Thoughts on MEET ME UNDER THE MISTLETOE

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this fine Wednesday. Things are good here. The weather is slowly veering away from heat. We’re below 90 this week! Well, we’re supposed to be I think our highest high is supposed to be 89, so we could make it into the 90s. But I’m just rambling. It’s the last Wednesday of September, so it’s book review time! This month, I decided to go with a corny romance. I was hoping for something Halloween-y, but settled for Christmas since that’s all I could find. Meet Me Under the Mistletoe by Jenny Bayliss was released yesterday (the 27th) from G.P Putnam’s Sons. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute and matches the story.

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe follows Elinor “Nory” Noel, who runs a secondhand bookshop, as she spends a week with old friends from the posh private school she was a scholarship student at. The reunion brings a host of good memories mingled with a couple of particularly bad ones she would rather forget, but she pushes through in order to be supportive of her friends’ upcoming wedding. It helps when she meets Isaac, an old foe of her friend group, and he turns out to be not half bad (and still stupidly handsome). As the week passes and feelings grow, Nory and Isaac both have some major decisions to make if they want to keep things going.

I admit that romance isn’t my usual genre to read, but of the ones I have, this one pretty much fits the mold. Though, there’s a lot going on here. Most romance I’ve read has two or three subplots going on, but this one has at least six. It’s a lot and a couple of the plotlines feel thin, but it’s handled well for the most part. And it helps that the characters are all interesting enough that I didn’t mind following those subplots. There aren’t many places that drag since something is always happening to someone. So, that’s good.

I really only have two complaints about this book. The first is that all important first kiss scene. The payoff for all of the prolonged will-they/won’t-they bullshit. Of course they will. And the reader will get to be the creepy stalker who watches the sparks fly. I don’t feel like that’s too much to ask out of a romance. But it happens off the page with only a passing mention. Wtf? Sure, we get to see the second kiss, which is supposedly just as good, but it’s not the same. I was so disappointed.

The second complaint has to do with that last big fight scene. You know the one. Every romance has one. When the relationship doesn’t seem like it’s going to work. Well, I didn’t mind the scene, but Isaac’s reaction felt far more stereotypical than true to the character he was built to be. I can understand him kicking Guy out, but he would’ve heard Nory out. If he had kicked her out after discovering she was doing something he’d repeatedly told her he wasn’t ready for, I would’ve understood that and believed it. Kicking her and Guy out just felt like something they throw in to cause friction. It was forced. So, the whole pining thing for the last quarter of the book was just annoying instead of heart wrenching.

As far as the writing goes, it was actually a quick, fun read. The plot was a little dense, but mostly worked. The characters were fun and mostly interesting. It was cute and Christmasy and well written.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Meet Me Under the Mistletoe. Romance isn’t my favorite genre unless I’m in a particular mood, so I probably won’t go looking for more work by Bayliss, but I won’t avoid it either.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. I had fun with it and definitely recommend it if you’re into corny romance, but it’s not something I’d recommend to everyone.

Thoughts on VIOLET MADE OF THORNS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Things here are about the same as usual. The fridge died, so that’s been annoying for Dad. A new one has been ordered though. Anyway, it’s book review time! This month, I wasn’t really in the mood for a cozy, so I went for a fantasy story instead. Violet Made of Thorns is the first in a duology by Gina Chen. It was released yesterday (the 26th) from Delacorte Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Violet Made of Thorns follows Violet Lune, the Seer of the Sun Capital, as she tries to navigate politics and romance and the annoyances of a love/hate relationship with the crown prince, Cyrus. She’s cynical and a liar and everything she does is to make herself irreplaceable. But between a prophecy, the appearance of a witch and beasts, and the inevitability of war, Violet is forced to confront her own selfishness and the perceived limits of her power before she can truly discover her abilities. The world is on the brink of destruction. Cyrus is the key. Can she manipulate him and save everything or will her meddling push everything over the edge?

Okay, I’m just going to preface this review by saying that the pacing was absolutely awful and it made me hate everything about this book. It was so repetitive. The first two thirds of the book are basically Violet assuring the reader that she’s a manipulative, ice hearted bitch who’s only looking out for herself. When she’s not doing that, she’s having some stupid argument with Cyrus that will just end in groping and kissing. Like, dude. Just screw each other already. And most of the action was squeezed into the last third of the book and given no room to breathe. It could’ve been great, but everything is so rushed by that point and I was so annoyed at the slog to get to it that I couldn’t enjoy it.

The characters… meh. Violet acts like she has what it takes to be a big bad, but she’s kind of a wuss. She lets herself get conned repeatedly (and she knows it), but keeps making the same idiotic decisions. I’m very much reminded of those dipwads who act like they have fighting skills and crumple into a crying mess the first time they get popped in the face. That’s Violet. Cyrus isn’t much better. He knows he’s being used by literally everyone, but he just lets it happen. At least he tries to make things happen even if he goes about it the wrong way. But all he really seems to want to do is get in Violet’s pants, so to speak. The rest of the characters are pretty standard for a fantasy and unremarkable. Meh.

There’s not really much more to say about this one. It has potential, but needs so much work. The relationship development is super inconsistent. The plot is fine, but the execution is horrible.

Ultimately, I just didn’t like Violet Made of Thorns. If I randomly come across the second book, I might pick it up, but nothing about the first one makes me want to seek it out.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Mostly because I can’t do one and a half on most sites. There are better fantasy books out there, so I don’t suggest this one.

Thoughts on BURIED IN A GOOD BOOK

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Things here are quiet. SSDD if you know what I mean. But it’s the last Wednesday of May, so you know what that means. Book review time! This month, I decided to stick with something I’m used to, something on the predictable side. So, I went with the first book in a new cozy mystery series. Buried in a Good Book by Tamara Berry was released yesterday (the 24th) from Poisoned Pen Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover and mostly relevant to the story, except the canoe.

Buried in a Good Book follows Tess, who’s fresh off a divorce, as she drags her teenage daughter Gertie into the woods for a much needed escape. Unfortunately, when they arrive at the cabin Tess inherited from her grandfather, a strange set of circumstances unearths a body. Being a mystery writer, Tess leaps at the chance to help solve a real life murder while avoiding her looming deadline and messy personal life. Plus, small town life seems to be helping her daughter cope with her absentee father a bit. What could go wrong?

Where to start? The plot was fairly standard, but with an annoying writer constantly comparing everything to her books. The hot sheriff is exactly like her detective, at least looks-wise. There’s a new bestie who encourages all of the shenanigans. The sullen teenage daughter who’s too smart for her own good is a rare addition to cozies, but not unheard of. The only problem with the plot is that the cast of characters is so small that you know right away the baddie is either going to be a peripheral character who doesn’t get much page time or the dreaded random character who comes from nowhere. There’s really only one person it could be, so I mostly kept reading for character development.

Speaking of characters, I really liked most of them, which made the book worth reading. Yes, Tess is annoying as fuck with her “Detective Gonzales would do it this way…” crap, but as a mother and human being in general, she’s pretty okay. She’s navigating being newly single and realizing that she has no one in her life besides the ex and her daughter. And making friends as an adult is HARD. It’s all very relatable. Gertie is adorable. Sheriff Boyd is grumpy, but lovable. Nicki is a little flat, but that’s because she’s trying to be something she isn’t. Hopefully her character will have some room to grow in the next book.

I admit, there were some really weird red herrings that made me mutter “wtf?” to myself a few times. The Bigfoot thing, I was down with. It was strange, but whatever. I liked it. A lot of Tess’s theories on things were just plain nuts, though. It kind of slowed down the pacing towards the end. But once things came back around to relatively believable scenarios, things sped up again.

The writing was actually wonderful. It was quirky and sarcastic and pulled me along without becoming too much. There was some over the top stuff, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to quit reading. Roll my eyes, yes. Stop reading? Nah. Mostly, it was a fun and quick read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Buried in a Good Book. I’ll definitely grab the next book in the series when it comes out. The writing style and characters make it worth a second chance at least.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.┬áIf cozy mysteries are your thing, definitely check it out. It’s pretty short and fun, so yeah. I recommend it.

Thoughts on THE FERVOR

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? It’s the last Wednesday of April. Can you believe it? That means it’s book review time! This month, I tried something a little different. I’m not usually into historical stuff, but I wanted a little horror, so I requested an ARC of The Fervor by Alma Katsu. It was released on April 26th from Putnam. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

The cover is okay, but feels a little meh to me.

The Fervor follows a handful of people including Meiko and Aiko, a mother and daughter stuck in one of the internment camps in the U.S. during World War II; Archie, a preacher who lost his wife when a mysterious balloon exploded during a trip to the mountains; and Fran, a reporter following a story despite numerous warnings against doing so. A strange illness spreads in the internment camp before flowing over into the nearby towns. Throw in visions of demons and strange spiders to spice things up. It’s all just strange enough that our protagonists decide they need to figure out what’s going on.

Multiple POVs are used until they all eventually converge into one. It takes a lot for me to get into stories that are structured like this because I usually hate at least one of the characters. This time it was Archie. And Fran didn’t exactly grasp my attention either. So, I found myself wanting to skip their sections. But I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people use this method. I even understand it in this particular book. But, for me, it breaks up the tension in a way that slows the story down too much. I wasn’t able to get into a flow where I wanted to keep reading beyond what I needed to read in order to finish in time. On the other hand, I also never dreaded picking it back up the next day, so it wasn’t like it was bad. Just slow.

I enjoyed the mixture of Japanese mythology with the horrors of WWII. The blending of historical fiction with a subtle layer of supernatural horror was excellent. I confess that I’m not a big history fan, so I don’t know much about WWII beyond the basics. In other words, this book is my first experience with the Fu-Go (fire balloons) that Japan sent to America. They are weirdly fascinating. And the way the book used them to further the supernatural elements of the story was great. I love it when books teach me odd things.

The real horror of the story is, of course, people. The way hate and fear spreads so quickly with just a tiny push. The illness that causes paranoia and irritation that eventually becomes hostility and outright rage. It serves as a magnification of what was already going on at the time. And how people will use that fear and hate to further their own whims. It’s awful. People are awful. Yet, somehow the story ends on a hopeful note with people willing to do what’s right. I didn’t actually believe the ending, but maybe that’s because I’m a bit cynical. But the hope is still there regardless of how I feel.

The writing itself was strong. Everything flowed and made for a nice read. Like I said, it was just slow. That’s not bad. It helped focus me on what was happening more than if I had flown through it.

Ultimately, I liked The Fervor. I’m pretty sure I have a couple of Katsu’s other books on my TBR list and I’ll keep them there because her writing is worth another look.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. It was slow, but enjoyable. If you’re into historical fiction with a twist, I recommend giving it a shot.

Thoughts on CHEDDAR OFF DEAD

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? Allergies are kicking my ass, but otherwise things are okay. I’ve been on a music kick. It’s about the only thing I can focus on with my sinuses throbbing. But enough complaining (maybe). It’s the last Wednesday of the month! That means it’s book review time. I went back to the safety of a cozy mystery this month. Cheddar Off Dead is the first in Korina Moss’s Cheese Shop mystery series. It was released yesterday (the 29th) by St. Martin’s Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s do the thing!

Cute cover and pretty relevant to the story.

Cheddar Off Dead follows Willa Bauer, cheesemonger and owner of Yarrow Glen’s newest shop, Curds and Whey. A cheese shop. She’s new to town and inexperienced when it comes to putting down roots and making lasting friendships. It doesn’t help that a well-known (and severely disliked) critic is murdered outside her shop with a custom cheese knife she had planned to give out at an event. Not trusting the detective, Willa feels compelled to clear her name before any lasting damage can be done to her reputation. The problem? Her investigation means potentially alienating the handful of people she’s started bonding with, including the attractive mead maker across the street.

Let’s start with the plot. Instead of our heroine returning home after a bad breakup, she decides to start over in a new town. There’s still a bad breakup, but it’s unclear how recent it was. A lot of her past is unclear timeline-wise. Anyway, her newness doesn’t stop Willa from finding the best friend who encourages her shenanigans. There are two potential love interests. Future love triangles? Probably, but I doubt it’ll be the fun kind. Of course there’s an overprotective detective. Plenty of red herrings. I admit I didn’t catch onto the murderer until later, mostly because we don’t learn anything about them until pretty much everyone else is ruled out. I honestly felt a little cheated by that, but this isn’t the first cozy to do it that way. I’m just glad it wasn’t a random person who only got mentioned once. They’re there throughout the book, just not really expanded on until super late. So, standard cozy fare with a couple of little twists.

The pacing was off. The first third was beyond slow. Like, if I had been reading it for fun, I probably would’ve given up after three chapters. It was that slow. But it picked up after a while. I think when the cheese talk finally ran its course, everything smoothed out. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning about cheese, but when it’s not even interesting facts, it gets boring. But less is more. The first third of the novel was like cheese info dumps. Later on, there was still a bunch of cheese talk, but it was spread out in a way that felt natural.

Most of the characters were likeable. Willa occasionally annoyed me, but that’s just because she’s a busybody. That’s why most cozy mystery heroines annoy me. Otherwise, she was fine. I preferred Baz, Archie, and Mrs. Schultz. I would’ve loved to learn more about them. Detective Heath was a little flat, but he has potential. Same with Roman. Honestly, I can’t believe I’m saying this because I love cheese, but there could’ve been a bigger focus on character development and less on cheese.

The writing was fine. Like I said, the pacing was off and the characters were flat. But the actual words were fine. Nothing memorable. I finished it about a week ago and am already forgetting most of it. Ah well.

Ultimately, I was just meh about Cheddar Off Dead. If I come across the next book, I’ll pick it up to see if it’s any better, but I doubt I’ll actively look for it.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Two and a half, really. If you’re super into cheese and enjoy average cozies, pick it up. But you’re not missing anything if you don’t.

Thoughts on THE CICADA TREE

Howdy, howdy! I hope everyone is doing okay as February comes to a close. It’s been a strange month where each day bleeds into the next without warning, but at the same time, it feels like the month is dragging. No idea why. Anyway, it’s book review time. I stepped outside my comfort zone a little bit this time with an historical fiction book. The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney was released yesterday (the 22nd) from Moonshine Cove Publishing. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it.

Nice cover.

The Cicada Tree follows Analeise Newell, an 11-year-old who is trying to navigate life in 1956 Georgia. Emotions run high as she struggles to figure out how everything she loves fits together: her friendship with Etta Mae, her crush on Abel Darlington, and her newfound obsession with the Mayfields. As Analeise digs into her obsession, she finds more darkness than she bargains for in that Mayfield shine she’s so attracted to. It’s all set against the backdrop of summer in Georgia when the whine of the cicadas can either lull you to sleep or drive you crazy.

I’ll be honest, this book wasn’t for me. I’m all for southern gothic and blending supernatural into regular fiction, but something about this book kept me from getting into it. I think it’s because the ages of the characters just didn’t feel right. Analeise and the rest of the kids all seemed more like teenagers than 11-year-olds. I’d go as young as 14, but honestly I kept thinking they were closer to 16 or so. Yes, I realize that younger kids can be stupidly vicious too, but the vocabulary and most of the actions just felt older. There were a few scenes where I thought “okay, these are younger kids,” but they were few and far between.

The fact that the book was written in first person from Analeise’s perspective didn’t help with the age issue. If we’re that close to a character, I expect the narrative voice to fit the age of the character, but it didn’t. Maybe the story is being told from grown-Analeise’s perspective. If that’s the case, fine. But there was nothing to suggest that in the book. At least not the version I had access to. I saw somewhere that the final version is supposed to have an epilogue, so maybe it becomes clearer in there.

Actually, an epilogue would be really helpful because the ending left things super vague and not even in a “create your own ending” kind of way. It was completely unsatisfying. Like, I might look for it at my library just to see if anything is cleared up in the final version. I’m not tempted enough to buy it, but I’ll definitely check the library system for it.

The writing itself was a little purple for me. It wasn’t bad by any means, just a tad overly descriptive for my tastes. And I normally talk about the characters, but I had zero sympathy for any of them, except maybe Abel. He was an okay kid. Etta Mae was too angelic. Everyone else was too selfish for me to get behind.

Ultimately, I wasn’t a fan of The Cicada Tree. Maybe I’ll like it a little better if I see the epilogue, but I doubt it. There was too much I didn’t care for. If I come across something else by Gwaltney, I’d look at it because the writing was okay, but I won’t be searching for anything.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. If you’re into southern gothic and are interested in the premise, give it a shot. If not, you’re not missing anything.

Thoughts on BRIGHT RUINED THINGS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this bright and beautiful day? I know you’re all probably giving me a weird look because it’s not the last Wednesday of the month, but somehow I ended up with two books to review this time. It happens. This one was actually due out last year, but got pushed back, so yeah. An extra review! Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe is heavily influenced (but I wouldn’t call it a retelling) by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was released February 15th from Wednesday Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press). As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Nice cover.

Bright Ruined Things follows Mae, an orphan who has spent her entire life on the Prosper’s island, as she struggles to find her place in the world. Not being a true part of the family, she has no claim to the island once she comes of age. But all she’s ever wanted was to belong. And to learn magic. However, the Prospers hide dark secrets that Mae isn’t counting on. What happens when she begins to unravel the lies? Is all of the beauty and wealth worth it? Mae will have to decide for herself.

So, this is a YA (young adult) fantasy. There’s magic and death and betrayal and secrets and love and all of that good stuff. It sounded fun, but I didn’t have high hopes for it going in. It started a little slow, but the momentum picked up a lot after the first few chapters and I ended up really enjoying it. A lot of it was predictable, but there were enough twists to keep me entertained. I had the basics of the plot figured out early on, but I wasn’t entirely sure of the “how” of everything, so that helped keep my interest going.

Mostly though, I loved the characters. I was team Ivo from the get-go. Screw everyone else. I’d read an entire book just about him. Mae was interesting and relatable until she decided to go rogue and stab everyone in the back. I get it as a plot device, but it felt forced and out of character for her. Coco and Miles were both great in their own ways even though they acted like dipshits for a while. But it was in character for them and they grew into decent people, so I forgave them. And I know I shouldn’t say it, but I actually liked Alasdair. He was a complete and utter douchenozzle, but he owned it. Never tried to be something he wasn’t. I appreciate that.

Really, my only complaint with this story was the very end. I don’t care for vague endings unless I know a second book is coming. Is he there? Isn’t he? It’s all up to the reader’s imagination! Ooo… no. If I wanted to write an ending to someone’s story, I’d go finish one of the three I’m currently working on. Just let me know if the dude gets the ending he deserves. But that’s just me. Some people like that vague maybe/maybe not stuff. I’m just hoping it’s bait for a second book.

The writing itself was nice. Things flowed pretty well and all of the pertinent information felt like it was spread out naturally in the story. At least I don’t recall any huge infodumps, so that’s always good. It ended up being a quick and fun read.

Ultimately, Bright Ruined Things was great. I had way more fun with it than I was expecting to, anyway. If there’s a follow up, I’ll definitely pick it up. And if I come across Cohoe’s other work, I’ll be sure to take a peek.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Definitely recommend picking it up if you’re into YA fantasy. Even if you’re not, it’s still worth a look.

Thoughts on UP TO NO GOUDA

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? Everything here has been okay. I interacted with real people (eye doctor appointment) on Monday, so despite the fact that everyone was masked and not hacking up a lung (I don’t think anyone even sneezed), I’m going to be anxious for a couple of weeks. But I digress. It’s book review time! I wanted something comforting and a little cheesy this month, so I went with the first book in Linda Reilly’s new cozy series. The book is called Up to No Gouda and was released on the 25th from Poisoned Pen Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s do this!

Cute cover that relates to the story.

Up to No Gouda follows Carly Hale as she works to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a grilled cheese restaurant. She’s a widow who has moved back to her home town to make her dream come true. And it’s working! At least until the town bully buys the building where her restaurant is located and refuses to renew her lease. With only a little time left, Carly has no idea what to do. Then, the bully is found murdered by the dumpster of the parking lot behind the restaurant. Of course, Carly can’t rest until she finds out what happened to him and what the future holds for her restaurant.

So, plotwise, this is standard cozy fare. Dude gets murdered, main character finds an excuse to investigate even though it doesn’t really concern her, and everyone encourages her except the killer and the cops, but even the cops don’t discourage her much. There were a couple of twists that I missed because I didn’t really pay attention to the set up. I didn’t even remember the robberies thing until it became relevant, and even then I had to go back and see what they were talking about. My bad. But I knew who the killer was just from one detail super early on that seemed out of character. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to glance over the detail and see it later as foreshadowing, but it felt super awkward and stood out. I never even doubted it when pretty much everyone else was considered a suspect except the actual killer. I think it was supposed to be an aha moment, but it wasn’t. It was just kind of obvious.

The characters are all adorable. I’m a fan of Grant and Gina. They were my favorites. Actually, Havarti was my favorite, but I figure everyone is tired of me gushing over fictional dogs. Most of the characters are a little flat, but can be fleshed out in later books. The love interest seems completely random. First, Carly acts suspicious of him for some unknown reason, then the next chapter she might have feelings for him. It is confusing. Speaking of Carly, she’s interesting and fun, but a bit too sentimental for me. I understand the whole focus on the dead husband thing, but it goes a little overboard and doesn’t exactly move the plot forward, so I mostly skimmed those sections. And that makes me sound like a horrible person. Oops.

The writing is okay. It flows well and makes for a pretty quick read. My only issue with that is the cutesy sayings. One or two is charming and fun, but like five every couple of pages is annoying. Holy jumping grasshoppers… or whatever. People don’t talk like that. Not all the time. So, please. Chill with the eye twitch inducing cuteness.

Ultimately, I thought Up to No Gouda was okay. Not bad, not great. If I see the next one, I’ll grab it and give the series a second chance. But it’s not going on my must-read list.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If you’re super into cozy mysteries and like cheesy goodness, pick up a copy. If not, I would give it a miss.

Thoughts on FOLKLORN

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? Got my second Pfizer shot last week and had a few days of being beyond tired, plus some other minor side effects that really only lasted the night after the shot. I’m fine now. And I’m still breaking in my new computer. But enough about that stuff! It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. This month, I decided to request something a little different. It’s a strange mixture of ghost story and fairy tale and some kind of literary fiction. Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur was released yesterday (the 27th) from Erewhon Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Folklorn follows Elsa Park, a particle physicist, as she runs into an old friend in the most unlikely of places: Antarctica. The problem? Her old friend is imaginary. When the friend follows her to Sweden, then back to America, Elsa both fears for her sanity and relishes in the familiar comfort and safety her childhood friend provides. Elsa must fight for her place in the world, overcome family issues, and decipher the riddle-like fairy tales her mother left for her. Otherwise, she risks losing herself completely.

The plot of this story feels secondary to the character development, which gives it a very different vibe compared to more traditional genre stories. Yes, there’s an imaginary friend pushing Elsa to complete quests leading to a big reveal, but the monsters and obstacles are all too human. And the real payoff is Elsa’s realizations about her mother and father and brother, but mostly herself. Her own transformation is the best thing about this book, though the interspersed fairy tales are a close second to me.

Everyone keeps transforming in this book.

Speaking of character development, Elsa isn’t the only one who grows throughout this story, but let’s start with her. We see her transform from a closed off, almost bitter person into someone who can work through their issues and open themselves a bit. She isn’t great at it yet, but she’s chosen to make the effort. Her father turns from the monster of her youth into a pitiful old man. Her brother goes from a knight to a manipulative jerk to a normal, struggling human being. Oskar is never really a prince, but he helps Elsa during her struggles, and finds out that he’s allowed to become a different person than he was in his youth. The only person who doesn’t get a chance to evolve in real time is Elsa’s mother, but even she morphs into something new in Elsa’s mind.

A big portion of this book deals with cultural identity and finding a balance between where you come from versus where you end up. It can be a little difficult to read at times, especially if you’re sensitive to race issues. But I ended up feeling like I learned some things from the book. There’s the whole aspect of immigrating to the US after the Korean war and how Elsa’s parents survived both the war and the move and found ways to both fit in and stand out in their new community. There’s also the racism Elsa and her brother faced as children (and still face) and the expectations placed on them, plus the ingrained anger between Koreans and Japanese. And there’s the racism Elsa and Oskar face in Sweden, despite Oskar being raised there. And Oskar’s entire story arc of being an adopted child. It’s about all of these things, but it’s not preachy or anything like that. It’s just people doing the best they can.

Even if we have to unlearn some stuff first.

The writing was interesting. The flow isn’t as smooth as I tend to prefer. The rhythm feels jerky, like it’s trying to trip you up as you read. This works surprisingly well for this book. It mimics Elsa’s unstable emotions. It’s weird, but not altogether unpleasant.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Folklorn. The combination of genres and the general growth of the characters made this an interesting read. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more work by Angela Mi Young Hur.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy fairy tales and well-rounded characters, it’s definitely worth picking up. Even if you’re just looking for something different, check it out.

Thoughts on DOWN WORLD

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Dad got his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday. I’m going to get mine today (wish me luck). If you’re trying to schedule one via the CVS website, all I can tell you is to ignore their lists of availabilities and actually go through the process of trying to schedule an appointment, then try at least three or four nearby zip codes/cities (for some reason our closest pharmacy only showed up when I searched for Forney, a neighboring city, instead of our own zip code and the pharmacy I’m scheduled at only showed up under our zip when it’s apparently in Sunnyvale). Do this multiple times a day. And be prepared to be told that you can’t make the first appointment without making the second one too, which is sometimes available and sometimes not. It’s a ridiculous process. Good luck.

Anyway, I’m way off topic. It’s the last Wednesday of the month, so it’s review time! I honestly only requested this month’s book because the cover was kind of thriller-esque. It turned out to be more soft sci-fi, which was a nice change. Down World by Rebecca Phelps was released yesterday (March 30th) from Wattpad Books. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s get to it.

Nice cover.

Down World follows Marina as she enters a new school and struggles to leave her past and the death of her brother behind her. When she realizes her new crush, Brady, and her brother’s old friend, Kieren, are hiding something, she finds herself in the middle of a weird new reality: doorways to different planes of existence, the potential of her brother actually being alive, and somehow it all connects back to her mother. As Marina delves deeper into these secrets, she has to face the past and make some difficult decisions that might completely change her present.

I called this soft sci-fi because even though the science is discussed, it feels shaky at best. The characters are unsure of what’s going on and just guessing themselves, so the science feels like guesswork to the reader. I’m okay with that. I don’t mind letting the fiction drive the story. But I do know people who prefer hard sci-fi where the science drives everything and is possible. I don’t think this book is for them. But for my fiction-with-a-dab-of-science folks, this book had some definite Coraline (but for an older audience) vibes to it that were fun.

Yes, let’s go through the weird door.

The plot was okay. It had some nice twists and turns along the way. It wasn’t exactly surprising, but it wasn’t super predictable either. I figured out a lot early on, but there were a couple of things I didn’t catch until closer to their reveals. It was enough to keep the story interesting for me. At least moreso than the characters. They were all pretty flat and could’ve used some fleshing out. I just never really felt they were people as much as stereotypes. So yeah, the plot carries this story more than the characters.

My biggest issue with this book was the pacing. The first third was beyond slow despite the lack of description (the whole book could’ve used more descriptions to help us picture the places and people). The second third felt really rushed, though I admit the description was better. Things didn’t seem to find a good rhythm until the last third. That’s always kind of annoying to me even though I know I’ve been guilty of it too.

Are we going fast or slow or what?

The writing itself was fine. It wasn’t exactly memorable. I finished the story a few days ago and am already having trouble remembering the finer details. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. No lines stuck out for quotes or anything. However, it was a fairly smooth read.

Ultimately, Down World just wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s a standalone, so I don’t have to worry about reading another one. It does have the potential for other books set around the same premise, like a series of otherwise unconnected stories, but I won’t be looking for them if that happens.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If I’m being super honest, it’s 2 and a half stars. If you like YA sci-fi, you might enjoy this. I just happen to like books that are more fleshed out.