Book Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

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.

Book Review: The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

This is Holmberg’s fourth entry into her Paper Magician universe. This is not a direct sequel, rather The Plastic Magician explores new themes and magics within the same universe as the Paper Magician Trilogy. This means you can read this book as a standalone without having read the others. But I’m going to say right now that if you haven’t read the original trilogy, then you are seriously missing out.

In this story, we leave magicians Ceony Twill and Emery Thane behind and instead follow Alvie Brechenmacher, an American girl with German parents who desperately wants to be a polymaker, that is- a magician who works with plastic. As polymaking is the newest and least understood magic, there is an entire world waiting for discovery, and Alvie, naturally brilliant and creative, wants to make her mark on the world. When she manages to apprentice to the world’s foremost polymaker, all of Alvie’s dreams seem to be coming true. But when she and her mentor develop a groundbreaking new invention, old rivalries emerge and Alvie learns that the world of magician can be a dangerous one.

This was a great addition to the Paper Magician world. Alvie is a fantastic protagonist–unapologetically brilliant, kind, creative, and more than a little socially awkward. I also enjoyed how, despite the book’s historical setting, everyone seems to take Alvie’s intellect as a given, and as an asset. Alvie occupies the brilliant inventor trope that is so often the territory of male characters, and she does it well. I always love a female protagonist who is comfortable with their own intelligence.

In fact, my biggest complaint would be that the antagonist of this book, while amoral and devious, exists more as a witless foil than a true challenge. While he certainly succeeds in disrupting things in the book (as he must), once his master plan was revealed, I felt a bit let down (really guy, that was your plan? And then what?!).

In all, this is a fun YA book that will appeal to a wide age range. Fans of the previous books will enjoy this one, and anyone who thinks this book looks good should check out the Paper Magician, like, yesterday.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Brigtly Burning by Alexa Donne

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 EyreWITH 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.

Book Review: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove


The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

At some unknown point in time, The Great Disruption fractured the world, sending different areas into different time periods. In the hundred years since, explorers have traveled the globe, trying to map the new world and make sense of this new reality. This story brings us to the New Occident, which roughly corresponds (geographically) to the original thirteen American colonies, in 1891. The government is run in a parliamentary system, where the right to speak can be purchased by the second. Our protagonist, Sophia Tims, comes from a long, distinguished line of explorers and mapmakers. Her uncle, Shadrack, is the preeminent cartologer in the world. When he is kidnapped, Sophia finds herself torn from her comfortable life in Boston as she sets off to rescue her uncle, travelling across countries and across times. But her uncle’s kidnappers are after something legendary, a map that can change the face–and fate–of the world.

This was, simply put, a fantastic YA adventure. It’s one of those stories at crosses age boundaries and can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Sophia is a great character, one who is able to grow and evolve as her world changes around her. Grove also provides us with a number of wonderful supporting characters and villains to flesh out the story. 

Importantly, the world these characters inhabit feels fully formed. The concept of different continents existing in different times is very fun, and Grove makes it work, to ing us insight into the relations between times, their politics, and their religions. 

The Glass Sentence is an adventure story along the lines of The Golden Compass. Anyone looking for a new YA series to try should add this book to their TBR.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess

A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess

Spoiler Alert: This is the second book in the Kingdom of Fire Series (you can read my review of the first book, A Shadow Bright and Burning, here). There are definitely going to be spoilers for the first book in this review. 

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So after defeating Korozoth, The Shadow and Fog, Henrietta Howell finds herself more or less (increasingly less) accepted by the sorcerer community. The ward that protected London is gone, Rook is slowly turning into a monster, she’s still of magician stock, she’s not the chosen one, the remaining Ancient Ones continue to devastate the country, and oh yeah, R’hlem the Skinned Man is demanding she be turned over to him. And engraving that demand in the flesh and bones of her countrymen. So, things are not exactly going smoothly.

When Henrietta’s research uncovers a possible way to defeat the Ancient Ones, her fellow sorcerers are hesitant to jump, as it seems magician magic is needed to defeat the monsters. Henrietta must risk herself, her friends, and her country to uncover the secrets of the Ancient Ones and stop their reign of terror.

I really enjoyed the first book on this series. Cluess’ intelligent use of sexism and classism to construct her magical world was cannily done. Her use of lovecraftian imagery against a Jane Eyre background was excellent, and provided some truly creepy imagery.

Poison does neglect the sharp societal insight of the first book, and the shadow-haunted visuals of the previous story are toned down a bit here. The first was atmospheric and gothic, this book lends itself more to adventure. Less a Jane Eyre and more a Jane Austen.

That is not to say that I didn’t like the book. Cluess keeps the plot running at a frenetic pace (I finished the book in a single day). She also has provided her main characters room to grow and mature. Henrietta herself is a fantastic heroine, flawed and idealistic, traumatized and striving. It is easy for characters like this to become so involved in navel gazing that the reader loses interest, but Cluess manages to keep Henrietta in our hearts.

The requisite love triangle is still there (grumble, grumble, grumble), but the dynamics change throughout the book. In the interest of maintaining a spoiler-free review, I won’t go into detail. Suffice it to say that no one comes out smelling like a rose.

So, if you enjoyed the first book, you’re likely going to enjoy this one as well. Anyone seeking an intelligent YA fantasy series should certainly add this one to their TBR list (but definitely start with the first one).

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas


These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Evelyn is bored. Bored with dresses and balls, bored with her mother’s constant matchmaking schemes, bored with the petty gentlemen she is forced to be pleasant to.

And so begins just about every Victorian-era book, no matter the genre. This one does branch out a bit more: Evelyn’s sister Rose disappears, and her trail follows a mysterious (and huge) Frenchman into London. With her parents concerned more for their reputation than Rose’s safety, Evelyn runs off to find Rose herself. Enlisting the help of dashing Mr. Kent, Evelyn is also forced to work with the infuriating Mr. Braddock, who has a game changing revelation for her: she and her sister may have special powers.

I’m not one of those people who automatically dismiss YA books as beneath my notice. There’s some fantastic work out there and some great stories being told. However, this is one of those genres where it is all too easy to fall into a formulaic trap. Like many recent psychological thrillers have been diminished by trying too hard to be the next Gone Girl, a lot of YA (especially the fantasy genre, which tends to be one of my favorites) suffers by trying to be the next Twilight or Hunger Games. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A young, headstrong girl is dissatisfied with her life, but unsure what she wants to do to improve it. After a calamitous event, she is forced to engage a wider, crueler world at its own level, discovering herself in the process. Oh, and you naturally need two potential romantic interests for her, one is “safe,” and has been around forever, the other someone she will never ever like, someone just so infuriating. . .

It sometimes seems like the same song set to different music. That’s not to say that books that follow the formula are all bad, but you need great characters, strong writing, and something special to set your story apart. Unfortunately, These Vicious Masks falls a bit short. Evelyn is intelligent and willing to defy convention if she can help others, but never becomes a truly sympathetic character. The love triangle is of the dimensions expected from the genre, and doesn’t deviate from the pattern.

Still, YA fantasy enthusiasts may want to give the book a go. I’ve always said that I am picky about the genre.

An audio book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch.jpg

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.

Book Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

shadow-bright-and-burningA 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.

Book Review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Iron Cast Destiny Soria.jpg

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Welcome to Boston, 1919. Well, perhaps not the Boston you are accustomed to. For you see, hemopaths (those infernally talented souls who would have been called witches in a bygone age) live among us; and their ability to ensnare the senses and manipulate ordinary, hardworking people is an ever-present threat.

Or so they would have you believe. Meet Corrine Wells and Ava Navarra, Wordmith and Songsmith, respectively. Ava and Corrine are part of a crew of misfits who work at The Iron Cast, a nightclub/underground entertainment venue on the eve of prohibition. Life isn’t easy as a hemopath, civil, lawful society has made their existence more or less illegal. But within the smokey atmosphere of their speakeasy-style club, hemopaths can feel at home.

That is, until Johnny Dervish, the owner of the club and de facto leader of the hemopaths it employs, is murdered. Suddenly the outcasts have nowhere to go and no one but themselves to turn to. With government agents, rival clubs, and difficult relations circling, Ava and Corrine must find out who is willing to kill to shut down The Iron Cast.

This book is a very enjoyable YA offering that drops you right into the middle of the action without so much as a ‘by-you-leave’. For many books, this is an irredeemable sin, but Destiny Soria manages to lead you through uncharted territory in an exciting way until you are able to find your own way through the world. The story is set in Boston on the eve of Prohibition. The Great War has ended, Jazz is king, Bolsheviks are to be feared and anarchists lurk around every corner. The entire book is infused with the energy of the era. I found Soria’s use of magic to be original and interesting: different types of hemopaths (wordsmiths, songsmiths, thespians, etc.) have different, and well defined abilities. I also rather liked how many of these gifts are tied to a form of creative talent.

In all, if you enjoy the young adult fantasy genre, magic, or the vaguely steampunk, you will likely enjoy this book.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Iron Cast will be available for purchase on October 11th, 2016.