Serena’s Review: “Ship of Smoke and Steel”

34618380Book: “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.

Review: Our bookclub has been doing a Secret Santa book exchange for the last several years (have we mentioned how awesome our bookclub is recently??). It’s great because A.)more books! and B.) having librarians as friends means you’re sure to get a great new read that has been careful tailored to your own reading preferences. I’d seen the sequel for this book coming up on “most anticipated” lists for a few months now and am not sure how I missed this first one when it came out last year. But this has now been rectified, and I’m now halfway through said sequel. So, spoiler alert, I loved this book.

Reigning as a crime lord on the streets of Kahnzoka may not be an ideal life, but it’s a living, and one that Isoka is particularly skilled at. With her Well of Combat, she can be as brutal as she is efficient. But behind her cold exterior, her true purpose is one of love, the protection and future of her beloved younger sister Tori. But it all goes awry when she is captured and sentenced to an almost sure death on the mythical ship Soliton. There, she realizes that what once had seemed only a fable is all too real, and the powers that had made her almost legendary on the streets may be only a drop in the bucket against the new foes that await her.

I’ve only read one other book by Wexler, a military fantasy fiction novel which I quite enjoyed. This was the author’s first foray into YA fantasy fiction, and I have to say, I think this might be the key to it. Having been an adult fantasy author first, there seems a decent chance that Wexler was less influenced by the pervasive YA tropes that all too often undercut many potentially good YA fantasies these days. This book has all of the originality, spunk, diversity and grimness that one would find in an adult novel. The only thing that makes it YA is the age of our main characters. And that’s what makes it so good.

Isoka may be a teen, but she is completely believable as young woman who grew up on the streets and whose sense of morality and survival have been worn down to just the basics. This book doesn’t shy away from the grim reality that would take over a character who has had to fight for her own, and her much younger sister’s, very survival almost from infancy. Isoka is a bringer of death, and while over the course of this book she learns to take others under her wing as well, her lack of angst over the harshness of her life was incredibly refreshing. She may not be a “good” person by the standards a modern individual would set, but she’s a survivor and doesn’t apologize for doing what she thinks is necessary to protect those she loves.

The magic system was also very compelling. It’s simple enough to be understood easily, with a variety of Wells that users can pull from that grant them different abilities. But as the story progresses, we learn that not all is fully understood about these Wells. And even by the end of the story, there are mysteries still to be unraveled here. Isoka’s own power, the Well of Combat, is an excellent choice for our main character. The action is riveting, feeling almost cinematic as Isoka battles monstrous beasts with her twin power blades and armor. There are also those with powers such as speed, fire, and shadow, and the greater battle scenes paint an epic-feeling picture of these incredible individuals battling alongside one another.

Most of the action takes place on board the mysterious ship Soliton. I don’t want to spoil anything, as discovering the horrors and wonders of this ship was half the fun of the book. Just as you feel you understand one layer of this creepy place, another unfolds. Again, like the magic system itself, by the end of the book the reader feels as if they have only scraped the surface of what is really going on behind this secretive ship.

This was an excellent read. I blew through it in only two days. It’s a fast read, full of action and creepy fantasy elements. There’s also a lovely romance between Isoka and her friend Meroe, a girl with her own barely understood abilities. I already have the second book loaded up on my Kindle, so expect a review for that one up soon. If you’re looking for a fun new fantasy series, definitely check this one out!

Rating 9: Epic, action-packed, and best of all, the start of what promises to be an exciting trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ship of Smoke and Steel” is on these Goodreads lists: “2019 Queer SFF” and “Best Fantasy 2019.”

Find “Ship of Smoke and Steel” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Containment”

41xlqrp7yslBook: “Containment” (The Cerenia Chronicles Book 2) by Angela Howes

Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The author provided me with a PDF copy.

Book Description: She made her choice. Now, she must live with the consequences. As Phoebe’s family and friends fight for their lives, she finds herself drawn further into the enigmatic world of the Council, caught in a struggle between lying low and inciting war. But as more allies emerge from the shadows, Phoebe must decide whether she has what it takes to lead a rebellion … especially when it could mean losing everything and everyone that matters to her.

Review: First I want to extend a special thank you to Angela Howes for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book!

YA dystopia seems to be mostly out of style, at least in the circles of YA enthusiasts that I associate with or follow. But given that I haven’t lost my interest in it, I was pretty excited when Angela Howes reached out to me with news that her second book in the Cerenia Chronicles, “Containment”, was coming out! Given that I enjoyed the first in the series, “Assignment”, I was eager to see where things were going to go for our protagonist Phoebe, her two suitors Sky and Noah, and the rest of the mild dictatorship of Cerenia. Especially since we left it on such a cliffhanger.

When we left off, Phoebe, Sky, and Noah had all achieved freedom by making it to The Jungle, where defectors and former prisoners of Cerenia have been building a rebellion. Phoebe decided to infiltrate the Cerenia Council in hopes of overthrowing the corruption. Unfortunately, Noah and Sky have ended up in captivity because of this, with Noah in prison and Sky in a Box, an almost guaranteed death sentence. The book flip flops between these three perspectives, with Phoebe hoping to outwit and influence the Council members, Sky hoping to escape his death sentence (and I mean, of course he does, mild spoiler alert but it happens pretty quick), and Noah hoping to get out of jail. Of all three perspectives, Phoebe’s was by far the most interesting. I liked watching her have to play 3D chess and having to make really difficult decisions, sometimes decisions that would be life or death, all to try and fit in in hopes of taking down corruption from the inside. I thought that her inner struggles and her ruthlessness meshed well together, and thought that it was a huge benefit to her characterization. Sometimes her calculations were cold and unnerving, and yet I believed that she would be making them. I also liked getting into Sky’s head as he has to rally the rebellion on the outside, all without knowing if he would ever see Phoebe, the love of his life again. Team Sky, all the way. His voice is fun and snarky, but he has enough sprinkles of vulnerability and self doubt that he doesn’t come off as an obnoxious trope.

But that leaves Noah’s narrative, which to me felt a bit superfluous if only because we don’t really have a reason to care about Noah. Or at least, I don’t have a reason to care about him. I mentioned before that I don’t like love triangles, but this particular point on this love triangle really doesn’t work for me, especially now. At this point, Phoebe has made her choice, and that choice is Sky. It’s also hard for me to let go of the fact that Noah was such a goddamn chickenshit in the first book that he was perfectly happy stringing along the girl he’d been matched with Darya, while having an affair with Phoebe, which put not only himself but Darya in danger. To me it feels like the love triangle has been resolved, and his backstory and characterization hasn’t been developed or built up enough for him to be a character we need to care about. Unless we’re going to get another love triangle plot in the third book, and boy oh boy am I hoping that isn’t the case.

There is indeed going to be a third book, as “Containment” ended on a cliffhanger. But with the way things ended this time, I’m even more interested to see where this goes this time around than I was last time around. I think we’re building to something that could be really unique, and I can’t wait to see what that may be.

Rating 7: The political intrigue and maneuvering is upped and the stakes continue to rise. “Containment” continues a solid dystopian narrative and explores the difficult decisions a person has to make for the greater good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Containment” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but if you like books like “Divergent”“Matched”, or “The Testing” you will probably find this one fun as well!

“Containment” isn’t in very many libraries as of now, but you can find it on Amazon.

Previously reviewed: “Assignment”

 

Kate’s Review: “Jane Anonymous”

37650881._sy475_Book: “Jane Anonymous” by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley

Book Description: Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with Jane Anonymous, a gripping tale of a seventeen-year-old girl’s kidnapping and her struggle to fit back into her life after she escapes.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and a crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life.

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew―everything you thought you experienced―turned out to be a lie?

Review: Thanks to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

In so many books the involve missing people or missing women, if the missing person is found alive and is able to return home that is usually the end of the book. The investigator is a hero, the victim gets to return to their life, and the story is considered to be happy, or at least positive. But the truth of the matter is that in real life, anyone who survives a harrowing and violent experience such as that has a lot more story to live and tell after they are rescued or recovered. And “Jane Anonymous” ventures to examine that concept, that the ‘happy ending’ isn’t necessarily guaranteed, and that the fallout of the trauma isn’t easily reconciled with the joy of returning to one’s life. Is it a rough book because of it? Hell yes. But it’s a theme that I haven’t encountered as much as I have the ‘happily ever after’ conclusion in stories like these.

“Jane Anonymous” is told through two timelines. The first is Jane’s time directly before and during captivity. The second is Jane’s life in the weeks and months after she escapes, and how she is coping after her trauma. Both of them create an entire story labeled as ‘Then” and “Now”, and it’s told as though Jane is writing down her experiences as a way to try to make sense of everything. Stolarz is vague about the details of setting, as Jane not only refers to herself as Jane Anonymous, but she also says that she’s living in ‘New England Town’ so the reader can feel like this could be a number of places. We juxtapose what happened to her in captivity along with how she is functioning back in her life with the trauma of it, and it’s honest and raw and very tense. Stolarz does a very effective and believable job of conveying just how the trauma would effect a person who was held in a small room all alone for seven months, and how coming back to her old life is going to be incredibly difficult. I thought that coping mechanisms and panic attacks and PTSD symptoms were portrayed convincingly, and also thought that the strain on not only Jane’s experiences but also the experiences of those that love her was also very well done. The ‘Now’ sections were almost harder to read because the idea of being ‘home’ is so dismantled and examined, and Jane and her family are still in such turmoil. It reminded me of the book “Room”, but tackled more head on since it wasn’t through the eyes of a little kid who can’t comprehend what happened. Jane comprehends. And therefore we are forced to.

The ‘Then’ sections read more like a traditional thriller, and while it was indeed suspenseful there were parts of it that were predictable. While it’s a foregone conclusion that Jane is going to escape, Stolarz does attempt to create a tension about how she is going to do it. The thing that sustains her is Mason, the voice in the vents who says he’s also been captured by the same lunatic. As Jane and Mason cling to each other and their relationship is all that can sustain her, you see how having one person there gives Jane the strength that she needs, and seeing he determination to survive is definitely a compelling part of these sections. That said, there are a couple of twists that I called pretty early on, and I’m not sure if that’s because they weren’t hidden particularly well, or because I have just read so many books like this that I know what to look for, trope wise. That said, it wasn’t like that ruined anything for me when it came to the story. It may have been the weaker of the two time frames, but it was still highly enjoyable.

“Jane Anonymous” doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing the fallout of trauma. It’s honest and upsetting, but also pulls at the heartstrings as you see a girl try to begin to heal, as hard as it may be.

Rating 7: An emotional and at times a little predictable thriller about having to rebuild your life after a horrible trauma, “Jane Anonymous” was both suspenseful and moving.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jane Anonymous” is new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Kidnapped!”.

Find “Jane Anonymous” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Reverie”

46299614Book: “Reverie” by Ryan La Sala

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, December 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

Review: Another gorgeous cover, another intriguing book description! To be honest, I really had very little to go on when requesting this book. Part of it may have spoken to my withdrawals from “The Starless Sea” with some of the similar-sounding descriptions of mystical worlds each with their own story. December always seems to be a bit thin in the pickings, too, so anything that sparks interest is usually a go around now. Alas, even no expectations were too many for this book.

Kane knows very little about himself or his life. Found half dead on the side of a river, he only feels a sense of…difference. About him?About the world? About the mystery behind what happened to him? So when three others show up claiming to be his friends, he jumps at the opportunity to learn more. But he quickly realizes that this mystery is much greater than a near-drowning. Now, worlds are opening in the middle of the ordinary places in the world, each with their own stories and histories. How does his own experience connect with these mysteries? And is that even the biggest problem Kane faces now?

Ah, too bad. Another story that falls into the too simple and too common box of “missed potential.” These types of books are almost the hardest to review because there is nothing overtly wrong or offensive about the book, and, more often than not, they still have good qualities that hold them together. But by the final page, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of indifference and a fixation on the hours spent reading this book instead of some other book.

Amnesia stories, to start with, are very hard to pull off. The main character of the story is a necessary blank, having no point of reference of history, prior relationships, ongoing emotional struggles to draw upon. This leaves their observations and reactions feeling hollow. It’s hard to feel connected to a character who isn’t connected himself. This is the problem with Kane in a big way. Through the entire book, I just never really cared about him. He was instead mostly just a blank slate around which to build this story and magical world.

The world-building and writing was both a hit and a miss for me as well. On one hand, several of the descriptions of events and places were beautiful and new. But on the other hand, they weren’t the type of descriptions that read easily. I’m not sure how to put my finger on this. But I found myself having to re-read several lines to really put together how a particular metaphor was being used or what was being described. Perhaps having just read “Starless Sea” made this particular misstep hit home a bit harder than it would have at other times. That book, too, used very unique language to describe strange and new imagery. But there, somehow, the words flowed in a way that wasn’t distracting and didn’t throw me out of the story quite as badly as a similar style did here.

I also struggled to fully understand the rules of the world. How exactly do reveries work? What are their boundaries? There was definitely an interesting idea to be found here, but between the blank that was Kane and the distracting writing, I was already too out of this story to be able to turn my brain off and just go with the flow.

All of that being said, I did like Kane’s love interest, and in many ways, he had a lot more character building given to him than Kane himself did. And, while the writing style did kick me out of the flow of things every once in a while, there were also some legitimately lovely pieces of word play. But, in the end, my main takeaway was that this book didn’t accomplish all that it set out to. It was too bad. Others, however, might still enjoy this story. If you’re looking for a unique, LGBT fantasy, this does do well on all of those counts. Just not really my cup of tea, I guess.

Rating 6: Nothing terrible, but amnesia strikes again at taking down its main character and the unique word play hurts the flow of the story more often than it helps.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Reverie” is on these Goodreads lists: “2020 Queer Sci-Fi Fantasy” and “Oooh Shiny! December 2019.”

Find “Reverie” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Weight of a Soul”

43517326Book: “The Weight of a Soul” by Elizabeth Tammi

Publishing Info: Flux, December 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: When Lena’s younger sister Fressa is found dead, their whole Viking clan mourns—but it is Lena alone who never recovers. Fressa is the sister that should’ve lived, and Lena cannot rest until she knows exactly what killed Fressa and why—and how to bring her back. She strikes a dark deal with Hela, the Norse goddess of death, and begins a new double life to save her sister.

But as Lena gets closer to bringing Fressa back, she dredges up dangerous discoveries about her own family, and finds herself in the middle of a devastating plan to spur Ragnarök –a deadly chain of events leading to total world destruction.

Still, with her sister’s life in the balance, Lena is willing to risk it all. She’s willing to kill. How far will she go before the darkness consumes her?

Review: I’ve read a few Vikings stories in the past year or so and largely enjoyed them all. Mythology is always a win for me, so it’s been fun to see Norse mythology getting its day in the sun after Roman and Greek had staked out the genre for so long. Combine those things with a story about sisters and this book was a no brainer for me to request. Sadly, all of those things together still somehow didn’t prove to be enough for me to really enjoy this book.

Lena and Fressa have grown up together to be as close as sisters can be. But while Lena is set out to lead a quiet, predictable life as a healer, it is Fressa who draws people to her with the sheer force of her vitality. So it is a shock when Fressa is suddenly found dead. But the life of a Viking is one of violence and sudden endings, so life moves on, for everyone but Lena. Driven to discover not only what happened to Fressa but to bring her beloved sister back, Lena sets out on a mission that will test the boundaries of life and death and draw her into the dark places of the world and herself.

So, as I said, this book wasn’t a hit for me. Even the things I liked are couched between things I disliked. For example, I liked the sisterly relationship. However, the story jumps through plot elements so quickly in the beginning that I was never able to feel fully connected to Fressa, thus lessening the impact of her death and my own commitment to the lengths (some pretty bad) that Lena went to in her attempts to bring her sister back.

I also enjoyed the mythology aspect of the story. However, again, there was really very little of it and only two god characters played a part and even then were more plot devices than anything else. The goddess, in particular, I felt was underwhelming and non-threatening, not something you want from an all-powerful being.

The pacing of the story also felt very off. As I said, the beginning of the book rushes through many important plot points. It’s attempting to not only set up the relationship between the sisters, but between them both and Fressa’s fiance, the girls’ parents, and  a few of the other village members as well. Between this and the brief attempts at history and world-building, the story feels like it’s simply jumping from one plot point to another. And then, suddenly, when Lena begins her journey, the brakes are pumped, hard. The rest of the book felt plodding, meandering, and frankly, rather boring. This left the overall pacing of the story feeling jarring and mismatched.

Beyond this, Lena was simply not a very likable character. The story is all set up to explore some deeper themes with regards to grief and the morality of choosing who lives and dies. And Lena, being a young woman presumably studying to be a healer, seems like a character primed to interact with these tough situations and choices in a compelling manner. Not so. While her descriptions of grief were at times beautiful and touching on some good ideas, the morality of her decisions was pretty terrible. And, even worse, she seems to think nothing of the terrible things she does.

It’s all well and good to have a character get so caught up in their own sorrow that their worldview becomes myopic to the point of a loss of their own morality, but the interesting part there is having the character explore this topic in some meaningful way. Or simply be from there after written as a villain. But Lena is unquestionably the hero of the story and yet she never seems to really care about the things that she does. As I said, it seems even more questionable when paired together with the empathy that it would have taken to be a healer. I was also not a fan of the romance of this story. It felt unnecessary at best and at worst it made Lena even more unlikable.

The idea of balancing a lost soul with the “weight” of another equal soul is a very interesting idea (though the end result is fairly predictable for fans of the genre), but much its potential was wasted behind choppy pacing and an unlikeable main character. Frustratingly, it seems like only a few minor tweaks could have really improved the story. Flashbacks, for example, would have worked better for the scenes before Fressa’s death and would have broken up some of the more plodding bits of the last half of the book. Ah well, what could have been alas was not! Fans of Norse mythology may like this book, but I think in the end it doesn’t live up to its own potential.

Rating 5: The unlikable main character was the last nail in the coffin for a book that unfortunately wasted several good aspects.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Weight of a Soul” is on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle-Grade Norse Mythology” and “YA Vikings.”

Find “The Weight of a Soul” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Winterwood”

40148425._sy475_Book: “Winterwood” by Shea Ernshaw

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, November 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Be careful of the dark, dark wood . . .

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

Review: Yet another sophomore book from an author whom I missed out on the first go around. Not quite sure why I never got around to “The Wicked Deep,” but when I saw this one pop up, once again I decided to be late to the party and see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, while this strategy has worked with other books (shout out again to “Song of the Crimson Flower”!), here it just proved that I probably made the right choice with the first book and these are just not for me.

Nora is out in the woods after one of the worst winter storms in years. Everything is closed down, but she is not like others: she is a Walker woman and does not fear the woods. Instead, she shares a close bond with this strange, mysterious place where others dare not to walk. This connection leads to her a lost boy, missing for weeks and presumed dead. But he has survived the forest…somehow. As they grow closer to each other, Nora begins to suspect that Oliver has secrets of his own. Perhaps he, too, shares a connection with the forest? But what is it and does it pose a threat?

There were several reasons this book didn’t work for me, and most of them have to do with either the YA fantasy genre reading as a bit tired recently, or it’s just me. But the first thing that stood out to me as a warning sign that this book and I might not get along was the writing itself. I had heard that this, like the author’s first book, was noted for its atmospheric writing. I think I may have a different understanding of that word than the way it is often used. I have used it myself, don’t get me wrong. Probably recently, because if I didn’t say it in my review of “The Starless Sea,” then that’s an example of the type of book that I would describe that way. But when I use that word it has to do with how an author draws a scene. It doesn’t have to be restrained to the physical characteristics of setting, but to a scene as a whole: the action of it, the location, the indescribable “feel” of a situation. An atmospheric style of writing adds depth and is beautiful to read on its own, often with a poetic choice of words.

But I feel that when it is used to describe books like this one, most reviewers are getting at something different. I think it’s still consistently used for these books, but in a different way than what I described above. Most notably, I think the “atmosphere” is often applied to the characters themselves. Perhaps there is still some sense of poetry to the words chosen, but beautiful words devoid of rational meaning don’t result in much, in my opinion. This then ends up with books that use random, disconnected phrases to describe characters. In this book, only two pages in, the main character is describing herself as “more darkness than girl.” Ok. Sounds nice enough, I guess. But what does that actually mean? I have no idea, and given that we’re only two pages into the book, I don’t even have any context where I could try to parse out an actual meaning from that. Instead, it reads as if the author is simply throwing around  pretty phrases and not bothering to ground them in anything, or, frankly, make them worth while to the story at all. This is only one example, but it continues throughout the book.

This is the type of “atmosphere” that I find all too often in YA fantasy, and it’s always a red flag for me. It may not always be true (I’m sure there are exceptions if I really thought about it), but usually it’s a good predictor that the author seems to be having more fun writing pretty strings of words than constructing an actual story. Paired with this habit often comes bland characters, convenient plots, and stories that sound good on paper but prove to be underwhelming. Unfortunately, that all proved to be true here as well.

I didn’t care about our main characters. Neither of them were bad, but I also didn’t feel particularly attached to them. How can I be attached to someone who introduces herself to me as “more darkness than girl?” I don’t know what that means, and honestly I’m too lazy to find out. It’s the books job to make me care, and that doesn’t do it. I did like the general overview of the story, and the witchy elements and spooky woods were promising. But they were paired with a convenient and predictable plot. I was able to guess many of the twists (including the big one) right away which cut the legs out of it right from the start.

I feel like I’ve come down hard on this book, and I don’t want to make it seem that this one is any worse than most of the run-of-the-mill YA fantasy stories out there like this. I guess I was just in a mood to talk about this particular frustration, and this book had the bad luck of being the most recent one to show up on my reading list featuring this specific peeve. Fans of the author’s first book and her writing style will likely be pleased with this. But those who recognize the traits I’m talking about may find themselves underwhelmed by this story.

Rating 6: Hits a nerve for one of my pet peeves, but is otherwise a fairly standard, if uninspiring, story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Winterwood” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Magical Trees.”

Find “Winterwood” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Burned House”

48575470._sy475_Book: “The Burned House” (Jonny Roberts #2) by Alexander Lound

Publishing Info: Self Published, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The author sent me an eARC

Book Description: Nearly a year after learning that he can speak to the dead, Jonny Roberts has spent much of his time working with his new medium friend, Aaron. Whether it’s reconnecting loved ones with dead relatives, or helping spirits to cross over, Jonny has been happy to help.

That is, until a young boy is found dead, his body impaled with floorboards, sharpened into knife points; and in the same house where a family died seven years earlier, in a tragic fire.

Suspecting that the event might be down to the supernatural, Aaron and Jonny soon investigate. But when the spirit makes it clear that it doesn’t intend to stop at the boy, they begin to wonder if this might be their most dangerous case yet…

Review: Thank you to Alexander Lound for approaching our blog and sending me an eARC of this book!

Halloween has long passed, but there’s always time for a ghost story as far as I’m concerned. So when Alexander Lound emailed me asking if I would be interested in reading and reviewing the second book in the Jonny Roberts series, “The Burned House”, there was really only one way I could answer.

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Honestly I’m halfway convinced that all of my reactions to anything could be summed up by one of the Rose siblings. (source)

If you recall, I enjoyed the first in the series, “The Spirit in the Crypt” as I found it to be an engaging ghost story with likable characters and high stakes. Teenage medium Jonny Roberts is a fun protagonist, and I was eager to see where things went next for him and his girlfriend Cassy, as well as his medium mentor Aaron. Now that we’ve established Jonny as a full fledged medium, that meant that he’d have to delve deeper into his powers, and with that could mean upped stakes and higher tension. And boy oh boy did we go in both those directions.

In “The Burned House”, Jonny has started to come into his own as a medium, helping Aaron with various spirit cases, and while he and his girlfriend Cassy are still happy and in love, the tension with his ‘profession’ has started to come to the surface. And in this story, there is reason to believe that Cassy’s hesitance may be right, as Jonny and Aaron are soon entangled in the death of a boy, whose body was found in a house in which a family burned to death a few years prior. It soon becomes clear that it’s the work of an angry spirit, and the only insight they have is from the surviving family member, a teenage girl named Megan. Jonny, of course, wants to help, but the good intentions he has involve more and more risk. The story is basically Jonny potentially biting off more than he can chew, and how that threatens not only his life, but his relationships. I liked that Lound showed how someone with his abilities would potentially have a lot of difficulties with relationships with ‘normal’ people, and that you can understand why both he AND Cassy have legitimate reasons to feel the way they do about his new calling. It also means that we get some deliciously angsty scenes with teenagers. And as a teenager who was in love with her boyfriend and had to deal with some problems that felt earth shattering at the time, these scenes felt very, very true to life.

The mystery and motivation behind the angry spirit was well plotted out and fun to get through. I cracked the code early on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was easy to crack. I’ve just been reading these kinds of stories for years, so I know what to look for. And even though I guessed the outcome early, I still enjoyed the journey that we took to get to said outcome. Lound really does up the stakes this time around, with the looming threat of injury and death at the hands of an angry spirit a very real issue. And we don’t pussyfoot around what all of this could mean for Jonny and his friends; on the contrary, there is a very significant loss in this book, one that I didn’t see coming, and one that was a bit of a bummer. But no spoilers here. I just want to hit the point home that we are starting to see the consequences that Jonny has to contend with because he has decided to pursue being a medium.

“The Burned House” was a thrilling and fun follow up to “The Spirit in the Crypt”. It checks all of my favorite boxes of a ghost story and medium story, and I’m eager to see where Jonny Roberts goes next!

Rating 8: Another satisfying YA ghost story, “The Burned House” continues the adventures of Jonny Roberts, and shows the upped stakes that being a medium means, both physically and emotionally.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Burned House” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “YA Novels and Psychic Abilities”, and “Young Adult Ghost Stories”.

“The Burned House” isn’t available on WorldCat as of now, but it will be available for purchase this week. For more information, go to Alexander Lound’s WEBSITE.

Previously Reviewed: “The Spirit in the Crypt”