Tag Archives: review

ARC: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Thank you to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Wilder Girls debuts July 9th.

This is one of those books that grips you hard from the first sentence, sinks its teeth into you, shakes you around, then has you gasping for air on the floor by the time you hit the last page. Seriously, Wilder Girls is an insane, intense ride, and I hope beyond hope that it ushers in a flood of YA weird fiction and body horror. When I picked it up, I already had a sneaking suspicion that this book was going to be my kinda thing because Jeff VanderMeer, king of the weird, is one of the blurbers. I was not disappointed; this is a book to buy on release day and devour in twenty-four hours.

The premise of the book is that a bizarre, unprecedented plague called the Tox has infested an island home to an all-girls boarding school. The Tox causes those it infects to mutate, perhaps by growing gills, claws, an extra spine, etc. The schoolgirls and the sparse crew of staff members remaining on the island have developed a system of survival, but when one girl goes missing and her friend determines to find her, everything is thrown into chaos.

Wilder Girls pulls no punches. The prose is raw and has so much forward momentum that it is a very difficult book to put down. I will say that the discovery and explanation at the end of the hows and the whys of the Tox was a bit disappointing to me. It came a bit out of left field; I was hoping for something less scientific and more just “this weird, inexplicable thing is happening and we can’t figure out why and now we just have to deal with it.” My opinion when it comes to weird fiction is that explanations take away from the mystique.

But even so, I basically adored this book and would hope for a movie version if I weren’t so sure Hollywood would fuck it up. Unless maybe we can get a return to practical effects à la John Carpenter’s The Thing… How amazing would that be? A girl can dream…

I’ll definitely be awaiting this author’s next book, whether it’s a sequel to Wilder Girls (would actually be satisfied with there not being a sequel, just to preserve some ambiguity in the story) or something else.

‘Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

This book came to me on an author recommendation from a friend; as we browsed the romance section in Barnes and Noble, she started gushing to me about Quick’s characters and plotting. As we wandered from the romance over to the discount books, I picked up ‘Til Death Do Us Part, read the blurb, and waggled it at my friend, not even noting the author name.

“This sounds good.”

“That’s who I was talking about!” exclaimed she. “Amanda Quick!”

Oh. Maybe it was time for me to give this author a go.

And you know what, even though this may be the first romantic suspense I have ever read, I really enjoyed it! I’m quickly learning that I enjoy romance with a dominant subplot, which this book certainly has. The MC, Calista, finds herself terrified by a morbid stalker, who keeps leaving her memento mori trinkets—a tear-catcher, a jet-and-crystal ring, etc. She enlists the help of a writer of serialized detective fiction to help her identify her stalker… And, of course, they end up falling in love.

The plotting keeps you guessing, and the characters are well fleshed-out. I won’t say the prose is gorgeous, but it serves its purpose admirably, getting out of the way of the plot. As a writer, that’s a quality I truly appreciate, since I’m constantly reading books where sentence structure and word choice snag my inner editor, pulling me out of the narrative.

And the romance itself was very sweet, more about the falling-in-love aspect than the sexual aspect. I’m coming to recognize that my personal taste in romance is for less sex and more inter-character relationship building, and this book was perfect for me in that regard. As the book ended, I didn’t exactly long for it to go on, but rather wished for more of a similar thing… Which means that I will surely be picking up more of Quick’s other books!

The Highlander Who Protected Me by Vanessa Kelly

Here’s how this book came into my possession: I was relaying all my trials with romance to my husband last year, and the joker decided in his infinite wisdom that he wanted to buy me for Christmas the “best” romance he could find. To him, this meant two things: a hunky cover and a worthy blurb. Welp, there’s the cover up top, so we’ve clearly accomplished the first. As for the blurb, all he needed to see was that the male MC’s name was Royal, and that was enough to thoroughly tickle his fancy.

So here we are. (By the way, make sure to scroll to the bottom for a husband review.) I actually did enjoy this, though it was one of those on and off sort of reads that took me a couple weeks. The premise in vague, non-spoiler terms is that Ainsley, a Sassenach, needs Royal’s help to protect her from her vile betrothed. What I hadn’t realized at the outset is that while this is the first in the Clan Kendrick series, it’s actually not the first book of Kelly’s featuring these characters. Clan Kendrick is a spin-off series from another, so there were more than a few times when Kelly re-introduced a character or referenced a bit of backstory. This was a bit frustrating for me; as someone coming into a purported first in a series, the last thing I want is to feel like I have catching up to do—especially as the book is lengthy already, weighing in at more than four hundred pages.

The emphasis on protection and safety is interesting from a storytelling standpoint. If you think about it, these themes can be a little bit “anti-action”—and preventing something from happening isn’t necessarily as interesting as other kinds of plot structures. So it was a quieter sort of story overall, with more emphasis on character relationships and dialogue exchanges than actual plot points.

On a tangential note, the title of the book itself also never fails to make me laugh. It just doesn’t read at all “title-like” to me—more like description than anything else. Anyone with me here? 😛 Maybe I’m the only one…

In any case, I did enjoy the developing relationship between Ainsley and Royal, finding their chemistry quite good. The characters individually, too, feel concrete, with realistic personalities, flaws, hopes, and dreams. No caricatured characters here. Kelly’s writing in general is also pretty strong. The dialogue does get a bit samey after a while (how many times can characters say “don’t fash yourself”??), BUT it did teach me the gem of an expression “dicked in the knob.” That apparently means “crazy,” and I will be wasting no opportunity to employ it, let me tell ya.

Will I be reading the next in the series? Not sure about that, especially because I have some other romance TBR goals that are a bit more pressing. But I am definitely up for reading another book by Vanessa Kelly in the future, so am grateful to my husband for pointing me in her direction.

Husband Review

“Slick channel.”

The New Girl by S.L. Grey

The New Girl is the third and final installment in the Downside series by South African duo Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, who write under the pseudonym S.L. Grey. Yet despite the fact that this is a series, these books read basically as standalones, with the (excellent omg I’m so sad it’s all over) worldbuilding being the real tie between them all.

Let me paint you a picture. Below our human realm on the surface of the earth is an underground horror society of almost humans who regard everyone up top as a curious, amusing, entirely different species. The downsiders speak almost English, eat almost food, shop in almost stores.

She grabs her gelphone and hides under the blankets with it. She reads the proclamation ticker for comfort, to make herself feel closer to home. ‘Victuals are precious. The meat tree is a fable. Use your tokens appropriately.’ ‘Apparel does not auto-generate. Wash sparingly.’ ‘Energy is scarce and opulent. Save energy for essential tasks and services only.’ Everyone knows that resources are scarce, she finds herself commenting, you don’t have to repeat yourself. She tries to block out the disregardful thoughts.

Everything downside is human culture with a horror twist; the downside society is structured like a massive corporation, with a dual focus on production and resource conservation. Whether you’re a downsider or an unfortunate human who has somehow stumbled downside, you are a mere cog in the grinding horror megastructure. And as the horrific atrocities pile up one by one, understand that there is no ill intent meant toward the hapless upsiders. Yes, it’s unfortunate that you had to lose a few appendages… But this is simply just a part of doing business. 😉

The New Girl breaks a bit from the formula of the last two books. Here, most of the action takes place upside, but we are at last allowed a downsider POV, in addition to the other two upsider POVs. I was forever waiting for the next POV section starring Penter, Deputy Node Liaison for the Ministry of Upside Relations. All Penter wants is to do her job, but the more time she spends upside, the more nuggets of humanity she discovers within herself. Can a downsider learn what love is? You’ll need to read the book to find out.

For fans of dark humor, Silent Hill 3, or body horror, this series is a must, in particular the first book. The South African setting, too, adds another fascinating layer to the whole effect. In short, I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and I’m hoping S.L. Grey release something new soon, since it’s been a little while since their last book.


Just a brief reminder that a new chapter for The Gold in the Dark will be up this Sunday! All right, that’s all for now. ❤

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

I read pretty much exclusively fiction, but even so, a good majority of the books I read are for research purposes, with the aim of informing and improving my writing. I might pick up a book that I think would be a good comp title, reread a book to study an author’s voice or methods for conjuring a specific mood, or even read a new release just to stay in touch with current literary trends. All this is why I basically abandoned reading fantasy last year—I just had a lot of books to read for research, the majority of them great, but none of them fantasy.

So it was for research purposes that Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies came onto my radar. I was considering including a character with agoraphobia in my new “Beauty and the Beast and aliens” WIP, so I wanted to get a sense of how this condition is tackled in fiction, especially in YA fiction. Gornall herself drew on her own experience and struggles in writing this book, and it shows—there is nothing in this book that is not raw and authentic. I read it in less than twenty-four hours—simply could not put it down. The MC is absolutely compelling, a character you can’t help but root for as she deals with OCD, anxiety, and agoraphobia, all while building a relationship with the handsome, awkward boy next door who sees past her mental health struggles. Voice is everything in this book, and Gornall lets us stay tapped into the MC’s thoughts like we’re a neuron in her brain. She’s flawed, funny, likable, and, above all, real. You can see how she comes to have the thought patterns she does—I found this fascinating, especially because I recognized some of my own unhealthy thought patterns taken to the next level by the MC. It really gave me pause and helped me examine my own head space.

You might be wondering if a book spent pretty much entirely in the MC’s house would grow stale, but nothing here is boring. In fact, this is one of those rare reads where I finished it and felt that sad, lonely ache, where you just want to go back to page one and start the story over again. Suffice it to say that this is a five star read.

I also want to briefly laud the author’s treatment of the MC’s relationship with her mother. I adore realistic parents in YA, and the relationship here was just perfect—nothing forced or scripted.

In the end, I did make the decision that an agoraphobic character isn’t the right fit for my book. Anxiety or OCD might make an appearance, not sure yet, but definitely not agoraphobia. And I am so happy to have been able to read this book to make an informed decision about that. I will absolutely be picking up future works by this author, and I recommend Under Rose-Tainted Skies for… everyone! Everyone should read this book! Right now!

ARC: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon Pulse/Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Serious Moonlight debuts April 16th.

You know when you see a perfect cover, and you think to yourself, well, the book can’t possibly live up to THAT, could it? They’re compensating for something, right? Well, banish those fears—Serious Moonlight is a cozy contemporary that pairs an adorable romance with memorable characters and a Pacific Northwest setting. In my opinion, this book is exactly what new adult should be: kids post-high school taking their first steps into “adulting,” with sex present, but not in an erotic way. It has a YA contemporary voice, but the MCs are just a tad bit older. I also truly appreciated how Bennett placed her characters in a non-school setting. I’ve heard so many calls from people in publishing asking for manuscripts featuring MCs navigating college, and I’m just… not really interested in that?

The pitch is that the MC, Birdie, hooked up with a cute guy in his car, then totally freaked out and literally ran away from him. She’s doing her best to forget all this… but then said cute guy, Daniel, happens to work at her new job. Gotta be fate, right? But both Birdie and Daniel are going to have to work through a lot of things before they can get their happily ever after. Oh, and there’s a “mystery” in the book as well… I use quotes here because the mystery aspect really isn’t that big of a focus; we’re all just here for the developing romance between Birdie and Daniel. It’s cute, they’re cute, the setting’s cute, everything’s cute, cute, cute! Love it.

All this isn’t to say that the book is perfect. Daniel is a bit too much of a “nice guy” for my taste; he treats Birdie like gold at every opportunity, giving her all possible outs from their relationship. That didn’t come across as caring to me so much as unsexy; I was hoping he’d grow a spine. But Daniel did grow on me in time, especially as he plans one awesome date after the next. The one with a Clue focus? (Trying not to give anything away.) I was Googling if anything like that existed in my area. (Unfortunately looks like I’d have to travel to Boston, so… meh.) There was also some cringey, wooden dialogue—I could have done without the “skedaddling” scene. But these are just small quibbles; the setting, the characters, the “found family” aspect, the pitch-perfect new adult feel all added up to a thoroughly enjoyable read, so I will definitely be checking out Bennett’s other books.

The Stone’s Heart by Jessica Thorne (The Queen’s Wing #2)

The first in this science-fantasy series, The Queen’s Wing, is the best book I’ve read this year hands down, so suffice it to say that I was beyond excited to read The Stone’s Heart and bought it the day of release. The Stone’s Heart picks up pretty much exactly after the last book ended and introduces Petra, Bel’s bodyguard, as a new POV; the book shifts between their POVs throughout. It took me a little while to feel fully immersed in the book, but that was really a me-thing instead of a book-thing—sometimes you’re just not in that SFF mood, you know? But things clicked for me about a quarter of the way in, and I was fully along for the ride.

Thorne crafts great characters and excellent plots, with world building that’s just the perfect ratio of science fiction to fantasy. As I think I said in my review of the first in the series, whoever is doing the marketing for this series is picking the wrong comps (Sarah J. Maas and The Selection). I think a wayyyyy better comparison is the Lunar Chronicles series if it were aimed at slightly older readers. And can we talk about that last bit? Because this series is not YA; I don’t care what the marketing and the cover indicate. Yeah, it’s written in a YA-ish voice that’s going to appeal to YA fans, but these characters are too old for that designation, sorry. I get it, that’s where the money’s at, but… can we try the New Adult thing again? Pretty please? Because a couple books I’ve read this year fit super well in that category, and I just wish traditional publishing and bookstores would acknowledge that we can make this a thing if we all just take a trust fall together.

I really enjoyed the new POV; these characters are full-fledged, with their own hopes, dreams, and back stories. If you are a fan of courtly (and interplanetary!) intrigue, definitely pick this series up, since there are a ton of twists, turns, and back stabbings. Thorne is really skilled at writing plot twists that truly come from left field but feel absolutely plausible. There’s no listed third book on Goodreads, but I’m praying that the author has one in the works, since I’m on board for this series for the long haul—hoping it’s not a trilogy, so we can get more, more, more! And in the meantime, I might take a look at her back list, since she also writes under Ruth Frances Long and R. F. Long.

ARC: The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz

Thank you to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. The Dark Game debuts April 11th.

This may have been a poor choice for a first book to read by Jonathan Janz. I didn’t know much about Janz, though the name vaguely rang a bell. (More on that later.) The premise is a bunch of writers competing for mentorship and future literary prestige at a spooky retreat. Normally I’m not huge on stories where the MC is an author; the characters always read cringy to me, like an over-the-top author-insert. But the whole writer competition thing sounded fun, so I decided to request the book.

Yet it turns out that ten writer MCs read more cringy to me than one writer MC, by a factor of about ten-fold. (Whodathunkit.) Again, this is totally a personal preference thing; I just can’t get past all the talk about agents and advances and genre dissing, since I’m forever trying to suss out Janz the author’s actual thoughts.

He narrowed his eyes, appraising her. “You look like a YA writer. Am I right?”

She considered telling him of her early success, transforming his arrogant expression into a look of awe.

Take the above quote, for example—what do you mean by that exactly, Jonathan Janz? You wanna throw down? Huh? Huh? 😀

But then. Then. We get to the above and beyond part. Because Janz inserts multiple mentions of one of his own novels into the book and talks up how great it is. Read that again. One of the writers on the retreat is writing one of Janz’s books, The Siren and the Specter, and keeps saying how it’s amazing. It’s bookception, with a marketing twist. As my husband put it, “Wow, that takes a lotta balls.”

This is when I realized why Janz’s name seemed so familiar to me; I have The Siren and the Specter on my (lengthy) Goodreads TBR. Honestly I have no idea if there are other Easter eggs in The Dark Game, but I wouldn’t be surprised. My overall sense is that this book might be great for diehard Janz fans as a sort of fan service book, but it left me kind of feeling like I was missing a bunch of inside jokes, while also being served some sneaky advertisements. I also had a difficult time connecting with the characters since there were just so damn many of them. Some had interesting back stories, but most felt fairly interchangeable, and it was hard to keep everyone straight. (Save for Sherilyn; really enjoyed her brief POV sections.)

So I’m not ruling out reading another book by this author, but suffice it to say that The Dark Game was unfortunately a miss for me.


Just a real quick reminder to everyone that the next chapter of The Gold in the Dark will be releasing this Sunday at 11 AM EST! This is one not to miss, since there’s a new POV incoming. (Oooooh.) All right, that’s all, folks. ❤

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

Okay, what do I even say about Maureen Johnson at this point? She’s awesome? I love her characters, her voice, her plotting? Does that about cover it?

Listen, Maureen Johnson has a certain style that you’ll either like or you won’t, and her books are all different versions of the same wonderful thing. Quirky and intelligent MC, no parents for miles, a way of inserting detail and humor into the text that keeps you just reading one page, no, two pages, no, twenty pages more… If this is the sort of thing you enjoy, then go read the first in the Shades of London series, or Truly Devious, or 13 Little Blue Envelopes. (And presumably anything else by Johnson, all of which I’m sure I’ll read eventually.) If you’re trying to decide between her series, here’s a cheat sheet:

  • Shades of London series for ghosts (this book, The Madness Underneath, is book two)
  • Truly Devious series for true crime and historical elements
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes series for quirky road trips

It’s been a while since I read the first Shades of London book, so I got to rediscover the MC, Rory, in this second in the series. A Louisiana native transplanted to a London boarding school, Rory behaves in a way that feels authentic. There are more than a few points in the book where I was mentally screaming at her to do something, anything other than what she was doing, but even when Rory’s making bad choices, you can see why she’s making them. She’s flawed but relatable, and you can’t help but be on her side, even when she’s royally fucking up.

So what else do I have to say about this book? It had that classic “recovering from the first book” feel, especially given the emphasis on therapy. I can understand if a lot of readers feel this book lags in the first half, but again, I don’t care; something about Johnson’s writing just calls to me, and the rip-roaring ending made up for any slowness. Plus it’s totally allowable to slow things down temporarily after the frenetic ending of the previous book. Our MC is in high school and just went through some truly traumatic events—it would be unrealistic to push ahead with the story any faster.

As the book moves toward the finish line, there’s a plot twist that I’ll admit I saw coming, but the execution and details of the surprise were still exciting and unexpected. As can be expected from Johnson’s other books, there isn’t so much a resolution at the end of this book as a pause and shift in the action, compelling us to reach for the next in the series. Cliffhangers are just something you have to deal with if you’re a Maureen Johnson fan.

I did also feel that the plot held together more cohesively than the first in the series. Leaving aside the aforementioned cliffhangers, the ends of both books struck me as a little bit off, like the reader is being expected to take a too much of a leap of faith, all at a breakneck pace. You can definitely leave both of these books with a dazed, what even just happened feeling. Yet the second book is an improvement on the first—not quite so manic, not quite so out-of-the-blue.

So overall The Madness Underneath was a crazy fun read (I mean, it’s not Truly Devious, but whatever…) and I’m looking forward to picking up the third book in the series.

Short Tuesday #4: “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” by Edgar Allan Poe

For this week’s Short Tuesday, I switched away from the Kelly Link collection to a short story anthology called S.O.S.: Chilling Tales of Adventure on the High Seas. This is a pretty obscure anthology, with only one Goodreads rating and two Amazon reviews, so I’m excited to see it passes muster! Sometime soon I’ll tell you how I came to have this book in my collection… but not today.

The first story I read in the anthology was Stephen King’s “Survivor Type.” It’s a grisly tale about a surgeon with copious amounts of heroin marooned on a barren island, but I unfortunately can’t find a legal copy to link to, so I don’t want to dwell on it overlong—just know that I highly recommend it, but readers should have a strong stomach. 😉

The second story I read was Edgar Allan Poe’s “Manuscript Found in a Bottle.” It’s been forever since I read any Poe, so I was excited to jump in, but pretty much from the start I didn’t enjoy this story—heretical, I know, since Poe is an American literary legend. I found the story’s language too dense to be enjoyable (though now I know what simoom means!), and the plot was also… nonexistent? The story is more a description of an immense, fantastical ship than anything else. I can see a tie to modern weird fiction, though, which is unsurprising given that Poe spearheaded the movement.

One last interesting thing to note is that some critics believe Poe meant this story to satirize classic sea tales. Maybe that’s one reason it wasn’t working for me, since I don’t normally read sea tales, let alone older ones. I’m not writing off Edgar Allan Poe, of course—just simply don’t think “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” is the tale for me.