What Makes Me Read A Book?

1. The number one aspect of a book that draws me in are developed and interesting characters. When I pick up a book and read the first few pages and the characters seem flat I will put it back down. I have a large interest in character arcs, I should be able to see how a character has changed from the beginning to end. I will almost always knock down a rating of a book by a star if it contains cardboard cutout characters. I hate that. It is completely within the realm of possibility to create depth in even minor characters. If characters fall flat it’s because there was a lack of care in their crafting.

2. I am a sucker for descriptive landscapes. That is probably why I like The Lord of The Rings so much. I want to be able to plant myself in the scene. It’s hard to do that if the setting is under developed. I want to feel the grass between my toes and hear the river gurgling in the distance. If I am planted in a field with no description than I am not truly seeing what the author was seeing, I am not where the characters are. When I write I typically go over a descriptive section at least ten times, adding and subtracting detail until you can see where my characters are and why it matters. I feel like setting has a purpose and can really add quality to literary works.

3. A good antagonist. Who doesn’t just love to hate a blood boiling antagonist. One of the bad guys that make you want to jump into the pages and just slap them into next week. A good antagonist matters because they have to be a match for the protagonist(s). If they are so-so and your protagonist is a total badass the balance will be off.

4. Finally, stakes. I have to feel like something is on the line. Whether it is tangible or not, there has to be something for each character to lose. I guess you could wrap this into character development, but for me stakes are one of those pieces that not every author nails and feel like a different entity. Stakes influence behavior and choices, they have to be high but not too high, and if stakes are low than why read it? I dont care if Joey may never get his red balloon back, but I do care whether Joey finds his long lost lover in the cave of doom. See what I mean?

What makes you read a book? Do you share a lot of the same criteria I do? Let me know in the comments.

NetGalley TBR July 26th

I am very excited for the line up of books I am currently reviewing through NetGalley. I wanted to post what is in my current TBR pile through NetGalley to give everyone a heads up as to what content I’ll be looking at, hopefully my picks sound interesting and you tune in for my reviews.

#1 The Weight Of A Soul by Elizabeth Tammi

The Weight of a Soul by Elizabeth Tammi Cover

“When Lena’s younger sister Fressa is found dead, their whole Viking clan mourns—but it is Lena alone who never recovers. Fressa is the sister that should’ve lived, and Lena cannot rest until she knows exactly what killed Fressa and why—and how to bring her back. She strikes a dark deal with Hela, the Norse goddess of death, and begins a new double life to save her sister.

But as Lena gets closer to bringing Fressa back, she dredges up dangerous discoveries about her own family and finds herself in the middle of a devastating plan to spur Ragnarök –a deadly chain of events leading to total world destruction. Still, with her sister’s life in the balance, Lena is willing to risk it all. She’s even willing to kill. How far will she go before the darkness consumes her?”

#2 Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus by Marcus Sedgwick; Julian SedgwickBlack

Harry Black is lost between the world of war and the land of myth in this illustrated novel that transports the tale of Orpheus to World War II–era London.

Brothers Marcus and Julian Sedgwick team up to pen this haunting tale of another pair of brothers, caught between life and death in World War II. Harry Black, a conscientious objector, artist, and firefighter battling the blazes of German bombing in London in 1944, wakes in the hospital to news that his soldier brother, Ellis, has been killed. In the delirium of his wounded state, Harry’s mind begins to blur the distinctions between the reality of war-torn London, the fiction of his unpublished sci-fi novel, and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Driven by visions of Ellis still alive and a sense of poetic inevitability, Harry sets off on a search for his brother that will lead him deep into the city’s Underworld. With otherworldly paintings by Alexis Deacon depicting Harry’s surreal descent further into the depths of hell, this eerily beautiful blend of prose, verse, and illustration delves into love, loyalty, and the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood as it builds to a fierce indictment of mechanized warfare.

#3 Mythos by Stephen Fry

Mythos Stephen Fry Cover

Rediscover the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths—stylishly retold by beloved author and actor Stephen Fry. In this first installment of a projected trilogy, he begins with the birth of the cosmos, and leads readers on a romp through the stories of the Olympians: wise Athena, imperious Hera, fleet-footed Hermes, and impulsive Zeus. Each adventure is infused with Fry’s distinctive voice, which perfectly balances genuine love for the material and a wry, modern perspective. He draws out the humor and pathos in the gods’ quarrels and love affairs, and reveals the myths’ relevance for our own time. Illustrated throughout with classical art inspired by the myths, and wrapped up with a textured and foiled case, this collector’s edition is worthy of the intense devotion fans feel about both Stephen Fry and the Greek myths.

#4 Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card

Lost and Found Orson Scott Card Cover

New York Times bestselling author Orson Scott Card’s story of a boy with the power to return lost objects to their owners who is put to the test when his best friend disappears. 

“Are you really a thief?”

That’s the question that has haunted fourteen-year-old Ezekiel Blast all his life. But he’s not a thief, he just has a talent for finding things. Not a superpower-a micropower. Because what good is finding lost bicycles and hair scrunchies, especially when you return them to their owners and everyone thinks you must have stolen them in the first place? If only there were some way to use Ezekiel’s micropower for good, to turn a curse into a blessing. His friend Beth thinks there must be, and so does a police detective investigating the disappearance of a little girl. When tragedy strikes, it’s up to Ezekiel to use his talent to find what matters most.

Master storyteller Orson Scott Card delivers a touching and funny, compelling and smart novel about growing up, harnessing your potential, and finding your place in the world, no matter how old you are.

#5 The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy

In the Forgotten Empires magic is forbidden, dreams are destiny, and love is the greatest power of all…

A PRISONER OF FATE
As Queen of the island kingdom of Calanthe, Lia will do anything to keep her people free—and her secrets safe—from the mad tyrant who rules the mainland. Guided by a magic ring of her father’s, Lia plays the political game with the cronies the emperor sends to her island. In her heart, she knows that it’s up to her to save herself from her fate as the emperor’s bride. But in her dreams, she sees a man, one with the power to build a better world—a man whose spirit is as strong, and whose passion is as fierce as her own…

A PRINCE AMONG MEN
Conrí, former Crown Prince of Oriel, has built an army to overthrow the emperor. But he needs the fabled Abiding Ring to succeed. The ring that Lia holds so dear to her heart. When the two banished rulers meet face to face, neither can deny the flames of rebellion that flicker in their eyes—nor the fires of desire that draw them together. But in this broken world of shattered kingdoms, can they ever really trust each other? Can their fiery alliance defeat the shadows of evil that threaten to engulf their hearts and souls?

#6 The Memory Thief by Lauren Mansy

The Memory Thief Lauren Mansy Cover

In the city of Craewick, memories reign. The power-obsessed ruler of the city, Madame, has cultivated a society in which memories are currency, citizens are divided by ability, and Gifted individuals can take memories from others through touch as they please.

Seventeen-year-old Etta Lark is desperate to live outside of the corrupt culture, but grapples with the guilt of an accident that has left her mother bedridden in the city’s asylum. When Madame threatens to put her mother up for Auction, a Craewick tradition in which a “worthless” person’s memories are sold to the highest bidder before she is killed, Etta will do whatever it takes to save her. Even if it means rejoining the Shadows, the rebel group she swore off in the wake of the accident years earlier.

To prove her allegiance to the Shadows and rescue her mother, Etta must steal a memorized map of the Maze, a formidable prison created by the bloodthirsty ruler of a neighboring realm. So she sets out on a journey in which she faces startling attacks, unexpected romance, and, above all, her own past in order to set things right in her world.

#7 The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

The Dead Girls Club Damien Angelica Walters Cover

A supernatural thriller in the vein of Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic—and terrifying—consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real—and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night—that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did . . . and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

**********************************************************************************

Have you read any of these titles? What did you think? Do any of them interest you? Tell me about it in the comments!

The Lure of The Ring by Alan James Strachen and Janet Coster

This book is different than what I usually review, but as a Tolkien fan I was drawn into the exploration of who Tom Bombadil truly is.

This book is a theoretical idea speculating about who Tom Bombadil is and how Sauron’s desire for the ring was like an addiction. I can tell that a lot of research went into this publication and I found it fascinating.

The first point that I found interesting was their comparison of Sauron to a Hungry Ghost in Bhuddism. He is like an emaciated creature who’s only desire is possession of the ring but his appetite can never be quenched. I found this to be a good comparison because it really delves into who Sauron is at the core. Tolkien leaves a lot to speculation and I think it is important for Tolkien enthusiasts to dig into the motivations and habits of each character. It gave me a different view of Sauron and sort of makes me pity him.

Creeping past Sauron we entered what I was truly curious about, Tom Bombadil. If you don’t know who he is it’s probably because he isn’t in the Peter Jackson movie. He is a mysterious being in the books, and no one can really define who he is. But this book speculates, and the hypothesis makes a lot of sense. The authors wrote that we can envision Tom Bombadil as the antithesis to Sauron, and I thought that was clever.

They also offer up two different definitions for who Tom Bombadil could be. They state,

“Tom has answered Frodo’s “Who are you?” question in two ways: In terms of identity, Tom’s true name is silence. Simultaneously, in relationship to Frodo – and , indeed , to all others – we shall see that he is called Eldest.”

This is a good representation of his character because it is not an easy answer, if that makes sense. Tom Bombadil is complex and one answer would never work. He is the silence you experience when you are just being, and he is the Eldest because he watched Middle Earth become what it is. He takes two forms and only one being corporeal. We can’t fathom who he is because he is unfathomable.

My issue with this particular book is that it is extremely repetitive and unnecessarily wordy. It’s already a short read but could be quite shorter. Old points are brought up again and again, then sentences are reworded three different ways. Not only was that kind of annoying but it caused me to lose interest. It took me a little over an hour to read and probably could take less if points weren’t constantly reiterated.

All in all, the speculation is great, but the execution could be better. I give The Lure of The Ring 3/5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for allowing me to access this content. An extra thank you to BooksGoSocial for giving me my first Auto Approval!

Crown Of Coral And Pearl by Mara Rutherford

In Varenia beauty is everything. Beauty is honor, esteem, and escape. Or at least Nor believed it was for her entire childhood, until a series of unexpected events lead her to the land of Ilara to marry Prince Ceren.

In Crown of Coral and Pearl we are introduced to twin sisters Zadie and Nor, their entire lives have revolved around an archaic ceremony where the most beautiful girl in Varenia is chosen to be the wife of the Prince of Ilara. Nor, the main character, was left with a scar on her cheek due to an accident when she was younger leaving her identical twin sister to be chosen as the next Ilarean Princess, but tragedy strikes and Nor is forced to take Zadie’s place in secret. But, there are secrets lurking below the surface of the Ilarean castle and Nor is determined to uncover them for the sake of the starving Varenian people.

Crown of Coral and Pearl nails its characters. The good guys are people you want to root for and the bad guys will fill you with rage. I was particularly intrigued by the antagonists, specifically Nor’s mother and Prince Ceren. Nor’s mother hurt me to my core, her mother is so obsessed with the idea of her daughters being chosen that she dictates their entire lives and even goes so far as to call Nor damaged. One quote really got me, her mother tells her, “Without your beauty, you are nothing.” I found that line to be so unforgivable that I just wanted the mom to die. Such a terrible thing to say to your own child. Mara Rutherford’s character building is so convincing, I really hated the antagonists. Prince Ceren is also just the worst. He gets off on making people uncomfortable and is abusive in every way imaginable. I couldn’t stand the idea of a character like him existing.

The world building is also enjoyable while relatively small scale. This is not Westeros, so it does not contain the overly complex map that you never want to look at, it’s easy to follow and I liked that. While simple, it does not come off as under developed. The land is rich with a history to follow. The contrast of tropical Varenia and the Ilarean castle embedded in the mountain makes an interesting plot point. Nor’s constant yearning to be by the ocean and in the sun really makes you feel for her. Watching her descent into an entirely different landscape is suffocating and you suffer alongside her.

The magical elements in this book are subtle. You will find magic used in very strategic ways, for me it was a pleasant surprise. Traditional aspects of fantasy are buried in this novel, such as monsters and special gifts, but they don’t steal the spotlight from the storyline. The backseat approach to magic was a refreshing change in my opinion.

The book has a lot of good lessons to teach. It focuses on the beauty within and one section really embraces that idea, “I felt the eyes of every woman as I passed, and I reminded myself that I was doing this for them, and for every young girl in Varenia who would spend her life wondering if she was beautiful enough.” This quote stuck with me, most girls go through a self conscious phase wondering if they are beautiful enough to be loved. This idea really added a layer to Nor that made her relatable, she is so different from the girls in our world, but still very much the same. Nor is tough and she fights for those who have been stepped all over, I love that about this character. She is rough in all the right places but she isn’t annoyingly tough. She knows her strengths and limitation and will use them to make a difference in the world.

Another point that really hit home is that, above all else, family and love are what matter most in this world. “Home was not a house, or a village, or a sea. It was family, and love, and the space where your soul could roost, like a seabird safe from a storm.”

If you ask me this book has a well rounded story and complexities to make it unique within th YA genre. It truly stood out to me and I think Crown of Coral and Pearl will make an impact on its readers. 5/5 stars for this one.

Crown of Coral and Pearl will be released on August 27th, 2019. Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for allowing me access to this book.

Let Me Introduce Myself

Now that I have established a few posts on my blog I would like to take a minute to tell you who I am. I know that I have a bio page but this is my opportunity to really tell you what I’m about.

My name is Savannah, I grew up on the Siletz reservation in Oregon and I am an enrolled tribal member. I spent the last five years studying at Oregon State University and obtained my BA in English and Writing. My passion for reviewing actually began during my last term at OSU. I took a class by a professor named David Biespiel, he was a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a super cool guy. In that class we learned the ins and outs of reviewing. I think I can honestly say he was my favorite professor and he is the reason I decided to start trying to seriously review books.

I am also an aspiring writer. The genres I prefer to write in are horror, young adult, and fantasy. I try to predominantly review in those genres because I find them to be the most interesting and entertaining, but I have no issue branching out if something seems worthwhile. My all-time favorite book series is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien really inspired me to write, I love his lyrical descriptions and the depth he created in the Middle Earth world.

I get most of my reviewing content from NetGalley, I love NetGalley as a resource. If you’re a reviewer looking to get ARC’s and you don’t already know about NetGalley I strongly suggest you sign up on their website. You will be able to access a lot of awesome content for your site.

In my last year at OSU my boyfriend, Richard, and I welcomed a son into our life. His name is Finn after Finn the Human from Adventure Time. He is sooooooo cute and sweet, he’s actually cuddled up to me sleeping right now. I will probably talk about him from time to time because he’s cool as hell. Aside from our son, we have two fur babies named Stark and Daenerys, yes, like Game of Thrones. Another favorite of mine. I will probably talk about them too because they are funny and get up to a lot of shenanigans.

I do have hobbies other than reading and writing. I am an avid crocheter and I enjoy painting. I love being outside so I try and go camping every summer, and I go to the river a lot on my free time. There is honestly nothing more relaxing than a good book and the bubbling of the river in the background.

I hope that this post has been interesting and I look forward to interacting with you all. Thank you for giving me a follow and checking out my content.

Kingdom Cold by Brittni Chenelle

Love, war, and tragedy are the three words that come to mind when I think about Kingdom Cold. I felt so much while reading this book and I was surprised by its ability to captivate me. I’m a sucker for a good romance and I was not disappointed, Chenelle crafts a reluctant but beautiful love story that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

It starts with a simple desire: freedom to choose. ““I won’t say ‘I do’,” I said, locking my knees to keep them from shaking . Marriage? Even the word repulsed me. It sat at the back of my throat and I choked on it.” Charlotte, the princess of Besmium and main protagonist, is a rebellious girl with the simple wish to get married on her own terms. Besmium is facing a brutal war and the promise of a marriage between Princess Charlotte and Prince Young could unite the East and West to save the kingdom of Besmium. But through tangle after tangle the love story deepens winding in and out of characters until they must face an even more powerful enemy than they ever imagined. Death lurks at their doorstep and they must think quickly to save everything they love.

What I love about this book is the depth of each character. Everyone has wants and their own motives that make them unique. There is a rich history, that while it doesn’t delve super deep it feels well rounded and complete. Every single character down to the smallest of servant has their own special personality, there are no cardboard cutout characters. My all-time favorite is Charlotte herself, she reminds me of Celaena from Throne of Glass. She takes her fate into her own hands and makes the absolute best of each situation. She’s analytical and blossoms into a full blown badass who isn’t afraid to get blood on her royal hands. She is not a damsel, she is a warrior in her own rite. She is not afraid to speak her mind and no man is her master. Her fate is her fate alone.

The antagonists are done so authentically, even minor antagonists like Charlotte’s mother. While not intending to be evil and cruel, the queen is brutal and horrible to her daughter. Charlotte’s hatred for her mother feels real and justified. Charlotte is not just a silly teen girl that is irritated with her mother, she is full on verbally abused by the queen. It’s so satisfying watching Charlotte defy her mother at every turn. While the queen isn’t the main antagonist, I felt so empowered everytime her plans were foiled.

This story has so many layers and felt like a roller coaster ride. My only quarrel with this book is that it felt like it was written as a standalone and changed towards the end to make it span a few more books. The plot would heighten and dip making me feel like it had three different stopping points. I will say that I am glad that this series is going to be three parts because I really enjoyed the story and characters. I was angry when I read the ending but with a promise of continuation in the acknowledgements my anger was quelled. I need to know more and I refuse to be left with the ending presented.

I give Kingdom Cold a 4/5 stars. This book surprised me and has a love story that I won’t soon forget. I will be looking forward to reading the next installment.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I never expected a middle grade book to scare me the way Small Spaces did. Katherine Arden, author of The Bear and the Nightingale, has crafted a wonderfully creep scary story that surprised me on each page.

In this book we follow Ollie, a super smart sixth grader, who is struggling with the loss of her mother the year prior. Ollie’s adventure begins when she runs into a crying woman by the creek, this woman has a book and is going to throw it in the water. Ollie ends up stealing the book and going home to read it. The book is an old scary story, but nothing is as it seems when Ollie goes on a field trip to Webster farm and discovers that the books she stole could possibly be related to scarecrow infested farm. On the way home the bus breaks down and she is warned by her terrifying bus driver that there are monsters in the mist and they are coming to get the kids. Ollie sets off with two friends to uncover what’s out there and to save their class.

Small Spaces builds tension in a way that makes you simultaneously afraid to turn the page but excited to. This constant sense of dread propels you forward in this downward spiral of fear. You know the horror is coming yet you keep going and when it fianlly unfolds in front of you a tingle will snake its way down your spine. I never knew that I was afraid of scarecrows until I read this book, the fact that they are around every corner and moving when they’re out of sight really creeped me out. Imagine that the monster trying to get you moved when you aren’t looking and can show up at any second.

The setting in Small Spaces is suffocating, but not in a bad way. You fly through the dark deserted woods and then into cramped farm houses, the book is littered with claustrophobia to really get your heart pumping. The imagery of where you are really shines through, I could see myself standing in the woods or carefully walking across rotten bridges. The story includes you in every step and you never feel like an outsider peeking in.

We are left with very clear descriptions of the horrors that stand before Ollie, one instance that really made me anxious was a description of the bus driver. Arden writes, “This time the driver turned to face her. Ollie got a terrible shock. His eyes had turned white, white as an egg, pupil-less. He might have been blind except he was definitely looking at her. His teeth were perfectly white too, sharp against red lips.” I found this so frightening because the contrast of white against red is so vibrant, and when most people think about bus drivers they don’t think of pupil-less hell demons. Arden takes the mundane everyday people and places and turns them into horrifying mechanisms to push the story onward.

A detail about this story that I enjoyed was Ollie’s watch. Her watch was dead prior to this field trip, only a memento of the past, but beyond the mist of the woods it starts aiding her on her journey to the truth. It tells her where to go and gives her a countdown to nightfall (when the horrors come out to play), and it added to the mystery of the story. The watch gives Ollie’s history depth and makes you want to learn more about her. The twist about the watch is a tad predictable but heart warming none the less.

My only squabble with Small Spaces is that it is a little bit predictable. No one is who they seem but they do stick to common character tropes that litter horror stories. You can mostly see where the books is heading and the ending, while different, still fits the typical scary story model. It resolves too perfectly in my opinion.

I give Small Spaces a 4/5 stars because it is a fantastic middle grade horror story with depth and fear inducing scenes. I knocked off a star for predictability only.

I just want to thank Netgalley for the opportunity to read the free uncorrected copy of this book for my blog.

Be sure to check out Small Spaces by Katherine Arden and keep your eyes peeled for the next book in the series titled Dead Voices expected to release on August 27th, 2019.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker

Unique and cute as can be, Mooncakes is unlike any other graphic novel that I have read so far. The story is different and the illustrations are fun and colorful. This graphic novel definitely kept me entertained throughout with its simple story line and fantastical creatures.

In Mooncakes we follow Nova, a young and budding witch, and Tam a werewolf with undiscovered magical talent. Nova and Tam embark on an adventure to banish the demon in the woods behind Nova’s house, while also discovering their feelings for each other. This story is filled with quirky characters like Nova’s pigeon headed uncle and her sassy but wonderful grandmas. This graphic novel is sure to make you smile and feel fuzzy inside.

My favorite character is Tatyana, Nova’s best friend and science nerd. She brings a lot of humor to the story and I enjoyed viewing her paralleled views of science versus magic. Her constant desire to understand and her unending frustration with the “physics” of magic made me fond of her. As a character she felt well rounded and interesting. She reminded me of one of my childhood friends and that familiarity really endeared me to her.

Weirdly enough I did not feel the same connection to Nova or Tam even though they were the main characters. To me it felt like they took a back seat to the quirkier secondary characters, who were so well crafted. The grandma’s were also so unique and in my opinion were more interesting than Nova and Tam. I feel like I would have enjoyed their love story far more. Nova and Tam just felt like a regular teen romance with angst and a small side of secrecy. It just did not feel as original as I wanted it to. With Tam being non-binary and Nova being bisexual ( I believe this is the proper interpretation though I may be incorrect) I thought going in that the dynamic would feel unique and impactful, it didn’t. It seems their relationship was composed entirely of the same typical young adult romance tropes as any other YA novel. To me the characters just felt a little hollow.

While entertaining and composed of some unique character aspects this story didn’t diverge much from the usual YA plot system. I felt like it was a novel I had read before but with a different skin. I definitely did not hate it because I love YA, but it wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. It felt like it wanted to be like SAGA mixed with Steven Universe but didn’t quite meet the expectations of either. It really needs a characteristic that causes it to stand out from the crowd, some fatal flaw or even just raised stakes. You’re probably thinking, How is battling a demon not high enough stakes? Well in all honesty I didn’t feel any real danger because the grandmas’ are so over powered. I had a hard time envisioning the conflict as true conflict. It was like no matter what everything would be okay in the end. I guess in simple terms, my anxieties as a reader felt coddled.

On the other hand, the illustrations of this graphic novel are excellent. Wendy Xu made this novel absolutely stunning. The woodland spirits and the grandmas’ three cats were so cute. The world created is absolutely beautiful, it’s colorful while not feeling like an acid trip, and it creates a definite autumn weather feel. I could see myself sitting outside in the brisk air of Halloween reading this graphic novel. I am interested to see what else Wendy Xu has illustrated.

In all, I did not love this graphic novel. But, I also do not hate it. I think that if this story is to continue and really focus on Nova and Tam’s character development, my mind could change. There is a lot of potential here and I do not want to judge it too firmly because it was not a bad story, I just think that it could use some expansion. I give Mooncakes 3/5 stars with the strong hope that I get to see more in the future.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

One of the greatest elements in horror is making you question whether the greatest evil of all comes from within. In Katsu’s The Hunger we are posed with evil from all angles, external and internal. This novel does not make its monsters a secret, we get our fill of bloodthirsty creatures stalking the night, but what it does hide beneath the surface is the secrets and atrocities that the people next to you are capable of committing.

In The Hunger we get to see the Donner Party re imagined as they make their great western trek across America. While most people already know how this story ends, Katsu offers up a different explanation for the Donner’s cannibalistic demise by throwing monsters into the picture. But, this is not your typical hack and slash monster story, it has a depth that was unexpected and truly impressed me. I was left more curious about the evil that lies within human beings than anything.

We follow the party along their journey viewing the events through the lens of many different travelers. The most prominent being Charles Stanton, a lone traveler with a secret, Tamsen Donner the wife to the patriarch and leader George Donner, and James Reed a family man with a fatal flaw. The wagon train is going well until George Donner makes the irrational decision, influenced by the hack Lansford Hastings, to turn away from the Oregon trail and set course through the mostly untamed trail heading toward Weber Canyon with the expectation to take an easier trail through the Wasatch mountains. No such trail existed. Instead they faced hardship after hardship through the Great Salt Lake and meeting their eventual demise in Sierra Nevada Mountains. The unexpected twist is that the party is under near constant surveillance from creature lurking in the trees, the party starts questioning who or what the creatures are and as more of the pioneers disappear or go mad the panic begins.

I have a, probably, unhealthy fascination with the way gore is described in novels, and Katsu does this very well. Nauseatingly well. I have always had an admiration for people who can make my stomach turn just through description, Katsu truly did not let me down. Here’s an example that gave me the creeps, “The head was intact. In fact, if you only looked at the face you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. The boy’s eyes were closed, long brown eyelashes stark against chalk white cheeks. His fine blond hair was plastered against his skull, his tiny mouth closed. He looked peaceful, as though he were sleeping. But from the neck down…” This description is just so fitting of the novel altogether. At first glance it seems like it will be a normal story about pioneers, but underneath it festers with something evil. Another of Katsu’s abilities, is the ability to instill fear. One of her descriptions of the monsters sent a shiver down my spine, she wrote, “His fingers grazed the very end of the rifle stock. Slipped. But the thing had him now, had a mouth around his ankle- Stanton gasped in terror as he saw human eyes, a human nose…” Something about this imagery just paralyzed me. As much as I would like to include a few more sentences from that section I can’t because it would give too much away. Just trust me when I say that this book is freaky.

It is very clear that Katsu dedicated a lot of her time to researching the history for the Donner party so that she could perfectly execute an adjacent story line. She has a familiarity with the history that creates an intimacy between you and the party. It feels like you are peeping in on the hidden lives of the Donner party, non of her creative liberties feels disingenuous or implausible. It inspired me to read up on the historical background of the Donner Party and it is crazy for me to think about the sheer amount of research that she must have put in. A lot the history and people are accurate, it takes the term historical fiction to a new and impressive level. Katsu didn’t just take a moment in history and use it to loosely base a story on, she embedded herself in the history and based her fiction as closely on reality as possible.

I’m a sucker for horror, but I do not believe this made me biased towards this novel. This novel truly deserves any praise that is receives, and for me it is an easy 5/5 stars. I was entertained throughout and had such a hard time putting the book down. Horror novels have a tendency to speed up and slow down as suspense intensifies and wanes, but not The Hunger. The internal and external conflicts are so intense and well written that it is hard to lose interest for even a second.

Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia

Kami Garcia puts a fresh twist on the Raven origin story by throwing Raven into Louisiana to mingle with voodoo and spirits.

We are dropped into the life of Raven just as her soon-to-be adopted mother is killed in an accident. Raven is left without any of her memories and goes to live with her adopted aunt and cousin. Here we see her re-entry into high school while she adjusts to her new life, all while trying to remember who she used to be and also discovering who she is now.

This graphic novel does an excellent job of balancing back story and the self-discovery of who Raven is. Raven’s emotions feel authentic of a teen girl even while she is experiencing her powers for the first time again. Raven as a character is compelling in this story and I was interested to find out where her character was headed, it did not wane it was consistently interesting throughout.

While this is a super hero origin, I was impressed by the amount of normal teenage activity that mixed in with her supernatural abilities. We see Raven make friends, fall in love, and attend prom. The mix was very even and it did not feel like a typical young adult graphic novel. I found that it would be interesting to even the older comic book junkie.

My single issue with this graphic novel was how the dialogue was executed. The thought/speech bubbles changed color to indicate if something was verbal or in Raven’s head. This was a little hard to interpret at first because I was having a hard time discerning who was talking/thinking. After the first couple chapters I adjusted but I did find myself having to reread the beginning to understand exactly what was happening.

One thing that really stood out to me was the art style. The illustrations are gorgeous. The illustrator Gabriel Picolo did a fantastic job making the art style really stand out. The characters were gorgeous and so was the setting. You could really see Louisiana in the illustrations.

I give this graphic novel a 4/5. It was entertaining, the plot felt fresh, and the illustrations were beautiful. Aside from the one hiccup mentioned this graphic novel is amazing.

I was lucky to receive and advance copy from DC comic through NetGalley, so a huge thank you to both of them.

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Were you one of those kids that watched Cartoon Network on Saturday mornings? Did you watch it with a bowl of sugary cereal in your hands? Was the cartoon Scooby-Doo? Meddling Kids offers up a plate full of nostalgia for any adult who loved the mystery solving gang, but, Meddling Kids travels into the types of monsters that scare adults. We shed the zany ghosts, pirates, and witches, and pick up the Necronomicon. We join the Blyton Detective Club in Blyton, a small mining town in Oregon.

In Edgar Cantero’s best selling novel you will follow the detectives into haunted houses, monster-filled lakes, and deep mines as they try to discover if the Deboën family was keeping secrets that could explain the salamander-like creatures walking out of Sleepy Lake. The real questions arise when the detectives discover that the whole haunting could have been caused by their own nosy antics. Cantero builds suspense in a satisfying way that never falters. You will find yourself clinging to the seat of your chair and afraid to turn to the next page. Every event leads to bigger questions that you will want to have answered, the stakes are high and you will have a hard time not being invested. Edgar Cantero introduces his monsters in this haunting description:

“ A new sound was slowly rising over Tim’s growls, taking shape like an underground train or the murmuring of an angry mob. A hateful, familiar sound. Although “familiar” could hardly refer to something so alien. It resembled breathing, but it was distorted, tortured, broken. It had qualities that should not be associated with breathing. It was vicious, and jagged, and swarming.”

Cantero has a way of writing that creeps you out and fascinates you at the same time. This novel is sure to live up to the nostalgia of the Saturday morning cartoon.

Meddling Kids doesn’t just delve into the depths of horror, it explores the effects of mental health and trauma. Each living detective has their own issues they must overcome to solve the mystery of the Sleepy Lake monster. You see parallels of The Scooby-Doo crew, but each character in the novel has their own unique traits that make them more than just cardboard cutouts of the cartoon characters. While borderline cheesy, Meddling Kids, incorporates just enough references to the cartoon to make you feel nostalgic but not a cringe-worthy amount of nostalgia overload. Cantero balances the fine line of throwbacks well and creates his own unique story with interesting characters. This book is a must read for any adult with a Scooby-Doo sweet tooth. This novel is the type of story I would be interested in reading as a series to prolong that childhood reminiscence.

While Meddling Kids is a stark reminder of childhood it also incorporates a heavy brushstroke of adulthood. These characters are not the Scooby gang. We do not have an ascot-wearing Fred Jones to lead the gang, there is no damsel in distress like Daphne, and Tim, the dog in the novel, is not a big goofy scaredy cat like Scooby-Doo. The cartoon is a fun mystery cartoon set in the seventies where the bad guy is always a man in a mask. The cartoon sleuths always come out on top and the bad guys end the show with the famous line, “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” In the novel, Meddling Kids they are older and rougher around the edges. A nearly constant stream of profanity flows from their mouths and they have real adult issues. Two characters are escapees from a prison and a mental institute, another is a failed biologist, and their fearless leader committed suicide after a brief and successful stint in Hollywood. The gang is broken and they need each other to pull themselves out of the hole they dug themselves into.

You don’t expect a novel in the vein of Scooby-Doo to be horrifying, but the Lovecraftian monsters and ghoulish figures will surely give you the creeps in a way that you never saw coming. Edgar Cantero mixes humor and horror in a way that keeps the novel interesting and fast-paced. The story has a dark surprise around every corner and will keep you coming back for more, consuming Cantero’s writing at record speed.

This novel is not perfect though. One issue that I have, is the ridiculously long descriptions in the first half of the book. Cantero has a beautiful knack for creating imagery in your head but it tends to drone on to the point of beating a dead horse. He creates sweeping landscapes that make a wonderful setting but they are so thorough that you often forget what was happening in the story. Here is a brief example of a much longer description “Kerri had brought along her binoculars. They were the same ones she used to carry as a child for bird spotting, but they were good binoculars that she treated with care, and they besotted a grown-up. Same went for her magnifying glass and her compass, both artifacts of beautiful craftsmanship that she had owned since childhood hands and still suited long-fingered hands”, This quote goes on to take up seven more lines on the page about Kerri’s binoculars. This does not seem like the kind of novel that requires lengthy descriptions of simple items, it is distracting and makes you lose interest in the plot.

Another issue in this novel is the strange shifts in dialogue. You will be reading a normal section of dialogue and then it will shift to a script-style that you would find in a play. Here is a brief example:

“Yes, please,” Andy shouted back. “Right. So we saw the lake creature, and then what did we do?”

Kerri and Nate were still fighting a smile each.

KERRI: We ran away.

NATE: Sorry, was that “ran” away, or “run,” as in now? Are you telling or suggesting?”

There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason as to why the dialogue changes. My only guess is that it was to help reduce confusion between the people speaking, but to me, it was more confusing trying to figure out why the switch was made than it would have been for the dialogue to stay the same. To me, it felt like the author didn’t trust me, to decipher who was talking, even in a conversation of just three people.

There is a minor love arc in this story that seems to try and steal the spotlight from the beauty of this novel, and for me, it was a distraction from the interesting pieces of the story. While I understand the desire for there to be a romantic interest in the book it came off as an unnecessary side story that felt unbelievable and potentially problematic. Andy, one of the detectives, came off as unable to take no for an answer and being in the heat of the #MeToo movement, that will rub many readers the wrong way. It felt like the wrong move for this story.

But, even with its issues, this is a good novel. Cantero put in a lot of hard work and it shows through his writing, it is well worth its status as a New York Times Best-Seller. The story does not rely entirely on being a trip down memory lane and honestly, the balance is very good. If you are looking for something to take you back to your times in front of the television set as a child, this is the book for you. If you are looking for a book that will surprise you and give you the creeps, this is also the book for you.

Meddling Kids is an easy 4/5 stars. I love the story and I believe that the minor flaws are easily forgivable.

How to get ARCs – A Guide

This is so helpful

Devouring Books

Indie authors accepting review requests

How did I start reviewing?

As a reviewer, my journey did not start when I began this blog, but it actually started about 4 years ago. I got started reviewing when I joined Goodreads and I have learned all of these tips along the way. It would have been a lot easier for me if I had all of this information in one spot, so I decided that I might as well create one.

I decided to write this list in order of how my journey went, pretty much, but all of these are good resources that I have actually used.

What are ARCs?

An ARC is an advanced readers copy, it is a copy of a book prior to release intended for marketing and review purposes. Advanced readers copies can’t be sold and are given to bloggers, reviewers and booksellers for review and to help generate buzz about a…

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The Phantom Forest – Liz Kerin

What would happen if we got a glimpse of the afterlife? In this story, “Discovery of the afterlife had had irreparable consequences, so the Coalition abolished the notion of gods, fate, and prayer, worldwide.” Liz Kerin gives us a fresh take on what the world may look like if we saw beyond our realm in her book The Phantom Forest. Kerin intertwines her version of the afterlife and a fantastical twist on the modern day in such a way that captivates you and forces you to keep reading.
We follow Seycia, her brother Miko, and the demon Haben on their separate but entwined journeys for freedom and justice. Miko leads a revolution to overthrow the corrupt powers controlling the world, while Seycia learns how to navigate the underworld and destroy her own demons as well. Haben is a messenger between worlds bestowed with a sick punishment by the devil-like figure Dohv. Haben is tasked with consuming the flesh of sacrifices made in the living world, regardless of age. In the passage where we meet Haben we see him after the sacrifice of a young boy, “He cried as he gorged himself on the entrails, choking back sobs as he swallowed mouthful after mouthful. There was nothing lower than this. This— this was hell.” He fills his belly with the flesh of the sacrifice and starves the rest of the time. But, this is not the only dark secret he possesses, his destructive past is the key to the present. He joins Seycia on her quest to avenge not only herself but her parents.
On occasion, Haben’s character loses some of the tortured mentality and seems not to suffer as much as originally let on. I found that bothersome in a few ways, the first being that he doesn’t behave like someone who is constantly starving, secondly his pain seems downplayed, and lastly, this characteristic mostly disappears in the second half of the book.
Through The Phantom Forest, we see how changes in the afterlife have an impact on the world of the living, altering people’s fates and the outcome of a revolution. My only critique on this is that I wish I could have seen more. We see Seycia’s decisions change the trajectory of Miko, they flow together beautifully and I would have loved to see this expand. The author is the strongest when she is tangling and untangling the two storylines, her ability to connect character arcs left me satisfied.
At first, I had a hard time connecting to Miko. I didn’t see his relevance to the plot until later in the book. I kept asking myself, why is this character important? This question was eventually made clear, but I would have liked to felt a connection to him earlier in the book so that he was a well-rounded character.
Kerin does imagery very well, she will paint fantastic settings in your mind. I could see so much color and life in her story that it was hard to put down, I wanted to see where we would end up next. She creates her own lore that isn’t overpowering or hard to keep straight and puts you at the center of her beautiful world. The plot is easy to follow, unlike a lot of fantasy stories, you will not veer off in a thousand different directions. Overall the story is enjoyable and you will fall in love with Seycia’s all or nothing attitude and Haben’s heart wrenching back story.
This story is a fresh take on how government and religion clash. Kerin creates this world that seems like it’s going to be your typical fantasy style novel and it turns out to be something entirely different. It tackles the problems that arise when a government decides to eradicate religion, we see how it affects the people, and how it can change entire societal structures. One glimpse of the afterlife leads to war, poverty, and the destruction of history. This all plays out in this twisting tale of adventure, redemption, and vengeance.

I give The Phantom Forest a 4/5 stars. This is a solid 4 out of 5 because it exceeded my expectation but there were some aspects that could have been better.

You’re not going to want to miss The Phantom Forest releasing July 16th, 2019.