Archive

Archive for the ‘YA’ Category

Series Review: The Monstrumologist Series by Rick Yancey

October 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Bird on a cross against the moon.Summary:
A nursing home contacts a researcher.  An elderly man has passed away.  He identified himself to them as Will Henry, but they can’t find any record of him or living relatives.  He left behind four folios, telling what he claimed to be his life story.  The first folio begins when his parents die in a fire, and he is left in the care of his father’s employer, Dr. Warthrop.  In the 1800s.  Over 100 years ago.  And Dr. Warthrop is a Monstrumologist.  He specializes in the study of aberrant biology, or monsters.  And Will is now his apprentice.  The first thing Dr. Warthrop tells Will is that Will Henry contracted a parasite from his father.  Normally deadly, he is mysteriously a safe host.  The parasite will make him abnormally long-living, and any contact that is too close will make him pass it along to another.

What follows over the course of the folios is the tale of the monsters Will Henry faced alongside and because of Dr. Warthrop.  The anthropophagi–headless creatures with mouths in their stomachs.  The wendigo–similar to a werewolf.  The Typheus Magnificum–the Holy Grail of Monstrumology that may or may not exist.  And finally the Titanoboa Cerrejonensis–a giant snake.  There are these monsters, yes.  But there are also the questionable choices and personalities of the various Monstrumologists, and the slowly unwinding monster inside a boy who has seen too much and been loved too little.

The question left for the researcher is how can Will Henry continue along an increasingly dark path when all signs indicate he eventually happily married his childhood sweetheart?  And are these ramblings true or just the fairy tale of an elderly man?

Monsters and madness encircle Will Henry, Dr. Warthrop, the researcher, and the reader as the folios slowly reveal all.

Black silhouette of birds and trees against a moon and a red background with a face just discernible in it.Review:
There is a lot going for this series that makes it unique and highly recommendable, particularly among its competitors in YA.

It’s horror based in the realms of science and the grotesque.  Wanton blood and guts, serial killers, etc… won’t be found but it also doesn’t shy away from bits of the criminal underworld or real bodily danger.  Will Henry loses a finger at one point. The monsters are real and frequently either eat people or turn people themselves into monsters.  It combines to elicit horror in the reader in the tradition of Frankenstein.  It’s perfect for readers who shy away from slashers or crime novels but still want a dash of terror.

In lieu of a romance, the relationship at the center of the series is between Will and his guardian, Dr. Warthrop.  Yes, the series repeats the common YA trope of an orphan, thereby getting rid of the parents, but just because there are no parents doesn’t mean that there’s no guardian/young person conflict.  In fact, I think that having the conflict be between Will and a, to him, incomprehensible older guardian allows for a more free exploration of the difficulties that can arise in this relationship.  The fact that Dr. Warthrop is not his father means that Yancey is freer to quickly move into the mixed emotions and misunderstandings that can so easily happen in this type of relationship.  Dr. Warthrop has many flaws as a guardian, but he does truly love and care for Will.  Will at first feels lost and no connection with Dr. Warthrop, then he grows to love him in spite of his flaws, then he slowly starts to loathe him.  Whether or not this loathing is warranted is left up to the reader to decide, and I do think that Yancey succeeds at making it a gray area that each reader will reach a different conclusion on.  This relationship gets just as much, if not more, time as the monsters, and it’s one of the things that makes the series worth reading.

Tree and birds silhouetted against a moon and a green background.Yancey isn’t afraid to not just use, but embrace poetic language and literary allusions.  I was truly stunned at the beauty of the language when reading the first book, and that beauty continues throughout the series.  It’s like reading an old, Gothic novel, setting the perfect tone for the world building.  A YA reader who perhaps hadn’t previously experienced narration like this might after reading it be inclined to seek out similar writing, thus finding some classics.  And even if they don’t, it’s a wonderful change of pace for YA.

Setting the story of Will and Dr. Warthrop in the context of the mystery of the modern elderly man, his folios, and the researcher looking into them lends an extra layer to the story that increases its complexity.  The researcher is just as curious as the reader to find out more.  He also provides some necessary historical facts and questions the veracity of some of Will Henry’s statements.  Throughout the series, the researcher is wondering if this actually happened or if it’s all just the imaginings of an elderly man.  The ultimate reveal still leaves this a bit of a mystery, letting the reader decide for themselves what they would prefer to be the answer.

The strength of the monsters varies throughout the series.  Some are perfectly crafted, such as the anthropophagi.  Others can be a bit less frightening or too predictable to be as engaging.  This definitely lends to an uneven pace of suspense in the series and could be disappointing to a reader who is more invested in monsters than in the character development.

Cover of The Final Descent. An orange sky with a moon is covered by a black silhouette of birds on tree branches and a bridge.The ending.  The ending must be discussed.  *spoiler warning* Will Henry in the last book has turned into a dark, lawless, desperate character.  He has been changed by what he has seen.  His childhood sweetheart, Lily Bates, finds him frightening and lacking in morals.  He blames Dr. Warthrop for all of his issues.  While Dr. Warthrop definitely is at fault for not treating Will Henry like an adult and keeping him in the loop for his schemes, Dr. Warthrop also never taught Will to be so cold, desperate, or that it’s ok to wantonly kill.  Will ultimately goes on an opiate and sex binge in a prostitution house.  Dr. Warthrop finds him and pulls him out, in an attempt to save him.  It is then that Willl finds out that the parasites he is infected with will spread with sexual intercourse and kill his partner in a truly grotesque manner, eating them from the inside out.  Will gives up on Dr. Warthrop and all relationships and proceeds to travel the world aimlessly.  The researcher ultimately discovers that Will later runs into Lily with her new husband.  It is then that he reveals that Lily’s husband’s name was Will Henry, and he stole it as a pseudonym for these stories.  So he never married Lily.  Was never happy.  He is now nameless.  It’s an incredibly dark ending that leaves the researcher, and the reader, reeling.  It was honestly a bit too hopeless for me.  It felt as if Yancey was saying Will got sucked down into the monsters in his soul and could find no escape.  I prefer to have a bit more hope in the world than that, particularly after spending four books with a character and growing to care for them.  *end spoilers*

While I can still appreciate what Yancey was doing and what he was going for–a truly dark book–I feel that any potential readers or gift givers should be aware that it starts dark, gets darker, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

There is also a bit of a dearth of female characters in the series.  In the two middle books, we get brief exposures to Dr. Warthrop’s old sweetheart and Lily Bates.  That’s pretty much it.  I’m ok with that, since much of the time is devoted to Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop.  I also understand that the time period in which it is set definitely would not have had a female monstrumologist.  I think Yancey tries to make up for this by having Lily be determined to be the first female monstrumologist, but I also think he steps back from this plotline in the final book, which disappointed me a bit.  Essentially, be aware that if you’re looking for a strong female presence in the plot of your series, look elsewhere.

Overall, this is a unique series that deserves to be in any YA collection.  It address young adult/guardian relationships in the rich wrapping of Gothic style horror narrated with a beautiful poetic language.  Its historical setting and focus on the boy and his guardian doesn’t lend itself to a strong female presence in the series, although the female characters that do exist are good ones.  Its darkness increases throughout the series, so don’t come into this expecting a happy ending.  I’m pleased I took the time to read the entire series, and could see reading it again.  Recommended to both YA fans looking for something different and Gothic horror fans who don’t normally do YA.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift, Audible, and Amazon

Books in Series:
The Monstrumologist, review, 5 stars
The Curse of the Wendigo, review, 5 stars
The Isle of Blood, review, 4 stars
The Final Descent, review, 4 stars

Book Review: The Final Descent by Rick Yancey (Series, #4)

October 17, 2013 1 comment

Cover of The Final Descent. An orange sky with a moon is covered by a black silhouette of birds on tree branches and a bridge. Summary:
The man investigating the folios found with an elderly man who claimed to be over a hundred years old and named Will Henry has reached the final folio containing what this elderly man claimed to have been his life story.  The final folio is discombobulated and poetic, and so the investigator arranges it for us to read following the style of Dante’s Inferno.  And what a story it tells.

Will Henry is now a bitter, cold teenager still serving Dr. Warthrop.  When a man shows up at the door claiming to have a previously thought extinct monstrous snake’s egg for sale, Will Henry takes the acquisition into his own hands.  When they bring the egg to New York City for the annual meeting of Monstrumologists, Dr. Warthrop begins to question Will Henry’s loyalty, and Will Henry increasingly ignores all advice, going off on his own bloody ideas.  What direction will Will Henry’s and Dr. Warthrop’s lives ultimately take?

Review:
There were hints throughout the Monstrumologist series that it was going to continually descend to a dark place.  But I must admit I was slightly fooled by the idea put forth multiple times that Will Henry at least for part of his life is happily married.  I thought there would be a glimmer of hope in the ending.  Boy was I wrong.  This is an incredibly dark book, and a series ending that surprised me.  While still a strong read, it didn’t hold all the all-encompassing power and grotesque beauty I found in the first two entries in the series.

Yancey takes the poetic language found in the first three books and kicks it up a notch with the inclusion of the Dante-styled method for dividing the book into sections.  Beyond that, the language itself becomes increasingly poetic.  One line that is repeated a few times throughout the book is:

Time is a line. But we are circles. (page 4)

I found both the structure and the language interesting and gorgeous, and I really appreciate their inclusion in YA literature.  I can imagine that many of the younger readers of the book might never have read Dante and seeing this structure in this book might spur them on to check it out.  One thing that I’ve enjoyed throughout the series is that Yancey doesn’t shy away from challenging YA readers, and I’m glad to see that continued here.

The monster in this story is delightfully terrifying.  An egg that hatches a snake that eats its prey from the inside out? There’s nothing not terrifying about that.  Plus the monster is revealed early on, a nice change of pace from The Isle of Blood where we’re left to wonder about it for a long time.  There is also a secondary, surprise monster later on that I found to be a disgustingly nice touch.

The plot is quite complex, and yet also makes sense when various aspects of it are revealed.  It also manages to still be fresh, even though The Curse of the Wendigo was also set half in New York City.  The plot revolves much more around Will Henry and his choices and his personality than around the monster itself, which is appropriate.  Dr. Warthrop’s choices are also touched upon, but how everything has affected Will Henry is truly the focus of the plot.  It’s an interesting psychiatric study, and I was left truly wondering how things could possibly have worked out differently for either Will Henry or Dr. Warthrop.  There are no easy answers, and that gray area is a great setting for horror.

The book spends a lot of time wondering both what makes a monster and if madness can be avoided or escaped.  The first is a question addressed earlier in the series, and I think Yancey deals with it eloquently.  The second takes quite a dark turn in this book, and I was left feeling empty, hopeless, and saddened.

Madness is a wholly human malady borne in a brain too evolved—or not quite evolved enough—to bear the awful burden of its own existence. (page 170)

It’s certainly valid to view madness as an inescapable pariah for some.  I suppose I just have more hope for the world than that.  That’s what left me disappointed with the ending.  I wanted more hope.  Other readers might be less bothered by the tragic end.

Overall, this is a strong final entry in the acclaimed Monstrumologist series.  The poetic language is beefed up with a Dante style structure, and the plot is complex, following the ultimate impact on Will Henry of growing up as Dr. Warthrop’s apprentice in Monstrumology.  Some readers may be disappointed or overly saddened by the ending lacking a glimmer of hope but others will enjoy its incredibly dark turn.  Readers of the previous three books should not miss this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
The Monstrumologist, review
The Curse of the Wendigo, review
The Isle of Blood, review

Book Review: Initiate by Tara Maya (Series, #1)

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

A bunette wearing a white dress with blue embroidery gazes at a blue pixie.  The book's title and author's name are on the cover in blue and white lettering.Summary:
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi.  The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing.  Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance.  But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi.  Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers.  But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.

Review:
It takes something special for me to pick up either a YA or a fantasy book, and this one is both.  But Jessica’s review over on The Bookworm Chronicles had me intrigued.  A fantasy series based on Polynesian tales and traditions is unique in fantasy.  Plus the idea of magic from dancing really appealed to the dancer in me (years of tap and jazz, also many lessons in ballroom, zumba, etc…).  When I found out the first book in the series is free on the Kindle, I had to try it out, and I’m glad I did!  I really enjoyed the book, and its presence highlights many of the strengths of indie publishing.

The world is richly imagined and well described.  The tribes and clans have clearly defined and described cultures that vary from stable farming to warrior to cannibal.  The structure of the societies make sense and are rich without being overly detailed.  I particularly appreciated that this is a tribal culture fantasy without ever claiming to be the real or imagined history of any known to exist (or to have existed) tribe.  It is inspired by Polynesian culture but it is still a fantasy, similar to how medieval fantasy is inspired by the real Middle Ages but never claims to be what happened.  This lends itself to rich world building without ever venturing off into ridiculous “historical” fiction.

The plot slowly builds Dindi’s story and Kavio’s story, gradually bringing them together.  This is good since Dindi is still young enough that she doesn’t see much of the intrigue going on around her.  Dindi’s perspective shows us the day-to-day existence of people in this world, whereas Kavio shows us the higher-ranking intrigue.  It didn’t bother me that Dindi starts out a bit innocent because it is clear she will grow in knowledge with time.  Meanwhile, bringing in Kavio’s perspective helps establish the world for the reader.  There were also enough smaller clashes and twists that I never felt that I knew precisely what was going to happen next.

Although the characters at first seem two-dimensional, they truly are not.  Everyone is more than what immediately meets the eye, and I liked that this lesson occurs repeatedly.  It’s a good thing to see in YA lit.  Dindi is strong, kind, and talented, but she still has her flaws.  She is good but she’s not perfect, which makes her a good main character.  I also appreciate that what will clearly be a romance eventually between Kavio and Dindi starts out so slowly with longing glances from afar.  It’s nice that Dindi and Kavio get a chance to be established as individuals prior to meeting each other, plus the slowly building romance is a nice change of pace for YA lit.

Sometimes the chapter transitions were a bit abrupt or left me a bit lost.  With changing perspectives like this, it would be helpful if the chapter titles were a bit less artistic and gave a bit more setting.  It’s nice that when perspective changes the cue of the character’s name is given, no matter where it happens, but a bit more than that would be nice at the chapter beginnings.  Similarly in scene changes, the break is three pound signs.  I think using a bunch of centered tildes or even a customized drawing, such as of pixies, would be nicer.  At first when I saw these I thought there was some coding error in the ebook.  There also are a few editing mistakes that should not have made it through the final edit, such as saying “suffercate” for suffocate (page 144).  As an indie author myself, I know it is incredibly difficult to edit your own book, so I give a pass to minor typos and things like that.  However, the entirely wrong word for what the author is trying to say should be fixed.  There were few enough that I still enjoyed the book, but I hope that there are less in the future installments of the series.

Overall, this is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia.  The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult.  A few minor formatting and editing issues detract from it being a perfect escape read, but it is still highly enjoyable.  I intend to read more of the series, and I recommend it to fantasy and YA fans alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It
Note: the Kindle edition is free

Book Review: Rip Tide by Kat Falls (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Keith Nobbs)

July 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Green background with a radar over it and the shadow of a person swimming with per arm extended.Summary:
Ty lives with his pioneer family subsea but he can’t convince his crush Gemma to leave Topside.  Why is she so afraid of subsea?  This was his biggest problem until his parents get kidnapped by surfs when they attempt to do a trade.  Plus, Gemma wants to convince her fugitive brother to let her tag along with him.  And townships keep disappearing, only to turn up later, chained up and anchored subsea with everyone dead inside.  It’s a giant web of mysteries but do they intertwine at all?

Review:
I absolutely loved the first entry in this scifi series, which is unusual for me, since it’s YA.  Not generally my genre.  So I was excited to see the sequel available on Audible.  It’s still an exciting adventure and interesting world but not quite as tightly and expertly constructed as last time.

Whereas Ty’s voice worked perfectly in the first book, in this one he reads a bit young.  He went through a lot in the first entry, he should have presumably matured a bit more than he has.  Similarly, Gemma hasn’t developed much since the first book either.  I think these characters should have been given more space to grow more.  Particularly in a YA series, it’s important to let the characters develop and mature at a more rapid rate.  That’s the reality for teenagers after all.

Plot-wise, I honestly felt that there was a bit of a deus ex machina at work that also didn’t fully play into the rules of the world as originally set up.  Still, though, the mystery is well-plotted and difficult to predict.  It includes real danger without being too violent.  It’s the perfect level of thriller for a YA reader who’s not so into the gore.  On the other hand, I also found it frustrating that Ty’s parents aren’t around for most of the book.  One of the things refreshing about the first one was that his parents were actually present and helpful without being too pushy or overshadowing.  This time around, Falls went the more popular YA adventure route and just flat-out got rid of them for most of the book.

But the world Falls has built is still rich and unique, and she expanded upon it.  We now get to see more of what the surf life is like, in addition to more of the shady side of things, such as the boxing/fighting rings.  We also see some more of the government and law enforcement and have a better understanding of the world as a whole.  It’s all richly imagined and drawn, right down to what styles of clothes different groups wear to what they eat.  One detail I particularly enjoyed was that the surfs, a poor outcast lot, eat a lot of fish and blubber because it’s easy to catch, whereas Ty’s family eats a lot of vegetables because they grow them.  Details like that really make a world.

The audiobook narrator, Keith Nobbs, read the whole thing a bit flat for my taste.  He didn’t have as much enthusiasm and inflection as I thought was appropriate for a book about a subsea adventure starring two young teenagers!  The production quality was high, he was easy to understand, but he didn’t really bring Ty to life.  I’d recommend reading the print book over the audio, honestly.

Overall, then, the characters are a bit slow in their development and the plot feels a bit lazier than last time, but the characters are still well-rounded and the plot maintains an appropriate level of mystery.  Toss in the richly imagined and describe post-apocalyptic and very wet world, and it’s well worth the read.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Dark Life, review

Book Review: The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #3)

April 29, 2013 2 comments

Tree and birds silhouetted against a moon and a green background.Summary:
Will Henry states that this is a story that Dr. Warthrop did not want told…and proceeds to tell it anyway.  When a British man shows up with a package being delivered under duress, Dr. Warthrop is ecstatic to realize it is the nest of the Magnificum–the holy grail of monstrumology.  Dr. Warthrop decides to leave Will Henry in New York while he pursues this beast.  But when his monstrumologist companion returns claiming that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry and two fellow monstrumologists travel to Europe to track him–or his body–down.

Review:
Not as engaging or thought-provoking as the first two books in the series, I can only hope that this third entry is suffering from the common penultimate book malady where the book which must set everything up for the finale of the series can sometimes drag.

There are two problems in this entry that make it fail to be as engaging or thrilling as the first two books.  First, Will Henry is left behind in New York for a significant portion of the novel.  We are thus left with a whiny teenager bemoaning Warthrop’s choice to be responsible for once and keep him out of danger.  We also are left with very little action for far too large a portion of the book.  The second issue is perhaps a bit of a spoiler but suffice to say that the monster is disappointing and its disappointment is easily predicted.  If we had a lot of action with a disappointing monster, that’s still engaging.  If we had less excitement with a surprising, phenomenal monster, that’s still thrilling.  The combination of the two, though, prevents this thriller from being as thrilling and engaging as it should be.

Of course there are other elements that still worked, which is why I kept reading it.  Yancey’s writing is, as ever, beautiful to read (or listen to) and contains much depth.

“So many times we express our fear as anger…, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all, but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”

The settings are unique, and the characters are strong and leap off of the pages.  Will Henry becomes more fully fleshed-out in this entry as we start to see his descent into a love affair with monstrumology.  We also get to see Warthrop at what he himself perceives of as his lowest point.  It’s a dark bit of characterization but it works very well for the story Yancey is telling.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed, purely because the first two entries in the series were so phenomenal.  The third book is still a very good book.  Fans might be a bit disappointed, depending on how attached they are to the unique thriller aspect of the series, but the characters and writing still make this well worth the time.  Fans will remain in eager anticipation of the final entry in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review
The Curse of the Wendigo, review

Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #2)

April 11, 2013 3 comments

Black silhouette of birds and trees against a moon and a red background with a face just discernible in it.Summary:
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep.  She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf).  Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.

Review:
I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the sequel of one of my rare 5 star reads, The Monstrumologist.  I gave my dad a copy of The Monstrumologist for his birthday, and his enthusiasm for the series brought my own back to me, so I joined in with him to read through it.  I had a bunch of credits stacked up on Audible, so I went with the audiobook versions.  My speedy father reading in print quickly outpaced me, but that’s ok.  I’m really enjoying the audiobooks, although I’m sure I will be reading the final book in the series in the fall when it comes out on my kindle. Can’t wait around for the audiobook!  All of which is to say, my enthusiasm for the series remains high, if not steady, and the audiobooks are just as enjoyable as the print.

Yancey does something brave for a second book in the series.  Instead of following the formula that worked so well in the first book and basically doing a monster-of-the-week-in-our-town method like Buffy and so many other urban fantasies, he changes things up.  There is a monster, yes, but it is entirely different from the first one.  This is a monster that might not even exist, unlike the anthropophagi in the first book who are almost immediately clearly real.  Additionally, Warthrop and Will must travel away from New England to go looking for the trouble.  It does not come to them.  Another good plot twist is that the story does not entirely take place in Canada.  It moves to New York City.  Thus we get both the dangers of the wilderness and the dangers of the city in one book.  These plot choices mean that what makes this series a series is the characters, not the fantastical nature of their world.  By the end of the book I was thinking of the series in terms of the relationship between Will and Warthrop, not in the context of what nasty beast we might meet next.  It thus does what great genre fiction should do.  It looks at a real life issue and dresses it up with some genre fun.  And the issues addressed here are big ones.  What is love and what should we be willing to sacrifice for it?  Is it more loving to stay with someone at all costs or to let them go to protect them?  At what point do you give up on someone?

The horror certainly felt more grotesque this time around, although it’s possible I just wasn’t remembering the anthropophagi that well.  This is a bloody book full of horrible things.  Precisely what I expect out of my genre.  There’s not much more to say about the horror than keep it up, Yancey.  Also that this might not be for you if blood and guts and profanity are not your thing.  But they *are* mine and, oh, how well they are done here.

Just as with the first book, the language Yancey uses is beautiful.  It’s rich, eloquent, visual, and decadent.  It’s a word-lover’s book.  An example:

But love has more than one face. And the yellow eye is not the only eye. There can be no desolation without abundance. And the voice of the beast is not the only voice that rides upon the high wind….It is always there. Like the hunger that can’t be satisfied, though the tiniest sip is more satisfying than the most sumptuous of feasts.

Stunning.

The characterization here remains strong for Will and grows much stronger for Warthrop.  Will grows and changes as a 12 year old in this time period in his particular situation would be expected to.  With Warthrop, though, we get a much clearer backstory and motivations for his actions.  In the first book we came to know Will.  In this one we come to know Warthrop, although Will is not left without any development.  It’s a good balance.  I also enjoyed the addition of two female characters, who I thought were well-written, particularly Lily, the budding young feminist determined to be the world’s first female monstrumologist.  She is truly three-dimensional in spite of her rather limited screen-time compared to Will.

The pacing doesn’t build steadily from beginning to end.  It rather builds to a first climax, comes back down and builds again to a second climax.  This makes sense, particularly in a werewolf book, but I must admit it felt a bit odd in the moment.  It almost felt like reading two books in one until it all came together in the end.  In fact, this is one of those books that gets better the more you look back on the story as a whole.  Be prepared to enjoy it more in retrospect that in the first reading.

The audiobook narrator, Boyer, has a tough book to work with.  There are a wide range of characters of multiple nationalities to act out (Canadian, German, French, New York, Massachusetts, etc…).  Additionally, at least three different languages are spoken (English, French, and German).  I’m not fluent in anything but English, but I did take German in university, and I can say that his German accent is at least passable.  He also does an excellent job creating a unique voice for each character.  I only rarely got lost, and that was generally due to rapid-fire conversation where each character only had a word or two.  I must say, though, that he does mispronounce a few words, which detracts from Yancey’s gorgeous writing.  I blame the audiobook director for this, though.  S/he should have realized and corrected this.  Overall, though, the mispronounced words are only in a couple of locations and do not deeply affect the reading of the book.

Overall this is an excellent follow-up to a remarkable first book in the series.  It brings to the table that which made the first so powerful: YA horror with rich language set in a historic time period.  But it also changes things up enough to avoid falling into the monster-of-the-week trap.  The entries in the series are part of a larger story, and that can be seen.  Fans of the first book should pick up the second book asap.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review

Series Review: The John Cleaver Series by Dan Wells

March 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Notebook paper with blood on it.Summary:
Fifteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer.  At least not yet.  John’s therapist believes he has Antisocial Personality Disorder, commonly known as sociopathy, although he can’t legally deliver the official diagnosis until he’s 18 years old.  But both his therapist and himself hope John can learn to control his illness in the meantime.  An illness John refers to as Mr. Monster.  This becomes more difficult as a serial killer shows up in his town.  John starts to wonder if he can harness Mr. Monster to find and kill the killer.  A killer he soon learns is supernatural and ultimately faces.  The demons continue coming to his town, and John feels his grasp on control and an ability to function in average society slipping.  Are there really more and more demons coming to his town? Or is it just his sociopathy getting the better of him?

Review:
This trilogy starts with an incredible bang, but makes a slow trajectory downward to end on a whimper.

The first book is incredible.  It bashes ableism on its head by featuring a main character who is a teenager struggling with a mental illness, and not an easy one to identify with either.  People with APD lack empathy, which can make it difficult to empathize with them in return.  Wells carefully crafts a realistic yet sympathetic teenager with APD.  His struggles to defeat his mental illness and be a functioning member of society are great to see in a novel period, let alone in a YA one.  On top of this, we have a single mother running a business with the help of her just graduated high school daughter and part-time help of her teenage son.  It’s the perfect mix of non-traditional and yet not off the wall family to have as a backdrop for John.  We have all this, then, with a thriller plot that starts with the hint of a serial killer then deliciously builds to the revelation that the killer is a demon.  This fantasy element fits perfectly in with what is hot in YA right now, giving an interesting, unique main character an appealing wrapping.

Knife under an x.I was stoked after reading this and had high hopes for the trilogy.  The middle book maintains some of the elements that made the first book amazing but missed on others.  On the plus side, John is still who he was in the first book, although with more confidence.  He tries to date, and his family has their own struggles.  Although the thriller pacing is less deftly done, it still works in the context of this book, particularly since the middle book of a trilogy is traditionally setting things up for the last hurrah of the final book.  Plus this book manages to accomplish two things.  It has John learning more about himself and his mental illness and it shows him learning more about demons.  It ends on a powerful note with him inviting one of the demon’s friends to Clayton County to face off with him.  He’s tired of waiting for things to come to him and is ready to go on the offensive.  Thus, although this book wasn’t as strong as the first, I had high hopes that it was setting us up for a powerful final book in the trilogy.

Things really fall apart in the final book, which is what makes the trilogy taken as a whole disappointing.  Everything is building toward the final book.  Toward what John ultimately learns and what he ultimately becomes.  Unfortunately the answers to both of those questions are a major let-down after the unique and albeism-smashing features of the first two books.  In the climactic scene, John’s mother sacrifices herself to save her son.  When he loses her, he realizes that he is feeling feelings.  He’s feeling the pain of losing her.  When he realizes this, the lightbulb goes off in his head that he stopped feeling feelings when his father abandoned them.  It was just him trying to deal with his broken family.  I shit you not.  And then he decides he has been healed by his mother’s death.  His mother’s sacrifice opens him up to letting himself feel things again. What. The Fuck.

Burnt paper background to book title.First of all, going numb after being badly emotionally hurt is a real thing.  But it’s not a real thing that would be mistaken by a therapist as Antisocial Personality Disorder. And being numb doesn’t mean a person starts daydreaming about killing everyone around him and the girls he has crushes on in particular.  Numb is not the same as lacking empathy, and it honestly doesn’t even take a therapist to see that.  Numb looks and feels different from sociopathy.  They are not the same thing and simply could not be mistaken for each other.  If we decide that perhaps Wells didn’t mean to imply that John was simply numb and didn’t have sociopathy, then we can only read this as saying that John’s father abandoning the family *caused* his son’s sociopathy and that his mother’s sacrifice cured it.  I’m sorry, but your dad running off does not give people Antisocial Personality Disorder, and it certainly isn’t cured in the span of 10 minutes by someone sacrificing their life for yours.  (By the way, does anyone see the heavy-handed religious symbolism in that? Because it is definitely there).  The cause, as with many mental illnesses, is officially unknown but is believed to be a combination of genetics and severe environmental factors such as child abuse (source).  Since John is not abused, then we can only assume that in his case his APD is genetic.  It is utterly ridiculous to present the matter as his APD being caused by something as simple as a parent leaving.  Similarly, there is no cure for APD.  People do not get magically better overnight.  It can be managed so a person may have a healthy, normal life, but it does not just disappear.  The symptoms do sometimes become less severe on their own in a person’s 40s (according to the DSM-IV-TR), but John is not 40, and he doesn’t suddenly get better thanks to aging.  The whole climax of the series turns the series from being about a person with a mental illness learning to function and do positive things into a story about how a father abandoning his family destroyed them and almost ruined his son for life.  The former is unique and powerful.  The latter is heavy-handed and preachy.  Plus that whole dynamic belittles mental illness and makes it out to be just overcoming a bad part of your life, rather than the very real illness that people deal with every day.

So what we have here is a trilogy that starts as one thing and ends as another.  It starts as a thriller with a unique main character demonstrating dealing with mental illness in an engaging, realistic manner.  It ends with a thriller that quickly goes from spine-tingling to heavy-handed and preachy.  It is unfortunate that this preachiness also gets the facts about a mental illness wrong and presents these false ideas to a YA audience in such an attractive, fantastical thriller wrapping.  Ultimately the writing is good but the last book in the trilogy takes a nose-dive when it comes to facts and the realities of having and living with a mental illness.  Thankfully, one can read the first or first two books in the trilogy without reading it all.  There are not major cliffhangers that compel the reader to continue on, and the first two books stand on their own well enough.  I’m disappointed that the series as a whole is not something I can recommend whole-heartedly.  I’m disappointed that after starting out so strong, Wells went so far astray.  That doesn’t change the quality of the first two books, though, so I still recommend them. But only if you’re capable of leaving a series partly unread.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, Audible

Books in Series:
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review, 5 stars
Mr. Monster , review, 4 stars
I Don’t Want to Kill You, review, 3 stars

Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)

March 2, 2013 4 comments

Burnt paper background to book title.Summary:
Teenaged John Cleaver had his sociopathy under control but when his town was plagued with two different demons, he had to let it loose a bit to fight them.  He invited the demon Nobody to come face off with him, but he and those around him are left wondering if Nobody is real or if John’s sociopathy has just gone out of control.  Meanwhile the teenage girls of the town are committing suicide left and right, and John can’t help but wonder why he’s ever tried to save anybody.

Review:
This is one of only a few YA series that I’ve enjoyed reading.  The paranormal/youth aspect are almost like a Dexter lite, which is enjoyable.  I must say, though, that I was disappointed by the ultimate ending to the series.  However, since I write up series review posts every time I finish a series, I’ll leave my analysis of the series as a whole to that post, which will be coming up next.  For right now, let’s look at the final book on its own merit.

The plot this time around was disappointingly full of obvious red herrings.  I knew within the first chapter where Nobody was hiding, and it was kind of ridiculous that talented, intelligent John was missing it.  Similarly, I found the serial killer who John identified as who he could end up being if he made the wrong choices to be a bit heavy-handed.  John was already well aware of the risks of his sociopathy from the very first book.  It felt a bit unnecessary to make this such a strong plot point.  It came across as preachy, which is something that this series had avoided so far.  Similarly, John goes to see a priest at one point in his investigations, and his conversations with him felt a bit too heavy-handed, almost like the (known religious) Wells was preaching at the readers through the priest.  Authors are allowed their opinions and perspectives, but preachiness is never good writing.  Perspective and opinion should be shown eloquently through the plot and characters.

Speaking of characterization, John was still strongly written, but his mother and sister were another story.  They felt less like they were doing what was logical and more like they were doing what needed to be done to move the plot forward.  On the other hand, I really enjoyed John’s new girlfriend.  She was well-rounded and realistic.  Plus she was fit while being curvy, which I think is a great thing to see in a book.

In spite of the slightly obvious plot, I still was engaged to get to the end.  Even though I knew whether or not there was a demon and who the killer was, I still deeply wanted to see how John would handle it.  The audiobook narrator, Kirby Heyborne, helped with this momentum.  His narration was just the right amount of tension while still remaining in a teenager’s voice.  Be warned, though, that there is some yelling in the book, so the volume does spike considerably at a few points in the narration.  You may want to keep the volume a bit lower than usual to accommodate this.

Unfortunately, where the plot ultimately ended up was deeply disappointing to me.  It was not at all a satisfying ending, and from a mental illness advocacy perspective, I actually found it distressing.  Whereas John’s sociopathy previously was handled with a lot of scientific understanding, I found the ending of this book to be completely out of touch with real sociopathy.  While it wasn’t offensive per se, it drastically oversimplifies sociopathy, both its treatment and its causes, which is just as bad as demonizing it.  I will address this issue more fully in the series review, but suffice to say that I found the ending to this book’s individual mystery and the series as a whole to be disappointing, particularly given the potential of the book.

Overall, then, this is an average book that wraps up an above average series.  If you are someone who is fine with stopping things partway through, I’d recommend just stopping with the previous book in the series, Mr. Monster.  But if you are interested in the overall perspective, this book is still an engaging read that doesn’t drag.  It just might disappoint you.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review
Mr. Monster, review

Counts For:

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2013 Badge
Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2013 badge

Book Review: Braided by Elora Bishop (Series)

February 12, 2013 3 comments

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.Summary:
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.

Review:
I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings, although I can be fairly picky about whether or not I like them.  But Rapunzel is a tale that is not redone often enough, in my opinion, and the fact that it was a lesbian version made me jump at this novella.

It’s nice that the retelling doesn’t just change the genders of the main romantic pairing and leave it at that.  In the original version, a married couple steal from a witch’s garden and in payment they must give her their unborn child who she then locks up into a tower.  She would let her long hair down for her witch/mother to use as a ladder to get into the tower.  A prince years later hears her singing in the tower and helps her escape.  In this retelling, the people worship a tree.  When the tree starts to die they tie its spirit into a person.  That person lives on a platform in the tree and the people pray to him/her.  When the person dies, the fate to be tied to the tree randomly chooses a baby by putting a tree pattern on their chest.  This fate is supposed to be Gray’s, but her mother somehow acquires another baby, Zelda, and with magic cuts the fate out and ties it to her instead.  Gray knows this and at first visits Zelda out of guilt but eventually falls in love with her.  This version, surprisingly, is actually a lot more fantastical and magical.  There is even a quest within an alternate dimension/dream world.  I enjoyed the increase in the otherworldly feel, and I liked that it lent the twist of a parent trying to protect her child rather than a mother smothering her child.

The writing has an earthy, magical quality to it.  It’s definitely language that is looking to be pretty, and it mostly succeeds.  The romance between Zelda and Gray is sweet and very YA.  Their passion revolves entirely around kissing and holding.  I like that it gives a soul and connection to the romance without ignoring the physical aspect.  It’s the perfect balance for this type of story.

While I enjoyed reading the story, I must admit it wasn’t my ideal retelling of Rapunzel.  I didn’t like the religious aspect that was drawn into it, and I did feel that Zelda falling for Gray was a bit fast, particularly given the fate switching aspect of the story.  I was also disappointed to see that in spite of all the other changes in the story, the Rapunzel character is still blonde.  I’m not sure why no one ever seems to change this when retelling Rapunzel.

Overall, this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel.  Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales.  The novellas may be mixed and matched.  Recommended to GLBTQ YA fans who enjoy a fairy tale.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

Book Review: Above Ground by A. M. Harte (Series, #1)

November 28, 2012 4 comments

Yellowish moon seen through the trees.Summary:
Lilith Grey has spent her entire life living below ground–among the lucky descendants of the humans who escaped there before catching the virus that turned the rest of humanity into monsters from fairy tales.  But one day Lilith and her friend Emma get temporary vaccines and go above ground to a tourist theater to view these vampires and shapeshifters in person.  When everything goes horribly wrong, Lilith finds herself whisked away from the carnage on the back of a werewolf.  Can she ever get back below ground?

Review:
I was hesitant to accept a YA book for review, since the genre is not one I tend to enjoy.  But I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed a book by this indie author, so I decided to give it a go.  Her other work, Hungry For You, is a collection of zombie themed short stories that manages to put a fresh twist on that genre, so I was hoping for more of that unique glint in her YA work as well.  This, her first full-length novel, is more unique than what is currently saturating the market, but I did not feel that it lived up to the expectations I had based on her short story collection.

The basic concept is intriguing.  Many post-apocalyptic stories feature humans living in bomb shelters or other similar underground enclosures but not for the reasons put forth in this novel.  This unique twist is what I’ve come to expect from Harte’s writing, and it definitely was the part of the story that kept me reading.  Seeing how the mutated humans lived above ground versus how the non-mutated lived below ground was intriguing and interesting.  I wish more time had been spent building this world and less on the emotions of the main character (not to mention her friend, Emma, and the werewolf, Silver).  The scifi explanations for the fantastical creatures was also engaging, but again not enough time was spent on it.  Similarly, while the typical werewolves and vampires exist among the infected above ground, there are also the more unique such as the ewtes who mutated to live in the water but can walk on the ground with water tanks.  Actually, I could have easily spent an entire book among the ewtes.  They were far more interesting than our stereotypical main character Lilith.  The world and minor characters are what kept me reading….not the plot or main characters.

The initial plot set-up is painfully stereotypical.  Clueless teenage girls wind up in danger. Two men save them. One is an angst-ridden werewolf. The other is a mysterious, handsome intelligent fella.  The girls protest they can care for themselves but the reader can see they can’t really. The main teenage girl feels inexplicably pulled to the werewolf angst man. The werewolf angst man feels drawn to the teenage girl and angsts about it. And on we go.  The last few pages of plot, thankfully, didn’t take the typical turn, but honestly the pay-off was incredibly minor compared to the rest of the stereotypical YA plot.  Even just making it a teenage boy from below ground saved by a female werewolf would have been a change enough to make me more interested.  I also was disappointed to see no depth or examination of the human condition here, which I saw in Harte’s previous work.  I was excited to see what depth she could bring to YA but she didn’t even bring an empowered female main character to the genre.  Quite disappointing.

Ignoring my own quips with the plot and main characters, the book simply does not read like a solid first entry in a series.  It gives the reader mere tastes of what we want to know from a first book in a series, like who the DEI are and why everyone is afraid of them, while lingering on things like how the main character craves the werewolf.  That is fine if it was a paranormal romance, but it feels more like it is meant to be a post-apocalyptic/dystopian style novel.  A clearer world needs to be established and characters more fully fleshed-out if they are to hold up a whole series.   There has to be a clear world and a three-dimensional main character set up before the danger if the reader is to feel any connection or caring at all.  As it is, I mostly just wanted to wander off and follow the ewtes.

Overall, then, this is definitely a book for YA fans only.  It’s the basic plot from YA with a twist set in a unique future world that was fun to visit.  YA fans will have to try it out for themselves to determine how much they will enjoy that visit.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy received from author in exchange for my honest review

Buy It

Giveaway! The author is running a giveaway along with her month long blog tour.  Check out the rafflecopter for details!

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,046 other followers