Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp
Corey and Kyra were inseparable friends. In a small, isolated town of 200 in the northern Alaska wilderness, they grew up close as sisters. And when Kyra is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it becomes Corey and Kyra against the world in a town that is unwilling to accept anything or anyone different. Then Corey is forced to move away when her mother accepts a job at a hospital in Winnipeg. She makes Kyra promise to wait for her, that it will only be a few months until her summer break, and then things can be like they were before. But after only a few months, Kyra is dead, and the people of Lost Creek treat Corey like an interloper. What happened while she was away?
This was an atypical thriller. The setting of a small, isolated town is one guaranteed to get under my skin. Something about a community with no anonymity, but harboring dark secrets, is claustrophobic and terrifying. Due to the age of the protagonists, and the general tone of the book, this fits neatly into the YA category, but it is one of those books that will appeal to a wide range of readers. I quite liked Nijkamp’s sympathetic portrayal of bipolar disorder, and the difficulties encountered by those with the disorder to find effective treatment and acceptance.
The book’s plot centers around the paranoia of becoming a stranger in a place you once called home, and of the ease in development of homogeneous belief among small, isolated populations. These real-world situations are juxtaposed against a magical thread running through the plot, as we examine the cult-like nature of the townsfolk and the presentation of Kyra’s mental illness.
In all, this is not your run-of-the-mill thriller, and is much the better for that fact. Fans of YA genres, psychological thrillers, and (semi) horror will likely enjoy this book.
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
Here you have it, folks: Jane Eyre … IN SPACE!
How could I resist? I’ve just come from reading a shockingly good retelling of Jane Eyre … WITH ZOMBIES! And I’m certainly not the type of person who thinks the classics are sacrosanct, so in the immortal words: why the hell not?
This telling takes us to a dystopian future where the remainder of mankind lives in orbit around the earth after a supervolcano eruption has rendered the planet uninhabitable. However, that was centuries ago, and no one expected their orbital exile to last so long. The orbiting ships are breaking down, resources are scarce, and no one knows what awaits them on Earth…
Jane here takes the form of Stella Ainsley, and intelligent, kind, yet tough orphan who has been living on the poor farming ship Stalwart since she was banished there as a child by her Aunt Reed. Determined to escape the daily struggle of life aboard the Stalwart, Stella takes a governess job aboard the private ship Rochester. But the ship has a reputation; some say it is haunted. The Rochester’s broody, mysterious captain certainly doesn’t help matters, either.
This is a retelling that manages to separate itself from the original. I really loved the transfer of scene to ships orbiting the Earth; the sci-fi aspect was quite interesting and very well done. I also admire the writer’scourage in diverging in a few big ways from the original plot of the book, which is not an easy thing to do in such a beloved classic as Jane Eyre. In all, I think the author’s additions to the story really made it her own, and allowed her own voice to really show through. It’s always nice to be surprised by a story you think you know.
This book is aimed squarely at the YA crowd. If that isn’t one of your preferred genres, best give this a miss. But if you tend to love YA, and especially when there’s sci-fi in the mix, then this book is right up your alley!
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
Kate Thompson returns home in time to find her father dead, hanging from a mesquite tree, and the family homestead burned to the ground. The celebratory yells of the gunman who killed him still echoing off the dry Arizona land. Swearing vengeance, and vowing to recover her father’s stolen journal, Kate sets off after the gang with rifle in hand. As her questions for revenge becomes entangled with a legendary gold mine, revelations about Kate’s family force her to question everything she has known.
Usually when you hear a book described as “gritty”, you think of a detective novel with a high functioning alcoholic detective and a female lead who resembles a poisonous spider. However, when I say that Vengeance Road is gritty, I mean it in the most literal sense. Bowman paints the thinnest coat of romanticism over her descriptions of life on the frontier. For the most part, she invites us to look closely at the dirt, the stench, the whores, the casual violence, the racism, and the cheapness of life past the edge of “civilization.” I love it.
Her descriptions of the desert, the mountains, and the canyons on Kate’s journey are clearly written by someone in love with the harsh beauty of the American Southwest. Bowman also weaves local legends into her story, rooting it even more firmly into the red Arizona soil.
So yes, this is a YA book, but I found it very enjoyable for even those beyond the YA years (except for bits of the obligatory will they/won’t they love story, sigh . . . Though Bowman does handle that as darkly as the rest of the story). Finding a good western is hard these days, the genre has gone out of fashion of late. For YA lovers, this is a great way to introduce yourself to a new (old) genre.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.
Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
This is the second book in The Great Library Series, and so there are inevitable spoilers for the first book below.
Now that the requisite spoiler alert is out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Jess finds himself as a lowly grunt in the Library’s Garda. Forced to abandon his dream of becoming a Library scholar, and very aware of the dark underside of the Library’s rule, Jess uses his smuggling past to try to find more information of the imprisoned Morgan and murdered Thomas. When Jess uncovers a bombshell: Thomas is alive and held captive by the Library at a secret prison, Jess must reunite his old friends (and frenemies) in a desperate rescue attempt. Little does he know that this act of rebellion will spark a violent chain of events which could threaten the world as he knows it.
Paper and Fire is a good sequel to Ink and Bone. The characters seem to have grown up quite a bit since we first met them, and the danger from the Library and its minions seems more devious and omnipresent than ever. We are given more information about the inner workings of the Library, and learn more about its past. I always enjoy the second book in the series, we’ve gotten over the awkward introduction phase and the characters can really stretch their legs. Caine lets Jess and his friends grow, but avoids the simple and comfortable and keeps things on a more realistic and complicated plane.
If you enjoyed the first book in the series, you will almost certainly like this one. If you haven’t read Ink and Bone yet, then you really shouldn’t be reading this review, should you? But either way, fans of the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series will enjoy these books, which manage to be both about teenagers and very adult at the same time.
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Tea has lived all her life in a small village with her family. Then, when she is thirteen, her brother, who had been called to the army to help protect the kingdom from fierce monsters called daeva, is killed in battle. The anguished Tea refuses to accept his death, and in her grief, she raises him from his grave. It seems that Tea is a necromancer, a dark asha (witch). Fleeing from the superstition and fear of her neighbors, she journeys to the schools at Ankyo where she can learn to harness her powers.
The lessons at these schools (called The Willows) resemble a geisha’s training more than anything you’d find at Hogwarts. Tea learns singing, dance, flower arranging, and how to pick out the perfect hua (magical outfit). She does also learn healing and combat, but the focus is certainly more on the refined arts and entertaining dignitaries.
When the school is attacked by a fierce daeva, Tea knows she is the only one with a chance of stopping the carnage, but the price that must be paid could mean the sacrifice of all she holds dear.
Right off the bat I’m going to stay that this book wasn’t my cup of tea (pun, sorry). I found the focus on the more mundane aspects (like flower arranging, etc.) to be a bit dull. When the action finally hits, the book is nearly over. That is not to say that this book is bad. There’s quite a bit of good world building here, and the magic system is actually pretty neat, and interestingly done. I feel like this book will appeal more to a true YA audience than me (being old and curmudgeonly). As this is the first in the series, I would be curious to see how the future books pace out. I think the second book will be worth a chance, when it comes out.
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Bone Witch will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.
A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Henrietta Howel can set herself on fire. Along with all the other problems brought on with self immolation is one unfortunate fact: women in Victorian England aren’t allowed to do magic.
Welcome to a lovecraftian Victorian England, where a witch opened a portal into another dimension, setting free the Ancient Ones, hideous monsters bent on the submission and eradication of the human race. (Male) sorcerers are tasked with trying to hold the monsters at bay, and any magic outside the narrow confines of their purview is punishable by ugly death.
Henrietta Howel grows up in Jane Eyre-esque poverty at a charity school for girls, trying to keep her firestarter tendencies under the radar. But when a visiting sorcerer discovers her magical abilities, the cat is out of the bag. Rather than be put to death, she is brought to London to fulfill an ancient prophecy which will pit her against the Ancient Ones as humanity’s last hope. But is she really the chosen one?
All in all I found this book to be an engaging and fast-paced read. Cluess borrows elements from several sources (Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, and Lovecraft being the most obvious), but she is able to make the combination work (and let’s face it, bringing Jane Eyre into the Cthulhu mythos is not a task for the faint of heart). Parts of the book were genuinely creepy, especially the familiars, humans transformed by the ancient ones to do their bidding. The major flaw in this book comes from the overdone romance angle, as our heroine has not one, not two, but three possible romantic entanglements within the book. Is it too much to ask for the protagonist to stand on her own for a bit before delving into the pathos of teenage love?
Ah well. In all, this book was very enjoyable and I look forward to the next in the series. I think Cluess has a promising future ahead of her.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. A Shadow Bright and Burning is currently available for purchase.