Monday, October 24, 2016

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan Review

Title: The Perfect Girl
Author: Gilly Macmillan
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book through my local library and reviewed it.

This is the first book I've ever read by the uber talented Gilly Macmillan, who made a splash last year with her debut novel, What She Knew. When I saw that she was publishing another book, a standalone mystery-thriller, with a multitude of secrets, deceit, and dark domestic drama, I just knew I had to order it from my local library. It's sat in the library stack, waiting for me to pick it up. Since my third renewal was my last, I decided to take a chance and read it--I didn't want it to go back, without having read it. And I was pleasantly surprised by The Perfect Girl.

Zoe, the main character, did something that she could never take back, three years before. The narrative goes back and forth in time, eventually catching up to the present events. When her mother is found dead after an explosive scene the night before, Zoe can't help but wonder if the killer wants something to do with her. As she frantically searches for the truth about her mother's passing, Zoe discovers that the murderer might be closer than she ever thought possible...

 I'll start with the things I enjoyed. I loved the format of the book, which goes through multiple points of view. There's Zoe, the main character, her aunt Tessa, her Uncle Richard, her solicitor, Sam, and occasionally, her stepbrother, Lucas. However, the execution was the slightest bit sloppy; sometimes, when it was going back and forth, the narrative got muddled in my head. Despite it, though, it really lent an authenticity to the narrative. It gave it a lot more depth than I expected. The pacing was absolutely phenomenal--I couldn't put it down, even though I tried several times. I was constantly turning pages, spurred on by Macmillan's creepy, beautifully fraught prose, desperately trying to figure out who was innocent, who was guilty, and who lay somewhere in between.

I also really liked the characters, all deep and flawed and tangled in their personal dramas, but my absolute favorite was Zoe, the young woman who made a terrible and irreversible mistake three years prior to when our story begins. At times, I didn't like her throughout the book. At others, I found myself weeping for her in sympathy. I really enjoyed the way all the characters were fairly morally ambiguous--it made it that much harder to figure out,  right up to the shocking and satisfying ending. Was it perfect? No, not really. But it was a really fun book, and it definitely won't be my last from Gilly Macmillan! Next on deck: Replica by Lauren Oliver!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Review

Title: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Six of Crows, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

What can I say? This book is one that I've been looking forward to all year, and waiting for impatiently ever since I put a hold on it at the library. I've been religiously avoidiing most social media outlets, because I hate spoilers and I definitely didn't want this spoiled for me. Any of it. And I succeeded! This book--it is one of my favorite books of the fall, if not the year. Holy crap. You all know that sequels make me terribly leery, because they have so much potential and sometimes they can just fizzle out. But I had nothing to worry about with Crooked Kingdom--it was everything I wanted and more.

In other words, there better be a sequel, or I'm going to cry until I'm dead. (Seriously, Leigh! Don't do this to me, I can't take it!)

Crooked Kingdom picks up where Six of Crows ended, with our ragtag gang of adorable misfits just barely able to pull off the job in the Ice Court. Bloodied and bruised and reeling from the aftermath, Kaz and the others take on an even more precarious job--one that could tip the scales forever in their favor, should they play their cards right. But some things can't be foresaw, and some of their beloved crew might not make it out of this one alive...

This sequel was wonderful, it really had everything. I'm going to be vague on purpose, just in case there are some people that haven't yet read it. The bottom line: There was action, romance, all the hilarious banter I could've hoped for, magic and mayhem and twists and thrills with every page. There was also lots of character growth and backstory--this sequel was honestly nothing less than perfect! I loved it so much--the only flaw I can truly think of was that it was too short. I hope that there is more to the world of the Dregs, because I don't want it to be over! Next on deck: The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

American Gods by Neil Gaiman Review

Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I was at the library a few weeks ago, browsing. I was almost up to the checkout counter when a book caught my eye. The cover was stark, with a dark sky lit with lightning, illuminating a lonely road. But that was only part of what caught my eye. The other part, of course, was the author. Neil Gaiman is one of my very favorite authors, probably in the top ten, and I can't resist anything Neil Gaiman--ever. When I carried it up to the check out desk, my librarian pleasantly surprised me by being excited. He said that one of the characters in the book was the African spider god of stories, Anasi. (I won't spoil the fun by telling which one!) By now, I was even more excited to read it. Plus, now that I think of it, what better book to read to get in the mood for Halloween?

When I opened it, I wasn't sure what to expect--with Neil Gaiman, you can get anything and everything, and that's part of the reason I love his books so much. The book opens with the main character, Shadow, being released from prison. But his freedom is short-lived when he becomes inevitably entangled in a skirmish between the old gods and the new ones. He uncovers deadly secrets, about himself and the world around him, and must make the decision whether to join the bloody tides of the brewing war, or to stop it--even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice.

What can I say? Neil Gaiman is like literary catnip for me. And mix in a ton of mythology, and I'm sold all over again. I loved the concept of this novel--old gods, made for the modern world, and the new ones, birthed of the golden age of technology. Anything with mythology, I'm all over it, but Neil Gaiman did it with such originality and finesse. The pacing was absolutely breakneck--I couldn't put it down, and I finished it in the tub last night, feeling like I'd found and lost some brand new friends. (Luckily, later on, there is the Anasi Boys, but that's another review.)

I really loved the characters, too. The gods were familiar to me, but they were made for the modern world, and I really liked the angle. But my favorite, my absolute favorite, was Shadow. He's probably one of my favorite protagonists to date, especially where Gaiman is concerned. I loved the whole antihero angle, and the fact that he wasn't white. (And I hear they're honoring that in the Starz adaption for next year, too! Yay!) But my favorite thing about Shadow was his innate goodness, even as the world falls apart around him. He doesn't lose his integrity.

Plus, that ending. I loved it so much--I only wish that there was more! This book was so much fun, I'm so happy I read it! The bottom line: A powerful, gripping, hilarious allegory, American Gods took me on a road trip I will never forget--one of my favorite Neil Gaiman books of all time! Next on deck: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess Review

Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning
Author: Jessica Cluess
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Kingdom on Fire, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I was kind of nervous about this book--it seems that people either love it or hate it, no in between. And I did love it--parts of it. Overall, this debut was really solid--I mean, Dickensian England? Demons and dark magic? A take-charge heroine? Adorable, brooding boys? It all seemed perfect--and parts of it were. I really enjoyed it, overall, but there were some parts that I founding lacking. First, the love triangle. I like love triangles, as long as they're done in a way that isn't instant love. Why is it in nearly every single teen novel, there has to be a love triangle?

But my favorite parts of the novel were the setting, a Victorian England straight out of Dickens novels--I was really impressed. It captured my imagination, and I really liked it. But the real star of the book was Henrietta, the mysteriously magical young woman that is the focus of the novel. She was spunky and couragerous, fierce and fiesty, and all at the same time insecure and longing for love. She was really complex and exciting, and I really related to her a lot. I also really liked the other characters, especially the boys that become Henrietta's friends. The worldbuilding was also wonderful--I really enjoyed it.

The pacing also really sold this book for me--I couldn't put it down. Watching TV, or anime wih my husband, last night, was an ordeal--I couldn't pull myself away from this book. Despite its shortcomings, like the love triangle, I really liked it--it was a fantastic debut, and I can't wait for the sequel! Next on deck: American Gods by Neil Gaiman!

Monday, October 10, 2016

As I Descended by Robin Talley Review

Title: As I Descended
Author: Robin Talley
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Horror
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Holy crap, Robin Talley. Holy crap. What have you done to me?! This book. This freaking book. There aren't enough words to describe just how much I loved this book. First off, the concept was killer for me. A Macbeth retelling, with two lesbians as the main characters? Ghosts, tons of gore, creepy, gorgeous, terrifying prose. Okay, so I'll be honest. It's not the most original--a Shakespeare retelling--but darn it if it didn't steal my heart anyway. This is my first book by Robin Talley, and it most definitely won't be my last. This book was one of my favorites of the autumn, if not the year. What a way to get in the spirit of Halloween!

As I Descended (plus, look at the cover! So sinister and creepy) opens with in-the-closet couple Maria and Lily, fooling around in their dorm room with their friends. Sounds pretty normal, right? But when Lily orders an Ouija board online, and it begins to speak to them, a sinister plan is hatched: They will eliminate everyone in their way, any way they must. When the girls act out their plan, things begin to go dangerously awry: Fellow students are dropping like flies, and the girls are beginning to see and hear things that aren't really there. The couple must decide what their dreams are really worth, or risk body count increasing...

What can I say? I loved this book--with my entire body and soul. This book made me fall in love with the horror genre all over again. It reminded me why I love it in the first place--I love getting the pants scared off of me! And this book had everything: old curses, ghosts, blood--it really did justice to the original play, even while it spun the story for a contemporary teenage audience. I love retellings, especially when they're done with such finesse!

The prose was easily one of my favorite parts of the book--it really did a good job of setting the creepy, macabre vibe of Acheron, and its students. The pacing was breakneck--I couldn't pull myself away from the book, even during the gory and frighening parts. I also really liked the characters, every single one of them, and the way Talley told each chapter from their different points of view. It only made the story better. It almost felt as if the school itself were a character in its own right, hiding secrets from the other characters as well as the reader. The bottom line: One of my favorite books of 2016, Talley delivers a homerun with her macabre, creepy retelling of the beloved Scottish Play--absolutely amazing! Next on deck: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake Review

Title: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Series: Three Dark Crowns, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I'll start this review by being honest: I love Kendare Blake, and her books. Ever since her bloody horror debut, Anna, Dressed in Blood, I've been in love with her writing style. And when I found out that her newest book was a dark horror fantasy about three sisters who literally have to fight to the death to become queen, I just knew that I had to read it. So I put a hold on the book and waited until it came. I was nervous, at first, because there was mixed reviews on it. It seemed people either loved it or hated it, no in between.

I can see how some readers found the book boring, but I really enjoyed it. The concept was original, the worldbuilding was absolutely on point, and I loved the way that the plot was carried by the characters of the book. (Plus that political intrigue though! If there's one surefire way to win me over, it's to add politcal intrigue, and lots of it!)  For me, and this is going to sound biased, this book was nothing less than a home run, and I can't wait for more from this promising series debut!

Triplets Mirabella, Arsinoe, and Katharine have always known their lot in life: To wield the ultimate power, first they must eliminate each other. Mirabella can command the elements, summoning fire and lightning with a simple snap of her fingers. Arsinoe is a naturalist, able to coax animals into doing her bidding. Katharine is a poisoner, able to ingest deadly toxic substances with little more than a stomachache. As the holiday of Beltane approaches, each sister must decide what they are willing to do to seize their crown--even if it means resorting to tactics of a nefarious sort...

As I said, I really liked this book. It had everything: a unique and original concept, magic, political intrigue, vivid, exciting worldbuilding, sympathetic, well-thought out characters, and a killer ending--that ending though! I can't wait for the sequel! As much as I enjoyed it, though, I couldn't give it a full five stars, simply because a lot of the time the family drama got in the way of everything else. Nonetheless, Three Dark Crowns is one of my favorite books of the year! Next on deck: As I Descended by Robin Talley!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Reader by Traci Chee Review

Title: The Reader
Author: Traci Chee
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: High Fantasy
Series: Sea of Ink and Gold, book one
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book through my local library and reviewed it.

God, this book. I'm so disappointed! When I read the plot and the concept, I was so stoked. The Reader had so much potential--amazing worldbuilding and fascinating characters. I wanted to love it, and for a while, I really did. But the author lost me when it came to the magic and how it worked--I didn't understand it at all. Really, really sad--I had such high hopes for this book, but the magic could use some work. I ended up DNFing at 219 pages. Next on deck: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake!