It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here). I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks. Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute. Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago. Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost. A book is a book is a book! I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though. I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for. Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.
For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:
Initiate by Tara Maya
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.
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. See my full review here.
For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:
Cursed by S. A. Archer
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned. Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day. See my full review here.
For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012. The only thing is, it’s 1989. A note from his uncle states that the coin is important. Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them. As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi. The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising. See my full review here.
For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously. It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women. See my full review here.
For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
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.
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. See my full review here.
For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work. After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art. Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart. See my full review here.
For the horror fan:
Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people. She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college. Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance. With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester. But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.
For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:
One Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them. He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire. When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series. See my full review here.
For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot. He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee. When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character. This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for. See my full review here.
For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:
The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert. Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books. Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic. See my full review here.
I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another. Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!
Miranda and her mother and brothers have barely survived the long winter that came right after the moon was knocked out of orbit by an asteroid, bringing an apocalypse. She’s been wondering for months what happened to her father and his pregnant new wife. She’s thrilled when they show up on the doorstep when her newborn half brother, but she’s not so sure about the three extra people they’ve brought with them — an adult man and a teenage boy and his little sister.
The third book in this series reverts back to the Miranda’s journal format of the first. While I appreciate bringing the diverse characters from the first two books in the series together, the use of Miranda’s journal exclusively in telling the story renders the tale a bit less interesting and strong than it could have been.
It should come as no surprise that a YA series featuring a girl in the first book and a boy in the second will bring the two together in the third. I must admit that although when I finished the first book I was very eager to read more about Miranda, when I finished the second I was intrigued at the idea of a series that saw the same apocalypse lived out in different places by different people throughout. That said, getting to know the extensive background of the love interest is appreciated and different but it is a bit jarring to go back to Miranda’s diary after getting to know Alex so thoroughly in the second book. The book could have been much more powerful if Miranda’s journals were interspersed with chapters from Alex’s perspective. Getting this perspective would have helped make their love seem more real, as opposed to just convenient. (Alex is the only teenage boy Miranda has seen in a year). Additionally, in spite of Miranda falling for Alex so fast, he mostly comes across as cold and overly religious in this book, whereas in his own book he was much more empathetic. Certainly the need for survival will make him come across stern, and we know that Alex has a tendency to say important things in Spanish, which Miranda cannot understand. Both of these facts means it would have worked much better to have alternating perspectives, rather than just Miranda’s.
The plot, with the exception of the instant love between Alex and Miranda, is good. It brings everyone into one place in a way that seems natural. The addition of new characters also breathes new life into Miranda’s situation. Plus, Pfeffer does a good job of forcing the family out of their stasis in the home, something that both makes logical sense (these people were not preppers, they are not equipped to stay in their home forever in the apocalypse) and also keeps the plot interesting (one can only read about people holed up in a house for so long). The plot developments also make more sense, scientifically, than in the previous books.
Religion is handled less smoothly here than in the previous two books. Everyone but Miranda’s mother and Miranda has church on Sunday (Protestant or Catholic), and Miranda doesn’t have enough of a reaction to or thoughts about this. She doesn’t really think about faith or spirituality. Church is just something some other people do. This is unrealistic. A teen who has just gone through a disaster and sees her father suddenly take up faith would definitely at the very least have some questions. Given that Alex has a very strong faith and they are interested in each other, one would think they would have some conversations about religion that go beyond whether or not they can have sex before they get married, yet they don’t. The first two books sets a great stage to talk about faith in its many forms, as well as lack of faith, yet the book backs away from actually tackling this issue. If it had, it would have offered something truly thought-provoking in the read. Instead it’s a post-apocalyptic survivor romance. Not a bad thing but not what I was expecting based on the first two books.
Overall, this is an interesting next entry in the series that brings Miranda and Alex back to the readers and moves the plot forward. However, it dances around the issue of faith vs. lack of faith brought up in the first two books, eliminates Alex’s voice from the story, and suffers from some instant romance. Those already invested in the series will still enjoy seeing what happens to Alex and Miranda, although skimming for plot points is recommended.
3 out of 5 stars
Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales works hard with his eyes on a good college. He even works in a local pizza joint to pay for his own private Catholic school uniforms to help his Mami and Papi. Papi is in Puerto Rico for his mother’s funeral and Mami is working late when an asteroid strikes the moon and everything changes. New York City is struck by flooding and loss of infrastructure. Alex is left alone to care for his two younger sisters, Julie and Briana, and slowly he begins to think that maybe things will always be this bad. Maybe Mami and Papi will never come back, the moon will never look right again, and there will never be a world where he can go to college and not be left caring for his little sisters.
I inhaled the first book in this series, in spite of the scientific flaws (which I addressed in my review of the first book). Miranda’s journal ends so abruptly that I was eager to get to the next book right away. I was surprised, then, when the second book starts back before the moon is struck with an entirely different family in a different area of the country. This book shows Pfeffer’s abilities as a writer by showing the same apocalyptic event seen in the first book from the perspective of an entirely different family.
Miranda’s family is suburban-rural, agnostic/atheist humanist, blended (divorced parents with one remarried), and white. Alex’s family is urban (NYC), Latino, and devotedly Catholic. Both families are given room to have strengths and flaws, most of which have nothing to do with where they live, their ethnicities, or their religions (or lack of one). I honestly was startled to see Alex and his and his sisters’ strong faith treated with such respect in this book after Miranda’s lack of faith was treated with equal respect in the first. It’s easy, particularly in a book written as a journal, to mistake a character’s beliefs for an author’s, and Miranda, a teenage girl, has very strong beliefs. This book reminded me that those beliefs were just Miranda’s, just as Alex’s beliefs are just his, and it shows how well Pfeffer is able to write characters.
Some readers may find it odd and frustrating to go back in time to relive the apocalypse over again with different characters. I personally enjoyed it, because the world falling apart is one of the best parts of post-apocalyptic fiction for me. I also liked having the opportunity to see differences in how the apocalypse plays out based both on the location (suburban/rural versus urban) and the characters’ personalities and reactions. However, that said, I can see how this set-up of two vastly different sets of characters in books one and two could be off-putting to certain readers. Some religious readers may be turned off by the first book and Miranda’s staunch atheism. Those who read the first book and enjoy it for precisely that reason may similarly be turned off by the second book’s heavy Catholicism and faith. The diversity is a good thing but it also makes it hard to pinpoint an audience for the series. Those who are open to and accepting of other belief systems would ultimately be the best match but that’s a demographic that can sometimes be difficult to find or market to. However, if a reader is particularly looking for a diverse set of viewpoints of the apocalypse that is more than just characters’ appearances, this series will be a great match for them.
It should also be mentioned that this book is not a journal. It is told in third person, from Alex’s viewpoint, although the dates are still mentioned. It makes sense to do it this way, since Alex definitely does not come across as a character with the time or the inclination to keep a journal. It would have been interesting to view the apocalypse from the viewpoint of a boy who did keep a journal, however.
The plot makes sense and brings in enough danger without being overly ridiculous. It would have been nice to have maybe started the book just a bit earlier in the week to see more of Alex’s day-to-day life before the disaster. Instead, we learn about it through flashbacks, which makes it a bit harder to get to know him than it was to get to know Miranda.
Overall, this is a surprising and enjoyable second book in this post-apocalyptic series that lets readers relive the apocalypse from the first book over again with a different set of characters. This approach lends diversity to the series, as well as bringing in a greater variety of scenarios for those who enjoy the apocalypse process. Recommended to those looking for a diverse presentation of beliefs and how those impact how characters deal with an apocalypse.
4 out of 5 stars
Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year. I not only thoroughly enjoyed assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically. It’s just useful and fun simultaneously! Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.
With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2013!
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
By: Chris Guillebeau
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Crown Business
Genre: Nonfiction Lifestyle
Themes: independence, success, small businesses
Guillebeau investigated what makes microbusinesses (small businesses typically run by one person) successful by conducting a multiyear study interviewing more than 100 successful microbusiness entrepreneurs. Here he presents his findings on what makes for a successful microbusiness and offers advice on how you can become a successful microbusiness entrepreneur too.
I refer to things I learned in this book at least once a week. Guillebeau offers practical advice for the aspiring small business owner on everything from choosing an idea that will work to setting the right price to marketing. The things I’ve been able to try from the book so far have worked. This book shows what happens when a nonfiction book bases its advice on solid research.
The Curse of the Wendigo (The Monstrumologist, #2)
By: Rick Yancey
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Horror, YA
Themes: love lost, the nature of good and evil
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.
What I remember when I think about this book is the beautiful language and the dual setting of the horror. Setting the book both in rural Canada and urban New York is part of what made it feel so unique to me. A horror that travels instead of being trapped in one setting isn’t seen as often. The book is beautiful and grotesque at the same time. A rare find.
By: Frederik Pohl
Publication Date: 1976
Publisher: Orb Books
Themes: transhumanism, artificial intelligence
The first Earthling reworked into a Martian would be Roger Torraway. Martian instead of Earthling since everything on him had to be reworked in order to survive on Mars. His organic skin is stripped off and made plastic. His eyes are replaced by large, buglike red ones. He is given wings to gather solar power, not to fly. All of which is organized and run by his friend, the computer on his back. Who was this man? What was his life like? How did he survive the transformation to become more than human and help us successfully colonize Mars?
This has a scifi plot that both explores an issue I’m interested in (transhumanism) and managed to surprise me at the end. It’s a short book that makes you think and has compelling three-dimensional characters. I’ll definitely be keeping this one and seeking out more of Pohl’s writing.
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology, and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today
By: Kate Bornstein
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Beacon Press
Genre: Memoir, GLBTQ
Themes: religious abuse, trans rights, gender, Borderline Personality Disorder
Kate Bornstein is a playwright, gender theorist, and queer activist. She chose to write a memoir as a way to reach out to her daughter, Jessica, who is still in the Church of Scientology, and thus, must not speak to her. Her memoir talks about growing up Jewish in the 1950s, feeling like a girl inside a boy’s body. It then talks about why and how she joined Scientology (still identifying as a man, Al), climbing Scientology’s ladder, marrying, fathering Jessica, and finally getting kicked out of Scientology and becoming disillusioned. From there the memoir explains to Jessica how and why Al decided to become Kate and talks about the person behind the queer theory, trying to explain who the incredibly unique parent she has truly is.
This memoir is engaging right from the title and stunning in the level of honesty Bornstein displays. Bornstein eloquently presents the reality of being trans, entering a leaving an abusive religion, and the complexities of gender. An incredibly readable memoir that stays with you.
Succubus Dreams (Georgina Kincaid, #3)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2008
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: the grayness of good versus evil
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, has a lot on her hands between dating her human author boyfriend, Seth, (and not sleeping with him to protect his life energy), adjusting to her new managerial position at the bookstore, and her usual succubus requirement of stealing good men’s life energy by sleeping with them. So the last thing she needs is another new assignment from hell, but that’s what she’s getting. Seattle is getting a second succubus, a newbie she has to mentor. When she starts having dreams about having a normal, human life and waking up with her energy drained, it all turns into almost too much for one succubus to handle.
This series glows in my mind as a favorite that I will return to again and again. This book is where I truly began to fall in love with it. The third entry shows that urban fantasy can be more than monster of the week. It does what genre does best. Ponder real life questions in an enjoyable wrapping.
Succubus Revealed (Georgina Kincaid, #6)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: soul mates, forgiveness, personal growth
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, is incredibly happy to be back together with her previously ex boyfriend, Seth Mortensen. But getting back together with him came at the price of hurting his once-fiancee and having to leave her previously loved position managing the bookstore. It’s all worth it to be with Seth, though. But then a transfer notice comes in, sending her to her dream job in Las Vegas. It’d be a dream come true, except Seth can’t come with her because his sister-in-law has cancer. Georgina starts to wonder just why so many elements seem to keep coming together to try to drive her and Seth apart.
This an amazing series finale that reveals so many aspects of the overarching plot that I wanted to go back and re-read the whole series immediately just to look for more of the overarching plot that I was oblivious to the first time around. It’s a wrap-up that is satisfying without making everything too perfect for the characters. It has a lot to say about love and redemption. And it made me cry.
Succubus Shadows (Georgina Kincaid, #5)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2010
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: facing your past
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, cannot believe she has been roped into helping plan her ex-boyfriend’s wedding. It’s enough to make anyone depressed. But she can’t afford to be depressed, because every time she starts to feel down, a mysterious force tries to lure her away to what must be a dangerous place. Georgina is fed up with all of these mysterious attacks on Seattle. It just doesn’t make sense. What is making them target Seattle? And seem to be maybe targeting her?
The penultimate book in this series isn’t afraid to go dark places with tough questions. It also addresses the issue in urban fantasy that a lot of people joke about: gee that’s sure a lot happening in this one town! Mead addresses this in a tongue-in-cheek manner that also ties into the overall plot. I was amazed at how well this series incorporates both all the things that make urban fantasy fun (demons! sex! supernatural battles!) and an overarching plot that tugs at the heart strings and makes some of the bizarre things that happen make sense.
The Time Machine
By: H. G. Wells
Publication Date: 1895
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: Scifi, Classic
Themes: dystopia, time travel, evolution, class divides
Nobody is quite sure whether to believe their eccentric scientist friend when he claims to have invented the ability to travel through time. But when he shows up late to a dinner party with a tale of traveling to the year 802,700 and meeting the human race, now divided into the child-like Eloi and the pale ape-like ground-dwelling Morlocks, they find themselves wanting to believe him.
I’m so glad I added this scifi classic to my list of books I’ve read. I of course had heard of the general idea of the Morlocks and the Eloi, but reading about them for myself, I was easily able to see how this became a classic. It kept me on the edge of my seat, concerned for the scientist’s safety, even while exploring issues of inequitable class divides and pondering the future direction of the evolution of the human race.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers
By: Karyl McBride
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Nonfiction Psych, Nonfiction Relationships
Themes: overcoming adversity, mother/daughter relationships, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, abuse
A guidebook for adult women raised by a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Dr. McBride is a therapist with many years of experience treating daughters of NPD mothers and also with treating people with NPD. Additionally, she herself is the daughter of a woman with NPD. The book is divided into three sections to help the daughters of mothers with NPD to heal and take charge of their lives. The first section “Recognizing the Problem,” explains what maternal NPD looks like. The second section, “How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life,” explains the impact NPD mothers have on their daughters, both as children and as adults. The third section, “Ending the Legacy” is all about healing from the NPD mothering and breaking the cycle of Narcissism. Dr. McBride offers clinical examples from her practice as well as detailed, clearly explained exercises to aid with healing.
This is one of the best books I’ve read for adult survivors of abusive childhoods. It works because it focuses narrowly on one type of relationship and one type of dysfunctional, abusive childhood to be overcome. McBride explains what happened to the adult survivor when they were a child, how that affects them now, and how to overcome it. She does this while neither excusing nor demonizing the mother’s behavior. A great book for anyone with an interest in how mothers with NPD affect their daughters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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