Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Wicked Saints book display

Wicked saints book cover

Title: Wicked Saints
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series:
Something Dark and Holy #1
Date of Publication: April 2, 2019
Publisher: Wednesday Books


Synopsis

The countries of Tranavia and Kalyazi have been at war for over a century.  Kalyazi is the land of the divine, and Tranavia is the land of heretics.  Nadya is a cleric, one who has been hidden away in a monastery for her entire life because of her ability to commune with and channel the power of the gods.  But when Tranavians invade the monastery, killing everyone with their heretical blood magic, Nadya learns that her safe haven is no more. She must run if she’s to survive.  But she encounters some strangers in her travels, and they show her that she can’t run forever. She will have to fight if she wants to end the war and save her land from ruin.

~My Thoughts~

Wicked Saints is a non-stop thrill ride right from the very first pages. We are barely introduced to the main character, Nadya, before a battle erupts at the monastery she’s called home for her entire life.  

The novel also follows Serefin, the High Prince of Tranavia, who is a blood mage and a warrior.  While Nadya believes him to be a ruthless killer, he is revealed to be much more complicated than that.  

This novel has incessant action, which makes the worldbuilding even more impressive. Duncan weaves the intricate details of how the different types of magic work into the story just as the reader needs to know it. It never feels like an information dump. The plot plunges onwards far too quickly for me to feel like I was being bombarded with too much information.

Both types of magic–the power of the gods and the blood mages–are unique and fascinatingly executed.  Blood mages carry a book of spells, ripping out pages and activating them with their own blood. As a cleric, Nadya calls upon the favour of the gods, hoping that they will assist her when she needs their help the most.  

There is a fascinating recurring theme of faith throughout the novel, as Nadya grapples with her beliefs and what she’s coming to learn of the world she lives in.  

Nadya is a relatable, loveable main character. She wants to help those she cares about, she wants to protect her country, and she wants revenge against the mad king of Tranavia for all that she has lost.  Upon escaping the monastery, she meets several strangers, including a Tranavian. She wants to hate him just for what he is, but there’s something undeniably alluring about him. I won’t reveal more in fear of spoiling any twists, but their burgeoning relationship is a highlight of this book.  It isn’t overdone, by far it isn’t the focus of the story, but it is a compelling romance that kept me turning the pages.

 

Wicked Saints book display

Just like the advertisements say: This book is recommended to anyone looking for a blood-drenched young adult, high fantasy fairy tale. It’s not for the faint of heart, or for those who think that they can just put this book down and pick it up again a few days later. Nope, this is a consume-in-one-bite type of novel.

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*Thank you to Wednesday Books and OLA Super Conference for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Killing November by Adriana Mather

Killing November

Killing November book cover

Title: Killing November
Author: Adriana Mather
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Date of Publication: March 26, 2019
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers


~Synopsis~

When November Addley’s father sends her away to boarding school because it’s too dangerous back home, she doesn’t know what to expect. But she definitely doesn’t expect to be sent to a school that’s completely off the grid–with no access to the internet or even electricity. Classes range from poison to dagger-throwing, and November starts to question who her father really is. But she doesn’t have much time to worry about that.  Someone’s killing the students in the school, and November might be next…

~Plot~

This book is fast-paced and intriguing.  There’s a lot of mind-games being played by the teachers and the students, and it’s all explained in detail and incredibly interesting.  It’s definitely a major appeal that sets this book apart from the rest.  The book has quite a few twists along the road, and Mather effectively instills a sense of distrust in every one of the characters, despite the fact that the main character is an optimist.

There are a few tropes present in this story, none of which that I can go into depth over without spoiling major plot points.  However, despite these tropes, the plot is well executed (pun intended 😉 ) and not at all derivative of recurring themes you tend to see in young adult novels these days.  

Like any young adult book, this one has a little romance thrown into the mix, but it isn’t the main focus of the story (no the main focus is training in the art of deception and murder and whatnot).  The romance is cute and moves the story forward, rather than detracting from it.

~Characters~

It’s nice to read a young adult book where the main character is an extrovert. A lot of bookworms can relate to the introverted bookish protagonist, but it can get old pretty quickly.  Killing November is a refreshing take on the student-training-to-be-an-assassin trope. (She’s a friendly extrovert who loves people!? Not exactly what you’d expect from an expert knife thrower.)

Because November is at a school where everyone is hiding their true selves, Mather employs an interesting writing technique to help us get a better sense of who November is.  She frequently refers to her best friend Emily in her inner dialogue. The way that she talks about Emily and the things that Emily would say to her is very informative about November’s personality and past.
Killing November

I recommend this book to those looking for a quick read about people training in the arts of poison and deception. There’s a lot of politics and deceit, and it’s nothing like your typical high school drama.  I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment in this series!

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*Thank you to Knopf Books for Young Readers and OLA Super Conference for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room

the escape room book cover

Title: The Escape Room 
Author: Megan Goldin
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: July 30, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Synopsis

Four Wall Street finance hot shots are invited by their company to an escape room.  How bad can it be? The rules are simple: Solve the puzzles to escape. They quickly discover that this escape room is unlike any other: it’s in a cramped elevator.  The puzzles are also different from typical escape rooms. The questions are personal… and the stakes are high. There’s also one puzzle that’s up for the reader to solve. Which one of them is a killer?

Plot

The Escape Room is gripping from its very first page.  The writing is fast-paced and engaging.  While characters are fleshed out quite nicely and there is a lot of description and introspection, the plot never lags. Every word serves a special purpose, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the pages.

There are two timelines in the novel. There’s the one with the escape room. Sylvie, Jules, Sam, and Vincent all work on the same team at Stanhope, a top-tier finance company.  The company has lost some big clients in the last quarter, and all four of them are worried about losing their jobs. And when they receive a strange invitation to an escape room, how can they to refuse?  

The second timeline follows Sara Hall as she gets her first job out of her MBA at Stanhope. She had wanted to become a doctor, but her parents are sick, and she needed a job that would pay right away so that she could cover their medical bills.  Once she arrives at Stanhope, she’s assigned to work closely with Sylvie, Jules, Sam, and Vincent…

Both timelines are engaging and fit seamlessly together. There are many little cliffhangers at the end of chapters that left me reading way past my bedtime.  The novel also has a lot of commentary on sexism in the workplace.  The world of finance is a particularly bad culprit for this.

My only complaint is that the escape room clues are a little on the nose. I found it a little unrealistic that these high-flying finance geniuses couldn’t solve the puzzles with a quick glance.  The first puzzle made sense–they wouldn’t expect it to be personal.  But after that?  One of the clues was a riddle that I heard and thought was clever in elementary school. The fact that it was a clue for adults made me chuckle.

Setting

As mentioned before, the novel is set at a top-tier finance firm on Wall Street.  Everything that Goldin writes emphasizes this. She does a lot of designer brand name dropping, which accentuates this quite nicely. She also does something that a lot of books don’t do–by putting price tags on everything.  Salaries, the cost of designer suits, etc. is all spelled out for the reader. For the average person like me, the cost of things was slightly stressful, which I think was the author’s purpose. Sara doesn’t have much money, and a lot of what she’s making has to go back to pay her parents’ medical bills and their rent, this writing technique instills the anxiety that Sara Hall feels about money into the reader.  Also, it made me think that maybe I should go back to school for an MBA.  

Characters

Sara Hall gets the first-person POV scenes.  She’s clearly the main character. She has quite a bit of character development, and she is a likeable and relatable protagonist.  Goldin shows the deterioration of her relationship with her family as Sara becomes more and more caught up in the world of finance.  The four people trapped in the elevator, on the other hand, are not at all likeable, which is clearly the point that the author was trying to make.  Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie are each loathsome in a unique way that has nothing to do with the fact that they’re money-grubbing and ambitious to a fault. This should have made each of the characters interchangeable (aren’t all Wall Street types the same?), but Goldin distinguishes them quite nicely in their flaws, with their complicated pasts, intriguing presents and uncertain futures.

The Escape Room

I recommend this book to anyone looking for an intense and quick read.  If you’re a slower reader, you shouldn’t pick this up too close to bedtime, or you’ll never get to sleep.

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*Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

Crown of Feathers book photo

Crown of Feathers book cover

Title: Crown of Feathers
Author: Nicki Pau Preto
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Crown of Feathers book 1

Date of Publication: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse


Synopsis

Veronyka is a war orphan who was raised by her deceased grandmother and her older sister, Val. Veronyka and her sister are “animages”, and have the ability to communicate with animals.  This is not uncommon in the world they live in, but ever since the war their kind have been persecuted.  Val and Veronyka want nothing more than to become Phoenix Riders, like the heroes who fought during the war.

After a terrible betrayal, Veronyka flees from her sister and finds a sanctuary for her kind, a place where apprentices are being trained as Phoenix Riders. The only catch? If she wants to become a Phoenix Rider–to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become the hero she’s always dreamt of being—she’s going to have to pretend to be a boy.

Characters and Plot

It’s difficult to separate out characters and plot for this book, since there are several point of view characters, and each of their plotlines are heavily influenced by who they are.

We primarily follow three characters in this book. All three of them have fascinating story arcs.  All three of them overcome their fears over the span of the first novel in this trilogy and begin the journey of accepting who they truly are.

First off, there’s Veronyka, the protagonist, who escapes from her (let’s face it—abusive) sister to join the Phoenix Riders while masquerading as a boy.  Her storyline is perhaps the most engaging, as it is the main focus of the story.  I absolutely love her unadulterated adulation of phoenixes and her sheer will to do whatever it takes to become a Phoenix Rider.

Continue reading “Book Review: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto”

Book Review: Lady Killers by Tori Telfer

Lady Killers book cover

Lady Killers Book Cover

Title: Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History
Author: Tori Telfer 
Genre: True Crime 
Date of Publication: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Harper Perennial 


Tori Telfer has compiled this compelling compendium that features female serial killers throughout history.  Each murderess is illustrated with an absolutely gorgeous pen-and-ink portrait done by Dame Darcy.

Telfer opens the book with a well-researched discussion of female serial killers. In 1998, it was infamously stated by an FBI profiler that female serial killers simply do not exist. This is clearly not the case. Telfer talks about how men in power have carefully constructed their own narrative around each of these female killers. Uncomfortable with the idea that a woman could kill in cold blood, they rewrite the story. For instance, infamous Erzsebet Bathory was a “vampire” or a “seductress”, when in reality she probably just enjoyed murdering people.  Even the names given to certain killers, like Nannie Doss, the “Giggling Grandma”, is meant to lessen the impact of what they did.  Telfer provides a critical analysis of why humanity is tempted to reason away the acts of female killers, and it’s really quite fascinating a read for those interested in sociology and psychology.

Telfer doesn’t just write about the murderesses, what they did, and the punishment they may or may not have faced for it. She delves into the historical context, providing information about the world that the women grew up in, which in more times than not, greatly impacts the decisions each killer made. Telfer dives in to the potential motives for each of the killers.  Some of the killers were trying to survive economically, and others could have been simply sadistic. This is likely the case for certain murderesses, like the aristocratic killers Erzsebet Bathory and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova.

Some reviews complain about the book having excessive amounts of detail, but I must argue against this point. The detail provides critical information about what could possibly have motivated these women to kill.  It gives us the full picture. It’s what makes reading a book like this different from scrolling through a Buzzfeed article.  Readers can come to their own conclusions, because they know more than just a cursory amount of information about the situation. I personally enjoyed the little tidbits of information about each time period. For instance, how aristocratic women living in Erzsebet Bathory’s time period plucked their hairlines, so that they would have high foreheads. This little detail is something that will stay with me for a while, as a woman in 2019 with an unusually high hairline.  I would have been aristocratic back then. Sigh.

Some parts of this book got a little grotesque.  Telfer does not shy away from describing what some of the more disturbing murderesses were accused of doing.  She does not mute the effects of arsenic on the body. I’d had no idea how painful it was, having grown up watching movies like Arsenic and Old Lace, which romanticize a horrible poison so commonly used by women throughout history.

 

Lady Killers Book Cover

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, but wants to know more about female serial killers.  As I said before, it’s highly detailed, so if you’re not interested in learning about the time periods that each murderess lived in, this might not be the book for you.  There’s a broad selection of women throughout history, including infamous killers like Elizabeth Bathory and Mary Ann Cotton, to lesser known killers, like Raya and Sakina, sister killers in 1920s Egypt.

*Thank you to Harper Perennial for the book for review*

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Book Review: Lipstick Voodoo by Kristi Charish

Lipstick Voodoo

Lipstick Voodoo book cover

Title: Lipstick Voodoo
Author: Kristi Charish 
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Kincaid Strange # 2

Date of Publication: January 8, 2019
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada


Kincaid Strange is back in this dark and adventurous follow up to “The Voodoo Killings”.

Since this is the second in the series, there are spoilers for the first book in this review!

Synopsis:

Voodoo practitioner Kincaid Strange is invited by her ex-boyfriend, a cop, to consult on a cold case that just might have been a paranormal murder.  The case is connected to her roommate, Nathan Cade, the ghost of a 90s grunge rock star.  Meanwhile, Kincaid must also navigate a new relationship with her new mentor, the ghost of a psychopath sorcerer who used nefarious means to coerce her into becoming his apprentice. Everyone has their secrets, but who can Kincaid trust?

World-Building

This book is captivating from its very first page. I absolutely adore the detailed world that Charish has created.  It’s similar to real-life Seattle, but very dark and swarming with ghosts, zombies, ghouls, and other mysterious creatures from the Otherside.  The amount of detail that Charish has put into engineering this world is praiseworthy. As a health sciences librarian, I almost died from excitement when she mentioned “PubDead”, the paranormal version of PubMed. Let’s be friends, Kristi.

A major part of the world-building is the scientific way that Otherside works in this series.  Discussions of binding ghosts and setting mirrors all have a very matter-of-fact tone, with detailed nuances.  Some pages read like a paranormal textbook, but with a little more sass, since it’s all coming from Kincaid’s point of view.

Plot

There are several plot lines in this story that are seamlessly interwoven.  I love how Charish blended effortlessly from one to the other, and they’re so interconnected it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. Excellent storytelling.

Characters

Side characters in this book are also well-developed. Gideon, the mysterious ghost of a sorcerer, is quite intriguing.  This book gives us just enough information about his past to  give us a better sense of who he is, but he’s still an enigma.  

Since Nate is a ghost, he isn’t expected to grow as a person, which is something Kincaid comments on in the book. However, I noticed that he had a little development of his own, which I won’t reveal here, because it’s a spoiler!

I did find the character development for her love interest, ex-boyfriend Aaron, to be lacking. It seems like Kincaid makes a revelation about their relationship (or lack thereof) during the latter half of the book, but it isn’t quite addressed fully enough for my liking before the final pages. I suppose I’ll have to wait for the next book for this.  

Lipstick Voodoo

I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in a dark fantasy with a badass female lead.  It has a very detailed world, but it’s not presented in a monotonous way.  It’s very similar in feel to Kim Harrison’s Hollows book series.  

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*Thank you to Vintage Canada and Netgalley for the ARC for review!*

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Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula cover

Dracula book cover

Title: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker 
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: 1897
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Format:
Audiobook,


Before reading Dracula, I had seen almost every iteration of it on television–from the original Bela Lugosi film to the remake TV series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  I have to say that, in this case, the book is better than the movie. Which movie, you ask? Every. Single. One.

I absolutely loved the writing style and the way that Stoker carefully cultivated a tense and bleak atmosphere. This entire book is written in epistolary style–through journal entries and letters and the occasional newspaper article. This in itself should make it challenging to craft an effectively dark and chilling atmosphere, which is required in any good horror novel. Yet somehow Stoker manages to, not only develop a unique voice for each of the characters, but to create that deep sense of foreboding that is so common in great horror books. I found certain passages spellbinding, and I was shocked to discover how a book that was written over a hundred years ago could still be terrifying. (Thanks to Renfield I’ll never look at a fly OR a spider the same way again).

Continue reading “Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker”

Book Review: Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

Kill Creek Book Cover

kill creek book cover

Title: Kill Creek
Author: Scott Thomas
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: October 31, 2017
Publisher: Inkshares


World-renowned horror author Sam McGarver has writer’s block.  He hasn’t written anything in two years. So when he’s mysteriously invited to spend Halloween at an allegedly haunted house, he figures he has nothing to lose. When he gets there, he discovers that the reporter who invited him, infamous Wainwright of the website “WrightWire”, actually invited three other horror authors as well. All four of them write completely different types of horror, yet they’re all brought to the house for a group interview as a publicity stunt to increase sales of their future books. But when the sun goes down strange things start to happen in the house, and Sam starts to wonder—what if this house really is haunted?

Kill Creek brings Gothic horror into the modern era.  In the very first chapter, Sam McGarver, who is also a professor at the university, gives a lecture on the elements of true Gothic horror.  It did not go over my head that this book addresses all of these key components. The house on Kill Creek has a tragic, mysterious history that Thomas shares with the reader in the very prologue of the book. This sets the stage for the disturbing events that follow…

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the end of the Lane

the ocean at the end of the lane book cover

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane 
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Date of Publication: June 18, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a haunting and riveting tale of a man who returns home for the funeral of his father.  When he’s there, he’s compelled to go to the house at the end of the lane, where the most peculiar girl, Lettie Hempstock, once lived. While he doesn’t remember much about her, the story of what happened when he was a child is revealed through a flashback…

This is novel is like a dark and slightly twisted version of A Wrinkle in Time There’s a strange magic surrealism to the story from the very beginning, all the way through until it becomes very clear that there’s something supernatural going on. Written from a child’s perspective, Gaiman effectively provides the impression that the world is viewed through a child’s eyes without sacrificing quality of language or the impact of the story.

I absolutely loved the way that Neil Gaiman implemented little asides and anecdotes within the narrative, which served to flesh out the main character and give us insight into his personality through showing and not telling. For example, no one came to his childhood birthday party, and there was a comment about fifteen empty folding chairs. That line and the sheer loneliness of it has stuck with me for weeks after finishing the book.

This is my first non-Sandman graphic novel series Neil Gaiman book, and it did not disappoint. I read other reviews indicating that he’s writing about a theme (growing up) he’s apparently visited and revisited numerous times, as if this is a valid criticism of the quality of the story on its own. While I haven’t read his other books, I do know that this one definitely has literary merit.  I might just have to check out these other stories.

My only criticism is that while the protagonist has ample character development, secondary characters aren’t given as much attention.  However, this could be an artifact of the nature of seven-year-old boys and how they perceive the world.  While he’s fascinated by the mysterious girl who lives at the end of the lane, he doesn’t bother to analyze his family and what they themselves are going through.

Neil Gaiman book

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a darkly beautiful story of a boy growing up in a world that’s like our own but not quite right. It’s lyrically written, but the plot moves quickly.

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Book Review: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft

Toil and Trouble book cover

Toil & Trouble book cover

Title: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Editors: Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Anthology
Date of Publication: August 28, 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Teen


The title says it all.  This is a collection of 15 short stories about magic and witchcraft, but it’s a lot more than that.  Each of the stories uses fantasy elements as a metaphor for real life experiences and social issues.  I was attracted to this anthology because it was touted as being a diverse anthology, and it does not disappoint.

There are some recurring themes that are worth mentioning, but I’ll avoid any spoilers in this discussion.  This book definitely has literary merit.  Some of the short stories deal with overcoming the oppression of being a woman – how “witches” were viewed historically (and even in present day).  There are common themes of “growing up” and maturation, overcoming fears and obstacles, coming out as LGBTQ+, and becoming an adult.  This is a must read for any teenager who just happens to like magic. (So basically all teenagers).

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