Book Review: Her Crown of Fire by Renee April

Her Crown of Fire

Her Crown of Fire

Title: Her Crown of Fire 
Author: Renee April
Series: Molten Fire # 1

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 1, 2019
Publisher: Write Plan


Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Rose Evermore is just a normal teenager who has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. That is, until she suddenly discovers her magical affinity for fire and develops dreams that predict the future.  Before she knows it, she winds up in a fantasy realm called Lotheria—with her best friend, Tyson, who has no magic. She is taken to the mysterious Academy to learn to use her magic, while Tyson must hide from the authorities—at the risk of death.  Rose needs to find a way to get them back home, before Tyson becomes the next target of the headmasters’ frightening wrath.

My Thoughts

This book is a real page-turner! I had a hard time putting this book down at bedtime.  From the first page I could tell that this was going to be different from other books like this. I kept expecting it to fall into common tropes.  While it’s still a book about a girl who discovers her magical powers and is torn away from her life and forced to live in a magical world where she must attend a school for magic, the individual plot points are quite unique from other similar books.

The atmosphere of this story is quite dark, darker than expected, and the Headmasters of the school are far from warm and cuddly. Punishments are severe, and they come with even the teeniest, tiniest of infractions.

At the risk of spoilers, I want to be super vague when I talk about the romance in this story. Rose does not fall for who I was expecting her to fall for, which was a pleasant surprise.  I was fully expecting April to write the more obvious of the romances (there are quite a few potential love interests), and she went with someone else entirely.  That said, the romance felt rushed towards the end of the book, and I would have preferred if Rose had interacted with her love interest a little more earlier on, had some longing glances and whatnot to build up to their passionate love affair.

I did find a few parts of the book confusing, especially earlier on. When Rose first shows up in this unique world and is taken to the Academy to study magic, she experiences a strange magical… something. Was it a test? A hazing ritual?  I’m still not entirely sure what I had read, and it happened early enough in the book that it left me worried that I would experience that level of confusion again. Fortunately, it’s the only part of the book that really left me scratching my head, as everything else was quite easy to follow.  If you experience the same while reading this book, I encourage you to push through it, because this read is quite rewarding!

One part of the book that I absolutely adored is the use of Runes. April has created a unique type of magic that leaves me aching for more. You know that a writer has created an interesting type of magic when I long to read a textbook on the subject. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I want to read a textbook on Runes written by Renee April. (I am a librarian and researcher, after all! It shouldn’t be so hard to believe). Other aspects of the magic in this world are just as interesting, especially the unique take on soulmates, and I’m eager to explore this world more in the next instalment in this series.

Her Crown of Fire

I recommend this book to anyone looking to get lost in a dark, magical world.

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*Thank you to Write Plan for the advanced reader copy for review*

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Book Review: Beneath London’s Fog by Iona Caldwell

Beneath London's Fog book cover

Title: Beneath London’s Fog 
Author: Iona Caldwell
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Date of Publication: October 30, 2019
Publisher: FyreSyde Publishing


Synopsis

A centuries-old vampire haunts the streets of London at night, but he isn’t the monster one would expect. Jonathan once fell in love with a human, Anna, who died tragically, breaking his heart.  Now he does not kill to feed, though it would make him stronger. He lives in the feared Raven Hollow Manor with his daughter, an orphaned human he adopted.  Since he does not kill, he is safe from persecution, that is, until another vampire comes to town and this one doesn’t share Jonathan’s moral code…

Plot 

This is a novella, which is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength, because every word that Caldwell writes serves a purpose to either create atmosphere, plunge the plot forward, or develop three-dimensional characters. It’s also a weakness because I wanted more!

This book is rocket-fast paced. It’s designed as a quick and tumultuous adventure, rather than a long and arduous trek, which is often the case with Victorian-era vampire fiction.

There are many flashbacks throughout the story, but they felt a little too rushed to my liking. It often felt like a scene ended just when it was really beginning.  Caldwell had a dynamic idea that could have easily been extended into a full-length piece.

The plot of this novel did seem familiar, as if I’ve read it before. While deemed “horror” the book isn’t particularly scary. However, it does deal with some dark themes, (and vampires ripping out people’s throats is always considered horror, right?). That said, I would categorize this book more as a compelling mystery masquerading as a Gothic vampire horror.

Characters 

While fast-paced, the novel doesn’t forego necessary character descriptions. Jonathan isn’t a mysterious cloaked figure, but a well-fleshed out character. Caldwell does this through flashbacks as well as present-day interactions with his daughter.

Because of the shortness of the book, we don’t get to see as much of other characters, such as the villain (I’ll leave it vague since that’s a  spoiler!) or even his daughter, Anna. I would have liked to learn more about Anna, her motivations, and maybe experience more flashbacks to when she was first adopted by this creature of the night. What happens when a centuries-old vampire is raising a teenager? I’m hoping that future instalments in this series will give me the juicy details that I want!

Language

Beneath London’s Fog reads like other classic vampire stories–particularly Dracula or Interview with the Vampire. The style is authentic to the time period. The writing is also almost epistolary in the way that Jonathan seems to address the reader, but this isn’t extended throughout the whole story, which might have disconnected the readers from the action.

While Caldwell uses an older style of writing, this doesn’t detract from the quick pace of reading.  There aren’t any long, monotonous speeches, as seen in classic horror novels such as Dracula.  That said, there were occasional parts where the grammar seemed stilted, which is to be expected when using this style of writing.

Setting

Somehow in a 100-page novel, Caldwell hits all four readers advisory (librarian-nerd alert!) appeal factors–including setting, which is often neglected in shorter pieces.  She takes her time describing the city, as well as Raven Hollow Manor. She provides twisted history of this building, which was a delightfully dark surprise. But again, I wish she had delved deeper into the beautiful world she created. I wanted to learn more about the madman that had once lived in Raven Hollow, or the monster that apparently lurks deep beneath it.

Beneath London's Fog

I recommend this novella to anyone looking for a cozy horror story to read on a cold evening while curled up by the fireplace with a cat on one side and a glass of blood–er–wine on the other.

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*Thank you to FyreSyde Publishing for the advanced reader copy for review*

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Book Review: Nobody Move by Philip Elliott

Nobody Move

Nobody Move Book Cover

Title: Nobody Move
Author: Philip Elliott
Series: Angel City # 1

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Date of Publication: September 10, 2019
Publisher: Into the Void


Synopsis

When Eddie Vegas is sent to shake down a man who owes a lot of money to his employer, he makes a fatal error and ends up accidentally killing the guy.  Since Eddie’s boss now holds him personally responsible for repaying the $50,000, he takes off. Now, not only is Eddie on the run from his former boss and partners in crime, but the man he killed had allies that are out for blood. His blood.

My Thoughts

Nobody Move is a rocket-fast paced black-comedy thriller that I finished in just an evening.  It’s one of the books where I kept looking at the clock and saying “All right, I’ll read one more chapter”, and before I knew it, it was past my bedtime and I’d finished the book.

This novel reads like a noir thriller, particularly in the beginning.  Philip Elliott frequently references the movies that clearly inspired his style, like Pulp Fiction and the Godfather.  That said, I did get the feeling he was referencing movies a little too often.  It was humorous, however, that the bad guys were getting ideas for how to handle situations based on the movies they’d seen.  The book itself, including its plot and the way that Eddie keeps making foolish mistakes, reminds me a lot of the movie Fargo.  For example, some of the shadier characters tell little colourful anecdotes throughout the novel.  These little stories often have a hidden (or blatantly obvious) relevance to what’s going on and how the rest of the story will unfold.

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Book Review: The Whisper Man by Alex North

The Whisper Man

The Whisper Man Book cover

Title: The Whisper Man
Author: Alex North
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Date of Publication: August 20, 2019
Publisher: Celadon Books


Synopsis

After the sudden death of Tom’s wife, he moves himself and his son, Jake, to the dreamy town of Featherbank to start over. Little does he know that a little boy was recently kidnapped and killed, in a way that is oddly reminiscent of the Whisper Man, a serial killer that haunted Featherbank twenty years earlier. A serial killer that is supposedly behind bars. Tom’s fresh start might be over before it begins, as the Whisper Man puts Jake in his cross hairs.

Plot

“If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken”.

Chills!

The Whisper Man is one of the spookier thrillers I’ve read in a while. Fast-paced and atmospheric, I finished this book in just a couple of sleepless nights.

The book itself has a relatively common premise – a serial killer from years ago may have had a partner who has struck again. But this book introduces unique elements–The Whisper Man with his nursery rhyme, the multiple perspectives, including one of the father of a potential future victim. The story is gripping, and Alex North has a phenomenal way of taking this trope and running with it.

There are quite a few good twists in the book, and the first one actually had me reeling. I did not see it coming. I had to reread that page of that reveal a few times, because the knowledge would not stick!

Characters

One of the highlights of this book is the touching relationship between Tom and his son, Jake. Even though they haven’t had an easy time since Tom’s wife died, they love each other dearly, and it comes across in the writing. They fight, as many fathers and sons do, but everything is laced with the pain of losing someone so close to them.  There are fatherhood themes throughout the novel tie in together quite nicely to make this book more than just a thriller about a serial killer.

As mentioned earlier, the book is told in multiple perspectives. The protagonist, Tom, has chapters that are written in first person. We also get scenes from the points of view of Jake, as well as investigators Pete and Amanda, but these chapters are all in third person. Jake’s chapters were particularly engaging. They’re well-written, but you can easily tell they’re from the viewpoint of a child, with that wide-eyed innocence shining through in the author’s writing.

The Whisper Man

I recommend this book to those who want to read a serial killer thriller that is fast-paced, engaging, and not quite like the rest of them.

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*Thank you to Netgalley and Celadon Books for the arc to 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: Hometown Boys by Mary Maddox

Hometown Boys

Hometown Boys book cover

Title: Hometown Boys
Editors: Mary Maddox
Genre: Horror, fantasy
Date of Publication: January 21, 2019
Series: Kelly Durrell # 2

Publisher: Cantraip Press


Synopsis

Kelly Durrell returns home twenty years after escaping the monotony of small-town Morrison.  Her aunt and uncle were brutally murdered by her high school boyfriend, Troy Ingram, and he claims that he did it because she broke his heart twenty years ago.  Convinced that he’s lying, Kelly takes it upon herself to investigate the murders. Some things have changed in the last twenty years, but others have stayed the same.  The townies are still vindictive and look down on outsiders, which she herself has become.  Will Kelly she be able to find whoever she believes coerced Troy to kill her aunt and uncle before it’s too late?

Plot

This is the second instalment in the Kelly  Durrell series, but it isn’t necessary to read these in order. There was a brief mention of the climactic events in the last book, but I didn’t feel like I was missing any critical information.

Hometown Boys has a solid start, with a lot of action and intriguing plot elements, but it does lag a little towards the middle.  However, every time the story pace slows significantly, a surprising and seemingly random event occurs that propels the plot forward, sending jolts of excitement down my spine.  These twists and turns kept the pages turning, transforming the story into a compelling read.

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Book Review: I Invited Her In by Adele Parks

I Invited Her In Book Cover

I Invited Her in book cover

Title: I Invited her In
Editors: Adele Parks
Genre: Domestic Psychological Thriller 
Date of Publication: September 20, 2018
Publisher: MIRA


I invited her in… and she took everything…

Synopsis

Melanie hasn’t heard from her college best friend, Abigail, in over twenty years. But when Abigail calls her up to ask for a place to stay as she divorces her cheating husband, Melanie is thrilled.  She invites her in with open arms, which–as you can probably tell from the book’s title and its assigned genre of “domestic suspense”–isn’t a good thing…

Plot

I was surprised by how slow this book started. I’m used to psychological and domestic suspenses starting with a bang – in the form of a prologue or a little taste of what’s to come – and then go through the monotony of introducing the main character and her humdrum life, easing the reader into the plotline, etc. While the “suspense” element wasn’t immediately apparent (and by “immediate”, I mean not even within the first 100 pages), the writing was compelling.  I found that I was curious to uncover what would happen next. However, the book is very slowly paced and character driven.  Not a lot of anything happens in the first half of the book.

As I said before, there aren’t  a lot of thrills in the first half of the book, and you have to really want to find the “thriller” aspect to even feel the slightest bit of suspense. Some chapters are from Abigail’s point of view, and she doesn’t come across as ominous or unhinged, especially in the first few chapters with her POV.  It might have added more suspense to not know what she was thinking.  Especially since it can be difficult to write someone’s point of view without revealing their motives or what their plans are.  That said, the end of her chapters tended to have a single line that made me itch for more. A single line that could be interpreted as innocuous or foreboding.  I chose the latter, because that made it a more interesting read.

There are a few plot twists, but they’re all quite obvious from the very beginning.  I won’t spoil them here, but if you are reading the book carefully enough, the twists aren’t even twists at all, but more like a natural progression of the plot.

I found the story line somewhat infuriating.  While Melanie is quite a normal person, I couldn’t relate to how she dealt with some of the things going on, especially later on in the book.  The plot grew more and more exasperating, which was partly because the twists were obvious, but also because of how slow paced the story was in addition to how nonsensical some of the characters were behaving.  And it wasn’t infuriating in that fun “Oh, gosh, why can’t they see what’s been in front of them all along!?” kind of way, more in the “Dammit, why are you so stupid!?” kind of way.

Continue reading “Book Review: I Invited Her In by Adele Parks”

Book Review: In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

In The Night Wood

In the night wood book cover

Title: In the Night Wood
Author: Dale Bailey
Genre: Fantasy
Date of Publication: October 9, 2018
Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


When he was just a young boy, Charles Hayden discovered a mysterious Victorian children’s book called “In the Night Wood”.  Years later, Charles is a failing scholar who is obsessed with the book that so greatly influenced his life. His wife is a distant relative of Caedmon Hollow, the author of “In the Night Wood”.  When she inherits Hollow’s home, he moves there with her to run away from their shared tragic past–the death of their six-year-old daughter.  Charles hopes that he can use this opportunity write a biography of Caedmon Hollow.  Digging deep into the past is never a good idea, however, and it quickly becomes apparent that “In the Night Wood” was inspired by the forest surrounding Hollow’s home.  But how much is truth and how much is fiction? 

The writing style is one of the book’s greatest strengths, and Caedmon Hollow’s Victorian-style house, the woods surrounding it, and the neighbouring town are all beautifully described.  However, I felt that the story somehow managed to feel too rushed, while very little actually happens. The story doesn’t have much substance.  In the Night Wood is quite short, but based on content, it could have easily been a novella or even a short story.

Continue reading “Book Review: In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey”

Book Review: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger

Under My Skin

under my skin book cover

Title: Under My Skin
Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Park Row


A year ago, Poppy’s husband was brutally murdered while out for an early-morning jog. Poppy can’t remember what happened to her in the days following his death. She hasn’t been the same ever since.  At night, she’s having terrible nightmares, and during the day, she keeps seeing a hooded man who follows her everywhere. But how much of this is real? Are the nightmares memories? Does the hooded man even exist? But, most importantly, does Poppy have buried memories of who killed her husband, and if she does, does she even want to remember?

Poppy is a photographer, and though she hasn’t photographed anything since her husband’s death, her perspective—the way she sees the world—is coloured by her artist’s perspective. She evaluates the people around her, not just the persona that they show to the world, but who they really are. What lies Under their skin.  This unique perspective was more noticeable earlier in the book, and as the story’s events unfold, it becomes clear that Poppy isn’t quite as observant as she believed herself to be.

Continue reading “Book Review: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger”

Book Review: Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux

Madame Victoria

madame victoria book cover

Title: Madame Victoria
Author: Catherine Leroux
Genre: Literary
Date of Publication: November 13, 2018
Publisher: Biblioasis


In 2001, a skeleton was discovered in the woods behind the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec.  The remains were never claimed.  The mystery woman was lovingly referred to as Madame Victoria by those who sought to identify her.  Her case was eventually set aside, replaced by more urgent matters. But Catherine Leroux won’t let Madame Victoria be forgotten.  In this compelling novel, Leroux has crafted twelve possible backgrounds for Madame Victoria.

Each individual history is equally breathtaking and heartbreaking.  The stories are framed by the tales of the people affected by Madame Victoria’s discovery.  Their realization that she will never be identified and the impact that this has on their lives complements the mystery woman’s possible histories in a tragically beautiful way.

The stories are connected by common imagery and the theme of invisibility.  Through each story, Leroux reveals a kaleidoscope of emotion and human experience.  Each version of Madame Victoria was forgotten for different reasons.  A few of the stories towards the end became fantastical – with a little science fiction and fantasy thrown into the mix.  This added to the complexity and sheer uniqueness of the book, although my favourite stories are those based in realism.

Leroux uses captivating imagery in her writing, and the words drip off the pages like liquid sugar.  She could write about filing your taxes and turn it into a poignant piece that leaves the reader in tears.  I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Madame Victoria

I recommend this book to those who want to read a modern Canadian literary gem, and for those who don’t mind a little tragedy in their leisure reading.  That said, I can see Madame Victoria becoming an assigned book in high school French language classes across Canada.

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*Thank you to Biblioasis for the advanced reader copy!*

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