Quarantine Review Series: Severance by Ling Ma

Named ‘Best Book of the Year’ by NPR. This book just goes to show how mediocre the critics at NPR really are.

I try not to be too harsh when reviewing books because I know that authors are people too, but this book just wasn’t it, and I don’t know how it garnered the respect from so many different outlets.

Severance is about a Chinese immigrant who has traveled to the States with her parents for a new life. She is an adult in most of this book, and it mainly jumps back and forth between right before and after Shen fever takes over. But also gives you the perspective of her parents when they first arrive in the U.S.. When Shen Fever hits, people become ‘fevered’ and they essentially become zombies without any of the brain eating. Severance is mostly about Candace getting her job as a bible distributor before the fever and her fleeting relationships with those around her.

My first issue with Severance is that every single character is unlikable. Candace is just the worst. She constantly settles and does the wrong thing. She is trusting when she shouldn’t be and weary of those she should trust. Watching her navigate adulthood and friendship is aggravating.

Candace’s parents are also pretty horrible. Her mom is cruel and pushy. The parents can’t agree on anything and I constantly wondered why they bothered to be together. I had zero interest in how they came to be in the United States. They feel like an after thought thrown in to make Candace’s life more interesting than it was. They don’t have anything redeemable about them and seemed to serve as just an obstacle with no depth.

The only interesting part of this novel is the shorts moments of the ‘present’, where everyone is fevered and Candace has to navigate being a part of a survivors group. Still, the time spent in the present is so short it wasn’t worth wading through the never ending flashbacks. On top of that, Candace makes horrible decisions within the survivors group that solidified my dislike for her character.

Severance creeps along at a pace comparable to paint drying. This novel is so wordy that I was constantly having to reread sections because I’d lose interest halfway through. I am usually a huge fan of all encompassing description, but with this novel being as boring as it was, I was uninterested. The descriptions felt endless, in a bad way.

I will say that the weaving of past and present is seamless in Severance. Past and present meet right at the key moments and for me that was impressive. I wasn’t at all confused when the timelines changed or converged, and that is not an easy task to accomplish. Ling Ma definitely did that right.

Ling Ma also did something interesting by creating non-violent zombies. It was an interesting script flip that I wasn’t expecting. It was a bit boring, but I like that Ling Ma tried something unique. It was a good attempt, but with all the other issues fell flat.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that Ling Ma makes New York City so beautiful. I’ll be honest, I have no desire to go to NYC, and I definitely wouldn’t live there. But, this novel does a fantastic job of emphasizing the beauty of New York. It made me see it in a light that I’ve never seen it in before. Suddenly the hustle and bustle was beautiful and the neon lights were like the night sky. For the first time I felt the need to be there, and experience The City That Never Sleeps.

With all things considered Severance earns a measly 2/5 stars from me. This beloved novel did not hit home for me. If you choose to read this novel, do so with caution, and with a pillow nearby to take a nap.

Quarantine Book Review Series

In honor of my self quarantine, and the seemingly world wide quarantine, I will be doing a series of book reviews related to the current state of the world. I don’t want anyone to think I’m making light of this situation or making fun of anyone because I am just as worried as everyone else. I was just thinking that it would be an interesting time to visit pandemic/post-apocalyptic literature. I’ve seen some other bloggers doing it and thought it would be interesting to compare the novels to real life.

I have just finished Severance by Ling Ma, coming up after that will be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, then Zone One by Colson Whitehead.

Keep an eye out for my series of Quarantine Reviews, and I’d love some recommendations for this review series in the comments.

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Have you ever heard of a book becoming a video game, and then, a Netflix series? I hadn’t until I watched The Witcher.

Geralt, The White Wolf and The Butcher of Blaviken is a brooding monster hunter imbued with magical powers. This series is like if Game of Thrones had a ton more monsters.

The Last Wish is technically an anthology of stories about Geralt before the happenings in the Blood of Elves. I had bought The Last Wish thinking that it was the first book, needless to say I was confused but I figured it out. In this book we follow Geralt and learn why he is called The Butcher of Blaviken. We also get to learn why him and the sorceress Yennefer are bound by fate. But the single most important detail that we discover in this book is how Geralt gains Ciri as his child surprise. Ciri is a character that will become much more important in later novels.

“Evil is Evil. Lesser, greater, middling… Makes no difference. The degree is arbitary. The definition’s blurred. If I’m to choose between one evil and another… I’d rather not choose at all.”

The quote above is something that follows Geralt his entire life. In the Netflix series it haunts him and helps him decide what his next move and, this idea of evil is evil, is solidified in his actions. He makes a wrong move and is forced to decide and it ends badly for him. I enjoy this quote because it makes Geralt more human. He is one of the least human, beings, in this book. All of his humanity is stripped from him and he’s given powers that no human should have. Yet, Geralt is not shy about showing that he cares and deep down he is a human at heart.

This book does a good job of weaving fairy tales from our world into Geralt’s world. There are clear references to Beauty and the Beast and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In fact, my favorite of the stories in this book is the Beauty and the Beast story. Sapkowski takes these fairy tales and turns them dark. There is always a twist. To me, it meant that life isn’t supposed to be a fairy tale, with every beautiful thing there is an ugly underside. It really fascinated me. There is even the quote,

“There’s a grain of truth in every fairytale…”

Sapkowski does a good job of making fairy tales feel real within the constraints of his fantasy story.

I was a little lost here and there because it’s not a linear story line. These are just tales to enhance your reading of the main series. I was learning about events and people that I still am yet to be introduced to even though I’m about 100 pages into the first book. But this book is what the Netflix series is mostly composed of. So if you are interested in The Witcher because of Netflix this is a really good place to start.

All in all, I’m not knocked off my feet but I can tell that this series is going to be outstanding. Geralt is such a promising anti-hero and the adventure is there. I know this series is already well loved but I think with the implementation of a Netflix series this will be able to stand to series’ like Game of Thrones.

The Last Wish earns a 4/5 stars.

The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy

The Orchid Throne is part fantasy, part drama, part romance, and these three components are brought together in a way that even a romance hater such as myself enjoyed. This one is not for the faint of heart, and is sure to have something in store for everyone.

We find ourselves dropped into a story of war. Conri is the former prince of a kingdom destroyed by Anure, His Emperial Majesty. Conri seeks vengeance and the desire to bring down Anure himself, a seemingly impossible task. Coincidentally, a prophesy foretells that Anure can be brought down by the abiding ring which is now worn by Queen Euthalia who is betrothed to Anure. Conri finds himself struggling to find his way to get his hands on the abiding ring. Will he take it by force? Or through a game of hearts?

What I love about this story most of all is the clashing and coming together of characters. Each character has their strengths and each character has weaknesses, everyone who is important is well rounded and thought out. I have noticed that oftentimes romance novels lack well rounded character, but not the case for this one. My favorite character is Sondra, second in command to Conri. She has a fire in her that can’t be tamed and I love it. She is brutally honest and not one to trifle with. Here is a quote about her that I love,

“Then she lifted that burning, raging gaze to mine again. “But not for despair. The bloodline of Oriel lives in you. Long live the king,””

While Sondra is sure of herself, Conri is not. I enjoy that parallel. He is kind of a bungling idiot who just happens to be an expert at combat. Conri feels very unique to me and his rapport with Queen Euthalia is magnificent, both hilarious and steamy. It was unexpected.

Mentioning Sondra and Conri, I feel I must mention Queen Euthalia. She emits such power and grace, in a way she reminds me Daenerys from Game of Thrones, she is a force to be reckoned with. I severely underestimate her in the beginning. She seems like a scared girl but after reading this quote I realize I am mistaken,

“With one last survey of the assembly, letting the moment stretch out, a small public flexing of my power—never let them forget they sit and stand with your permission—I finally lifted a hand, granting them the opportunity to rest themselves.”

She exudes power and knows how to flex it. Euthalia keeps a tight court and I find her character very admirable. Characters like hers are very important in novels. She is not evil but she knows when to crack the whip.

Kennedy nails the imagery in this novel. queen Euthalia has visions throughtout the novel and they are haunting and beautiful. The first one that caught my eye is this,

The wolf fought its chains, howling in hoarse rage, shedding fire and ash. The sea churned, bloodred and crimson dark, bones tossed in the waves, white as foam.

I can see what Euthalia sees in her visions and I can feel her fear. Not to mention that this is a beautiful foreshadowing of events to come. I also enjoy that it paints the slave king a certain way and then you are forced to see him in a different light later in the novel.

Something interesting and possibly unrelated but Queen Euthalia’s land is named Calanthe. I am currently reading The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski and a Queen in his novel is named Calanthe. I’m curious to know whether or not Kennedy drew inspiration from Sapkowski or if it’s a simple coincidence.

Another fun tidbit is the weapon in The Orchid Throne called a bagiroca. The whole time I was reading about the bagiroca, I was like what the hell is that? Well, I looked it up and it led me to an article by Jeffe Kennedy titled Where is a Weapons Dictionary when You Need One?. In short, the bagiroca is made up by Kennedy. Bag-i-roca, bag of rocks, that’s what I got from it. The article is funny and relatable so that’s why I linked it.

My only gripe is that The Orchid Throne is still a bit predictable. This makes me very sad because it is an unfortunate trope that romance novels tend to lean towards the predictable side. But, I do not want this to deter you because what it lacks in surprise it makes up for in hilarity and fun. Not all books have to twist and turn at every corner. This one is good entertainment.

I give The Orchid Throne 4/5 stars. While, it is not flawless it is a fun read and I have already recommended it to one of my friends. Romance lovers and haters alike can find something to enjoy in this novel, trust me. The Orchid Throne is out now and I’m currently reading the sequel The Fiery Crown set to release the 26th of May 2020. Check out The Orchid Throne and keep and eye out for my soon-to-be published review of The Fiery Crown. Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and Jeffe Kennedy for allowing me the opportunity to read this novel.

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Is there any other event in history as ironically tragic as the sinking of both the Titanic and Bittanic? Sister ships destined to the same watery grave. In The Deep, Alma Katsu the author of previously reviewed The Hunger, explores both tragedies and connects them in a ghostly manner.

The Deep is mostly about a young woman named Annie who is a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic and finds herself aboard the Brittanic, the hospital ship for those wounded in World War I. The story flashes between the times on the Titanic and times on the Brittanic both of which carry secrets and deception at each turn. Annie finds herself infatuated with a passenger aboard the Titanic named Mark and his infant daughter Ondine, but what she doesn’t know is that past and present will wind together in an eerie and earth-shattering way.

I’m going to start by saying that I really enjoyed this novel and it was honestly a lot different than The Hunger. The Deep feels more Lovecraftian at first and less horrifying than The Hunger. The ocean calls out to passengers in a way that I feel very much encapsulates Lovecraft’s writing style. “The call of the void.” is mentioned and it sent shivers down my spine because it made me reminisce on my readings of The Call of Cthulhu. The overall tone was very different than what I had previously read, and while I very much enjoyed The Hunger, The Deep is a very different and interesting beast.

Another well done piece of this story is the foreshadowing. In the very beginning, this is stated in comparison from the Brittanic to the Titanic,

This ship is much safer than the other one, they were assured. No need to be nervous.

And to me, someone who already knows the outcome of both the Titanic and Brittanic, it still sent a shiver down my spine and built the excitement. I had to know how Katsu decided to sink both ships and I wanted to know how she decided to tie them together. I had so many questions about an event I already knew about from history class. It was thrilling.

There was also another underlying theme that I found very interesting. That theme is motherhood. Aboard the Titanic, there is the young baby Ondine, her mother, and father, and there is also a pregnant woman aboard. Katsu does an excellent job of showing the struggles and the fear of being a new mother/father. I am a new mother and one quote stuck out to me,

“Ever since having his own child, he’d noticed he’d gotten more sensitive to mortality–he used to be aware of it brazenly so. Now it whispered to him, tapped his shoulder, and distracted him when things were quiet.”

This one quote is so accurate that it forced me to keep reading. Since having my son I find myself struggling with things I had never struggled with before. I cannot for the life of me watch a show where a baby’s life is at risk. It causes me to go into a full blown panic attack. For me, The Deep touched on this in a way that I didn’t expect but it was readable. I felt myself getting anxious but not so anxious I was forced to quit. It expressed parental anxiety very well. That previous quote is how I feel all the time.

My only disappointment with this novel is that I didn’t feel near as scared as I had thought I would be. I expected the paranormal aspect to start picking up and this one is a slow riser. I wanted to be afraid of “the monster” but even when the paranormal twist is revealed it didn’t frighten me so much. I expected more fear based off where I left after The Hunger, but you could chalk that up to me expecting it to be something that Katsu didn’t intend for it to be.

Overall I give The Deep a 4/5 stars. It’s a slow fright with relatable themes and semi-realistic frights. I definitely recommend The Deep along with its predecessor The Hunger. Now available for purchase, you have to pick this one up!

Day Zero by Kelly DeVos

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a doomsday prepper as a dad? How about a technological genius? Well in Kelly DeVos’ book Day Zero we get to find out exactly what it would be like. When society begins collapsing around Jinx and her family she is left to save herself and her siblings using the knowledge instilled in her by her father.

Jinx is an introverted gamer with a serious knack for technology. Her father, Dr. Doomsday, is a prepper/technology extraordinaire, her mother a teacher, and her 8 year old brother named Charles who is a serious green thumb. We come into Jinx’s life in a time of massive change. Her mother has left her father for a man named Jay who works as a security guard at a massive bank owned by the new president. Jay has a daughter in high school, like Jinx, named MacKenna and a son in college named Toby. Their world has recently been rocked by an upset election taken by ‘The Opposition’, a seemingly shady political party opposing the people’s choice, ‘The Spark’. Well when the freshly inaugurated president Ammon Carver’s banks are blown up in a terrorist attack ‘The Opposition’ is quick to blame ‘The Spark’. In the midst of this MacKenna’s dad Jay is being framed for executing the terrorist attack. As the country descends into chaos and the two party system collapses, Jinx’s mom orders her to find her father and help them prove Jay’s innocence.

I have a lot of opinions about this book, some good and some bad. I feel like the politics in this book are very heavy handed and sometimes it ripped me out of the adventurous nature of this story. It would be borderline boring when MacKenna would argue politics with everyone and anyone. This book is definitely a commentary on the current political climate and doesn’t try and mask it in any way. Every turn we take ‘The Opposition’ is there to glare at us and the authors political stances are quite clear. She writes this early on in the book while Jinx is in class,

“I scroll to page 187 and stare at a picture of a nearly abandoned suburban neighborhood below a headline that reads “The Dangers of a Two-Party Political System.”

While I enjoy an interesting or unique political message I found this to be very heavy and made me feel anxious. I understand that many people believe that this could be the future of the U.S.A but to me it just caused anxiety and made me want to put the book down. I want to reiterate that I don’t hate a political stance in literature because some of the greatest works in history have underlying political messages, but this felt like it was being force fed down my throat. It’s already a discussion we are having, this is not the spark that will cause a forest fire of discussion.

One aspect of the ‘Hidden Message’ in this book that I do enjoy is the difference in generations. Like the modern world we see a distinct difference between who we could envision as the Baby Boomers and who we could view as the Millennials. One of the antagonists, an old motel owner, feels like a clear representation of the Boomers. He says to the kids,

Don’t you talk about things you don’t understand. You. You. Kids like you in your copper houses. Sitting in coffee shops drinking ten-dollar, almond-milk-caramel-mocha-whatevers. Talkin’ about whether monkeys have rights and how we all need self-driving cars. And we’re out here…

Does this not sound exactly like a Facebook argument between a Baby Boomer and a Millennial? I really liked that subtle detail. There is such a massive divide in this book, between political parties, families, and generations. I felt like DeVos did a good job of acknowledging this dynamic without cramming it in our faces.

This books is full of useful survival knowledge like, “Breathe. Because the calm survive” and “Trust no one”. The common sense approach to survival in this book is something I enjoyed and the use of Dr. Doomsday’s rules of survival were very reminiscent of the movie Zombieland. I hate when dystopian or apocalypse novels use overly complicated or long winded explanations for survival. Keep it simple and you’ll survive.

I have one last bone to pick and it is with the character MacKenna and Jinx’s mother. MacKenna is so unlikable and has zero sense of survival. It feels like she’s just flopping around screwing things up for Jinx and almost killing one of the other protagonists. When she goes on her eventual redemption arc, it doesn’t feel like enough. Jinx’s mother is a whole different issue. Their mother seems to have no regard for her children’s lives. She abandons them to be with her detained husband and then tells Jinx,

“Don’t get caught by the police. They’ll want to hold you. Perhaps use you as leverage to force Jay to take a plea. Find your father,”

To me, it came off as if Jay was more important than both her children and Jay’s children. I don’t know a single responsible mother who would choose being unnecessarily detained over helping her children survive the collapse of society. It seemed silly and out of character for a mom who has been previously portrayed as both intelligent and caring.

Enough of my complaining.

This book is very well written and has an interesting plot to drive through the parts I didn’t enjoy. When you read Day Zero you will find yourself in every scene and you will catch yourself holding your breath during action sequences. I felt very engaged with what was happening inside the book. I was invested in what would happen next and whether Jay would be executed or exonerated.

This book is gritty and sometimes a little bit dense to read through but it is all worth it in the end. The plot and vivid scenery really make this book a winner. It’s fast-paced for the majority and will keep you asking questions. Who will win? ‘The Opposition’ or ‘The Spark’?

A huge thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing and Inkyard Press for allowing me to take part in this book blog tour! I thoroughly enjoyed working with them and reading Day Zero. I give this book a 4/5 stars and look forward to what happens next.

The Monsters Of Music by Rebecca F. Kenney

The Phantom Of The Opera meets American Idol, The Monsters Of Music is a surprisingly fresh retelling of the classic novel. Prepare yourself to fall in love with the gloomy Mel and talented Kiyo.

The main character Mel is a Leanan sídhe, which is an Irish fairy muse who must pour her creative energy into an artistic protege. Mel stalks a singing contest to find her protege, and she does find one. His name is Kiyo, a boy with a beautiful voice and natural talent. Mel makes the decision to take him under her wing and turn him into a winner. There is one major problem though, for Mel to transfer her powers the protege must kiss her.

The first thing about the book that caught my eye was the very clear and intense descriptions of Mel. Mel was burnt with acid thanks to her abusive father and it left half of her face mangled. for a Leanan sídhe that’s a bit of a problem because she must rely on her looks to obtain proteges. At one point in the book Kiyo describes Mel like this,

“long legs, perfect curves that she tried to hide under a hoodie for whatever reason, and black hair falling over her face, like the ghost girl from The Grudge.”

I found this interesting because Kiyo does not know about her mangled face at this point in the book, yet she still puts off a scary vibe. Kiyo is frightened by a muse, someone whose beauty is supposed to inspire the most gorgeous of artistic works. Yet he compares her to something terrifying without actually knowing her. This description really helped to solidify the person Mel was trying to project herself as.

I also feel like Kenney really knows her stuff when it comes to music, specifically vocal training. I will be honest, I know nothing about singing so if Kenney fudges some stuff she does it in a way that convinced me she was telling the truth. First of all she picks a song list to go with the book and it has a very wide variety, from Grunge to J-Pop, to me that expressed an interesting knowledge about multiple genres. She didn’t just focus on the Hot 100 while she was writing. I liked that. She also seems to understand vocal training as previously mentioned. Specifically when Mel offers Kiyo some morning tea and explains that,

“Coffee by itself is dehydrating, and milk or creamer will clog up your throat. We need you sounding crystal clear and warm as summer, okay?”

I thought this detail was excellent and expressed a certain amount of expertise. Maybe not for someone well versed in vocals but for someone with zero knowledge like myself it was a detail that I found informative.

We have touched on this before in my blog but when a novel makes reference to The Lord Of The Rings I feel a certain respect. Kiyo uses a Tolkien reference to compare a magic mirror that Mel is using to the pool that Sam peers into and sees the Shire being ransacked. The quotes a bit long but it really helps to express the kind of thinker Kiyo is, and helps to drive home the fact that he’s a movie buff.

“Galadriel, in the Lord of the Rings– she tells Sam not to touch the mirror.” Kiyo knew he was talking nonsense, but he couldn’t stop. The words kept pouring out. “Sam looks in, and he sees all this bad stuff happening to his village, and he wants to go home. But the mirror isn’t reliable, of course. Well, it’s less like a mirror and more like a pool of water. Like the Pensieve in Harry Potter. A lot like that. Dang. Wonder if Rowling got the idea from Tolkien.”

I will always enjoy a Tolkien reference, and this one is especially good with the comparison of Harry Potter.

Something else I really enjoy in books is a good antagonist. We can’t really consider Harley the main antagonist but she is really easy to hate. She is entitled, spoiled and just all around a nasty person. She feels like the world owes her a debt and it makes her very hard to like. When she sees Kiyo for the first time she has this to say,

“He was yummy, for sure. And he was hers. She deserved him. Life owed her this– the beautiful boy, the top spot in the competition– all of it.”

This statement is just so nauseating and self-centered. I hated her from that point on. Regardless of what her situation is or how bad her life has been no one is owed to her. No competition should be handed to her.

I only have one issue with this novel and it’s a tonal issue. The language goes back and forth between kiddy and mature. Sometimes the characters use curse words and other times they use the kiddy versions, like freaking or dang. It just seems odd that characters that aren’t afraid to curse would use the less intense versions of each word. It felt like a tone shift and I had to keep reading to figure out if this was YA novel or an adult novel or something else. To me it came off odd.

In all I give this novel a 4/5 stars. I was entertained, it felt fresh, and the characters were likable. Thank you to Rebecca F. Kenney for reaching out to me to review this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Monsters Of Music releases TODAY! Check it out!

Lost And Found by Orson Scott Card

I don’t even know where to start with this one… this book crept up on me and will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. There is such intense emotions at play here that it caught me off guard. Lost And Found is phenomenal.

It all starts with the unlikely friendship of Ezekiel and Beth, and I think a quote from Ezekiel best sums it up. He says,

Beth Sorenson, I’m the thief you chose to walk to school with. And you’re the proportionate dwarf that I choose to walk to school with.

Ezekiel is 14 and has what they call in the book a “micropower”. Ezekiel has the unique ability to be able to return lost items to their owners. This has gotten him in a lot of trouble in the past because people tend to think he has stolen the object he is returning. Ezekiel is kind of forced into this friendship with Beth, who as previously mentioned is a proportionate dwarf, because she knows that if she stands within his “shunning bubble” and walks with him to “Downy Soft” High School no one will be able to pick on her. Beth helps Ezekiel to expand his “micropower” by helping him discover what he is capable of. Through his discoveries about his power he embarks on a journey to find a missing little girl and uncover a human trafficking ring with the help of a slightly overbearing detective named Shank.

I’ll be honest this book took me a while and it really won me over when Ezekiel made a reference to The Lord of The Rings. Silly, I know. But this movie is about far more than a kid with a silly power, it about loss and growth. Ezekiel loses his mother when he is a young boy. He watches her get hit by a car and she dies in the hospital. Ezekiel is kind of a jerk because of a lot of deeply ingrained hurt. From his trouble with the cops to his sadness about his mother he is a hurt 14 year old boy. His father describes his hurt like this,

Your body showed no injury that the doctors could treat, but I knew it was there, I knew that it shattered you, you were maimed, you were crippled that day, and there was nothing I could do, I couldn’t replace her, I couldn’t change my whole character and become that vibrant, happy, loving, chattering, kind and generous person in whose circle of light you had spent your entire life.

So through this hurt we understand why Ezekiel is the way he is. But he does not stay his guarded smart ass self all through the novel. The character grows in a way that made me, as a reader, really fond of him. He starts off as almost an anti-hero and by the end he is a no strings attached hero through and through. Card wrote Ezekiel masterfully.

On top of the meaningfulness of the characters there is a great sense of humor. The characters are witty and smart. Sometimes they come off as a little over the top smart but I think it works because you are supposed to realize that Ezekiel and Beth aren’t normal kids. They are special. My favorite quote from Beth is this,

I don’t make up words,” said Beth. “I coin them when I need them, and then they’re real.

Each character has their quirks. Ezekiel is kind of a jerk but really a softie on the inside, and Beth is a quick witted girl who always knows the right thing to say.

The one thing about this story that was a little irritating to me was the dad, and I think it had more to do with the way his personality was written than anything. He is an extremely intelligent man but is ridiculously baffled by a smart phone. I understand that this is to illustrate that he isn’t very wealthy and that he is old-school, but this man has to be in his forties and literally has zero knowledge about electronics. It’s unbelievable and it proves to be an obstacle in a tense situation. I guess my point is that I grew up in a town with a lot of poverty and 99% of 40 year olds that I know can operate a smart phone. The writing wasn’t convincing. Plus the dad also has this to say about Ezekiel trick or treating,

“Totally your call,” said Dad. “Till you’re sixteen, and then it’s just disgusting to go begging for candy.

I don’t know I guess that idea rubbed me the wrong way because I’d rather a 16 year old be out trick or treating than causing trouble.

But with problematic dads aside this book is about coping and there is an analogy that Beth uses that perfectly sums up grief and the grieving process. It really hit me in the heart and gave me a deeper understanding of he underlying issues. She says,

Look, Ezekiel Blast, the past is like gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe. When bad stuff first happens, it’s like when the gum is sticking to everything—the road, the sidewalk. And you can’t wear that shoe into the house because it will get all involved in the carpet and the bathroom rug, but when you try to scrape it off on the edge of the sidewalk or the edge of the porch, or you try to rub it off in the grass, it won’t come off. So you have to just live with it. You walk along, your foot trying to stick with every step, but gradually as the gum gets dirtier and dries out more and more, it loses its stickiness. And eventually, without ever actually removing it, you forget the gum is there. Except maybe on a hot day the gum gets soft and a little sticky again, and you think, Oh, yeah, gum on my shoe.

I thought this was so beautifully worded and it is so easy to digest. Everyone knows what it is like to have gum stuck to the bottom of their shoes. Everyone knows what hurt feels like and for Orson Scott Card to put it together so nicely really impressed me.

This book also has a lot to say about people as individuals. The insinuation can be made that everyone has some kind of “micropower”, I won’t spoil some of the others for you because I think they add to the story. I felt Orson Scott Card was saying that everyone is special, everyone is unique, and everyone is useful in their own way. The message is beautiful and Ezekiel’s power proves to be way bigger and way more useful than he could ever imagine. Even the “dumbest” of powers prove to be valuable in the right situation.

I’m going to use one more quote from Beth, she says to Ezekiel,

You said no person is ever really lost because you always know how to find yourself, because you’re always right there.

I think this rings true for more than just Ezekiel’s power. If you ever feel lost remember that you aren’t because you know where you are and that is where you are supposed to be at the time. Ezekiel can only find lost things, but a person is never really lost just in a different space than where they wish to be. It felt good to read those words and apply them to my life, and I believe that is what Orson Scott Card intended.

It was hard for me to rate this one because for a long time I didn’t know what to say. Now that it is all written down and I see how many quotes I pulled from the text I think it would be dishonest to give it anything less than 5 stars. So 5/5, this book was a real treat and a surprise.

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for allowing me access to this title.

Grimworld By Avery Moray

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a world where ghosts and ghouls were the norm? Where you could run into a ghast walking home from school? If you are like me and have often wondered what a world filled with creatures of the night might be like then Grimworld is definitely for you!

This book is about a boy named Henry who becomes the victim of a Vytiper, a dark being that steals years off of your life for their own gain through the use of a cursed pocket watch. Henry ends up meeting Lang another victim just like him, with only weeks left to live, and together they must face ghouls and villains that they never dreamed of.

This book handles stress and the “race against time” plot device well. You can feel the dread of the boys’ impending doom on each page. Time is of the essence as Lang’s time dwindles before their eyes. With each tick of the pocket watch, his life approaches its end. You can feel it from the very beginning when Lang tells Henry:

“By the way,” he leaned forward and grabbed Henry’s watch, inspecting it, “looks like you’ll die in 10 years.”

This stress pushes further when you discover how close Lang is to the end and is pushed even further when you are informed that Lang already knows someone who has perished to the Vytiper.

Moray releases info on the Vytiper in small morsels that are easy to chew but keeps you guessing until the end. The boys must pick up all of the information on the Vytiper on their own because it is a recent entity in their world and no one has had the time to further research the beings. Most people don’t even know of the Vytiper’s existence. With that said the boys’ mission doesn’t feel hopeless, they are capable protagonists who take every logical step to save themselves. Not once does it feel like they are making unrealistic decisions for their age, I hate when characters are made over or under mature for their age group. One thing I really need to enjoy a book is likable and believable characters, Grimworld offers just that. While each character has their quirks they also have strengths that make them interesting and lovable, from the very beginning I was rooting for Henry and Lang.

I might add one more piece to my review, and that is the realistic and unrealistic balance of the antagonist. The predicament they are in is reasonable. Being faced with death is a scary idea and I am willing to bet that there is a frightening amount of people in this world who would be willing to sacrifice years of another person’s life for their own gain. So while the antagonist is an unrealistic entity that could only surface in our nightmares, it has a human quality that makes it even scarier. We are faced with not only the fear of the unknown but the known.

Grimworld is a one-sitting book that really captured my attention and has jump-started my excitement for Halloween. If you are looking for a spooky middle-grade novel then I suggest you check out Grimworld you will be impressed. I give this book a whopping 5/5 stars! As always thank you to NetGalley and I’d like to extend a huge thank you to John Hunt Publishing Ltd. for giving me access to this wonderful book.

The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills

The Ghost Collector is less about the collecting of ghosts and more about the grief process. It will make you cry in the best way.

The Ghost Collector is about a girl named Shelly who lives with her mother and her grandmother. Shelly’s family has the unique ability to catch ghosts in their hair. Shelly’s mother tries to protect her from that life while her grandmother nurtures Shelly’s fascination with ghosts. Shelly loves her family very much and they are very tight knit, ghost preferences aside, until one evening Shelly’s mom doesn’t make it home and they learn she has died in a car accident. Shelly has a hard time coping with the fact that her mother is gone and hasn’t reappeared as a ghost, so she takes to collecting ghosts in her room until it is full to the brim.

What I like about this book is that for the most part the ghosts aren’t frightening and Shelly’s grandma has a very humane way of viewing them. In this book they are treated like any other person or animal. It was a nice change of pace to the typical ghost story. You get to see mischievous ghost people and their bones to pick with death and a graveyards supply of mice that met their fate to some very productive cats. It is slightly comical while holding that melancholy tone.

Focusing on Shelly’s grief was such an unexpected aspect of this story. You can feel Shelly’s pain and frustration at losing and being unable to find her mother, it haunts her every step. She is so young and faced with a tremendous loss, the emotion is very genuine in The Ghost Collector. There is one point in the book where Shelly is confronting a ghost bird and says,

“Why?” Shelly demands, “Why you and not her? If a bird can be a ghost, why not her? Where did she go? Where does anyone go?”

That piece of dialogue hit me hard. She is still a grade schooler and she is faced with such intense life questions. Shelly is one of the only people in the world capable of speaking to and caring for the dead, yet, she can’t find her own dead mother anywhere. Why? Honestly the resolution of this story so heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. I won’t spoil it for you.

The other theme that I really liked and found unexpected was the depth of exploration this small book went into about the affects of a loss on a parent. Shelly’s grandma lost her daughter and is now faced with raising her granddaughter alone. Shelly’s grandma, pre-car accident, hardly charged anything to clear ghosts from peoples’ homes but now she is forced to charge people and be more careless about the dead, and breaks her own set-in-stone rules. This has a major affect on Shelly, she thinks if grandma can break rules she can break rules. The cause and effect in this story is very clear and everything grandma does trickles down to Shelly. That’s how Shelly ends up collecting ghosts, she sees that grandma can break her own rules so why can’t Shelly hoard a few ghosts in her bedroom?

My only complaint about this book is that the perspective is difficult to read at first. it feels like the point of view should be different. It’s written in 3rd person but really feels like it should be written in 1st person. This story is all about Shelley and with the 3rd person perspective it feels like it is being narrated by an outsider. The words felt weird in my head when I began reading, and they threw me out of the story a few times. In comparison to the impact of this story this is a relatively small complaint but it something I had to get off of my chest.

The Ghost Collector has easily earned itself 4/5 stars in my book. This story is tragic yet beautiful, and it will make you shed some tears. Thank you to NetGalley and Annick Press Ltd. for giving me the opportunity to review The Ghost Collector.

Kriss by Ted Naifeh

Do you ever read something and feel little to no impact from the story? That’s how I felt about Kriss.

Kriss: The Gift of Wrath is the introductory volume to the Kriss graphic novel series. It is about a young man with a mysterious past who must fight a wild snow cat to save the townspeople and the girl he seemingly loves.

You honestly don’t learn anything about Kriss, the protagonist, in this first installment and that bothered me. He seems to be in love with a girl where he lives and he hates his “father”. His “father” isn’t actually his father. Other than that he fights the snow cat and meets what I interpreted as the gods of his existence. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot to say about the plot because there wasn’t much of one. Kriss is an angry character with a hidden past that we don’t glimpse, I don’t know the direction he is heading. To me he came off as an anti-hero, at first he appeared evil and it weirded me out.

The illustrations by Warren Wucinich were half dark and mysterious and half goofy. There is a character titled “The Lord Protectorate” and the way he was drawn looked comical compared to the rest of the gloomy scenes. It just felt like some of it didn’t fit in and threw me out of the story. Upon further investigation Wucinich illustrated some Invader ZIM graphic novels and I could see the art style hidden within Kriss. To me it felt flippy floppy and didn’t stick with one theme. A project like this should either be dark and gloomy, with the black and white with red contrasts or full color cartoon style like Invader ZIM, not both.

There really wasn’t a lot for me to base this review on because this volume was short and it was the introductory issue, I hope that Kriss improves over time because I see how the character could be compelling with his mysterious past. As of right now Kriss has earned a low 2/5 stars. I liked some of the art and I feel like it has potential, but right now I am not impressed.

Regardless of my opinion on this particular graphic novel I want to extend a huge thank you to NetGalley and Oni Press for giving me the chance to review Kriss.

The Malamander by Thomas Taylor

The Malamander reminds me of a cross between A Series Of Unfortunate Events and Lovecraftian horror. This book is perfectly strange and creepy while not crossing the boundary into adult horror. The Malamander is a middle grade novel and it does a good job of keeping with that age group.

The Malamander is about Herbert Lemon a kid who washed up in a lemon crate in the town of Eerie-on-sea, he is the Lost-and-founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. He is very good at his job but life flips upside down when he meets Violet Parma, a girl his age who also has a history at The Grand Nautilus Hotel. Together they embark on an adventure to find Violet’s missing parents that leads them into the den of the Malamander.

The contrast between Herbert and Violet makes the perfect mystery partnership, Violet is fearless and stubborn while Herbert is extremely intelligent but fearful. Together they complete the duo and are a force to be reckoned with. They unravel the mystery of the Malamander and find clues that very well could lead to Violet’s parents. I enjoyed the relationship between the two protagonists, they keep each other going. Violet encourages Herbert to keep going even when he is scared out of his pants, and Herbert uses his knowledge to keep Violet on the right track. The characters flowed together seamlessly and it made the book enjoyable.

Something that I think works well in kids novels is the use of clever character names. In The Malamander we have Mr. Mollusc, Sebastian Eels, Mrs. Fossil, and Mr. Seegol. The names are nautical themed and also reveal something about each character. This is something I have poked fun at in adult books but for work aimed at middle graders I think it was done well. This works because it is fun and makes the characters easier to remember for younger audiences, plus it’s a little funny.

This book is creepy enough for its young audience but not so creepy that a child will be afraid to sleep, and to me that awareness of audience is something to be admired. Here is an example of one of the “scary” scenes:

Where its eyes should be, there are two enormous pale reflectors. They blink, twice. Then it moves off– darting from its crouch and springing along the murky foreshore at great speed, its feet slap, slap, slapping as it vanishes in a swirl of mist.

The description is creepy but not horrifying, I like that and the imagery used by Taylor is so easy to see. With every description you can see the characters and the scenery they live in. I found that Taylor’s writing swallowed me whole and spit me out in the strange town of Eerie-on-sea. Not only is Taylor wonderful at setting scene, but he is accompanied by the illustrator Tom Booth who breathes life into each character. Unfortunately, because this is an ARC, I didn’t get to see all of Booth’s illustrations but from what I did see I was strongly reminded of Tim Burton. The characters are dark and gloomy but there is still something heart-warming about them.

This book is a fairly short read and I could imagine a teacher reading this book to their class for Halloween. It’s quick, entertaining, and I could see myself reading this to my son when he is older. The Malamander really impressed me and in my eyes deserves a 5/5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book and also thank you to Candlewick Press for granting me access to The Malamander.