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Book: TIGER IN THE HOT ZONE by Lauren Esker (Amazon link)
Genre: paranormal romantic suspense
Series: Shifter Agents #4
USA Release Date: available now
Source: ARC from author
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, yes, a billion times yes. You’ll get more out of the world building if you’ve read the others, but it absolutely stands alone, and is a fine place to start the series. It is absolutely the best book of the series, and I’ve loved each one a little more than the one before, so it’s a high bar to reach.

Summary: When danger threatens the entire shifter world, two rivals are about to discover they have worse enemies than each other ...

Punk-haired reporter Peri Moreland, of the popular conspiracy blog Tell Me More!, has been a thorn in the side of the Shifter Crimes Bureau for years. In particular, Peri and her tell-all blog are a headache for tiger shifter Noah Easton, who runs the SCB's public affairs office ... otherwise known as their cover-up department. It's Noah's job to make sure normal humans don't find out about shifters—especially humans such as Peri Moreland, his beautiful and oh-so-sneaky nemesis.

But this time, Peri has stumbled upon a story even the SCB doesn't know about. Half-shifted bodies, dead of a mysterious illness, have been turning up around town. Peri connects the clues and before you can say "conspiracy theory," she's on the radar of a bunch of very bad people ... and the SCB.

Noah hasn't done field work in years; ever since a disastrous assignment years ago, he refuses to go out in the field or even carry a gun. But now he's got Peri to protect and a secret anti-shifter organization on his tail. They're out to kill anyone who gets in their way before their custom-engineered shifter plague can do its work. As the SCB's agents fall sick one by one, can two pariahs team up to save them all?

Review:

(Let’s just get the shallow out of the way first: holy hell, that cover model is smoking hot.)

This is much more of a thriller than a romance, though there is plenty of romance, too; for me, the balance is perfect. Peri and Noah have been subtly flirting for awhile as they keep running into each other at scenes where Noah is having to cover up the truth from Peri; we’re told this more than shown it, and my only complaint about the romance is that we didn’t get to see more of this previous slow build before they’re giving into their attraction, first for sex and then for a serious relationship. (This complaint is limited to the build of the romance itself; starting the book any earlier would have slowed down the thriller plot, and that would have been a bigger shame than missing out on some of the romantic development.)

I love both Peri and Noah as characters, together and apart, especially when they end up spending a little time with Peri’s past. I don’t know if the reveal about where she grew up was supposed to be a surprise or not; I figured it out very early on, but I grew up in a slightly similar background, so it is possible that I am extra sensitive to plots that have it coming. And the way Peri uses her prosthetic running leg in her adventures is fantastic. Watching her learn to rely on other people, to trust them despite the huge lies they’ve been telling her (understandably to protect their world) was fantastic, and I thought she changed in a very believable way.

Noah is a particularly compelling character, and probably my new favorite out of the entire series. He’s a black man who became a Shifter Agent because his parents started the entire organization, and he thinks it’s what they want for him, but he’s not particularly happy. In part because unlike the field agents who get to save lives, all he does is tell lies and destroy them to discredit humans who have seen too much. That would be a much worse position. His background was wonderful, too, the reasons he took himself out of the field, and how he struggles now that he’s been forced to return. He, too, grows throughout the story, and when we finally get to see his parents, their relationship with each other and with their son is warm and wonderful and exactly what I was hoping to see.

I don’t want to give away the plot, because it is a rollicking adventure, but it is generally very well paced, face and interesting. Things do slow down a little during the middle, when Peri and Noah end up alone together and then dealing with some of Peri’s past, but though I normally would have been put off by that de-escalation, this time it mostly felt like a nice little breather before the excitement of the plague story picked up again.

I loved this book, and how it expanded the world of this series, and I can’t wait for more. The ending itself is cheesy as hell, which is probably the lowest point in the story for me, but the rest of the story is so great I can’t really bring myself to care much about that ending. I love the world building and the characters, love the plot and the new shifters, love how much is answered by the end and how much is left open (though that means the wait for more is going to be excruciating), and I highly recommend you read this book and this series.

(Final bit of shallow: Noah is so hot, y’all, and so RIDICULOUS. He is a tiger shifter, and he wears a leather jacket with fucking tiger stripes. HOW HAVE YOU EVER KEPT A SECRET IN YOUR LIFE, NOAH? HOW? I love him so much.)
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Book: DRAGON’S LUCK by Lauren Esker
Genre: paranormal romantic suspense
Series: Shifter Agents #3
USA Release Date: available now
Source: ARC from author
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, so much yes, all the yes! Amazing main character in Jen Cho, fantastic adventure, well-written details, and great worldbuilding mean this is a fast, fun read well worth visiting again and again.

Summary:
Jen Cho is a gecko shifter and infiltration expert for the Shifter Crimes Bureau. But this time she's in over her head—out of touch with her handler and head over heels for a sexy gambler who mistakenly thinks she's as much of a bad girl as he's a bad boy.

Ambrose "Lucky" Lucado has been playing in high-stakes games of chance since he was big enough to see over the table. But the sexy lizard shifter has a secret: he's not a lizard at all. He's a dragon, the rarest of all shifters, thought to be nothing more than a legend. And all dragons have special abilities that other shifters don't. Lucky can "push" his luck just a tiny bit, enough to ensure that he always wins at the gambling tables.

The problem is, the rest of Lucky's family have powers of their own. His much more powerful cousin Angel can twist people’s minds, making them do whatever he wants, from forgetting they’ve seen him to shooting themselves in the head. And now he’s set his sights on Jen.

Is "Lucky" Lucado lucky enough to protect both of them?

Review:

While I do think you can read this as a standalone novel, one of my favorite parts is the depth it adds to the world already established in the first two Shifter Agents books. What we saw in HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR and GUARD WOLF was an interesting and nuanced shapeshifter world that even though it had its dangers, they were generally from familiar places (at least familiar to the characters): well-known shapeshifter types or humans obsessed with their healing abilities. DRAGON’S LUCK blows that wide open, because it blows open the idea of what kind of shapeshifters exist, what kind of powers they have -- adding dragons to the mix is fun and entertaining, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I not read the other books first. Part of the fun is feeling settled in the world, and then having my view of it changed right along with the characters.

Jen Cho is by far the strongest part of the book to me. She is amazing; smart and funny and strong and brave. I love how Esker writes details that drive home how different shifters experience the world in different ways. A gecko, for example, moves through the world in a way a wolf never could, and vice versa. And Jen having to explore a ship in gecko form was an excellent way to highlight the strengths and weakness of her form. Jen is independent to a fault, and one of the reasons I had a hard time putting the book down was because I was so caught up in her story, how she navigated needing help with not trusting Lucky, how when she did start to trust him, she was still torn between how much she wanted to tell him and how much she could actually tell him.

I liked the romance between Jen and Lucky well enough, but I think I didn’t like Lucky as much as I could have because I had just read GUARD WOLF before this, and the hero of that book is the disabled werewolf I’ve always wanted in a story. So for very unfair reasons, Lucky fell a little flat, and even more when I saw a couple of the twists in his story coming.

As with the first two books, DRAGON’S LUCK plays with some delightful tropes, from Undercover Agents to Fake Girlfriend, and Esker approaches them with a deft hand. I can’t really get into the details of the other things I loved without going into major spoilers, so I will end by saying that this book was a joy to read. The pacing was fast and fun, and I never wanted to put it down; I pretty much devoured it in one sitting, and wanted more when I hit the last page. Jen Cho is a joy and a delight forever, and I can’t wait to see more of her back with the rest of the agency. There are some plot points revealed during this book that have opened up a great number of future stories, and I am so excited to see what comes next! I’d be counting the days until the next book, but I’m afraid that will make me sad, because unless I can read it in, oh, the next thirty seconds, it is far too long to wait.

However, that means you have time to go read all three books AND the short story “Chasing Bigfoot,” and I strongly recommend you do so immediately.

Note: DRAGON’S LUCK is the first of the series not to include a BBW female main character. Neither of the women in HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR or GUARD WOLF read as very fat to me, but they at different times do think of themselves as fat and are self-conscious about that. Which is fine, and can be realistic, but is not my favorite part of stories about fat women. It was nice to see Jen be confident about her body, but I do wish we would have seen more of that from the fat characters, too. (And when I double checked at Amazon, only HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR appears to be labeled as BBW now, though I would have sworn GUARD WOLF was too when I grabbed my copy. Ah well.)
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Wiscon 40 happened over the weekend, and part of it was great, and part of it was terrible, and part of it was heartbreaking, and part of it was exactly what I needed. So there's that. I actually only came home with two new physical books, which is shocking, and I'll talk about them once I read them. I came home with a bunch of art, but I can't show everything just yet, because I huge chunk of that includes gifts. I was able to buy directly from the artist twice, and tell them how much the pieces meant to me, so that was particularly nice.

(I may have to put together some art myself for next year's Art Show. We'll see. And yes, I plan to go back next year. I think we've talked JBJ into coming, too. He'll love most of it.)

What I've Read

TRUST ME, I'M TROUBLE (sequel to TRUST ME, I'M LYING) by Mary Elizabeth Summer (Book Depository links): This was so good. SO GOOD. It surprised me with a romantic thing, and then broke my heart, but it was wonderful and exactly what I wanted (minus the heartbreak, but it fits), and I laughed, and I couldn't put it down. Can't wait for the next book.

HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano: Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It's about a boy imprisoned for murder who can leave his body at will and the girl he teams up with to find the true killer. I liked this a lot, mostly, though his voice didn't always work for me. I really loved the way Cosimano handles descriptions and details.

What I'm Reading

FAT VAMPIRE by Adam Rex: No link, because I pretty much hate this book and do not recommend you try it. Someone recced this to me awhile ago, and then someone else more recently when I mentioned I was doing the fat characters in SFF panel at Wiscon, and both of those people were VERY VERY WRONG. It is terrible, and I want my money back and the time I wasted reading it. There's racism and homophobia and sexism and serious fat hate when it comes to fat female characters, though the dudes don't get it as bad, and just fuck off into the sea, book. Fuck off into the sea. (Odds are high I will not finish it, obviously.)

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (Book Depository link): FINALLY delving into this, and it's interesting so far, though it's not holding my attention the way her writing usually does. I have been super distracted, though, between Wiscon over the weekend, and then a grant symposium today that took me out of town for awhile.

What I'll Read Next

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1) (Book Depository link): I'm trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.
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Not sure how the day got away from me yesterday, but here's this week's belated Wednesday Reading.

What I've Read

TEN MILES PAST NORMAL by Frances O'Roarke Dowell (Book Depository link): Lovely, quiet contemporary about reluctant farm girls, family dynamics, girls playing bass, and Civil Rights activists. I know I've read the first half before, but I did not remember the second half at all, so I'm not entirely sure if this was a first time read for me or not. It was a lot of fun, and I'd love to spend more time with these characters.

SLEEPAWAY GIRLS by Jen Calonita (Book Depository link): A cute contemporary about a girl standing up for herself from her best friend for the first time and going away to camp for the summer. There's a little bit of BUT THIS COULD BE FIXED IF YOU JUST TALKED TO EACH OTHER that annoys me no matter where it shows up, but it's cute and fun. I just learned there's a second book, so that's exciting.

THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry (Book Depository link): Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. A (fairly quiet) murder mystery about a girl whose mother was killed when she was just a toddler, and whose father was suspected of being the killer. Now, when she's nearly an adult, additional evidence reveals that her father was killed at the same time, and the killer is still out there somewhere. It's a fairly interesting story, but I had a hard time staying engaged with it, even though I liked the grumpy main character a lot. I'm working on a review of this one.

THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS by Sarah Jude (Book Depository link): Creepy horror\suspense that is super atmospheric and wonderful. A few decades ago, one of the townsfolk killed their May Queen and disappeared into the woods; they can still hear his screams. Now once again animals are being brutally slaughtered, and then girls start dying. There's a sweet little romance, the descriptive writing is fantastic, and I ended up loving this book despite the fact that it falls squarely in the Kill Your Queers trope. (TV Tropes calls it Bury Your Gays, but that leaves out a lot of sexualities.) I really like horror set close to home, and this works for me a lot. If I could read it on its own, divorced from a world where there are so many dead queer girls in particular in fiction, I wouldn't even have minded that the death drives the straight girl's motivations and emotions, but I can't. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. Still, excellent book.

What I'm Reading

TRUST ME, I'M TROUBLE (sequel to TRUST ME, I'M LYING) by Mary Elizabeth Summer (Book Depository links): I really enjoyed the first book, even though it has some absolutely ridiculous parts, and so far, I'm loving the second one even more. These are fun grifter-gone-good stories with some awesome teen girls, and I am a fan of that combination.

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King (Book Depository link): Yes, I am still reading this. I really like Lisey, and I love the way her history with her husband unfolds throughout the story, in pieces and present thoughts and scenes set back in what she remembers, but it is really slow paced and easy to put down, so it is taking forever.

TREASURES, DEMONS AND OTHER BLACK MAGIC by Meghan Ciana Doidge (Book Depository link): I think I'm at least going to finish the first trilogy. I don't know if I'll continue it after. We'll see how much annoyance at the main character's "quirky" traits (and my dislike of first person narrators) balances against the stuff I do enjoy. So far, the stuff I enjoy is losing out, but maybe once I'm done with the cliffhanger ending, I'll like it more.

What I'll Read Next

HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano: Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It also came out this week, and I'm so excited to read it. It's about a boy imprisoned for murder who can leave his body at will and the girl he teams up with to find the true killer.

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (Book Depository link): Don't know why I haven't read this yet, because I normally read McGuire's work immediately, but I am looking forward to it.

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1) (Book Depository link): I'm trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.
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What I've Read

CAMP FEAR by Carol Ellis: Out of print, but one of the Point Horror-esque books from the 90s that I love most. Mother's Day is a difficult time of year for me, so I went back to some easy comfort reading. A bunch of counselors are getting a summer camp ready before the campers show up, but there's an old secret about a dead boy that haunts them. (Also, I love Point Horror snarky recap sites: CAMP FEAR at The Devil's Elbow.)

THE INVITATION by Diane Hoh (Amazon link): Another 90s Point Horror book (this time actually a Point Horror), but this one has been reprinted as an ebook. Biggest social party of the year turns into a Most Dangerous Game situation. More comfort reading.

HEIR APPARENT by Vivian Vande Velde (Book Depository link): Another comfort reread for me. Shocking, I know. Total immersion gaming goes wrong, and a teen player must solve the swords and sorcery game before her brain melts. This was my introduction to Velde, and I love it still.

What I'm Reading

THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry (Book Depository link): Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It came out this week, and I'm about halfway through. I like it so far. It's about a girl whose mother was killed when she was just a toddler, and her father was suspected of being the killer. Now, when she's nearly an adult, additional evidence reveals that her father was killed at the same time, and now no one knows what happened. Of course Olivia sets out to solve the mystery.

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King (Book Depository link): Yes, I am still reading this. I really like Lisey, and I love the way her history with her husband unfolds throughout the story, in pieces and present thoughts and scenes set back in what she remembers, but it is really slow paced and easy to put down, so it is taking forever.

TREASURES, DEMONS AND OTHER BLACK MAGIC by Meghan Ciana Doidge (Book Depository link): I think I'm at least going to finish the first trilogy. I don't know if I'll continue it after. We'll see how much annoyance at the main character's "quirky" traits (and my dislike of first person narrators) balances against the stuff I do enjoy. So far, the stuff I enjoy is losing out, but maybe once I'm done with the cliffhanger ending, I'll like it more.

What I'll Read Next

THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS by Sarah Jude: Just arrived in yesterday's mail. It's supposed to be a creepy horror-esque book set in small town Missouri, and I can't wait to read it.

HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano: Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It also came out this week, and I'm so excited to read it. It's about a boy imprisoned for murder who can leave his body at will and the girl he teams up with to find the true killer.

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (Book Depository link): Don't know why I haven't read this yet, because I normally read McGuire's work immediately, but I am looking forward to it.

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1) (Book Depository link): I'm trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.
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I’m a Book Depository affiliate, and will receive a small credit if you order from BD using any of the BD links below. There is no additional cost to you.


What I've Read

GUARD WOLF (Amazon link) by Lauren Esker: GUARD WOLF is the second book in the Shifter Agents world. You guys, this has become the Seattle werewolf book of my heart, and I can't wait for the third book, which is supposed to be out this year. I will be doing a review of the first two books later.

THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Boys #4) (Book Depository link): Went ahead and read it to avoid spoilers. (Also, it gave me something to read that wasn't online, so I could also avoid spoilers for Captain America: Civil War.) I liked it well enough, I guess, but I thought the pacing was off, especially in the ending. And I have some concerns. I will need to think about this further.

EARTHBOUND BONES by ReGina Welling (Amazon link): Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. I think the bones of the story were good (pun intended), but the pacing was terrible; the beginning, in particular, dragged, and then the ending felt rushed. I didn't connect with any of the characters, in part because of the random head hopping. And I have a problem with the way angel-magic is presented as this cure for mental illness. I won't be reviewing this in more depth (...probably), so I don't want to get into great detail, but I was mostly left frustrated and annoyed. I wish I'd liked it better, though. The bones of the story were wonderful. (Basically, it is about an angel who thinks she has fallen from grace and is now trapped in a human body, the small town that embraces her, and the old mystery she solves.)

What I'm Reading

THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry: Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It came out this week, and I'm about halfway through. I like it so far. It's about a girl whose mother was killed when she was just a toddler, and her father was suspected of being the killer. Now, when she's nearly an adult, additional evidence reveals that her father was killed at the same time, and now no one knows what happened. Of course Olivia sets out to solve the mystery.

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King (Book Depository link): Yes, I am still reading this. I really like Lisey, and I love the way her history with her husband unfolds throughout the story, in pieces and present thoughts and scenes set back in what she remembers, but it is really slow paced and easy to put down, so it is taking forever.

TREASURES, DEMONS AND OTHER BLACK MAGIC by Meghan Ciana Doidge (Book Depository link): I think I'm at least going to finish the first trilogy. I don't know if I'll continue it after. We'll see how much annoyance at the main character's "quirky" traits (and my dislike of first person narrators) balances against the stuff I do enjoy. So far, the stuff I enjoy is losing out, but maybe once I'm done with the cliffhanger ending, I'll like it more.

What I'll Read Next

HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano: Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It also came out this week, and I'm so excited to read it. It's about a boy imprisoned for murder who can leave his body at will and the girl he teams up with to find the true killer.

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (Book Depository link): Don't know why I haven't read this yet, because I normally read McGuire's work immediately, but I am looking forward to it.

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1) (Book Depository link): I'm trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.
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I haven't read a ton of fiction the past couple months, in part because I've been writing a lot and focused on that and in part because I've been reading a ton of essays and articles instead. Still, here are a few things on my radar.

What I've Read

"Chasing Bigfoot" (link to author's website) and HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR (Amazon link) by Lauren Esker: "Chasing Bigfoot" is a free short story set in Esker's Shifter Agents world. I hadn't read either of the two novels set in the world, but gave "Chasing Bigfoot" a try, and was so charmed and delighted by the characters and the world I immediately bumped HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR to the top of my reading list. (I'd purchased it awhile ago, but it, with so many other books, lingered on my To Read list.) HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR is a fun, tense, sometimes sad adventure full of tropes and amazing characters, and I read it pretty much in one sitting.

What I'm Reading

GUARD WOLF (Amazon link) by Lauren Esker: GUARD WOLF is the second book in the Shifter Agents world. I started it literally the same minute I finished HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR, and guys, I have fallen in love with Avery. This is not a huge surprise, because he is a werewolf, and my love for werewolves is perhaps a little bit common knowledge, but he is a werewolf who was disabled while serving in the Army, who has PTSD addressed by the text, and who actually thinks he doesn't know how to werewolf because of his terrible childhood. I love him a ton and I want everyone to give him cuddles until he feels better, which I know doesn't actually work (and also, he's a fictional character), but that is what I want. I have also fallen in love with Nicole, who is an Australian-Chinese koala shifter. KOALA SHIFTER. This whole series is tropey and id-tastic and wonderful.

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King (Book Depository link): Yes, I am still reading this. I really like Lisey, and I love the way her history with her husband unfolds throughout the story, in pieces and present thoughts and scenes set back in what she remembers, but it is really slow paced and easy to put down, so it is taking forever.

TREASURES, DEMONS AND OTHER BLACK MAGIC by Meghan Ciana Doidge (Book Depository link): I think I'm at least going to finish the first trilogy. I don't know if I'll continue it after. We'll see how much annoyance at the main character's "quirky" traits (and my dislike of first person narrators) balances against the stuff I do enjoy. So far, the stuff I enjoy is losing out, but maybe once I'm done with the cliffhanger ending, I'll like it more.

What I'll Read Next

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (Book Depository link): Don't know why I haven't read this yet, because I normally read McGuire's work immediately, but I am looking forward to it.

THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Boys #4) (Book Depository link): My copy showed up yesterday, after about a billion emails from Amazon over the last few months changing the date and then changing it back, over and over again, so I am unfortunately super annoyed with it already, which isn't fair to the book itself. I am debating whether I should reread the rest of the series real quick before I start this one, but to avoid spoilers, I may go ahead without taking the time to do that.

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1) (Book Depository link): I'm trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.
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I’m a Book Depository affiliate, and will receive a small credit if you order from BD using any of the BD links below. There is no additional cost to you.


What I've Read

Mostly comfort rereading.

BATTLE MAGIC and MELTING STONES by Tamora Pierce, set in the Emelan world. BATTLE MAGIC is about beloved characters caught in a war, and MELTING STONES about volcanoes and magic and learning how to be a good person. They're pretty wonderful.

What I'm Reading

Time to drop everything else for a new Incryptid novel! CHAOS CHOREOGRAPHY by Seanan McGuire came out yesterday, I received my copy today, and I am already well into it. I'll probably be done by tonight. I love the Incryptid stories so, so much; they are stories of family and monsters and making the world better for everyone, not just the people like you, and they are such satisfying reads. (Even though I'm not all that fond of either of the two main narrators so far; I'm holding out for the Antimony books myself. Still, they are fun, and I reread the whole series at least once a year. CHAOS CHOREOGRAPHY is book five, though there is a sixth book in the same world.)

BEHOLD THE BONES by Natalie C. Parker is the sequel to BEWARE THE WILD, which I read and reviewed last year and really loved. I'm about halfway through BEHOLD THE BONES, and it is already even more enjoyable and wonderful than BEWARE THE WILD. I love the main character, Candace, and her sharpness and her drive and her logic an unbelievable amount, and I can't wait to finish her story.

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King: Yes, I am still reading this. I really like Lisey, and I love the way her history with her husband unfolds throughout the story, in pieces and present thoughts and scenes set back in what she remembers, but it is really slow paced and easy to put down, so it is taking forever.

TREASURES, DEMONS AND OTHER BLACK MAGIC by Meghan Ciana Doidge: I think I'm at least going to finish the first trilogy. I don't know if I'll continue it after. We'll see how much annoyance at the main character's "quirky" traits (and my dislike of first person narrators) balances against the stuff I do enjoy. So far, the stuff I enjoy is losing out, but maybe once I'm done with the cliffhanger ending, I'll like it more.

What I'll Read Next

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1): I'm trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.

Originally posted at carlamlee.com.
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NORTHWOODS cover
Book: NORTHWOODS by Bill Schweigart
Genre: Horror, though the publisher lists it as urban fantasy
Series: Second book, first is THE BEAST OF BARCROFT
USA Release Date: February 16, 2016
Source: Arc provided by the publisher, Hydra, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, with the caveat that for all its diverse characters, the presentation of the Ojibwe people and the use of Native American beliefs as monster-bait can be frustrating. The story is interesting, though, a fast-paced adventure with monsters and gore and a team-as-chosen-family that I really started to love by the end.

Note: Links to the books are Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

Some borders should never be crossed. From the author of The Beast of Barcroft comes a waking nightmare of a horror novel that’s sure to thrill readers of Stephen King and Bentley Little.

Ex–Delta Force Davis Holland, now an agent for the Customs and Border Protection, has seen it all. But nothing in his experience has prepared him for what he and the local sheriff find one freezing night in the Minnesota woods.

Investigating reports of an illegal border crossing, the two men stumble across a blood-drenched scene of mass murder, barely escaping with their lives . . . and a single clue to the mayhem: a small wooden chest placed at the heart of the massacre. Something deadly has entered Holland’s territory, crossing the border from nightmare into reality.

When news of the atrocity reaches wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance, he sends a three-person team north to investigate. Not long ago, the members of that team—Ben McKelvie, Lindsay Clark, and Alex Standingcloud—were nearly killed by a vengeful shapeshifter. Now they are walking wounded, haunted by gruesome memories that make normal life impossible. But there is nothing normal about the horror that awaits in the Northwoods.


Review:

When I first saw NORTHWOODS on NetGalley, I was immediately drawn by that cover, which is both interesting enough to make me want to read the story, and a great throwback to the cheesy monster horror movies that I love. There’s a lot in the summary that appealed to me: a monster in the Minnesota woods, cryptozoology, a team previously formed in the hunt for a shapeshifter and now dealing with the trauma of that, and I was excited to have the chance to read it.

This is very much a plot-driven story – as you might expect from a book about monstrous murders in the deep winter woods -- but Schweigart has also created some fine characters here. Though I haven’t read the first book in the series, THE BEAST OF BARCROFT, I had no trouble immersing myself in the story, in large part, I think, because it opens with a new character, Davis Holland. Davis is a Black man who has seen too much war both as Delta Force and as Customs and Border Protection, and he is my absolute favorite character in the book. He balances federal and local law enforcement politics well, mostly with ease, but when it comes back to bite him in the ass, he doesn’t let anything stop him from protecting his new home.

I was also very intrigued by Lindsay Clark and Alex Standingcloud, though less so by Ben McKelvie, who generally comes across as the standard straight white guy asshole protagonist readers are supposed to root for. Lindsay is a white lesbian, smart and sharp and shaken by what happened to them in the previous book; Alex has been mostly estranged from his Ojibwe family, particularly his father, until he has to recover from the events of THE BEAST OF BARCROFT. Now the monstrous has come home to roost, and Alex is struggling with his own identity while trying to figure out what is killing people around him. While all three are dealing with their trauma, it feels particularly real when Lindsay and Alex are alone in the woods and dealing with their trauma in different ways.

There are multiple monsters in NORTHWOODS, terrible, frightening, and wondrous, and watching these two teams – Davis and his friend, Sheriff Gil Ramsey, work together from the first chapter, and Lindsay, Alex, and Ben come into the story from a different angle – try to figure out what has gone wrong, and how to save the people in the local towns, intrigued me enough I read the book in one sitting. The descriptions are sparse, but it works with the pacing, and I liked blunt writing style quite a bit.

The part I had the hardest time with was the Ojibwe characters and the use of Native American lore for monsters, which also occurs in THE BEAST OF BARCROFT, as referenced in this book. It often comes across as appropriative, and I am leery of books written by white people that use Native American religious belief as actual real life monsters. I also thought John Standingcloud’s dialog was off in the pacing and word choices. (John is Alex’s father.) I’m not sure about the use of “Standingcloud” as their last name, either; all references I can find to it use “Standing Cloud,” and I can’t confirm it is usually an Ojibwe name. I can’t speak to whether the details are correct – there is quite a bit about Ojibwe burial rituals, for example – but generally they seem, to me, to be done with respect and not there for exploitation. However, the Red Cliff reservation is real, as is the Red Cliff Band, and there is no indication from the author that he worked with anyone from the reservation so as not to cause harm with his writing.

There is also a spoilery thing that happens which I found infuriating. I will put it at the end of the review, so you can skip it if you choose, but it is related to this concern.

Summary:

I enjoyed the hell out of the story, and I liked that the characters were so diverse, though at times, it felt like a surface diversity, with no real weight to their experiences as men of color or a white lesbian to give them depth. I am leery of the use of the Ojibwe people, and particularly the Native American religious beliefs as a background for the monsters, particularly with the new information the characters receive at the end. In many ways, the Ojibwe characters are there as background for the white characters to learn what they need to know about the monsters, and that’s a pretty shitty use of the Magical Native American trope (which does not require actual magic, but is more about the deep spiritual wisdom provided by the character to the white main characters). I really do want to read more about Davis, Alex, and Lindsay, though Ben and the rich white cryptozoologist can spend 100% less time on screen and I’d be happy, and I’ll be picking up THE BEAST OF BARCROFT to see where it all began.

SPOILERS BELOW









I am furious that a huge part of the ending is the death and resurrection of the great white savior, Ben, while John Standingcloud and a number of unnamed Ojibwe men sacrifice themselves so the white people can live. The fact that Alex and Davis both survive salvaged this a little, but it really drove home the fact that the Ojibwe people were really there to be background for the white people a lot of the time, and there is a point where Alex literally tells the rich white cryptozoologist that he is the savior, he has to live, so Alex and Davis will stay behind to make sure the white man and the white woman can escape, which is so much bullshit I almost couldn’t finish the book.


Original post at carlamlee.com.
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What I've Read

Haven't finished anything new just yet.

What I'm Reading

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King: Yes, I am still reading this. I really like Lisey, and I love the way her history with her husband unfolds throughout the story, in pieces and present thoughts and scenes set back in what she remembers, but it is really slow paced and easy to put down, so it is taking forever.

TREASURES, DEMONS AND OTHER BLACK MAGIC by Meghan Ciana Doidge: I think I'm at least going to finish the first trilogy. I don't know if I'll continue it after. We'll see how much annoyance at the main character's "quirky" traits (and my dislike of first person narrators) balances against the stuff I do enjoy. So far, the stuff I enjoy is losing out, but maybe once I'm done with the cliffhanger ending, I'll like it more.

MR MERCEDES by Stephen King: In the middle of my traveling, I decided I needed entertainment that wasn't electronic-based, and so I grabbed a copy of a Stephen King I hadn't yet read. So far, I like it a lot; I'm about a quarter of the way through, and I like the main character, the retired detective, far more than I expected. I generally hate bad guy point of views in books like this, but it's not terrible here.

What I'll Read Next

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1): I'm trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.
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Awhile back, in a Wednesday Reading post, I talked a little bit about Gretchen Rubin's THE HAPPINESS PROJECT (and this applies to the other books in the "series" which include HAPPIER AT HOME and BETTER THAN BEFORE, at least in my opinion, though I'm not entirely sure BTB is actually a sequel). At the time, I said: I generally like Rubin’s writing, but there are so many times I end up rolling my eyes because her perspective is — well, she’s a rich straight white woman, so. There are many things she says in her writing which she doesn’t mean as harm, but they come across as harmful.

I'm actually rereading THE HAPPINESS PROJECT again in 2016 (yes, I realize I just finished it a month ago, but that was so last year), and I found the perfect example of this. When she talks about how hard it was for her to start a blog, and how she was very frustrated with the process (both completely understandable reactions), she tells the reader that in order to make it work, she "put [herself] in jail":

"I'm locked up with nowhere to go and nothing to do except the task in front of me. It doesn't matter how long it takes, I have all the time I want."


Because that's exactly what jail is like. I wish I could say "I can't believe anyone would think that comparison is a good idea" but, unfortunately, I can. Of course it's easy for Rubin to "put herself in jail" in order to trick herself into taking the time she needed to learn to post a blog. She's a cis rich straight white woman. Odds are good that she's never had to worry about ending up in jail in her life, and even if she did, the treatment she would receive would be better than poor people, people of color, queer people, and trans people, particularly where those identities intersect. It's such a casual, throw away thought, and that's part of what bothers me the most. "Oh, I put myself in jail."

No. You did not put yourself in jail, and it's unlikely anyone will ever try to put you in jail, and it's a bullshit, thoughtless metaphor.

Originally posted at carlamlee.com.
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I can't believe how few Wednesdays we have left in 2015. It's been a pretty terrible year for me and mine, but at least it is almost over. (Not that there's any guarantee 2016 will be better. We all had hope 2015 would be better than 2014, and that was very much not the case. And 2014 better than 2013, 2013 than 2012 -- 2012 really started the spiral of terrible things.)

But 2015 has been filled with excellent reading, so there's that.

What I've Read

DAUGHTERS UNTO DEVILS by Amy Lukavics: Oh, this was wonderful. I ended up reading it in one sitting, late into the night, and the creepiness of it was a joy. It's rare that any horror stories make me tense, make my skin crawl, but this definitely had its moments. Funny enough, I didn't read about the comparison most people make until after I'd finished the book. If I'd known that sooner, I would have read it the second it came out. People often describe it as Little House on the Prairie meets horror, and that's a pretty good combination for me. I definitely got Little House vibes off of it while reading (though it lacks the charming attention to detail and descriptions of food that are part of the foundation of my love of Little House, despite some of the terrible things it has to say about Native Americans), and the horror was a nice addition. My biggest complaint is that I want more; the story is rushed by the ending, and I thought Lukavics could have delved deeper into the horror and the resolution. Can't wait to read her next book, though.

THUNDERHEAD by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child: This was a reread for me. I love the Agent Pendergast series that starts with RELIC (which is, amazingly, both a book and a movie that I love, even though the stories are very different). While THUNDERHEAD doesn't include Pendergast himself, it does fall into the timeline of the series and has at least one character who appeared in earlier books. I'm always leery about reading a book by white guys that focuses a lot on Native Americans, especially as the villains, but this is fairly nuanced for its time, and has some great creepy moments that have little to do with any human threat and everything to do with being a small group of people alone in an inhospitable wilderness. Nora Kelly is a joy and a delight forever, too, as she leads a tiny archaeological crew deep into the USA southwest in search of a long lost Anasazi city.

THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin: Finished this book for the second time just in 2015. As I said before, I generally like Rubin's writing, but there are so many times I end up rolling my eyes because her perspective is -- well, she's a rich straight white woman, so. There are many things she says in her writing which she doesn't mean as harm, but they come across as harmful. I find the rest of her writing soothing (as well as her podcast with her sister, which makes me want to do more creative projects with my sisters), and I hope to make myself happier in 2016, even if everything goes wrong like it has the past few years.

What I'm Reading

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King: Still working my way through this one, though this past week didn't involve a lot of reading time. (The holidays are coming, plus I have a couple short writing projects I'm trying to get done before the end of the year.)

HAPPIER AT HOME by Gretchen Rubin: As a part of my Rubin reread this year, I'm about halfway through HAPPIER AT HOME now. I still prefer THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, but it is interesting to see what has changed (and what hasn't) between the two.

What I'll Read Next

No idea. I hit my reading target for 2015 (100 books finished), and I've been reorganizing my books, which always makes me want to reread things I love. I may let myself stick with rereading for the rest of the year, and then start my 2016 target. (Which will be 100 books, with a goal that at least 50 of them will be books from my To Be Read bookcases. Yes, plural bookcases. According to LibraryThing, where I track it, I have almost 700 books marked To Read. That's a terrible number.) (My other goal is to get a library card and make better use of it. The local library here is small, but that doesn't mean I can't have a lot of fun with it.)
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What I've Read

THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Oh, god, it was so good you guys, so much fun, and super entertaining. I find something incredibly soothing and pleasing about JLB's books, and I can't wait to read the sequel to this one. (It was a two book year for her, and I hope that continues, because YES PLEASE.)

What I'm Currently Reading

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King: Still working my way through this one, though this past week didn't involve a lot of reading time. (The holidays are coming, plus I have a couple short writing projects I'm trying to get done before the end of the year.)

THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin: This is the second time I've read this book just this year. I generally like Rubin's writing, but there are so many times I end up rolling my eyes because her perspective is -- well, she's a rich straight white woman, so. There are many things she says in her writing which she doesn't mean as harm, but. I still think there are really useful things to take away from her writing.

What I'll Read Next

DAUGHTERS UNTO DEVILS by Amy Lukavics: I'm hearing great things about this book, and that cover is amazingly creepy.
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What I've Read

CHIMERA by Mira Grant (Parasitology #3): The final book in the Parasitology trilogy. I continued to have a hard time staying connected with the main character, and the think the very end was too rushed, but I enjoyed this book, and this trilogy, quite a bit, despite my previous issue with the GIANT CONTINUITY ERROR that starts book two. Still inordinately frustrated by that.

TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton: I love ballet stories, especially ones that are so wonderfully diverse, and this was overall great. I loved all the characters, even at their worst, and really enjoyed all the obsession and drama and love and hate that fills the ballet school. Unfortunately, the ending fell flat for me. The book basically just ends in a way that felt like it had been cut off because the particular dance season had ended, not being the story itself had satisfactory rising and falling action. It's still a great book, and I'll read it again, I enjoyed it that much, but I was left feeling dissatisfied.

What I'm Currently Reading

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King: I’m pretty sure I read this when I first bought it, but can’t remember the ending at all, so I’ve decided to do a reread. Possibly a first read, if I’m confused on whether I’ve read it before. However, I've put this on hold because...

THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: While I was updating my wishlist to send to my family, I realized there was a JLB book out that I hadn't read. Which is unusual, because ever since her Raised by Wolves series, she's one of the few authors on my auto-buy list, even in hardcover. My copy just arrived, and I'm reading it immediately. So excited.

What I'll Read Next

Possibly SPELLED by Betsy Schow or MONSTERLAND by Michael Phillip Cash, which I recently grabbed as ebooks. And I just received a copy of BEDLAM LOST by Jack Castle from the publisher, and I am super excited about it. Look at this description:

Deputy Hank McCarthy has just moved his family into the remote Alaskan town to replace the local Sheriff. He doesn’t think a small sleepy town like HavenPort will offer much in the way of excitement but, considering what he’s running from, he’s more than happy about that.

New York City ballet dancer Emma Hudson is running from something too. Unlike Hank, she’s not sure what she’ll find in HavenPort, especially when supernatural terrors begin to haunt her dreams, and sometimes her waking hours. The people of HavenPort claim it’s no cause for concern. No need to act crazy. She knows what crazy is like.

When Hank and Emma share a daytime terror they begin to see there’s more to this town than they know. Unfortunately for them it’s already too late. Their paths are chosen. There’s no way out of HavenPort.

A supernatural sci-fi thriller, Bedlam Lost delivers for fans of Dean Koontz and J. J. Abrams’ LOST. Step into this story and you might not be able to leave.


Ballet! Remote Alaskan town! SUPERNATURAL TERRORS! I am so, so excited.
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What I've Read

A TRIFLE DEAD, BLACKMAIL BLEND, and DROWNED VANILLA by Livia Day (Cafe La Femme #1, 1.5, and 2): Adorable culinary crime novel set in Australia. It's sweet, and funny, and the characters are absolutely delightful. I'm not a huge fan of the love triangle, but the flirting and teasing and sleuthing is wonderful, and the world is a place I hope to visit again and again.

FOLLOWERS by Anna Davies: One of the new Point Horrors. It had a decent premise, and the characters were interesting, but the pacing was off, particularly the ending, which was terribly rushed.

What I'm Currently Reading

CHIMERA by Mira Grant (Parasitology #3): The final book in the Parasitology trilogy, I'm really intrigued to see how Grant finishes this story, but I'm having a hard time staying connecting with the main character. I hope that once I have some time to just sit and read, I'll get back into it.

LISEY'S STORY by Stephen King: I'm pretty sure I read this when I first bought it, but can't remember the ending at all, so I've decided to do a reread. Possibly a first read, if I'm confused on whether I've read it before.

What I'll Read Next

No idea. I need to sort through more boxes of books, get rid of books I won't reread, and make space on shelves for books that are still in boxes. We'll see what I uncover. I've been craving a reread of the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce (Kel is my favorite of her heroes), but I think most of them are still packed.

Any recommendations?
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I keep seeing this Wednesday Reading meme everywhere, and I really enjoy other people's posts, so I thought I would give it a try myself.

What I've Read

ALL IN by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Naturals series #3): I've loved JLB's work ever since her Raised by Wolves series. While this series didn't start out as my favorite (clearly it needs more werewolves), the characters have really grown on me, and were absolutely heartbreaking and wonderful in this book. Plus in a lot of ways, it's teen!Criminal Minds, and delightful.

FOXGLOVE KILLINGS by Tara Kelly: It was a fun mystery with a lot of potential, but the ending was very disappointing for reasons that are spoilery, and the pacing seemed a little off. I liked it a lot, though, and look forward to her next book.

PARASITE and SYMBIONT by Mira Grant (Parasitology #1 and #2): I reread PARASITE in order to read SYMBIONT because the third book, CHIMERA, will be out shortly. I think I would have liked SYMBIONT a lot more if I hadn't read PARASITE immediately before, because there is a continuity error at the very beginning which annoyed the hell out of me. It's basically used as an excuse to get the characters from one place to another, and without that excuse, a lot of the beginning of the book would be much different, and it was such a weak excuse for plotting that I spent a good half of the book grumbling about it instead of enjoying the story. And there's a lot to enjoy; I loved the characters even more than in the first book, and the plot is really interesting. It definitely feels like the second book of a trilogy, with all the weaknesses that can imply (including not really having a resolution).

JUSTICE CALLING, MURDER OF CROWS, PACK OF LIES, HUNTING SEASON, HEARTACHE, and THICKER THAN BLOOD by Annie Bellet (Twenty-Sided Sorceress #1-6): Someone recommended JUSTICE CALLING to me the other day, and it was either free or only $.99 on Kindle, so I gave it a try, and then ended up marathoning through book five. Book six came out the other day, and I grabbed it immediately. These are novellas, not novels, but the first four are really strong stories with interesting world building, compelling plots, and great characters. They are really appealing and entertaining. And then books five and six happened. Book five ends on a cliff-hanger, but in a way that worked as a shocking ending to a plot that was resolving. Book six is not actually a complete story at all. It should not have been published as is, it feels rushed and pointless, and should have been combined with whatever's coming in book seven.

STRAY, LAB RAT ONE, CASZANDRA, and GRATUITOUS EPILOGUE by Andrea K. Host (Touchstone Trilogy): This is the second time I've reread these books this year. After reading the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series (while waiting for book six), I went back to these because they are super satisfying reads. Very pleasing to the id, much like the TSS series, and I wanted the joy of them again. I have another of Host's books to read, but since it's a very different setting, I haven't yet given it a try.

What I'm Currently Reading:

I just started reading A TRIFLE DEAD by Livia Day (Cafe La Femme #1), which is a super cute "culinary crime novel" set in Hobart, Australia. I'm really enjoying the characters and the mystery, and unless something goes terribly wrong by the end, I'll be picking up the next book.

What I'm Reading Next:

No idea. Maybe THE GHOST DRAGON'S DAUGHTER by Beth Bernobich. Maybe AFTERWORLDS by Scott Westerfeld, which has been sitting around and waiting to be read for a couple months. Maybe I'll unpack another box of books and reread some of those.
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Some links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click the link, I receive a small benefit without any additional cost to you.


BOOKS

Still reading WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND by Robin Talley and just started TOUCHED by Michelle Sagara, which is the sequel to SILENCE, which I loved. (Review here.)

MOVIES

Had a mini-reunion with some of my law school bffs over the Fourth, and we went to see Magic Mike XXL. I haven't watched the first one, but XXL is ridiculous amounts of fun. Watching it brought more joy than any other movie I've watched this year, despite my love of the Marvel cinematic universe and Jurassic Park series. Surprised the hell out of me that it was one of the most body positive movies I've seen lately, too.

TELEVISION

Pretty Little Liars: I'm racing through season five. Each time I sit down, I plan to watch one episode during lunch, and then I end up watching two or three in a row. I don't even care where this story is going (well, more or less), I love the ride. The second half of the season has me filled with chosen family feelings. I love how those girls love each other and the people important to them. (Except for Ezra. Ezra can disappear any time.)

MUSIC

The road trip home from Chicago was basically All Covers All the Time because I found out J had never heard any of the "Radioactive" covers, so I played them, and then of course my second favorite song to be covered, "Bad Moon Rising." (My favorite is "Carol of the Bells" but I didn't have any on my device.)

Radioactive: Imagine Dragons, Pentatonix and Lindsey Stirling cover, and the Dirty Tees mix.

Bad Moon Rising: Mourning Ritual and Thea Gilmore.

GAMES

No time to play because of Chicago road trip + reunion, but we finally got the band back together for some Rock Band, so that was pretty epic.

(Originally posted at www.carlamlee.com.)
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silence cover


Book: SILENCE by Michelle Sagara
Genre: YA paranormal
Series: Queen of the Dead series book 1
USA Release Date: Currently available
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended?: Highly recommended, particularly for people who love ghost stories, strong friendships, and human-shaped monsters.

Summary:
"It began in the graveyard... "

Ever since her boyfriend Nathan had died in a tragic accident, Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night. During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that's all it was. For Emma, life had stopped with Nathan's death. But tonight was different. Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery. There were two others there--Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags. And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death....

Emma was not quite like others teenagers. It was true that other girls had experienced grief. Other girls had also lost their fathers, or had their boyfriends die in a senseless accident. But though she hadn't known it till that night in the graveyard, unlike those other girls, she could see, touch, and speak with the dead. In fact, Emma could draw upon the essence of the dead to work magic. That was what Necromancers did. But Emma had no desire to be a Necromancer. She just wanted to help the ghosts who walked the streets of Toronto, unable to escape from the land of the living. And that was just as well, because had she chosen the path of the Necromancer, Eric would have had to kill her.

Instead, Eric and his fellow Necromancer hunter Chase found themselves violating every rule they were sworn to follow, becoming part of Emma's group, helping her to stand against those who preyed upon the dead. But whether Emma and her friends could survive such a battle was anyone's guess. And whether Emma could learn to use the magic of the dead against her enemies without herself falling victim to the lure of such power remained to be seen. Eric seemed to think she could, and her living friends would never abandon her. But only time would tell what Emma's true destiny was....


Review:

Our main character, Emma, spends part of her nights walking her dog Petal (a delightfully sweet and funny Rottweiler) to the cemetery so she can sit in silence by her boyfriend's grave. The night the book opens, Emma actually sees someone she knows, new boy Eric.

Eric isn't alone; he's with an old woman who gives Emma the lantern she carries, along with a disturbing kiss, after she realizes Emma can see her. This unwelcome touch brings unfortunate side effects: excruciating headaches, lots of nausea, and, suddenly, Emma can see and hear things no one else can.

At the heart of it, this is a pretty straightforward story: Emma can see the dead, talk to them, use them to gain power. She's tempted by the power, mostly because she sees the ways she could use it to do good, to help the ghosts, to solve the mystery surrounding what happens to them after they die.

There are other people like her in the world, necromancers who have no qualms about taking the power for their own needs, and Eric, his pseudo-brother Chase, and the old man who trains them (plus others) hunt down necromancers and kill them.

Emma is an excellent main character and narrator. She's loving, loyal to family and friends, and driven by her desire to do good in the world. I particularly love her friendships; this is no lone girl, different from all the other girls (ignore that bit in the description). She is different than most people because she sees ghosts, but she participates in her life, even as she mourns her father and her boyfriend. She is close with her mother, she has dear friends, and those two things are such a nice change. Female friendships forever.

Also wonderful is the lack of a love triangle, which can be done well, but so often isn't. Here, Emma is still in love with her boyfriend, and so desperately mourning him, there is no real room in her life for a new romance. It's not that she'll never love again, but it would have weakened the story for her to start out mourning him, and then immediately enter into a love triangle with Eric and Chase. The way the guys are introduced could lead to that, and I braced myself, but was happily surprised when it didn't happen. Emma convinces the boys not to kill her not because they're flirting with her, but because of how much she loves her friends, her family, and how much she tries to do good for the ghosts.

For the most part, I enjoyed the Sagara's writing style, but there were a couple times that the narrative became far too talky in the middle of an action scene, including one of the last big scenes at the climax. That's not the time I should be flipping ahead, hoping for something to happen, but that's what I did.

Emma's group of friends are pretty wonderful (I particularly love her best friend, Allison, who is smart and funny and sweet, and the token mean girl who is actually friendly and loyal and snarky), but there are some issues surrounding Michael, who is autistic. I'm neurotypical, and would be speaking from a place of privilege, so I'm going to link instead to Ada Hoffman's review at Disability in Kidlit, which hits the things that pinged for me, and then goes into more depth with them: Ada Hoffman's review of SILENCE.

Quote:
This is where a lot of my misgivings about the book come from, and is complicated to talk about. I don’t want to suggest that it is somehow bad or undesirable to provide clueful help to a disabled person. Yet I think a lot of us with disabilities will feel a familiar wince at the idea of being a charity case – of being valuable, not for ourselves, but so that someone else can earn goodness points by helping us.

I really love Michael's character, particularly the way he is with child ghosts (oh, man, could be creepy because CHILD GHOSTS, ends up surprisingly sweet), but Hoffman has an excellent discussion of his purpose in the story.

In the end, I really enjoyed SILENCE, loved the characters, and immediately purchased the next book in the series. I can't wait to see what happens next, and to explore more of this delightfully developed world.

(Originally posted at www.carlamlee.com.)
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hexed cover


Book: HEXED by Michelle Krys
Genre: YA paranormal
Series: The Witch Hunters book 1
USA Release Date: Currently available
Source: Won this in a giveaway from The Hanging Garden.
Rating: 3/5 stars
Recommended?: Not really. I'm tempted to try the next book in the series, but I was highly disappointed by this one, and am not sure whether I'll stick with it due to pacing issues and a horrible love interest treated as the Greatest Thing Ever.

Summary:

A spellbinding witchy series debut.

A stolen book. A deadly plan. A destiny discovered.

If high school is all about social status, Indigo Blackwood has it made. Sure, her quirky mom owns an occult shop, and a nerd just won't stop trying to be her friend, but Indie is a popular cheerleader with a football-star boyfriend and a social circle powerful enough to ruin everyone at school. Who wouldn't want to be her?

Then a guy dies right before her eyes. And the dusty old family Bible her mom is freakishly possessive of is stolen. But when a frustratingly sexy stranger named Bishop enters Indie's world, she learns that her destiny involves a lot more than pom-poms and parties. If she doesn't get the Bible back, every witch on the planet will die. And that's seriously bad news for Indie, because according to Bishop, she's a witch too.

Suddenly forced into a centuries-old war between witches and sorcerers, Indie is about to uncover the many dark truths about her life—and a future unlike any she ever imagined on top of the cheer pyramid.


Review:

I really wanted to love this book. I love witches and witch stories, and all the buzz about this debut was amazing. Witches! Cheerleaders! Secret wars! Teenagers trying to save the world! This is going to be awesome!

It wasn't awesome. The pacing was weird, uneven, and did not do the rest of the book justice, because there is some interesting world building here, even if it sometimes strained my suspension of disbelief, and the potential for an exciting, wonderful story about a girl trying to save her mother and embrace her secret powers. And there are good things here, but the story kept kicking me out of my reading because the pacing was so uneven and awkward.

There are things I loved: Namely, Indie, our snarky, angry, sometimes whiny main character, who is annoying and obnoxious and obsessed with things I found completely unimportant in high school and absolutely wonderful. Her voice is the best part of the book by far; I am very interested in her story, and I want more, though I'm not sure I can ignore the problems I had with the book in order to read the next.

The world building is pretty awesome at times. Like I said, I love witches, and the magical world here is very interesting. Centuries old war, rules, powers that come and go -- I'm a fan. Unfortunately, the weird pacing buries the world building a lot of the time.

Some of the characters are fantastic. Indie, of course, but also her two girl friends, Bianca and Paige, are really interesting in very different ways. The villains are creepy and dangerous (if sometimes in ridiculous, over the top ways). Again, there's potential for so much more, and I want to keep going with the series to see more of this, except.

Except for the things I loathed:

There's a ton of body shame and girl hate between Indie and her friends, as well as Indie and her allies. That sucks.

The pacing, as I've already mentioned.

But besides the pacing, the biggest issue I had was with Bishop, who is one of the worst love interests I've seen in a long time. He's supposed to be this intriguing, dangerous, mysterious bad boy, but what he comes across as is a controlling asshole who needs to fuck off into the sea. His teasing comes across as cruel rather than fun and romantic, and he's basically a jerk at every turn. Ditch him, Indie. You deserve better.
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nearly gone cover


Book: NEARLY GONE by Elle Cosimano
Genre: YA thriller
Series: Nearly series book 1.
USA Release Date: Currently available.
Source: Won this in a giveaway from The Hanging Garden.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, particularly if you love smart, flawed girls, math and science riddles, and serial killer stories. It's a wonderful book with amazing characters, and I can't wait for the next in the series.

Summary:

Bones meets Fringe in a big, dark, scary, brilliantly-plotted urban thriller that will leave you guessing until the very end

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school--a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon--she'll be next.


Review:

I loved this book. I had no idea people were calling it Bones meets Fringe when I read it, but that comparison really captures how I feel about NEARLY GONE. I love Bones, I love Fringe, and the combination here is fun and absolutely entertaining.

Nearly Boswell is a delight. Yes, there's some idiot ball holding, or rather, she rushes headfirst into situations without giving it enough thought, but that worked for me. She's book smart, she's driven, and she's lonely; it makes sense to me that she's tempestuous and headstrong and a little bit naive about her invincibility. Not a superhero invincibility, but the way some teenagers can feel untouchable, even when they've already experienced pain and loss. Nearly chases a missing father, obsesses over cryptic clues in personal ads, and feels lost as she makes her way through high school, but she is wonderful, flawed and smart and strong, and I loved reading her story.

If anything, I wanted more of Nearly, especially her ability to taste emotions when she brushes against skin. That little fringe science twist to her abilities intrigued me, and I would love to see her use of that developed further. (Since there is a sequel, I hold out hope.)

The only thing that fell a little flat for me was the romance with Reece, the reformed bad boy working undercover. Something about the dynamic between them felt unbalanced, probably that whole undercover thing, though I did love the other people working with him. I hope I grow to like Reece more in the next book, because my guess is that he'll continue to be her love interest.

I loved the way Cosimano wove the clues through the personal ads, mixing science and math and riddles in wonderful ways. Between the clues and Nearly herself, I was sucked into this book, and could not put it down until I'd devoured it all. Seriously cannot wait for the next book, and Cosimano is going on my auto-buy author list.

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