{ARC Review} Devils and Thieves by Jennifer Rush

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I received an ARC of Devils and Thieves by Jennifer Rush from The NOVL in exchange for an honest review.

In Devils and Thieves, Jemmie Carmichael doesn’t do magic. It’s not that she can’t (although she doesn’t believe her locant powers are very strong); it’s that magic causes an almost synesthetic response in her. When she casts spells or when someone else does, she can see and smell the invisible magic. Unfortunately, that often causes a sensory overload that she chooses to self-medicate with alcohol. To keep her mother and her friend, Alex, from worrying, she’s always kept this ability secret, allowing everyone to believe she simply doesn’t perform magic because she’s not good at it.

Her reticence about her power becomes a liability when people begin disappearing at the annual kindled festival. When she discovers Alex is among the missing, Jemmie reluctantly teams with the leader of the biker gang, the Black Devils, to uncover what’s happening. This leader, Crowe, just so happens to be Alex’s brother and the boy who broke Jemmie’s heart a year earlier. Things won’t be easy for Jemmie as she’s forced to embrace her powers and make peace with Crowe if she’s to have any hope to track down the villain who’s keeping those she cares about for his own nefarious purposes.  

Devils and Thieves takes place in a world in which magical folk (or kindled) inherit specific powers through their bloodlines. Jemmie inherited her father’s locant power–which gives her the ability to create force fields and bind people’s magic. Her friend Alex’s family can use their venemon to heal or hurt those around them. There are approximately twelve types of magic in all, and although it’s difficult to keep them straight, the general setup of Jemmie’s magical world is a fascinating one. It’s interesting to see an urban fantasy setting tie together biker gangs, magic, and young adults. There’s no werewolves or otherwise mythical creatures here, but the world is brimming with magic all the same. The novel almost exclusively takes place within the kindled community so you get a strong sense of the magical system and hierarchy within that world. I’m happy that this is the first book in a series because I definitely want to find out more about magic which is just hinted here.

In many ways, Devils and Thieves reminds me of a mix between the Twilight series and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy. Thankfully, it shares enough strengths with Shadow and Bone to keep me interested in reading on. Like I said, I loved the world building and the plot was fast-paced and easy to get lost in. I blew through Devils and Thieves in two days–which is fairly impressive since I usually have to force myself through one hundred pages a day (and that’s only manageable on good days). Devils and Thieves, however, never had a boring moment. It was just what I needed to keep me entertained during two dreary, fall days.

My only negative about Devils and Thieves is the part that did make it similar to Twilight. I’m not a fan of overbearing leading men and Crowe was of the controlling type. I didn’t like how he lorded over Jemmie, forcing her to go home from parties when she didn’t want to and being otherwise physically imposing. Of course, sometimes Jemmie acted too stupid to live and I’m ashamed to admit I might have had the desire to shake her myself. I didn’t find Jemmie or Crowe particularly likeable, but from the ending of this book, I suspect I’ll be way more into her character, at least, in book two. Beyond that, thankfully I liked the rest of the book enough that the characters didn’t ruin things for me.

If you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy, magical systems, and looking for a quick, engaging read, I’d recommend picking up Devils and Thieves. It’s not perfect but it’s a fun ride all the same.

Three out of Five Stars.

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{Book Review} The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

IMG_1993.JPGOne of the worst book series I ever finished was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. The plot about an evil corporation using children to cure a disease is not awful in and of itself. The books individually were fast paced and the main character a bit dull but not hateful. The problem came when I continued to pick up book after book, hoping for a conclusion to a story that increasingly made less and less sense as it went on.

By the last book, I was ready to throw it across the room.

After finally finishing the first book in Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series, I realized with much chagrin what book The Knife of Never Letting Go reminded me of. It was The Maze Runner and now I’m awfully nervous to continue on with his series.

In The Knife of Never Letting Go, our hero Todd Hewitt lives in a town where men can hear each other’s thoughts. He’s been told that’s because an alien race called the Spackle released the Noise on the human settlers during “the war.” Now, Todd not only hears his adoptive fathers’ and the townsmen’s thoughts but also those of his dog and the sheep he cares for. As bad as all that Noise can be, sadly, way back when, it also came with the germ that killed off all the women on the planet, including Todd’s mother.

As the novel begins, Todd nears his thirteenth birthday. He’s edging toward that day when the village will celebrate him becoming a man when he discovers a Silence in the old Spackle village. This Silence moves and he soon discovers that this rip in the Noise is caused by a girl. In saving her life from the village holy man, Todd finds himself on the run from his own town with many questions about the world he thought he knew.

 

Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go is a 400+ page escape novel. Todd and the girl, Viola, run and run and run some more to get away from Todd’s town and its holy man, Aaron. While that’s exciting for the first three hundred pages or so, it gets monotonous once you realize there’s no resolution coming once they get to the duo destination. I completely understand that this is the first book in a series, but it ends more like it’s part one of a huge novel rather than a book in and of itself. I left the novel wondering if this is one of the many occasions when two books could have been edited into one. There’s no way I needed four hundred pages of two kids being on the run–particularly when action and horrible things happening trumped characterization and actual plot. This, in particular, reminded me of the Maze Runner books (and the latter Hunger Games novels) and that’s not confidence inspiring.

Perhaps, if the characters in The Knife of Never Letting Go had been more than caricatures or one dimensional stick figures, the running might have been less objectionable. Todd, in particular, never felt like a real human being. He struggled and cried and cared but had no personality to speak of. He was just on the page emoting and I found it so hard to empathize with that. Viola was slightly better. She had a life on her ship and actual opinions and thoughts. It wasn’t until her friendship truly started to bud with Todd that I found her a little eye-rolling as well. As for the villains, well, they were baddies of the unkillable, mustache-twirling type and I found them tedious at best. Aaron was particularly annoying. I don’t care much for straight up crazy villains and he was straight up crazy. He also should have died in the book about five times over. (I’m still not entirely sure he won’t show up in the next books as it is.) While teen books don’t always have complex villains, I expect them to have villains that at least make sense.  

I know it’s starting to sound like I hated this book. I didn’t. The novel had strong points–especially when it was dealing with ideas rather than character. I completely appreciated the way The Knife of Never Letting Go handled killing. I always loathe when books/movies/TV series make killing carry no weight within the story. The choice to murder and to kill continually plays a HUGE part in Patrick Ness’ novel, and it was such a relief to see that choice carry consequences and emotional turmoil with it. I also liked how the novel played with masculinity and I have a feeling that particular concept will be explored further as the series continues on.  

I’m not entirely certain, however, I will be continuing on with this series. I have heard it gets better, but I have been burned before (see The Maze Runner again). I just wish The Knife of Never Letting Go had offered me more substance from the start. I like stories with complex characters and engaging plots and that’s not what I was offered here. I feel like my time could be better spent on other series (and there are so many out there), but we’ll see how hard up I get for books in the future.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend The Knife of Never Letting Go unless you love action-oriented novels or are looking to complete your homework before the film comes out. Also, if dog deaths bother you, I beg you to stay far away!

Two and a Half out of Five Stars

If you could speak to animals, which would you try to make your new best friend?

On Loving Reading and Under the Dome

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Reading has always been a capricious hobby for me. When I was in high school, my habits shifted with my mood and I’d go weeks or sometimes a month without reading anything. In college that changed–both because I was an English Major and because I self imposed a 100 book reading goal on myself. Reading was still a joy in spite of that (I read many film scripts later in my college career to get me to that one hundred) and it didn’t stop being joyful until I became a substitute at a public library.

Working at a library makes reading a self-preserving necessity. If I’m not reading when there aren’t patrons at the desk, I’m usually on Twitter–which isn’t exactly good for my mental health nowadays. I always have to be reading a novel or some non-fiction then, but the trouble is that, deep down, I’m still the same reader I was as a teenager. I go in spurts of wanting to read everything and not wanting to read at all. 

That combination is a recipe for making reading a chore rather than a joy, and that’s exactly what it’s been for the past three years. There have been a few bright spots (A Song of Ice and Fire–at least, when I’m not ranting about it–and my reread of Harry Potter), but for the most part, the books I enjoyed have been like ports in a storm. They don’t remind me what I love about reading as much as they keep me sane for a brief period of time. It wasn’t until I picked up Under the Dome by Stephen King that I really remembered what made me love reading in the first place.

Under the Dome is a 1,000 page doorstopper about what happens when the small town of Chester’s Mill is enclosed within a mysterious dome. It’s a science fiction novel that’s not so much interested in science as it is in characters and the horrors that are inflicted on a small town by those in charge. Basically, it’s “soft” science fiction in the extreme, but it’s exactly the sort I can dive into.

Even with its 1,000 pages, Under the Dome flew by. For me, it wasn’t like reading A Song of Ice and Fire where I struggled through the boring bits to the chapters featuring Lannisters. All of Stephen King’s tome engaged me and I quickly learned not to read it right before bed or I’d be up far later than planned. With every passing page, I worried about the characters’ survival, knowing most of them would die before the end. I fretted when they acted as if their fishbowl had the same rules and protections as the America outside their bubble. I rooted on the good guys and crazy but not villainous guys to defeat Big Jim, Junior, and the thugs running the town. In other words, I grew invested–which is something that hasn’t happened in a long time.

I wish I could pinpoint exactly what made Under the Dome so perfect for me. I cared about the characters certainly, but our heroes Barbie, Julia, and Scarecrow Joe won’t stay with me the way Detective Miller from The Expanse or Jaime Lannister for ASoIaF have. Big Jim, on the other hand, is admittedly one of the most terrifying villains I’ve ever read in a book. While on the TV show adaptation of Under the Dome Big Jim is just a car salesman and straight up murderer, the Big Jim of the book is more nefarious. He manipulates the town into hysteria for his own gain. He creates conspiracies where none exists and is not afraid to murder people in public because he knows he can spin it to his advantage. It’s terrifying mostly because he’s the sort of villain who feels real. I’ve met people I could see becoming a Big Jim–which, obviously, just adds to the scary factor.

As for the story itself, I loved the progression of Chester’s Mill’s implosion. It takes less than a week for the Millers to self-destruct their happy, little town, and while I was unsettled by it all, it’s a ride to see our heroes struggle against the insurmountable odds of survival in this bubble. I should say now that I rewatched the television show as I was reading the book and what the television show is truly missing is the ticking clock of the novel. Things get FAR worse in the book than they do in the show, but the biggest difference in the book is that there’s an insane, drug-addled man with bombs waiting for Halloween and the ever present threat of bad air quality closing in. The people in the Dome series don’t have these fears because they’re worried about the trouble of the week instead of the overarching horror of what’s happening in the Dome. Under the Dome’s story works so much better when its threats loom over 1,000 pages rather than wrap up week by week.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t watch the show. You absolutely should if you, like me, are a fan of TV that’s of the so-bad-it’s-good variety.

The book (unlike the poor, bonkers show) is fantastic throughout. I never expected to love a Stephen King novel so thoroughly, but reading Under the Dome reminded me why I love stories and storytelling so much. There’s such joy in getting completely wrapped up in a novel and I hope it won’t be another three years until I experience that again.

I highly recommend picking up Under the Dome if you’re looking to lose yourself in a horrifying Sci-Fi this fall.

5 out of 5 stars.

 

What books have reminded you why you love reading?

{Book Review} Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

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There’s something about reading mysteries once the weather turns colder. Tea, blankets, and mystery novels simply go together–even if those mysteries are set in Australia in the 1920s. Murder on the Ballarat Train is Kerry Greenwood’s the third book in her Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and for once, the chilly weather in the novel reflected the mood of the almost fall day outside.  

In the novel, Phryne Fisher awakens on a train, only to discover her entire railway car has been pumped full of chloroform. Always prepared, Phryne shoots out a window and rescues the other passengers while combating the effects of the gas. It’s only when all the windows have been opened and the passengers awakened that Phryne realizes there’s an elderly passenger missing. Phryne, as usual, takes charge of the situation–both by caring for the elderly passenger’s daughter (who suffered the worst effects of the chloroform) and taking on the case. Along the way to solving what turns out to be a murder, Phryne accumulates a lost girl, a hunky college student, and new appreciation for glee club.

The Murder on the Ballarat Train is quintessentially a Phryne Fisher novel. There’s sumptuous descriptions of fashion, many cups of spiked tea and coffee, and a handsome new paramour for our heroine. Somewhat unlike the first two novels in the series, however, Ballarat Train relies more heavily on interpersonal relationships than on solving the mystery. The book is barely more than one hundred and fifty pages long but the majority of those pages feature Phryne caring for her charges and pursuing her newest loverboy. Phryne and her faithful companion Dot spend more chapters tending the victim’s daughter (plying her with tea, clothing, and tending to her burns) than investigating the murder. Phryne also spends a great deal of pages going gaga over the newest hunk who wanders into her life.

It’s surprisingly not the murder on the train which turns out to be the mystery in this mystery novel. The side plot where Phryne adopts a young girl named Jane who has no memory of her previous life is the proper puzzle. Questions surrounding where Jane came from and what caused her to lose her memory are truly curious–which makes her story the strongest in the novel. I almost wish her story had been the focus of an entire book rather than merely the subplot in this one.

As for the main murder plot, I was frustrated by the way it played out. While the murderer was obvious from the very beginning, the motivations and conclusion were a bit out of nowhere and ridiculous. Reading the last couple chapters, I had a definitely “Huh?” expression on my face. I felt like Kerry Greenwood wanted to make the ending a bit more shocking but it didn’t pan out. For the odd ending alone, this is probably my least favorite Phryne Fisher book yet.

Thankfully, the Phryne Fisher Mysteries are enjoyable to read whether you care about the whodunnit or not. Phryne Fisher and her companions wrap you up in their world and always take you on a fun yet dangerous adventure. I read Kerry Greenwood’s series mostly for the atmosphere and that made Murder on the Ballarat Train an enjoyable read regardless on how it stuck the ending.

If you have never read any Phryne Fisher’s Mysteries, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one, but it’s not exactly worth skipping either, particularly if you like cats, hunky yet ditsy athletes, and ladies helping ladies.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

My Fall Bucket List

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Fall is boot season, and boots are my second favorite type of shoe behind Converses. I’m very excited that it finally being Fall means I get to put away my flats and low-rise Chucks and break out my Peter Pan boots and high tops. Also, it doesn’t hurt that I have cozy blanket scarves and heavy cardigans just waiting in my closet for those chilly 50 degree days.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Fall.

Now that it’s officially Autumn (Yay September!), I get to share my “Fall Bucket List” with you. There’s nothing earth-shattering on it, but I’m looking forward to all the cozy, pumpkin-y activities all the same!    

My Fall Bucket List

  • Carve Pumpkins ~ I have a love/hate relationship with carving pumpkins. I hate the squishiness of pumpkin innards and the mess it leaves on your hands, but oh, do I love the look of finished Jack O’Lanterns and the feeling of accomplishment at having made a funky looking Halloween decoration all my own! I want to have another pumpkin carving night this Autumn, and hopefully, I’ll be able to come up with a nifty design (Spoiler Alert: It’ll probably be Star Wars-related).
  • Watch Four Horror Movies ~ I’m squeamish about horror. . .which is something you might not expect from a person who loves the TV show Hannibal very intensely. When it comes to films, though, I tend to avoid anything with too much blood, gore, and violence (I will never ever watch a Saw film, for example.). I would like to *try* to expand my horizons a little this year and watch a Halloween-type film that’s a bit more adventurous than Hocus Pocus or Practical Magic. Any recommendations for scary films that aren’t that gory?
  • Read a Stephen King Novel ~ Every year, I say I’ll read a Stephen King novel in the lead up to Halloween, and every year, I fail spectacularly. Not this year! I’ve already purchased my to-be-read book and I’m pleased to announce that it’ll be the total chunker Under the Dome. I’ve been rewatching the spectacularly awful TV show adaptation this Summer (I love it so much) so it’s about time I gave the source material a try.
  • Watch Northanger Abbey (1987) for Halloween ~ Watching Northanger Abbey on Halloween is a tradition I started about five years ago. If you’ve never watched the 1987 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, you are missing out. The adaptation is nowhere as good as the 2007 version with Felicity Jones and JJ Field, but it is bonkers and that’s all that truly matters.
  • Read One Classic Novel ~ Every year, I try to read one new-to-me Classic. I did read The Hound of the Baskervilles this year already, but I’d also like to tackle a novel either by George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, or one of the books I’ve missed by a Bronte sister. I’m not certain which book I’ll choose yet. Hopefully, it’ll be one from my shelves so I can check another purchased book off my TBR.
  • Knit Indy a Sweater ~ Indy has a lot of fur so he might not *technically* need a sweater, but I’m sure he could still use one when he goes on walks this (likely frigid) winter. I already have the yarn picked out (it’s a sea green color) and I’d like to get working on it before it’s too, too cold out. I’m also counting on his dog sweater giving me some much needed practice knitting clothes so I can FINALLY knit a Weasley sweater for myself before Winter is out.  
  • Drink Spiced Apple Cider ~ I love Spiced Apple Cider and I look forward to it showing up on the shelves every year. I can only drink it in moderation (thanks to all that sugar wreaking havoc on my anxiety levels), but I love savoring it when I give myself the chance.
  • Watch Stranger Things ~ Oh my gosh, so Stranger Things is back in October and I am hyped. I think I’m having withdraws from all my favorite spooky shows (seeing as they’re either cancelled or abandoned) because I am so glad this show is finally coming back. I really cannot wait to see more Hopper, Nancy, and Steve in particular. They are my faves!
  • Bake a Pumpkin Pie (or Anything Pumpkin) ~ I used to love eating pumpkin muffins and pumpkin roll every Autumn. Now, thanks to being on a gluten free diet, my store-bought pumpkin options are limited to Pumpkin Spice Cheerios and (gross) pumpkin-flavored yogurt. I baked a delicious pumpkin pie last year so I might try that again OR I might be braver and attempt a gluten free pumpkin roll or muffin. Only time will tell. . .
  • Start Recording a Podcast ~ Working at a library gives you ample time to listen to podcasts so I’ve become a tad addicted over the last two years (If you’d like recommendations for non-True Crime podcasts, let’s say I’ve got you covered). Lately, however, I’ve really been wanting to start my own. Unfortunately, thanks to me being horrible at decision making, I’ve been struggling to come up with a definitive focus. This Fall, I need to buckle down a pick a topic and name a just get going–which, for me, is MUCH easier said than done.

What’s on Your Fall Bucket List?

Top Ten New Books on My Fall TBR

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Joining in on The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday again. This week’s theme is Fall TBR!

Summer is my least favorite season for reading. I hate that it’s hot and sunny and I don’t feel like drinking tea when I curl up with a book. Fall, on the other hand, is so much more conducive to reading. I’ve already been spending cooler afternoons wrapped up in my fox blanket with a cup of tea and pillows. I only wish I could eat wheat so I could have a biscotti or a scone to keep me company.

*Searches Pinterest for Gluten Free Biscotti Recipes*

Now that the season’s are changing, my new seasonal TBR is remarkably vast (unlike my sad Summer one). I have more than a handful of books on my shelf that I’d like to get to before Autumn’s out and a whole host of books on hold for me at the library. Today, I’m only sharing the books on my library holds list as there are quite a few. Next week, I’ll have my “From My Shelves” TBR up too!   

Top Ten New Books on My Fall TBR

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1. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (October 10) ~ I have read a grand total of one John Green book and it was the completely basic choice of The Fault in Our Stars. I actually loved it–which is surprising only because I’m not a huge consumer of Contemporary YA or sappy(ish) love stories. When I saw Turtles All the Way Down in my library catalog, I figured why not add it to my holds list (I’m the 6th of 16 holds), and now, as the release date gets closer, I’m actually excited to pick it up. I might want to read at least one more of John Green’s books before Turtles is released. If you have a recommendation as to which one, be sure to tell me!

2. There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins (September 26) ~ Of course, I’ve read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. There’s Someone Inside Your House sounds NOTHING like that. It appears to be a book version of a slasher film, and I figure that’ll be a perfect thing to read leading up to Halloween. Also, I have to admit that I’m downright curious how the author of Anna writes a horror novel. Should be interesting!

3. The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente (September 5) ~ I love Catherynne M. Valente. She wrote The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland series and Deathless. She has a flair for fairy tales (not really surprising I’ve read a number of her books then), and I’m fascinated that her next novel is a Middle Grade fantasy novel about the Brontes. Obviously, it’s a must-read for me.

4. Artemis by Andy Weir (November 14) ~ I have mixed feelings about Andy Weir’s The Martian. It’s one of those unputdownable books that don’t particularly stick with you after you’ve finished the last page. Still, his second novel Artemis sounds exactly like my sort of thing. Lady smuggler heroine? Check. Powerful people hiding a conspiracy? Check. Takes place in space? Definite check.

5. Warcross by Marie Lu (September 12) ~ Everyone seems to be talking about Warcross. I keep seeing that pretty cover on book blogs, booktube, and across social media. Its premise appears to be “What if Ready Player One wasn’t awful?” and I’m all for that. I’ve never read anything else by Marie Lu, but she’s writing Batman: Nightwalker as well as Warcross so that’ll be changing soon!

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6. Barbary Station by R. E. Stearns (October 31) ~ I have another book about space criminals on my list (not surprising at all). This time, they’re space pirates and they’re running from an evil AI. The only way this book could be more of a “Melissa Book” is if the AI could inhabit robots or if there are robots involved period. I await that reveal with bated breath.

7. Retrograde by Peter Cawdron (September 12) ~ There’s a surprising number of Sci-Fi books that appeal to me this Fall. I’d say I have very particular taste when it comes to Science Fiction (Robots! Criminals! Noir! Space Zombies!) but Peter Cawdron’s book about what happens to a Mars colony when disaster strikes Earth is loosely up my alley. I’m hoping it devolves into a horror story about survival–which is exactly up my alley.

8. An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard (September 26) ~ An Unkindness of Magicians is a Urban Fantasy, but it’s also a story about fading magic, a powerful magician, and a decaying system which reminds me a lot of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Sorcerer to the Crown–two books I absolutely loved. This novel, however, is set in New York and presumably modern day but I’m absolutely hoping that all that adds an interesting dynamic to this sort of Magic Society story.  

9. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (October 10) ~ A retelling of Snow White where the Evil Queen is the heroine? Oh my gosh, yes please! I’m also all for an East Asian inspired fantasy world. I have the tendency to read a lot of European and Indian inspired fantasy so it’ll be a nice change up to read something set in a different type of world all together.

10. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston (October 3) ~ By the title alone, I thought That Inevitable Victorian Thing was going to be a Steampunk novel. As it’s actually set in the future, I doubt it, but, who knows, there could still be airships. (Let there be automatons, at least!)  E. K. Johnston’s novel is actually about a descendant of Queen Victoria and seems to be a courtly, political drama. The description on Goodreads is confusing  yet interesting enough to get me picking up this novel. I want to see what it’s actually like!

So, What Books Are On Your Fall TBR?

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{Book Review} The Girl With All the Gifts

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Melanie lives in the bunker and knows very little of what exists outside the little world of her cell, showers, and classroom. She spends most days studying math, science, literature, and history while locked in a wheelchair–the only bright spot in her days being when her teacher is Miss Justineau. She doesn’t know a different life so her limited experience is not strange to her. There are times, however, when she is curious about the outside world and the secrets those at the bunker are obviously keeping from her.

Unfortunately for them all, Melanie will have the opportunity to discover them.  

The Girl With All the Gifts is an action-packed, popular Sci-Fi novel in the vein of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter or Wayward Pines series. These books are emphatically not thoughtful, character-driven novels. They’re plot-driven, high concept rushes–perfect for movie or TV series adaptations and people needing an engaging, quick read (i.e. they’re great reading slump busters). None of that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you need fluff with teeth. I certainly did when I picked up this book.  

M. R. Carey (a.k.a. Mike Carey of comic book writing fame) never lets us readers take a breath or forget the high stakes in The Girl With All the Gifts. You know the very lives of Melanie, Miss Justineau, and their companions are on the line as things go from bad to worse at the bunker and you’re waiting for something truly awful to happen to them. In that respect, you might be disappointed. There’s not *quite* so much death and mayhem here as you might like (okay, I might like), but what Carey’s novel lacks in excessive blood and gore, it makes up for in the mounting terror that infects each of the characters. The most frightening aspects of The Girl With All the Gifts aren’t violent but rather psychological because, while the writing is reminiscent of Blake Crouch, the story is cousin to Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Childhood’s End.

What I liked most about the novel was watching Melanie’s limited experience of the world widen. As she learns more about humanity and what happened to the England outside of her cell, it’s fascinating to see how she deals with the logical ramifications of her knew knowledge. Melanie might be a child, but she is fearless in the face of mounting danger and is a genius who is able to extrapolate truths from the facts she learns from her companions. Both of those things make her dangerous–both to her enemies and possibly even to her friends.     

While Melanie’s story in The Girl With All the Gifts is thoroughly entertaining and frightening, it doesn’t quite make for the perfect action juggernaut. There are plot holes and the characters’ depth is shallow at best (most notably with the onenote villain). The plot maybe relentless, but the first act is a slow enough burn that it’s difficult to get through if you don’t already know where the story is going. None of this makes the book unreadable. It just makes it no shocker that I struggled through the first 150 pages but read the remaining 250 in one day. There are obviously worse faults to have, but I don’t think The Girl With All the Gifts is a book I’ll reread because of them.

If you like thrilling Sci-Fi/Horror or are looking for a book to break you out of that reading slump, definitely give The Girl With All the Gifts a chance. It’s not a perfect read, but it will wrap you up in it’s chilly embrace and refuse to let go.
Do you have any books you’d recommend to end a reading slump?

{Book Review} A Feast For Crows by George R. R. Martin

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It didn’t take me quite as long to read A Feast for Crows, but my enjoyment level between it and A Storm of Swords can’t even be compared. Once I struggled through the first three hundred pages of A Storm of Swords, I reached the wonder that was simultaneous road trips and Jaime and Brienne BFFing all over the place. A Storm of Swords quickly became my favorite book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series thanks to the antics of Jaime, Tyrion, and Brienne so it came as a shock to find the next book such a trudge.

A Feast for Crows focuses on the stories of the Lannisters (sans Tyrion), the female Starks, the Grejoys, and the Martells. There’s a handful of other characters and families in the mix, but A Feast for Crows keeps it’s eyes on Cersei and her struggle to keep Tommen on the Iron Throne. There’s plots concerning Myrcella, Greyjoys restless for power, Littlefinger playing the long game, and discord in the Lannister House.  The familiar characters plot and scheme while the rest struggle to stay alive.

It’s the same old game of thrones–expect nothing earth shattering happens until the last fifth of the book.

While A Storm of Swords was filled with character development, forward plot momentum, and lots of main character deaths (bye, Joffrey), A Feast for Crows seemed content to drag itself along like a half dead auroch. I struggled and struggled through chapters concerning the Greyjoys (Dear George, please kill these characters off forthwith), and nearly threw the book against the wall whenever Jaime and Cersei’s viewpoint chapters failed to move the plot along whatsoever (I love you, Jaime, but fulfill the prophecy and kill you sis already). It was ridiculous the level to which the plot kept being bogged down with endless characters giving endless history lessons and no one doing anything.

To me, Samwell Tarley’s storyline was the only one with proper character development, emotional stakes, and a plot period. Sam’s never been one of my favorite characters, but I found myself longing for his chapters in A Feast for Crows because I wanted to know what happened next to he and Gilly on their journey to Oldtown. I can’t say I looked forward to reading any other character in this entire book and that’s a shame.

What A Feast of Crows really needed was a heavy hand when it came to editing. So much of this book felt unnecessary and indulgent. I understand that some fantasy readers might love the breadth of his worldbuilding, but George R. R. Martin allowed backstory to bog down his actual story and it was problematic. If George R. R. Martin had cut a significant chunk of this book or simply consolidated chapters (which he absolutely could have done), it could have combined with A Dance of Dragons–which I can only assume has it’s fair share of filler too.  I’ve always been of the opinion that splitting one book or movie into two leads to trouble (hello, The Hobbit films and Connie Willis’ All Clear series), and A Feast of Crows did not change that opinion.

Now, it might sound like I absolutely loathed A Feast for Crows, but I didn’t. I still fangirled over Jaime even when his story went nowhere and I worried about Sansa, wishing for her to be reunited with Tyrion. I even adored the last one hundred pages and whooped with joy when Cersei finally got some comeuppance. I love these characters and their stories so much that I would absolutely struggle through all manner of Greyjoy chapters for their sake. I just wish I didn’t have to.

Who is your favorite Game of Thrones character? Do you struggle through these books for their sake too?

{Book Review} Eligible: A Modern Pride and Prejudice Retelling

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Mhairi McFarlane’s retelling of Pride and Prejudice spoiled me. I read Here’s Looking at You two years ago, and I still can’t stop thinking about how perfectly it updated Jane Austen’s most popular work to modern day sensibilities. McFarlane impressively managed to keep the spirit of Jane Austen’s writing–the romance, humor, social commentary–without keeping every plot point of the novel in place. Too many of Jane Austen’s revisers slavishly stick to the source material without wondering whether the plot points transition believably to a story set in the 21st century.

One such revisionist is Curtis Sittenfeld, but even as Jane Austen acolytes go, I don’t think I’m completely off-base in calling her Pride and Prejudice retelling, Eligible, a particular train wreck. Unlike McFarlane, Sittenfeld forgoes the spirit of the novel in favor of transcribing the plot and inserting unnecessary twists for shock value.

In Eligible, Liz Bennet and her sister, Jane, leave New York City for Cincinnati after their father has a heart attack. Liz and Jane–the only vaguely respectable and responsible ones in the Bennet family–are forced to take over their father’s care and the maintenance of their parents’ crumbling house since their three sisters and mother claim to be unable to help.

Liz, a writer-at-large for a feminist beauty magazine, spends her days in Cincinnati trying to get an interview with icon Kathy de Bourg, sorting out her father’s astronomical medical bills, and trying not to dwell on her married boyfriend, Jasper Wick.

Jane, on the other hand, has bigger worries. She’s nearly forty and still single so she’s been trying to get pregnant from via artificial insemination. This may or may not have complicated repercussions when she begins falling for the star of a Bachelor-like reality show, Chip Bingley.

With Jane more than preoccupied with her own drama, Liz struggles to keep the family afloat while trying not to get too distracted by the pompous neurosurgeon, Fitzwilliam Darcy–who just so happens to know more about her boyfriend’s past than he’s revealing.

Things go from bad to worse for the Bennet clan over the course of Eligible as couples are ripped apart, spiders infest their already declining home, and Lydia runs off with her boyfriend, Ham–who has a Secret with a capital “S.”

Spoilers Ahead.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible has many problems, but the greatest of these is Liz Bennet herself. Somehow, Sittenfeld manages to make one of the most vivacious heroines in English Literature pitiful and annoying. Mostly, this is because she chooses to have Liz pine for scumbag Jasper Wick (our Wickham stand-in) for FOURTEEN YEARS. Unable to move on with her life during that time, Liz allows Wick to string her along through his various marriages until he finally notices her a decade and a half later(!!). They then begin an affair. For me, lead characters having affairs with married men is an absolute deal breaker, but somehow, Sittenfeld manages to make my standard deal breaker even more repellent by having the affair be really, really sad for Liz. She waited for this guy–who is the ABSOLUTE WORST, by the way–for so long. What does that say about her? Nothing good. It makes her come across as weak and pitiful–two words one wouldn’t generally think of as describing Elizabeth Bennet.  

To top that off, Liz is super sarcastic and mean about her sisters. She speaks ill of them to Darcy in a way that I *suspect* is supposed to be self-deprecating but is actually just awful. There’s shockingly none of Elizabeth’s wit present in Liz. Instead, her snarkiness is simply uncomfortable to read and makes her seem like a fifteen year old rather than someone who is thirty-eight.

While on her own Liz’s characterization is enough to make me loathe this novel, it didn’t help matters that I also hated how the other Bennets were presented (so cliched and predictable), the entire Bachelor plotline, and the incredible boringness of Darcy. As a Jane Austen retelling, Eligible is really one of the worst, but it doesn’t help matters that it doesn’t work on it’s own as a Contemporary Romance either. Dull Darcy and Elizabeth simply have no chemistry. I sincerely doubt their relationship would last beyond the last chapter of the novel–which isn’t the feeling I want to have at the end of a romance novel.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend picking up Eligible unless you are in the mood for a hate read. It really was only my rage and morbid curiosity that kept me going to the end of this book. If you like being fueled by rage, by all means, read this book. Otherwise, give it a hard pass and read Bridget Jones’s Diary or Here’s Looking at You instead.

What are your deal breakers in romance novels? Do you have a favorite Jane Austen retelling?

Five Books About Fascinating Women in History

Your Visual Travel Guide (5).jpgGoing back through my Goodreads categories, I discovered something surprising. Once upon a time, I’d read non-fiction regularly–particularly non-fiction of the ladies-in-history sort. Mostly, I picked up these types of books right out of college when I was missing all my History and English courses and looking to expand my horizons. I wasn’t drawn to the dry stuff though (I had gotten enough of that in school). I preferred histories with some scandal and lushness to them.

I blame watching a lot of biopics on the Tudors for this.

So, if you’re looking to expand your horizons and read more about prominent (and not-so-prominent) ladies in history, these books are a good place to start. Especially if you don’t mind a bit of outrageousness.

Five Books About Fascinating Women in History

Elizabeth and Leicester by Elizabeth Jenkins

Funny story time: In college, I was sitting on a bench reading this book about the scandalous romance between Elizabeth I and Dudley when some random dude walked up and told me I was beautiful. Me, being the very picture of tack, said “Thanks” before promptly returning to my book. (I was that girl in college who sat on benches and read and had to listen to people walking past me whispering in horror “Is she reading a book?!?!?” Basically, I am Rory Gilmore.) Gossipy historicals are completely my thing and so a book about one of my favorite historical couples (thanks entirely to Anne-Marie Duff’s Elizabeth miniseries) was pretty much un-put-downable. While it is more about the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley, there is a lot of information about the early years of Elizabeth’s life to be had within its pages. Sadly, this book is ancient, but you just might be able to find it through the library. If not, there’s a book of the same name by Sarah Gristwood that might be worth checking out.

Bride of Science by Benjamin Woolley

Speaking of gossipy non-fiction, Woolley’s biography of Ada Lovelace is gloriously chatty about all the scandalous goings on of Ada’s life. I started reading this book entirely thanks to the webcomic Lovelace and Babbage and I wasn’t disappointed. While there might not be as much of a focus on the science-y aspects of her life, it was interesting to get a picture of what she was like as a person. I especially remember there being some focus on the relationship between Ada’s mother and Byron–which really is fascinating in and of itself.

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

There are plenty of books out there compiling biographies of kings, queens, bad marriages, and scandal. (Surprisingly, I don’t read as many of those as you might think.) Princesses Behaving Badly was one book of that sort I couldn’t pass up. Just reread that title! It’s so easy to overdose on toned down princess stories, but this was definitely not toned down. If you want stories of princesses who murder, cheat, and rule countries with an iron fist, this is the book to check out.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff ~ While not heavy on the melodrama (for once), Cleopatra’s a fascinating read. (Except maybe the parts about agriculture and the economy.)  I loved taking courses on world history in college and Schiff’s book totally satisfied that longing for more information about the ancient world. I’m really looking forward to reading Schiff’s new book about the Salem witch trials. How interesting will that be!

Wild Romance by Chloe Schama ~ Back to the melodrama for a moment. If you want to get mad about the plight of women in Victorian England, this is the book to read. It reminded me of the book/miniseries He Knew He Was Right because it was all about marriage, divorce, and who’s telling the truth. Theresa Longworth isn’t famous–like most of the others on this list–but her story was cool to read none-the-less.

What are some of your favorite non-fiction books? Any slightly gossipy histories to recommend?