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.
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
Note: the Kindle edition is free
A collection of fourteen short stories taking one ordinary experience and inserting an extraordinary fantastical, scifi, or bizarro instance into the situation, seeing how the main character reacts.
A mixed collection, containing both 2 star and 5 star stories, although most stick right around the 3 star mark. The stories veer between scifi and fantasy, although both have some bizarro element in them.
Where Marek excels is when he takes a little talked-about male experience and utilizes the unique qualities of genre fiction to explore it. The only 5 star story in the collection, “Boiling the Toad” explores a male victim of domestic violence. It does this in a powerful way without demonizing all women. The story starts as “my life is so bizarre” but eventually becomes all too real. It’s interesting to note that this is also the opposite of many stories in the collection. Many start ordinary and turn bizarre. Starting bizarre and turning ordinary worked much better. Similarly, “Testicular Cancer vs. The Behemoth” explores male feelings about a cancer that is only possible to get if you have testicles. Marek fairly eloquently presents the main character as attempting to defend his perceived manhood by trying to protect his girlfriend from a Godzilla-like monster attacking the city. These stories are interesting, and I enjoyed exploring them.
Where the collection fails and flounders, though, is when the main character is self-centered and perceives of women as objects or only existing for his pleasure. It’s incredibly difficult to feel any empathy for a character who wants to cheat on his wife but ends up failing because of a mysterious puking illness he gets at the sushi restaurant (Sushi Plate Epiphany) or to care about a man who calls his pregnant wife a monster and tries to cheat on her while she’s still carrying his children (Belly Full of Rain). A lot of these stories incited an eye-roll and “boohoo it’s so horrible to be a man” sarcastic response from me, which I seriously doubt was what the author was going for.
Then there are the stories that simple don’t seem to have any point or make any sense. They seem to just be getting going when Marek stops them abruptly. Or they do seem to be at their end but there is just no point. Both “the Forty-Litre Monkey” and “Jumping Jennifer” have a great set-up of a mystery but that mystery is never addressed. They stop too soon. “Instruction Manual for Swallowing” and “The Thorn” are highly fantastical yet the conflict isn’t set up enough so as to be interesting.
Marek’s writing style varies widely between the perfect tone for bizarro genre fiction and being overly pretentious for his genre. For instance he writes sentences like this:
Being in the room felt like being suffocated in an armpit. (location 55)
But also pretentiously calls a college quad a “quadrangle” (“Jumping Jennifer”).
Overall then this is a widely varied collection of bizarro short fiction. Some of the stories offer wonderful insight into male issues while others wallow annoyingly in the minds of terrible men who only think they have a problem, while still others set up a fantastic world but are ultimately boring due to lack of conflict. If you are intrigued by any of the stories mentioned, I would advise getting a copy from the library since they will be quickly read, and you can return it when done. Definitely feel free to skip around in this collection.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Miriam hasn’t touched a person and seen a new death in months. She’s settled down in Jersey with Louis, and part of the deal is no touching. But her fingers are twitching for a vision, and quickly a regular afternoon turns into a horrifying one. Still. Louis suggests a way for her to use her gift for the good. Prove to a hypochondria that she isn’t dying. But this hypochondriac happens to work at a problem girls boarding school, and when Miriam touches one of the girls, all hell breaks loose.
I was so glad to jump back into Miriam’s gritty world that is so unique in urban fantasy, although at first I was surprised by how settled down she seemed to be. Thankfully, that quickly changes, and a disturbing, rollicking plot comes into play.
What makes this series is the characterization of Miriam. She is not a nice girl. And she’s not bad in some fake-ass way designed to appeal to a hormonal teenage boy. She doesn’t run around in tight leather pants proclaiming her badness while batting her eyes and tossing her hair. Miriam is dark and brutally honest. She has a delightfully foul mouth. She wears what she wants to wear whether or not people like it or it’s in fashion. She doesn’t care if she’s attractive. She can be bitingly mean. But she still works as a heroine because she truly has a good heart and is willing to inconvenience her entire life to help other people. Reading Miriam is deeply refreshing to me, as a woman reader. She’s allowed to be precisely who she is without any restraints of gender norms by the author. Here is just a sampling of Miriam’s voice in the book:
Home Again, Home Again, Fuckity-Fuck (location 259)
A tattoo is an expression of your inner self inked on your outer self. It’s some deeply spiritual shit. (location 2143)
The plot this time at first appears to be purely about who is killing young girls, but slowly it becomes apparent that we’re learning more about Fate or what I think of as the crazy birds that control Miriam’s life. It appears that Fate is displeased that Miriam fucked with it by saving Louis, and now it’s out to get her. Although this addresses some of the issues I had in the first book about how confusing Fate is and what exactly the rules for this universe are, I must admit, I still found a lot of the information revealed to be a bit fuzzy, albeit wonderfully creepy. The fantasy information was better than in the first book, but it was still a bit too at arm’s length. I don’t want to have to wait out the whole series to finally understand even one significant aspect of what is up with Miriam.
One plot issue to do with the murders bothered me. Spoiler ahead!
*spoilers* I have a very hard time believing that after being fooled once by the killer who can imitate other people’s voices like a mockingbird that Miriam would fall for it a second time. She’s smarter than that, and it felt like a very clunky plot device to me. *end spoilers*
That said, the mystery was dark, gritty, and nail-biting. A lot happened, and Miriam’s story definitely moved forward. There is a self-contained mystery within this book, but the overarching plot got more traction as well.
The writing continues to be a mix of beautiful and grotesque that would keep me coming back even if the characterization of Miriam wasn’t so strong. Wendig’s description powers are truly stellar.
Her mouth brimming with foulness the way a soup can bulges with botulism. (location 2460)
They invited her to move back home but she’s not going to do that, oh hell no, she’d much rather snap her tits in a bear-trap than go back to that hell. (location 1633)
She gets on her tippy-toes and kisses him. Long, slow, deep. The kind of kiss where you can feel little pieces of your soul trading places as mouths open and breath mingles. (location 3722)
How can you not read a book with writing like that?
Overall, fans of the first book in the Miriam Black series will not be disappointed by this entry. Everything that made the first book unique in the urban fantasy genre has returned with strength, particularly the writing style and the characterization of Miriam. The overarching plot moves forward at a pace fast enough to maintain interest, although not enough about the rules of the fantasy world is revealed. The self-contained plot is gritty, dark, and sufficiently mysterious, although one moment detracts from it a bit. Miriam and the writing more than make up for it, though. Wendig fans will not be disappointed.
4 out of 5 stars
Isaac Bodkins is a magical toymaker. He makes toys that actually come alive and seek out children who need them the most, such as children who have lost a parent or who are facing abuse. When he dies before he has a chance to tell his chosen heir about her purpose, evil has a chance to take over again. His toys, the Oddkins, must set out to tell her before evil manages to land its own new evil toymaker that would create living toys to torture children. Evil sends out his evil toys in an attempt to stop the Oddkins on their dangerous cross-town mission.
The person who loaned me this book told me it was marketed as a fable for all ages but really might be a bit too scary for the youngest among us. Person also knew that I love me some fables, not to mention talking animals or toys, so I was excited to get into this book. Alas, it wasn’t ultimately my style, but it is a well-written book I could see working for a lot of people.
The plot is a quest where each member of the questing group gets at least one chance to shine. Although I was fairly certain that good would ultimately triumph over evil, I still was left worried for the main characters periodically, and I also was unable to predict the details of the triumph. Since the toymaker lived in the countryside outside of the city, the quest consists of time in both the country and the city. This kept situations varied and engaging.
Since this is a fable and most of the characters are in fact magical toys, they are not what one would describe as three-dimensional. However, their two dimensions work for the story. For instance, the teddy bear leader of the good toys is brave and strong and true but he also has to work at being brave. He is not just naturally brave. Similarly, although the two potential inheritors of toymaking are good and evil, they both get background information given to them. The evil one was in prison and only takes pleasure from causing others pain. The good one ran a toy store and was recently widowed and looking for something more in her life.
So why didn’t I love it? Well, some things said were just too clearly religious for me. There’s a lot of talk of afterlife, and the evil toys are driven by who is clearly Satan. There are also times where the good toys stop and make statements to each other that are clearly the author preaching to the reader through them. For instance
God’s world is full of magic, isn’t it? Not just the secret kind of magic of which we’re a part, but the simple magic of everyday life-magic. (location 1358)
Given that this happens rather frequently and given that the evil is clearly represented to be Satan, I just found the whole book to be a bit too heavy-handed in the religion department for me. A reader who does follow Christianity might not be bothered, but even then, the preachiness within a book isn’t for everyone.
Overall this is a well-written fable that is engaging and unique. It is a bit heavy-handed in its presentation of various religious beliefs for this reader, but other readers who enjoy that in their literature will probably enjoy this book.
3 out of 5 stars
Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)
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.
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