Categories
Fantasy Fiction Horror audiobooks

Wizard & Glass by Stephen King (or, why I can’t finish a series)

Ever notice that I tend to get about three or four books into a series and then quit? The fact is that in between ARCs I never had time to read these giant, door stopping books, and once they got above 8-900 pages I was just about out of luck …

Well, this book was one of these clonkers. It took me two weeks to get through it even listening on partial audio (28 hours total 😭) so it’s kind of easy to see where a reader with deadlines gets to these longer books and comes to a screeching halt.

Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, the great Mark Lawrence wrote (see GoodReads) that you are either a Roland (and hate Wizard & Glass because no progress is made) or an Oy (you love everything about the journey despite it being a giant flashback).

For once I am glad that I’m taking the time to be an Oy, and this is a more than appropriate kickoff to GrimDarkTober.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wizard & Glass
  • Series: The Dark Tower #4
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: Grant, 1997
  • Length: 704 original hardcover (my PB around 930 pages) 
  • Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ I’m team “enjoy the journey”

Here’s the synopsis:

Roland the Gunslinger, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake survive Blaine the Mono’s final crash, only to find themselves stranded in an alternate version of Topeka, Kansas, that has been ravaged by the superflu virus. While following the deserted I-70 toward a distant glass palace, Roland recounts his tragic story about a seaside town called Hambry, where he fell in love with a girl named Susan Delgado, and where he and his old tet-mates Alain and Cuthbert battled the forces of John Farson, the harrier who—with a little help from a seeing sphere called Maerlyn’s Grapefruit—ignited Mid-World’s final war

So this book started out where The Wastelands left off, in an epic riddling contest between Eddie and Blaine the Mono. Was I belly laughing at the dead baby jokes? 

Um…. Maybe? I had a cathartic laughing experience at the baby and the SuperFlu one, I have such tied up feelings about pandemics and it’s not usually who I am but I think I just needed to laugh at something particularly horrible.  Some inner turmoil definitely released there, so thank you Mr King.

Anyway, Eddie is probably turning into one of my favorite book characters of all time, even if our main characters essentially drop off the page once Roland starts his story.

It’s creepy, dark, witchy, mystical, had me absolutely cringing at some especially gory parts, and was everything I’ve come to expect from King at this point.  I wanted Roland and Cuthbert and Alain to succeed. It was painful to watch youth and inexperience war against the more hardened players as they uncovered the true goings on in Hambry.

Not going to lie, I’m all for Roland and Susan too.  I was actually pretty broken up about how that all ended.  P.S. none of this is spoilery, it’s all alluded to in prior books.

Character wise – really quick – yes I liked the boys and their personalities. It was nice to finally “meet” them. Rhea the witch is probably the creepiest witch I’ve read in a LONG time, and more than once I had to put it down and go think non-gorey thoughts for a bit.  Sheemie was the real hero in the pages for sure.

One thing that struck me was the level of anticipatory grief that I was having for certain character deaths that actually never occured. They have to happen at some point but not all happened here and for that I was glad, because it was hard enough to read what was already there.

I do wish that King hadn’t essentially gone all Wizard of Oz at the end. It was just weird, and felt a lot weirder than the whole Charlie the Train thing he had going on before.  I won’t hold the ending against the rest of the book but it did put a weird taste in my mouth after such a disturbingly wonderful journey.

Quick note on what I heard from Frank Muller when I was listening – he’s a great narrator and added a LOT to the story, made my skin crawl reading Rhea’s parts!

Long story short: I’m an Oy. I appreciated the journey and am excited to keep reading forward.  When will I have time for the next book, even longer at 931 pages? I hope next month! 


The Dark Tower series so far:

1. The Gunslinger

2. The Drawing of the Three 

3. The Waste Lands


Categories
Fantasy

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah (Book Thoughts)

I actually finished this book a few weeks ago and my thoughts never coalesced into anything productive.  The Stardust Thief was my last read with the OpenlyBooked Book Club on Instagram and while I enjoyed reading it, I found it extraordinarily hard to focus on.

Whether that’s my state of mind, the pacing of the book, the slow burn, or what, I really don’t know. It took me three weeks to read and became a struggle by the end despite having liked it for the most part.

Let’s take a look at the book and then a few specific thoughts. Also if you have the hardcover make sure to hold it up to Google Lens to hear a message from the author!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Stardust Thief
  • Series: The Sandsea Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Chelsea Abdullah
  • Publisher & Release: Orbit, May 2022
  • Length: 480 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for fans of desert settings, stories about stories, 1001 Nights, jinn magic, and fantasy with clean content

Here’s the synopsis:

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

Neither here nor there, but long ago . . .

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

By all accounts and descriptions, I was expecting to be utterly enchanted by this book.  I love stories about stories and storytellers, folklore is my jam, and I love a good lush setting full of tradition and magic and lore. So why did I struggle with this?

For one, the flowery writing style tripped me up when it harshly contrasted with lighter, choppier areas of text. I like purple prose at times but when I’m tired and my brain is already full, overly descriptive writing can bog me down.  Then when she switched to an action scene the sentences became short and often repetitive, which threw me since I don’t think she accomplished the sense of urgency she was going for with the contrasting writing styles.

I did really like the setting and imagery though since the author used the environment to bring the story and journey of the characters to life.  Tying that into the world building we definitely got a good picture of life in the Souk, the oases, the palace, and all the music and food and people contained within.

The magic was definitely the strongest aspect.  Jinn stories are endlessly fascinating and I liked how the various ifrits had different abilities and powers, as did their blood.  Is this a good time to talk about Qadir? No spoilers but I loved his character until the big mystery reveal felt VERY young adult.  I had to go and look at what age group this was for again, as I felt like I was reading a YA at times and other times it did feel more mature.

The characters and their relationships were another strong suit.  I get so sick of reading romance in fantasy and I truly actually loved the themes of unrequited love and friendship. Loulie never got closure with Ahmed, Mazen and Loulie ended up as friends, and Aisha found her own way. Qadir had his lovers soul on hand and I like that the author kept him loyal to it.

Friendship and stories were such a refreshing theme to read about for once.

In general I liked all of the characters too.  Mazen and his child like love for stories and history was definitely a highlight.  When we got into the “parchment pages” of his telling I think there were some of the best parts.

My biggest gripe was the title of the book.  The Stardust Thief was mentioned once, in passing, about a character that wasn’t even one of the main group, and it didn’t fit the description at all. Yeah it sounds cool but with no stardust involved, no one is stealing it either…. So humph.  I’m being cranky, but humph. It also bugged me that the editor let a few things slip like at one point where the horses were gone, and they had been walking for two days, Loulie turned around in the saddle.

So to wrap this up, there is plenty of action, balanced with travels, stories, rich imagery, powerful magic, and good characters & banter  in general should have made this a wonderful and engaging story.  I think my feelings of neutrality are more a reflection on my state of mind than a true representation of the book, and I would fully recommend it to anyone who likes slow burning, character driven stories about legend and lore.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman (Book Review)

A few weeks ago I had a patient with a very Irish wife. She was a talker, and usually I discourage talkers because I have actual work to do, right? Wrong! I told this woman to talk as much as she wanted because I love listening to the Irish accent and rolling cadence.  Anyone remember Damian McGinty? /Swoon

Anyway, that led me to asking the SFF Oasis discord group if they knew of any audiobooks narrated by Irish natives, and the one recommendation that popped out was The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman.

Although he resides in Florida and is not the tad bit Irish that I know of, Buehlman came pretty darn close to nailing it and I just love, love, loved, both the book and audiobook of this equally funny and dark fantasy.  When I wasn’t laughing out loud at the slang and other hilarious turns of language, I was cringing at the darker elements or “oooh-aaaahing” at the world building and tattoo magic. Definitely a book I would recommend to most fantasy fans.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Blacktongue Thief
  • Series: Blacktongue #1
  • Author: Christopher Buehlman
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Books, 2021 (Macmillan Audio)
  • Length: 416 Pages (12:26 audio length)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨   For fans of slightly darker fantasy that can take a joke

Here’s the synopsis:

Set in a world of goblin wars, stag-sized battle ravens, and assassins who kill with deadly tattoos, Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief begins a ‘dazzling’ (Robin Hobb) fantasy adventure unlike any other.

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

A thief misjudges a mark and ends up on the adventure of his lifetime, discovering political intrigues and magic beyond his imagination along the way . Other reviewers have plugged the book as Abercrombie x Eames and I agree pretty well with that assessment.

This is a rare novel where I praised most of the elements equally, so it’s hard to tell where to start.  Let’s do the characters first.  Kinch is one of those characters that I ended up rooting for right away due to his sense of humor and ability to quickly assess and act in various situations.  Galva is a tough warrior with the sense of humor of a rock, and her lack of sense of irony/sarcasm alone makes her likeable. She inadvertently provides a more natural comic relief than Kinch and his frequent turns of phrase.

I don’t always love narration from the first person point of view but it ended up being an immersive and enjoyable experience via the audiobook.  I did a mix of reading and listening and believe that to not hear the words out of the author’s mouth is to miss a large part of the experience of consuming this book. This is also a big, big fantasy world with lots of local flavor and many stories and song, which are sung beautifully in the audiobook, and seeing it all through Kinch’s eyes gives us a consistent “jumping point” into widely varied action.

Have you ever wondered the difference between a squid and a kraken? Basically stay the f*ck on land. You will learn. The book covers adventure on both land and water!

I’ve briefly touched on the world building which is very well done.  You get all sorts of both macro and micro details, legends, songs, food, local customs and laws, even money, magic, and more. It’s a lovely scale of world building. I’ve never minded small info dumps and found this a good balance. One thing that added a little depth to the entire book was how the cause and effect of various wars and curses and actions of the populace have ripple effected the entire novel.  I like that consistency.

As a horse girl that has read a lot of horse centric fantasy, I can say that outside of Green Rider I have never seen horses described as gratuitously as Buehlman does.  The end scene with the giant… *sigh*

Now let’s talk about my other favorite part- the magic system! The magic tattoos are so freaking cool, just, so cool.  I have never seen the ink represent actual living animals and living spellwork before. I would give my skin to be able to call upon my old dog’s portrait to bring her into existence again! There’s also more macabre magic that is not tattoo related but I think it’s worth reading to see what those things entail.

I always appreciate books that take language into consideration. Kinch spends a lot of time with his various language speaking companions explaining the difference between languages, his word choices, and, of course the slang! The slang is just phenomenal, it’s an art form that the author is professionally versed in (literally) and I never knew if I’d be laughing out loud at something completely absurd or cringing at something going down the grim dark rabbit hole on the next page. The light and dark is fairly well balanced but overall the book had a darker tone despite all the dry humor.

All things considered, this is definitely an audiobook or book worth checking out.

And did I mention there’s a blind cat? There’s a blind cat

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal

Dark Days by Derek Landy (Book Thoughts)

Yesterday here in WNY another person with terrorist ties made their way to the area and did something terrible.  First the Buffalo massacre, now this attack on Salman Rushdie, it seems insane that crazies are coming from hours away to do their business here.  My head is in knots and I am probably going to write a separate post about the actual vs figurative power of words, something weighing heavily.

So…. Dark Days

There’s not much to say about the book that I haven’t said about the series already. I would reiterate a point I made that Landy definitely expected the readers to age with the protagonist, as the content and themes are getting a little darker in each book.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Days
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #4
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins Children’s Books, January 2010
  • Length: 414 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: I do like the series, and the audios.

A Quick Note on the audio:  8:08 narrated again by Rupert Degas.  This is his last in the series apparently, sadly. I love his narration. This installment dropped the musical soundtracks which made it feel a lot shorter

Here’s the synopsis:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant: detective, sorcerer, warrior.

Oh yes. And dead.

Skulduggery Pleasant is gone, sucked into a parallel dimension overrun by the Faceless Ones. If his bones haven’t already been turned to dust, chances are he’s insane, driven out of his mind by the horror of the ancient gods. There is no official, Sanctuary-approved rescue mission. There is no official plan to save him.

But Valkyrie’s never had much time for plans.

The problem is, even if she can get Skulduggery back, there might not be much left for him to return to. There’s a gang of villains bent on destroying the Sanctuary, there are some very powerful people who want Valkyrie dead, and as if all that wasn’t enough it looks very likely that a sorcerer named Darquesse is going to kill the world and everyone on it.

Skulduggery is gone. All our hopes rest with Valkyrie. The world’s weight is on her shoulders, and its fate is in her hands.

These are dark days indeed.

The books in general are getting darker and Valkyrie is now training and fighting with necromancy. While Skulduggery was gone she was working with a necromancer who is trying to recruit her to their cause. I like the Shadow magic, it’s a little more interesting than the elemental magic and going forward we will have to see which branch of magic she chooses to specialize in.

There’s a found family theme too that I like between Valkyrie and Tanith.  We got to see the real Kenspeckle.

The stakes are getting higher and the villains are getting nastier. This was still action packed and fast paced, just darker. There is still plenty of humor too, like naming the bad guy club and Skulduggery’s changing 💀

I think the funniest part was how the zombies couldn’t stop squabbling over dumb things and were absolutely not terrifying at all. Poor guys lolol.

And Valkyrie got a boyfriend! Haha ish.  Her role is starting to change too as she has finally established herself as much more than a sidekick, able to seek her own resources and set some of her own missions.

With visuals of parental death, torture, and more detailed violence that does balance well with some more hopeful themes, I would still recommend this book to upper middle grade. The first three would be fine for almost any age.

Here’s some interesting reading I found about the series not taking off in the U.S. originally and was reissued with the new covers, in 2018

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/76749-he-s-baaaack-harpercollins-reintroduces-skulduggery-pleasant.html


Skulduggery Pleasant so far

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Playing With Fire
  3. The Faceless Ones
  4. Dark Days

 

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction

Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos (Book Thoughts)

I’ve been flying through the Frontlines series on a mix of page and audio this summer.  I think each book is getting better as the characters mature and humanity’s situation gets more dire.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Angles of Attack
  • Series: Frontlines #3
  • Author: Marko Kloos
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, April 2015
  • Length: 338 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ Yes if you’ve liked the series so far keep going!
  • Audio: ~10 hours, Luke Daniels knocks out another one via Brilliance Audio

Here’s the synopsis:

The alien forces known as the Lankies are gathering on the solar system’s edge, consolidating their conquest of Mars and setting their sights on Earth. The far-off colony of New Svalbard, cut off from the rest of the galaxy by the Lanky blockade, teeters on the verge of starvation and collapse. The forces of the two Earth alliances have won minor skirmishes but are in danger of losing the war. For battle-weary staff sergeant Andrew Grayson and the ragged forces of the North American Commonwealth, the fight for survival is entering a catastrophic new phase.

Forging an uneasy alliance with their Sino-Russian enemies, the NAC launches a hybrid task force on a long shot: a stealth mission to breach the Lanky blockade and reestablish supply lines with Earth. Plunging into combat against a merciless alien species that outguns, outmaneuvers, and outfights them at every turn, Andrew and his fellow troopers could end up cornered on their home turf, with no way out and no hope for reinforcement. And this time, the struggle for humanity’s future can only end in either victory or annihilation.

One quick thing I noticed on the audio is that a lot of the spoken words don’t quite match the text – I think the narrator got a version that was one round off from final edits.  Kind of cool to see what changed thought.

Anyway, what I like most about these books is how any given side character could get their own little spotlight of bad assery. Dmitry went from a side note to bad ass real quick, as did Philbrick and Renner! I was surprised to see Philbrick, a character that previously was just a guy guarding a door, leading the prison break mission with no hesitation. I can’t get over how many characters end up having small but integral roles!

Colonel Campbell’s backbone is only getting stronger (😭), and I respected him a lot for being very Picard-ian and able to determine navigation heading, propulsion, etc, so we’ll. Also Fallon got to lead again at the end, and we finally get to see Halley in battle!

The plot and action has no slouch either.  First they have to get home, deal with a bureaucratic  welcome fitting a bunch of mutineers, dodge all the Lankies, and go to war in the last quarter.

Like what the aaaaactual f*ck is going on at the civilian station anyway? Who is evacuating where? Is Dmitry convinced he’s going to be gunned down for giving away military secrets so he gave Grayson his drop badge wings?

There’s just so much going on, and the story is streamlined so that the action just races without ever feeling sidetracked.

We are still in first person (yuck but I don’t hate it) and entirely from Grayson’s point of view. I’ve come to fully respect him as an officer, soldier, and person. It’s interesting to follow his military career and after this ending, I’m curious where he will go next

Speaking of the ending – now we know who/what happened in book 1 at Detroit😳

Whether you want planetary destroyer ships, intergalactic war, internal politics, explosions, action, great characters, or all of the above – I can’t recommend this series enough.


Instead of a few favorite quotes, here is a short excerpt that I hope will convince you all to pick this series up:

“What we have done—what we are doing right now—is flat-out mutiny. We have resisted arrest, fought military police officers, engaged in a gun battle with civilian police, and we have stolen this ship out of the dock against orders. We have engaged another fleet unit in self-defense and damaged them, probably killed a few of their crew. If another fleet ship catches us here in the solar system, we will probably end up directly in the high-risk ward at Leavenworth if they don’t blow us out of space instantly. This is not a legal gray area like our refusal to follow orders above New Svalbard. They ordered this ship’s command staff relieved, and Indy to join the defense of Earth. We not only disobeyed those orders; we resisted with force of arms. “But I chose this course of action because we have a task force and thirty thousand people waiting for our return


The series so far:

The series so far:

  1. Terms of Enlistment
  2. Lines of Departure
  3. Angles of Attack
Categories
Fantasy

The Warrior by Stephen Aryan (Book Review)

A big huge amazing thank you to Angry Robot Books for my finished copies of the Quest for Heroes duology! The Warrior is now out in the world and here are my thoughts on it!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Warrior
  • Series: Quest For Heroes #2
  • Author: Stephen Aryan
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 08/09/22
  • Length: 419 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ yes if you liked book one!

Here’s the synopsis:

The story of Kell Kressia continues in Book II of the gripping fantasy duology. Kell, two time saviour of the Five Kingdoms, is now the King of Algany. He has fame, power, respect, and has never been more miserable…

Bound, by duty and responsibility, Kell is King only in name. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he leaves affairs of state to his wife, Sigrid. When his old friend, Willow, turns up asking him to go on a journey to her homeland he can’t wait to leave.

The Malice, a malevolent poison that alters everything it infects, runs rampant across Willow’s homeland. Desperate to find a cure her cousin, Ravvi, is willing to try a dark ritual which could damn her people forever. Journeying to a distant land, Kell and his companions must stop Ravvi before it’s too late.While Kell is away Reverend Mother Britak’s plans come to a head. Queen Sigrid must find a way to protect her family and her nation, but against such a ruthless opponent, something has to give

The first thing that I love about the book, besides the cover, is the synopsis! Not much more recall is needed.

I’m going to *duck behind the couch* and say that I liked The Coward a lot more than The Warrior. It was nice to see Kell off on another heroic quest, even if none of the humans understood it, and he must have come to terms with a lot of his anxiety and PTSD because it isn’t nearly as severe here. That speaks for the level of resolution provided in the prior book

Character wise, I liked Sigrid the most as she dealt with the crazy old Reverend Mother and the fate of Algany. I wanted more from the Queen and appreciated her arc the most.  Kell and Willow make a good pair although I still wanted more from their friendship, should it be called that.

Where Aryan kind of lost me was in his shift from low fantasy in The Coward to the more magical elements of The Warrior. I got to ask him about it in the Q & A on the SFF Oasis discord and understood what he was saying about wanting to change things up, but it was too strange for me to introduce so much newness into book 2.

Odd’s … Thing … What the heck was it? I was interested in learning and unsatisfied with the resolution to the point that I didn’t care about… What happened. I would have loved at least an update on the two other questers from book one but their story was done. As a result of these things I just didn’t feel for or care about Odd or Yarra at all, so a lot of the book with drawn out scenes featuring these two felt harder to get through.

That said, the setting was well done in places.  I did love the visuals of the Alfár housing, especially the multicolored windows and descriptions of their culture and dwellings.

The ending went from near catastrophe to more or less resolved, real quick, which was OK from a wrap up standpoint but The Warrior wasn’t nearly as light as The Coward to support the quick resolution.

One thing that was really missing was the POV of the new Reverend Mother – even one chapter would have sufficed but I felt like Britak was such a huge presence, then a hole appeared and the plot kept going without filling that leadership role!

I just ended up with a lot of mixed feelings and questions, like about Odd. And did the Vahli saga survive since the Medina saga was the one mentioned by the historian at the end? It also felt a little bare without the chapter lead excerpts than book one had.  I guess that chapter of Kell’s history closed but I missed the little tidbits.
(And this has nothing to do with my rating but those spine sizes, those spine sizes, those spine sizes, who did this)!!

Overall: if you read and enjoyed book one, I would recommend reading book two. I have seen interestingly mixed reviews on which book people prefer so I would definitely say try them both!

Thank you again to AR for my copies, all opinions are my own 


My review for The Coward 

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Literary Fiction Romance

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Book Thoughts)

In an effort to broaden my reading horizons and shore up some of my literary gaps, I started reading a few classics every year.

For my summer session of classic torture, I was surprised to find that The Scarlet Letter was not really that challenging to read. It is fairly short and the language isn’t terribly insufferable either (My last classic was Notre Dame de Paris ((The Hunchback of Notre Dame)) and … Whew, no thanks).

So let’s talk about my reaction to the book, if I think it has relevance today, and I’ll treat you to my teen-speak synopsis of the book.

Originally published in 1850, here’s the Signet Classics synopsis:

This tragic novel of sin and redemption is Hawthorne’s masterpiece of American fiction.

An ardent young woman, her cowardly lover, and her aging vengeful husband—these are the central characters in this stark drama of the conflict between passion and convention in the harsh world of seventeenth-century Boston. Tremendously moving and rich in psychological insight, this dramatic depiction of the struggle between mind and heart illuminates Hawthorne’s concern with our Puritan past and its influence on American life.

Broadly – I enjoyed the read.  It’s not hard to know what’s happening, and minus a bit of minute descriptive language mostly in the first novella about the Custom House, it was pretty readable.

His author intro is everything: Oh you’re offended by my sketch? I think it’s fine, it’s not like I burned the place down!! I bet Hawthorne had a big personality.

Relevance: I think it has relevance as a cautionary tale today in a world where teen moms get “famous” on TV and you can’t even scroll Bookstagram without seeing books with x rated content advertised. I would definitely put this in a home school curriculum to talk about Puritanism, early settlements, guilt, adultery, having children out of wedlock, stigmas and identity, I mean there’s a lot of discussion content here that I imagine parents would rather handle.

Here’s my teen speak synopsis:

Part 1: So Mr. Hawthorne was in the hot seat for blasting his employer after being fired, and said HaHaHaHA I’m gonna publish this anyway because it’s not offensive so enjoy! Sticks and stones!

Part 2: The Scarlet Letter. Ok so this lady living in Puritan Salem/Boston finds this brown eyed pastor waxing poetic, and even though she’s married, they get their shenanigans on. What the heck did she think would happen when she had a baby? This wasn’t 2020 where Jerry Springer lets your baby daddy and your husband fight it out on live TV, your @$$ is going to be hung by the neck!

That didn’t happen because Hawthorne had to write a book longer than 5 pages, so the two men have to kill each other with psychological warfare instead. A good lesson about carrying around a guilty conscience.

Long story short – actions have consequenes

A few random thoughts:

  • I thought it was funny that even the beggars were shunning charity from Hester. These days everyone grabs all the free stuff regardless of who is handing it out
  • A character mentioned transmuting alchemy to gold, which is something I usually see in fantasy books or nonfiction moreso than historical fiction
  • The book takes place 50 years before the Salem Witch Trials and Hawthorne brought in some real historical figures as characters.  Bellingham was the real governor, as was Hibbins who mentioned witchcraft throughout the book and was hanged in real life shortly after it took place. I didn’t know how many women were hung before the actual frenzy took place

Overall thoughts: I didn’t feel bad for Hester at all. She wasn’t forced into marriage and knew the laws of the time. Dimmesdale probably took advantage of his authority position and that isn’t an excuse for either of them since she clearly knows how to say NO to men in power based off the rest of the book.  I know 2020 is whack but choices, actions, they all have consequences and I’ll never support adultery.  That’s why I think this is a good cautionary tale to lay against idiocracy like “Teen Mom”

This is a quicker, easier to pick apart classic and I definitely think it held up over the years.

Soooo what classic should I read in the fall?

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal Young Adult

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

When I polled my friends for their favorite books, one of my bookstagram buddies  responded that her whole family loves Skulduggery Pleasant!

It sounded a little silly. A middle grade novel with fantasy/horror/humor elements about a snarky skeletal detective. I have seen it recommended before and said ok why not, I could use a laugh!

The audiobook didn’t disappoint.  I absolutely loved it enough to put holds on the next few books.  I’m told that the series goes downhill and gets PC/political later on so I am a little bit wary, but plan on enjoying the books until it gets to that point!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Skulduggery Pleasant
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #1
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, April 2007
  • Length: 400 pages:
  • Rate & Recommend: 4.5⭐  for fans of middle grade-YA. (Remember that I rate these books mainly off of age appropriateness and overall enjoyment)

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant

Ace Detective
Snappy Dresser
Razor–tongued Wit
Crackerjack Sorcerer and
Walking, Talking, Fire-throwing Skeleton

—as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented twelve-year-old.

These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil.

The end of the world?

Over his dead body.

There are a lot of books bridging the Middlegrade to YA reading gap and this is one of them.  A mature 10 year old could read or listen to this, or an adult could find a few things to laugh at too.

It’s funny, very funny, and I think the narrator brought out the banter and personalities of the characters really well.  Some of the dialogue is clunky but for a debut novel I really liked the characters.

Stephanie didn’t seem to have a lot to be upset with in her life, but she is seeking adventure and finds it after her uncle dies and a skeleton in disguise shows up at the reading of his will.

Between Stephanie’s adventure sense and Skulduggery’s one liners and absolute lack of any idea of how to handle a 12 year old, they make quite a pair. I say again how much I love the banter and how awkward Skul could be

The book moves at an appropriately fast pace for middle grade fantasy. The fighting got a bit repetitive but the story moved quickly and I was absolutely not bored at all.  I think that 10-16 age group would devour this book

The biggest thing I noted that set this one apart from it’s genre peers is how dark it got at times.  Age appropriately dark, but still dark.  Where other books in this genre stay fairly light on tough themes, this went into grief and torture, betrayal and madness, among other things scattered between the jokes and lighter content.

I liked it for that contrast of light and dark, highlighting the gray zones and debating who the “good guys” are.  

Here are a small few of my favorite quotes:

I’m placing you under arrest for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and, I don’t know, possibly littering


A living skeleton isn’t enough for you, is it? What does it take to impress young people these days?


To betray is to act against, I just haven’t acted at all


Content wise – there’s very little language, I think he says “damn” once. There is no romantic content and the dark content stays pretty age appropriate which I love and find necessary in order to rate these books!  Any one liners targeted at adults are going to go straight over the little one’s heads, even I hardly caught them.

Overall: I would definitely recommend this as a fun, fast paced read or listen for anyone interested in middle grade/ early YA books

A quick note on the audio: approximately 7 hours, narrated by Rupert Degas.  I loved his accent so much and found it perfect for the text, characters, banter, etc. There’s music at the end of each chapter that set the mood for the next chapter, corny but fun. 100% going to listen to a few of these because I need a laugh in my life and if nothing else, I was laughing out loud for sure 😂

Categories
Fiction Mysteries

The Lost by Jeffrey B. Burton (Book Review)

Thank you endlessly to Minotaur Books for sending over another great read this spring!  I feel terrible because it came out back at the end of June. The book was received in exchange for an honest review and as always, all opinions are my own!

When I finally got into my lovely finished copy of The Lost, I found it to be a quick, engaging K9 mystery with some thrilling aspects as well. This is #3 in the series but totally reads as a standalone. 

The K9 mystery genre is one that I’ve really been getting into with the Search and Rescue books, Rookie K9 unit, and anything by David Rosenfelt, so if you like lighter, funnier mysteries and K9 detectives definitely check this one out!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Lost
  • Series: Mace Reid K9 Mystery, #3
  • Author: Jeffrey B Burton
  • Publisher & Release: Minotaur Books, June 2922
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for a quick and fun mystery read

Synopsis:

The Lost is the next mystery from author Jeffrey B. Burton starring an extraordinary cadaver dog and her handler.

Glencoe, Illinois: A home invasion turned kidnapping at the mansion of billionaire financier Kenneth J. Druckman brings Mason “Mace” Reid and his cadaver dog, Vira, to this wealthy northern suburb of Chicago. Druckman was assaulted, left behind while his wife and young daughter were taken for ransom.

Brought to the scene by the FBI, Reid specializes in human remains detection, and Vira is the star of his pack of cadaver dogs he’s dubbed The Finders. After Vira finds the dead body of the mother, former supermodel Calley Kurtz, everyone is on high alert to find Druckman’s missing daughter before the five-year-old disappears forever. But the trail Vira finds on the property’s dense woodlands leads right back to Druckman himself.

With the help of Detective Kippy Gimm, Reid and Vira must race against the clock. Nothing is as it appears to be . . . and the red herrings could be lethal.

First off, I definitely liked this one as a standalone.  I had no trouble meeting the characters and understanding what was happening, although I am definitely 100% adding the first two books to my TBR to meet the dogs more in depth.

This is a relatively short mystery with shorter chapters too so it’s a very quick read, perfect for the summer!

The characters are funny and kind but also talented as heck.  I liked seeing a lot of Vira the golden retriever’s tricks and abilities, especially her capacity to recognize feelings and stand in as a therapy dog.  Then she can turn around, find a body, nail a bad guy – Vira is an all around pro.  I would have liked to see more of the actual dog training though I imagine it featured in prior books.

There’s plenty of action too. The plot is decent, it’s a little heavier than the average mystery and while it is labelled as a “cozy animal mystery” on Amazon, I didn’t recognize the cozy element as much.  Mace is an amateur sleuth but his dogs know their business, and he was extremely observant.  His cop girlfriend/partner did good work too and seems kind & intelligent as well as bad ass.

Where the book lost a star with me was the format of the reveal – like the book started with an unknown bad guy, then the plot and mystery developed – right in the middle, the answer was revealed – then the last half dropped the mystery and turned into a thriller, featuring the characters trying to locate a kidnapping victim and dodge various curve balls including the Russian Mafia and a crazy rich person.

My only gripe is that giving the answer away in the middle took a bit out of the second half for me since I was expecting red herrings and mystery and had to adjust my expectations. I also wish the events at the start of the book tied into the rest a little more, finding some resolution for that crime. Maybe the next book?

Overall – I liked this one. It was thrilling, interesting, funny at times, and the dogs were great. Everything that a K9 detective mystery should be!

 

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Bloodsworn by Scott Reintgen (Book Thoughts)

Hi all – coming at you today with a short and sweet post about Bloodsworn! Without further lollygagging, let’s talk about this book!

I liked Ashlords quite a bit, but didn’t love it. Bloodsworn matured a lot in both plot, world building, and character development, and I don’t hesitate to recommend the duology to YA fantasy fans at all.

Plus – omg the cover artwork, right?

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Bloodsworn
  • Series: Ashlords #2
  • Author: Scott Reintgen
  • Publisher & Release: Crown Books for Young Readers, February 2021
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon: 

Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes.

The Races are over. War has begun.

Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.

Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.

Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?

All the characters from book one – Imelda, Pippa, Adrian, plus Quinn and now the gods, are back in a big way in Bloodsworn.

 I loved meeting the gods! Each had an interesting domain, abilities, “hobbies”. Seeing the other realm was cool too and I liked how Reintgen broadened the scope so much without letting the plot get away from him.

The lore was well done and I never saw the big plot twists coming at all.  Kind of hard to talk without spoiling but when the four characters (races) discover their history and team up against the gods…

…I loved the teamwork.  Overcoming racial differences and doing what is RIGHT, vs just continuing what past generations did, is a great theme for teens and this ties massively into the character growth shown here in book two.

Pippa and Adrian and Imelda might be sons and daughters of political leaders but they really step up and find their own future now.

Reintgen upped the emotional states a bit too with a few well placed side character deaths – I actually like when YA authors do this because war is not pleasant, nor should it be described as such.  I think he captured a lot of wartime atmosphere and ethical concerns well

It was cool to see the new phoenix rebirths and learn some of the ancient alchemy practices too.  I wish Reintgen had packed in more horsie related Phoenix things and alchemy related trick riding, but I have no real gripes about this book.

The end was a little corny but it packed a lot of emotional appeal.  Each of the three main characters obtained major victories and resolution. I was happy with how much each character came into their own and found some happiness going forward.  

Spoiler free ** regarding the “corny” ending – I have learned with YA books that I’m going to eye roll at a lot of endings, and I don’t dock for it anymore.  Teens eat this stuff up and because the language and broader content of the book is appropriate for the age group, I dropped 5 stars with no hesitation

Highly recommend for YA fantasy fans. If you are even vaguely interested after book one, keep reading!

** Quick note on the audio – the crew is back. Rebecca Soler, Andrew Eiden, Lauren Foftgang are back and deliver a decent narration. I think Eiden stepped into the Aiden character a little better than he did in book one and overall I enjoyed listening. About 10 hours, 41 minutes from Listening Library!