Category: Book Review (page 1 of 3)

Halloween Reads 2019

It’s time for another installment of spooky reads, folks! If you are looking to get some chills and thrills from your reading, look no further. However, note that I don’t do horror, so you probably won’t get any jump scares out of these selections.

If you’re counting, this is the ninth annual Halloween Reads list. I’ve been on the hunt since 2011. Since before this blog, when I posted on Examiner.com. Check the links at the bottom for the posts for previous years. This year, there seems to be a bumper crop of spooky reads! So without further ado, here is my list for your spoopy reading pleasure!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Classic
This is the only book on the list that I have not read. I really meant to but what with my reread of Dracula and all, I just didn’t get to it. However, my understanding is that this is more in line with The Turn of the Screw – a psychological, gothic story that might leave you with shivers. This has been seeing a bit of a popularity boom on Instagram, and I can only conclude that it is deserved.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Adult fantasy
A long-awaited new book from one of my favorite authors, and it did not disappoint. If you are up for a perfectly creepy story that delves behind the façade and is set at a contemporary college, then this is for you. It is a complex story with deep roots, and a hellacious ride. An expertly crafted paranormal mystery with more twists and turns than you can imagine, this is about secret societies, inexplicable happenings, those things you catch just out of the corner of your eye, the demons that reside in hell and sometimes inside of us, and the haunting that we get from behind the veil as well as our own past. Note that this is not YA, as are Bardugo’s previous titles. This is her first adult fantasy.

Last Things by Jacqueline West – YA Fantasy
I reviewed this here last May, but I want to be sure to give it its due and encourage you to pick it up this time of year. What could possibly be spooky about a dark forest, a little abandoned shack, a boy who suddenly writes hit songs, and a girl who is always being pursued? This is a great suspenseful read set in a small town in northern Minnesota, full of heavy metal music and characters who will shock you. Check out my full review to get more details.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe – Contemporary/historical fiction
A follow-up to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, this is a loose sequel. I think you can safely read this without having read Physick. However, the first book is so good, why not treat yourself to both? In this book, Connie is a professor whose life is about to change a whole lot. The book shifts back and forth between Deliverance in 1661 and Connie in 1995 Boston. Connie is faced with a choice that relates to a centuries-old curse – does she risk her fiance’s life trying to break it? Or play it safe and let him go? It’s a little bit of a love story, but a whole lot of family dynamics and some hocus pocus too.

Sabriel by Garth Nix – YA Fantasy
I have read most of this series now and I can see that it is going to be an all-time favorite. Necromancers, walking into Death, and lands that are separated by a wall, where one side is magic and the other isn’t? Yes, sign me up. Add to that incredible heroines – we get to know Sabriel through her action-packed story, but then later we meet Lireal and Clariel. The mysteries of this world deepen and the magic is phenomenal. Excellent world building, including magical familiars and bells with different functions, and all kinds of nasty creatures. If you haven’t already, go back and resurrect this older series. You won’t be sorry. Also known as the Old Kingdom or Abhorsen series (don’t ask me why we can’t settle on one).

Endless Night by Agatha Christie – Mystery
This is not one of her detective series, but one of her psychological thrillers. I don’t typically like these, as I have fallen so in love with Miss Marple and Poirot over the years (particularly this year, when I am co-hosting a monthly Miss Marple readalong on Instagram, and participating in another readalong of various Agatha titles. I read this for that other readalong) that I miss them when they are not present. But this one was so full of foreboding, so twisty turny, and had such a great ending, that I have to say, if you haven’t tried Agatha yet, and you like mysteries, you may want to start here. It starts slow but I was absolutely gobsmacked at the end. If you are reading her detective series, I believe you should start at the beginning for those. The Mysterious Affair at Styles for Poirot, and The Murder at the Vicarage for Miss Marple.

Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs – Memoir
This reads like one of those romcoms where one half of a couple tries to convince the other half of the couple to move from midtown Manhattan to a fixer upper in the fields of Connecticut. Oh wait. That’s kind of what it is. But the twist is that Burroughs has a family history of witchcraft, sees things before they happen, hears things no one else can hear (like trees groaning) and has uncanny premonitions that he can see in a kind of movie in his head. Until it goes white static. This is funny, heart wrenching, intriguing, thought-provoking and encouraging. It may open your mind up to things that you thought were myth, or reassure you about things that you experience. Overall, I enjoyed it, and while it’s not scary, it does give you a good witchy vibe. Like this, “What I am certain of is that there’s something wonky going on beneath the surface of what we call reality. Things are most definitely not as they appear. Things are much, much more.” I mean, isn’t that kind of what we all want? More?

You can always find my Halloween Reads from previous years as well. Check here and here and here, and find links to more. I’ve got two more years to add to this site, so I hope to do that this week. I so enjoy this time of year, and for me, nothing is better than curling up on the couch with the first blanket of the season and a spooky read on my lap, while the wind whips the leaves off the trees outside. I hope you find something you like here, and if you have any suggestions, please do share! I want to hear what your favorite spooky read is!

Book Review: Last Things by Jacqueline West

Last Things is the newest YA from New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline West. Her award-winning The Books of Elsewhere is one of my favorite MG series. I was excited to hear that she was writing another YA, especially after reading her most recent book, The Collectors, last fall.

This story simply hummed! This story kept me turning pages well past midnight. *cough 2am cough* Not that reading this in the dead of night is the best idea. Because no. It is creepy, it is heebie jeebie, it is deliciously spooky. It might make you rethink the wisdom of reading alone at night next to an uncovered window. Just me? Oh, okay.

I don’t want to give away too much about what makes it creepy, because the reveal in the story is part of the creep factor. If you’ve ever been alone in the woods at night, or even if you haven’t, you will feel all those feels reading this book. The setting of the northwoods is actually another character, and in ways you might not think.

It’s not a mystery, per se. It is simply a story of a boy. He’s got some skills, shall we say. He may have made a mistake. Everything is not as it seems, and neither is everyone.

I did love the rest of the characters too. Thea and Anders and even Frankie. I did not like Sasha, but that is not surprising. But the story! This book reverbed with the bass of metal. I loved all the song lyrics and the way that West describes Anders’ love of music. West’s poetic sensibilities (she has twice been nominated for a Pushcart) shine here.

Here is a bit of the synopsis from GoodReads:

“High school senior Anders Thorson is unusually gifted. His band, Last Things, is legendary in their northern Minnesota hometown. With guitar skills that would amaze even if he weren’t only eighteen, Anders is the focus of head-turning admiration. And Thea Malcom, a newcomer to the insular town, is one of his admirers. Thea seems to turn up everywhere Anders goes: gigs at the local coffeehouse, guitar lessons, even in the woods near Anders’s home.”

When things start to happen, everyone blames Anders. When he can’t control that, will he lose everything that’s dear to him? And what is going on with this Thea girl? Can he trust a girl who doesn’t seem to know the difference between dreams and reality? Does she?

Can he trust her? Does he have any choice? And what happens when he has to choose between her and someone he has known most of his life? I wasn’t sure about Thea. I wasn’t sure about Flynn. I wasn’t even sure about Aunt Mae. But that’s nothing to how shell-shocked Anders is when he finds out the truth.

And when they go into the woods, what will they find? Will they be in time? Light and dark, choices, and a serious dose of “We don’t know a damn thing” make this a story that will reverberate with you long after you’ve finished reading. What would you give up to get everything you ever wanted? What do you want more than anything? What do you really want?

A headbanger’s delight, or just for anyone who loves a good goose-bumpy story. Get ready for a wild ride. Happy Book Birthday to Jacqueline West! I think we have a winner here! Look for this in my Halloween Reads wrap-up come October, where you will find more creepy reads!

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Greenwillow Books, 2019
ISBN 9780062875068

Book Review: Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed

Today I am participating in the blog tour for Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye, which is  the second book in a series. Now, don’t be discouraged. The first book is so good, that you will be so happy that the second book is already out!

This is the Wizard for Hire series. In the first book, Ozzy grows up alone in the cloaked house in the woods. His parents were kidnapped from their house when he was seven. He is determined to find them some day, and then he sees an ad for a Wizard for Hire in a local newspaper. This is how he meets Rin.

There is also Sigi, who Ozzy meets out on the beach, who happens to be Rin’s daughter. And Clark, a sentient mechanical bird that Ozzy’s parents built, that keeps him company. And provides a lot of comic relief! The themes in this series, of loss, of grief, of realizing your potential, can be pretty heavy at times, so having Clark there is just as much a comfort for us as it is for Ozzy, it seems. We all come to like Clark so much, even though he has an affinity for mailboxes and spoons, that when he is threatened, it really makes you suck in your breath!

But on with the story. I don’t want to spoil you so I’m not going to recap the plot of the first book. I am, however, going to tell you to go get it right this minute, if you like anything to do with magic, and are game for a rollicking, irreverent Middle Grade. This is Harry Potter meets Discworld, in the best way. It is not perfect, but it has enough ah-ha moments, and laugh out loud funniness, and edge of your seat danger, that it will keep you turning pages long into the night.

In book two, we go on a wild ride from the cloaked house in Oregon to New York City. I loved the characters, and how they grew in this book, especially Ozzy. As I mentioned, the themes in this book touch on grief and loss, but here we get much more of Ozzy reaching for his own potential. He is suddenly declared to be Rin’s Apprentice, and finds out he has to undertake five tasks. But he doesn’t know what they are. And Rin ain’t talking. Or, well, he is, but sometimes it is hard to understand what he’s talking about.

Meanwhile, they are all being pursued by Ray, and his henchman, Jon. You won’t feel sorry for Jon for long. I really can’t say much more without spoiling it, so trust me, these are villains you will love to hate. I highly recommend this for anyone who has read Harry Potter, whether adult or child, and is looking for more of that idea of being an outsider who finds his crew, and there is every bit of a hint of magic here too. But is it really magic? I think we are about to find out.

Even though this book is a contemporary (like Harry Potter), it will feed your need for magic, and fantasy, and Rin lets us know more and more about Quarfelt, his wizard home. And there is plenty of homage to Harry Potter, so I think Skye is perfectly aware of similarities. Like the Cinco-Wizard Competition (or Cin-Wiz-Com) – the five tasks Ozzy needs to complete.

“Is that anything like the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter?”

“No, this one has five things. And it’s just for you.”

Don’t ever expect a straight answer from Rin. But sometimes, he can be very wise indeed.

I will definitely be looking for book three in this series. Book two released last week, so I have a bit of a wait. But that’s okay. I’m willing to binge all three. And Obert Skye also wrote the Leven Thumps series, and I have book one of that sitting here waiting for me.

 

Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye
Hardcover, 416p, ISBN 9781629725291, $17.99

I received an advance copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: A Monster Like Me

In A Monster Like Me, Wendy S. Swore has written a heart-tugging contemporary story that includes magic and some things that are all too real. Readers may start out thinking this is just a lovely imaginative story about monsters, but as you read, you find that the monsters are all around us. Sometimes, they are at the grocery store. Sometimes, they sit in the desk next to us. Sometimes, there are people who may seem like monsters, but they are just having a hard day themselves.

Parts of this book were difficult for me to read, because, spoiler alert, I was bullied as a child. I mean, I kind of think we all were, in some form or another. What I like here is that Swore has shown that Sophie has both a coping mechanism, and a deniability mechanism at the same time. She thinks that she is really cursed. But this stops her from accepting herself, and that stops her from standing up to the bullies. Until they start bullying someone else. It is sometimes easier to help someone else than to help oneself. And Sophie shows that in spades. Continue reading

Halloween Reads 2018

Need a good book that will send chills up your spine? I have a great selection this year! If you are not familiar with my Halloween Reads posts, I have been doing this since 2010 (first on Examiner.com, where I was the Minneapolis Books Examiner, and now on my own blog. Look for links at the end to these past posts for more recs!). I love it when the weather turns chilly and gloomy, leaves blowing across the grass, and a slight mist in the air. Join me! I’ll wait while you get your hot beverage of choice, a pumpkin latte? A hot cider? Good old hot chocolate? Mulled wine? Here we go!

Quick recap: these are not horror. I don’t have the nerves for that. I try to find a couple different genres, but really, I just post whatever I find that appeals to me!

Let’s start with a classic! Continue reading

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Have I got something for you. There has been a lot of buzz in the past couple years about fairytale retellings, sure. But Melissa Albert takes it a step further yet. This is a newtelling (new-telling? New Telling?) – a wholly new world, The Hinterland, which we learn about from the character searching for the book within the book.

People. The booklove in this book! This is literally a bookfreak’s dream come true.

But I digress.

What is so arresting about this book is its immediacy. It is almost magical realism in its here-and-now-ness. We are in modern day New York City. Our MC has current problems. Her cell phone is dead. Her stepdad is a jerk. Her stepsister is a bitch (who makes her feel like “an awkward breadstick”). Okay. We’ve all been there. In bits and pieces, we get more of the story, more of her story – the midnight runs, the near misses. Her mother. The weird stuff that seems to explode around them. Why?

And her name… wait for it… is Alice.

I love it. Everything about this story felt so right on.

And while we are in modern New York City, yet… there is something, just a hair’s breath away, just over a slight border, one you cannot see, just waiting. The Hinterland. And that, my friends, is where Alice must go to find her mom. Whether the Hinterland is a place or a people, we aren’t sure.

There is unexpected help, there is unexpected danger. All around. It is endemic to the fairytale. Wait. The stories. Danger is endemic to the plurality of stories that exist in this other land.

I’m doing a bad job of explaining it, because it’s just that good. But you can get a synopsis from anywhere. What I’d like to tell you about is the beauty of the way this was put together, the intricacy of it, and the wild success of it. Albert has come up with a whole new realm, and folks, she’s going to take us there. I was excited reading this, excited like the first time-reading-Harry Potter excited. Because everything felt imaginative and whole.

As good as the storytelling is, the writing is even better. One of the things that I loved so much right away about Harry Potter was the wordplay. Albert scores hit after hit on that. Albert sings when she is putting us in Alice’s memories: the way a book is evocative of the place you first read it. The way that smells are colors and sounds are food. Waylan Jennings is whisky and a suit is an exhausted brown. This is what makes a story stick.

Things like this, one of the best list paragraphs I’ve read in a long time:

“Everyone is supposed to be a combination of nature and nurture, their true selves shaped by years of friends and fights and parents and dreams and things you did too young and things you overheard that you shouldn’t have and secrets you kept or couldn’t and regrets and victories and quiet prides, all the packed-together detritus that becomes what you call your life.

But every time we left a place, I felt the things that happened there being wiped clean, til all that was left was Ella, our fights and our talks and our winding roads.” – p130

Alice is worth our time, too. She climbs into bed with The Blind Assassin, “because if you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.” She doesn’t like her stepdad because, among other things, he doesn’t read the right books. She tamps down an anger she doesn’t understand with “hippie shit” her mother teaches her, and once called, she is laser-focused on her goal.

And Alice has a friend. Finch wears an expression like armor, one that seals him off from the world and protects him from… what, exactly? He is a superfan, one of the few who has read the book Alice’s grandmother wrote, and who has a deep appreciation for story. (And he wants to go home at one point, “because that’s where my first editions are.” Don’t we love this sweet little cinnamon roll?) I was really getting a soft spot for Finch.

Let’s not forget Ella. Ella in all this is more than just the crazy mom who married up, the waitress who can beguile a rich guy. The daughter of the woman who wrote the tales of the Hinterland down. Ella has guts. Ella is bad-ass her damn self. But we don’t get much of her story.

The three of them do a kind of dance with The Hinterland, each for their own reasons. And along the way, we get bits and pieces of the stories of the Hinterland. Oh, by the way, we’re getting those in full, too. It has just been announced that Albert will be releasing two more books – one will be the actual Tales of the Hinterland (squeeee!) (presumably the book that Althea, Ella’s mother, wrote in the first place) and the other will be set in the same world, a follow-up to this one. So we have Hinterland for the next two years!

So yes, Leigh Bardugo wrote original, imaginative fairytales set in her fantasy world (The Language of Thorns was my top pick for 2017). And Lev Grossman gave us a doorway into a hidden world through an alleyway. But this is like Ravka meets Brakebills. Except that school is the least of our worries. And the world feels as real as your own backyard. So it’s not a retelling – it’s new. We get it first.

Go on, get this one. But a note here: the author posted that some bookstores had put the book out early, and asked people to hold off on buying it until Jan 30. Please, booksellers, don’t skirt a Strict on Sale date. And readers, if you know a book is out early, wait to buy it. I know, it’s hard. But it could make that small difference for where – or whether – a book lands on the New York Times bestseller list, among other things. And this one is sure to land there, somewhere. Help it land higher by buying it during release week. On-sale date is January 30. Set an alert.

Because I forgot to mention, in case you can’t tell from my Bookstagram photo above, that this book is gorgeous in and of itself! I have heard the final copy does not disappoint – gold foil, embossing, just everything. The ARC is easily one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I can’t wait to get my final copy!

Oh, and five stars on GoodReads! I don’t usually give stars, but I think that I will start doing that for all my reviews on GoodReads this year. Just as an experiment. I wrestle with anything less than five stars. But maybe it will help people decide what to read, and help authors I love. Come find me there!

Happy New Year!

 

Best Books of 2017

My year got hijacked. I started off strong, reading something like 20 books in January (thanks in large part to a part-time job as a warming house attendant, which essentially meant uninterrupted reading time on most days). Then I got a job at a bookstore. Sounds ideal, right? Well, it really cut into my reading time, I can tell you that!

However, I did manage to get close to my goal of 75 books. I might even make it. At this writing, I have two days left, and I’ve read 60 books. And there’s a readathon tomorrow!

But all that aside, I did manage to read some great books this year. Books that blew me away, and that made me think, that stayed with me. And that is always the best thing. The following are the ones I most heartily recommend. Continue reading

Halloween Reads 2017

Every year since 2011 I have done a round-up this time of year of spooky and creepy reads that I have enjoyed. I have sometimes included horror recommendations from other people (like in last year’s post from Alison at Little Bookworm), but I haven’t read those because I am a chicken. This year, though, I am happy to supply several titles that seriously fit the bill. I personally know a couple of these authors, but honestly, that has no bearing on my recommendation. They are all great stories.

At the bottom you will find links to my previous years’ posts, and an apology from me for falling off the radar here for so long. First, on to the books! Continue reading

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

As October quickly zooms by, I am hard at work trying to get my Halloween Reads post done. This title will go on that list, but I wanted to do more than a capsule review on it. It deserves its own space.

I knew it would be good, having read Will’s previous books. But it was better than good. Here we have another stellar story from the indomitable Will Alexander. Continue reading

Reading Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Series (Books 1-5)
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I love a good mystery. I had some stacking up here, so I decided to make February my mysteries month. Most of my TBR for the month was mystery and thriller. Books I had been meaning to read for ages, most of them. And I love to curl up with a good mystery on a cold night. The more bodies, the better!

I’ve got a beautiful box set of Sherlock Holmes books (it was part of my #RockMyTBR list). I think I got it at a thrift store, because I know that I didn’t pay much for it. And I didn’t take the books out of the box for years. When I finally did, they were pristine – the spines had never even been cracked.

The books are lovely little hardcovers, small enough to fit in your hand, with gilt lettering and gold fore edges (the part of the page you see when it’s closed). The finish is an interesting wood grain, but it’s black, so hard to photograph. I love pretty books. I just can’t tell you how nice it is to sit down with a book that is lovely to hold and lovely to look at, and of course, the story has to be good, too.

Now, I knew these were good stories. But I had never actually read them. So I added them to the stack. The stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were a bit different than what I expected, though. Not so many dead bodies as misunderstandings, jilted lovers, and just plain con men. But that was okay. The writing held up, and I wanted to get past the shows I had watched (both the BBC production and the CBS show Elementary) to the real deal.

Here are the five books I read.

A Study in Scarlet/ The Sign of the Four (#1 & #2)

The first book was two stories in one. I had heard the titles before, but not the stories. I am so glad I started at the beginning, though. Here we get the complete timeline of how Watson and Sherlock met, how Watson comes to understand him and his methods, and how they grow to be close friends. We also get Watson meeting Mary! The first story is not all that memorable itself, but worth reading just for these character-building reasons. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it included a large bit of backstory set in the American West, which took away from the mood I typically go to Sherlock for. The second story is interesting, a bit more exotic, and complex enough to hold your attention. I didn’t agree whole-heartedly with the way it was presented, as it was less than of a whodunit than a how-dunit, but that’s okay. It had lots of color, shall we say? Convicts and con men and double-crosses – much of it set in colonial India, with all that entails.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (#3)

This is an eclectic collection of stories in which many of those featured don’t actually involve crimes. I dearly love the different voices of Watson and Holmes, as they are clearly delineated. And finally by this point I was able to get away from picturing Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in my head! This was a struggle in the first volume, let me tell you. These are all very quick and somewhat slight, but with good detail and lots of that murky London fog. There are 12 stories in all. Some of them were very curious, and I especially liked A Scandal in Bohemia (in which we meet Irene Adler!), The Red-Headed League, and the Blue Carbuncle. Just about every kind of crime you can imagine is included in here.

The Memories of Sherlock Holmes (#4)

I found these a bit better than the last volume, because they were more involved. So many of the stories had quotes that I had heard elsewhere – “the curious incident of the dog in the night time,” and the reference to the code word Norbury. I love seeing how these things were treated in the BBC production, and how they originally appeared. That is really why I wanted to read the books in the first place. Again, though, a lot of these stories were nebulous as to their actual endings. They were cons, or jilted love, or some such things. I liked The Musgrave Ritual (which harkens a bit towards The Hound of the Bakervilles) and The Naval Treaty best, I think. But they were all very good, and included such varied settings and issues, that it really kept me reading.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (#5)

This is a full-length story, and I really do like it when he hunkers down and make a novel out of it. I loved the setting of this – the atmospheric spookiness of the moors. It is done so well, it made me want to pick up Wuthering Heights just to keep being spooked! It’s almost like the setting is another character in this novel. It has much more to do with setting than the short stories all set in London. And the story was intriguing, full of foreboding. There are all kinds of threats, hair-raising adventures on the moor, Neolithic ruins (about which I greatly enjoyed Watson’s ruminations!), and all sorts of folks pretending to be something they are not. It keeps you hopping. I saw this as a stage play when I was really young, and while it was a professional children’s theater production, I don’t remember much of the story. I just knew there was this black baying hound off stage. It suffers some from being produced, I think. You just need to get your head on to the moors.

I’ll continue on with the series, though I don’t have any more of the volumes until The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which is apparently the final book. I wouldn’t want to skip ahead, though. I think the character-building is one of the best things about this series. There has to be a reason why these characters have had the staying power they have – Conan Doyle takes great pains to make it just right, to make their relationships ring true, and to give each person a distinct voice.

If you like mysteries or like reading classics, you should definitely get your hands on these. There are a multitude of editions, as they are in the public domain. But it’s worth picking up a nice volume. You’ll want to keep them.

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