Monday, December 26, 2016

Catalyst Moon: Incursion by Lauren L. Garcia

The first ever winner of the writing contest on Inkitt, a website that allows you to read and write fresh new stories from new authors, brings us Catalyst Moon: Incursion. As a member of Inkitt, I was granted a free copy of the story and decided to give it a shot. I've read a lot of good stories on the site and so, as the first ever book from the site to receive publication based on the site's database, I just had to give it a read. Sadly, I'm not impressed. Let me explain.

The story is of a mage named Kalinda "Kali" Halcyon, who is being escorted from one mage stronghold to another by a group of sentinels, soldiers whose job is expressly to keep the mages in line. But when their group is attacked, Kali manages to escape with a sentinel named Stonewall to make it to the stronghold in peace. Meanwhile more strange attacks take place, plots for mages to escape their captors, and emotions and things just all kind of happen at the same time.

Yeah, I can't summon a lot of energy for this one. For as long as this book is very little actually happens in it. Aside from fight scenes that take way too long and plot lines so barely explored you don't really know what the point of them is, the story is just a romantic road trip story trying to take place along side a recycled rebellion plot dripping with soap opera drama. The first problem is that there are way, way too many characters in this book. That's fine and all, but you're supposed to remember each and every one of them and what they're doing in the story and how it adds to the grand scheme. This is a problem because these characters are just not memorable! Too many names and not nearly enough details left me struggling to remember who they were, why we're supposed to care about them, what they contribute, whether they are male or female, etc.

The main character, Kali, has a wealth of potential for a character; a magic user whose hasn't seen much of the world that's been crippled since birth. But she never does anything! Her journey with her potential boyfriend is a side quest in her own story. It's the generic "girl unlike any he's seen before" who attempts to "get him to lower his defenses" (geddit? His name is Stone-Wall. He's guarded!) that we've seen over and over again. Only one time does something legitimately interesting happen to them, a fight with some possessed barbarians, but it goes on for so long even that got boring. For her to be the star of this show, her path is way too easy and much too uninteresting and I just couldn't get into it.

The only other characters I remember at all are this pair of twin sentinels that we follow for reasons that I still can't figure out. I mean it! I don't think they contributed anything to the story. They could be cut out entirely and the plot wouldn't miss them. At all. I only remember them because they made me so angry that if I was reading this on anything other than my expensive Kindle, I'd have thrown it across the room. The brother is seriously overly keen on his sister, to the point where it's almost a bit uncomfortable. Brothers don't think about their sisters nearly as much as this guy does. It's unhealthy. It's even more unhealthy when the sister is a horrible piece of human filth that deserves to die! I'm serious, this woman is just despicable! The guy she's sleeping with gets killed and she so she tells her brother, the only family she has left in the world mind you, and says she wishes that he was the one who died and wishes all manner of cruel and horrible fates upon him for having the gall to not have died. And she's all like, "Oh, gee, I'm sorr-well, not really sorry but I was hurting at the time so we're cool, right?" No! No, you're not cool! I don't care if you apologize! I don't care if you cure cancer! Saying horrible things like that is never going to make people relate to or like you! I couldn't stand her and it just left me angry for the wrong reasons.

Also when this plot isn't going at a snail's pace, it's jumping around all over, making the story hard to keep track of and making it even harder to remember already unmemorable characters! One minute we're over here with Kali, next we're with these mages trying to escape, next we're with these fifteen sentinels whose names we're all supposed to remember. The mages are so bland that I can't get behind their cause, and how are we supposed to get behind them when we're also supposed to want the sentinel's to win. That and some borrowed details were really distracting. For example, there's an offensive name for a mage in this world and that's "moon-blood". Hmm, does that sound familiar at all to you? Well, it should. Also, there's this one deity that they keep swearing on, but the swears come in the forms of "Ea's tits" and "Ea's balls". Okay, either A. this is some kind of transgender deity or B. this is just inconsistent. I'm betting on B. Lastly, this book has no climax. None. At all. It just builds and builds and...ends. They want to get to the place and they get to the place. The end. Not twist, no conclusions, no cliffhangers, no answers, no...nothing! There's nothing that makes me want to continue the story, nothing that makes me long for the next installment. It's just...done. Whatever, at least I can be done.

Final Verdict
I'm sorry but I can't see how this won any kind of contest. I was bored and then I was mad and then I was mad because I was bored. I've read some great stories on Inkitt that deserve a chance to be read and looked at! There really are some good things to be found on the site and how this is the one that got selected for publication just baffles me. There are some other books from the site that were published that I intend to check out in the future, but this one? For me, this book belongs in the Wastebin of Despair.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: The New Year is upon us and I've decided it's time to delve into new territory: sequels!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

I reviewed Danielle Paige's other big hit, Dorothy Must Die a long time ago as my second ever review and I really liked it. It had great voice, great characters, and a gripping story. So when I saw she had started a new series based around the Snow Queen fairy tale, I got really excited. It had a good premise and promised to be a really good story. How'd it do? Well, let's dive right in.

The story is that of a young girl appropriately named Snow who has spent the vast majority of her life locked up in an insane asylum. Yet that hasn't prevented her from finding some happiness in a fellow inmate named Bale. However, when Snow shares her first kiss with Bale, he goes off the rails and breaks her wrist. Then Bale is kidnapped and taken away to a strange and magical world cursed with an eternal winter. Snow must follow Bale and get him back, but little does she know she might be the only one who has the power to stop the evil Snow King once and for all.

This book has no shortage of creativity. I knew right away when Snow is in the asylum and has named all of her medications after the Seven Dwarves. That's really clever and kinda sad. There are also some really visually interesting characters such as a River Witch made entirely out of water and a gang of female robbers who have a bottle of magic for everything you can possibly require. The descriptions of the icy cold world are very well done and Paige's voice does come out and shine as it did in her other series.

However, the book also has a few downsides. Firstly, Snow herself is not a very good main character. I stated before in my Dorothy Must Die review that the main character, Amy Gumm, starts off whiny but gradually gets better. Here, on the other hand, things take an opposite approach. Snow starts off interesting enough but as the story moves forward, she starts complaining a lot! She's selfish and uncaring and cruel and, once again, every single male character has a crush on her. Unbelievable! At least Amy cared about Oz and wanted to help the people there. Snow can't care less that she's supposed to save people and just runs away selfishly. A whole world of people is relying on her to save them and she's all like "Screw you all! I just want my boyfriend back! You all can freeze for all I care!" It's very off-putting and I just couldn't get around it. I just didn't like her at all.

The plot also is slightly similar to that of Dorothy Must Die. I don't meant to keep going back to that book, but I just can't help it. If you've read both books, you'll find a startling amount of similarities. Young girl gets sucked into magical world. Evil ruler wants to destroy her. Group of rebellious females that include one male member for her to have a crush on. It's kind of scary. However, things start to improve, plot-wise, towards the climax of the book. The ending, without giving away spoilers, was a massive roller coaster that had turns when you expected it and loops when you didn't. The whole time I was like "I saw that coming. I didn't see that coming! Saw that coming. Didn't see that coming! Ugh! I saw that coming. I did NOT see THAT coming!" It was pretty crazy and a good way to get readers psyched for the next installment.

Final Verdict
As I said, there were a lot of ups and downs with this one. Some things I liked and somethings I really didn't. Over all, I like Paige's other works a bit better than this one. However, if you still want to check it out, then check it out at your local library!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: Can a computer choose the next bestseller? Should it?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

In honor of the release of Star Wars: Rogue One, I felt it was only fitting to review something Star Wars related. Last year, after The Force Awakens hit theaters, I was on a Star Wars high. I was eager to see more of the story and that's when I remembered the Star Wars EU. I've never really looked into it until now and I'm so glad I started here. If anyone is looking to dip there toes into the EU, this is definitely the place to start.

This trilogy takes place a couple years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The New Republic has been formed, Han and Leia are married and are expecting twins, and Luke is just starting to take steps to rebuilding the Jedi Order by training Leia in the ways of the Force. But the remnants of the Empire still linger and are causing problems for the delicately established New Republic. Among them is one of the Empire's last surviving Grand Admirals, Thrawn. Our three favorite heroes must band together to stop the menace that Thrawn brings to the Republic before the world they worked and sacrificed so much to build falls to ruin.

It didn't take long for me to realize that Mr. Zahn here is a darn good writer and that he really does care about the Star Wars movies and the mythos that surrounds it. He captures the personalities of all these characters just perfectly and it's incredible. Back in my fan fiction days, I read many stories where people try to capture the exact personalities of already existing characters. It's hard to do and not easily done. It's too easy for a writer to take a character that isn't their own creation and make them do things they want to do as opposed to what they really would do. Here, however, the characters really feel like the original characters. Luke seems like Luke, Han seems like Han, heck, even R2D2 and C3PO (whose names are spelled out as Artoo and Threepio in the book, I never realized that) are perfectly in character. It really contributes to the feeling that this is, indeed, another Star Wars story and it's just great.

While the preexisting characters are done perfectly, they're complimented by some really awesome original characters of Zahn's own design. Grand Admiral Thrawn is an amazing villain. He's utterly brilliant and has a love for high art. By studying the art of an existing race or even the artist themselves, he can perfectly predict their movements and foresee his opponent's strategies. The interesting thing about Thrawn is that he's an alien, a Chiss to be exact. If you go back to the movies and take a close look at the Imperials, you'll notice that they are predominately human. That's because our old friend Palpatine, on top of being a genocidal maniac, was also a bit of a racist. For an alien like Thrawn to rise to the highest possible rank in the Empire despite the fact that almost no other aliens have gotten close, really speaks to Thrawn's talents. He's also a really good leader. His men have a lot of respect for him and he puts up a dang good fight against our heroes, bringing a real sense of threat to the plot whenever he shows up, he's fantastic.

The other noticeable addition to the story is that of Mara Jade. She's got to be one of the best female characters I've read in a long time, and seeing as a lot of the books I've read over the past few months have had "strong female protagonists", that's saying something. She also has a very interesting backstory with strong ties to the Empire, but Thrawn leaves her rather cold. Her life is made no easier when she spends most of the trilogy in close proximity to Luke, whom she's sworn to kill but can't seem to manage it. She's smart and cunning and just a ton of fun to read about, I liked her a lot. Throw in some other great additions like the smuggler Talon Karrde, the treacherous Bothan Borsk Fey'lya, an unstable Dark Jedi, and a clan of Vadar-worshiping aliens called the Noghri and the book just comes alive. The entire cast is just phenomenal, a perfect blend of old favorites and new stand outs.

If I had to find any problem with these, and I'm really digging to find anything wrong with them at all, is that the tech descriptions and battle strategy scenes can drag on. For a true sci-fi fan, this won't be a problem at all, but for the "D in high school science class" readers like myself, it kind of went over my head. Then again, that's not really a flaw either, as it speaks to Zahn's intelligence and how much time and energy went into making sure every detail to these was handled perfectly. Then again, there is the fact that most of the scenes with the Imperials are written from the perspective of Captain Gilad Pellaeon, when I'd much rather read from Thrawn himself. Pellaeon just kind of stands by and admire's Thrawn's work to the point where I'd swear he was gathering up the courage to ask Thrawn out. Again, this is nitpicking to the highest degree so take it for what it's worth.

Final Verdict
If you're a Star Wars fan looking for something that perfectly embodies the spirit of the original movies, these books are for you, no question. There's action, intrigue, adventure, danger, escapes, everything that we've come to expect with Star Wars. Therefore it is with great honor that I announce that the Thrawn Trilogy is going straight onto the Shelf of Recommendation! The Force is definitely strong with this one.

Have you read the books? What did you think? Anything else in the Star Wars EU that I should check out? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: You won't catch this Snow Queen singing "Let It Go"....

Monday, December 12, 2016

This House is Empty Now by Joseph Iorillo

Seeing how much I enjoyed The Legend of Darklore Manor anthology book, I jumped at the chance to read this other work by one of the authors that worked on it. Joseph Iorillo's short stories that I've looked at before are usually the more realistic with the supernatural twist coming near the end of it. This book is a good reflection of his personal style coming to life, a subtle look into the life of a haunted man and just whoever, or whatever, his haunting him.

Ray Strickland is having a rough go. His mother has died, his girlfriend left him, he has to deal with people he hates at work, and now he seems to be haunted by his dead mother's ghost. The haunting starts off small, things moving around and strange noises at night and that kind of thing. But it soon becomes aggressive and very intrusive into Ray's personal affairs. He tries everything from having a priest bless his house to joining a paranormal support group, but it seems his mother's ghost is determined to stay in control of Ray's life, dead or not.

The first thing you've got to realize when reading this book is that it is definitely more of a character story that it is a horror story. While the things that happen in the book are threatening and people do get hurt or worse, it's more the course of nature than it is a bloodbath. The cause of the strange occurrences in the house are mysterious but our main character is rational enough that he does think of possible solutions without just jumping to supernatural conclusions. Could it be in his head? But there's physical evidence to prove it isn't. Is someone tricking him? But everyone has an alibi. It's all handled very smartly and I admire that about this book.

The characters in this book are wonderfully colorful. There's a foul-mouthed priest, a TV psychic who wears a cape, and even Ray's best friend Dante have a lot of personality and flare and they're all a ton of fun to read about. The people you're meant to like, you automatically like. The people you're meant to hate, you despise. Yet everyone has layers to their personalities that nobody comes off as one-dimensional. Everyone does things for a reason.  The paranormal support group is also an interesting batch of characters as you wonder what kind of people would show up to such an event. Most of all, Ray stands out as the main character. His struggles and feelings are all on the line for us to see. A normal guy with real-world problems dealing with forces beyond his control, yet he never seems to break character. Always level-headed, always nice, even as he deals with the crazy characters and the horrible people he deals with on a daily basis. You really feel for the guy and you want him to be happy and to pull through the experience. It's all really well done.

That being said, it is a slow book. While most scary stories like to end with an impressive shock-scare at the end of each chapter, this one goes at a slower pace. There are whole stretches of time where it's just Ray living his life to where you almost forget about the paranormal stuff. When the paranormal stuff does happen, however, it jumps out at you just when you let your guard down. Sometimes that's a good thing, other times it kinda feels like it came out of nowhere. It never goes too far, but it does mess with the pacing just a bit. A minor flaw, but one there nevertheless.

Final Verdict
If you're looking for a horror story that involves a lot of scantily clad teenagers getting slaughtered, this isn't it. A slow, careful, intricately constructed story that's smarter than your average ghost story and definitely worth your money at your local bookstore!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: A long time ago, in a galaxy that Disney no longer considers canon....

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

This is another series I've had my eye on for a long time. For many the His Dark Materials trilogy is as much a part of their reading lives as Harry Potter. While it is loved by many, I have been warned of it's heavy message and the fact that it's been banned from many schools. But, as human nature says, the perfect way to get someone to do something is tell them not to do it. That's me in this case. Banned books have this allure to them and I just want to know their dark secrets that frightens the world into pushing them aside. So, let's dive right into it!

The story is that of a young girl named Lyra, who lives in a world similar to ours but filled with a unique magic of its own. In this world, every human being has their soul walking around with them as an animal companion called a daemon, which has a personality all its own. Lyra lives in Jordan College, where she mostly runs wild but under the supervision of her uncle, Lord Asriel. One day, when she hears of her uncle going away on a mission involving some strange substance simply called Dust, Lyra is given a mysterious gift: an alethiometer. This devise channels Dust and uses it to answer any question Lyra has: past, present or future. When the devious Mrs. Coulter tries to take the alethiometer and Lyra discovers she may have something to do with a series of child abductions, Lyra flees and begins her epic journey to save the children, solve the mystery behind the Dust, and find her uncle.

Much like the main protagonist, this book is lively and wild. The adventure is rich and full of all kinds of wonderful ideas that writers everywhere are kicking themselves for not thinking of first. The concept of daemons is just wonderful. The whole time I wondered what mine would be like, what animal would it become, and so forth. Also, the alethiometer is a really cool devise. While it never really gives a straight answer, Lyra's opportunities to study the devise and learn what the symbols on it mean is very fascinating. The concept of Dust and what it is and what it means is also interesting too. It's such a heavy matter, like every time someone brings it up things quiet down and get serious. What is this strange thing that people would kill to either avoid or find. The lengths to which the adults in the story go to in order to solve the mysteries of this substance are shocking and leave you breathless.

While I'm on that topic, this is a heavy book. There's some really dark and somewhat unsettling aspects of this book that left me picking my jaw up off the floor. This book is very clear in regards to its rules and the borders of this magical world. When those lines are crossed, you feel the intensity of the shattered boundary and you're left feeling uncomfortable. For example, touching your own daemon is fine and a daemon touching another daemon is also perfectly acceptable. However, a human touching a daemon that's not their own is practically molestation. When stuff like that happens, you feel the disgust that you might feel in any adult book when they cover distressing topics like this. And this is for kids!?! I found myself asking that question at least twice...three times...okay maybe four times while reading this book.

That being said, it does read like a kid's adventure story but on a much more epic scale. The objective is the simple "get from point A to point B and find the thing", which is fine. This book just makes it massive. I feel the scale of this world and the length of the journey. You feel the rocking of the boat and the constant roar of the ocean when you're at sea. You feel the bone jarring cold as you trudge through the frozen north. Everything is described in wonderful detail and it's the best example of world building that I've seen in a long time.

Final Verdict:
This book is a classic for a reason. Great characters, a fantastic world, and clever ideas make for an epic story that any reader would be happy to find themselves in. While the word "dark" is definitely in the title for a reason, I'd still say that this book is worth your money at your local bookstore!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: Not all ghosts are dead....

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

A week ago, I mentioned in my review of The Gender Game that the best way to know if a plan will go right is to keep it a mystery and not mention exactly what is about to go down. While that book didn't do this very well, this one makes up for it in spades. This layered, clever, fun, and thrilling story filled with magic and mystery, politics and prisoners, is just the kind of thing I've been looking for and a great way to start off a new month.

This story takes place in the Republic, where magic and creatures exist. Though, unfortunately, so does racism and political corruption. We meet Prisoner Loch, a woman of the Urujar race and a skilled thief. After a daring prison escape, Loch seeks the biggest job of her career, stealing an elvish manuscript that the elves would pay several fortunes to get. To do this, Loch assembles a team consisting of her right-hand man, a tinker, an acrobat, a unicorn, a wizard, a death priestess with a talking war hammer, and a young kid who may be more than he seems (or knows). Pursued by the honorable Justicar Pyvic and the not so honorable Warden Orris and Archvoyant Silisten, the rogues work together to score the biggest bounty of their lives.

This is just the kind of heist story that I love. Much of the plans are shrouded in mystery that you appreciate unravelling as you go. It's never clear exactly what Loch has in store and how much of what the characters undertake is planned or improvised. The villains also are brilliant schemers and so there's genuine interest in who is going to win this fight. It's brilliant strategy against brilliant strategy; two great minds at war and you never know what to expect. It's just wonderfully done and very well thought out.

Also, these characters are just a blast to be with. Each has his or her own unique personality and you just want to hang out with this group. Everyone pulls their weight in the story and nobody feels underused or useless, as can happen with too many characters. They also, for a group of people who pretty much just met, everyone works together wonderfully. There's great humor among them and clever banter and even some flirting, but it never overrides the main objective of the story; that being the heist. Even when those with clashing ideologies have to work together, they never hesitate in their mission and combine their skills well. While the humor can be slightly more risqué than one might find in most YA books (such as Kail's "your mother" jokes and a unicorn whose life goal seems to be deflowering young men) it never goes too far.

The world in which the story takes place is amazing as well. While its overall design is that of a medieval world, the use of magic crystals gives it an almost modern feel to it. Many times the use of magic crystals is there to replace the computers and security alarms that you'd find in current times, right down to being hackable. Yet it never loses that feel of fantasy with floating cities, news reports given by puppets, castles and creatures. There are so many elements of the world to enjoy. Gylspwer, the talking war hammer, speaks in an ancient language so you never really know what he's saying but he still manages to interact with the group almost R2-D2 style. Oh, and only the coolest...zombie...ever! Won't say more. Read it and find out.

Final Verdict
This just reminds me how much I enjoy heist stories. It's fun, it's fast-paced, it's thrilling and has a wonderful cast of so many great characters. I'm happy to say that this book is going straight onto the Self of Recommendation. Check it out and see it for yourself!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: Never judge a book by it's movie...especially if Dakota Blue Richards is playing the lead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Alchemyst by Micheal Scott

The Irish King of Fantasy makes a blazing start to a saga based around the life and times of the mysterious Nicholas Flamel in The Alchemyst. This book has piqued my curiosity in the past and I was lucky to finally get around to reading it. How does it hold up against so many other modern fantasies that came out around this time? Well, let's dive right in.

The story tells of Josh and Sophie Newman, a pair of fifteen year old twins living in San Fransisco. Josh gets a job working at a bookstore with a mysterious Nick Flemming, but quite out of nowhere one day, he catches his boss and a mysterious stranger in the midst of an magic battle. It turns out that Nick is actually the legendary Nicholas Flamel, the immortal alchemist and the keeper of a mysterious book called the Codex. When Nicholas's wife, Perenelle, is kidnapped and the Codex is stolen, Nicholas whisks Josh and Sophie away from their everyday lives. He believes that they are part of an ancient prophecy and he must Awaken their magic potential and protect them from the nefarious Dr. John Dee.

First thing I noticed about this book sadly doesn't give off a very good first impression. It's very cliche at times. You've got the "normal" kids who turn out to be the "super-special-something-or-other" and "fate of the world depends on" blah blah blah. It's very formulaic in that it tries everything there is to try that you'd expect in a modern fantasy. Even the villain, who is based off a real life person who just so happened to be the first ever 007 (look it up), is reduced to a very generic bad guy who honestly spouts out phrases like "You have something of mine and I want it back", "Nobody can save you now", "Together, we shall rule the world", etc. It's the same dialogue that you find with any villain out there and it just takes the threat out of him.

Now that that is out of the way, I can say that this book definitely does have a plus side. That being the characters and the characterizations of the ancient creatures used in this book. Many of the beings and places used in this book are based off real characters from several different mythologies come together. I'm a bit of a sucker for mythology so seeing so many different characters come together in one story was actually pretty cool. Very much the same way that the Percy Jackson books pulled this off (and, yes, I'm getting to those later) each character has a lot of spice and an interesting modern twist on it. The Warrior of Irish lore is a teenager who uses nunchucks against dead people, Bastet the Egyptian Cat Goddess and turn the cutest kitty into a ferocious human-cat hybrid and so forth. Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel are also really interesting characters. They're never really together in this book, but you can see they each have their strengths and weaknesses and how flawlessly they work together, to warn the other of danger and so forth. They're all really interesting and really well done.

Then we have the main characters, Sophie and Josh. Much like in The Land of Stories I reviewed awhile back, it's the female twin who is the more enthusiastic about this adventure where the male twin is a bit more grudging. Unlike The Land of Stories's Conner, Josh's reluctance to take part in the story is a bit more annoying. Maybe it's because he's a teenager or something, but every single twist and turn of this story has him complaining and demanding to go back to their normal lives, despite knowing a bunch of Elder Gods want to kill him. He also is prone to having these "I don't trust you" tantrums with Flamel that tend to just make me roll my eyes. It gets to the point where the villains do everything short of offering him cookies to come over to their side. I won't give away how this is resolved, of course, but it's hinted how it will play out ultimately. There are four more books in this series so I'll have to see how it plays out.

Final Verdict
Much like Sophie and Josh, there are hots and colds to this book. I didn't hate it at all, don't get me wrong, but there are flaws to it and some things that I've just seen done better in other stories. On the other hand, it's rich with history and mystery and mythology. Things that I really enjoy and really manage to spice up the story. There were twists I didn't expect and ones that I did. Ultimately I'm going to say that this one is probably worth checking out at your local library. I do plan to read the sequels to this book and do hope the rating picks up in the future.

Next Time: Kutesosh gajair'is!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Gender Game by Bella Forrest

I was pretty wary when I decided to give this book a shot. The idea of two countries that were literally men vs. women, a lone wolf female protagonist, and a title that sounds ever so slightly like another, much more popular series caused me to hesitate. Ultimately, I picked it up and decided to give it a shot in case it exceeded my expectations or gave me something to rant about. Which did it end up being? Well, I'll tell you.

This is the story of Violet Bates, who lives in a world made up mostly of two countries, Matrus and Patrus. She lives in Matrus, the country controlled by women where they are given every opportunity they could want and are ruled by their Queen Rina. Violet, however, is an outcast because she'd been caught trying to smuggle her little brother Tim out of the country. After years trying to survive in the labor force and two counts of womanslaughter, Violet is given a choice. She can take on a top secret mission for the Queen or face death for her crimes. Violet is shipped of to Patrus, the male dominated country where women's rights don't exist, and is married to another Matrus spy named Lee. Together they work to steal back a treasure stolen from their country and make it out with there lives. Throw in a handsome fighter whom Violet befriends (a little too closely) and things only get more complicated.

Now, this story pleasantly surprised me. It could have very easily gone the easy route and made Matrus this wonderful, happy land where obviously they are right and Patrus is wrong because girls rule and boys drool and yadda yadda. Yet it smartly doesn't do this. Matrus is just as crazy-over-the-top sexist as Patrus is. Any boy born in Matrus who is deemed "uncontrollable" is sent away to preform heavy labor for the rest of their lives (though in the book there are other suspicions as to what happens to the boys of Matrus). Women in Patrus are treated practically as property, unable to do anything outside of their father/husband's permission and suffer serious punishment if caught wandering around unsupervised. Both sides are the most extreme form of sexism and neither are right. That's the real struggle of the story. The knowledge that both sides are wrong and wondering what must be done to bridge this gap.

Violet, the main character, is slightly less successful. Her thoughts and actions don't always match up. Her Matrus brain goes on and on telling the reader that she's independent and strong-willed and a true Matrus woman. When she goes to Patrus, however, she fits in pretty darn quickly and easily for someone with such a female empowered upbringing. Mind you this is a woman who was had little to no training on undercover procedures. The only training she gets before being shoved into Patrus is learning how to use a gun...that's it. Also keep in mind that she never actually ends up using a gun in this book. Ever. Not once. Also she falls almost at once for the handsome Viggo, a man she's meant to betray, and it just shows how obviously she's underprepared for this kind of task. She gets emotionally invested right away and even makes critical errors that jeopardizes her mission. However, she's not annoying or holier-than-thou and does have the ability to learn from her mistakes. She's just okay for me.

The plot kind of drags at times as, far too often, things tend to go exactly according to plan. There's this thing I notice in books and movies that when a plan is explained in detail, it never goes right. It's only when the plan is a mystery do things work out. It's a cliche that actually works to a story's advantage. Here, however, the plans that are explained go exactly like they should. Only once or twice do things happen to mess up the plan, but they are almost immediately fixed and the plan still goes smoothly. It's not until the last 5% of the book (I read this as an ebook) do things get interesting and you see the bigger picture taking place. I admit, I was shocked at how things worked out near the end of the book. I didn't see the plot twist coming, so well done on that. I just wish there were more things like that in the book. It's like it saved all the unpredictability for the end. It really built up the sequel, which I might get around to, so much so that this one felt a little neglected. Hopefully things will pick up.

Final Verdict
This book just fell right in the middle for me. Not fantastic yet not horrible. Things that I liked and things that I kinda didn't. It asks the right questions but never gives the answers. There are some tense scenes, some action, the chemistry between Violet and Viggo is handled much better than most books handle this kind of thing. So, ultimately, I'd say that if this book sounds interesting to you, go buy it but wait for it on paperback!

Next time: Yes, this is the guy they're talking about in Harry Potter. No, it's not written by that guy from The Office.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Another classic tale of mystery and macabre in one of Agatha Christie's finest works. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. Mysteries are becoming fewer and further in between in this day and age when everyone wants answers immediately. I'm one of those people who has a hard time figuring out the answer to the mystery as I go, but that's when they're the best, isn't it? It's no fun when you can guess the ending and, I'm going to tell you right now, I did not see this one coming.

The story is of ten strangers invited to an island get away for the weekend at the behest of one U. N. Owen. When they get there, however, their hosts are nowhere to be found. A mysterious message accuses each of them of a terrible crime for which they were never punished and, to their horror, they start dying off one by one in accordance to a morbid nursery rhyme they found in the house.

This kind of story is exactly why Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery. The whole story is filled with atmosphere and tension as the house guests try and save themselves and discover the culprit behind these killings. Every person gets his or her time to explain who they are and where they are coming from. You get to see into their heads and determine for yourself if they're guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. You quickly figure out that these people are all deeply complex and each one is a brilliant character. Anyone could be guilty of murder and it just adds to the tension and it's just a delight.

There's a lot of death to be found in this story as well. The nursery rhyme of which the murders are based off of is filled with all kinds of sticky ends, including poisoning, hanging, and getting cut in half! With each new day, a new verse is used and a new victim is found. The whole thing just builds up dramatically and you feel the dread with each new dawn. An ongoing storm prohibits both escape and the possibility of help and you're left wondering who, if anyone, is going to make it off the island alive.

The best thing about this story, however, is that the answer is not given in the climax of the book, as you find so often with modern mystery. It's only with the very last page to you fully understand the circumstances of the murders and who, ultimately, brought about this horrific event. I didn't see it coming and I'm just going to say right now that it's impressive. The details hidden throughout the book are so fine, so cleverly hidden, that you can hardly blame yourself for missing them. It's just an awesome bombshell of an ending and it's just written fantastically.

Final Verdict
An excellent mystery that lives up to its potential. It's no wonder this thing is a classic and it's no surprise that this thing is going straight onto the Shelf of Recommendation! I hope for a chance to read more of Ms. Christie's work in the future, especially if it's as good as this one was.

Have you read the book? What did you think? What's your favorite Agatha Christie mystery out there? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: Battle of the Sexes just got a lot more intense....

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Doctor Who: The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner

This month marks the second year of my being a Doctor Who fan! Hard to believe it took me so long to get into this series, but I'm really glad I did. Yet, even now, I have a hard time calling myself a true Whovian seeing as there are some fans out there way more knowledgable than me and I haven't seen any of the original episodes. Even so, when I saw this little beauty at the bookstore and saw that it featured my favorite Doctor (he's everyone's favorite, let's be honest), I just had to get it!

This story is of the Doctor and his companion, Rose Tyler, as they happen upon a museum one day to make a strange discovery. A statue of the goddess Fortuna that looks exactly like Rose! The Doctor and Rose go back in time to ancient Rome to discover the mystery behind the statue but find several more mysteries taking place at the same time. People are going missing, a strange girl can predict the future, the Doctor must discover the truth before it's too late.

As one would expect, this reads exactly like an episode of the show, just with much more detail and more chances for twists and turns. Everyone in the book is wonderfully in character. The Doctor truly reads like the 10th Doctor would, with matching mannerisms and quirks. Rose is very well done too, very compassionate and kind but with an unfortunate affinity for getting herself into perilous situations. There's also a kindly Roman couple, the mysterious semi-accurate fortune teller, and an alarmingly skilled sculptor with a deadly secret. Each character has their time to shine and everyone has their part to play in the grand scheme.

As with any adventure the Doctor would find himself on, there are many layers to this story. The past, present, and future all blend together to add to the story. That being said, it does tend to make the story very complex. There's no straightforward answer, but a series of little answers that add up to a very complicated overall solution. Just the kind of thing that one would expect in a story about a guy who could travel through time. The story isn't without its fun, thought. It takes moments to allow the Doctor to be the Doctor and deal with the misadventures he tends to find himself in. For example: the Doctor in a gladiator fight. Enough said.

Final Verdict
The book isn't very long and makes for a pretty simple read, even if the ideas tend to get complex. Any fan of the show will enjoy it and I can say that it's definitely worth your money at your local bookstore!

Next Time: Ten little Indians, sitting down to dine....

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I love steampunk! It's just one of the coolest styles and art forms currently in existence with the unique and awesome ability to make the past the future and the future the past. This book is a great introduction to that idea. Set right at the start of World War I but each side equipped with technology far beyond its time, it's a great adventure with some great characters.

The story is of two young soldiers. Aleksander Ferdinand, son of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary, and Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. Europe is divided into two separate and yet equally powerful groups, the Clankers and the Darwinists. The Clankers, which make up the countries of Germany and Austria-Hungary use enormous technological creations made of steel and iron. Britain, France, and Italy, however, are Darwinists, who use machines made up of advanced living creatures (usually sea creatures) making airships and living weapons of the beasts. In the midst of the war between the two powers, Alek and Deryn find themselves fighting together in a bitter struggle for survival.

If you might not have gotten it from what I just told you, this is a very advanced and clever book. The designs and ideas behind these things are ingenious and very much the steampunk style. It is, however, a good thing this book comes with pictures because I had a heck of a time trying to figure out what these things looked like on my own (while I can deeply appreciate the art and style of steampunk, the mechanics of it are a little beyond my tiny brain). While most of the book reads fairly simply, the science is so advanced that some people just aren't going to get it. Makes it a bit harder to pinpoint the real target audience this book is going for. Still, just the idea that somebody could turn an honest-to-goodness living, breathing whale into an airship and have people live in and walk around inside it is just an amazing idea.

The characters in this book are also great to read about. Alek is strong-willed and a deeply-minded Clanker who believes that the Darwinist creations is blasphemy, yet he's young enough to be open minded and allow himself to be helped, even if it's by is supposed enemies. Deryn is also a great character, an excellent pilot who just wants a chance to prove herself, even if it means keeping a huge secret. She's often torn between what she wants to do and what a man would do in her position. She and Alek manage to become fast friends, despite the obvious differences, and make a good team that can make logical decisions in a time of crisis.

The plot it fast-paced and the book doesn't shy away from the fact that this is a war. People die and do not come back, brutal attacks take place, and our characters often face real peril. It doesn't reach Thin Executioner levels of "this is hopeless", but each moment is felt and you feel the rush of the on-going battle around our heroes. There's also just enough actual, historical fact in this book that people can learn from in. The moment Alek started talking about his parents going off to a parade I was like "Uh, oh. I know what that is." That's another fun thing about this book, you can go along with history and figure out what comes next and so forth. It all comes together in a great story full of science, action, intrigue, and friendship.

Final Verdict
This was just a great book that any steampunk fan is going to enjoy. It's something for everyone and I'd say that it's absolutely worth your money at your local bookstore!

Did you read the book? What did you think? Are there any other good steampunk style stories out there? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: Allons-y!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This is the kind of book that I was talking about last week when I said that both younger and older readers would enjoy it. I didn't really know what to expect when I found this book and picked it up off the shelf at the store. While I've seen stories like this one before, I don't think I've seen anyone do it as well as this book did. I mean it is really, really well done. Let's get to it.

Conner O'Malley's life is taking a very serious turn for the worse. He's got a lot to deal with for a thirteen year old boy. A sick mother, an overbearing grandmother, a deadbeat dad, bullies at school and a terrifying reoccurring nightmare takes over his world. On top of all that, a monster is visiting him just after midnight almost every night, telling him things he doesn't believe and asking him things that he cannot say.

The beauty of this story is the question of just how much is real and how much is in our protagonist's own mind. It's a very clever way of looking into the mind of someone so young going through so much and seeing the world how he sees it. I'm glad I read this as now, when I'm an adult and can truly understand the emotions of every character in this book. I can see why the adults treat Conner the way thad do and understand why they do, even if Conner can't. On the other hand I also remember what it was like to be Conner's age and can understand his emotions through all of this as well. With this in mind, every character in this book is very real. Even the bullies behave like real people would (evil, snot-nosed, bratty people, but my point still stands).

Also, as I said, one of the best thing is the "monster" and who or what it is. If this monster is real, how does nobody else notice it? If it's just a figment of Conner's imagination, how can it leave physical evidence behind? Overall, though, is what the monster represents and how it impacts Conner's behavior and changes how he sees the world. There is a visual journey in this book that takes you through the lessons that you'd learn in any given psychology class and breathes life into them. It makes the journey personal and you're pulled into Conner's world so well that you feel everything he feels and want to do everything he does. It's brilliantly written and beautifully captured.

Another thing that I wanted to talk about is that I got the illustrated version of this book and thank goodness I did. The artist, Jim Kay (who also does the illustrated Harry Potter books) does just a fantastic job with this imagery. It's all in black and white but there's such depth and character that it just brings the story to life and sets the mood for it. The depictions of the monster are wonderfully detailed and intricate and I just loved it. This book is apparently going to be a movie sometime in the future and if it looks half as good as the book does, you can bet on me being at the theater on opening weekend.

Final Verdict
Fabulous. Just a fabulous book written so perfectly, captured so brilliantly, and it's just the story that everyone needs once in awhile. It makes me want to check out more from Ness and more from the author who inspired the story, Siobhan Dowd, and this book is going straight onto the Shelf or Recommendation!

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: It's time to for another historical redo, only this time history is going to get a lot more steam-powered....

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Viking's Apprentice by Kevin McLeod

This is another book mostly intended for younger readers and, unfortunately, this is the first on of these that I've read that really feels like it. There are plenty of books out there that are intended for younger readers that older ones can enjoy too. Books like Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, even the The School For Good And Evil books that I reviewed awhile back. That's why I picked this book up in the first place. Sadly, while younger readers might enjoy this one okay, I don't really think older readers would enjoy it very much.

This is the story of a young boy named Peter and his best friend George, who are excited to spend their summer holidays with Peter's grandfather Jacob in his luxurious home in Campbell's Cove. What none of them realize is that a horde of trolls and goblins, lead by a mysterious Master, have a terrible plan to kidnap the children of the Cove. It's very fortunate, then, that Peter's Granddad is a centuries-old viking who has the power to put a stop to the evil Master's plan.

First off, it's kind of refreshing that these kids are actually excited to visit a grandparent when so often the kid is grumbling and annoyed about having to do so. The problem is we get over half way through the book before anything really happens. I mean it. Over half of the book is a set up, giving hints about what is to come and these kids just walking around the house and the cove seeing everything that it is humanly possible to see. Once the action starts, however, it does not stop! Seriously, the last half of the book is one long, continuous, never stopping battle. It's almost kind of exhausting to get through, and keep in mind this battle goes on for just one night but the way it's written you'd think it took a week. And the battle comes really out of nowhere. One minute the kids are going to bed and all of a sudden fighting and battle and running and screaming! It's just chaotic.

Also, the title is a bit of a lie. For a book entitled The Viking's Apprentice there's really no apprenticing that goes on in this book. They say that Peter will be his grandfather's apprentice, but there's no training, no lessons, no indication on what being an apprentice will consist of in the future. In this midst of all this chaos they just kinda say, "Hey, guess what? You're going to be a viking too one day. Cool, huh?" and completely ignore it for the rest of the book. Also, Peter's supposed to be the titular apprentice in this book, yet the book focuses way more heavily on George, his best friend. It's like it can't decide who the main character is. Heck, Peter hardly says or does anything in this book. It mostly focuses on George, as he's the one who is seeing Campbell's Cove for the first time and he develops a crush on one of the girls who lives there. It also focuses a lot on Granddad, as he's the leader in this battle and he's the one with the story and who knows what's going on half the time. Peter is just kind of along for the ride. He never does anything. Heck, I think that even the dog does more than Peter. They talk a lot about that dog. To the point where he kind of gets in the way. It's also really confusing when you give your almighty viking character and your dog similar names. There were a few times when I wondered why Granddad was barking before I realized what was really going on. It was pretty distracting.

While there are a lot of cool ideas to be found it this book, the lack of information behind it kind of takes away from the wonder of it all. Yeah, it's really cool when things come to life in the house to form an army, but we're never told why they do. Yeah, these villains are threatening and dangerous, but we're never told why they're doing what they do. It's like the whole thing is one long information dump. We're being told that all this stuff is happening, but it doesn't give us reason to care why these things are happening. Now, a younger reader might not really care about that kind of thing and just enjoy the ride. Like I said, there's imagination and some good ideas in this book. They just aren't executed very well. Maybe if it took it's time a little more, gave it a different title, and for heaven's sake get rid of that stupid dog, we'd I'd have better things to say about this book.

Final Verdict
Might be good for kids, but not so much for the grown-ups. Choppy and ill-paced, but still imaginative and containing some good ideas. It's not like there was anything harmful or morally incorrect about this book. I didn't get angry or hate it. I just felt lost a lot. For that reason, if your kid wants to read it, save your cash and check it out at your local library.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Are there any other younger reader books out there that older readers would enjoy? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: Now, here's a younger reader book that everyone can benefit from....

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The 13th Sign by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

Ever feel like your zodiac sign just doesn't seem to match with your real personality? Maybe that's because you have the wrong one. The 13th sign is a clever dive into just what the world might be like if an extra sign was thrown into the mix and how it would affect everyone. Granted it is a seriously exaggerated take on such a thing but, still, it's interesting nevertheless. Let's take a look, shall we?

The story is of a young girl New Orleans named Jalen Jones who is dealing with the stresses of her Nina (grandmother) being very sick. When she discovers a mysterious book entitled The Keypers of the Zodiack (their spelling, not mine) she accidentally unlocks the 13th zodiac sign, Ophiuchus the healer. All of a sudden, everybody's personalities have changed. People are picking up habits they didn't have before, things they could do before are now impossible, and they possess phobias for things that never used to bother them. On top of all this, the twelve zodiac signs have come to earth and are now trying to attack Jalen for disrupting the order. Jalen must now defeat the zodiac signs and return them to the heavens before the personality shift becomes permanent.

Like I said, this concept is pretty interesting and done very creatively. While being a very simple, quest-like story, each challenge is unique and clever. While some of the signs just try to attack Jalen, most of them come in the forms of tricks and puzzles. For instance, Gemini the twin makes a carbon copy of Jalen's best friend and she has to figure out which is her real friend and which is Gemini. Little touches like that keep the story interesting and the challenges are spaced out carefully so the story doesn't feel too rushed, even if the whole adventure takes place in the space of a single day.

I was worried, at first, if this would be a bumpy ride when it came to the characters. Jalen, at first, is very whiny and a bit self-centered. Thankfully, after the personality shift, she becomes much more driven and determined and someone I'm a little more willing to follow into this story. The whining doesn't always go away though, but then again she is dwelling on the fact that her grandmother is on death's door and dealing with her father's disappearance, so I can't really fault her for that. Her friends, a brother and sister pair named Brennan and Ellie, also become better after the personality swap and become useful characters who are nice to have around.

There are times when the story practically comes to a full stop while the characters read from The Keypers of the Zodiack in order to figure out how to defeat each sign. These pauses can come in the middle of tense situations and can kind of take away from the moment and be a bit distracting. There are also some villain-type characters that kind of come out of nowhere and don't really contribute anything except getting in the way and frankly I think the story could do without them. While the ending comes with a satisfying and honestly refreshing turn of events, it does kind of hang open, as if there's a possibility for a sequel. I kind of wish they hadn't done that as it's just fine as a stand-alone and doesn't need to carry the story any further. That and a few inconsistencies with the mythology behind the zodiac kind of annoyed me, but the story didn't focus on them so I didn't either.

Final Verdict
The 13th sign is a good, straightforward, quest story based on a clever idea. I enjoyed it pretty well, despite a few minor flaws, but I think anyone can pick this up and enjoy it just fine. If it sounds up your alley, then I'd say that this is worth your money at your local bookstore.

Next time: This kid's What I did on my summer vacation essay is going to be pretty epic....

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

That's right, everyone! Kurt from Glee makes his writing debut in The Land of Stories series. I was really excited when I saw that he was the author of this series and decided to give it a shot. The guy can sing, he can act, he can dance, and now he can write. Who knew?

The story is thus: Alex and Conner Bailey are twins living with their mother, who is trying to make ends meet after the death of their father only a short time ago. When their birthday comes around, their grandmother leaves them a book of fairy tales that they used to read as a family. Alex then discovers that the books is a portal to the Land of Stories, where all the classic fairy tale characters live. When she and conner accidentally fall into the portal, they find themselves without a means of getting back home. So they seek out the Wishing Spell, that can grant them any wish they desire, and meet a multitude of colorful characters along the way.

This book was actually a lot of fun to read. It's been awhile since I've been able to read something laid back and easy and just overall likable. The characters of Alex and Conner make a good team by balancing out each others flaws with the other's strengths. Alex is really the kind of person we wish we would be if we found ourselves in an adventure like this, excited and happy and enthusiastic, while Conner is probably more like what we'd really be, rushed and irritated and missing things like electricity and indoor plumbing. The fact that they balance each other out so well makes them a great pair of main characters and good protagonists for the story.

Now this is written with a younger audience in mind, and at times it can kind of show. There are a few times when the suspension of disbelief is pushed just a little too far. For instance, a twelve-year-old girl climbing up a fifty foot tower by hand without so much as a rope is kind of pushing it and there are one or two situations they get out of almost right away that seems just a little too convenient. Still, like I said, it is for younger readers and it is a fantasy so these things don't necessarily hurt the story. Just sometimes, it can be a little distracting.

That being said, the layout of the kingdom and the personalities of the characters are really colorful and interesting. Too often with stories like these are the fairy tale characters useless or unkind, but in this case, they're actually pretty understanding and helpful. They all come off as intelligent and dignified (with the possible exception of the purposefully over-the-top Red Riding Hood). The villain, the Evil Queen, poses a real threat in the story and I really like the addition of the Huntress, her silent servant who will stop at nothing to help her mistress get to the Wishing Spell before the children do. There's also a plot twist in the story that, I admit, I did see coming but not so badly that it ruined the book for me. The foreshadowing here was subtle enough that not everyone will be able to predict the ending, so kudos there.

Final Verdict
The Land of Stories is quick, fun, clever take on the fairy tale world story and I enjoyed it. I kind of reminds me of Once Upon A Time before that show started to suck. Good characters, an interesting plot, great world building and I'm going to say that it's definitely worth your money at your local bookstore.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Any other good books for younger audiences that you'd like to see here? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Time to check my horoscope for today...wait a minute...what the heck is Ophiuchus!?!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Retrospective: Fear Street by R.L.Stine

While everyone looks back fondly on the Goosebumps books as being Stine's defining work, this series seems to have been forgotten in recent years. For me, however, these books are what got me interested in the horror genre and, even now, I find myself picking them up and rereading them every now and again.

The books all take place in a town called Shadyside (state unknown). It focuses primarily on high schoolers (naturally) and how they all have strange and terrifying encounters all tied into a simple stretch of land called Fear Street, named after one of the town's founders, Simon Fear.  If you haven't guessed, this really is just Goosebumps for high schoolers. The advantage of this is, unlike Goosebumps, these books can kill off characters. Yeah, people actually die in these stories. In Goosebumps it's only implied that people died with the twist endings but in Fear Street people can be straight up murdered. Pets too. Heaven forbid anyone have a pet in these books. They're always the first to go.

One of the fun things about the Fear Street books is that you never know what form the threat is going to take. The threats can be either realistic or supernatural in nature and sometimes it seems like it's going to be one way, then switches to another. Are you dealing with a psychotic killer? Is it some kind of ghost? Is your main character just crazy? All of these are completely possible and you have to try and figure out which it is by the end of the story. There is also a twist with each book, naturally, but unlike Goosebumps where it comes in the final chapter to throw off the happy ending, here it comes near the climax of the book, like most horror stories. As a result, these usually have a happy ending. There is a handful of books where things end on a scary note but, for the most part, things tend to wrap up nicely...except for...y'know...the people who got murdered along the way. Stine also does a really good job of making Shadyside into a community and making these books all feel like they all happen in the same place. Characters in one book are mentioned or appear in another, the events of previous books do not go ignored (most of the time), everything comes together and the sense of community in Shadyside is strong.

Now, I'm not going to lie and say everyone of these is particularly scary. There are some stinkers in there. For instance, I never got what was so scary about the Super Chiller stories. Is it just because they're longer than the other stories? I dunno. Also, some of the earlier stories, like The New Girl and Surprise Party, haven't exactly aged well. You can tell they are kind of stuck in that late 80's, early 90's space in time and feel a little dated. This gets better with time, though, with the stories making less references as they go on and making them feel a bit more immortal.

If you want to get into the real meat of these stories, the best of the best, the scariest and most brutal of the books, I highly recommend the Fear Street Saga books. These books delve into the origins of Fear Street and follow members of the Fear Family and you discover how twisted they are and how such evil can infect the town of Shadyside.  These are indeed the darkest stories in the series and having them set in the past, mostly in the late 1800's, it makes you feel like there are less options and less chances for our main characters to come out of their situations alive. And, sometimes, they don't.

If you get into these books, there's no type of scary story that you'll miss out on. If you like ghost stories, they're here. If you like murder mysteries, they're here. If you stories that delve into the minds of a psychopath, they're here. They're pretty much a breeze to get through. Give yourself one of these books and a day without distractions and you'll be done with in a few hours, easy. They have the same feel as any scary movie you can find on TV during this time of year. Teenagers, suspense, scares, brutal deaths, and even gore, these have it all. If you feel like a quick scare this Halloween but don't feel like watching a movie, pick up one of these. Just remember, if you decide to take a walk down Fear Street this Halloween, brace yourself. For the curse may follow you home, and spell out your doom.

Have you read the Fear Street books? Which was your favorite? If you haven't, do you want to now? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Speaking of teenagers, I wonder what that kid from Glee has been up to?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Need by Carrie Jones

You know you're in deep crap when there are red flags on the back friggin' cover telling you that this book is going to be terrible. Strike 1: Somebody called this book a mix between Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer. Uh oh. Strike 2: Awful writing excerpt on the back cover trying to sound more artsy than it really is. Ugh! Strike 3: Getting three pages...three pages...into this thing only to discover it is in the first person perspective of an unholy annoying character who loves to whine. SOMEBODY SAVE ME!

Premise: Zara White is sad because she recently lost her stepfather to an unexpected heart attack. Naturally, this prompts her mother to send her away to live with her grandmother until she feels better. She instantly falls for the first hot guy she lays eyes on, is immediately overwhelmed by everybody in this small town wanting to be her BFF, and yet she still finds stuff to complain about. But something is amiss in this small, Maine town as boys go missing and Zara falls upon an ancient conflict going on between weres and pixies (you heard me) and she, naturally, gets thrown into the mix of all of this.

Is this starting to sound the tiniest bit familiar to anyone? How about I throw in the fact that these pixies are human sized, beautiful creatures that leave behind sparkling dust and and drink blood. Yeah. These are the freaking Twilight vampires all over again! Not to mention that they're fighting against werewolves! And I don't care if there are also werebears and weretigers and wereeagles, IT'S THE SAME GOSH DARN THING! To the letter this is the exact same story as that one and it gets to the point where I think that Meyer woman needs to sue this chick!

Oh, and I'm not afraid to say that Zara has to be the. worst. character. I've. EVER. read. Every single thing this girl says or does makes me want to strangle her. She's big into Amnesty International and stuff like that, and that's fine and all, except she's the type of person to preach about it. As in if anyone doesn't agree with her, she judges you. Oh, and she deals with all this paranormal stuff by "being sarcastic". Except what she does is NOT sarcasm!!! I know sarcasm. I grew up with sarcasm and you, my good woman, SUCK AT SARCASM! It's not humorous. It does nothing to lighten the tone. You're! Just! Rude! Oh, and get used to her complaining about Maine. Because every single gosh darn word out of this broad's mouth is either failed sarcasm or complaining about Maine. It's ALL she does! There is no reason that everybody, freakin' EVERYBODY, loves this girl and wants her for whatever reason. There's nothing to love at all! Not even Amnesty International can this stupid, insipid, annoying brat likable.

On top of that, this book is just horribly written. Nobody, not even the normal humans, acts like a normal human. Zara's schtick is that she's able to perfectly recite the scientific names of all phobias when she's nervous. Outside of this being a cheap gimmick, it contributes nothing about her character and is just an attempt to try and make her seem smart when she's not. Also, the stereotypes practically walk up to you and introduce themselves as they come. "Hi, my name is Ian and I"ll be your third wheel for the story." "Hello there. My name is Meghan and I'll be your mean girl for this afternoon." "Greetings, friend! I'm Issie and I'm your quirky best friend that you've just met right now and will refuse to go away!" "Hello, my name is Nick and I'll be your hunky, perfect, overly protective and sometimes physically abusive boyfriend who has no personality except for being inexplicably in love with you and who you only like for my body." And it's not just the characters. Everything is so predictable that it makes the story painfully boring! The foreshadowing is so heavy-handed that nothing comes as a surprise. "I've never known my real father and for some reason this pixie king wants to kidnap me." Gee, I WONDER what that could mean?!?! "Wow, Nick is so big and strong and physically fit and so protective of everybody and everything. Not at all like these strange, shapeshifters whose duty it is to protect all of humanity from the evil pixies. There's clearly NO correlation between those two things." See, Zara? THAT IS SARCASM!

And while I'm at it, this thing just!!! Near the end there are four times, four times, that this piece of crap could have ended but it just kept going! Just needlessly going on and on and on until loose ends that you don't even care about are tied up. I can't believe this thing has a sequel (which I will NOT be reading) when they left NOTHING unsaid. Oh, and let me just take a quick second to go over this ending, okay? And I'm not bothering to put up a Spoiler Warning this time. The more people who read this and get the book spoiled for them so they never read it will be a blessing unto mankind! So this pixie king is in control of his and his people's need to drink blood so long as he has a queen with him. There are about a thousand ways this can be solved peacefully and put a stop to any fuss, and there's proof in that fact when Zara's mother was able to solve this problem peacefully several years ago. So, how does Zara handle this situation? By trapping all the pixies in the same building so they can't escape and they have no outlet for their hunger so they'll turn on and kill each other. Yeah, our peace-loving, world saving, Amnesty International protagonist solves the problem WITH GENOCIDE! Congratulations! You've committed one of the worst crimes possible against a race that is unable to control their nature just because their nature didn't agree with you. You suck, Zara! You suck!

Final Verdict
I don't know if you really got this but I hated this book! Hated, hated, hated this book! Hated every single stupid, simpering, poorly written word of it! And this isn't like a movie where you just waste a couple of hours on it. I wasted hours and hours and hours of my life that I'll never get back ever because of this horrible, awful, disgusting thing! It's so bad, I'm not even going to throw it in the Waste Bin of Despair. No, this thing is going straight into the FURNACE OF EVERLASTING TORMENT! Don't buy it. Don't read it. Keep away from this book if it's the last book you'll ever read!

Have you read the book? How did you survive? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Let us end this month of Halloween by doing something a little different. Instead of a critique, I'm going to do an appreciation of the book series that got me interested in reading scary stories in the first place.

Monday, October 24, 2016

And I Darken by Kiersten White

The infamous Son of the Dragon is reimagined in this historical remix as the Daughter of the Dragon and Vlad the Impaler becomes Lada the Impaler. Already this is an interesting idea but throw in war, rebellion, betrayal, and one of the most complicated love triangles I've ever seen and you have a quite the interesting tale on your hands.

As I stated before, the story is that of Ladislav Dragwlya and her younger brother Radu. When their home country of Wallachia is taken over by the Ottoman Empire, the siblings are sent to live in the Ottoman courts where they are held hostage in order to secure their father's loyalty. While Lada despises the Ottomans and constantly plots her revenge against them, soft-hearted Radu finds peace among them and longs to join the Muslim religion. Then the two meet Mehmed, the son of the sultan, who befriends them and seeks their help in securing the empire for himself.

While this book delves deeply into politics and strategy of war, it never gets overly complicated. It keeps the focus where it should be: on Lada and Radu. Lada is the kind character that everybody wants in a strong, independent female. She's strong, confident, capable, and smart. The downside? She's got to be one of the most brutal, heartless characters I've ever read (that made her that way on purpose). While this is definitely a good thing, it does kinda make her hard to read. She's always yelling and attacking, scornful and cruel. She does have something of a heart, as she is very protective of Radu and genuinely cares for Mehmed and her country of Wallachia, but because she's so harsh and mean the rest of the time you find it kind of hard to believe that she's genuine in these scenes, even though the book tells you she is.

Radu is very much his sister's polar opposite. He's gentle, caring, kind, easily accepted in social circles and, as you can probably guess in three seconds of knowing the guy, gay. This is something that this world seems oddly accepting of. Almost unrealistically so. True, he never comes forward with this. People just kind of know and don't say anything about further about it. It seems like everyone is a little too accepting, given the era this story is supposed to take place. It also takes up the vast majority of Radu's scenes. Where Lada is fighting and actually making a difference in the plot involving the war, Radu's storyline mostly consists of dealing with his feelings for Mehmed. This is kind of disappointing when we're shown early in the story that Radu is just as capable of scheming as his sister, and much more subtle about it. As in getting someone else blamed for something they didn't do. Sadly, he never really shows that cunning again. He just kind of chats with officials, deals with converting to a different faith, and mopes about how the man he loves not only loves his sister but has a whole harem of women to himself. An interesting character, but he doesn't really live up to his potential.

Aside from them....I honestly don't remember anything about the rest of the characters in this book. Lada's personal soldiers are an interesting lot and her second in command is cool but if you asked me to put the names and personalities together, I probably wouldn't be able to. With the exception of the second in command, Nicholae (I had to look that up), all the rest are kind of background noise. Even Mehmed, the third point in this complicated triangle, kinda falls flat when going up against these two massive characters. He seems nice and all, but a lot of times he comes off as being kind of an idiot, not believing people about threats against his life, not mentioning important things to his friends, and he seems barely in control of his own life. The motivations of those going against the trio are very standard. They want to rule the empire instead of Mehmed, they want to get rid of him and take over, yadda yadda. We've heard it before.

While the structure is basic, there is intrigue and action that keeps the plot moving and the story interesting. There are mysteries to solve, things that both Lada and Radu have the ability to accomplish, and dangers to face. Despite all the things that threaten to tear the siblings apart, from loving the same man to having conflicting feelings about the Empire they grew up in, you want them to come through together and you want them to continue to care about each other. This is hindered by knowing how history has gone in real life and you know the path that Lada is to go down. Creative license can only go so far when you're retelling history, but it's up to the author to see how far it goes.

Final Verdict
This one is an interesting bit of work for me. There were parts I enjoyed, and others I didn't. Some of it seems like my personal feelings just getting in the way, other times it felt genuinely flawed. Ultimately I couldn't decide if I wanted to say it was worth your money at the local bookstore or worth checking out at your local library. So, I've added a new rating between these two. If this book sounds like something just up your alley, definitely go buy it but wait for it on paperback!

Did you read the book? What did you think? Any other good historical retellings out there? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Bibliosuckophobia. The fear that the book you're about to read is going to suck.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud

Ah, ghosts. That most mysterious and my favorite of all Halloween creatures. They are so often over looked when it comes to creatures to write about. Everyone wants to tackle vampires and werewolves and here ghosts are, a spectral being that could be almost anything and possesses more unanswered questions than any other, waiting to be written. Mr. Stroud here took on the task of making a proper ghost story. How'd he do? Let's take a look.

The story takes place in England where the country has been taken over by a Problem, that being the world is full of ghosts. Ghosts have become something of a plague in this world, tormenting and sometimes killing the people of England. To fight this spectral epidemic, multiple companies of young children who have the ability to see, hear, even communicate with ghosts are armed to the teeth with silver rapiers, iron chains, and all manner of ghosts fighting materials to eliminate the supernatural pests. One of these companies is Lockwood & Co., run by the eccentric Anthony Lockwood. When one job ends in disaster, Lockwood and his crew take on an expensive job to discover the secrets of the Red Room and the Screaming Staircase in one of the most haunted locations in the country.

Okay, I really, really, really wanted to like this book more than I did. The world that the author creates is so well done. It's creative, well established, and it's clear that the author paid good attention to ghost lore in general. Lockwood & Co. consists of three young ghost hunters; Lockwood, Lucy, and George. All these characters are likable, memorable, and just well written. Lockwood is the kind of guy I'd follow in a heartbeat. You can tell that he'd just three steps ahead of everyone and really cares about his crew. They're all really great.

So, what's my problem? It's simple. It. Is. BORING! I'm really sorry to say it...but it's so boring! Every time I tried to read it I just felt my eyelids slide and my attention float away. The world building is good but it just goes on for so long, and the action is so few and far in between and so little happens between major events that, yeah, I couldn't focus on it. I got tired every time I read it and that is NOT something you want to happen when you've still got three hours of work to go in the wee hours of the morning!

I think the way this book is set up kind of contributes to this problem. It's starts with a bang but then it takes forever for anything to happen again. The pace of the story is just off and all over the place. Also, while the world is well set up and I liked it, it also adds to the problem of the book. It's over detailed. It goes on and on about these details when there's a glossary in the back of the book that explains ALL of this that you can just look at if you get lost. But since the book explains everything anyway, the glossary is pointless.

Finally, the story contains a mystery involving a ghost trapped in a locket and the company is trying to figure out who she is and why she stuck around. Lockwood and his friends are the first to try and do this and, once again, it's a good idea that's marred by a predictably boring resolution. You know the answer to the mystery almost immediately and it's a bit of a disappointment.

Final Verdict
I feel bad for not liking this more. There is some solid, good ideas in the book, but it's just ruined by boring exposition, a slow pace, and a predictable ending. The good stuff is still there thought and, if you don't think that this stuff will bother you, definitely check it out at your local library.

Did you read the book? What did you think? Do you want to read the book now? Any other cool ghost books out there? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: How do you make the one of the most terrifying tyrants of all time even scarier? Give him a period.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Artemis by Chris Snider

I got this book looking for something quick and scary that I could read to add to my month of scary book reviews. I found it on a book promotion page on Facebook, found an interesting premise, and got all excited about it. And then I read it. It' First off, it's labeled as a horror book, but it's not. It's a superhero comic without actually being a comic. Let's just get right to it, shall we?

Joseph Art is a scientist who is working on trying to create a devise that allows humans to talk to animals, an invention that will set him up for life and help him free his sister from her abusive husband. But the evil business tycoon who funds him named Lex Luthor...I mean...Vincent Lankston decides to take the invention for himself and kill Joseph. But science happens and the murder attempt turns Joseph into a terrifying creature with superhuman senses, strength, speed, and the ability to communicate with animals. He uses his newfound powers to avenge animals from those who abused them, taking on the name Artemis. He's pursued by a Commissioner Gordon....I mean....Chief John Colton who wants to bring him to justice, as well as an evil clown serial killer named the Joker...I mean...Axe the Clown who wants him to stop stealing his thunder.

So, yeah, if you haven't already guessed, I have a few issues with this book. The first of which being that Yes, we have two people who brutally kill a lot of other people in this book and the deaths are bloody and gory but...that doesn't count as horror to me! Horror is just as much about what you don't see as opposed to what's shown you. There's almost no suspense, no chills, nothing! It's just a bloodbath and that's it. Heck, we don't even SEE the bloodbath happening most of the time. We just show up randomly at the crime scene when the worst of it is over and stare in horror at the aftermath. It does come close to showing us horror, but I'll get to that in a minute. As I said before, this is a superhero story. Well, an anti hero story, would be more accurate.

Okay, first off, let me get something really clear. I like animals! Animals should be treated with kindness and respect. Animal abuse is wrong and should not be done. With that said, Artemis's idea of punishing animals abusers is just over the top! Granted, he does to them what they did to the animals, but this includes burying a man up to his neck and running over his head with a lawnmower! Look, I know that's what the man did to a cat, a human doing that to a human is just ten times worse. The author tries to soften the blow by giving background on each and every person he kills and talks about how they're just nasty, miserable people who deserve to die so you don't feel bad when Artemis murders them, but it kinda backfires. You see that these people have rough lives, anger issues, and what not and you can think of a thousand different ways they could be helped and kept from doing these things again, only to witness their horror as this creature kills them horribly. No.'s It doesn't work.

This is just one of many reasons why Artemis isn't a good superhero. Heck, he's not even a good anti hero. Anti heroes, while morally gray and have a tendency to be the most brutal characters in comics, have to have something about them that you like and want to root for. Punisher wants to make the streets safe so nobody loses their family like he did. Deadpool is funny as heck and, while selfish at times, ultimately does make the right decisions and doesn't hurt people unnecessarily. Artemis....only starts helping humans because his sister tells him to. They try to make it more of a "try to find the man within the beast" kind of deal, where it's the animal side of him that kills humans horribly and the human side wants to help people. This, however, doesn't work either. Unlike characters that try to do this, like the Hulk or Dr Jeykll, Artemis is fully in control of himself all the time. He doesn't do anything unconsciously, there's no other personality telling him what to do, it's him the whole time. He's always responsible for his actions and when he actively makes a decision to hurt someone way beyond that which they deserve, you don't sympathize with him. I don't want to root for Artemis. I just want someone to stop him before he kills my neighbor for forgetting to feed his cat!

Oh, and get used to knowing the full names and lives of absolutely every character in this book. I mean all of them. They ALL have at least a page devoted to who they are, where they come from, what their marital status is, how they take their tea, etc. Even the victims all have stories and lives and dreams and then...die. It doesn't make you feel like you know them any better or build the world or...or do anything really. It's just an information dump and then...death. The only times this works is when we're talking about the Chief, Joseph's friend Wayne, and the other killer in the book, Axe the Clown. Axe's backstory, compared to most other villain origins that I've known is...pretty bland. Tragic, yes, but not original. Oh, and he's also a total match for our superhuman-animal-human-hybrid-protagonist because....he lifts weights. Diabolical fiend!

Final Verdict
Ugh, if I don't stop now, this review is going to be longer than the book itself. This book just...fails. I feel bad because it really does try. I can tell a lot of effort went into this and the author really did try to make this work. But it doesn't. The characters aren't likable, the idea was weak, it's not scary, it's not a good hero story, it's not original and, with an honestly heavy heart, I have to say that this book really does belong in the Waste Bin of Despair.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Do you disagree with my rating? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next time: Who ya gonna call....when the Ghostbusters aren't available?