Thoughts on TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS

Hello, hello! How is everyone holding up during this hectic time? I hope your isolation includes lots of good books and binge watching. Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday of March, so you know what that means. Book review time! This month, I opted for something a bit more slice of life meets magical realism meets ghost story than I normally go for. I just wanted something a little different and this fit in with that. It’s called Tigers, Not Daughters and is by Samantha Mabry. It was released on the 24th from Algonquin Young Readers. 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.

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Lovely cover.

 

Tigers, Not Daughters follows the remaining Torres sisters (Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa) as they struggle to cope with life after their oldest sister’s (Ana) death. Jessica tries to become Ana. Iridian hides herself deep within books and writing. And Rosa attempts to make sense of everything through her connections with animals. Throw in a useless drunk of a father, nosy teenage boys who want to be heroes but only make things worse, an abusive boyfriend, and a ghost just to make the sisters’ lives more difficult. Teenage angst and sisterhood. What more does a story need?

I admit I was a little on the fence about this story plot-wise. There’s a slow build before the magic and ghost story kick in, so I wasn’t grabbed in the way I’m used to with YA fantasy type books. But I’m glad I kept with it. And it’s a short book (less than 300 pages), so the wait for weird wasn’t really that long. It gave the characters a chance to shine on their own before everything else could distract from them. I enjoyed how the weirdness kind of crept in around the edges before you even realized it was there.

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As far as the characters go, we get to see most of the story from Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa’s views with a few interjections from the boys across the street. Each viewpoint is distinctive and beautiful in its own way. I didn’t even have to check the chapter headings to know whose head I was in, which is rare. It’s really hard to find characters who are similar yet different enough to stand apart from each other. I especially love Rosa, the kind and loving youngest sister who doesn’t even know what jealousy feels like until she experiences it for the first time, but who also kicks ass when she needs to. She’s the best.

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The writing is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a lovely sense of poetry that flows through this book. I think that’s what kept me reading in the beginning. I’m glad it did. It makes for easy reading as well as interesting images.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Tigers, Not Daughters. It was a wonderful glimpse into grief and family dynamics and the bonds of sisters. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more stories by Samantha Mabry.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. Why did I take away one? Because I finished the book a few days ago and am already forgetting parts of it, which means I probably won’t remember it at all in six months. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it wasn’t memorable for me. But I still totally recommend it if you like magical realism and ghost stories about teenage girls.

Thoughts on THE SOUND OF STARS

Hello, hello! It’s only the first week of March, but I have another book review for you. It’s the last minute approval I got for February’s ARC requests. Don’t worry. The next one won’t be until the end of March because I have no more ARC requests out (except one for April’s review). Anyway, the book is called The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow. It’s a sci-fi fantasy YA novel because I was looking for something different. Inkyard Press released the book on February 25th. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for access to the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

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Gorgeous cover. You can probably guess why it caught my eye as I was browsing. So much purple.

The Sound of Stars follows Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a seventeen-year-old jaded human, as she struggles to cope during an alien invasion by lending out contraband (books) to others imprisoned in the same center. When she’s caught by one of her alien overlords (an attractive guy called M0Rr1s), she knows she’s dead, but in return for his silence, he just wants music (also forbidden). Little do they know that this give-and-take will lead to big adventures as they escape across the country together. And it might even lead to more than that if they can survive.

Sounds pretty standard and fun, right? It is! There’s romance and danger and misunderstandings and personal revelations and all that. Plus, there are some weird musicians sprinkled in for fun. It’s definitely a YA novel that pulls out all of the emotional stops. There’s teenage angst in all its glory threaded around a lot of deeper and more difficult topics. It makes for a nice rollercoaster ride if you open yourself up to it.

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That being said, I did feel like some of the diversity issues that the book deals with were far too heavy handed at times. Which is common and annoying in all forms of media these days. And before you get on your soapbox and give me a lecture about the importance of representation in the media, please remember that I’m a wheelchair-bound female with a questionable sexuality. I don’t get represented in media very often outside of inspiration porn. Cool your jets. I’m just saying that I don’t need to know the gender identity of every throw away character in the story. There are at least two characters who literally just open doors then disappear, but I know they’re nonbinary. Why? It feels trite. Especially when there are plenty of lovely fleshed out characters who are nonbinary or ace/demi or bi/pan, etc. And I love those characters. I hope to see more of them. I kind of understand it with the aliens because it’s how they are, it’s part of their social standards to announce their gender. With the humans it felt forced. Especially when a kid in Texas (who by all indications hasn’t had any contact with the aliens in order to learn this behavior) asks if M0Rr1S is a boy, a girl, or nonbinary. If the book was set in the future more than two years, I might be able to believe a kid here would ask that, but it doesn’t seem to be, so it came off as awkward.

Tl;Dr? I love learning about characters and seeing things from other perspectives, but when you tell me intimate details about characters I don’t get to see for more than a sentence or two, it’s weird and forced.

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There’s a spoiler in the next paragraph.

 

Moving along to character development. It’s fantastic. Ellie and M0Rr1S are superb. Even the backup characters are awesome. I love Avi and Alice and the Starry Eyed. Even Brixton gets his moment in the sun. We’re told he’s basically a bad guy, but when he finally shows up he has this really adorable backstory that turns super creepy by human standards the more you think about it. He wanted to be a part of his little brother (M0Rr1s) and have a connection with him, so when their mother created M0Rr1S (who is a labmade, which is exactly what it sounds like) with her genetic material, Brixton added some of his own when she wasn’t looking. It’s sweet until you start thinking about the daddy-bro implications. But they’re aliens, so it’s okay! And it’s those kinds of details that make the story interesting and fun.

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No more spoilers from here.

The writing was a little repetitive at times, but smooth enough to let me fly through the story. I read 430 pages in 12 days, which is super fast for me. Plus I love the inclusion of song lyrics and all of the references to music and books. I even discovered a couple of titles I can look into for fun reading.

Ultimately, I loved The Sound of Stars. It was left open-ended, so I have high hopes that future books will come out. If not, I’ll still pick up whatever Alechia Dow publishes next and hope it’s just as good.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you’re into YA sci-fi/fantasy, I definitely recommend picking it up. It’s definitely worth a read and it would be beautiful on any library shelf or nightstand.

Thoughts on The Last Smile in Sunder City

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last week of February which means that it’s review time. And guess what! I got approved at the very last minute for another February release, so you’ll get another review either next week or the week after, depending on how fast I can get through it. Are you tired of book reviews yet? Tough noogies, I guess. Anyway, today I’m taking a look at The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold. It was released by Orbit Books on February 25th. 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 to it!

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An interesting cover.

The Last Smile in Sunder City follows Fetch Phillips, a human and a former jack-of-all-trades turned soldier turned PI, as he tries to do some good with his life. Six years ago, the source of magic was cut off from the world due to human greed. This left all the monsters to adapt to a miserable new life and sometimes, they need favors. That’s where Fetch comes in handy. This time, he’s hired to find a missing vampire, but nobody is prepared for what else he discovers along the way.

Sounds fun, right? It is to an extent. I mean, who wouldn’t love a gritty noir-esque mystery with real monsters? The problem is that that’s not what we get. Not really. There are a bunch of different stories all packed into one here and none of them are fleshed out into a story worth the time it takes to sift through them. And I don’t mean that various storylines are layered together like a book should have, I’m talking about a multitude of main stories being stuffed into one. In fact, the story that seems the most planned out is Fletch’s backstory which takes up half the book in flashbacks. That’s the story that wants to be told. It’s epic verging on dark fantasy. And I’d totally read that book. It would be awesome. But as a mystery, this story falls flat.

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Me as I was reading.

As far as the characters go, there are too many introduced to keep track of or develop feelings for. This is also due to the multiple stories vying for attention. It’s kind of annoying to have to go back to figure out who’s being talked about all the time. And there’s also the fact that Fetch doesn’t really do anything, at least not pertaining to the main story, so it’s hard to get into him. He gets lucky a couple of times and stumbles upon clues, but he very rarely actively does his job. And whenever he’s in trouble, someone else saves him. It became easy to hope Fetch failed. At least then I would’ve had a laugh. That being said, I did like his personality for the most part.

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It’s me.

The writing itself was nice. It flowed and would’ve made for a quick read if I didn’t have to keep going back to see who was who. There was some surprising imagery mixed in with some that was just awkward. But mostly it was just nice. Not great but not bad either. There’s a lot of good potential if the writer can stick to one main story and a few subplots next time.

Ultimately, The Last Smile in Sunder City sounds like a great idea, but the execution could have been better. I will check out the next book because I really want to like this series. If it’s not better, I’ll probably give it up.

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Overall, I gave it two out of five stars because the premise is really good. I’m not going to urge you to try it, unless I discover future books are much better, but if you’re bored it’s not entirely bad.

Thoughts On DARK SECRET

Hello, hello! I know it’s not the last Wednesday of February yet, but I got two ARCs from NetGalley this month, so here’s an extra review. This week, I’m looking at Dark Secret by Danielle Rose. It’s the first book in her Darkhaven Saga. Waterhouse Press released the book on the 18th. If you’re familiar with Danielle’s Blood Books trilogy, the characters might seem familiar, but the story is completely new. First and foremost, I must thank NetGalley and Waterhouse Press for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s get to it! Also, fair warning: there are spoiler adjacent tidbits from here on out. If you’re familiar with the genre, you can guess at what some newbies might consider spoilers.

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Love the cover and I hear the paperback is even prettier.

Dark Secret follows Ava Lopez as she navigates being a witch and a hunter and harnessing her own powers. Despite being told not to go on her usual rounds, searching the small town she lives in for vampires to destroy, she does it anyway. Typical teenager behavior, right? And of course things go wrong, then they snowball from there. At one point, Ava has to make a choice between death and something that will get her kicked out of her coven and thrown in with the things she despises most. How will she cope? What will she learn? Will she be able to hold on to who she is? These are just some of the questions this book starts to tackle.

Sounds fun, right? It is. The plot isn’t exactly new, but it doesn’t feel overdone. Witches versus vampires, then a witch becomes a vampire and learns that there’s a difference between a real vampire and the rogues she was taught to hate. That’s cool. But I really liked hearing about the different covens more than the vampire thing. Her best friend’s coven is all about peace and coexisting with vampires. I hope to learn more about them and to see if they really feel that way or if it’s all talk. I’m also interested to see if Ava’s coven can accept her in her new form. Unfortunately, I have to wait for future books to see if my questions get answers.

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Or read another book.

The characters here are all pretty likeable. Yes, Ava is at that age where she knows she’s right until something proves her wrong. Sometimes, you just want to smack some sense into her. But she slowly learns and is evolving. It’s a short book, so she can only change so much, but she’s heading in the right direction. Jasik and the other vampires are interesting. They’re a little stereotypical at the moment, but some seeds have been planted for them to grow into their own in future books.

Speaking of future books, I wondered why this book was so short. Apparently, the first few books in this series are going to be released pretty close together, so they’re on the shorter end of the novel spectrum. Instead of having to wait a year or more for book two, we only have to wait about a month. And book three is due out about a month after that. It’s an interesting release schedule and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out.

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Yes, it is.

As far as the writing goes, it’s a fast-paced and fun read. Yes, there’s some repetition that gets a little distracting. We’re told multiple times that Ava is a spirit witch and what that means. But I figured out just to skim those paragraphs and move on pretty quickly.

Full disclosure: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know Danielle and I actually got our MFAs together. I’ve watched her writing grow and tighten and improve over the last five years. I’m really proud of her and what she’s accomplished.

Ultimately, I had fun with Dark Secret. I’m looking forward to the next few books in the series. Luckily, I don’t have long to wait!

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Overall, I gave the book four out of five stars. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is into YA fantasy and supernatural stuff. If you’re familiar with Danielle’s work, this is not a steamy romance, so don’t be disappointed if that’s what you were hoping for.

Thoughts On THE NIGHT COUNTRY

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of January, so you all know what that means. It’s book review time! So, the place where I usually get ARCs for these reviews has been super slow about responding to requests, so somehow I ended up with no books for January and two for February. Yup. Next month you’ll get a review on both the 19th and 26th. Anyway, I decided to review a book I forgot I had pre-ordered for January. The Night Country by Melissa Albert is the second book in The Hazel Wood series. It was released on January 7th by Flatiron Books (an imprint of Macmillan Books). Since I don’t have to thank anyone, let’s get on with the review! Beware, there are potential spoilers ahead if you haven’t read The Hazel Wood (book one of the series).

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It really is a lovely cover.

The Night Country follows Alice now that she’s back in New York. She goes to meetings with other ex-stories to try to get her life on track, until a mysterious newcomer upsets the balance. Then, Alice finds out ex-stories are being murdered and having pieces stolen from them. As she tries to figure out what’s going on, she also starts receiving magical letters from someone in her past (yeah, it’s him). From there, in typical fairytale fashion, things keep getting weirder.

I’ll be honest… I don’t actually remember much about book one. I must’ve liked it, otherwise I wouldn’t have pre-ordered this one. But I basically went into this book blind and had to piece together my memories of the first book from the clues here. If you have time, I definitely suggest at least skimming the first book to catch up. That being said, I enjoyed this book. A lot. I probably would have caught on to some stuff sooner if I had read the first one again, but I caught on fast enough without it.

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Me as I was reading.

About the characters. Alice is still a whiny little so-and-so. She isn’t particularly likeable. But she’s at the age (18-ish) where being a self-absorbed bitch (sorry, there’s no polite word for it) is completely normal human behavior. Combine that with her violent tendencies (part of her story personality) and she becomes someone you just don’t like and have no desire to like. That’s okay. Because we also have Ella and Finch and Sophia and a whole cast of characters we can root for. Granted, some of them are also firmly in the unlikeable category until we see their stories. I know a lot of readers have to connect with the main character to get into a story. I don’t. As long as I enjoy the plot and have a regularly appearing character to look forward to, I’m okay.

The plot. It’s not original, but it’s creepy and fun. A serial killer thriller meets a bunch of fairy tales. That’s right up my alley. There are some weak spots. For instance, I was more interested in Iolanthe’s motivation than anything. We get bits and pieces of her story and have no idea if she’s lying or not. And all we get at the end is that she wanted to go home. I really hope that we get more of her story at some point. The ending of the overall story is a little weak as well, but that feels like it’s because the author wanted to leave it with the potential for more books while wrapping it up just enough that the readers are satisfied in case nothing else happens.

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Yup. Seems that way.

The writing is beautiful and poetic and makes for a quick read. The only observation (it’s not really a complaint) I have is that there are a lot of obscure pop culture references. It’s not a bad thing, but it will definitely date the book and make it more difficult for readers to get into. Especially five, ten, twenty years from now when the references are no longer relevant. I didn’t even understand some of them. And no, I’m not Googling every name I don’t know just to see who a character mentioned in passing kind of resembles or to find out what’s playing in the background or whatever. I’m lazy. That’s too much work.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Night Country. Despite its flaws, it’s an entertaining read. I will definitely keep an eye out for more from Melissa Albert.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. I can see why some people don’t like it, but if you’re into dark fantasy and thrillers, check it out. Even if you were on the fence about book one, pick it up. This one was better in my opinion.

Thoughts on A SMALL TOWN

Howdy, howdy!  Merry Christmas to all who celebrate and happy holidays to those who celebrate something else!  I hope everyone has a pleasant day full of love and good food.  Dad’s making a lasagna for us.  It’s okay.  You can be jealous.  Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday of the month, so that means it’s book review time.  When I requested this month’s book, I thought it was a mystery based on the description, but I really don’t know what category it falls into.  It’s called A Small Town by Thomas Perry.  It was released on December 17th by The Mysterious Press (an imprint of Grove Atlantic).  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 to it.

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Nice cover.

A Small Town follows a bunch of people, but primarily Leah Hawkins, in the aftermath of a prison break.  It’s been two years and the twelve who orchestrated it have yet to be caught.  The current police chief of the dying town decides to take a sabbatical to hunt the twelve down herself.  Can she succeed where everyone else has failed?

I’m going to say it right up front: I hated this book with a passion.  So, if you don’t want to read one long rant, feel free to skip to the rating.  For everyone else, my dislike started with the basic premise.  A small town cop with the exact same leads as the FBI is the only one who can find these men who aren’t even that hard to find.  The first one was living with his mother.  I’m sure the FBI had no idea about that and had no one watching the place at least in the beginning.  It’d be too easy.  Turns out it was that easy, but only Leah could figure it out.  From there, she got a bunch of lucky leads.  It was annoying.  And I won’t even go into the psychology of the escapees and how some with non-violent histories are suddenly committing rape and murder to “kill the town” and make their escape easier.

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Then there were the subplots.  Leah’s romance was ridiculous.  She was the other woman to some city official but it was okay because his wife had just been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy (as if that’s not an umbrella term for multiple possible diagnoses), so her sex life was over and she was a benevolent being who allowed the affair.  First off, stop perpetuating the idea that cripples aren’t sexual beings.  Second, do your damn research.  One quick Google search will tell you that MD is a number of different diseases.  Pick one.  Lastly, his wife may have been a forgiving person, but don’t use a disability to rationalize shitty behavior.  It’s not okay.  And the romance did nothing to further the main plot anyway, so it was completely unnecessary.

There was also that whole cheating thing with the racist woman and the criminal.  The sex scenes were completely random and felt like they were thrown in last minute to set up the deaths of two of the escaped prisoners so that Leah wouldn’t have to hunt them down.  It just felt like lazy storytelling.  But I was already firmly against this book by that point, so maybe I’m wrong.  I doubt it, but maybe.

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The writing was subpar at best.  I understand adding description to flesh stuff out and up the tension, but I know how to open a door.  Going through it step by step is just tedious.  And that’s how a lot of this book felt.  Tedious.  And then there was the POV.  It was one of those books that was in everyone’s head and jumped around multiple times each chapter, which is fine.  The bad part was that there are so many names thrown around and characters that only show up once that it’s impossible to follow without some kind of chart.  I don’t understand why half of the people were even worth getting names let alone a peek inside their head.  There was no focus.

Ultimately, I wanted to stop reading A Small Town.  I would have if I hadn’t been reviewing it.  But I figured I needed to see if it got any better.  It didn’t.

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Overall, I gave it 1 out of 5 stars because NetGalley and everything requires some kind of star rating.  It’s really more like half a star because I acknowledge that some people enjoyed it.  Pick it up if it’s your thing.  It wasn’t mine.

Thoughts on THE WICKERLIGHT

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of November, so that means it’s book review time.  But first, happy (early) Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it!  I hope your day tomorrow is filled with great food and even better company.  Now, back to what this post is about.  I was in the mood for fantasy, so I requested The Wickerlight by Mary Watson.  What I didn’t realize was that it was the second book in a series (NetGalley isn’t great at letting you know if a book is part of a series) and by the time I noticed, it was too late for me to go back and read The Wren Hunt first.  Luckily, this one stands pretty well on its own.  Anyway, The Wickerlight was released November 26th by Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books.  I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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A nice, simple cover.

The Wickerlight follows David and Zara as they navigate life, mystery, parental expectations, and even love.  Despite the lack of leads and evidence in her sister’s strange death, Zara is determined to find out what happened.  Despite being part of a secret magical war and under immense pressure from his father, David is determined to keep the peace between the Judges and Augurs as best as he can.  What happens when outsiders find out about the magic going on under their noses?  What happens when things come to a boil between the Judges and Augurs?  What happens when Zara and David cross paths?

It sounds like an interesting story and it really is.  There’s a lot of Irish mythology in it, which I need to get better acquainted with.  One thing I learned about myself from this book is that I have zero grasp on Irish pronunciations.  Luckily, there’s a glossary in the back to help out, so if you don’t know how to say Badb either, start there.

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Me trying to figure out how to pronounce things.

The pacing of the book was interesting.  It moved super fast and a lot of the time it didn’t feel like much was happening until I stopped and thought about what I read.  I think this was because there’s a lot of telling and very little showing in this book.  Yeah, I wished some parts had been slowed down and explained in more detail, but for the most part I enjoyed the speed.  I got through a 400+ pages book in about 10 days.  That’s quick  for me.  And the fact that I kept thinking about what I read even after I put it down for the night says a lot.  I haven’t found myself that invested in a book and it’s characters in a long time.

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Me as I read this book.

The writing was crisp and clear and fun.  The characters were diverse and entertaining.  I actually found myself wanting to know more about Adam and his life.  I don’t know if there’re going to be more books (it could go either way as some stuff seemed to be left open, but the important stuff was wrapped up), but I hope to see more of him if there are.

Ultimately, The Wickerlight surprised me and surpassed my expectations for fantasy nowadays.  I’ll definitely pick up book one and see how it is.  I will also keep an eye out for more books by Mary Watson.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars because it really could have benefited from slowing down at times.  Beyond that, if you like well rounded characters, fast pace, and an intriguing plot, I definitely encourage you to pick this one up.

Thoughts on BLACK ROCK BAY

Hello, hello!  Tomorrow is Halloween, so guess what that makes this post!  Yup.  Welcome to October’s book review.  This month, I decided to try something a little darker, set on an island off of Maine.  It’s called Black Rock Bay and it’s by Brianna Labuskes.  It was released yesterday (October 29th), so of course I got an ARC.  Therefore, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, Thomas and Mercer (an imprint of Amazon Publishing), for giving me access to the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get onto the fun part.

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A simple cover that actually has something to do with the story.

Black Rock Bay follows Mia and her newest detective partner, Izzy, as they get sent to Mia’s old home in order to investigate a suspicious death.  It’s an unusual assignment since they handle cold cases, but the islanders are secretive and only warm up to their own.  Granted, Mia hasn’t been back in fifteen years due to a mysterious suicide attempt gone wrong, but her boss hopes being born and raised there will earn her some good will.  As Mia and Izzy dig into the suspicious death, they uncover something far more sinister than the average murder and it takes Mia right back to the time of her life she most wants to forget.

Sounds cool, right?  And it is, to a point.  I think I’m just going to jump right into my issues with the story.  The plot is interesting and plausible, but at the end there are a few loose ends that are never adequately explained.  Normally, this wouldn’t be so bad, but it affects the believability of key parts of the story.  For instance, why is Ellen so easily manipulated?  Yes, people in trouble do weird things, but we never really get to know her motivation which makes her flat and seem like she was added specifically as a tool for the baddie.  But my biggest issue was what Sammy did.  He had absolutely no legitimate reason for that.  And the excuse we get was a vague mention that the baddie might have had something on him.  It was a really weak spot that made the whole story less believable.  And it was a twist that was completely unnecessary.  Even the author couldn’t come up with a better explanation than “psychopaths do things for shits and giggles.”  Like, yeah, but this is fiction.  There needs to be a reason for all the major plot points or things start to fall apart.

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Something all writers should ask themselves.

That being said, I really liked the core characters.  Mia was strong and a good lead.  She had her own issues to face, but fought against them until she absolutely had to deal with them.  Izzy was a nice foil, but she could have been more.  Lacey was a fun character that was a little hard to read.  And Cash was a bit neurotic.  I’m not entirely convinced he was supposed to be, but it made him more interesting.  The whole reclusive islander thing worked really well.  Izzy’s ostracization was entirely believable.  No one was overtly rude to her, but they effectively shut her out.  That dynamic was probably my favorite part of this book.  And Izzy breaking down barriers with some of the islanders was artfully done.

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Me as I was trying to figure out who I was supposed to be in the mind of: Mia or Izzy?

The writing itself flowed nicely and made for an easy read.  It was interesting how the point of view swapped back and forth between Mia and Izzy; however, the narrative voice never really changed enough to differentiate the two, so if I didn’t note who each chapter was focused on (it tells you at the beginning of each chapter), I admit I got confused.

Ultimately, I found Black Rock Bay to be so-so.  It’s not bad.  In fact, the beginning is pretty good.  But it doesn’t hold up.  It’s not something I’ll read again and it doesn’t make me want to hunt down other books by the author.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars.  Probably closer to 2.5 if I’m being completely honest.  It just didn’t work for me, but maybe you’ll like it.

Thoughts on LAST PEN STANDING

Howdy, howdy!  It’s already the last Wednesday of September.  Where did the month go?  For that matter, where did all the months since March go?  My internal clock is kind of lagging.  Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday and that means it’s book review time!  I decided to go back to a cozy mystery this time, because I wanted something with a guaranteed happy ending.  So, I requested Last Pen Standing, the first in a brand new series by Vivian Conroy.  It was released yesterday (Sept. 24th).  As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, for allowing me access to an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Let’s get to it!

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Cute cover and pretty fitting.

Last Pen Standing follows Delta Douglas as she embarks on a new chapter in her life.  Delta’s grandmother gifts her a large sum of money because she wants to see what Delta will achieve with it instead of waiting and passing it on as an inheritance.  So, Delta quits her big city job and becomes co-owners of a stationery store in a small town with her college bestie, Hazel.  During their first workshop event at the town’s fanciest hotel, one of the hotel guests is murdered.  Hazel’s brother, Finn, is accused and everything kind of spirals from there.  Delta didn’t expect to be using her creative skills to help solve a murder, but things don’t always go the way you want.  With the help of her new friend, Jonas (an ex-cop), his dog, Spud, and the Paper Posse (the local gossips and crafters), Delta tries her best to figure out what’s going on.

I have to admit that I didn’t pinpoint the correct suspect right away.  I had the person in my list of probable suspects, but I wasn’t positive until I got closer to the end.  That made the story all the more fun, because I was able to eliminate suspects right alongside Delta and the others.  The plot was full of twists and turns.  I really liked the slow build of tension and the subtle clues sprinkled throughout.  It was just paced really nicely.  I wasn’t absorbed enough that I had trouble putting it down in order to eat and sleep and work, but I also looked forward to picking it back up again.  That’s the kind of balance I enjoy with cozies.

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Works with writing.

As far as the characters go, I loved them.  Delta was an interesting and likeable lead.  She rarely came across as pushy or bratty like some cozy leads can.  She left a lot of the snooping to the town gossips and only pried into things when she was relatively sure there was something useful to be discovered.  The love interest, Jonas, was a nice foil.  He helped Delta proceed with her investigation and made sure everything she did was above board.  Being an ex-cop gave him access to more information than usual, so I suppose that’s why Delta didn’t have to pry as much as some cozy leads.  Even the rich people came across as mostly human.  It was nice.

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Because people talk weird.

The writing was done well for the most part.  My only complaint would be that a lot of the dialogue was stilted.  “People don’t talk like that” was my mantra as I went through this book.  It was like the author wanted to give the reader a bunch of information and couldn’t find a better way of doing it than having people say it.  But people don’t say things like that, especially if they think their listener knows what they’re talking about.  Like, the stationery shop is across the street from the diner.  She works at the shop, so she knows where the diner is.  Don’t have the woman she’s talking to say to meet her at *insert name of diner*, the diner across the street from where you’ve been every day this week.  It’s not realistic.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Last Pen Standing.  I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for future books and maybe even try something else by Vivian Conroy.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  The dialogue is annoying enough that I took a star off, but if you like cozies and stationery and western type stuff, you should pick this book up.

Thoughts on THE BONE CUTTERS

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of August, which means it’s book review time!  This month, I received an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum Renee S. DeCamillis’s new book.  It’s called The Bone Cutters and it’s due out on September 1st from Eraserhead Press.  I must thank Renee and the press for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Anyway, I stepped slightly outside of my comfort zone with this one since I haven’t read much bizarro horror.  I’m more into traditional horror, but I do love me some psychological horror, which this book definitely falls under.  Now, onto the review.

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Lovely cover, though I’m not entirely sure why she’s naked.

The Bone Cutters follows Dory (our unreliable narrator) as she wakes up to find herself confined in a psychiatric hospital.  When she’s put in a counseling group for a very specific brand of junkie (one who snorts bone dust to get a “free” high), it has her literally pulling her hair out (something she has issues with anyway).  As if that’s not bad enough, the nurse who put her in the group refuses to believe that Dory belongs elsewhere.  Luckily, there’s a janitor who seems to believe Dory and even wants to help.  From there, things just keep getting weirder.

The story is nicely paced and keeps the tension up fairly well throughout the whole thing.  It’s a novella, so you could easily finish it in one go.  I broke it up into multiple reading sessions, but I really think it would benefit from reading it beginning to end.  I admit that I lost a lot of forward momentum each time I put it down, which was my own fault (stupid life getting in the way).  But every time I picked it back up, I enjoyed the ride.  In fact, I’ll probably pick a day in the next couple of months to sit down and read it all the way through just to see how the experience differs.

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The characters are interesting, but I wanted a little more flesh on some of them.  While we’re in Dory’s head, we don’t get to learn much about her.  Sure, she isn’t a Duster, and she’s super protective of the people she trusts, but she doesn’t really seem to grow much over the course of the story.  Her relationship with Tommy grows, but while she becomes more coherent, she still feels basically the same at the end.  Tommy, the janitor, is the most fleshed out.  We get to know his past and his motives.  The villains, on the other hand, are basically just junkies looking for a fix who are being manipulated by the big bad in the shadows.  I had no feelings about them one way or the other.  That being said, I like that the big bad in the shadows remains a distant mystery.  It really worked for the story.

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I like it when characters level up.

As far as the writing goes, it is lovely and poetic and musical.  The way Renee breaks up her paragraphs pulls the reader forward and aids in creating tension in all the right spots.  It’s a story worth reading to study the writing alone.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Bone Cutters.  I can’t wait to see more from Renee in the future.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  If you enjoy psychological horror with some bizarro thrown in, pick it up.  If you like beautiful writing that combines both poetry and prose, pick it up.