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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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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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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.


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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the_chance_you_wont_return_cover


Book: THE CHANCE YOU WON'T RETURN by Annie Cardi
Genre: YA contemporary
USA Release Date: Currently available.
Source: Won this in a giveaway from The Hanging Garden.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, particularly because of the wonderful, nuanced portrayal of mental illnesses.
Content Note: Parent's nonspecific mental illness with delusions and people's reactions to it, including shame and anger. Decent depiction of anxiety in main character.

Summary:

When your mom thinks she’s Amelia Earhart, navigating high school, first love, and family secrets is like flying solo without a map.

Driver’s ed and a first crush should be what Alex Winchester is stressed out about in high school — and she is. But what’s really on her mind is her mother. Why is she dressing in Dad’s baggy khaki pants with a silk scarf around her neck? What is she planning when she pores over maps in the middle of the night? When did she stop being Mom and start being Amelia Earhart? Alex tries to keep her budding love life apart from the growing disaster at home as her mother sinks further into her delusions. But there are those nights, when everyone else is asleep, when it’s easier to confide in Amelia than it ever was to Mom. Now, as Amelia’s flight plans become more intense, Alex is increasingly worried that Amelia is planning her final flight — the flight from which she never returns. What could possibly be driving Mom’s delusions, and how far will they take her?


Review:

Alex Winchester is an amazing protagonist in this story of love and mental illness. Alex's voice is delightful, sharp and funny without being bitter, with a razor edge to her wit. She's been placed in a terrible situation; tasked by her father to protect her younger siblings from her mother's mental illness, she's dealing with her own anxiety while trying to survive high school, including driver's ed and a confusing (and absolutely adorable) flirtation with her first crush.

I have bipolar disorder (which presents with OCD and anxiety). I'm always leery of the portrayal of mental illness in young adult books (and all media), particularly when the narrator is not the one with the mental illness being addressed. Too often, it's the "sane" character reacting to the things the person with the mental illness does, in a way that very much others people with mental illness. Not so here, in part because Alex deal with anxiety herself, a foil to her mother's delusions, but also because Cardi uses a deft hand writing both mental illnesses without blame or pity -- her characters remain nuanced and human, flawed and wonderful because of their flaws. Despite how much the mental illnesses drive the story, the characters never become just their mental illness.

I particularly liked the way the doctors struggled to find the right medication to treat the delusional disorder. I run into a lot of people who think meds are a miracle cure, but that's not how they work; there is a lot of trial and error, and it meant a lot for me to see that portrayed realistically here.

THE CHANCE YOU WON'T RETURN is at turns funny and romantic, heartbreaking and entertaining, and an absolute joy to read.
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CrimsonBound


Book: CRIMSON BOUND by Rosamund Hodge
Genre: YA fantasy/fairytale retelling
Series: None
USA Release Date: May 5, 2015
Source: Won this in a giveaway from The Hanging Garden.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, especially if you love monsters and magic and girls who fight and believe despite everyone around them.

Summary:
An exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, from the author of Cruel Beauty.

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in a vain effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as the two become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic . . . and a love that may be their undoing. Within a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?


I haven't read CRUEL BEAUTY yet, but I did a little research after I received this book, and it didn't seem like I needed to have read CRUEL BEAUTY in order to understand CRIMSON BOUND, so I went ahead and dove in. I had high hopes going into this book: I love Little Red Riding Hood retellings, I love creepy woods and monsters, and that cover is a killer, just gorgeous.

CRIMSON BOUND was a wonderful introduction to Hodge's writing. I loved a lot about this book, but my favorite things are Rachelle's characterization and the descriptions of the woods. Rachelle is angry and strong, violent, and fighting an inner darkness that she believes will destroy her and anyone she cares about someday. There's evil in her world, and it is coming for them, and even though those around her mock, she believes, and that belief is strong enough I believe too. In short, she's amazing, and I love her.

Hodge has an interesting writing style here. There's a lot of fairytale feel to it, which makes sense, but I had a hard time connecting with the world. I loved the world building, the lurking woods and the monsters within, what Rachelle was to be and what instead she became, but there's a dreamy quality to the tone that made me feel at a distance to the writing quite often. I struggled a little getting into the story, and any time I put the book down, I struggled a little when I picked it up again. However, the descriptions of the woods and of Rachelle's fighting were solid, and wonderful.

I wish there were more female characters being awesome, and more of a specific female friendship in particular. I wish it was bloodier, darker; I love horror, though, and have a high tolerance for this type of violence non-sexual violence), and pretty much always want bloodier, darker, scarier. There were times the story felt stretched out, slowed down, in ways that didn't always work for me, generally when the romance plots took the lead. I wanted so much more from the shadow forest and its citizens, the creepiness as it lurked just out of sight, and the horrors that could unfold.

Overall, though, I enjoyed CRIMSON BOUND. Rachelle is a joy, fierce and dangerous and driven, and her world complicated, political, entertaining. I highly recommend CRIMSON BOUND, and can't wait to go back and read CRUEL BEAUTY. I look forward to more work from Hodge, because this was an excellent read.
seeksadventure: (horizon to chase)

The Shattering cover


[Image transcript: Three teenagers, a boy with black hair and medium-brown skin, a girl with blonde hair and pale skin, and a girl with light-brown skin and dark-brown hair, all dressed in jeans and casual tops, are running over a field of dying grass, their faces turned slightly away from the camera. They are partially silhouetted against the sun on the horizon, either rising or setting. What looks at first glance like a dark blue sky with clouds in the top third of the composition is actually an ocean with white wave patterns.] (Transcript from Karen Healey’s website.)


Well hello, long-neglected blog. I have been, and still am, very busy with work and my family (not to mention the first horrifically hot and now frustratingly frigid temperatures parts of the Midwest have swung between over the past few months weeks days), but I wanted to tell you about this book. Oh, this book.


You may remember me mentioning The Shattering by Karen Healey before, and if you have, you may be tired of hearing me say this, but I am saying it again, because it is true.


The Shattering is the book of my heart.


For full disclosure, Karen and I are friends and early readers of each other’s writing. I’ve read a couple different versions of The Shattering, and though I loved it from the very beginning, watching the way Karen developed it — watching the way Karen developed Keri, one of the main characters, the main character I adore most — was amazing. Reading this book while Karen wrote it got me through very frustrating and terrifying times. The arc she sent me arrived at a time when I desperately needed to see the dedication. (It is to me and it made me clutch the book to my chest when she surprised me with it.)


But this isn’t about me or my friendship with Karen. It is about this amazing, gorgeous, funny, slightly creepy book full of diverse characters I adore (none more than Keri, character of my heart) struggling to uncover secrets and solve mysteries and stop more people from dying, characters who are strong and weak in very different ways and yet always feel so real. It is about friendship and created family and how the desire to protect people can go so far astray. It is about thinking you’re prepared for anything and really being completely unprepared and pushing on despite that.


It is a story about three teens having supernatural adventures, and you should go buy it right now.


(I prefer the gorgeous New Zealand/Australia cover at the top of the page. The USA version, not so much. I will be buying one of each, because that is how much I love this book. Yes, one of each on top of the arc I already have. I may fill a shelf with this book, just so I have spare copies to give to people at any moment.)


Blurb: “If you want to find out who murdered your brother, follow me.”


Seventeen-year-old Keri likes to plan for every possibility. She knows what to do if she breaks an arm or gets caught in an earthquake or a fire. But she isn’t prepared for her brother’s suicide, and his death has left her shattered with grief. When her childhood friend Janna tells her that his death was a murder, not a suicide, Keri wants to believe her. After all, Janna’s brother died under similar circumstances years ago, and she insists that a visiting tourist, Sione, who also lost a brother to apparent suicide, has helped her find some answers.


As the three dig deeper, disturbing facts begin to pile up: One boy is killed every year, all were older brothers, and all had spent New Year’s Eve in the idyllic town of Summerton. But when the teens’ search for the serial killer takes an unexpected turn, suspicion is cast on those they trust the most.


As secrets shatter around them, can they save the next victim? Or will they become victims themselves?


Buy The Shattering by Karen Healey now.


Note: Links to Amazon are affiliate links which may result in a small compensation to me.


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Earlier this year, I reviewed Mansfield Park and Mummies by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian for Broad Universe’s The Broadsheet. You can find the review here.


I’m not really a Jane Austen fan (yeah, any response you have to that I’ve probably heard from my younger sister), but I did mostly enjoy Mansfield Park and Mummies. I’m also glad to see one of these mashups written by a woman; I have some problems with a guy rewriting these books written by a woman. So often women’s contributions to literary canon are ignored or overlooked or flat out denied, and I am really frustrated to see work by a highly respected and recognized author appropriated by a guy.


But this isn’t that, and I really think people will enjoy Mansfield Park and Mummies.


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seeksadventure: (Fat fat-bottomed girls)

First, an update! You may remember that for my first (Fat) Fiction Friday (here), I reviewed Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead and talked a little (and somewhat incoherently, sadly) about my responses to the main character who describes herself as fat.


Well, at The Rotund, Marianne Kirby talked about “When Fat Characters Describe Themselves: A Response to a Book I Just Finished Reading” and I wanted to link here because they are very interesting.



Second, an actual (Fat) Fiction Friday mini review!


The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Theodora Gross Part One | Part Two at Strange Horizons.


Two excerpts really capture this for me:


Beatrice: “Why do we always die in the stories?”


Catherine: “Because we’re not the ones who write them.”


and


XI. Why I Wrote This Sketch


Someday, I would like to write a book that isn’t about Rick Chambers or Astarte. It would be the sort of book that George Eliot could have written, about life in a country town and the people who live there, their jealousies, their ambitions, the minutiae of their lives. How they fall in love with the wrong people, or the right people at the wrong time, or lose the mercantile business on which their fortune is built. Or misplace wills. You know, literature.


But I’ve never experienced any of those things myself. All I know is monsters.


Mini Review: I really enjoyed this story, because I do love stories about monsters and stories about monsters doing mundane things and because I do love stories which talk about why women die in so many stories and why women need to be able to tell their own stories.


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Once again I had problems making WordPress and Livejournal coordinate. Apparently, I can't schedule a post there without it not posting correctly on LJ, which is frustrating, but I can work around it, I guess.

So last Friday, I posted this for my (Fat) Fiction Friday theme. (Though this is more just Fiction Friday.)

---

This week I bring you an ongoing series of short stories by Seanan McGuire, published monthly at The Edge of Propinquity.

Sparrow Hill Road is the story of Rose Marshall, a hitchhiking ghost, and the story of her death -- and a bit of her life -- on Sparrow Hill Road and what comes after. It's creepy and delightful, sweet and heartbreaking, and every story is filled with adventure and ghostly intrigue. McGuire has created an excellent world of ghosts and the living and the roads they share and the roads they don't.

I grew up a truck driver's daughter and have been in love with the road and with driving for as long as I can remember. The first place I go when I need a break is the highway, and no matter whether I'm in my car or on my motorcycle, watching that blacktop stretch before me feels like coming home.

McGuire deftly, expertly captures that feeling in Sparrow Hill Road. I wait impatiently each month for the next issue of the Edge of Propinquity to be released so I can slip back into a story of shadows and souls, of wandering ghosts and monsters in the darkness, and of the rhythm and pulse of the open road.

Rose Marshall's tale is incredible and McGuire's writing will still your breath.

Excerpt from the synopsis:

Welcome to the midnight America, the one that exists parallel to the "real" world. It's a dark country, one where men with hooks haunt Lover's Lane and scarecrows walk on moonlit nights. It's the place where people go when they slip into the cracks between light and darkness, a world of routewitches and oracles, demons and ambulomancers. It's the place where a man named Bobby Cross sold his soul to live forever...and where one pretty little dead girl is racing to save her soul and stop the killings that began on Sparrow Hill Road. The rules are different here, and everyone's playing for keeps. Be careful. Be cautious. And listen to the urban legends, because they may be the only things that can save you from the man who waits at the crossroads, hunting souls to keep himself alive.

Welcome to the ghostside.

My favorites so far are the first story, "Good Girls Go to Heaven" which absolutely broke my heart and showed me how much I would love this collection, and the fourth story, "Building a Mystery," but each story is excellent and they just keep getting better.

Welcome to the ghostside, McGuire says, but it sounds more like welcome home.

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