Categories
Contemporary Fiction Paranormal Young Adult

Book Review: Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Watch Over Me
  • Author: Nina LaCour
  • Publisher & Release: Dutton Books for Young Readers, Sept 15th 2020
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of contemporary!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to the opportunity: living in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.

But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to stay at a farm on an isolated part of the Northern California Coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but also haunted by the past traumas its young residents have come to escape. And Mila’s own terrible memories are starting to rise to the surface.

My Thoughts:

Thank you so much to the publisher via Bookish First for the finished copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Watch Over Me is a deeeeeply atmospheric young adult contemporary read, with a paranormal/magical realism twist involving ghosts and residual hauntings related to trauma.

Mila becomes too old to remain in foster care, and goes to teach on a farm in northern California where the owners have fostered 40+ children. The interns cook, clean, teach, tend to the farm and children, and everyone lives in a structured environment and seem like one big amazing family.

Then there are the ghosts. Ghosts of children playing in the yard. A dancing ghost that plays the piano. A ghost that re-enacts Mila’s past traumas?

The less I think about the ghost element, the more I enjoy the book. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to me to bring residual hauntings to actual life, but I understand it in a symbolic sense. The theme of residual hauntings due to trauma is deep and difficult and handled so well by LaCour, and these resilient kids who have been through so much. There is a literal but symbolic gesture of embracing the lost and detached part of oneself that still deserves love and belonging and healing.

I loved the little kids, especially Lee, the farm family, and the whole found family theme in general. The farm atmosphere was so real that I always felt like I was walking in the chilly air next to the characters, or joining them at dinner or in the family room.

It’s a shorter and quick book that kept me rapt the entire time, and if I had more time it could have easily been read in a day.  A similar book that I read this year, and the review is here somewhere, was Echoes Between Us by Katie McCarty.

Content for gas lighting, housefires, parental abandonment, child abuse, sex overheard and then imagined in no explicit detail, two naked girls in a bath tub with nothing sexual occurring, one usage of the word f**k, near drowning, personal injury, ghosts, and pain related to ghostly encounters

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Book Review: The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae

  • Title: The Kinder Poison
  • Series: Yes – The Kinder Poison #1
  • Author: Natalie Mae
  • Publisher & Release: Razorbill – June 16, 2020
  •  Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of the genre

Thank you so much to Bookish First and Razorbill for my finished copy of The Kinder Poison!  It is a gorgeous hardcover and for my fellow book sniffers, has that great sawdust smell 😂

Here is the description from Goodreads:

Perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Holly Black, this enthralling fantasy adventure follows a teenage girl chosen to be the human sacrifice in a deadly game between three heirs who will do anything for the crown.

Zahru has long dreamed of leaving the kingdom of Orkena and having the kinds of adventures she’s only ever heard about in stories. But as a lowly Whisperer, her power to commune with animals means that her place is serving in the royal stables until the day her magic runs dry.

All that changes when the ailing ruler invokes the Crossing: a death-defying race across the desert, in which the first of his heirs to finish—and take the life of a human sacrifice at the journey’s end—will ascend to the throne and be granted unparalleled abilities.

With all of the kingdom abuzz, Zahru leaps at the chance to change her fate if just for a night by sneaking into the palace for a taste of the revelry. But the minor indiscretion turns into a deadly mistake when she gets caught up in a feud between the heirs and is forced to become the Crossing’s human sacrifice. Zahru is left with only one hope for survival: somehow figuring out how to overcome the most dangerous people in the world.

Tons of sibling rivalry, a magical and dangerous race, a taste of political intrigue, and some interesting family dynamics are all aspects that drew me to – and kept me interested in the book while reading.

The sibling rivalry is the base for the entire plot, so lets start there.  One of the three has to make it across the desert first and complete the sacrifice in order to become the new ruler.  First we meet Sakira who might love to party and appear reckless, but is ruthless and refuses to be dismissed.  Kasta is the eldest and has a paranoid darkness about him. Jet is the second son, not wanting the kingdom but determined to see his sister safely in charge.

The history between the siblings and the Royal family make up most of the background and world building of the book.  The book is SO character driven that it makes most sense to talk about those relationships.  They are complicated, real, interesting, and all competing for their father’s approval, as well of that of the nation and the innate power given by completing the human sacrifice.

Each sibling is competing with a team of 2 helpers, and the dynamics within the groups are all so different and equally entertaining.  Kasta I think had the most interesting group, including a demon shifter named Maia.  Her story is totally heartbreaking and between her demon aspect and Kasta’s insanity, they set up the main twist for book 2.  The best part was that for every twist and turn and bit of character development…..right until the very, very end, I had NO damn idea who was going to win that race.

The race itself isn’t all that interesting, the groups do have some hurdles to overcome but most of the barriers come from the sibling detaining each other or trying to kidnap the human sacrifice, Zahru. I haven’t talked about her yet because she’s literally a stable girl that snuck into the palace, and somehow is the bravest person ever. She has no interesting backstory, no anecdotes like the siblings have, no life story that indicates where she got her cunning from….and I docked a star for yet another boring lead.  Thankfully the siblings carried it.

Each sibling really was truly and uniquely interesting enough to make me keep reading the book quickly.  I liked Jet a lot, he is the main male character (ish) and I might have liked to stroll in the starlit desert with him too. Ha.

Just to touch on the magic system – almost everyone is born with some magical talent in the land of Orkena.  From animal whisperers to sound benders and firespinners, everyone has a place.  There was nothing terribly extraordinary about this but some of the individual talents were cool.

There was a lot of vivid imagery and good scenic descriptions of everything from clothes to horses to the land.  I like Mae’s writing style because there is just enough prose and banter to make her story seem real, but not enough to make it purple and boring.  I wish there was more world building – but this book had to focus on establishing the character background and future political rivalries as well as the Crossing itself.  The history that mattered was there, some quite brutal, but what about the mood of the people in general? The surrounding nations that are brewing this war/conflict going forward?

All in all, definitely a great read if you like sibling rivalries, friendships, banter, danger and magic, with a twist of romance, all swirled into one cunning race for the future of the kingdom.  I would definitely recommend it.

Thank you again to Bookish First and Razorbill for my copy, all opinions are my own!

Have you read it? Want to discuss it? Drop a comment!!

Categories
Crime Thrillers

ARC Review: The Hiding Girl by Dorian Box

  • Title: The Hiding Girl
  • Series: Emily Calby, #1
  • Author: Dorian Box
  • Publisher & Release: Friction Press, 6/15/2020
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for entertainment value

Thank you so much to BookishFirst and Friction Press for my advanced copy of The Hiding Girl by Dorian Box! All opinions are my own!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Twelve-year-old Emily Calby was a good girl from a religious family in rural Georgia. She loved softball, her little sister and looking up words to get her allowance. Then two men came and murdered her family. Somehow Emily escaped. Only the killers know she survived.

On the run in a fugue, she makes an unlikely ally in a ruthless ex-gang member who takes her in. Overwhelmed by guilt for failing her family, she persuades him to train her to kill before setting out alone on a terrifying journey for justice. Nothing will stop her—not cops or creeps, not even her own splintering mind.

Through it all, Emily fights to hold onto hope and the girl she once knew, kept buried deep inside. A testament to the boundless limits of love, sacrifice and the will to survive, The Hiding Girl is the first book in the Emily Calby Series.

While it is no literary masterpiece, all three hundred and four pages of The Hiding Girl had me hooked. Emily’s family is brutalized and murdered, although she manages to escape before the criminals set the house on fire.

Weeks later Emily meets Lucas, a giant of a man who sells her a masterpiece of a fake drivers license. Lucas might be a 6″5 ex-army turned murderer and etc, but he is a good person at heart and sees some of his sister in Emily. He takes her in off the street and teaches her how to defend herself, use a knife, and shoot a gun.

While I really don’t ever see this happening in real life, it made for a great story. Emily started working out with Lucas’ girlfriend, Kiona, and became at least a little more formidable if not still naive. Lucas doesn’t seem like a typical criminal, he even gets Emily a birthday present. Which is a gun. And Kiona smacked him. I really enjoyed their dynamic. Also found/mismatched families is one of my favorite tropes in any genre!

Emily just wants to find the two men who savaged her family and extract justice. Can she do it after only a month of training in Lucas’ house? The pacing just flies too – I think I read the whole book in two sittings.  Emily is resourceful and interesting while on the road too, the second half of the book takes her on a search for the bad guys.

I don’t think Lucas was supposed to be hilarious, but watching him try to deal with an annoying 12 year old white girl was pretty funny at times. She should have been terrified of him. I think this is a good race-transcending book for the current day and age too. There is also a psychological element involving repressed trauma, which I appreciate as a fan of psychological thrillers.

This is book one of a series and I definitely can’t wait to read the next.  A good series intro has to present the main character/s with an interesting background and a purpose going forward if nothing else.  Box definitely accomplished this. I 100% want to spend more time with these characters and hopefully see Emily grow up and into herself.

Recommended for people who can suspend disbelief long enough to watch a very brave, broken, and determined little girl learn the ways of life from a gun waving not-quite gangster. Some mature content involved.

Have you read it? Want to discuss it? Let me know!

Categories
Fantasy

ARC Review: Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

  • Title: Kingdom of Liars
  • Author: Nick Martell
  • Pub: Simon & Schuster
  • Length: 608p
  • Release: July 23rd 2020 (new date)
  • Rating & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ maybe

Thank you to Bookish First and Simon & Schuster for my ARC of The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell.  Book was claimed in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.

Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

(If you’re here for the Sanderson commentary, it’s towards the bottom)

So there is obviously a lot going on in the book, and it is a whopper at 608 pages.  The book is told in first person, as Michael relates his story to a certain Archivist before his execution.

This is fantasy, so lets start with the world building.  My biggest gripe with the book was a certain lack thereof, despite the length.  Words like Tweeker, Skeleton, Sacrifice, the entire political and military structure, religion, and even the purpose of the Kingmans are thrown out in name or title but never elaborated on.  It makes sense to a certain point since Michael wouldn’t have explained things to the Archivist that he already knew, but I don’t think these explanations would have hurt the story.

The action and pacing is decent. The plot starts out a little slowly then picks up around the half way point, holding my attention until the end.  There was enough action throughout to keep me fairly interested – immersion is where the book struggles.  Guns are a big controversy in fantasy novels but I can understand how the non magical countries developed firearms to level battle fields against the fabricators REAL quick, although foreign wars weren’t the focus. In fact the entire plot only takes place over a few days. I like a good bit of political maneuvering in the plot too but readers didn’t see it; another character was facilitating things off page.

Besides the guns, the language and names hurt immersion a LOT.  Come on, Treyvon and Jamal, dark colored guys from the wrong side of the river turning into disillusioned villains? I feel like he took a bit from Batman or Mistborn and an American political commentary.  Bring down the nobility! Also most of the character names were decidedly American.  In a world with magic wielders and broken, prophetic moons, the swearing is an issue too – a great fantasy world will invent it’s own slang, but Martell settled for the nine thousand uses of the word Fuck.  The only swear/curse in Hollow is apparently Fuck, and that’s just not good in high fantasy. The lack of world building specifics also hurt immersion, as described above it just hurts the story when I don’t know what is being talked about and have to try to guess.

The most well described bit of the world was probably the Royals vs high vs low nobles vs those in poverty, but only in the sense of rich vs poor and poverty.  Actually that might be a lie too because no one seemed to really support or care about the rebels, so I don’t know what’s going on with the mood of the city other than that the poor are poor and the rich are rich, and most not rich people are afraid.

Speaking of nobles with power and rich vs poor pit workers … The big elephant in the room is that Sanderson blurbed the book.  I am not a fan of his writing after reading Mistborn but I see similarities especially in the magic system – mostly that it’s lazy.  Everyone gets one specialty (or rarely two) and they range from “light” to “dark” to “nullify” to “lightning” fabrications … You get the idea.  The magic just happens too, it’s innate and the nobles have to train to use it or they can destroy their memories.  Maybe Sanderson saw some of himself and his early writing in the book but I also wonder if he actually read it.

Most of the characters are not excellent at all.  Michael is so caught up in his family legacy that he’s just stupid, getting himself nearly killed frequently. He is near sighted and seems to have no concept of thinking things through or finishing any plans that he starts.  He whines, changes his mind frequently, hurts people because he never thinks, and I thought it was great when the Mercenary called him out on being spineless. Even at the end Michael couldn’t stop repeating the family broken legacy record.  Oh yeah I hate books that repeat themselves and he spent way too much time pining over his father and the legacy, we got it already.  No one wants to be forgotten/Forgotten but this is an adult fantasy, we don’t need the repetition.

Kai (blind) was my favorite character other than Dark, the badass mercenary.  I also liked Gwen, Michael’s sister, for unexplained spoilery reasons, and Dawn. The title of the series, “The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings,” makes sense only at the end when we have an idea where the series might go.  Really though if Kingdom of Liars is just a long introduction and exposition to Michael’s story going forward, the world-building needed to be there.

Random bits: I thought I spotted a nod to Glen Cook’s The Black Company, which is great if it wasn’t coincidental.  I also like when Hanging Gardens hang people, not just flowers.

Honestly I will probably at least try to read the second book.  The new set of characters might be more interesting going forward and events should be taking place in the present.  I am at a solid ⭐⭐⭐ for this one, for poor immersion and lazy magic with enough action to keep me reading.  Would recommend for fans of Sanderson and lower/middle fantasy.

Categories
Crime Suspense Thrillers

ARC Review: The Nemesis Manifesto by Eric Van Lustbader

  • Title: The Nemesis Manifesto
  • Author: Eric Van Lustbader
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books
  • Release: May 19, 2020
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ probably

Thank you to Bookish First and Forge for the raffle win ARC! I loved his work in the Bourne series and was psyched to have a chance to read this one early.

Here is the description from GoodReads:

Russian meddling, American fragmentation, and global politics collide in this action-packed, international thriller.

In The Nemesis Manifesto, New York Times bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader,the master of the smart thriller,”* delivers an epic and harrowing adventure of the predatory forces that are threatening the very fabric of democracy and kicks off a compelling new series with a singular new hero for our time.

Evan Ryder is a lone wolf, a field agent for a black-ops arm of the DOD, who has survived unspeakable tragedy and dedicated her life to protecting her country. When her fellow agents begin to be systematically eliminated, Evan must unravel the thread that ties them all together…and before her name comes up on the kill list.

The list belongs to a mysterious cabal known only as Nemesis, a hostile entity hell-bent on tearing the United States apart. As Evan tracks them from Washington D.C. to the Caucasus Mountains, from Austria to a fortress in Germany where her own demons reside, she unearths a network of conspirators far more complex than anyone could have imagined. Can Evan uproot them before Nemesis forces bring democracy to its knees?

As the description makes obvious, The Nemesis Manifesto has a massive scope.  It is a classic spy novel with modern day conspiracy theories and such a tangled web of operatives and agencies that I could hardly keep track of the layers of intrigue. It was very well written and so full of action that it was quite hard to put down at times. From Washington D.C. to Russia, Georgia to Germany, arching eyebrows to immaculate suits and a Russian mafia style  blood feud, this is a huge sweeping MUST for fans of spies and international intrigue

The book introduced Evan Ryder.  She is a truly kick ass agent, proficient and deadly and wanted all over the world.  After a small dissertation on why females do or don’t work as agents, the book smoothed out and let her do her job. There was a fairly slow start in general but once the action started it moved so quickly.  The other female agent, Brenda, seemed to be there to serve as an example of a bad female agent.  She was a bit of a mental loose cannon which issues that seemed to stem from seeing her dad in a compromising position.  For example there was some clearly consensual sex going on in her adult consensual relationship, but then as soon as she found out the guy was a double agent she started on a rape tirade and made all sorts of terrible field agent decisions.  Crying rape is never cute and omg did I want to reach through the page and shoot her!  Thankfully throughout the book a handful of other agents, and ultimately Evan was there to bail her out.

Other than a few analogies and similes that seemed a bit over-written, the writing was fantastic and I don’t have much to say about it. The author is a strong storyteller.

Other than Brenda, my other small qualm is that I don’t know if quite enough loose ends were wrapped up.  We were dealing with everything from a hilariously childish interagency blood feud to some fucked up family ties to Nazis, and somehow the DOD got thrown back in at the end.  Nemesis seemed to provide a lot more questions along with their answers, and I never quite understood how things pieced together.  Why were they ever targeting Butler, and what happened to him?  I think, maybe these questions are going to be the basis of book 2, which had it’s own can of worms opened up by a minor cliffhanger.

The most impressive part was how relevant the plot is to today’s world.  The American left and right are so obnoxiously far divided that it almost feels believable that Russian based dezinformatsiya is fueling it.  Why not?  They were alluding to a Trump type of POTUS as well, and it was even more interesting to consider who else in the international committee could be involved.

Last but not least – it’s time for the @OneReadingNurse infamous medical rant.  The book states a patients IV was pulled, and the nurse rushed to “put the needle back in.”  Guys that is not a thing, once we get it into the arm THERE IS NO NEEDLE, just a plastic cannula.  There is NO way to reinsert it.  Huge cringe moment but otherwise the book passes inspection.

Overall I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes international thrillers and spy / black ops novels.  There’s even a little agent holding a gun on the cover.  Thank you again to BookishFirst and Forge for my copy.  It releases in May so keep an eye out for it or preorder now!

Categories
Paranormal Young Adult

ARC Review: Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Thank you so much to Bookish First and Margaret K. McElderry Books for the ARC of Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare! The book was won in a bookish raffle and given for free in exchange for an honest review.

Guys I apologize because this is one of my rare “more-rambly-and-less-literary” reviews. It is good to be back in the Shadowhunter world, especially Will & Tessa’s time.  The Infernal Devices is by far my favorite of Clare’s trilogies, so I was thrilled when I heard the next generation of Herondales and Lightwoods (and Carstairs and Blackthorns) were getting a series.

The Description from Goodreads:

“Welcome to Edwardian London, a time of electric lights and long shadows, the celebration of artistic beauty and the wild pursuit of pleasure, with demons waiting in the dark. For years there has been peace in the Shadowhunter world. James and Lucie Herondale, children of the famous Will and Tessa, have grown up in an idyll with their loving friends and family, listening to stories of good defeating evil and love conquering all. But everything changes when the Blackthorn and Carstairs families come to London…and so does a remorseless and inescapable plague.

James Herondale longs for a great love, and thinks he has found it in the beautiful, mysterious Grace Blackthorn. Cordelia Carstairs is desperate to become a hero, save her family from ruin, and keep her secret love for James hidden. When disaster strikes the Shadowhunters, James, Cordelia and their friends are plunged into a wild adventure which will reveal dark and incredible powers, and the true cruel price of being a hero…and falling in love”

Let me come up front with my biggest gripe about the book:  The first 150 pages held very little action at all.  Clare used the space to introduce the entire next generation – a TON of characters – their friendships, lives, and surface connections to each other.  We got to see what Will and Tessa and Charlotte and Sophie and Gideon and Cecily and Gabriel and their entire HOST of offspring have built in the peace following the clockwork war.  I was also happy to hear that Henry’s injuries didn’t affect his babymaking abilities. It took me most of the book to have the characters straight. I drew one but it would have been cool if she had included a family tree up front.

Anyway, once the action got going I really enjoyed the book.  The typical  Clare themes of strong young women, magical weapons, self discovery, friends with secrets, and a tangled web of romances present themselves per usual. It was different to have everyone on the same  page as a shadowhunter already, as in prior books someone is always having to discover their true identity and abilities.  There is a healthy amount of this in the Herondale children though, I mean, What kind of abilities would TESSA GRAY’s children have? My favorite part was finding out. James and his shadow travels and Lucie with her affinity for ghosts were both awesome story lines.   Cordelia with her Cortana are obviously going to be great heroes and I love her as well.  There is a full cast of other characters including Sophie and Cecily’s kids, Charlotte and Henry had a few too, and crazy old Tatiana Lightwood is even a main character with her stuffed bird hats and general lunacy. I won’t share ARC quotes but believe me, the banter continues to be most excellent.

As for the bad guy – the villain – First we had Valentine, then The Magister, and now… wow.  I can’t really go too much into the villains here without spoilers but there is a manticore demon and plenty of adversarial magic for the young friends to ward off.  Learning more about warlock magic and demons was cool, it was explored more in this book than in prior series.  I really enjoyed the build up to the reveal of the villain (and the world building) in this novel, Clare took her time but it worked.  The villain is definitely worthy of the series, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

Speaking of the ghosts, how about Jesse and Jessamine!  How about the warlocks? I was so excited to have Magnus Bane gone before he showed up. I am ready for a new warlock.  If nothing else, Clare does like to recycle her characters a bit.  I think she honestly needs to quit this universe after this trilogy, there are just so many repeating themes and fan fiction with those short stories now!

Yes yes yes, I am talking about Chain of Gold, not Clare’s formula.  I want to divert one more time and say that YES, these books are paranormal…romance.  Girls like boys, boys like girls, boys like boys, boys like both, and someone is a crossdresser.  None of these things are too heavy but be aware that it’s there in greater quantities than in previous books if those things bother you, although if you’re still around after Malec I’m assuming they don’t. The worst than anyone does is kiss anyway, with mentioned themes of seduction and spending the night.

I guess the most important question a lot of you will ask is: Can I read this book first?  If you have never read a shadowhunters novel, (I personally HATE The Mortal Instruments) and would start with The Infernal Devices, then back track to TMI, then you’re home free with either this series or the one with the LA shadowhunters.   You literally can’t read Chain of Gold first without a shit TON of spoilers that will ruin your reading of The Infernal Devices.  Clare’s writing is getting better as she goes though, I’ll give her that.

Thank you again to Bookish first and the publisher, All opinions are my own!