Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

49112169._SY475_My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

Published: March 26, 2019 by Berkley Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We’re your neighbors, the parents of your kid’s friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

Rating 3 star

Review: This book left me with a rather large challenge on whether I enjoyed it or not. For the first 300 or so pages, I was enthralled with this book. I loved it. I found the narrating character a bit bland but there was enough of other stuff going on that it didn’t bother me. However, the ending soured me on the rest of the book. It was an awful ending. Period. There was nothing redeeming about the conclusion of this book and it made the rest of the experience feel like a waste of time. So ultimately I can say that I liked it, but I can’t recommend it.

That was the short version that is free of spoilers. From here on out, consider yourself warned because this is a SPOILER ZONE:

Like I mentioned the husband was a bit bland, we’ll call him Tobias for the sake of the review but that isn’t actually his name. He’s a really big idiot. Similar to the level of idiot the husband in Gone Girl is. He should have known these things. He’s assisting his wife in kidnapping and murdering women, then he hears about all about her stories of her abusive sister, he finds out she kept one of the women alive for a year torturing her, she suggests making their crimes similar to a known serial killer, she just so happens to visit somewhere that she has no reason to be and then a witness comes forward to put doubt in the police’s mind about who is committing the crimes. Yet, through all of these things, he doesn’t realize for a moment that his wife is setting him up. I knew it. Every other reader knew it. The only person who didn’t was Tobias. Because he’s an idiot. Like his wife told him, “You always focus on the wrong things.” She was right.

I also don’t know how a guy like Tobias gets involved in something like this to begin with. I was promised Dexter meets Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Tobias was neither. He could barely stomach to hear a retelling of the murder on television, let alone actually commit one that wasn’t a complete accident. He can barely handle stalking a woman without having a panic attack. A psycho he is not. A killer he is not. An idiot, he definitely is.

Throughout most of this book I was really excited to find out what happened. I knew that Tobias was being set up, but I loved theorizing about how deep the deception went. Why was she setting him up? Was she involved with the prior serial killer too? Was she trying to frame him for not just these murders but those ones too? Her sister wasn’t really the abusive psycho one right? All these questions. All these theories. And yet, the ending didn’t surprise me or satisfy me. Every single one of those theories I thought up is exactly what happened. I don’t pretend to be any sort of genius. I don’t find myself particularly more intelligent than the average reader. But how exactly did none of this manage to surprise me and yet surprises others? I really don’t understand it.

Then, in the end, Tobias just walks away with his kids. The police listen to his whole story and think “well, he says he’s innocent and since the DNA at the crime scene is weird then I guess he is really completely innocent”. No, he wasn’t. While he might not have murdered any of the women that the police knew about, he did stalk and abduct several of them. At the very least he was an accessory to his wife’s murders. But it’s all wrapped up and he just walks away in about two pages. It was crap. Then we end with him using the same Tobias ruse on a woman that he used in the murder scheme with his wife. Why? Am I supposed to believe that this timid, beta male has decided to keep killing? He wasn’t the type before, why would be be now? It made no sense.

So while the writing was delightful, Millicent was spectacular, the resolution and narrator were just awful.

Review: The Spectators by Jennifer duBois

40626949The Spectators by Jennifer duBois

Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Random House

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: A shocking crime triggers a media firestorm for a controversial talk show host in this provocative novel–a story of redemption, a nostalgic portrait of New York City, and a searing indictment of our culture of spectacle.

Talk show host Matthew Miller has made his fame by shining a spotlight on the most unlikely and bizarre secrets of society, exposing them on live television in front of millions of gawking viewers. However, the man behind The Mattie M Show remains a mystery–both to his enormous audience and to those who work alongside him every day. But when the high school students responsible for a mass shooting are found to be devoted fans, Mattie is thrust into the glare of public scrutiny, seen as the wry, detached herald of a culture going downhill and going way too far. Soon, the secrets of Mattie’s past as a brilliant young politician in a crime-ridden New York City begin to push their way to the surface.

In her most daring and multidimensional novel yet, Jennifer duBois vividly portrays the heyday of gay liberation in the seventies and the grip of the AIDS crisis in the eighties, alongside a backstage view of nineties television in an age of moral panic. DuBois explores an enigmatic man’s downfall through the perspectives of two spectators–Cel, Mattie’s skeptical publicist, and Semi, the disillusioned lover from his past.

With wit, heart, and crackling intelligence, The Spectators examines the human capacity for reinvention–and forces us to ask ourselves what we choose to look at, and why.

Rating: 2 star

Review: This book was quite a conundrum for me to read. There were some major good points and some major bad points. Ultimately, I can’t say that I liked the book because it felt like a really big missed opportunity that failed to deliver on much of what it promised.

This book is told in two points of view and multiple timelines. Each chapter is titled with the narrator and the years it covers to make it easier to follow along, until the last chapter which was very confusing. It covers a span from the 70s to the 90s and discusses a lot of serious topics. It talks about the AIDS crisis in the gay community. It covers school shootings. It covers the new freak show of our era, trash TV. It covers public reaction to all of the above. It was a very ambitious novel and didn’t quite pull it off.

**Mild Spoilers Alert**

Our first narrator is Semi, which I thought was an innuendo until the author piped in that it’s pronounced like semi-truck and then I wasn’t really sure what it was supposed to be because I have always heard that pronounced with a hard I sound. But I’m getting off point. Semi was a great narrator. He was the former lover of Mattie M, back when he was a local politician and lawyer with his eyes on the mayorship of New York. I loved hearing about his love story with Mattie and I loved hearing about his perspective on the AIDS crisis. My only complaint is that I didn’t actually learn anything about Semi as a person. He told his story through the stories of his friends, So while I enjoyed his narration, I didn’t feel like I got to know him at all since he was hiding his truth behind his friends.

Cel is the narrator for much of the portion of the book that covers the school shooting and ensuing chaos, She is the publicist for the Mattie M Show. To be quite frank, I have no idea what she was doing in this novel. She didn’t have a single ounce of personality and rarely spoke more than a fragment of a sentence at a time. Her back story was confusing so I couldn’t even get emotionally involved in that aspect of her story. I also have no idea how or why the show hired her as a publicist. She doesn’t like the job and she doesn’t even seem to know how to do the job. Most of her story is making snarky one liners at other staff of the show, complaining about her job to her friends, and watching TV in bars. She doesn’t do anything. Then at the end of the book she decides to quit her job and become a stand up comedienne? Where the fuck did that come from? She went to a comedy club one time with a reporter and implied she had been there before, but she is not funny and we are given no indication that she ever wanted to do anything like that.

The first 125 pages of the book are largely useless. If I was the editor, I’d have scrapped them entirely. It is mostly Semi talking about his friends and Cel trying to avoid doing work. We only get into the meat of what the novel is supposed to be about about at page 130 and then it started to get awesome. After that point, I was completely invested and thought the novel was making some very profound points.

What I got from the novel is that television and news events are the new blood sport of our day. Whether we’re watching a trashy reality TV show, watching a play about some emotionally charged event, or watching news coverage on a tragedy. We are not actually watching the thing. We are not actually interested in the thing itself. It doesn’t matter how it begins. It doesn’t matter how it ends. The truth doesn’t matter either. The point is that we’re watching it. As the book says toward the end, we’re an audience, watching an audience, watching an audience. I was a little stunned at how profound I found this book based on how badly it began.

Then we got to the ending and it disappointed me again. In the end, the author decides to give us the truth. Give us the truth about what’s in the letters. Give us the truth of what the play was about. Give us the truth about Mattie M and Semi. I was so disappointed that I wanted to stop reading. We just spent approximately 200 pages telling the reader that the truth of these things was irrelevant. I was just another audience, watching an audience, watching an audience. So then if these things don’t matter, why are you insisting on telling me?

Maybe, in the end, I read too much into the book. Maybe the author didn’t actually intend to make any profound and philosophical points. Maybe she didn’t think she could resist giving me the final pieces of the puzzle. But, regardless, it damaged the book for me.

 

Review: Fire is Orange by Scott Sigler

fireFire is Orange by Scott Sigler

Published: October 23, 2019 by Empty Set Entertainment

Buy this book at Amazon

Synopsis: The third in the Color Series of short story anthologies from #1 New York Times best-seller Scott Sigler. A mixture of never-before-seen stories, stories from various anthologies, and Scott’s first-ever published fiction, this collection blends humor and horror into a frothy red mixture.

Author’s notes explain the history and/or impetus of each story, giving you an insight into the method behind the madness.

Rating: 4 star

Review: I know, I am kind of OD’ing on the Sigler stuff lately. What can I say? I always come back to my favorites. In this case I wanted something quick and fun. As it turns out a short story collection was just the ticket. Overall, this was a very good collection. Some of the stories were amazing and others were a bit meh. Now, for my own story notes and individual story ratings.

Complex God – 5 stars. This story is set is at a dubious point in the Siglerverse. It is after Pandemic and follows the origin of one Petra Prawatt. Anyone who is a Sigler Junkie will recognize the Prawatt name. This was such a fascinating little story and so much more terrifying by what it represents. It represents the idea that once human beings create a being that can begin to improve itself by making little decisions based on its mistakes then it is going to surpass its creator. A very scary concept and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Hippo – 4 stars. This story had a lot of hype behind it. I had been told that it had the most horrifying and gruesome thing that Scott Sigler has every written. Worse than his infamous chicken scissors moment. Admittedly, the scene made me gag, but maybe I am just too jaded because other than being gross it wasn’t particularly horrifying. I’ll pronounce the two moments a tie. But I loved the world this was set in, and I loved the “twist” at the end.

Dale & Mabel – 5 stars. This story was so out of the norm for a Scott Sigler novel. Two people trapped in a situation that could be the end of the world but with no way out. They are not the heroes of an apocalypse novel. They are elderly, married for many years, and not really able to get around so well anymore. How do they ride out the apocalypse? I cried like a baby through the entire second half.

Fifth Girl – 5 stars. This was creepy. And not in a blood and guts kind of way. Just creepy and a good take on the generations that seem to feel an insurmountable need to post their entire lives on the internet. Be cautious who else is following along.

Mister Double-M: 3 stars. This one was pretty funny. I laughed aloud at a few points. But other than a few laughs I didn’t feel there was too much substance to the story.

Pink Torpedo – 3 stars. Again, this was funny but otherwise unremarkable.

Puppet Master – 3 stars. This one rather confused me in the end. I found it to be very thoughtful and profound, but it also really confused me. I had a very hard time following the narrative so apart from a few profound thoughts it didn’t leave a lasting impression.

Reunion – 5 stars. Holy crap I was not prepared for this story. I thought I was but the longer it went on the more I realized that I was not prepared. It made me think, it made me cringe and then it made me cry.

Splashing Contest – 2 stars. I didn’t really like it. I understand what Sigler is going for with it and wanting to create a relatable situation but it just seemed very convenient and not too lasting of a story. I forgot it almost as soon as it was over.

The Laundry Demon – 2 stars. Again, some laughs and an amusing concept but there wasn’t much else to it.

So, in the end, it was a good collection and there wasn’t really anything that I can say I disliked. Another worthy edition to my ebook collection.

Review: Blood of the Fae by Tom Mohan

41813744Blood of the Fae by Tom Mohan

Published: November 15, 2018 by BHC Press/Open Window

Buy this book at: Amazon| B&N

Synopsis: Liza McCarthy has never known the love she so desperately craves. The illegitimate child of a broken marriage, the identity of her father and her heritage are a well-kept secret. When she receives a call from a mysterious woman claiming her life is in danger, she manages to flee just before two men break into her home.

She soon finds herself in the tiny midwestern town of Halden’s Mill. There she is taken in by the Finns, a mysterious family who claim to guard the entrance to the fabled land of the faerie.

Liza is slowly drawn into a world of monsters, dark magic and a host of peculiar townsfolk. Now she must rethink everything she’s ever known and seek her destiny before two worlds collide with a force that could mean the end of the human race.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley!***

This book is proving to be a difficult one to review and decide on an appropriate rating. I finished it over 24 hours ago and am still trying to put my thoughts together. On the whole, it was an alright story. There was absolutely nothing revolutionary about it, but it’s a solid story.

Let’s start with Liza. I did not really like her as a character. I found her to be annoying for the most part. She starts off fine, a bit histrionic but who wouldn’t be freaked out by the things she is discovering about the world? After awhile she seemed far stupider than I felt she should be. The pieces were there but she just refused to put them together and instead continued with her internal narrative that “there’s no way that any of this involves me”. Literally everyone in the book is telling you that it does. Hell, your dreams are telling you that it does! The strange happenings are telling you that it does! EVERYTHING IS SCREAMING AT YOU THAT YOU ARE INVOLVED!! So while there was nothing actually wrong with the character, she grew to be infuriating. And then when we got to the end of the book, it turned out she was pretty useless and unnecessary to the plot. More on that in a minute.

The characterization of the fae was fabulous. I enjoyed seeing a more horrifying aspect of the land of fae instead of the pretty, sparkling faeries that are so common in literature. I can’t say that the book was overly scary, but the horror aspects of it were very well written and interesting.

I can’t say that I can conjure up too much emotion about the other characters since I did not feel that I got to know them at all. They were a flat and lacked qualities that would have made them more relatable and realistic characters. They were fine, but one dimensional. They also seemed to be a bit stupid at times, similar to Liza’s stupid. They acknowledge that everything happening is telling them that the old rules don’t apply. But then they run around screaming, “Oh My God! Why are the old rules not working!?”  Well, duh, you just said why just a few pages ago.

A lot of this book was difficult to read. I found myself reading the same page a few times in order to understand what was going on. I am not entirely sure what made it difficult but I had a very hard time.

On to my last point for this: The ending. Warning!!!! Spoilers:

So, the whole point of the book is that Liza is a fae princess and has to choose between two princes. One prince wants the fae to rule the world and exterminate humans. One prince wants the fae to live in a dimension completely separate from humans and allow the peaceful existence of both. In the end, Liza will choose her prince and that will decide the fate of the world. But then we get to the end and she doesn’t choose! She chooses to stab herself instead in order to not have to make a choice. And somehow this meant that her choice was for peaceful co-existence of humans and fae? I have no idea where that ending came from but I didn’t like it. Making a choice by not making a choice and then somehow that means that everything is fine. So dumb and kind of made me feel the book was pointless in the end.

At the end of the day this book was decently written with passable characters and the fae are good enough to make this book a decent read.

Review: Love, As Always, Mum by Mae West

41947476._SY475_Love, as Always, Mum by Mae West

Published: September 6th, 2018 by Seven Dials

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis: The true story of an abused childhood, of shocking brutality and life as the daughter of notorious serial killer, and master manipulator, Rose West.

You’re 21-years-old. Police arrive on the doorstep of your house, 25 Cromwell Street, with a warrant to search the garden for the remains of your older sister you didn’t know was dead. Bones are found and they are from more than one body. And so the nightmare begins. You are the daughter of Fred and Rose West.

‘Mae, I mean this … I’m not a good person and I let all you children down …’ Rose West, HM PRISON DURHAM

It has taken over 20 years for Mae West to find the perspective and strength to tell her remarkable story: one of an abusive, violent childhood, of her serial killer parents and how she has rebuilt her life in the shadow of their terrible crimes.

Through her own memories, research and the letters her mother wrote to her from prison, Mae shares her emotionally powerful account of her life as a West. From a toddler locked in the deathly basement to a teen fighting off the sexual advances of her father, Mae’s story is one of survival. It also answers the questions: how do you come to terms with knowing your childhood bedroom was a graveyard? How do you accept the fact your parents sexually tortured, murdered and dismembered young women? How do you become a mother yourself when you’re haunted by the knowledge that your own mother was a monster? Why were you spared and how do you escape the nightmare?

 

Rating: 4 star

Review: I have my mother-in-law to blame for my fascination with Fred and Rose West. Years back when I was dating my husband she heard that I am a fan of reading and a big fan of true crime. So she passed along a book about Fred West that she had just finished. Since then I’ve read several more. And on her last visit to us, as the wonderful enabler that she is, she brought me this. I was not quite sure what to expect since I know the children’s reactions to the discovery of the crimes and subsequent trial/imprisonment is varied. Some were supportive of their parents and others were vehemently against them.

I was not expecting to be as profoundly moved by this book as I was. I found myself empathizing and identifying with Mae West in a way that I didn’t foresee. While her parents might have been more than your typical brand of evil, the mark of an abusive childhood is unchanged. It was quite interesting to me to hear about the view of the crimes and their parents from one of the children. And I identified with her when she said that people didn’t understand how she could love her parents even when they abused her horrifically. That is the cycle of abuse. And my heart broke at this young woman who couldn’t find someone to understand. As a child in abuse, you can’t escape. You can’t just decide to not love your parents. You can understand that what they are doing isn’t right on one hand and also be desperately fearful that they’ll abandon you on the other. It’s incomprehensible to people who haven’t experienced years of emotional manipulation to accompany abuse.

What really struck me the most about this book was the growth that I saw in Mae over the course of it. She started out firmly convinced that while her father was a monsterand her mother was innocent. A terrible mother, but surely not an accessory to her husband’s crimes. I understood her stance. She couldn’t deny that her father was involved, the bodies were under the concrete that he laid, but she couldn’t lose both her parents too. So she decided that her mother was innocent. And my heart broke for her. I found myself having a mental conversation with her on more than one occasion in this book. Desperately trying to tell this confused young woman that there is light at the end of this long dark tunnel, she just needs to break away from the darkness of her mother.

Slowly, she did just that. My heart rejoiced for her and the feeling of the narrative changed to accompany her new discoveries too. What started as a depressing and heavy book was slowly transformed into a survival story that ends with a woman who has made a happy, thriving life for herself. Even though the entire deck was stacked against her.

This was a fantastic perspective on this case that I was very happy to read.

Review: Eternal Wanderings by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

44671370Eternal Wanderings by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Publication date: April 1, 2019 by Paper Phoenix Press

Pre-order this book at: Amazon | B&N

Synopsis: Mortal. Immortal. Musician. Mage.

On a journey from the boroughs of New York to the heart of Tir na nÓg, from innocence to the deepest darkest crevices of her soul, Kara O’Keefe found power and strength in the discovery of self. But with that peace came a hard truth. As a bridge between many worlds, none of them held a place for her.

She must find her own way, forge her own path.
To honor a vow to Granddame Rose, a matriarch of the Kalderaš Clan, Kara joins the Romani caravan, only to find herself even more of an outsider than before. While she strives for acceptance, and to honor her vow, little does she know she has once more become a lure to an ancient and deadly enemy, drawing danger into the midst of her unsuspecting hosts.

Once savior of the world, Kara must now save herself and the innocents around her.

She has come into her legacy, but where will destiny take her?

Rating3 star

Review: **Disclaimer** I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley!

I wish that I had known this book was the fourth in a series before I requested it because I think I would have enjoyed it more having read the previous works. But I did not know and the premise sounded fascinating.

This was a good story. It was very well written, the characters were engaging and the story was a lot of fun. The author also peppered in enough information about previous books that I was able to follow along by about 40 pages in. I was captured in the story even when I didn’t entirely know what was happening.

My biggest complaint with this one was the length. The story described in the synopsis is only about 70 pages long, barely a novella, when I was expecting a full length novel. The remaining 70 pages of the book was a collection of short stories for this series universe. I skipped all but the first one because I had no idea who any of the characters were and didn’t feel the title story should be negatively impacted because I couldn’t follow those side stories. But 70 pages is barely anything. I felt like the story was just reaching the climax point and then it was over.

So, while I loved the writing and I loved the story I was left feeling unsatisfying because it didn’t feel complete. I may venture back to this series at some point and read from the beginning though because it was very well done.

Review: And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

45894105And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

Expected Publication: February 11, 2020 by Liveright

Pre-Order this book at: Amazon| Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Exciting fans of such writers as Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Carmen Maria Machado with prose that shimmers and stings, Amber Sparks holds a singular role in the canon of the weird. Now, she reaches new, uncanny heights with And I Do Not Forgive You. In “Mildly Happy, With Moments of Joy,” a friend is ghosted by a simple text message; in “Everyone’s a Winner at Meadow Park,” a teen precariously coming of age in a trailer park befriends an actual ghost. At once humorous and unapologetically fierce, these stories shine an interrogating light on the adage that “history likes to lie about women”— as the subjects of “A Short and Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife” and “You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women” (it’s true, you won’t) will attest. Blending fairy tales and myths with apocalyptic technologies, all tethered intricately by shades of rage, And I Do Not Forgive You offers a mosaic of an all-too-real world that fails to listen to its silenced goddesses.

Rating: 1 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley!***

The best thing that I can say about this book was that it was forgettable. The worst thing I can say about this book was that it is forgettable and pointless. The short version of this review is that these aren’t actual short stories. They are pieces of stories. Not a single one of them actually has an ending. They end, but they don’t have an ending. Even the one story that I liked just….ended with no resolution. And several of them were three paragraphs long and left me wondering what the point of even reading it was.

Add in the rampant, militant feminism that every male in the stories is a bad man, hurting women and doing terrible things and every woman needs to be avenged for the collective sins of men and I just couldn’t bear this book at all.

WARNING: Spoilers from here on out.

The one story that I enjoyed was about a couple who can’t stop thinking about the great amount of noise their upstairs neighbors make in the middle of the night. Are they moving bodies up there? Do they own ten Great Danes? Teach midnight tap dancing? Everyone who has had upstairs neighbors knows this feeling. So it was very relatable and fun. But then it was just over. The male of the couple goes upstairs to confront the neighbors about the noise and she just keeps waiting for him to come back, the end. Very abrupt and ended right in the middle of the resolution. This made it so forgettable that it took me ten minutes to remember the premise of this story when I sat down to write this review.

There were also some fact problems with this book. For example, the story about the Sabine women. I am familiar with the story and I am familiar with the varying interpretations of the story over the years. Basically soldiers from Rome invade the city of Sabine killing all the men and taking the women as war trophies to rape and force into marriage. It was a fine story but when the Roman soldiers invade Sabine the women cry out to the goddess Demeter for assistance. Why? Demeter is a fierce goddess to be sure and a great defender of women, but she’s also a Greek goddess. Five minutes on Google will tell you that Sabine was part of the Roman empire in, what is now, Italy. So why would they be crying out in anguish for a Greek goddess’ assistance? That made zero sense and took away from the story.

Also, none of the women actually have to take responsibility for their actions in these stories. Men are bad and women cannot have freedom or happiness until men are eradicated from the world. That’s the main premise of every story in the book. Even when you are living with someone who is obviously mentally ill, has proclaimed themselves a messiah and is planning a massive murder/suicide plot….just blame him for your decision to stay with him and complain that he just abandoned you for his delusions. Don’t try to intervene to get him help or anything, let him go along with his plan but bitch about it every step of the way because obviously he’s the bad guy. Where’s the accountability? Where’s the compassion to try and get someone who you love the help that they obviously need? No, he’s obviously the bad guy and the poor woman doesn’t have to take any accountability for her choices. This is just one example out of many.

Some of the stories even stretch plausibility to the breaking point to make men the bad guy. At one point a girl just randomly happens on the janitor from school abducting her friend and fights to free her. It didn’t fit the story at all and was so unexpected that I just couldn’t get there. I almost thought about abandoning the book at that point because it was nonsensical and only happened to make janitor guy a monster. Or the story about a historical woman who helped her husband achieve greatness while remaining in the darkness herself, despite being more accomplished. This should have been a fascinating story to tell. But instead we got two women joking over text messages about how religion is ridiculous and men are stupid. With almost those exact childish words. Really? I’m supposed to take these women seriously when you paint them as immature children?

At the end of the day I will have forgotten about this book by tomorrow because it was just that pointless.

Review: Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Asperfell_CoverWithBleed_101918Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Expected publication: February 18, 2020 by Uproar Books Inc

Pre-order this book on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Only the darkest and most dangerous of Mages are sentenced to pass through the gate to Asperfell.

Not one has ever returned.

Never did Briony dream she might set foot in the otherworldly prison of Asperfell. She was, after all, neither Mage nor criminal. She was simply her father’s little whirlwind—fingers smudged with ink, dresses caked with mud—forever lost in a book or the spirit-haunted woods surrounding her family’s country estate.

But Briony always had a knack for showing up where she was least expected.

Only by braving the gate of Asperfell could Briony hope to find the true heir to the throne of Tiralaen and save her kingdom from civil war. And so, she plunges into a world of caged madmen and demented spirits, of dark magic and cryptic whispers… and of a bleak and broken prince with no interest in being rescued.

Hauntingly beautiful and lavishly told, Asperfell is a must-read for fans of Jane Austen who always wished she’d dabbled in blood magic.

Rating: 2 star

Review:  ***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Uproar Books!***

I wanted to like this book. I really really wanted to like this book. It is exactly the type of book that I normally enjoy. A young, spunky female lead character. Magic. Society that seems to be based on a Victorian standard. Mysteries. Prisons. Other planes of existence. But I just couldn’t like it.

The writing is very good and thus why I gave this a two star rating over a one star. The dialogue is engaging, the plot moves at a fairly good pace, and the narrative flows beautifully. The first half of the book seemed a bit on the slow side while the second half was very rushed but that is my only complaint about the writing.

WARNING: From this point on there will be lots of spoilers, consider yourself warned.

This book has never met a young adult trope that it didn’t like….and utilize…..frequently. Let me preface where my opinion is coming from on this novel. The very first sentence, before I even hit the first chapter is that the author wants to “smash the patriarchy one novel at a time!”. Now, I will also explain that I am rather tired of reading militantly feminist literature, it seems to be everywhere these days. Normally I can overlook an author’s personal views or opinions about the book and just take the book for the story it presents. But not when that’s what you open with. The very first thing you told me about your story is that it’s smashing patriarchy with its strong female characters so you need to live up to that. You have now infused that idea into your novel and need to deliver.

This did not deliver. Instead I got the same old tired tropes of the young adult genre that feminist readers complain about constantly. How exactly are you smashing patriarchy? By presenting me tropes that I’ve been reading since I was 13 years old?

Briony is just like every young adult female lead character. She is spunky, sassy, strong willed, and bucks the patriarchal system that she was born into. Her older sister is the perfect lady of the court. This isn’t a new dynamic and it can be a good one when used correctly. I didn’t actually mind this because it set up Briony as a character who is questing to be knowledgeable. Knowledge and wisdom will be her weapon in the fight against what society has said her place is. That’s all well and good. My problems start when Briony gets to Asperfell.

Naturally she instantly dislikes Prince Elyan. He is dour, brooding, and wants nothing to do with her and largely he is exactly what one expects from the young adult male lead. I assumed Briony would be on a mission to find the answer to take him home whether he protested or not. But…..she doesn’t. Within the space of a chapter she seems to have completely forgotten about her mission and just goes along with working in the gardens and learning magic all while throwing a glare at Elyan when he deigns to make an appearance. He, of course, is primarily there to ridicule her efforts before disappearing again.

It wasn’t until about the last forty pages that Briony suddenly remembers that she is supposed to be getting Elyan back to their homeland. And only because someone whacked her across the head with the information that would lead her to that goal. She was far too busy trading gossip, learning magic, gardening, and making sarcastic remarks at Elyan to actually discover the answer on her own.

Another trope, instalove. Authors think that they are avoiding this if their characters start off hating each other. But Briony and Elyan go from coldly tolerating each other to gazing at each other affectionately literally in the space of a single dance. So not quite instalove but maybe 3 1/2 minute love? Microwave love? Be sure to wait for the ding!

Briony was also revealed to not be that strong or much of a feminist either. The most offensive example of this is when another character attempts to sexually assault her. Okay, we kind of have to assume that’s what he’s doing because it doesn’t get very far but I’m fairly confident that’s where this was headed. Briony courageously defends herself. She fights off her attacker and escapes to safety before the situation escalates into anything much worse. I was cheering for her! I was so proud of her for reacting in her own defense so decisively and swiftly. But then she decides to have a whole inner monologue about how she feels shame about the situation. Why exactly? Surely you would be feeling scared but also proud of yourself? She even says to herself that she has nothing to feel ashamed about…..but then concludes that thought with “but I do” and moves on. Is this really an example of a strong woman? Feeling shame about something that you recognize should not be causing you shame and during which you admirably protected yourself? I was highly disappointed.

Next we have the other young adult trope that I despise so much. Briony does something very stupid and reckless. She recognizes internally that it was reckless and stupid. But when Elyan points out that it was reckless and stupid then she yells at him about it. Because, how dare he think that he can control her! He doesn’t own her! She can do what she likes without him! Does anyone actually think that this is the makings of a strong woman? Actual thoughts that she had. No one was trying to control her or prevent her from doing anything on her own. She made a reckless and foolish decision, but because a male confronts her about it then he’s controlling. Then later he, naturally, apologizes for daring to question her reckless, foolish behavior because he was just so scared of losing her. And she gets to walk away feeling smug. Strong women rejoice! Patriarchy smashed!

Finally, the ending. We spent a very long time getting to Asperfell. We spent an equally long time gardening and learning magic in Asperfell. That left about 60 pages for the conclusion. I thought the conclusion was supposed to be the rescue of Elyan from Asperfell and delivering him back home. Except that didn’t happen. The book ends with them in the woods. On their way to a potential way to get home, but they aren’t actually sure it will work yet. And of course, it ends with a kiss. Frankly, it left me wondering what exactly the point was? We couldn’t spare another 30 pages to actually get back to Tiralaen? And then end it once they have successfully left Asperfell? I recognize that we’re setting up a sequel here, but the sequel works just as well starting with the moments after they escape Asperfell as the moments before.

Overall, this story reminded me of every single bad young adult novel I’ve ever read. Exactly the same characters. Exactly the same plot devices. Exactly the same tropes.

Review: Penitence by Mark Campbell

43083591._SY475_Penitence by Mark Campbell

Published July 10, 2018 by Darkest Hour Publishing

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Synopsis: 

A deadly influenza pandemic.

An escaped convict.

A single mother desperate to protect her only child.

As the insidious virus cripples society, providence brings two survivors together in an unlikely partnership to survive in a world fraught with chaos.

In a small poultry farm located in Delaney, Georgia an antigenic shift causes the H7N9 bird flu virus to jump species. The contagion burns through everything in its path despite the federal government’s ham-handed efforts to mask the mutated virus’ true nature. Its unprecedented mortality rate paralyzes the nation and paves the way for FEMA’s martial law to be established across the country.

At a maximum security federal penitentiary south of Tucson, Arizona, Inmate Teddy Sanders’ world of structure and routine crumbles to dust, as the virus starts spreading within the confines of the prison. As the virus callously strikes down guards and inmates alike, the administration loses control and Teddy finds himself fighting enemies both old and new. Circumstances force him to form precarious new alliances in order to escape what has effectively become a concrete tomb.

Meanwhile, fifty miles away from the penitentiary, a young woman named Jane risks it all to keep her young son Danny safe in a residential tower in the heart of downtown Tucson. Surrounded by armed looters and desperate survivors, Jane ventures out on her own to forage for supplies. Not only does she have to contend with those left behind, but she also faces an increasingly hostile military presence.

As their paths cross and inalterable choices are made, will the unwitting pair find salvation?

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. Thank you NetGalley and Darkest Hour Publishing!***

I am a sucker for an apocalypse novel, especially if there are killer viruses afoot. One of my favorite mobile games is about trying to develop a disease that wipes out the population of the planet, so this is something I have a dark fascination about. I am always willing to pick up a novel with that theme. Often times they disappoint, this did not.

We start the book with Teddy. He is our main character and I expected him to be more of an anti-hero. You don’t want to be rooting for him because he was in federal prison for doing bad things to people, but the world is ending and he’s one of few who survived so go Teddy! He was a bit of what I expected, but also came across as a really big boy scout. I mean, come on, we all know the things you did. We all know because you told us fairly quickly and bluntly. So can we please stop acting like he’s a good ole boy who just got caught in an unfortunate circumstance? I really didn’t like that about him. You don’t end up with a life sentence in federal prison because you had a bad day. But, regardless, the plot was enough to move me along despite my irritations with Teddy. In the end I just had to disregard what I thought his character should be and accept what he was and then we got along just fine.

Jane and Danny were fantastic. Jane is a woman after my own heart and I would like to think that in similar circumstances I could show the same resilience. I enjoyed them both immensely and I sincerely wanted to see the three of them ride off into the sunset together. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and I love it when that happens.

The plot was not quite what I expected but I liked how it worked out, which is always a nice surprise. I didn’t expect so much of the story to take place in the prison. But despite not expecting it, I loved it. A completely contained environment that gets infiltrated by a virus that kills nearly everyone it infects. How do you keep order and at the same time try to keep people healthy too? You’re still dealing with bad people who are violent and unpredictable in nature, add in the threat of death and things can spiral out of control very quickly. And spiral out of control they did. It was deliciously devilish.

I liked how the book ended. I understand that the book is expected to be a series, so it makes sense in that aspect. But if I never read the second book I would also be satisfied with how it ended. Teddy is still looking for redemption, trying to be the man that he might have become if not for the prison stint, and being put into a situation that is at once completely alien but oddly familiar. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

45418305._SY475_Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Published: October 31, 2019 by Subterranean Press

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis:

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.
Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Subterranean Press!***

As with all short story collections that I read, I prefer to review them by the story. Inevitably I will love some of them and not care for others and this collection was no different. I am a big fan of the author but some of these stories were a miss. I also noticed that there were some formatting issues with the ARC, which meant that sometimes I didn’t get the complete story. On the whole, this collection was a solid four stars with a lot more hits than misses.

Laughter at the Academy: 2 stars. I am not sure if it was the formatting issue or if the story was really supposed to be that disjointed. We got a little snippet of something “official” about the disorder in question, and then we would jump into a scene, right in the middle of a sentence. A scene that is totally unconnected from the previous scene. If that if how it was supposed to be, I didn’t like it. The snippets were good, but I never felt I got a full story.

Lost: 5 stars. This was a very short story but wow it packed a wallop. It was inventive and whimsical. It was riveting and profound. It was fantastic.

The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells: 5 stars. This is probably one of the more twisted stories I’ve read in quite a long while. It carries very heavy themes in complacency as a species, being too convinced of our own individual superiority to listen to people superior in knowledge than us. The desire for things to be the same and to be easy than to listen to harsh lessons. It was profound and deeply, deeply twisted.

Uncle Sam: 2 stars. The formatting issue was present here too, the story started mid sentence and I could tell there was more to it that I didn’t get. I didn’t really like this one. The story was slightly interesting but I didn’t really invest in the narrative for some reason. It was a bit obvious where it was going and the political assumptions in it were rather annoying. For example, “well obviously, even though many people think X thing, we all know that Y is true.” Well no, Y isn’t objectively true in the real world. If it’s objectively true in this world then fine, or if it’s true to those people then fine, but telling me that it’s true without more context was annoying. The ending was obvious, which also was irritating.

Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage: 3 stars. This story was okay. I would have liked a tiny bit more history on the story. I know it’s a short story but just thrusting someone into a fantasy world with no warning is a bit jarring, give me something to explain the things that are going on. The ending was good, I liked the conclusion a lot. Overall, it was fine but not as good as some of the others.

Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust: 4 stars. I love the land of Oz and stories about Dorothy’s adventures. This was definitely a darker story but I loved it. There wasn’t too much action, which disappointed me a little but the world introduced there was amazing.

Homecoming: 2 stars. I can honestly say I remember nothing about this story, even though I took notes. That says something I think.

Frontier ABCs: 4 stars. I can honestly say that I had no idea where this was going and it was a delightful little ride to find out.

We are all Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War: 5 stars. Holy crap this story threw me for a loop. I had to take a break from the book for a day or two because it just sent me reeling. It’s something so profound that I could imagine happening in our world. I have often said, “How do you prepare the world for a child’s toy saying they don’t want to be turned off because they are scared of the dark?” I love the complexities offered to humanity by AI and this story explored that beautifully.

The Lambs: 2 stars. Another exploration of AI and its uses in humanity but there was a problem here. I just didn’t buy it. I did not buy that this would be a reasonable alternative to the way things are right now. As a parent, I can’t imagine anyone seeing the technology presented and thinking “Yes, that’s a good idea for handling unruly, bully children”. And so, I didn’t enjoy the story because I couldn’t buy the premise.

Each to Each: 4 stars. Not too much to say about this one in particular other than it was really great.

Bring About the Halloween Eternal: 5 stars. Part of good sci-fi is using new formats to tell a story. This one used the backdrop of a GoFundMe project to tell the story and I loved that idea. It was playful, unique and wonderfully constructed.

Office Memos: 4 stars. I really loved this one because it takes the form of a bunch of company emails to narrate the story. Having been on the receiving end of many such mundane office emails I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare: 3 stars. This one was okay. It had some formatting issues at the beginning, so I missed out on the beginning of the story. It was a solid story, I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the others.

Driving Jenny Home: 5 stars. This particular story broke my heart. I cried all over my Nook. The sadness was palpable, the conclusion inevitable and all I could think at the end of it was “I’d do the same thing for the person I loved.”

There is no Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold: 5 stars. I can honestly say I’ve never read a retelling of Pandora’s Box, so this was a first and it hit the nail on the head. I loved every word and wanted the story to be longer.

In Skeleton Leaves: 4 stars. Speaking of retellings, Peter Pan anyone? This was also wonderful. I felt so sad for the characters and the ending I did not see coming, though I probably should have I was just too wrapped up in Wendy’s narrative to see it.

Please Accept My Most Profound Apologies: 5 stars. I have to say, I really love stories that are narrated as a letter from the bad guy, explaining themselves to the unfortunate sap who finds their manuscript before the end of the world. This was great and made my heart race in anticipation.

Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, at the End of the World: 3 stars. This one was an interesting concept and I liked the backdrop of the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it’s also one of my favorite places on earth. But in the end it was a little bland.

From A to Z in the Book of Changes: 3 stars. I liked this one, but it was just too disjointed for me. It seemed like unconnected threads that never came together to form a whole.

#connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere: 5 stars. I said earlier I loved playing with new mediums, this was a horror story told through someone’s Twitter timeline. I really liked that idea but wasn’t sure how effective it would be. Oh my God was it effective. It literally made my jump and feel uneasy sitting in my living room and continuing reading. It was superb. Probably the best one in the book.

Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves: 4 stars. We ended the book with the formatting cutting off a page or so from the beginning of this final story. It was deliciously twisted and well told.