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Vanishing Girls

Just like me, I’m late posting this, only a day this time though. This is kind of an older book I’m reviewing today, sent to me by the publisher for an honest review. It took me forever to get done because I wasn’t having any time of it getting my words down. All that said, enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Nick and her younger sister Dara used to be best friends, completely inseparable. That was then, before Dara kissed Parker. Before the accident. Nick hasn’t seen her sister since last summer and, if Dara has her way, it looks like it’ll be longer still before she does. But she’s got a job at the local amusement park to deal with and a friendship with Parker to try and patch up. It would be better if her sister would talk to her, but she’ll have to make do.

Vanishing Girls is the first Lauren Oliver book I’ve read, though I had heard of her before. I’m honestly not entirely sure how I feel about it, so this may go a little long. This is also going to be really spoilery because of the way the book and its official description have next to nothing to do with each other, also that talking about the twist is impossible without spoilers. So spoiler alert.

Our protagonists here are Nick, who’s been gone for a year living with her father, and Dara, her younger sister who used to be beautiful but is now horribly scarred by the car accident they were both in last summer. She blames Nick and refuses to so much as be in the same room with her. Nick gets most of the screen time here while Dara gets a few chapters to foreshadow the big twist and show the reader what a bad girl she is.

I lost interest in Nick pretty quickly, she has some promising moments, but the friendship with Parker felt super cringe worthy and they danced around their mutual attraction way too much. Dara wasn’t much better, the rebellious sister to Nick’s perfect daughter, the bad girl who got into partying with much older guys and wound up doing porn as a result. The side characters, particularly Alice, were much better written in a lot of ways and tended to feel more three dimensional. That might have been a less is more thing though, none of them got a lot of screen time.

The big twist, and the scenes immediately preceding it, is where the book lost me though. The plot doesn’t really start until past the half way mark, probably closer to the two thirds mark, so when it hits it feels really rushed. Kind of like the author was reaching her page count and needed to tie it all together so she could spring her big twist and reveal all. That just doesn’t work for me. We get that Dara is the trouble sister, that she acts out to get attention because she feels left out, but then we get this child porn ring plot nearly out of nowhere and Nick rushes off to save her sister from the thing. The possibility of this plot was only mentioned in some of the mini chapters that were formatted to read like an internet comments section in relation to the little missing girl sub plot that the book really didn’t seem to care about. It just doesn’t work. Then of course, we get to the twist and it’s just anti-climactic and weak.

This is the cornerstone of the whole book, the thing that this entire novel is written in service to. The twist hits at the height of the action and just kills all the momentum. So, spoiler alert again, but this whole time Dara’s been dead and Nick has trauma induced dissociative identity disorder and has been alternating between being herself and being Dara throughout the novel. Reading Vanishing Girls the first time through the foreshadowing for the reveal just wasn’t there. It took sitting around after finishing the book to start seeing hints. That combined with the momentum halting way the twist was introduced made it feel very, “surprise, she’s crazy!” To my mind at least, that means the twist was just not worth it. Better lead up would have helped, as it stands it feels very tacked on despite being the central key to the entire novel.

So, all that said, where does Vanishing Girls land? The book has good bones, they just weren’t filled in very well and it reads like a couple of them were shoved back in at the last moment. Some of the side characters are fantastic, which only serves to make the main characters that much more lack luster. I also take issue with the big twist being that the main character isn’t sane, that feels like a really outdated thing to use as the big twist and, again, it wasn’t pulled off well enough to justify itself. That said, I actually kind of enjoyed my initial reading of the book, kind of a turn off your brain thing. So, while I don’t know that it earns it, I’m giving it a three out of five.

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Hello everyone. I’ve got a guest post or from the author of The Bad Boy Bargain. This is actually part of a blog tour, so if you’re interested, check out the other blogs on the tour. Enjoy!

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How a Song Launched an Entire Book

 

I find inspiration for books in a lot of places, but The Bad Boy Bargain was probably the most unusual. Last year, when she heard “Please” by Sawyer Fredericks (from The Voice), my editor, Heather Howland, had an idea for a new YA romance. She posted her thoughts on Twitter—shy guy with a tough shell—and said she wished someone would write it. When I asked when she wanted the manuscript, teasing but also dead serious, we started plotting.

 

“Please” tells the story of a young man who’s found a near-perfect girl, one he thinks he loves, but he’s lying to her at the same time. He’s scared to tell this near-perfect girl the truth about himself because he’s worried she’ll let him go. It’s a song about love and fear, giving and selfishness, longing and despair. All those themes show up in The Bad Boy Bargain, which lends some extra complexity to Kyle beyond the typical bad boy. He’s a guy full of secrets, pain, and shame, but he reallywants someone to see through all of that and love the true Kyle. The working title of the book was called Keeping Faith—because he wants to keep Faith, but needs more faith in himself.

 

As for Faith herself, she’s been mistreated by one guy and has some reservations about being hurt again. The difference between Faith and Kyle is that she’s willing to continue to look for The One even though she’s been burned. She believes in true love, acting with kindness, and being her real self. She suffers from a lack of confidence and self doubt, and Kyle helps her get past that, especially when she struggles with a dance partner who refuses to do his part. Having him in her life restores her faith in love, and in herself.

 

Overall, this story is about two people finding each other and connecting in a way that allows them to be true with each other.

Not a ton to say here. Thanks to the nice folks at Crown Books, I’ve got a review of the final book in the Thrones and Bones trilogy for you. Enjoy!

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Thianna and Karn have lost the Horn of Osius, key to controlling the wyvern and all dragon kind. To keep its power from being misused they’ll have to journey to Thica, the country Thianna’s mother fled years ago, and face down an entire empire. They won’t be alone though. A battle is brewing that will determine the very fate of the empire and, possibly, our heroes as well.

Thrones and Bones: Skyborn by Lou Anders is definitely an interesting read, and a fun one as well. It builds on the previous books well. It has higher stakes, as benefits the last book in the series. It still keeps its balance between Thianna and Karn really well while expanding the cast as well.

So, with the first two books in the trilogy I had a lot of the problems I tend to with most kids or young readers’ books I review. The first one was very black and white in its morality, the heroes were good because they were the heroes and the villains were evil because they were the villains. The second book did better, but still projected its eleventh hour new hero pretty hard. That’s standard in kids’ fantasy, but it does get old, which is something this one does a fairly mixed job on. We have an empire that’s crushing other city-states and forcing them to do its bidding, that’s how it’s done and how it has been for as long as anyone can remember. We have the city-states not wanting to work together because of old grudges. Both are kind of a wash early because it is a ton of new stuff all at once, but then we get into it more and it works.

We also have some party friction from the last book that gets worked though, I really appreciate that bit. As well as I feel Karn and Thianna work as a team, seeing them having to work with new characters and deal with new situations is one of the strong points of the book. The expanded cast did take some getting used to, mostly just because it split the story more than the first books did, but that helps give the story a greater feeling of scope.

The added cast does have one big downside that I can think of. While it’s great for adding scope to the story, it also has the effect of leaving what should have been important character moments out for more minor characters. A little more focus on what was going on with the big villains would have been great. It also has the effect of introducing and then completely leaving out representative characters for the city-states that didn’t get involved in the plot. That feels like a missed opportunity more than anything.

So, where do I sit on Thrones and Bones: Skyborn? It solved a lot of the standard kids’ book problems the first two had, though it still has a few. Those are mostly pacing related, and nothing really big at that. I would have liked to have seen more build to the final confrontation; it was pretty standard for the series on that front. As evidenced by the rest of the review though, I enjoyed the read. This is one of the few series that I not only enjoyed myself, I’m also getting the first one for my younger cousin. So, again, where do I sit on this one? I think it earned a four out of five.

Saying Something

I’ve taken my few days after the election to adjust and get things sorted. It’s time to get back to work. I’m going to avoid getting into life stuff or political stuff or anything similar here.

There will be a review Wednesday. Then the Wednesday after that, and after that. If something comes up, I’ll address it in weekly house keeping. There will still be guest posts. There will still be nonsense about the apartment spooks or the cat or whatever.

We’ll keep going. That’s all there is to do.

Necrotech

So, things should be back to normal posts wise here soon. I will of course be rambling about things that aren’t books, but that’s just business as usual. There’s also a review. The book was sent to me for the purposes of an honest review by the awesome folks at Angry Robot. Enjoy!

Waking up not remembering the day before sucks. Waking up having lost months, with your girlfriend turned into a tech zombie and your team thinking you sold them out? So much worse. Riko’s reputation is shot and the only people who could help her aren’t so willing to help. To find out what happened, or even just make it until tomorrow, she’s going to have to fight smarter and harder than ever.

K. C. Alexander’s Necrotech reminds me very much of Shadowrun Returns, with it’s used future feel and the sharp delineation between the corporate haves and the everyone else have-nots. That just on its own doesn’t really do the book justice though. There’s a thread of desperation to the first third, with Riko trying to figure out just what happened to her and Nanji. Everything Riko’s built in her life has fallen apart, seemingly overnight, and she has no idea what’s going on or what to do about it. That works fantastically well.

Less fantastically, the pacing gets really slowed down in the middle section of the book. That can make it feel like a bit of a slog at times, especially since Riko keeps going over a lot of the same topics repeatedly. Given that one of those problems, Malik Reed, both feels like he’s being set up as a later romance interest and really doesn’t go anywhere as a character the slow down can hurt the book a lot. I really didn’t enjoy Malik as a character or Riko’s reactions to him. While Riko being bisexual is a part of her character, the power difference and back and forth between them really didn’t work for me.

That said, aside from the slowdown, Necrotech is fast, violent, profane, and utterly enjoyable. It’s got a great feel for scenery when it needs it. The tone stays on point for most of the run. And I really enjoyed the mix of futuristic technology with everything being so worn down and broken.

So, where does that leave Necrotech? I’m still pretty frustrated with the middle bit and Malik, but I also really want to read the next one. So, it gets a four out of five from me. There are issues, but I want to see how they’re worked out more than I am frustrated with them.

Guest Post Kate Forest

Alright everybody, I’ve got a guest post for you today from Kate forest, the author of Interior Design and Other Emotions and Grounded. With NaNoWriMo going on, what she’s talking about is near and dear to my heart.

Writer’s Block? No, Writer’s Despair.

Generally, when I am finishing up a first draft I panic. Without a clear idea of what to write next, I decide that it’s time to throw in the towel, give up my writing life. I call my critique partner, Veronica Forand, and moan, “I have no more ideas. I don’t think I’ll write again. This is my last book.” Her response is usually to mumble something encouraging or tell me to shut up because I said that last time. (She really is supportive in some ways. There’s a reason I keep her around.)

But no, I insist. This is really it. I’m blank. Nothing is coming to mind. Oh, wait. I’ve got an idea. How about a story in which a woman touches a magical stone and goes back in time to Scotland? No, that’s been done. Ooh, here’s one. How about a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, only it will be in diary form. Ok, never mind.

But then this happens. On a rare day, I will get a decent night’s sleep. Not a measly 7 hours interrupted by a trip to the bathroom and the sound of the dog vomiting outside the bedroom door. I mean a gooood night’s sleep. One the ends when the alarm chimes, I stretch, gaze out the window at the sun just peeking above the trees, and smile. No cricks in my middle aged body and plenty of time to get everyone ready for school. And then BLAMO!

A pair of characters appears in my head. They are completely formed and I know exactly why they can never be together, but why they must fall in love and find some way of overcoming their personal and relational obstacles.

Sure, I have no idea what their plot is. Where and when will they live? What will the world and villains throw at them to keep them from their goals? Who the heck knows? That’s a problem to hash out with my critique partners. In that moment, I need to write pages and pages of notes as the ideas pour out.

Of course, by that time, there isn’t plenty of time to get everyone ready for school and the morning seems less serene. But my heart is filled with confidence and hope.  And with those tools, I can do anything. Even write another book.

Words and Phrases

I don’t have a ton of words right now, just checking in.

Part way trough writing the next review now and about half way through the next book. Things are gonna get a little odd for the next while. I’ve got a mix of stuff headed your way, so that’s good.

I’m also thinking of taking a break from giveaways, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in them. I’d rather do them sparingly and have people get into it. So that’s something that’s probably going to be shelved for a bit. I might do one at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but that’s probably all.

It’s also five days in, but I’m going to try for NaNoWriMo again and I might include updates on that in the posts like this. Not hugely sure what I want to write about, but that’s not too much of a worry.

Squeaking in at the last moment, I have one last Halloween treat for you all. Yes readers, today you get two reviews! Enjoy!

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Edgar Allan Poe: And Adult Coloring Book by Odessa Begay is a bit of an outlier for my reviews, so bear with me here.

Back in high school and middle school I read a fair amount of Edgar Allan Poe’s short fiction and some of his poetry. The dark broodiness appealed in a lot of ways and I loved the detail work in some of his stories and the slow decent into madness that overtook most of his protagonists. So, when given the chance to review a coloring book based on his work, I accepted happily.

My experience with adult coloring books involves a lot of little fiddly bits that take a ton of attention to detail to fill out well. I like that because it makes me slow down and focus on what I’m doing. This particular adult coloring book has some of that, but not nearly enough for my taste. Most of the art is presented in two page spreads with one page having a section of writing from the piece that it’s referencing. This works both to the book’s advantage and disadvantage.

On some pieces the spread allows for a grand scope and a good deal of detail work. On others it winds up with a lot of empty space that leaves the art feeling incomplete or like it’s floating. The amount empty space is definitely my biggest issue with the book itself, there is quite a lot of it. That said, the paper feels nice and heavy and the quality feels good. I didn’t get the chance to test it with markers, but it takes color pencils very well.

I feel like the sections of prose could have been worked in better in many of the spreads. In many cases the prose is just kind of left hanging in empty space, making it feel less like a centerpiece than I think it is supposed to be. The spreads where it’s boxed in or solidly framed work best for me personally.

Where does that leave the review then? I’m giving it a three out of five, mostly because of the empty space and partly because some of the art has a tendency to feel detached from itself.

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m wrapping up the weekend’s festivities with the last Fear Street Saga novel today. This is actually the one I wimped out on last time. I admit the last thing I’d remembered from it was a lot earlier in the book than I’d thought. Bonus, the Jonesy cat seems to like Oxenfree and has been cuddling her whenever I’m in the room with both of them. It’s cute. Anyway, on to the review!

 

Over a hundred years ago Benjamin Fier framed an innocent girl for witchcraft and burned her at the stake. Over a hundred years since his brother Matthew robbed the girl’s grieving father. Over a hundred years since everything began, but just two since the curse was reawakened and Franks Goode murdered the Fier family in cold blood. Only two years since Simon Fear changed his family name and forswore good. The chain is completed, and the end is beginning.

The Burning is the third and final book in the original Fear Street Saga by R. L. Stine; it’s also the first of the three to give us a villain protagonist. That’s actually a thing that I appreciate about the book. Having Simon as both our starting protagonist and, ultimately, the antagonist of the book ties things up nicely in a way that the previous two books didn’t. The reader has known that the Fear Mansion was going to burn down at the end, leaving Nora Goode all alone; it’s just been a matter of getting there.

The big down side here is that I feel like the first half of the book was really rushed. Pacing has been a problem throughout the trilogy, so it isn’t a huge out of nowhere thing. It’s more another example of needing to get things in place for what comes next and not having the room for much build up. There’s some out of nowhere stuff that I would have liked to have seen more support for, but it’s par for the course at this point.

I can’t say that The Burning is the strongest of the three books, which probably still goes to The Betrayal, but it does pretty well for itself. While rushed in a lot of ways, I feel like a lot of the things that are rushed could or would probably be hand waved with the curse if the extra space had been taken to go further in.

There’s really not a lot for me to say here. The Burning has its points that work, and work well, but it also shares the same weak points that the rest of the series has. It also has an unfortunate side effect, since the reader knows about how it ends and that Fear Street is ultimately still cursed, of not having a really satisfying ending. It’s just kind of done. So, at the end of the day I think it earned a three out of five. If any single part of it had been a touch better it would have been a four.

A Solution

So, the house spooks freaked out a little when we had a friend over yesterday. I wasn’t a fan of that, so I made a thing that should help with the issue.

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Her name’s Oxenfree. She likes keys and her heart is literally made of stone. It’s a tree agate though, so it looks pretty and is supposed to be calming. Nothing super spooky has happened since I finished her, but that hasn’t been long. I feel good about this taking care of our spooks problem.

You guys know the standard by now. Tell me if  any place you’ve lived has been haunted or seemed like it.