Category Archives: paranormal fiction

Book Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

heroine-complex-by-sarah-kuhnHeroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Published: July 5th 2016 by DAW
Format: Paper Book
Length: 378 pages
Genre: Adult, Urban Fantasy, Superheroes, Comical, Paranormal, Romance
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right… or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Adult books but not erotica. Supposed to be ages 18 and over but I’ve known mature teens to be fine with adult books. Adult books have mature situations, maybe non-graphic sex, and are not meant for young kids.

If you want something fun to read, then Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn is right up your alley. This book is entertaining and packed full of action. The characters kick-ass and are incredibly diverse. It was a pleasure to see characters that break out of the mold, especially for superheroines. These girls were not secondary characters or love interests to the main male character. I loved the focus on female relationships, either between sisters or best friends. I did have a bit of a problem with Aveda/Annie’s behavior through the first and middle sections of the book. Her attitude made me want to reach in and slap her. Thankfully, she progresses and realizes how she is treating Evie and her other friends is unacceptable. I also adored Evie. Everything from her quirkiness to her fire power made me love her. She was an extremely likable character.

Heroine Complex can also be a little cartoonish and a tad drawn out. It felt like a Saturday morning cartoon, full of color and silly but a little jarring to read. Especially since this is an adult book, not YA. This is accomplished by dropping a fair amount of sexual situations into the plot and some nice cursing. Neither which I had a problem with. If anything, it made the characters more believable. It was just out of place with the tone of the writing. The ending also felt drawn out. Kind of like a ridiculous comic book situation that you have to roll your eyes at. It’s campy and outlandish but so much fun. As long as you don’t take the book too seriously and are looking for something comical, Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn is a good pick.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

thissavagesongbyvictoriaschwabThis Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Published: July 5th 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Format: Paper Book
Length: 427 pages
Genre: Dystopia, Supernatural, Horror, Urban Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

There’s no such thing as safe.

Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.

August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.

Their city is divided.

Their city is crumbling.

Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.

But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

Young Adult Book Review

I’ve only read one other Victoria Schwab book several years ago. It was The Near Witch and I was very unimpressed with it. I received This Savage Song in my OwlCrate box last month and figured, since I had it, I might as well give her another try. I must say, she’s gotten better over the years. While I still found This Savage Song a bit slow at the beginning; the world building is fantastic and the writing superb. In Schwab’s dystopian world, violence spawns physical monsters as consequences. Simple violence breeds Corsai; murder breeds Malchai; while the most heinous crimes, like mass murders, breed Sunai. The best aspect of This Savage Song is the world building because in most other ways, the story is rather generic.

The city of Verity is split in two, with each side ruled by a different man. In North City is the mob boss like Hawker, giving protection to the citizens who can pay for it and keeping the monsters under his control at bay with harsh punishments. South City is run by Flynn, whose task force is barely keeping its head above water. It’s all very West and East Berlin like, with the empty Seam between the city halves acting like the Berlin Wall. Then there are the characters. I liked August but I found Kate to be your typical cookie-cutter YA tough girl who is really a mess inside. She really wasn’t interesting. August was your usual tortured emo boy but at least he had his interesting aspects. The plot is also pretty dull as well. The first half of the book is just Kate and August circling each other until Kate figures out August is a Sunai and even when the action picks up in the second half, there were no surprises. It was obvious what was going to happen and who was behind it. I felt like the whole book was just setup for the next novel, where, hopefully, more interesting things will happen. Over four hundred pages is a lot of setup, though. I kind of felt like I was wasting my time.

The novel’s saving grace is the excellent world building and the writing. I applaud Schwab’s choice to leave out any romance between Kate and August. I often find the romantic tropes between two characters detract from a story and was pleased to find it absent here. I liked the juxtaposition of the monster hierarchy. The more horrendous the violence, the more human looking the resulting monster. The Sunai looked completely human but were spawned from the worst violence. I would have enjoyed even more world building. We never learn why violence started creating physical monsters. It’s just called the Phenomenon but we’re never given details. In all, I felt like This Savage Song by Victor Schwab was good but not perfect. There were no surprises in the plot and the characters are overdone tropes but it was entertaining for the most part.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

Down With The Shine by Kate Karyus QuinnDown with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn
Published: April 26th 2016 by HarperTeen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Magic, Horror, Murder, Funny
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Make a wish…

Lennie always thought her uncles’ “important family legacy” was good old-fashioned bootlegging. Then she takes some of her uncles’ moonshine to Michaela Gordon’s annual house party, and finds out just how wrong she was.

At the party, Lennie has everyone make a wish before drinking the shine—it’s tradition. She toasts to wishes for bat wings, for balls of steel, for the party to go on forever. Lennie even makes a wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was murdered six months ago.

The next morning gives Lennie a whole new understanding of the phrase be careful what you wish for—or in her case, be careful what wishes you grant. Because all those wishes Lennie raised a jar of shine to last night? They came true. Most of them came out bad. And once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Young Adult Book Review

Talk with your kids about their secret wish granting powers, people. Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn started out strong but lost its edge as it progressed. The dark and macabre mood we start out with is soon lost amid out of place humor and slapstick. Down with the Shine flip-flops between the two and ends up being kind of annoying with the different atmospheres. If you are going to be dark, then be dark. Same thing with silly. Mashing the two together just leaves me unsatisfied and unsure which way to go. The elements that were dark; Lennie’s psychopath father, murdered best friend, and string of accidently granted wishes that turn out rather horrifyingly, were all great, but sort of fell to the wayside as Down with Shine focused more on comedy in the middle portion. There were so many juicy elements to explore and we’re just let down.

The wishes that Lennie unknowingly grants at the party are played for laughs and the whole thing comes off as a comedy sketch with her uncles running around trying to contain teenagers suddenly stuck with bat wings, who were turned into Thumbelina, or turn everything they touch into Cheetos. Then there is the ridiculous drama of the budding romance between Lennie and Smith. I was frankly uninterested about those two. Dylan’s murder, mutilation, and decent into the dark side are unexplored. The disturbing kiss between Smith and his mother is left dangling. We’re left wondering about Lennie’s father. There are just so many interesting elements in Down with the Shine that aren’t focused on because of the humor. It’s like there are two stories going on here and both suffer from lack of focus. Pick one; dark or silly, and stick with it.

I’m especially disappointed by Dylan. The resolution at the end saves her life, granted, but then the underlying issue of why Dylan acted as she did, pretending to be Lennie and meeting with strange men, is not dealt with. Our main character, Lennie, is your basic sarcastic outcast character that I am frankly tired of in YA books. I love the premise and the majority of my enjoyment in this book was from the interesting storyline and magical elements. Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn could have been dark and gritty and fantastic but feels watered down.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Young Adult Book Review

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve TucholkeWink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Published: March 22nd 2016 by Dial Books
Format: Paper Book
Length: 247 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Magical Realism, Messed-up Teenagers, Mystery
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

There is a Wicked Witch, a Wolf, and a Hero in Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke, in that order. Wink Poppy Midnight is a small book at 247 pages and POV jumps between the three characters named in the book’s title. Yes, they all have weird names. We never settle into one character for long and I found this kept me from really sinking into the story. I was never able to connect with the story or the characters. I also find it hard to really care about characters that are just all over nasty and Poppy’s cruel, manipulative, and sexualized behavior irritated me. I tend to not care about characters that have no redeeming qualities and thus didn’t really care if she was dead or not or what she was doing with her apparent cryptic letter writing. I found Poppy childish, like a toddler having an embarrassing tantrum in the middle of a store, and unappealing as a character. I also found it annoying that she was so obsessed with Leaf while he seemed to not care anything for her and was so ugly to Midnight, who might have genuinely cared about her if she hadn’t been so horrible to him.

I liked Wink, up until the end. She is just the type of witchy and interesting character I tend to like in stories. I don’t want to reveal too much but I was unhappy with the evolution of Wink’s character. Her motives turned out to be more selfish than I thought. Midnight is a little spineless and honestly needs to stop letting girls lead him around by the ‘you know what’. I was happy with the actions he takes at the end. Midnight needed to become his own person, away from Wink and Poppy. I loved the structure of the plot and the use of fairytales. Of course, every time I came across a new fairytale, I had to write it down so I could look it up later. I’m weak. The lyrical style to the writing was lovely and the imagery was whimsical and chilling. If the author had stuck with one POV or written third person omniscient, I would have probably loved this.

I don’t remember teenagers being such psychos – even when I was one! – but everyone in Wink Poppy Midnight is crazy cakes. I understand Poppy’s parents treat her like a doll, left up on a shelf until wanted, but her extremely destructive and hurtful behavior really makes me dislike her as a character. Wink’s manipulative actions are just the flip of the same awful coin. The only smart action Midnight takes is leaving; otherwise he is an uninspiring character. The plot was interesting but the constant jumps in POV kept me from really enjoying the story. The more the book progressed, the more scattered it became, leaving me slightly confused as to what was happening or why. Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke was quirky and unnerving with hints of paranormal but was mostly just a bunch of kids whose parents really need to pay closer attention to what their off-spring are doing before the little nutters actually manage to kill someone.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

middlegrade

The Night Parade by Kathryn TanquaryThe Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary
Published: January 5th 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Format: Paper Book
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Spiritualism, Mythology, Religion, Japan, Journey
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked… and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth – or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.

I adore Japanese culture and was very excited to read The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary. Spiritualism for Asian cultures is a bit different than anything Western society usually deals with. For them, spirits are close at hand and a part of everyday life. It’s hard to explain the duality of the world in Asian cultures and how they see the spirit world and the human world very close together. Modern society and the youth are a bit removed from this but their spirituality is much closer to their daily lives than Western society would experience. It helps if you watch a lot of anime. (points at self) I’m rather surprised Tanquary did not use the word ‘yōkai’ to describe the spirits. Yōkai is a blanket term for the spirits like the ones found in The Night Parade, although it loosely translates into ‘demon’ or ‘monster’. Other Japanese vocabulary is sprinkled around the text, so it seems odd to me that ‘yōkai’ wasn’t used. The foreign vocabulary is probably going to confuse younger readers. No young kid is going to be culturally savvy enough to know what a torii gate is but I digress.

The Night Parade is your standard ‘journey’ plotline. The main character goes on a journey and becomes a better person for it. Saki is a brat and just the type of kid I would have smacked across the mouth if I meet them. It’s with her journey through the spirit world and dealings with the creatures there that she is able to grow up and overcome her selfishness and gain respect for others. My real enjoyment of The Night Parade came from the Japanese mythology and creatures. I adored the imagery and the descriptions of the spirits. Most of the reviews I’ve read compare The Night Parade to Spirited Away, and I guess if that is your only source of Japanese culture, then it’s pretty accurate. I much prefer xxxHolic or Mushishi or even Natsume Yuujinchou. All of them deal with the spirit world interacting with the human world and how each affects the other.

The plot is familiar and unoriginal. It is the Japanese setting and culture that elevates The Night Parade above merely mediocre for me. Our main character can be annoying but the supporting cast, especially the three guides and the other spirits, are interesting and appealing. The Japanese setting and culture is fascinating and beautiful. The book’s atmosphere and environment were better than its execution, in my opinion. The novel feels slow in parts and I really wanted to know how Saki was going to handle the return to Tokyo after defying her horrible best friend Hana but we are left hanging in that respect. Most of my enjoyment of The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary came from the Asian culture, rather than the characters or the writing. It’s nice to see more diversity but the story still felt kind of jumbled.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace

Young Adult Book Review

Shallow Graves by Kali WallaceShallow Graves by Kali Wallace
Published: January 26th 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Paper Book
Length: 360 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Monsters, Zombie
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Breezy remembers leaving the party: the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to her face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain how.

Nor can she explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch, or why her heartbeat comes and goes. She doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past.

Haunted by happy memories from her life, Breezy sets out to find answers in the gritty, threatening world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she discovers is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.

Debut author Kali Wallace interweaves folklore and myths from all over the world in this stunning novel about the heartbreaking trauma of a girl’s life cut short and her struggle to reconcile her humanity with the monster she’s become.

I don’t really like zombie books. I usually end up bored. (And have nightmares. Not because the books are scary but because my subconscious is a little shit. “Oh, you read about zombies today? Well, let me destroy the world and kill your family and friends in graphic color and full surround sound!” Yeah.) But I was pleasantly surprised with Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace. Right off the bat we see that this is not going to be your normal zombie story. Breezy Lin may have risen from the grave but she’s not the shambling rot we normally see in zombie stories. Instead we get an interesting character with the unique ability to spot murders and give them the punishment they deserve.

As with YA books, our main character is a bit too put together to really believe. If I had woken up buried in the earth and then killed a man with only a touch, I would be in hysterics and a gibbering mess. Even if Breezy’s parents are scientists that taught their daughter to be rational and calm, a teenager is going to lose their shit. Breezy deals with her awakening rather calmly but such is the nature of YA books. Wouldn’t be much of a story if the main character freaked out first thing. My only real complaint is the direction the plot veers off to. When Breezy leaves after waking, I thought we were going to get a plot where she hunts down her killer and figures out the strange circumstances of her zombification. Instead, these events are kind of not dealt with. Maybe it was because of the guy she killed when she woke up, who might have been a magician or might not have been, we never know for sure and then the reveal of her killer is kind of tacked on at the end, like an afterthought. The majority of the plot revolves around the world of monsters that Breezy finds herself in and the wacko cult of hunters she runs afoul of. There isn’t a lot of world building and I would have liked to know more details of the monsters Breezy discovers.

Kali Wallace says there is no sequel to Shallow Graves, which is a shame since I think there is so much to work with here and Breezy’s story is left so open that a lot more could be done with it. I’m not usually one to advocate sequels but Shallow Graves feels like there is more to tell. I hope Wallace decides to write more. There is a vagueness to the whole novel that could be better dealt with by a sequel or two but, if left as a standalone like Wallace said, just means it feels incomplete and messy. Secondary characters are a little light on detail and pretty cardboard feeling but Breezy is an interesting and compelling main character. Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace is a unique take on the zombie story and is a creepy atmospheric read I think people will really enjoy.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

 

Young Adult Book Review

Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie AlenderThe Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender
Published: August 25th 2015 by Point
Format: Paper Book
Length: 329 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

In this asylum, your mind plays tricks on you all the time…

Delia’s new house isn’t just a house. Long ago, it was the Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females—an insane asylum nicknamed “Hysteria Hall.” However, many of the inmates were not insane, just defiant and strong willed. Kind of like Delia herself.

But the house still wants to keep “troubled” girls locked away. So, in the most horrifying way, Delia gets trapped.

And that’s when she learns that the house is also haunted.

Ghost girls wander the halls in their old-fashioned nightgowns. A handsome ghost boy named Theo roams the grounds. Delia finds that all the spirits are unsettled and full of dark secrets. The house, as well, harbors shocking truths within its walls—truths that only Delia can uncover, and that may set her free.

But she’ll need to act quickly, before the house’s power overtakes everything she loves.

From master of suspense Katie Alender comes a riveting tale of twisted memories and betrayals, and the meaning of madness.

It’s unusual for me to hand out a 5 star rating this early in the year. I waffled about perhaps giving this a 4 star rating but the single, tiny problem I have with the book is hardly worth dropping the rating. I won a copy of The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender during a Thanksgiving giveaway. It took a while to arrive and then I put it aside for other books. I wish I hadn’t. I ended up loving it completely. I’ve always toyed with the idea of a ghost story told from the view point of the ghost and I guess Alender beat me to the punch.

I’ve read through some other reviews of The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall and the main complaint I see is that is wasn’t spooky or scary enough. While I did find this to be true, it didn’t detract from the book for me. I love the paranormal. Seeing a ghost story from the other end was more than entertaining enough for me, even without a high creep factor. I found it fascinating reading about Delia’s experiences as a newly made ghost. Some might find this part slow or uninteresting as Delia learns the rules of her new existence, like walking through walls and picking things up, but I loved it. I found the details of the other occupants of Hysteria Hall incredible and while I could see how things would end, it made sense and felt right. It was everything I wanted out of a ghost story.

I loved the characters. All the ghosts stuck in the hall were fascinating and I felt like Delia and her family were real and solid. (I made a pun!) People who enjoy family angst in their books will like this. Those who are interested in unconventional ghost stories will like this. Those looking for a new take on ghost stories will like this. This isn’t a horror book, even with the ghostly theme. There aren’t enough chills and thrills for that. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender is, however, thoroughly entertaining. My single, tiny problem with it is the so-called romance angle. Theo is stuck outside the hall and he and Delia spend one day together but that is apparently enough for him to kiss her and profess his feelings before the ending. It just felt unnecessary and sort of tacked on there because, obviously, it’s not a proper young adult book without some teenage romance. (eye roll) That was my only gripe.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Young Adult tag pic.Book Review for Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published: October 6th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: Paper Book
Length: 522 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, GLBT, Paranormal, Magic
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

I am unbelievably torn with Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. On one hand, I adore fanfiction. I read fanfiction and I write it. For me, the Simon Snow fanfiction bits of Fangirl were the bright spots among what turned out to be a rather slow and boring book. So when Rainbow Rowell announced she was going to write a proper book using the Simon Snow characters and world we caught little glances of in Fangirl, I was super excited. I wasn’t even put off by the 522 page count. But then I eagerly cracked my new copy of Carry On open and my heart sank. Rainbow Rowell had committed one of my biggest peeves; the changing POV. Every chapter, and sometimes ‘chapters’ were a couple of sentences long, was told from a different character’s point of view. I almost threw the book out the window. No. Just, no.

I’m not fond of first person narrative either. Add in the changing POV and I was incredibly annoyed. Each chapter would backtrack to retell the events that had just happened from another character’s point of view. So, we were getting each scene from a different person two or three times depending on who was there. Redundant and pointless. The length of the book was starting to make sense. I was about ready to pull my hair out. But, I’m a dedicated fanfiction shipper and I pushed through and read the whole book. (I don’t know why some person, an editor or proofreader, didn’t point out how much people dislike first person narrative and changing POV. They’re the number one and two criticisms on fanfiction or books in general. Why, Rainbow!? Why!?)

Being a fangirl and shipper often means that you are willing to read utter crap as long as it has your fandom and the characters you like. You have to wade through a lot of mediocrity to find those hidden gems in fanfiction. I’m used to it but I was disappointed to find it in a proper published book. If Rainbow’s goal in writing Carry On was to keep the fanfiction feel of the story, she accomplished that. But she accomplished it by keeping the worst traits of fanfiction, the stuff I personally have to look past to be able to enjoy a story. References to events before this book, in earlier school years, are sprinkled around the book and since we have no way to read those earlier books, this is just madness inducing. The plot was a bit muddled and could be confusing in places. It is also slow and meandering in the first half and a little rushed in the second half. The magic system is very creative and the details of Simon’s past and how the Insidious Humdrum was created are fantastic. In all, I loved the story and the characters of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell but the manner it was written in was not my cup of tea.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Adult books but not erotica. Supposed to be ages 18 and over but I’ve known mature teens to be fine with adult books. Adult books have mature situations, maybe non-graphic sex, and are not meant for young kids.

oceanattheendThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Published June 18th 2013 by William Morrow Books
Format: Paper Books
Length: 181 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism
Goodreads | Amazon

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

I can safely say that Neil Gaiman is my favorite living author. His writing is fantastic. His novels always have a wonderful turn of phrase and wit about them and are always somehow deeply magical. Gaiman’s novels are set in this world but it’s this world only if you kind of step a little to the left and squint. Because you can only see magic and the fantastical if you go a little out of focus. So, needless to say, I was very excited when news of a new book from him came out. (And completely bummed that his US signing tour wasn’t coming anywhere near me. Dang it.)

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed when I picked up The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s tiny. At only 178 pages long I was dubious of the book. There was no way a proper story could be told in such a small book, let alone one of Gaiman’s artful and whimsical creations. I was proven wrong. While The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not like most of Gaiman’s other books, it is still a complete story with excellent setting and characters. Gaiman’s greatest skill, I think, is in the creation of his characters. He writes children very well. He writes odd and weird very well. The Hempstock ladies are an example of that. Their oddness is so subtle that you’re not even sure you’re seeing it.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not the type of story I am used to seeing from Gaiman. This story is small and personal but the more I read the more the book became, not bigger, but denser. It had weight and is undeniably a story for adults and older teens. Gaiman has created something strange and peculiar and lovely here. It is childhood and how a child experiences and deals with several situations. (The loss of family wealth, his Father’s cheating and abuse, the childhood curse of being ‘different’ from other children.) He is a child and doesn’t understand but he has to deal with it just the same. To a seven year old little boy, magic is real and an eleven year old girl is powerful and wise. I was utterly fascinated.

Could a younger person read this? Well, yes. The story is exciting and scary fun. I’d have reservations about a kid reading this because of the scene where the main character’s Father tries to kill him (let’s not mince words here, the Father was trying to drown him no matter how our young narrator sees it). There is also one, tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sexual moment. But I also think that a young teen might not understand some of the underlying meaning. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about a child’s world and how that world is so different from an adult’s but at the same time it has this deeper tragedy and creepiness that can make a reader uncomfortable. I think that is where the true greatness of this book comes from, along with being a really great story on the surface, and if you can’t understand that then you kind of lose something.

At the end of reading a Gaiman book I always feel this sense of nostalgia and longing for the world he created and the characters I’ve been introduced to. I miss them because it was a world we used to live in, long ago, when we ourselves were children and before we made that horrible decision to grow up. It’s part of the reason why I adore his books so much. My one gripe is that this small book costs $26. I’m sure the fancy paper edging was worth that much. (That was sarcasm.) The Ocean at the End of the Lane joins the host of other Neil Gaiman books that are my favorite.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

youngadult

nightmareaffairThe Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
Published March 5th 2013 by Tor Teen
Format: Paper Book
Legnth: 367 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery
Goodreads | Amazon

Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.

Literally.

Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

It looks likes the average rating for The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett is about three stars. I find this a bit odd. I know why I have problems with it but my problems are rarely shared by other young adult book readers. Of course, my main problem with The Nightmare Affair, and really most young adult books, is the juvenile and asinine romance. On page 20 there was this line: “Eli pointed at me, his chest muscles flexing in a way that made me want to giggle.” I’ll admit, I nearly put the book down right there and then. That line was almost too much for me to take. But I persevered and finished it. My own rating fell around 3 stars as well, for annoying romance and rather formulaic plot.

What I Liked

blackdot The basic idea. A magical/supernatural creature that feeds on dreams? That is awesome! A whole secret school hiding a whole society of magical/supernatural creatures? That is awesome! I really enjoyed the world building in The Nightmare Affair.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot The romance. I still cringe just thinking about it. I know there are only so many ways an author can express an interest between characters but – honestly? – when it begins to sound like the symptoms to some disease, you need to reevaluate how you are writing it. I know teen romance is awkward but the girl shouldn’t come off looking like she has mental problems and menopause. (There is medicine for hot flashes, you know!)

blackdot As awesome as the world building and details are, the plot and characters are a bit formulaic. Dusty is the quirky girl whose quirk, her poufy red hair, just adds to her appeal. Eli is the hot bad boy who is really not as bad as he seems. It goes on; there is a love triangle, an outcast best friend, and the main character is a special snowflake among all the snowflakes. Even the bad guy fits within the well-worn young adult plot template. The reader pretty much knows who the bad guy is just because it follows the pattern.

Sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same young adult book over and over again with different characters and settings. I can see why The Nightmare Affair rates three stars for most everyone but books like this usually rate higher with the masses. For me, three stars means the novel was just okay. Not bad but not great either. The world building, nice pacing, and my love for all things magical and mythical save the book from being rated any lower. There is a decent amount to like in The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett. There could be improvements but I will definitely be reading the second book in the series just to see what happens next at Arkwell Academy.

Thank you for reading!

 

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