Categories
Horror Paranormal

ARC Review: The Return by Rachel Harrison

Thank you so much to Berkley Publishing for the ARC of The Return in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

I have honestly never read a horror novel before in my life, because I am a huge scaredy cat.  I didn’t even realize it was a scary book until one creepy thing happened…and then another … and then I looked up the book on GoodReads and said OH, wow, ok.  I turned all the lights in the house on and kept reading.

Here is the description from Amazon.com:

Julie is missing, and no one believes she will ever return—except Elise. Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and feels it in her bones that her best friend is out there and that one day Julie will come back. She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.

Along with Molly and Mae, their two close friends from college, the women decide to reunite at a remote inn. But the second Elise sees Julie, she knows something is wrong—she’s emaciated, with sallow skin and odd appetites. And as the weekend unfurls, it becomes impossible to deny that the Julie who vanished two years ago is not the same Julie who came back. But then who—or what—is she?

The plot itself is an excellent idea: What happened to Julie? Is this weekend getaway going to turn into the house of horrors? In short: yes. The remaining three friends each  mourn Julie in their own way and are shocked when she comes back.  The women plan a getaway to an eccentric hotel in the Catskills, and from there start to unravel the mystery of what happened to Julie.

“Sallow skin and odd appetites” seems like a very nice way of describing Julie, per the back cover.  She looks like a corpse, her teeth are rotten, and the women become immediately concerned.  At the start of the book I found it hard to keep them apart in my mind – Molly and Mae and Elise, with Elise being the main character.  They all speak in very young sounding slang as well, using words such as ‘peace’ and ‘deuces’ and saying ‘love you’ at least 50 times.

I think too much time was spent with the women just gossiping behind Julie’s back about her.   I either was skimming gossip or feeling horrified after reading something with very little in between. There were a few long diversions from the main storyline that only contributed to the related character’s back story, but ultimately didn’t help the plot.  For example: one about Elise entering a married lover’s house helped show that she could be a little nuts, although it was pages long and  totally unrelated to the story in the hotel.

Speaking of length, I felt like 40 page long chapters couldn’t hold my attention very well for a novel that took place mainly over the course of a weekend.

I also feel like setting can be important in suspense and horror novels.  The hotel was definitely eccentric, isolated, and ran by an odd duck, but there was nothing inherently spooky or scary about the place. A lot of the horror portrayed was in Elise’s mind, at least until some real terror was brought into the place.   I think I would have been more scared by something inherently wrong with the hotel itself.

Finding out what happened to Julie does occur  at the end of the book. While reading I was definitely pretty observant of shadows and windows in my house (as I said, easily scared), but at the same time thought the climactic reveal at the end sounded a little corny.

I think I would recommend this as like an “intro to horror” novel.  It is perfect for people who want to be *a little* scared, although hardcore horror readers may not be as thrilled.  I would have no problem recommending the book to anyone curious though! The Return releases 3/24/20 and I once again want to thank Berkley for the book!!

Categories
Fantasy Uncategorized

Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan

I originally read and reviewed the ARC (courtesy of Wednesday Books via NetGalley, thank you!) of Wicked Saints back in January of 2019.  Now that I’m writing my review of the second book in the trilogy, it makes sense to bring the original review over.

After glancing this morning I noticed that my ‘unpopular opinion’ of the book wasn’t entirely unpopular. The average GoodReads rating only ended up at a 3.7 for Wicked Saints.  Let’s talk about why.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

“A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light

Let’s start with the plot.  Blood & bones, magic, layers of political intrigue and betrayal. The story is actually a good idea. A Slavic based fantasy where Kalyazin’s last remaining holy cleric is being pursued by the brutal blood mage prince and army general of Tranavia, the opposing country.  The cleric escapes, finds a small group of friends working their way towards the Tranavian king, and decides to join. This is vastly over simplified but the blood mage prince pursues them across the land. The third main character is Malachiasz, an awkward boy who is also a Vulture.  These vultures are crafted monsters that form a separate religious faction in Tranavia, complete with their own leader – The Black Vulture –  who is a king in his own right.

Meanwhile the oh-so-brutal-and-terrible prince Serefin carries the other point of view in the story, as he drinks himself under the table chasing Nadya across the country.  He wants nothing to do with his father or the crown and seems pretty sick of war.  He is summoned home for a totally bullshit selection of a suitor by the King, which gives the others an opening to get close to the palace.  Serefin is immediately painted as a bad guy as he razes Nadya’s monastery in the first chapter, and it is interesting to read his chapters and get into his mind to make our own conclusions about him.

So there you have it: The girl, the boy, and the prince.  Let’s talk about the characters. Nadya has grown up with a cleric’s education in a monastery, so we can forgive her naivety in the real world. To an extent.  Nadya’s face is on the spine and the tagline on the cover is “let them fear her”, so I assume that she’s going to be a strong and formidable character.  That was my first letdown – she takes almost every direction from her Gods, which talk to her incessantly, and makes very few decisions for herself throughout the story.  When she does start making her own decisions they are really only to follow Malachiasz, who doesn’t have to do much and immediately throws Nadya’s entire sense of righteousness into a kerfuffle, showing that her entire sense of being is pretty… weak.  Religious deliberation is definitely an important theme for teens to think about, and this could have been done really well except that it turns into a nauseatingly  repetitive inner monologue where Nadya ends up giving her entire agency over to him.  Whoop-de, kiss a boy and throw out your entire life’s training and everything you believe in, who is fearing this girl?

Malachiasz is obviously up to something from the start, and is Duncan’s favorite character.  This was pretty clear from following her Instagram.   One thing about Duncan’s writing style is that it is repetitive, to the point that I guarantee the average reader is going to be skimming.  He is  a vulture so we know he is tortured, we know he is also awkward, and she repeats these things as well as the word “boy” on practically every single page, to the point where I was just sick of seeing the same modifiers.  There is ONE scene where Duncan actually SHOWS us the extent of the Vulture’s mind-erasing torture, and it hit harder than all the babbling about tortured boys in the world put together.  I did like the scenes where his blood magic was used though, he is a formidable mage.

And Serefin, oh Serefin… my favorite character.  His main function in the book is to blur the lines, to show that he’s not necessarily a bad person for doing his job and duty to his country.  Serefin is just another confused (ish) young man who doesn’t particularly love his lot in life, but what do you do when your father is an abusive and insane king?  Read to find out, but I liked him as a general and as the most powerful blood mage outside of the vultures.  I also liked his banter and the two friends who make up his inner group, they try SO hard to keep him centered.  I also love characters with visual issues, and Serefin is more or less blind on one side with funky vision on the other, and I can relate painfully to that!

So while discussing the characters I threw in my bits about her writing style, the ridiculous romance, Nadya’s pining, and the gray-zone characters.

Some other stylistic points: The book is told in the dual point of view style between Nadya and Serefin.  Their names are used, in full, at each chapter heading…. kind of weird.  There is also a blurb about either saint or a god at each chapter start, unrelated to the story and distracting.  Other than the climate and certain bits of architecture and religious aspects, the world building is not fleshed out at all.  I didn’t feel like I was in Kalyazin OR Tranavia and that’s all I will say about it.

This has been hailed by some as GrishaVerse fan fiction and I really have to agree.  Some noted similarities are Alena the Sun Goddess, the bit where the dark character doesn’t remember his name, torturing prisoners in mines, experiments on people.  Also the journey in general across the country reminds me a bit of Alina and the Darkling, where she really should know better but has no issue turning into something else for the big, dark, bad guy.

All three main characters in Wicked Saints turn into someone, or something different by the end of the book.  The transformations set the base for book two, which I will begrudgingly read.  Even at the end I wanted to smack Nadya for being an incredulous idiot…actually I wanted to smack her hardest right at the end.  I would have also liked to see more of the fighting and intrigue in the parts about the suitor competition, Nadya was learning a lot right then about power and magic.

In summary: A good idea but Duncan’s language fails at the delivery.  I can’t be horrified and rolling my eyes at the same time, although the potential is there.  The pacing of the story is ALL over the place and I think we need more worldbuilding. I hope she takes these criticisms into book two and improves because I think that she can.   I would let my kid read it but probably caution older fantasy readers; there’s just too much eye rolling.  Final thoughts: give our young readers some credit, show not tell, and stop repeating the same phrases over and over.  Thank you again to Wednesday Books for the advanced copy, all opinions are my own

0225202030_HDR

 

Categories
Fiction General Fiction

Book Review: Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie!  I received a free copy (and a super cute press kit) in exchange for an honest review!

My first impression was that the book isn’t my typical genre at all, but it moved along quickly, held my attention, made me laugh, and I felt like it accomplished it’s goal as a satire to shed some ridiculous light on Hollywood’s … ridiculousness.  A quick Google search told me that Levangie was actually married to a big producer (of A Beautiful Mind) and wrote some successful screenplays herself, so I had to wonder….is any of this insider knowledge?  I bet some of it actually happened in real life and I played a little ‘wonder if it actually happened’ game while reading!

Alright let’s talk about the book: Here is the description from GoodReads:

When he changes the locks, she changes the rules.

Agnes Murphy Nash is the perfect Hollywood wife – she has the right friends, the right clothes, and even a side career of her own as a writer. Her husband Trevor is a bigshot producer, and from the outside it looks like they’re living a picture-perfect celebrity life, complete with tennis tournaments and lavish parties.

But the job description of a Hollywood wife doesn’t cover divorce, which is the way Agnes’ life is headed after she comes home one day to find her credit cards cancelled and the security passwords to get into her enormous LA home changed. Oh, and there’s a guy there whose job it is to tase her if she tries to enter…which she does. Needless to say, Agnes’ husband is dead set on making sure she loses big time, but Agnes isn’t the type to just lie down and take it. In a world of fremenies and hot nannies, personal psychics and “skinny” jello shots, Agnes may be losing her husband, but could that mean getting her own life back?

Been There, Married That is a drop-dead hilarious battle of wills that will make you laugh out loud, cringe, and keep turning the pages to see what crazy disaster will happen to Agnes next…and how she’ll rise from the ashes

The book was hilarious at times.  Agnes and her friends and their lifestyles in general were so over-the-top and insane that it’s not something a normal, not insanely rich person could ever relate to.  Every already ridiculous outing whether it be lunch, book club, party, or divorce court, is already crazy, and Levangie adds an extra layer of “oh my god that can’t be real” on top of everything.  That led me to believe that the entire book is a satire, which essentially makes fun of a people or a lifestyle.  Agnes goes through a messy divorce with a super organized man, who goes crazy if his notepad is moved two inches to the right on the counter.  He draws battle lines in the house and has Agnes tased on the front lawn! It was just funny!

Levangie mentions (and makes of) a lot of Hollywood trends that are leaking into regular society as well.  Some that I noticed are excessive use of therapists and personal assistants,  weird Instagram and social media themes, dieting trends, rehab stints, food frenzies, and this great bit about having a baby’s gender reveal party when they are 40!  Hello people this is actually happening in “normal people” society as well!  Pop culture is crazy and I think it’s a little important to be aware of what messages are being sent down.  General extravagance, life coaches, and even pyramid scheme jewelry sales are a few other topics that are less serious and had me laughing throughout the pages.

The custody battle almost made me feel bad for their daughter, but Trevor Nash really didn’t need to have anything to do with a child, he just wanted to WIN the divorce.  Ok, I guess I felt bad for the kid even though she had everything she could possibly want, eventually she realized that she needed her mom. Then the courtroom custody portion was sad, it seemed to be the one reminder in the book that the main character was….. a human.   Agnes’ sister was a trip as well and so were the trio of South American workers in the house, it was hard to believe that any work actually got done. One other great character is Agnes’ dad,  he is clueless but loves her endlessly, and makes a few funny cameos.

One thing that I didn’t like was how Levangie used a lot of abbreviations and different slang terms used for places, things, and ideas, and there is no way that the average reader is going to know what any of it means.  It doesn’t affect the story at all but I feel like the language could have been less ‘insider-y’ at times.  The narrative was all over the place too at times, which kind of makes sense  for the way the main character’s brain worked.  The story did streamline more in the second half of the book but it was a bit hard to read at first.

Overall this is really a pretty good read. It is a hard one at times but I recommend viewing it as a satire, a joke, and reading the underlying themes however you will.  Was it insider? Did it happen or was it just Levangie having a good laugh at pop culture? The book released in early February so check it out if it sounds like something you’d enjoy! Thank you again to St Martin’s Press for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: Race the Sands

Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers – Harper Voyager for the eARC of Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst!  The book releases April 21st 2020 so add it to your TBR now if you are interested!

Here is a portion of the description from Goodreads:

In this epic standalone fantasy, the acclaimed author of the Queens of Renthia series introduces an imaginative new world in which a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions.

Life, death, and rebirth — in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races.

As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.

Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.

Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win — if he can be tamed.”

I feel like the description gives away a LOT of the plot.  We are following Trainer Tamra Verlas, who used to be a champion kehok racer and now is looking for a rider to be the next champion.  Tamra needs funds to pay for her daughter’s augur training and is working on a budget.  She meets Raia, a runaway, and together they have to train a very deadly, strangely intelligent kehok.

Does it sound a bit like The Scorpio Races? Yes, to the point where I almost put it down – but I encourage you to keep reading if you feel like DNFing at first.  The first few chapters as well as the rest of the book read very “young” to me in the writing style, but the political intrigue and maneuvering part of the plot take over after the races start and I really did enjoy the book overall.

I would have liked to see more of Raia training the kehok at first – it happened so quickly where she went from a total novice to being ready to race.  Not that they didn’t have enough hurdles to overcome as it was but the racing ended up not being the main storyline of the book at all, which is where it differed from TSR and other similar books.

I liked the main character cast but they all had very similar voices.  Raia can sound like a teenager because, well, she is one, and so can Dar, the emperor to be, but Tamra sounded like a kid and she had to be in her 30s at least.  Lady Evara and Yorbel sounded a bit alike too and they ended up being amazing ancillary characters.

As far as the world building, SBD did an amazing job for a standalone novel.  It is hard to build a world in one book and she described the architecture, art, food, religion, and social structure of Peron and the Heart of Becar in such a way that I felt like I knew not only the setting but the mood of the city.  I would have liked to know more about the strict divisions between rich and poor though; it seems like in a reincarnation based society that anyone reborn as a human would be considered…. honorable? So why go as far as to keep the poor out of sight?

The religion was one of the most interesting parts of the plot.  In order to crown a new emperor, the soul of the old emperor had to be found….and the augurs couldn’t find him!  I enjoyed the bits about reading souls and auras, worrying about what animal they would be reborn as, and the mental image of augurs canvassing every single ant hill looking for the emperor’s soul!  The downside of this is…. I called the major plot twist the second it was mentioned.

Also like I said, I found the races to be anticlimactic, even the championship race. This was a huge bummer for me but I understand that the races became a vessel for the rest of the book’s plot in the second part of the book.  It was a quick read and became impossible to put down in the last 150 pages or so.

I never feel like I do a good job describing books but if you are into strong female characters, monsters, racing, political intrigue and plotting, definitely pick up this book. I feel like it’s marketed for adults as Tamra is older, but this is definitely appropriate for young adult readers.   I went 4/5 stars just because of the lack of variation in character voices, but really the action and intrigue packed into this book is pretty impressive.  Thank you again for the eARC, all opinions are my own!

Categories
General Posts, Non Reviews

Welcome to MY New Domain!!

The title says it all, welcome to the new OneReadingNurse.com!! My most excellent web builder crafted this site AND brought over all of my old reviews from Wix!! I am still fixing categories and book related content while he tweaks display and site issues, so bear with us if things are rough at first!!

I want to thank all the publishers and publicists who have continued to send me review copies while my blog was down! I will continue to bring over recent reviews and let you guys know when they are posted! Thank you also to all the bloggers who helped me with platform ideas, examples, advice and more. Stay tuned for upcoming reviews, giveaways, guest posts and more as the new site takes off!!

Thank you Thank you Thank you!