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.

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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).

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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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Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer book cover

Title: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Author: Amy Schumer
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Date of Publication: August 8, 2016
Publisher: Gallery Books


Prior to reading this book, I didn’t have strong feelings for Amy Schumer. I thought she was hilarious in her movies Trainwreck and Snatched, but I thought she could be a little crass in her stand-up comedy.  I didn’t have any strong opinions about her otherwise. I was neutral.  This has changed with this book.

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Book Review: #Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil

#Murdertrending

#murdertrending

Title: #Murdertrending 
Author: Gretchen McNeil
Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Date of Publication: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Freeform


Dee Guerrera is innocent of killing her step-sister, but this doesn’t stop her from being convicted of first-degree murder and sent to the country’s top prison – Alcatraz 2.0.  However, Dee doesn’t spend the rest of her life trapped in a tiny cell. Instead, she becomes one of many stars of a sick reality TV show. Everyday she goes to work at an ice cream parlour on the island called “I Scream” and returns home to her house in the barracks.  But this isn’t an idyllic, peaceful existence.  She—along with all the other convicted criminals—are always in danger. Because on Alcatraz 2.0, there are serial killers who hunt down the prisoners, and the killings are live-streamed for the millions of fans watching from the luxury of their homes.

I absolutely devoured this book in one sitting.  It is a fun, campy, thrilling read with lots of relevant references to pop culture.  However, there aren’t any pop culture references that would date the book. McNeil limits herself to mentions of things like Disney princesses, and classic movies like Rambo and Die Hard. It’s definitely a good idea to stick to the classics, because if you focus too much on a movie that’s a passing fad, the book will lose its relevance in a few years.

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Book Review: The Last by Katherine Applegate

Endling

The Last Book Cover

Title: The Last (Endling #1)
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Date of Publication: May 18, 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books


What a book! I was a HUGE fan of the Animorphs book series, so when I saw this book on the shelf at OLA, I just knew I had to pick it up. I typically don’t review middle-grade books, but I might have to reconsider. Bear in mind that my review won’t be discussing how appropriate this story is to a younger audience, but focusing on the sheer brilliance of the plot and its characters.

I bet you can tell that I loved this book just from my previous sentence. When Byx’s family is killed, she fears that she is an ‘endling’, the last of the species of dairnes, which are doglike creatures that have human qualities, can speak, and can identify when others are lying to them.  Armed with nothing but a map she drew based on stories she heard when she was just a little pup, Byx is joined by other misfits on her journey to find others like her.  But it is quite possible that Byx is the endling, and that she will never find this mysterious land where other dairnes are said to have escaped.

Endling is set in a dynamic and unique world that Applegate has created. While we see some animals that we’re already familiar with—dogs, horses, and even humans—there are new species introduced, like the aforementioned dairnes, as well as wobbyks, felivets, and raptidons.

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