Thoughts on OPEN FOR MURDER

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of November, which means it’s book review time! It also means that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so have a safe and happy holiday. Dad and I are staying home and he’s going to cook a few favorites. It’s okay to be jealous. But back to bookish things. This month, I decided to go with a new cozy mystery series. Open for Murder is the first in Mary Angela’s A Happy Camper Mystery series. It was released yesterday (the 24th) from Kensington Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it!

Cute cover.

Open for Murder follows Zo Jones, a former journalist turned gift shop owner, as she gets reacquainted with her old friend Beth, who has just moved back to Spirit Canyon in order to open the lodge her late aunt left her. Unfortunately, there’s a murder during Beth’s grand opening on Memorial day weekend. Zo must find the real murderer before all the suspects return to their normal lives, so her childhood bestie doesn’t go down for a crime she didn’t commit. Or did she?

The plot is fairly standard on this one. There’s a sexy forest ranger in place of a lead detective for the budding romance aspect, but he does his fair share of the police work. The supportive bestie happens to be the main suspect, which is fun. And there’s some ghostly weirdness with the late aunt popping up in Beth’s mom’s dreams. But otherwise, if you’ve read a few cozies, it’s not hard to see where everything is going pretty early on, even if you’re not quite sure why until later.

Pretty much.

I admit the characters are enjoyable. The background on Zo makes her a likeable and fleshed out person. She’s a free spirit and open to all sorts of things without being naive. While she indulges in stuff like dream reading and ghost stories, she takes those things with a grain of salt. She’s a realist, but doesn’t let that squash out all the fun in her life. Beth is definitely a planner, but she rolls with the punches. A storm interrupts the outdoor festivities? She has a backup plan. She doesn’t let anything get her down. Max likes rules and structure, but he’s the first to point out when something isn’t fair even if it goes against those rules. They make the story worth reading.

Me to most of the characters.

The writing itself is fine, but the pacing is slow. Things happen in every chapter to push things along, but the story just drags for me. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I guessed so much early on. It wasn’t bad, though. I was simply a little bored towards the end.

Ultimately, I was kind of meh about Open for Murder. I liked the characters enough that I’ll give it a second chance if another one comes out, but if things don’t pick up, I won’t go looking for more.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t a bad story and I loved the characters, but it didn’t strike my fancy the way I was hoping it would. If you’re looking for a cozy mystery with interesting people, check it out. If you’re in it for the plot, there are better stories out there.

Thoughts on NORTHERN WRATH

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of October, which means it’s book review time! I wanted to take a break from cozy mysteries and dig into a nice juicy fantasy book, so when I found a new trilogy revolving around Norse mythology, I had to request the first book. Northern Wrath by Thilde Kold Holdt is the first book in the Hanged God trilogy. It was released on the 27th from Solaris Books. As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher for access to the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s get on with it.

Lovely cover.

Northern Wrath follows a number of mortals and giants and monsters alike as they prepare for the final battle. The Runes are fading, signaling the weakening of the bond between humans and the gods. Some want to save the nine worlds, others want to save themselves, and a handful just want to watch the worlds burn. Who will prevail? Only time will tell.

I’m not usually one who likes a story that’s split between more than two or three POVs, but I really appreciate the different glimpses we get in this book. There’s a name at the beginning of each chapter to let us know who we’re with, so it doesn’t get too confusing. And all of the characters are so well rounded that I can’t pick a favorite. I will say that Hilda, the young woman we’re with the most, kind of gets on my nerves. The whole “I don’t need anyone’s help” thing gets annoying, but she’s in the middle of learning her lesson, so I’m hoping I’ll eventually love her like I love Einer and Siv and the rest of them. I even like Finn even though he’s kind of a dipshit.

Me throughout most of this book, but it never does.

The plot is fun and twisty and has a lot of familiar Norse mythology sprinkled throughout as well as some stuff I am not entirely familiar with but that I vaguely recognize. It helps keep things interesting when I can tie into the story with stuff I know, but I don’t think any knowledge of the mythology is actually necessary to enjoy the book. The author does a wonderful job of explaining or showing the important points (like Ragnarok or Loki and Odin’s relationship) without feeling infodumpy. Everything is woven together and works to fully immerse the reader in this violent and lovely world.

Yggdrasil is the best.

I admit the writing is a little dense at times, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story. It’s almost 500 pages, but it manages to keep the reader’s attention with no problem. I have to say, there aren’t many books that keep me thinking about them when I’m not actively reading them, but this one did. Also, it’s a fast-paced story despite its length.

Ultimately, I loved Northern Wrath. I’m a tad bitter that I have to wait for the next two installments. But I did notice Thilde Kold Holdt is also planning a fantasy set in Korea which I will also be checking out when it becomes available.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. I knocked off one because things could have been tightened up a bit and because of my own feelings toward Hilda. But it’s totally worth picking up if you’re into Norse mythology or just looking for an interesting new fantasy world.

Thoughts on BENDING THE PAW

Hello, hello! I know it’s not the last Wednesday of the month, but St. Martin’s Press offered me access to Diane Kelly’s latest canine police procedural mystery, Bending the Paw and I couldn’t say no (I actually could say no, but I wanted to read it). It’s the ninth book in her Paw Enforcement series about a Fort Worth police officer and her K-9 partner. Publication isn’t until the 27th, but I was told an early review was fine. I received access to the ARC through NetGalley, so I must thank them as well as Sara Beth Haring at St. Martin’s Press for the chance to read it in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover that actually has to do with the plot!

Bending the Paw follows Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 partner Brigit as they try to help detective Jackson solve what appears to be a grizzly murder. The problem? There’s no body, only ludicrous amounts of blood. Throw in an engagement and wedding prep, plus a hailstorm and the onslaught of both legitimate and scam artists roofers, and you’ve got everything you need to keep this pair busy.

I’ll say it. I knew what was going to happen from the first couple of pages. The whole main plot was fairly standard. However, the subplots with Megan’s engagement and the whole roofing company thing kept the story interesting even though they were pretty predictable as well. It might just be all of the stuff I read and watch, but it wasn’t hard to see where everything was going. But again, that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to read.

I don’t want to give everything away if you’re going to read it, so feel free to skip ahead to the end of the spoilers, which start now.

My biggest complaint with this book is that despite all of the tests they do on the blood, no blood thinners are detected. Blood coagulates! In order for it to be collected over a period of time, something has to keep it thin, especially in this instance. And I’m sure a seemingly legitimate excuse for the presence of blood thinners could have been devised by the “killers.” They seem smart enough for that.

No more spoilers.

Beyond that, I didn’t really have any major problems with the book. I love Brigit. Megan’s a little annoying with her whole making it known she’s a K-9 officer so she can take Brigit in restaurants and other places when she’s off duty, but other than that she’s an interesting character. Frankie and Seth seem cool, but I’ll have to go back and read the first eight books to get a better grasp of them. That being said, it’s fine starting at book nine. It works well as a standalone.

Just a cute pupper.

The writing was tight and fast-paced. Kelly does a wonderful job at giving you pertinent details from previous books to help make reading this one possible without having to start from book one. It’s a quick and fun read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Bending the Paw. In fact, I’ve added the first couple of books to my want-to-read list so I can pick them up soon. I might also check out some of Diane Kelly’s other series.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Probably closer to 3.5, but that’s just because I figured it out so early. If you want a quick, fun read, you should check it out.

Thoughts on BURNING ROSES

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of September, so you know what that means. It’s book review time! This month, I opted for something on the fairytale side of things. I didn’t realize it was a novella when I requested it, but I’m glad it was something short and entertaining. I’ve been reading too many longer things lately, so it was a nice change of pace. It’s S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses and it was released yesterday (09/29) from Tor/Forge. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

Love the cover.

Burning Roses follows Rosa and Hou Yi, two middle aged women who are the stuff of legends. The problem with being legends is that you have to gain that reputation somehow and that can be misleading, even if it’s all wonder and prestige. Both women are filled with regret and running away from their pasts when they decide to team up and protect their makeshift home from the sunbirds that have started attacking the surrounding area. They don’t expect to make it out alive, but maybe one last adventure can help to resolve some of the regret that plagues them.

I’m going to be completely honest with you. I read this about four weeks ago and have been putting off writing this review purely out of laziness. But what I’ve discovered from my procrastination is that this book is pretty forgettable. I had to skim the first chapter just to remind myself what it’s about. The details came back to me fairly quickly, but I shouldn’t have needed the nudge. I probably won’t remember it at all a year from now. That’s not to say the story is bad (it’s actually really good). It’s just that among the plethora of fairytale retellings, it doesn’t stick out in my mind.

To be fair, this is me with most fairytale retellings.

The fairytales. This is a mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood (Rosa) and Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology which I’m not familiar with at all. Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Beauty and the Beast are also mixed in for good measure. I also feel like there might have been some others I wasn’t familiar with, like maybe the thing with the dragon. But the way they were all blended together made for a really nice story of family tragedy and toxic friendships and all consuming obsessions and, of course, love. I really enjoy how the story pulls enough from the originals to make them recognizable, but twists and weaves them into something new.

The story itself. This is a nice read. I took a few days to get through it, but at around 80 pages it could easily have been done in one sitting. The way their pasts unfold, mingled in with the present story is lovely. My only complaint is the same one I have with most novellas: the story feels incomplete. There’s a finality to it, but there’s also this gaping hole where we don’t get to see the end of Rosa’s story. It’s weird how it seems to start out as Rosa’s story, then shifts to Hou Yi’s story during which we get her ending, but it never shifts back to give us a satisfying ending for Rosa. Maybe that’s another story, but it doesn’t really feel like something that would require another book.

Basically.

The writing is lovely. It’s not super poetic, but there’s this nice rhythm that carries you through the story. The imagery is deliberate and helps bring the story to life. It’s a smooth read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Burning Roses while I was reading it. Despite the unsatisfactory ending and the forgettableness of it, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more stories by S.L. Huang.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars (3.5 really, but I rounded up). If you enjoy fairytale retellings, it’s worth a look. And it’s short enough that even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’re not wasting too much time.

Thoughts on BOOKED FOR DEATH

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. The book I requested from NetGalley was never approved or denied (I hate when they just leave you hanging like that), but on the day I decided I should just pick something from their “read now” list for August, I got an email saying a book I forgot I had pre-ordered was now available to read. It’s the first in Victoria Gilbert’s new series, so I figure it’s as good a book to review as any. Booked for Death is the debut volume from the new cozy mystery series A Booklovers B&B Mysteries. It came out on August 11th from Crooked Lane Books. Let’s get to the review!

Cute cover.

Booked for Death follows Charlotte Reed, a widow who recently inherited a book themed B&B from her mysterious great aunt, as she throws an week-long series of events celebrating the mystery writer Josephine Tey. During one of the events, one of the guests is found dead. He was an odious fellow, so there’s no shortage of suspects, including Charlotte herself. With the help of her strange older neighbor, Charlotte tries to unravel the mystery of the murder as well as her great aunt’s past.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? Meh. The plot is pretty predictable and the foreshadowing of the murder “twist” is super obvious. Especially if you’re used to reading these types of books. The whole thing with the great aunt was kind of out there. In my head, I know it’s probably happened to someone, but I wasn’t convinced it was “real” in this context, which kind of pulled me out of the story. It seemed like an unnecessary addition to make the story more interesting, but for me it just muddled things up. I rolled my eyes a lot once it was revealed.

Basically.

The characters. I didn’t really connect with them the way I was hoping I would. Charlotte is wishy-washy. As soon as the murder happens she thinks everyone did it, including her friend and employees, then it seems like she wants to clear her friend of suspicion, then maybe not. And back and forth like that with just about everyone, but she never takes anyone off her list until the night of the big reveal. It was kind of annoying. I think I liked just about everyone else more than Charlotte. I didn’t dislike her. I was just meh about her.

The world building. It was a bit much. I forgot how much Victoria Gilbert likes to describe houses. I get it. There is beadboard in every single building in town. Every house has gingerbread moulding. At least shake things up a bit because those are basically the same descriptions as the buildings in the Blue Ridge Library Mysteries. This book has a lot more in the way of street directions though, which would be pretty neat if I were in Beaufort, NC and could retrace Charlotte’s steps.

This is what I imagine all the houses look like.

The writing itself is decent enough. The dialogue is a little stilted sometimes and it seems like people say things for the reader’s advantage rather than slipping those tidbits more naturally into the story. Beyond that, it’s a smooth read.

Ultimately, I wasn’t super into Booked for Death, but it wasn’t bad. I liked it enough that I’ll probably give book two a try just to see if it gets any better. If not, I’ll give it up.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Probably closer to 2.5 if I’m being honest. If you enjoy cozy mysteries and want something with an older protagonist (42) without the typical romance subplot, check it out.

Thoughts on FROM BEER TO ETERNITY

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of the month again, so you know what that means. It’s time for the regularly scheduled book review! This month, I decided to go back to cozy mysteries for something fun and quick and with a happy ending. I got an ARC for Sherry Harris’s newest release, From Beer to Eternity. It’s the first in her Sea Glass Saloon series and was released on the 28th (yesterday) from Kensington Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

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Cute cover, but doesn’t seem like an accurate depiction of the bar.

From Beer to Eternity follows Chloe Jackson as she takes some time off from her library job in Chicago to fulfill a last promise to her best friend Boone who died. She goes to his hometown in the Florida panhandle and gets a job at his grandmother’s bar. The only problem is that Vivi, his grandmother, doesn’t want or seem to need help. Throw in a murder, a hot mystery guy, and a few attempts on Chloe’s life and Chicago just keeps looking better and better. Unfortunately, Chloe keeps her promises, so she can’t run away. Instead, she dives head first into a murder investigation like anyone would. No? Just her? Okay then.

First, the character development. I love Chloe. She’s the first snoop I’ve seen in one of these books who actually acknowledges that she’s bad at it and tries to come at things from different angles when she screws up. The only complaint I have about her is that she’s overly dumb sometimes even though she’s supposed to be smart. If multiple people start looking at you like you’re nuts when you say someone is a handywoman, you inquire as to why they’re looking at you like that, especially when no one actually told you her profession beyond “she fixes things.” Don’t be dense. Chloe’s new in town, so there’s no bestie to support her, but that means we get to see the budding friendship between her and Joaquin, the gay bartender. There’s also the weird romance thing going on with Rhett, but Chloe’s resistant to it for a couple of reasons (only one of which is acceptable to me). And of course there’s the tension with Vivi. It all makes for some really nice development.

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The setting is lovely. Harris does a wonderful job of depicting life on the Gulf. I love the beach imagery and the storms rolling in and even the bar. Everything is so vivid. All of the senses are utilized to create the whole picture. It’s kind of an immersive experience, which is neat.

The plot and pacing is great for the most part. It kept me guessing until the end, but we didn’t get to see much of the killer, so they basically flew under the radar. However, the last few chapters kind of went from a good and steady pace to a random avalanche. Throwing in that completely random and unfounded suspicion about Boone’s death only made the ending convoluted. His death never seemed to come into question until that point, so it is jarring and distracts from what actually happened.

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The writing is lovely, like I mentioned with the setting. Everything flows well and the imagery is gorgeous. Other than the pacing of the last few chapters, I can’t find anything to complain about with the writing itself.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed From Beer to Eternity. I will definitely by picking up future books in the series and may even check out Harris’s other cozy mystery series.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you enjoy a good cozy or want something quick and fun to read, it’s worth picking up.

Thoughts on THE KINGDOM OF LIARS

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of June, so you know what that means. Review time! I decided I wanted to dig into some fantasy this month. Not middle grade. Not mixed with other genres. Just some straight up fantasy. So, I got an ARC of The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell. To be honest, I have no idea when it was actually released. Some places say it came out on May 5th and others say it came out yesterday. Either way, it’s a recent release from Gallery Books/Saga Press. As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

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Pretty cover.

The Kingdom of Liars follows Michael Kingman as he tries to find his place in a society that has marked him as a traitor due to his father’s crime. When Michael was a child, his father murdered the crown prince despite the Kingman family being protectors of the throne since its inception. Michael and his siblings have lived in the shadow of that murder ever since. But did everything go down like the king would have you believe? Even if it did, could Michael pull his family’s reputation out of the trash while somehow smiting the nobles? He has no idea, but he’s going to try.

Let’s start with the world building and plot. World building: I really like the concept of a magic system that feeds off of memories. Sure, you can use magic to do things, but is it really worth the risk? It ups the stakes in a way that most magic systems don’t have, which makes the tension much higher. I also enjoyed the shattered moon that randomly throws prophecies at the world. I’m hoping that gets more attention in future books. The plot itself is pretty standard. Some ancestor did something bad so now I must figure out what really happened and fix it. Blah blah blah. There are some twists that keep it interesting, but it’s nothing new. It’s not bad, just predictable.

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And this is coming from Quentin Coldwater.

The characters. If any other character had been the main focus, I probably would’ve liked the book a lot better. There’s no nice way to say this: Michael’s a whiny little bitch. All he does throughout the book is get into trouble and force other people to save his inept ass. It quickly becomes a question not of “how will he get out of this?” but instead “who’s going to save him this time?” He’s basically Frodo, but he has no Sam, so it’s down to whoever is at hand to do what needs to be done. Normally, that’s fine for me, but none of the other characters are really fleshed out enough to make up for Michael even though a couple of them could be awesome (I’m looking at you Kai and Gwen).

I also want to mention the pacing. This book starts out super slow. That’s not uncommon in fantasy, especially with newer authors. It’s really hard to explain magical systems and histories without getting infodumpy. But it can be boring at times. The pacing for the middle third speeds up to a nice quick and engaging trot (for lack of a better word). Then the last third is too fast, a little jumbled, and at times annoyingly vague (you supposedly see that emblem you’ve been trying to figure out the entire book every single day and you just now put two and two together? You are useless, Michael.) But yeah, it could’ve been a smoother ride.

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Kind of.

The writing isn’t bad. There are a LOT of words. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that dense that was written so recently, which probably added to the slow pacing of the first part of the book. But from a technical point of view, it wasn’t bad writing by any means.

Ultimately, I felt The Kingdom of Liars had a lot of potential. I will at least read book two when/if it comes out to see if Michael grows up any and what other prophecies the moon hurls at them. But if it doesn’t get better, I’ll probably lose interest.

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Overall, I gave it three out of five stars. That’s a little generous, but I have high hopes for the sequel. If you enjoy fantasy and don’t mind unlikable main characters, pick it up. Otherwise, maybe wait and see how future books do before starting this one.

Blog Tour/Review for ORDINARY GIRLS by Jaquira Diaz

Hello, hello! This week, I’m participating in the blog tour for the paperback release of Jaquira Diaz’s memoir Ordinary Girls. It was originally released in October, 2019 from Algonquin Books. Since then, it has received an abundance of praise and has won the Whiting Award in Nonfiction. Thanks to receiving a copy of the book from Algonquin Books and NetGalley, I’ll be providing my own review shortly, but first I thought I would share some praise the book’s already earned.

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“A skilled writer, Díaz is meticulous in her craft, and on page after page her writing truly sings. Her temporal leaps and switches in tense and point of view make the overall delivery both powerful and complex…  This brutally honest coming-of-age story is a painful yet illuminating memoir, a testament to resilience in the face of scarcity, a broken family, substance abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, suicide and violence.”
-The New York Times Book Review

“A fierce, unflinching account of ordinary girls leading extraordinary lives.”
-Poets & Writers

“Jaquira Díaz writes about ordinary girls living extraordinary lives. And Díaz is no ordinary observer. She is a wondrous survivor, a woman who has claimed her own voice, a writer who writes for those who have no voice, for the black and brown girls “who never saw themselves in books.” Jaquira Díaz writes about them with love. How extraordinary is that!”   
-Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

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A gorgeous cover.

Ordinary Girls tells the story of Diaz’s life from a young childhood in Puerto Rico to an adolescence in Miami to an adulthood still searching for where she belongs. There are dysfunctional families that fall apart, friendships that transform into makeshift families, struggles being overcome, and so much more. It’s Diaz’s story, her life, but it’s also a relatable story for so many young women.

Diaz doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics. She writes openly about suicide and addiction from both sides. She writes about violence and racism and sexual assault. There’s a struggle with her own sexuality. There’s the growth from a teenage “delinquent” (just a girl who doesn’t know any other way to cope with life) to a young woman who knows she can be better and does the only thing she can think of to prove it to herself by joining the navy. And throughout the memoir, Diaz sprinkles in bits of Puerto Rican history to help define where she comes from. It makes for an interesting and moving combination.

The writing is strong. I admit that some of the shifts in tense and changes from more personal writing styles to more journalistic styles were jarring for me. I don’t read much nonfiction, so I’m used to a more uniform style. But once I stopped reading each section as a type of chapter and started reading them more as linked essays, I got into the flow of the book much easier.

Ultimately, Ordinary Girls was an intriguing and emotional piece that I’m glad I read. It’s not something I would have picked up on my own, but it’s relatable and for the parts I couldn’t relate to, it’s enlightening.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you enjoy memoirs, this is definitely one worth picking up.


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Photo: Maria Esquinca

Jaquira Díaz was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami. She is the author of Ordinary Girls: A Memoir, winner of a Whiting Award, a Florida Book Awards Gold Medal, and a Lambda Literary Awards finalist. Ordinary Girls was a Summer/Fall 2019 Indies Introduce Selection, a Fall 2019 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Notable Selection, a November 2019 Indie Next Pick, and a Library Reads October pick. Díaz’s work has been published in The GuardianThe FaderConde Nast Traveler, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and The Best American Essays 2016, among other publications. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, an Elizabeth George Foundation grant, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Kenyon Review, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. A former Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and Consulting Editor at the Kenyon Review, she splits her time between Montréal and Miami Beach, with her partner, the writer Lars Horn. Her second book, I Am Deliberate: A Novel, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books.

Thoughts on DRAGON BROTHERS

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? It’s the last week of May, so you know what that means: book review time! This month, I decided to go with something a little different. It’s a middle grade fantasy, which means it’s aimed at younger readers, but still accessible to older readers. I admit it’s not something I usually seek out, but it’s fun to read stuff like this occasionally. Dragon Brothers by L.B. Lillibridge was released by Furtive Grunion Books on the 26th. I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it!

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Nice, simple cover.

Dragon Brothers follows Rhinen and Laeb, rare dragon-born brothers, as they fight the inequality that plagues the lands they will one day rule. When Rhinen is kidnapped by Buntars (members of the non-magical Klor who seek equal rights with the magic wielding Shaynan by any means necessary), not only does he learn about their plight, but he discovers another dragon-born, the toddler Haia. After Rhinen and Haia are rescued from the Buntars by the dragon king Tateh and Laeb, the revolution reaches a turning point with the two brothers trying to steer it towards equality for all.

This is a really colorful story. Meaning we get to know what color just about everything is in here. Everyone has unnatural hair colors (sometimes tied in with their powers, sometimes not). There are color shifting cats and winged dogs and all sorts of vivid images. It’s definitely a pretty book in that way. The colorful imagery also helps make the descriptions fun and occasionally unexpected. And the pacing is super tight, which makes for a quick read as much as a fun one.

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The plot is a little awkward at times because there doesn’t seem to be any rules to the magic of this world. If they need something, there’s suddenly a character who has just the magic they need. It’s a little too convenient at times. But it’s a middle grade book, so I suppose that’s okay. As a middle grade book, a lot of really complex issues are over-simplified. A lot of things happen much too easily. It’s part of the reason the book went so fast, but also the reason it wasn’t as gripping as it could have been. Even kids’ fiction can be more complex than this one is. The message is good, though.

My only real complaint has to do with the description. It literally says “Featuring a gender nonbinary protagonist and lesbian side characters, Dragon Brothers offers a voice of inclusivity for children everywhere.” I’m sorry, but if you have to say it, chances are you’re not showing it well enough in the book. And this book doesn’t. Rhinen likes to wear makeup and skirts, which is completely normalized in the book. Otherwise, he’s a pretty standard boy. And the lesbian side character is a girl about the same age as the brothers who doesn’t kiss boys and wants to make a special gift for a girl who happens to be her best friend. There’s zero romance in this book, so the lesbian relationship comes off as close friendship. Stop using inclusivity as a marketing tool and just put it in the book.

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Ultimately, I enjoyed Dragon Brothers for what it is, a middle grade fantasy. It read a little young for me, but I don’t have kids, so what do I know? It’s cute and I’ll check out other things from Lillibridge if I stumble across them, but I won’t search them out.

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Overall, I gave it three out of five stars. If you have kids (recommended for 9-12 year olds, but probably safe for slightly younger kids), check it out. If you enjoy middle grade books yourself, go for it. But you’re not really missing anything if you skip it.

Thoughts on CHERRY SLICE

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday in April. Can you believe it? Time has just been flying by these past few weeks. But you know what today is. It’s book review day! None of my requests were approved through NetGalley for this month, so I bought a backup just in case. It’s called Cherry Slice by Jennifer Stone and was released on April 2nd from Farrago Books. I decided to do another cozy mystery since it’s been a while since I reviewed one that wasn’t also fantasy. I wanted something cute and funny and overall happy. This book seemed like it would accommodate all of those things. Since I don’t have to thank anyone, let’s get on with the review!

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Simple enough cover.

Cherry Slice follows Cherry Hinton as she tries to reinvent herself after an undercover journalism mission on reality TV goes awry. She’s doing her best to avoid the spotlight while revamping her parents’ bakery into something her own. That is until an ex’s sister pops in and asks her to look into his murder which happened on live TV two years prior. It piques Cherry’s journalistic interest and drags her back into the midst of Essex’s reality TV obsession.

Plotwise, it’s pretty standard. Someone with no law experience (although she does have investigative reporting experience) is in the middle of a rough time when a murder falls in her lap and she must solve it in order to get her life back on track. There are a handful of suspects that keep both Cherry and the reader guessing, then throw in another murder and some more twists and you’ve got the gist of things. Don’t forget the quirky best friend, the hunky detective dude she’s already kind of dated but still has the hots for, and the overbearing mother. So yeah, it’s standard but cute.

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It’s also a little trashy, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The characters are fun and pretty diverse. Cherry’s not afraid to get a little dirty to get the info she seeks. Her bestie, Kelsey, is down for anything as long as she can entertain her social media followers. Jacob, the detective, is a camera whore and a manipulative dick most of the time. I think my favorite character was probably Cherry’s mom. She rambles and has zero shame and basically solves the murder of Kenny Thorpe when Cherry’s stuck with no new leads.

One last thing I want to mention is the humor in this book. If you’re a fan of inappropriate humor, you’ll be fine. That being said, it does border on the offensive. There’s fat-shaming, slut-shaming (usually at Cherry’s expense), jokes at the expense of non-binary folks, and more. If you’re sensitive to stuff like that, this is not a book you’ll want to pick up. I’m not, so it didn’t really bother me. Sometimes though, the humor was super forced, which gave it an unnatural feel. That’s when I’d roll my eyes and move on.

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The writing itself was tight and fast-paced. It was a pretty quick read, but I admit that I occasionally didn’t want to pick it back up. Between figuring out who the killer was pretty early on and the forced jokes, I got a bit bored with it. But I finished it because the writing wasn’t bad and the story itself was okay.

Ultimately, I thought Cherry Slice was just okay. If I happen to see the next book in the series, I’ll probably give it another chance if the synopsis is interesting, but I don’t plan on looking for it.

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Overall, I gave it three out of five stars. Probably closer to two and a half if I’m being honest. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. If you like inappropriate humor and cozies, give it a shot. If not, you’re not really missing anything.