would find it to be a scintilating read.

Rating 8: A frothy and unsettling thriller with inspiration from real life horrors, “Darling Rose Gold” was perhaps a little predictable, but the journey to the end was VERY fun.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Darling Rose Gold” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”, and would fit in on “Munchausens and Munchausens By Proxy”.

Find “Darling Rose Gold” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Wolf of Oren-Yaro”

46207682Book: “The Wolf of Oren-Yaro” by K.S. Villoso

Publishing Info: Orbit, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: “I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

Review: I was sent an ARC of this book from the publisher. Having never heard of it, I kind of glanced at it and put it on the pile. But, after a few disappointing reads (ones that gave signs of being disappointments almost from the very first page), when I picked this one up, started reading, and looked up not long later having already somehow read ten chapters, I knew that I had finally found a read to break the spell. The rest of the book didn’t let me down!

Talyien has grown up knowing what it is to be immediately distrusted and disliked. Her father lead an unpopular revolt, and even though it ended with a marriage proposal between his daughter and the leading rival family’s son, Talyien’s people have walked a tight line ever since. When her husband of three years mysteriously walks out on the eve of the both his and her coronation, Talyien finds herself ruling alone, now disliked and distrusted more than ever. Now, years later, Queen Talyien hears from him once again, and all too soon she sees herself betrayed, cut off from all that is familiar, and left on her own to prove that she is the strong queen her father raised her to be.

The other day my husband and I happened to have a conversation about the differences between books written in third and first person. I was making the argument that first person often reads s younger, hence it often being found in YA novels. Since the narration is limited to only one point of view, the narrative has to work hard to draw in details with regards to scene and setting. The narrator is also unreliable to a certain extent as they are only able to speak to other characters’ thoughts and motivations through their own lens and perceptions. This leaves a lot of room in the narrative voice to focus on the internal emotions and thoughts of the main character, a strength in particular for YA protagonists and stories where these types of internal musings typically shine. For adult novels, these challenges and limitations are often enough to prompt many authors to stick to the more common third person perspective. All of that to say, this book was an excellent example of an adult fantasy novel turning all of the challenges of first person narration to its advantage.

Talyien has a very distinct voice right off the bat. It’s also made clear early in the book that we don’t know her entire history and that her views of those around her are formed from her own experience of the world. Her father’s history, her own experience as a disliked queen abandoned by her husband, all color her distrusting and stark outlook on humanity. At the same time, she’s incredibly brave, stubborn, and determined to do what she thinks is best for her son and her country. I’m hesitant nowadays to make “Game of Thrones” references, but in a lot of ways she reads the way I always imagined Daenerys to be. Talyien can be ruthless and goal-oriented, but, through the very personal nature of first person narration, we also see the vulnerability and self-doubt that continues to plague her. Plague her, but never stop her.

I really enjoyed the world-building in this story. It is a refreshing new world that is pulling from inspirations that are clearly no European. I’d be hesitant to place it anywhere specifically, as it is clearly a fantasy world, but details about the culture, food, and naming conventions all read as coming from Asian inspiration. I believe the author was born in the Philipines, so I imagine that was part of the backbone building up this world. Again, it is challenging to build a compelling and realistically detailed world through only the eyes of one main character who, in theory, would know much of these facts and have no reason to share them with a reader. But the narration is seamless, and as the story expanded, so did the world surrounding this story. The use of flashback also continued to add layers to our understanding of not only Talyien, but the complicated political history of her nation and its many clans.

The story doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger, per se, but all is definitely not well at the end of this book. We finally learn some of the secrets that Talyien has held so close to her chest throughout much of the book and these reveals explain much about not only her choices but her general views towards those around her and how she chooses to interact with them. There were definitely some unexpected twists to the story, and I was left not knowing how I felt about certain other characters. This speaks to the very fleshed out nature of even secondary characters. They all felt real, and real people aren’t simply good or bad.

I can’t wait to get to the next book in this series. Talyien is at a pretty low point and the stakes are incredibly high, not only for her nation, but on a very personal nature for her. Hopefully I can get my hands on the next book soon! I know the author self-published this one before Orbit picked it up, so I’m hoping they will be able to release the second one quickly! Fans looking for a refreshing new fantasy epic featuring a strong queen who doesn’t give a sheep what you think of her, this is the book for you!

Rating 8: Talyien is everything I want in my fantasy heroines and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Wolf of Oren-Yaro” is on these Goodreads lists: “Upcoming 2020 SFF Books with Female Leads or Co-Leads” and “Asian-Authored Books in 2020.”

Find“The Wolf of Oren-Yaro” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “You Are Not Alone”

45046742Book: “You Are Not Alone” by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: You probably know someone like Shay Miller. She wants to find love, but it eludes her. She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end. She wants to belong, but her life is so isolated.

You probably don’t know anyone like the Moore sisters. They have an unbreakable circle of friends. They live the most glamorous life. They always get what they desire.

Shay thinks she wants their life. But what they really want is hers.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo in the thriller writing world, as their previous novels “The Wife Between Us” and “Anonymous Girl” were both buzzworthy books that got a fair amount of attention. I enjoyed both of those books, enough so that I figure that any time they come out with another novel I’m going to be interested in picking it up. Hence, I requested “You Are Not Alone”, their newest thriller/mystery, from NetGalley. I expected an entertaining and very readable thriller, as that has what has been delivered in the past. I am happy to report that not only did it live up to those expectations, it is also their best work yet.

Like their other two novels, “You Are Not Alone” is told through multiple perspectives and multiple time periods. Our main focus is on Shay Miller, an insecure and high strung, lonely woman who witnesses another woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a moving subway. The other perspectives are generally from that of the Moore sisters, Cassandra and Jane, as well as the occasional chapter from the POVs of their friend group. The wide breadth of POVs gave us a very large and detailed picture of the story, and also of the various motivations that each character had that added to the mystery over all. We know that Cassandra and Jane want something from Shay, but we aren’t certain as to what that may be. I thought that all of the women had well done characterization, and that I got a good sense for all of them and why they were doing what they were doing. Shay is the kind of protagonist that we see in thrillers like this in that she’s incredibly flawed and neurotic, but she’s written in such a way that I really liked her and was genuinely concerned for what she was slowly being pulled into. And then there are the Moore Sisters, and how they are both incredibly engaging and gregarious, as well as being terrifying in how they know how to manipulate and insert themselves into Shay’s life without her knowing it.

The mystery was also very enticing, and it kept me guessing and completely enthralled the entire time. As I said, you know that the Moore Sisters want Shay for something, and Hendricks and Pekkanen slowly peel back all the layers, leaving breadcrumbs of clues within all of the perspective chapters. It was laid out and woven together intricately enough that I was genuinely surprised by almost every twist, and all of the twists were well earned by how they were set up sometimes hundreds of pages before. I found myself slowly building up in anxiety, my heart beginning to beat as I got closer to the end and the tension just kept building with little sign of release. By the time it had all come to a head, I felt the deep paranoia that Shay was feeling and completely believed it. I bought in to just about everything, and while I did feel like it wrapped up a little neater than it probably should have (as well as quickly; the ending felt hasty even if it came together well), overall I was definitely satisfied.

“You Are Not Alone” is the best story that Hendricks and Pekkanen have come up with yet, and they will remain a high reading priority for me in the future. If you haven’t read anything by them yet, this is where you should start.

Rating 8: An anxiety inducing and twisty thriller that barely lets up on the tension. “You Are Not Alone” will make you more than a little nervous about who may be keeping their eyes on you.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Are Not Alone” is included on the Goodreads lists “Female Writing Teams”, and “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers 2020”.

Find “You Are Not Alone” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Black Canary: Ignite”

44433717Book: “Black Canary: Ignite” by Meg Cabot and Cara McGee (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Zoom, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Thirteen-year-old Dinah Lance knows exactly what she wants, who she is, and where she’s going. First, she’ll win the battle of the bands with her two best friends, then she’ll join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy so she can solve crimes just like her dad. Who knows, her rock star group of friends may even save the world, but first they’ll need to agree on a band name.

When a mysterious figure keeps getting in the way of Dinah’s goals and threatens her friends and family, she’ll learn more about herself, her mother’s secret past, and navigating the various power chords of life.

Review: While it’s hard to rate my favorite DC ladies in a specific order (as there are so many who are wonderful in their own unique ways!), I can say that Dinah “Black Canary” Lance is very high up on the list, like assuredly Top 5. Dinah has been given a lot of attention in the New 52 and DC Rebirth, and her back story has almost always been bleak and dark and indicative of how hardass she can be at times. When I stumbled upon “Black Canary: Ignite” by Meg Cabot, I was a little surprised that the woman who wrote “The Princess Diaries” took on a Black Canary origin story. But then, given that this is a graphic novel written for tweens, I did expect it to be far less dark than some of the stories Dinah has had in the past. Since I’m always looking for more Black Canary content, I checked it out. And what a good decision that was, because Meg Cabot gave Dinah a delightful and plucky storyline that I greatly enjoyed!

We meet Dinah as a rambunctious and snarky thirteen year old. She is in a band with her friends Kat and Vee, she wants to join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy, and tends to butt heads with her parents, as most thirteen year olds do. What struck me the most from the get go is that her life is functional, and she’s surrounded by people who love her and support her. Given that the most recent Black Canary storyline I read involved some serious Mom angst for Dina, thank you Meg Cabot for letting her live a happy early teenagehood! Dinah is funny and awkward, and she is flawed with her temper but cares for her friends. She is also perplexed by the fact that when she yells, things around her tend to break. Cabot was awesome in how she approached this, as Dinah, again, like most teenagers, just wants to be normal, and this crazy scream is hindering that. The situations when this arises are rather innocuous, but still hold pretty high stakes for a kid in middle school. As Dinah has to contend with his, she also has to contend with a strict principal who seems to be out to get her, and with her Dad, Detective Lance, who doesn’t want her to join the Junior Police Academy but won’t really tell her why. Dinah’s relationships are definitely the strongest aspects of this story, as I loved seeing how she interacts with her best friends Kat and Vee (even when things aren’t going great between all of them), and how she both loves but is frustrated by her parents, unaware of the secrets that they have that may shed light on her abilities. By the time she does have to reckon with her parents identities and what that means for her, Cabot had created a great coming of age story to go along with the origin theme.

Cabot’s dialogue is witty and snappy, which is what I’ve come to expect from her. She gives Dinah and those in her circle authentic voices, and had me laughing out loud multiple times as I read. The mystery, however, as to who is following Dinah and what they want with her, isn’t as compelling, if only because it’s pretty straight forward and then ends with a semi-interesting twist that wasn’t terribly surprising. While I was fine with the mystery taking backseat to what was going on with Dinah’s personal discovery of her Canary Cry, I’m not certain that it was supposed to be taking back seat. But it’s also important to keep in mind that this is written for an audience that is quite a bit younger than I am, so the way that I received and parsed out the mystery isn’t necessarily how it would be received by tweens. Therefore, I can’t really speak to its effectiveness.

And finally, the artwork by Cara McGee is so on point and charming. I loved the facial expressions, I loved that she would put hearts around Dinah’s parents when they were feeling loving towards each other or Dinah, and I loved the action moments. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the story at hand.

cw059
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“Black Canary: Ignite” is a charming as hell origin story for one of my favorite DC ladies. If you’re like me and love Dinah Lance, definitely find this story and read it.

Rating 8: A fun and clever origin story for Dinah “Black Canary” Lance with the Meg Cabot wit, “Black Canary: Ignite” does justice to one of my favorite super ladies!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Canary: Ignite” is included on the Goodreads lists “Strong Female Protagonist”, and “DC Comics by Women”.

Find “Black Canary: Ignite” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Cirque Berserk”

04 Cirque Beserk CoverBook: “Cirque Berserk” by Jessica Guess

Publishing Info: Unnerving, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the author.

Book Description: The summer of 1989 brought terror to the town of Shadows Creek, Florida in the form of a massacre at the local carnival, Cirque Berserk. One fateful night, a group of teens killed a dozen people then disappeared into thin air. No one knows why they did it, where they went, or even how many of them there were, but legend has it they still roam the abandoned carnival, looking for blood to spill.

Thirty years later, best friends, Sam and Rochelle, are in the midst of a boring senior trip when they learn about the infamous Cirque Berserk. Seeking one last adventure, they and their friends journey to the nearby Shadows Creek to see if the urban legends about Cirque Berserk are true. But waiting for them beyond the carnival gates is a night of brutality, bloodshed, and betrayal.

Will they make they make it out alive, or will the carnival’s past demons extinguish their futures?

Review: Thanks to Jessica Guess for sending me an eARC of this novella!

If there are two things you should know about me and my pop culture affinities, I love slasher movies, and I love the 1980s (in terms of the art and music scene, NOT the political one). And if you give me slasher movies from the 1980s, I’m golden. When Jessica Guess contacted me asking if I would be willing to read her new novella “Cirque Berserk”, the description alone sucked me in. A haunted/evil carnival? Urban legends? A mention of the 1980s? And then, the cover had ROLLER SKATES?! I was IN!! If anything I figured it would be campy and entertaining, but “Cirque Berserk” was more than that. It achieved something I’ve seen a few horror novels fail: it felt like I was reading a slasher movie.

Guess creates a fun urban legend, some visceral gore and violence moments, and wicked characters that are easy to root for even when they are committing horrendous acts of violence. You assume that you’re going to be reading a novella that hits the usual slasher tropes and check boxes: the supernatural or unstoppable/ faceless killer, the final girl, the innocent but expendable teenagers, and on and on. But Guess takes those tropes and manages to subvert them in various ways that kept catching me by surprise. I thought I knew where certain characters or scenes were going, and then the rug would be yanked out from under me and I’d be genuinely surprised. I really don’t want to spoil anything about the plot’s big reveals, and I found them to be fun and effective, but I WILL say that Guess created not only a good mythology for Cirque Berserk and the horrifying things that go on there, she also gives the baddies some real motivation, motivation that the reader can, in some ways, relate to. She also gives the killers identities and backgrounds that aren’t generally seen as much in slasher stories, at least in the sense of how they are fully explored and given some actually tangible and relatable reasons for why they do what they do, at least at first. The focus is less on the expendable teenagers who’ve wandered into the fairgrounds, and more on the baddies, and how they got to where they are when we meet them.

And honestly? This novella is, pardon the bad pub, a scream to read. It opens with a classic slasher movie situation, and goes balls to the wall in terms of visceral horror violence as well as showing the stakes that we are dealing with. We get flashbacks to the fateful and dreadful night when Cirque Berserk went bad, we get some really gnarly kills right out of the Tom Savini playbook, and we get some pretty creepy moments and concepts AND a cameo from my favorite Biblical demon Lilith. On top of all that, it becomes quite clear, quite quickly that this candy coated fever dream of a slasher story is going to be accompanied by a bitchin’ 80s sound track, including tracks by Whitney Huston, Bonnie Tyler, and A-ha.

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Honestly, if you like old school slasher movies that are dropping in day glo 80s nostalgia, “Cirque Berserk” is a novella that you should absolutely check out. It’s fun, it’s a quick read, and it has some great curveballs.

Rating 8: A hell of a fun ride that reads like a slasher movie on the page, “Cirque Berserk” was an entertaining read that I greatly enjoyed.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cirque Berserk” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but for a similar read I would steer you towards “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”.

“Cirque Berserk” isn’t in WorldCat yet, but you can find it HERE at Unnerving Magazine.

 

Serena’s Review: “Age of Death”

30613608._sy475_Book: “Age of Death” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Riyria Enterprises LLC, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC

Book Description: Winter blankets the land, and more than just hope has died. Prevented from invading the Fhrey homeland by the tower of Avempartha, the western army seeks a way across the Nidwalden River before the fane obtains the secret of dragons. As time runs out for both humanity and the mystic Suri, the only chance for the living rests with the dead. Having made their fateful choice, can a handful of misfits do the impossible, or are they forever lost to an inescapable grave? Do gods truly exist? Is it possible to know the future? And what lies beyond the veil of death? In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.

Previously Reviewed: “Age of Myth” , “Age of Swords”, “Age of War” and “Age of Legend”

Review: Sullivan is not only an established fantasy author, but I have to think he’s one of the most successful as a self-published author. Not only did he start out his career that way and manage to break into the major league standard publishing circuit, he also has now managed to go back to self-publishing and break all kinds of Kickstarter records for books. It also works well for his fans, as I, like many others, was able to get my hands on an early ebook copy. Kind of important after that cliffhanger in the last one! Alas, a cliffhanger was here too (warning!), but, a Kickstarter campaign starts up again shortly, so my wait time is again cut down. Thank god! All of that is neither here nor there to my overall review of the book, but it’s a kind of neat unique trait of these books that I like to highlight. But, the long and the short of it: per the usual for this series, I had a great time reading this book and am now hanging on hooks waiting for the grand finale!

The last book ended with our grand party sinking to their “death” in a disgusting bog, hoping to journey through the land of the dead to the realm of the Fhrey where their dear friend and most powerful ally, Suri, is being held captive. This book picks up immediately from there as our party begins to make their way through the various lands of the dead, meeting up with old friends and new foes along the way. Suri, on the other hand, is caught up in the political maneuverings of the power that be among the Fhrey people, trying to determine friend from foe while protecting the deadly secret of dragon-making, the only advantage the human army has had on their side during this decade-long war.

As this is the fifth book in the series, the characters are all pretty well-established. Aside from a one or two new character that we meet in the underworld, we spend most of our time with these familiar faces. Of course, the challenges they face in the underworld bring new elements of their characters to light, but for the most part, they are all largely as we have come to expect. Of them all, I seem to be enjoying Moya more and more. In this book we see her face some incredibly hard decisions and losses. But the characters who saw the most growth were the two that have walked the line of villainy to some extent to this point, who both feel that they may deserve to be in some of the deeper levels of this underworld.

As far as the underworld itself went, I enjoyed the version we were given here. There were elements of it that were fairly predictable, the groundwork being laid early in the story and predictably coming to fruition later. However, I didn’t feel that this detracted much from the story. There were a couple of character introduced here that did take me completely by surprise, however, and it was exciting to finally see them on the page given how often they had been referenced in other books.

My biggest struggle with this book, however, was the pacing. All of the books are clearly part of six part, epic series, so none of them can truly be read as standalones. That said, they all felt like they had clear beginnings and endings with at least one character seeming to experience an entire arch through the one book. Even the last with its massive cliffhanger felt fairly complete on its own. Here, however, it’s like we were given the Moria scene from “Lord of the Rings”…and that’s it. Nothing before and nothing after. There’s another cliffhanger, yes, but I went in expecting that. It’s more that the story as a whole didn’t really feel like its own thing in its own right. More than any of the others, this one felt like a chunk that had been removed from a larger book and then made its own book. Like it could have been the “Part II” of a bigger book. Again, this wasn’t a game changer or anything, but it did stick out more in this book than in others.

Per the usual now, I really enjoyed this book. On its own, I probably enjoyed it less than others just because it didn’t really feel like a complete book so much as a long section of the previous book and, likely, the last book combined. I also missed not seeing as much of Persephone. But I’m excited for the direction the story is taking with Suri and the Fhrey and, of course, the cliffhanger leaves a lot of tension built up that can’t be resolved quickly enough. Fans of the series so far will be both satisfied with this one and left in a similar position as before: impatient for the next (and last!) book to come!

Rating 8: Gearing up for the final book, this fun fantasy adventure struggles to hold its own as a complete work, but rocks as the next step in the whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Age of Death” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Releases of 2020.”

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