Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

downamongthesticksandbonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Wayward Children #2

Date Published: June 13th, 2017

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 189 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted. 

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I absolutely adored this novel, which is why it has taken me so long to write up this review—I’m having so much trouble trying to find the right words to express how much I loved it. The first novel in this series, Every Heart a Doorway, was an already amazing start, but this sequel completely surpassed it in my opinion. Once again, McGuire brings us another captivating modern fairytale that is very dark in tone, and has a very beautiful yet bittersweet plot line. She has a gift for mixing together the perfect amount of relatable reality with the peculiar, the sinister, and the bizarre.

Much like the previous installment, McGuire focuses in on the stark contrast between fantasy and reality—how easy and freeing it can be to escape into fantasy, and the pains of suddenly being forced back into the real world. It tackles the subject of self-discovery and breaking away from the labels that society and even the people who are supposed to have our best interests at heart put on us. Even with the fantastical elements, at its core, this story is a highly relatable depiction of what every single one of us has gone through or will go through in our lives—the universal idea of finding oneself and being accepted.

Unlike the first novel, we get a chance to fully dive into one of those fantasy worlds from which the wayward children come back, making this an incredibly unique and utterly captivating story. It honestly could work perfectly as a standalone, but is definitely most interesting in the context of the rest of the series. I didn’t think I could love these books or Seanan McGuire’s writing any more than I did already, but this novel completely proved me wrong.

In this novel, we jump back in time to explore the experiences of two previous side characters—twins Jacqueline and Jillian—in their formative years, both with their family and during their time in the Moors, their alternate world. The two girls are brought up in the strictly regimented lives of their parents, who wish to mold them into what they perceive as the perfect children. Jacqueline is placed in the role of her mother’s perfect daughter—always wearing dresses, never getting her clothes soiled, and faultlessly polite. On the other side, Jillian becomes her father’s idea of the perfect daughter—an adventurous tom-boy who plays sports with the boys and is never afraid to get dirty.

In their youngest years, they play along in their assigned roles without question. But as they grow and experience life, the twins begin to wonder why—why their personalities are being dictated for them and why they can’t break away. Just as they are beginning to figure out what they truly want in life, the door to their other world appears. Soon, they are walking separate paths and coming into their own—learning that there are no set rules for how to be a girl. But in this eerie and twisted world, the sisters veer away from each other in more ways than they ever could have predicted.

The main aspect of this novel that I adored was getting the chance to see the background of these two characters—whom we’ve already come to care about—and actually delving deeply into the intriguing and frightening world of the Moors, in which they find themselves living for a time. Unlike the first novel, this one deals primarily with Jack and Jill’s time in their alternate world, rather than with the result of spending so long living there. It was wonderful to really explore the details of one of these fantasies that is only hinted at previously. McGuire has already proved her immense talent for the creative and unique, but she is able to take it to a whole new level with this particular story.

McGuire does another spectacular job creating vivid and multi-dimensional characters in this novel, despite the limitations of its length. Jack and Jill evolve a great deal throughout the course of the narrative. Having this extra time to experience these two characters helped flesh out their personalities even more than the previous novel did. Though none of us have had lives quite like theirs’, the struggle to find oneself in a society that is obsessed with labeling is a common theme that any reader can connect with.

Jack and Jill’s parents are horribly selfish, yet a hugely important element of the novel. Their parts in forcing the two girls into the lives and personalities that they would like them to have is an essential trigger for Jack and Jill finally realizing and becoming who they are truly meant to be. It is their strictness that sends them looking for answers and toward the door that has just opened for them. All of their efforts to mold the perfect daughters only drives the twins more toward independence and the ability to discover themselves.

The writing, as in the first novel, is once again pure magic. Seanan McGuire’s talent at crafting these beautiful and unique little vignettes is boundless. Her writing is fluid and simple, but her words contain a great amount of depth. This novel is slightly slower-paced than its predecessor, but that does not make it any less compulsively readable. For me, I loved the fact that I could take my time and really get wrapped up in the world. Even though I am always left dying for more, the narrative as a whole is a solid, complete, and fulfilling story.

The term that continuously returns to my mind when reading or thinking about these stories is “fractured fairytales”. They are enchanting and magical, as any fairytale is, yet also broken and sharp. They take you on a journey beyond the boundaries of the natural world, to the furthest reaches of your imagination, and then cut into you with their menacing undertones and unsettling twists. Instead of being sparkling and refreshing, they are murky and rough around the edges.

Everything about this novel is darkly beautiful, enchanting, heartbreaking, and bittersweet—there wasn’t a single moment that I didn’t love with all my heart. McGuire expertly unfolds another haunting, gritty, and whimsical modern day fairytale that is sure to captivate readers. It is such a short story, but it packs a huge punch in a small amount of time, and the length never inhibits the reader’s ability to become enveloped by this world. Though I don’t want it to be over just yet, I am still absolutely dying to get my hands on the final book in this trilogy.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Remember, Remember by Anna Elliott

rememberrememberRemember, Remember by Anna Elliot

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries #3

Date Published: April 21st, 2017

Publisher: Wilton Press

Pages: 357 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A lovely American actress awakens in London on a cold morning in 1897 – lying face down on the concrete pavement outside the British Museum. She has no memories. She does not even know who she is, although she has a vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes. What she believes is that she has may have just killed someone, and that someone is definitely trying to kill her. As she searches for clues to her true identity, she will learn that she is not the only target. Unless she can defeat her evil adversaries, the people most dear to her will die.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I’ll admit I went into this book a little bit hesitant. It’s no secret that I love retellings or novels that use classic characters in modern day literature—these are some of my favorite types of novels. However, the hesitation I experience comes from my love of the original stories and characters themselves. I’m always a stickler when it comes to keeping true to the most essential and definitive aspects, even while the author is forming his or her own unique story. And I am especially picky when it comes to my all-time favorites. This particular novel, I’m pleased to say, does a reasonably good job paying homage to the incredibly well-loved characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless tales of the great Sherlock Holmes.

In this novel, we read from the perspective of the main character, Lucy James, a young woman who wakes up on the steps of the British Museum with amnesia. Once woken up, she realizes she has lost all of her memories, including her name. All she knows is that she was hit in the head and that someone is most likely out to kill her—and that she may in fact be a killer herself. This, along with the vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes, is all she has to go on as she attempts to remember who she is, where she’s from, and why she is running for her life. Her enemies are ruthless and willing to take down anyone who gets in their way. Navigating dangerous circumstances and forging new alliances, Lucy takes on her adversaries and works to prevent them from carrying out their nefarious scheme.

Despite my original wariness, I ended up enjoying this story quite a bit. I found the plot to be fast-paced and easy to get wrapped up in right from page one. Though this is actually the third book in the Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries series, it functions extremely well as a standalone. The overall mystery of the story is not completely unpredictable or surprising, but it still made for a very fun and action-packed read.

The portrayal of the various characters, overall, is fairly well done, but also the area from which the majority of my issues with the novel stem. The characters that were original creations of Anna Elliot were by far the strongest. Lucy is a great protagonist—she is a strong, highly intelligent, and independent heroine. The only major issue with her characterization is that there isn’t much development over the course of the story or depiction of flaws. One of the reasons a character such as Sherlock Holmes is so interesting is the mixture of his tremendous intellect and cleverness with flaws that make him human. While Lucy is a likeable character that is still easy to connect with, she seems just a bit too perfect at times.

As for Elliot’s versions of Holmes and Watson, I had somewhat mixed feelings. While her portrayal of Watson, in my opinion, is quite accurate, I felt a little bit lukewarm about her portrayal of Holmes. We don’t really get to see all that much of him, and even though there are certain times that truly reflect the classic great detective, there are some moments and plot points that I felt strayed a little too far. Though it was a little hard for me to imagine at first, I believe she did a decent job of gauging the way Holmes would treat a daughter had he had one in the original stories. However, there were times—such as his offering Lucy dating advice—that just didn’t feel authentic.

I had one odd problem with one of the character’s names. I was reading from an advanced review copy, so this is probably the cause of my confusion, but I could not figure out Lucy’s love interest’s first name. It kept jumping back and forth between John and Jack every few pages, sometimes even within the same page. Again, I assume this was caused by the uncorrected proof, and it has absolutely no bearing on my rating of the novel. However, I’m still not certain what his name actually was meant to be.

Elliot’s writing style is solid and easy to become absorbed in. She gives Lucy a strong narrative voice, which caused the plot to both flow well and pack a punch. Her world building of 1897 London is vivid and skilled, making it a very high point of the novel. She unravels the mystery at a steady pace, showing her talent for creating a storyline that hooks her readers and keeps them wanting more.

In the first part of the novel, Elliot does a great job of presenting Lucy’s slow gathering of clues pertaining to her life. The transition between the two halves of the novel—where Lucy suddenly regains her memories—is a bit rough. We are thrown rather quickly into her rapid and high-stakes lifestyle. However, this still does not hurt the plot progression overall, and though it was a little bumpy, I found myself falling into this new twist fairly easily. In general, Elliot keeps the plot as a whole straightforward enough to follow, and just unpredictable enough to create a exciting mystery.

Overall, I found this novel to be a pretty enjoyable and fast-paced read that was quite easy to become swept up in. This wound up being a very fun story, and an inventive take on some very timeless classics. While I would have liked to see a bit more development in Lucy and the various other significant characters in the novel, they were still portrayed well in general. Despite its few flaws, this is a good addition to the ever-expanding world of Sherlock Holmes novels. I am definitely planning to go back and read the first two novels of this series, and will eagerly await and further installments.

3.5 TARDISes

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Review: Thin Places by Lesley Choyce

thinplacesThin Places by Lesley Choyce

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: August 22nd, 2017

Publisher: Dundurn Group

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A dazzling story told in verse, of sixteen-year-old Declan Lynch and the girl whose centuries-old voice rings in his head.

One day, Declan Lynch, a regular teenager, starts hearing a girl’s voice inside his head. Eventually, he even begins to see her. Though he’s not certain the girl, Rebecca, is real, Declan finds himself falling for her. She shows him visions of places and people he has never seen — places he feels compelled to find in hopes of meeting her.

His quest takes him to County Sligo, Ireland, and its “thin places,” spots where the earth and the spirit world seem almost to touch. His slightly crazy Uncle Seamus takes him in, as Declan’s search has him wondering which world he belongs in — his, or the one belonging to a girl who might not even be real.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I am having a lot of trouble gathering together my thoughts on this book. A novel in verse, this is a short and poetic read in a beautiful setting. However, though verse novels always tend to be quicker reads, this one was way too short, in my opinion. So short, that I had absolutely no time to connect with the characters or the plot before it was finished. Though I fluidly sped through it, I never had a chance to involve myself in it. This is what makes voicing my thoughts particularly difficult—this novel left me with a sense of confusion and incompleteness.

This novel had an intriguing and eye-catching plot to me for a number of reasons. We follow a young boy named Declan Lynch, who is no stranger to hearing voices in his head. For the first sixteen years of his life, those voices took on the form of characters, involving themselves in his decision-making and all he did. Despite this, these characters still sounded like his own internal voice, allowing him to retain some sort of connection with reality.

One day, however, this changes when he begins to not only hear the voice of a girl named Rebecca, but is able to see her materialize in his head. The strong connection he immediately feels to Rebecca sends him on a journey to County Sligo, Ireland. Declan is thrust into the arms of his estranged Uncle Seamus, as he attempts to locate Ireland’s “thin places”—where the world of the living is believed to meet that of the deceased—and unite with this mysterious girl.

I was expecting this to be a sweeping journey in a beautiful country as a young boy answers a calling in himself to uncover a hidden portion of family history and discover who he is—where he fits into the world—in the process. What I actually found was that over half the book had flown by before Declan even arrived in Ireland to begin his quest to find Rebecca. This left very little time for what I thought would be—and what was represented as—the main plot point in the narrative, given the synopsis.

The characters were incredibly one-dimensional, as the length of this novel gave them little to no room to be developed. I absolutely could not connect with a single one of them, simply because there was no time. The narrative barely skimmed the surface of key elements such as characterization and world-building. It is driven much less by the characters and descriptions and much more by dialogue, which did not serve this novel well. Instead, it heavily weighed the text down.

On top of everything, this novel was insta-love central, aggravated immensely by the length of the narrative. This is never usually a good thing to have in a story—it is definitely one of those overused and highly disliked tropes in writing. The romance feels like it is just haphazardly shoved into the plotline. From the first second that Declan sees Rebecca in his mind, he instantly falls in love with her, and this takes up a huge portion of his thoughts for most of the novel. They haven’t met, he has no idea whether she is even real or not, and yet she is automatically the love of his life. This “romance” took over the majority of the narrative.

On a slightly more positive note, despite my problems with the plot and characters, the writing was surprisingly delightful in some ways. While there were some problems, the overall prose could be quite beautiful.

The only complaint I had when it came to the writing aspect of the novel was the fact that the layout of the verses—a key and very compelling point in a verse novel—felt very random and disjointed. Part of the art of a verse novel is to arrange the lines of text and breaks in those lines so that they add to the tone and significance of the plot. So not only does the writing itself need to be beautiful, but that layout has to be meaningful as well—preferably not feeling like a hasty jumbling of words.

In the end, I unfortunately did not particularly enjoy this story as a whole. It left me feeling extraordinarily unsatisfied and as if I had missed a huge chunk of plot that should have been there. I just needed more from this book and it never delivered. It was a nice, quick read that definitely staves off any sort of reading slump, but that was one of the only positives I felt by finishing this novel.

2.0 TARDISes

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Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

adarkershadeofmagicA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Shades of Magic #1

Date Published: February 24th, 2015

Publisher: Tor Books

Pages: 400 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

This is, by far, one of the most hyped books I have on my shelves, which is something that would normally scare me off. However, this book beyond lived up to the hype. It promised action, thrilling adventures through parallel worlds, and of course, plenty of magic. Victoria Schwab once again proves herself to be one of the most brilliant and talented writers out there. She is resourceful and exceedingly unique in every detail that she writes. Between her beautiful writing, intricate descriptions, and skilled characterization, she has created a vivid and heart-pounding journey through the magic of London.

In this novel, we follow two main characters—a traveler named Kell and a thief named Delilah “Lila” Bard. Kell, hailing from Red London, is an Antari (one of two) who possess potent blood magic that allows him to cross through the doors between each of the three Londons—the regal and magical Red London, the dimmed and magic-less Grey London, and White London, rendered colorless and menacing by its abuse of magic.

Red London lives in harmony with its magic, respecting it as much as it does them. White London sees it as something to be controlled, turning it into something ugly and terrifying. However, this pales in comparison to the magic of Black London, the world that has been locked away, hidden and mute—that is, until a remaining piece of it’s dark past, in the form of a stone, unexpectedly falls into the hands of Kell. The only remnants of a history preferred to be forgotten, it sets off a chain of horrible events as Kell struggles to contain it and return it to its proper place, even if that means sacrificing himself in the process.

Along the way, he obtains an unusual companion, the tough and courageous Lila Bard, who becomes involved after she pickpockets the Black London stone off of Kell when they encounter each other in the streets of Grey London. Always seeking adventure, she forces Kell to take her along on his journey to return the stone and save the three remaining Londons from this all-consuming dark force. What starts for Kell as a reluctant pairing turns into a surprisingly strong partnership as they navigate treacherous obstacles on their quest.

Despite the complexity involved in the unique details of the various Londons, not once in this entire novel is it difficult to understand, nor will it leave the reader feeling lost. Schwab depicts each setting with such care and skill, sweeping her readers into the worlds. Rather than giving an information dump of all the necessary facts, she shows the reader by pulling them straight into the action, conjuring a clear picture through descriptions and tone. Not only is it easy to imagine what every feature of this narrative looks like, she also evokes the specific feelings of each setting in the reader.

One of the aspects of this novel that first caught my attention was how unique it sounded. I’ve read a lot of fantasy books and this one was unlike any I have encountered before. This is due in part to the highly unique magic system that is primarily demonstrated through our main character, Kell. The power of blood magic is a unique and intriguing system that I have not come across in any form before. That, combined with the specific language used by the Antari to conjure the power, had me completely hooked. It was—no pun intended—absolutely spellbinding.

This book was absolutely action-packed. The fight scenes were epic, magic-filled battles, featuring struggles involving both the characters that are advantageously powerful and the characters that fight simply using the strength and willpower they have inside them. I was fully caught up in every second, tearing through page after page.

Schwab is known for writing very character driven novels, and this one was no exception. From the very start, I completely fell in love with the characters she created for this story. Kell is an incredibly brave and selfless hero. He is willing to sacrifice himself to protect the three worlds and all those in them. Lila is headstrong and sassy; she is a skilled thief that has a certain distinctively human magic about her. Hilarious and strong-willed, she has definitely become one of my favorite female literary heroines.

As always, Schwab makes her characters vivid, realistic, and three-dimensional—loveable for both their strengths and their weaknesses. Kell and Lila together are one of the best pairings I have ever come across in literature. They are two halves of one amazing whole. Even the characters that lingered at the edges of the main plot were as equally three-dimensional as the protagonists.

The writing in this novel was absolutely enchanting. Schwab has a natural talent for weaving a complex storyline into a fluid narrative that easily carries her readers from page to page. The detailed world building and fleshing out of her characters are some of the most breathtaking elements of the story. She builds each world, each setting, right up around the reader, clearly defines the class system of the various Londons, and pulls the reader alongside Kell and Lila in their adventures. It is as if you are standing right in the middle of things, feeling the pull of the magic, which is both bright and foreboding.

At this point, I think the fact that I completely and utterly fell in love with this novel is fairly clear. This is basically the epitome of my literary-loving heart and soul. I would very highly recommend this story to everyone, especially if you love magic, parallel worlds, and magnificent writing. Victoria Schwab has an unbelievable amount of natural talent, and is a superb figure in the current literary world. There is no cliffhanger ending for this novel, but it will still leave you craving further installments.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

everyheartadoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Wayward Children #1

Date Published: April 5th, 2016

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 173 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children; No Solicitations, No Visitors, No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. 

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter. 

No matter the cost.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I loved this novel even more than I thought I would. It feels like a modern fairytale, complete with a dark and gritty subplot that lingers in the background. It is a weird and unusual story—the perfect amount of weird and unusual in my opinion. It involves the types of worlds that we all grew up reading and daydreaming about, but the book centers around the aftermath of being in those places. It deals with the harsh contrast between reality and fantasy, and how difficult it can be to immerge from that perfectly constructed fantasy back into a rather unaccepting reality.

The concept for this novel drew me in immediately, as it is by far the most unique take on fantasy and alternate worlds that I have ever heard of. Reading it felt like reading a fairytale retelling—even though it’s not—and it took me back to my childhood love of fantasy worlds in literature. The atmosphere and tone is a perfectly executed mix of eerie haunting, and whimsical whit and humor. In other words, this novel was totally written for me.

In this novel, we follow a young girl named Nancy during her first days at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. It is a special school that works to help reintroduce children who have visited fantastical worlds back into the real one. Nancy has a tough time adjusting to her new life, constantly believing she will once again find the door to her beloved world—the world where she felt that she finally fit in.

It is tough at first, but she realizes that the other students share many of her feelings, the only difference dividing them being their specific experiences and worlds. However, very soon after joining the school, a gruesome mystery begins to unfold—a darkness that has never fallen over this safe shelter. There is someone right under their noses with a malicious and twisted mind, carrying out horrifying acts, and Nancy and her friends are targeted as suspects by the other students. The group will have to work together to unravel this cryptic case before things get worse.

In a way, this novel feels sort of like a broken fairytale. It feels as if it is trying to subtly portray that transition in all of our lives as we grow into young adulthood. We always remain enchanted by inventive and mystical stories, but our world view is much less sugar coated. We can’t get quite as lost in fantasy, and at first, all we want to do is run back to that period of time where we could. Yet, however bleak it seems, we do come to terms with it, and find new life in those fantastical worlds.

I really liked the characters McGuire created for her story. Nancy had a solidly depicted personality right from the start, and she slowly evolved throughout the course of the novel, which is no simple task in a story this size. All of the personalities of the side characters were very well defined as well. They each reflected the world, the home, from which they had been pulled. It was a subtle detail that truly fleshed out the plot and made the story more tangible for the mind of the reader.

There was also some great diversity in this novel. For example, the main character, Nancy, is asexual, and one of her friends is transgender. The characters all come from different backgrounds and heritages, all joined together by a common experience. This also added further dimension and complexity into the characters and their parts in the plot as a whole.

McGuire’s writing style was very easy to read and flowed incredibly well throughout the entire narrative. Her words are deceptively simple. It was amazing how she managed to pack so much depth and feeling into such a small amount of pages. She delves into some important themes, like human behavior and how society deals with people they label as outsiders.

When writing a story that has a shorter than average number of pages, it is incredibly easy for characters to come across as bland and one-dimensional, and for the narrative itself to feel quite rushed and overloaded. At no point was this the case in McGuire’s story, which is a testament to her great writing talent. The novel is a short and fast-paced read that leaves you partially satisfied, but also extremely eager to spend more time in the world that she has created.

McGuire has produced a quirky, unique, and engrossing little story that is surprisingly captivating. It will come as no surprise that I highly recommend giving this novel a try. I don’t see how I will be able to stand the wait for the sequel, even though its release date is only a few months away.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Bitter Roots by C.J. Carmichael

bitterrootsBitter Roots by C.J. Carmichael

My Rating: 1.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Bitter Root Mysteries #1

Date Published: April 25th, 2017

Publisher: Tule Publishing

Pages: 174 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.

On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.

Bitter Roots is the first of four Bitter Root Mysteries.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is my first experience with C.J. Carmichael’s work, and sadly, I really did not enjoy Bitter Roots at all. You could potentially say that it left a “bitter” taste in my mouth. The synopsis sounded fantastic when I first found this novel—and it was an extremely quick read—but the plot was rather poorly executed. There was no aspect of this novel that was particularly memorable or that made me feel motivated to continue reading. Thankfully, this is a short novel, so I did manage to make it to the end, but there was really no payoff for my efforts once I got there.

First of all, I will admit that I had the wrong impression of this novel from the very start. I believed it to be a mystery/thriller novel, however I did not realize that the author is known primarily for writing romantic suspense novels until I looked it up on Goodreads. At this point, I had already agreed to read and review it, so I decided to give it a fair chance. And I did in fact go into this novel with no bias, lowered expectations, or belief that I would end up disliking it. The overall idea sounded intriguing, so I was still eager to give it a try.

This novel is a third person narrative that predominately follows the lives of three characters—Tiff, Zak, and Justin—as they navigate their experiences and relationships in the small town of Lost Trail following the murder of a young woman. Tiff, an accountant, has just made the difficult choice of moving back to her family’s ranch after her life in Seattle falls apart. Zak is the dispatcher at the local sheriff’s office who seems content with his life behind the desk, but uses his talents to inspect the murder case on his own time. Justin is a lawyer who is settling down with his wife and her daughter, though there are many unresolved issues floating around behind the scenes of this seemingly perfect marriage.

Tiff is still struggling to find closure after the deaths of her father and brother years ago, and to come to terms with her mother’s mental health, which seems to be spiraling even more out of control than it was the last time they were together. Tiff becomes involved in the search to find the killer, as the murdered young woman had been under her family’s employment, working on their Christmas tree farm.

Zak, with his inquisitive mind, cannot help but work on the case of the murdered woman, even though it is really not his place to do so. On top of this, he is rekindling a friendship with Tiff and dealing with his confusing feelings toward the new deputy at the station. And lastly, Justin’s storyline mostly focuses on his home life with his family, leaving him less involved in the crime solving area of the novel.

Sadly, the murder mystery aspect of the story took a backseat to the troubles, fractured relationships, and sometimes perverted musings of the main characters. Now don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy some family drama in novels, but I hated the fact that everything overshadowed a murder and the obviously shoddy detective work surrounding the case.

The plot was exceedingly slow and repetitive as well. The main characters spent most of their time being suspicious of one person and never even considering anyone else. Tiff and Justin also met up every few chapters and basically recapped, in great detail, everything that had just been read. It felt like we were never getting anywhere, until the last three chapters when Carmichael slammed down on the accelerator and plowed into the conclusion.

Comparatively, the plot wrapped up uncannily quickly and was far too rushed.  The big twist was not very impressive—it was a surprise, but that was not enough to salvage the rest of the plot. It seemed very out of the blue, as the reader only gets to hear the most important information in these last few chapters. So while it is unexpected, it is unexpected due to lack of any information in prior points of the novel.

The characters and their personalities really fell flat for me. They were incredibly one dimensional throughout the entire narrative, and I found it hard to connect with almost all of them. I spent a lot of the novel feeling quite fed up with them and their choices. The only character I felt at all invested in was Justin. He was the most genuinely kind human being, and his relationship with his family really pulled me in.

Another positive factor of the characterization was the relationship between Tiff and Zak. Prior to even knowing there would be elements of romance to this novel (if you can even call them that), I assumed that this friendship between them would probably end up turning into something more. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they maintained a strong companionship throughout the narrative without falling for each other. This is honestly something that I personally see becoming much rarer in novels these days, so I commend Carmichael for making this choice.

One of the other positives about this novel was the writing. I didn’t have any real complaints about the style itself. I thought that Carmichael was a strong writer, and her experience and talent still shine through. This was one of the only things that pushed me to finish off the book. Her words flowed very well and this is what carried me so quickly through the narrative. Her descriptions, for the most part, were very detailed, but I wish there had been a bit more of them, and that she had gone about them differently.

There was a big downside to the descriptions, in my opinion. This was the aspect of the novel that left me feeling a bit offended. The only characters who really got any sort of detailed description were all the young and implausibly attractive ones. These people were mostly women, and everyone was “tall and slender” with unrealistically perfect appearances. This is another part of the novel that overshadowed not only the severity of the situation, but also the intelligence and capability of the females in this narrative. Overall, I was taken aback at this and quite unimpressed and annoyed.

I thought this might possibly be due to the fact that I am unaware of the common conventions of romance novels, but that is still something I’m unsure of. It doesn’t really excuse the moments of sexism and perverted thoughts that really angered me. For example, most of the men in this novel—especially Zak—were extremely focused on and judgmental of the appearances of women, and way too focused on leering at them.

Unfortunately, I would not recommend this novel or series. It was not at all what I was expecting given the promising synopsis. The story is very repetitive and lacks depth, and it is even mildly offensive at times—at least it was for me. Despite the writing itself being relatively good, there was nothing, in my opinion, redeeming about this novel, nor was there anything worth reading plot-wise. I would definitely be willing to try another one of Carmichael’s novels, but I don’t think I will be continuing on with this particular series.

1.5 TARDISes

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Review: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

thegirlfromthewellThe Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes

Series: The Girl from the Well #1

Date Published: August 5th, 2014

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Pages: 304 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: You may think me biased, being murdered myself. But my state of being has nothing to do with the curiosity toward my own species, if we can be called such. We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night.

A dead girl walks the streets.

She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret – one that would just kill to get out.

The Girl from the Well is A YA Horror novel pitched as “Dexter” meets “The Grudge”, based on a well-loved Japanese ghost story.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I am finding that giving voice to my thoughts about this novel is a far trickier task than I was expecting. I liked many aspects of the novel and had a pretty good time with it. However, I never got caught up in the plot the way I hoped I would. It took me forever to get through this novel because I was not overly motivated to keep coming back to read it, despite wanting to know the fate of the characters. At the heart of my struggles with the story were both the writing style and the fact that I was not at all scared while reading.

However, just because I personally didn’t find it scary doesn’t mean that it isn’t, or that others won’t. This may be exactly the creepy book you are looking for. There are some fantastic scenes with Okiku exacting her revenge on those who deserve it—parts that are very eerie and pretty gorey. Those were some of the best chapters to read as they were action-packed and fast-paced, while the rest of the novel went at a much slower pace.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed at not being too scared while reading. I don’t scare very easily at all, but I had heard plenty about how terrifying this book was. And I completely agree that it was much different than a lot of American “horror” or “thriller” novels—it was a very different sort of narrative. But unfortunately it still didn’t creep me out.

I absolutely do not want to focus completely on negatives either, because there was plenty to love about this book, and I really did enjoy it overall. It reads exactly like watching a horror movie—and not just any sort of horror movie, but the kind that I really love. Honestly, that was my favorite aspect of the whole thing. It reminded me of the scary movies I have watched with my family and friends over the years

In this novel, we follow the main characters—cousins Tark and Callie—through the eyes of Okiku, a ghost that has taken an odd interest in Tark. Okiku is a l300-year-old spirit, unable to leave Earth and determined to take revenge on those who murder innocent children. She moves around the world freely and frequently.

However, when she witnesses a malevolent spirt that appears to be part of Tark, related somehow to the strange tattoos that are scrawled all over his body, she remains. Though she has never taken enough of an interest to stick around any particular human for very long, there is something unusual about him, and that keeps her attention.

Okiku is a unique character, and makes an interesting narrator for the novel. The main thing I noted about her was how she referred to the people she was around. She counts everyone and everything she comes across in her environment, and always distances herself from the living by referring to them by something like a job title or a distinguishing physical feature. The only people she regularly refers to by their names are Tark and Callie. I thought this added a lot to the story, showing the importance of her connection to them.

I liked Tark and Callie, but will admit that they are very one-dimensional characters. In fact, pretty much everyone but Okiku is. There is not a lot development in their personalities, even after some of the painful and traumatic experiences they go through. It was highly unbelievable that they would not have been changed or affected more than they were. And though I liked Okiku, I also felt that she didn’t do nearly enough. She mainly just watched things happen—I was expecting her to intervene more than she did. This is part of what took away from the creepiness of the narrative.

I have always found Japanese folklore—in fact, folklore from any culture—extremely fascinating to study. That made it even more exciting when I found out that I already knew a lot about the story this novel is based off of, and the terms that are used frequently throughout it. Even if you don’t have previous knowledge of these things, they are addressed well enough throughout the story that readers will not be at all confused or be left feeling like they lack important information. I really liked the inclusion of Japanese culture into the plot—it added a lot to the atmosphere.

The plot progressed rather slow in my opinion, particularly toward the middle of the novel. I think this was due in part to the writing style, not just the overall plotline. It’s a bit difficult for me to pinpoint my feelings about Chupeco’s writing and narration style. On the one hand, it was very unique, but on the other hand, I felt that it did not flow well and was sometimes hard to follow. I believe that the choppiness of her writing style was suppose to add to the tone of the novel, but it was just challenging and sometimes tiring to get through. For me, it didn’t add anything to the story, it just pulled me further away from it.

The narrative style is different from anything I’ve read before, however—it is first person omniscient, which is a point of view rarely seen in novels. Okiku tells the reader what she observes, but she also has insight into people’s thoughts to a certain degree. This goes to the point where the narration takes on a third person omniscient feel, then pulls the reader back into Okiku’s point of view. There may have been some limits, making it first person limited omniscient, but I couldn’t quite tell. So while it was not my cup of tea, I do commend Chupeco for utilizing this unusual style.

Overall, this novel did not quite live up to the hype for me, but I still found it to be an enjoyable read. It was one of those novels that was simply good—not bad, not mind-blowingly wonderful, but good. I would definitely recommend giving it a go, and I’ve already picked up a copy of the sequel, so I do plan to continue on sometime soon.

3.0 TARDISes

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