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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
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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: The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

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.

The Children’s Home by Charles LambertThe Children’s Home by Charles Lambert
Published: January 5th 2016 by Scribner
Format: Paper Book
Length: 210 pages
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Gothic, Creepy
Rating: 2 stars
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For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor, and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.

The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque – as well as the glimmers of goodness – buried deep within the soul.

Have you ever felt like you’re are just too dumb to understand a book? The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert made me feel like that. The first half was interesting. A disfigured recluse, Morgan, suddenly finds his home full of mysterious children, who come to him in ways he can’t quite figure out. They offer Morgan acceptance through their innocence and a connection to the world beyond his estate and the high walls that surround it. But the children are peculiar and seem to have an objective that Morgan cannot figure out. They do not act as he thinks children should act and have an uncanny ability to know when their noise is not wanted and when danger is near. Then the story takes a sharp left into weirdville and lost me.

The Children’s Home had a lot of elements that I enjoyed. I really loved Morgan. He is an interesting main character. He drifts through the house like a ghost until events force him to reattach to the world. The kids are creepy. We’re not sure if they are or aren’t a product of Morgan’s lonely imagination. It has a gothic setting in a world apparently ravaged by some disaster or war, a world we’re not sure still exists outside the estate’s walls. There was a period where I thought the world had ended and Morgan was the last person alive, everyone in the manor a product of his mind. The tense and eerie atmosphere is chilling and a delight. But the second half is incomprehensible.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the second half is supposed to mean. Is there a wider meaning to the vague World War 2 gas chamber reference? Is it commentary on how we are (literally in this case) sucking the life out of the younger generations just to keep functioning as a society? Is there something with parallel universes going on that is in no way explained at all? Is David some sort of messiah? Are the children some work of a magical source? As Morgan asked himself many times in the story, who are these children?

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert has some compelling and violent imagery. The events are unsettling and memorable. It is a sinister gothic horror but lacks resolution into a satisfying whole. The reader becomes impatient with the children’s evasiveness and we have no resolution by the end. We are left just as clueless as we started. We are given no context during the story and learn no details of the state of the world or the source or purpose of the puzzling children. In all, The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert left me confused and unsettled, wondering, like the characters, if I had somehow missed the point.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

youngadult

madmandaughterThe Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Published January 29th 2013 by Balzer + Bray
Format: Paper Book
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Historical Fiction, Sci-fi
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In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

I assume that you have a least heard of the story of The Island of Doctor Moreau, if not seen the movie or read the original book by H.G. Wells. At this point, the “island full of monsters” plot is a familiar cliché. It’s been pretty well assimilated into our culture. The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd is a retelling of that story only now with added hormonal teenage girl. There is a supernatural twist to the story at the end that was surprising and the characters are well formed and not too annoying but I still found myself with some disappointed feelings as a whole. It comes from my basic annoyance with the main female character in young adult books. I loved The Island of Doctor Moreau and I can’t accept that story being diluted by, I’m sorry to say, some dumb girl running around.

What I Liked

blackdot It’s very well written. There were times where I was on the edge of my seat with suspense and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. The tension on the island could have been cut by a knife and the reader really feels that. The horror and gore has quite a punch. When the story gets going, it really goes and it’s intense. (Of course, the problem is when it stops going.)

blackdot I really liked the descriptions of the creatures. The sense of wrongness and creepiness Juliet felt when around them was well portrayed.

blackdot We have some truly awesome secondary characters in this book. My favorites are Alice, who Montgomery sees as a kind-of daughter but whom Alice loves romantically, and Ajax/Jaguar, who personifies the dual nature of human and animal and the nature of humanity and self-awareness.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot There was the usually period piece nonsense, such as Juliet’s corset being suddenly too tight.

blackdot The book is a little overlong. Most notably, the chapters on the boat sailing to the island and then when Juliet and Edward are running willy-nilly around the island in the dark after Juliet saw her father and Montgomery preforming their experiments in the red shed. The middle part of the book felt a little wandering. Juliet’s inner rambling does not help. The pacing is too slow.

blackdot Love triangle alert. Add one part childhood friend and one part dashing newcomer and mix well. Cue the eye rolling.

blackdot While the supernatural twist at the end was surprising and I have to give kudos for the fact that I didn’t see even a hint of it coming, I felt it upset the overall tone of the book.

I normally love retellings but I felt the introduction of Juliet into The Island of Doctor Moreau was a disservice to the story. In the original book, there is no female main character on the island, let alone the daughter of the infamous doctor. Frankly, the most interesting part to the book was the beginning when Juliet was still in London. The London chapters had a great macabre atmosphere that really pulled me in. Perhaps I just like gothic historical fiction better. It started out great but then got bogged down with a slow plot and being too focused on the romance rather than the action. It takes a lot of skill to write a retelling of a popular story correctly and while I think The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd was a good result, I don’t think it was an improvement.

I’ve taken a glance at the sequel, Her Dark Curiosity, and it looks to be even better than The Madman’s Daughter. I hope that since it looks like the sequel is set in London that we can recapture the macabre and darkly gothic feel that the first few chapters of The Madman’s Daughter had.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux

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.

allisonhewittAllison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux
Published January 18th 2011 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: Paper Book
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Zombies, Horror, Post Apocalyptic, Adult
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“One woman’s story as she blogs – and fights back – the zombie apocalypse”

Allison Hewitt and her five colleagues at the Brooks and Peabody Bookstore are trapped together when the zombie outbreak hits. Allison reaches out for help through her blog, writing on her laptop and utilizing the military’s emergency wireless network (SNET). It may also be her only chance to reach her mother. But as the reality of their situation sinks in, Allison’s blog becomes a harrowing account of her edge-of-the-seat adventures (with some witty sarcasm thrown in) as she and her companions fight their way through ravenous zombies and sometimes even more dangerous humans.

I probably shouldn’t read zombie novels. They apparently give me nightmares, even the slightly humorous zombie novels. Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux is a novel about the zombie apocalypse as told through one young woman’s eyes. Allison is a normal person and she’s just trying to survive as her world is turned on its head and the dead walk around munching brains. It’s less Resident Evil and more The Walking Dead like. (Neither of which I can watch because I gross out easily.) Allison doesn’t go off in some epic journey to find the source of the zombie infestation and put an end to it. Nope; Allison is just trying to survive and that makes Allison Hewitt is Trapped a relatable read.

What I Liked

blackdot Surprisingly, I liked the format. I’ve ranted about epistolary novels before (I find letters severely limiting and very boring.) but the blog entries read so closely to normal first person POV that it didn’t bother me and the added comments from other survivors were interesting.

blackdot Roux doesn’t pull any punches. People die. People go crazy. People are nasty. People betray each other at the blink of an eye. Allison takes justice into her own hands and her world is very much survival of the fittest. Allison kills people, not just zombies. It can be painful to read sometimes. Society goes to shit very fast.

blackdot Good pacing. We’re given down time so we don’t get fatigued with too much action and zombie killing. The plot moves forward without getting bogged down.

blackdot Good mix of secondary characters that we both love and hate. Not all the ‘good people’ make it and the cast changed through the story so we get a new set of secondary characters with every location shift. We see a lot of different people and see the many different ways in which they react to the zombie apocalypse.

blackdot This may seem stupid to everyone else, but I like how Roux dealt with the sanitary aspects of the end of the world. There is no more running water. Allison and her crew stink and they know it. They have to deal with the not functioning toilets. A lot of other zombie novels gloss over that and I like that Roux didn’t do that. It’s uncomfortable and gross but it’s a part of reality. I like seeing those mundane little details that make the story so much more believable, instead of everyone suddenly no longer needing to pee.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot I want to punch the guy in the end letter. Way to miss the point, you ass. This is how real people survived and what they had to go through. You have no right to turn your nose up now that you’re safe and can indulge your self-righteous morals after the fact.

blackdot Allison is an adult, in her middle 20’s, and the novel is rated for adults, not YA readers. I don’t know if I’m just too used to reading YA novels, but Allison doesn’t come off as being that old. She sounds like a teen, 18 or possibly 19 years of age. Which makes the so-called romance between her and Colin weird at best and a little gross as worst. It just doesn’t mesh.

blackdot On that note, the whole Colin and Allison romance felt stilted and bland. We’re just told they have feelings for each other but never really see it.

blackdot Also, is every middle aged man going to fall in love with Allison? I know she’s awesome but could we focus here? It’s ridiculous.

blackdot Allison can seem a bit wooden sometimes.

Not a bad zombie novel, all things considered. There is a blurb for the sequel at the end, Sadie Walker is Stranded, that seems even better and I will definitely be reading it, nightmares or not. Allison Hewitt is Trapped was a wild ride and I’m glad I picked it up. I love the cover, the format worked for me, and I liked the characters. It’s rated adult just for violence and other nasty business both zombie and human but I think a mature teen could handle it. A fan of zombie novels should definitely pick it up. Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux will make a good addition to their collection. Zombie squirrels, everybody. That’s all I’m saying.

Thank you for reading!

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