Category Archives: Book Reviews

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

 

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything

Caster Chronicles #1

Rated: ★½
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company
Publication: December 1, 2009
Genre: YA, Southern Gothic, Urban Paranormal
Personally purchased title.

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Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Either I hyped myself up far too much, or I just didn’t get it for being out of intended target age range, but I could not fall for Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Though the premise was an interesting one, and the setting built it up to be part of one of my favorite genres — Southern Gothic — it just fell flat at the end.

Before it all fell away, things were pretty decent! I could get behind narrator Ethan, just a regular ole kid desperate to leave his small town behind. I mean, I grew up on the whole “I hate my parents and this whole town” genre of pop punk bands. So, I got it. I related. I was rooting for him to escape. Then, we get Lena, desperate to fit in outcast that lives moves in with her uncle, the town recluse/eccentric. She’s mysterious and stand-offish, and oh yeah, just so happens to be the girl that Ethan has been having dreams about for the longest time. So, obviously, they fall quickly in love, to the disappointment of the parent figures in their lives, as well as society. Sound familiar? It should because it’s so painfully overdone and by the book, and while there was nothing new about it, it wasn’t terrible! It was familiar and sometimes, that’s okay!

But, if it was all following a tried and true method of writing a YA urban paranormal/fantasy book, how did it fumble? Why was I let down? The answer is simple. The entire book continually set the message of trying to escape your fate, your destiny, your town. It almost beat us over the head with the message that you didn’t have to get swept away by everyone else’s expectations and could forge your own way. And then suddenly, by the end, the message dissipates. Your own path you thought you could take? Sike, you’re stuck reliving the same roads you’ve always been on because there is no escape! It was SO FRUSTRATING! And I think, that is a major departure from most of the books in this same genre.

I go more in depth on the theme of the book and the ending being such a huge disservice to what was a decent story in the Pages and Pause Screen podcast (episode out Dec 13), so if you want to know more specifics about why I had issues with it, give it a listen! Otherwise, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl simply fell flat for me. Will not be picking up the second book in the series and honestly, probably wouldn’t recommend this to readers.

 

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

 

The Goblins of Bellwater
by Molly Ringle

Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out.

Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.

Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.

It’s a midwinter night’s enchantment as Livy, the only one untainted by a spell, sets out to save them on a dangerous magical path of her own.

Rated: ★★
Publication: October 1, 2017
Genre: NA, Urban Fantasy
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

A beautiful cover, a story inspired by Rossetti’s Goblin Market, and set in the PNW, I was all about The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle. Yet, I don’t really know how I feel about it now that I’ve finished it, other than saying it’s a true and solid three start book. The story was solid, but the pacing a little odd. Character development was good, but then weird. And the resolution we received at the end fell flat for me.

The setting and descriptions were fairly spot on. Having been to the PNW and hiking in Oregon, it felt real and authentic. I could almost smell the crisp air and feel the river and ocean mist. Ringle excelled at making this feel like a real place, but simultaneously feeling other. Perhaps it’s because these places, these peaceful out of the way woodland areas already lend themselves to your imagination, but either way, Ringle really brought out the excitement and wonder of running into fae creatures in your backyard as it were.

Character development was a bit odd. I say that only because it makes sense that it would be odd. When you have half of the 4 main characters under a spell, it’s hard to see much of a change in them. The change we see almost fades into the background with them. They exist, things happen, we’re supposed to care, but in the end, don’t really. However, when we get to the non-glamoured half, they really take off. We see how Kit is a good guy in a bad situation. We see him grow from being a loner to making all of these connections and wanting more out of life. With Livy, we see the same. From her devotion to her sister, to finally focusing on her own life, her own future. It was really great and those two were really strong characters that I would have loved to have seen more about.

Which leads me to my biggest issue with The Goblins of Bellwater: the pacing. It just didn’t click for me. There is this huge build-up at a slow and steady pace. Things are happening, slowly growing in intensity, but then suddenly, poof! Everything is fixed in a quick fifteen minute read. It felt like the set-up was more than half the story, and then the journey and resolution combined made only a quarter. I would have preferred the journey to resolving the problem to be as long as the set-up. But instead, we get a journey that happens in the blink of an eye, a resolution that happens even quicker, and then a nicely wrapped up ending. It should have taken longer.

Finally, for mentioned Rossetti’s Goblin Market, I’d feel like there’d be more to it other than hey, we’re goblins and we force people to eat fruit. I expected the tie-in to be greater or more significant. Possibly for the story to go deeper into the symbolism of the poem. For all my complaints though, The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle was an enjoyable story. I enjoyed the premise, the setting, and characters and really, only wish it was longer to more fully delve into everything.

The Haunted Forest Tour by James A Moore and Jeff Strand

The Haunted Forest Tour by James A Moore and Jeff Strand

The Haunted Forest Tour
by James A Moore and Jeff Strand

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Haunted Forest Tour!

Sit back and enjoy a smooth ride in air-conditioned comfort as your heavily armored tram takes you through nature’s most astonishing creation. The forest is packed to capacity with dangerous and terrifying creatures of all shapes, sizes, and hunger levels, and you’ll get to observe these wonders in complete safety.

Howl with a werewolf! Gaze into the glowing eyes of a giant spider! Look right through a spooky ghost! See horrific monsters you couldn’t even imagine, only inches away from you! Things with fangs, things with claws, things with dripping red jaws—you’ll see them all!

Not thrilling enough? Well, it’s Halloween, and so we’re offering a very special tour through the Haunted Forest. The new route goes deeper into the woods than any civilians have ventured before, and you’re guaranteed to get a good scare! Rest assured that every possible security precaution has been taken. The Haunted Forest Tour has a 100% safety record, and technical difficulties are unheard of. You will be in no danger whatsoever.

We promise.

Rated: ★★★★
Publication: February 17, 2017
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Personally purchased title.

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The Haunted Forest Tour by James A Moore and Jeff Strand

While searching for a good scary book to read for the Pages and Pause Screen Halloween episode, I stumbled across The Haunted Forest Tour by James A Moore and Jeff Strand. The synopsis did grab a chuckle out of me and I thought okay, clever. Maybe if the book could be half as clever, it’ll be enjoyable. Boy, was it more than just half as clever! It was surprisingly fantastic!

Haunted Forest Tour is a constant thrill. Every time a question is raised, it gets answered within the next ten-ish minutes. A character pops up that is just horrible? Guess what? He’s dead! Everything is just constantly flowing and and moving. Which is surprising considering this book has two authors. I’ve found that most books with co-authors can become clunky and the handoff from one author to another is blatantly obvious. This is definitely not the case in Haunted Forest Tour. It is fluid and seamless.

Then, there’s the perfect balance between horror and comedy. You’ll get one scene where you are completely terrified, but it will be followed up by something so foolish, you can’t help but laugh, and then we can go back to gore (which is light, in my opinion, esp when compared to something like Little Heaven by Nick Cutter). It’s all just so wonderfully crafted, a truly fantastic horror story. What makes it even better is that the questions are all answered. You don’t really need them answered, you accept it at face value. Yeah sure, New Mexico seems weird enough to have a random forest full of monsters pop up. Why not?

If you are looking for just a fun, but scary book to read, I DEFINITELY recommend The Haunted Forest Tour by James A Moore and Jeff Strand. It’s just super great and really makes me want to pick up more stuff by both authors.

 

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Labyrinth Lost
by Zoraida Cordova

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.

Brooklyn Brujas #1

Rated: ★★★½
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication: September 6, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Personally purchased title.

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Listen, a book that takes place in the outer NYC boroughs, features witchcraft, has a potential bi protagonist, AND oh yeah, she’s latinx as well? I WAS SOLD IN A HEARTBEAT! Maybe it was wish fulfillment, but Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova was just everything I have wanted in a very long time. Because of this, it had the potential to let me down, and yet, it gave me life.

Centered around a family of brujas based in Brooklyn, Labyrinth Lost follows middle daughter Alex as she fights against who her family thinks she should be, struggles to find who she actually is, and oh yeah, travels through a magical land akin to the Underworld after a spell goes awry, risking her life in the process. What really makes this book so special isn’t the magic (though it’s pretty cool), but the emotion. The ties that bind Alex so tightly she feels like she can’t breathe, but when they’re gone, she feels lost. That everything is centered on her relationship with the family, and on the search for her place within it, while magical events are afoot, just makes this feel so real and let’s it stand out from every other typical YA magical girl story.

I would be a liar, however, if I didn’t admit that it does still follow some YA conventions — namely romance with 2 love interests. However, like with everything else in the book, Cordova gives it her own take. We have a potential love triangle that DOESN’T really involve the two parties fighting constantly and forcing Alex to choose; there are moments, yes, but mostly, they are able to put differences aside for Alex’s sake and because to do otherwise would put them all in danger. Also, it’s a queer love triangle!

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova is a great read that stands out among all the other YA magical girl stories. Cordova creates multidimensional characters that feel real with realistic reactions and emotions that carry the fantastic story forward. I cannot wait for the second book in the Brooklyn Brujas series to come out!

For more in-depth commentary on Labyrinth Lost, check out the Pages and Pause Screen Podcast where I talk about the story along with my co-host Ally as it happens (Full Spoilers).

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song
by Victoria Schwab

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Monsters of Verity #1

Rated: ★★★★
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication: July 5, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Personally purchased title.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

I had been dying to read This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab after hearing from so many what a wonderful fantasy author she is. I bought the book without reading the synopsis or knowing anything about it really, while I was in Portland’s City of Books about a year ago. I just thought okay, good cover, people have said good things, I’m taking a chance! That chance lay on a bookshelf for almost an entire year before I finally picked it up for the Pages and Pause Screen podcast.

I absolutely LOVED it. I knew almost immediately this book would be a five star book. The writing was flawless and the characters were so well rounded and well written. The world-building, which can prove to be cumbersome to deal with for many, seemed seamless. Everything flowed naturally, so that any little bit of information we learned about this world, about monsters and music, came alongside the action and not in large chunks of awkward exposition that breaks rhythm.

Schwab does a fantastic job deconstructing the typical male and female roles in fantasy. Usually, we’ll see the aloof, broody male that has anger issues, and the serene, docile female that quiets the rage of the other. And then, of course, this leads to an inevitable romance, that will down the line be tested. Schwab changes everything up! She gives up the perfect gem that is Kate Harker — angry, vicious, cynical, calculating, and August Flynn — a soft boy trying to do and be good in a world that only considers him capable of being a monster, that only wants him to be a monster.

The two form an unlikely alliance considering their end goals are complete opposites — at first. Slowly, the come to know each other and then, just when you think here comes the romance, there isn’t! It ends! Do you realize how amazing this is? That, in a YA fantasy, there are two protagonists, a male and female, and they grow close and DON’T kiss kiss fall in love? I can’t remember the last time I’ve read something this compelling without romance (if you have, please do rec them to me!). It felt so good, so refreshing to have two characters meet, go through something, and then realize things are still what they are (cryptic wording simply because I don’t want to go into spoilers). Though, Schwab is fantastic at crafting their platonic relationship because if you wanted to, there’s plenty that can be construed as romantic and as hinting towards a romance. And if you don’t, then it isn’t there, taking over the spotlight of a wonderful story or being crammed down your throat.

Leaning away from the characters, the story and world is extremely interesting as well. Crimes actually have real, tangible, physical repercussions in the form of the three types of monsters: Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai. We’re told that particular acts of violence will result in their creation. At first glance, this monster system makes sense. Seems flawless, but then something happens towards the end and you realize there are cracks. This opens up what can be a great discussion on whether all acts of violence deserve to be treated the same way, whether creating one malchai by accident is just as bad as creating a malchai on purpose. There’s a reason we (in the US) have different levels of murder in the judiciary system, as well as labels that can be applied instead of murder.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab is simply one of the best YA fantasy books I have read in recent time. Set in a unique world with it’s own set of rules and norms, redefining what the other and monsters are, and putting together a pair of protagonists that fall on different ends of the spectrum in this world, yet not having them fall in a romance, are all things that set this novel apart from many others in the genre. Definitely, pick this up, find a friend, and discuss!

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

 Beasts Made of Night
by Tochi Onyebuchi

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

A gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy.

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication: October 31, 2017
Genre: Fantasy, YA
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

If there is one way to guarantee I’ll read your book, just mention sin eaters, and I’m in. The concept of people existing for the sole purpose of consuming the sins from another is just so fascinating to me. So, when I picked up Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, I already went in with high expectations and was not disappointed! Though, I did need to step back away from it for a moment.

The concept is a fantastic one, and not all that far-fetched considering the real life medieval use of indulgences. In the city of Kos, there exists a specific subset of people that have the ability to swallow sins. Each sin they swallow, they take into themselves, the feelings of shame, madness, revulsion. They are permanently marked with these sins. As such, you can only imagine how the sin-eaters are treated. Not with reverence, but disgust over the various marks of defect on their skins. The fact that they “seemingly” have no problem with taking another’s sins. Little do they care that the sin-eaters are forced to do so by a corrupt system that relies on them entirely. None moreso than the wealthy and the royals (I have so much I want to say about this book but with regards to the royals, I’ll simply say I love how it does not follow typical YA convention — tweet me if you want to discuss!).

There is a smidge of romance, which really leads to the amazing build-up at the end! And boy, that ending was just fantastic! I cannot wait for the follow-up. It was a great payoff to everything that Onyebuchi steadily built and weaved through from the start.

Now, all that said, why did I mention earlier that I needed to step back away from it for a moment? Easy peasy. I was reading and kept wondering WHY I wasn’t as into it as I should have been. It had all the elements and the writing was strong. So, why? I stepped away and thought about what I was having trouble with. That’s when it hit me — the culture/language, it wasn’t something I was used to. Most YA fantasy tends to come to us from a very European backdrop. We have a few that stray (The Bone Witch is one), but they tend not to really use the words. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova does, but I felt comfortable with that because I am latinx. So, after realizing that was what was giving me difficulty, I looked at myself and said get over it. If I can read Tolkien and all the gobbledegook languages he made up and not have a problem with it, this should be no different. I picked it back up, and it was night and day. Everything was so much easier. I got sucked it and loved every second of it. All it took was me identifying what was blocking me, to get my head in gear, unblock, and fall into an amazing story!

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi is an amazing YA novel that finally breaks away from traditional European fantasy. It creates its own wonderful mythos and is so extremely rich in detail, I could taste the foods, smell the smells, and believe in the culture. I really cannot convey how much I want everyone to read this, and if you think you don’t ‘get’ it, think about why, and go again.

*Small note – there is an exclusive Pages and Pause Screen podcast on the patreon talking about potential racism in ya fantasy and ya fantasy reviews, for any interested listeners.

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

 Ensnared
by Rita Stradling

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Kindle Press
Publication: May 23, 2017
Genre: New Adult, Sci-fi, Romance
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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Ensnared by Rita Stradling

Even though I’ve been burned in the past by fairytale retellings, I had to give Ensnared by Rita Stradling a chance. I mean, look at that cover! Though now there are two covers, the delightful one I used for this post, but also a sleek blue one, both are fitting and intriguing. Beauty and the Beast with a twist and in the future. That’s what it was marketed as, and that’s what I got. Straight, simple, to the point.

Set in a future full of advanced AI, Alainn is forced to go undercover as a robot ordered by reclusive millionaire Lorccan to keep her father from prison. Though she doesn’t want to, and it definitely wasn’t her plan, she goes along with it. Things proceed exactly as you think it would considering it’s a retelling. What makes it really stand out is the use of AI. It’s truly unsettling and definitely makes you think twice about giving Siri or Alexa access to everything.

This was well-paced, the romance was soft and easy (there is sex so keep that in mind if you’re picking this up). Characters were developed just enough to make you want to continue the story, and the world building enough to sustain the plot. I’m sure if the book were longer, or made into a series, there would be some serious snags, but as is, Ensnared by Rita Stradling is a truly enjoyable sci-fi rendition of Beauty and the Beast that I thoroughly adored.

A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau

A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau

 A God in the Shed
by J-F Dubeau

The village of Saint-Ferdinand has all the trappings of a quiet life: farmhouses stretching from one main street, a small police precinct, a few diners and cafés, and a grocery store. Though if an out-of-towner stopped in, they would notice one unusual thing—a cemetery far too large and much too full for such a small town, lined with the victims of the Saint-Ferdinand Killer, who has eluded police for nearly two decades. It’s not until after Inspector Stephen Crowley finally catches the killer that the town discovers even darker forces are at play.

When a dark spirit reveals itself to Venus McKenzie, one of Saint-Ferdinand’s teenage residents, she learns that this creature’s power has a long history with her town—and that the serial murders merely scratch the surface of a past burdened by evil secrets.

Rated: 
Publisher: Inkshares
Publication: June 13, 2017
Genre: Horror
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau

A fan of gothic stories set in small towns with worldly terrors, I went into A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau with giddy excitement. While it started strong, ultimately it left me bored.

The prologue started with such promise. It was truly terrifying, well written, and hooked me straightaway. I wondered what would happen now with this cave dwelling god. How will this small town endure?

The answer? Pretty easily. The majority of the book consists of alternating points of view from everyone in this small town all wondering how they can use the god to further their own agendas. There is never any sense of fear or worry until the very end, and even then, it fizzles. We hear that suddenly, the god is finally going to make his move, but nothing happens. The end. Literally, the town is no better or worse than they were at the start. I don’t understand what the purpose was, the driving force of the book because we start at point A, walk around aimlessly, and end at point A.

So, why the two stars? Because it wasn’t necessarily bad, it just didn’t capture me. It simply existed. It was like going on a car ride around the block. Sure, you got out of the house, but did you really accomplish anything in the end? I don’t know, I’ve struggled with writing the review for A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau for weeks now simply because I don’t know what to say. With books I’ve disliked, I try to be constructive and break down what didn’t work, what was problematic. With books I’ve liked, I talk about what worked, what made it stand out from others. With this, I just have nothing.