Category: Rating


It occurred to me today that I hadn’t posted this yet. I admit, I’m a little sad that this is the last one for now. Maybe there will be another arc or the start of an ongoing after the Crossing Over event in the classic Ghostbusters comic. What Dreams May Come was a pretty awesome story though, so I can hope. Here’s the last one for now, enjoy!

Issue 5 What Dreams May Come cover

After being consumed by their fears and fighting them back, solutions failing and answers being found, this is the final confrontation. The Ghostbusters have their shared memory and a plan in place to stop the Schreckgespenst. Will it be enough or will Dr. Kruger trap the world in his nightmare dimension?

This is where we’ve hit the final confrontation, the boss fight, the last effort before the world is doomed where our heroines triumph. It’s also the big test for the neural connections that should, in addition to the shared memory, allow them to find each other in the nightmare world. Let’s dig in.

We jump right into the fight with the Ghostbusters fighting Dr. Kruger and then activating the neural connection. Things go wrong almost immediately with the team not being able to keep together. I feel like that does a really good thing with one of the issues I had had in the last issue. We start with Erin left alone with her nightmares, but then she’s able to focus on Abby and reach her and together they get to the shared memory. Patty on the other hand finds the shared memory no problem, it’s set in a historic site that’s Patty’s thing, but she’s alone. She couldn’t hold on to the others well enough to get to both. That, for me, is brilliant. Erin and Abby had known each other for years before Erin ran off, so it makes sense that it would be easier for them to lock on to each other. Patty only met anyone in the team during the Rowan incident, so she doesn’t have as long a connection or maybe not as many points of connection with them.

The art here is great, as it has been for the entire arc. I want to see more of Corin Howell’s work because of this comic. Her expressions in particular are awesome and the Schrekgespenst couldn’t have been much more awesome. The same goes for Valentina Pinto’s work on the colors. The art is awesome, but it wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic without the color work to punch up the mood.

Admittedly, what I really want is more of this team on this comic. This was a fantastic way to tie up the arc and the way Dr. Kruger was defeated was a great example of the character work that I’ve enjoyed throughout the run. So, yeah, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call: What Dreams May Come issue five gets a five out of five. And I really hope that question mark at the end means more is on its way.

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I’ve gotten the chance to review a number of Seanan McGuire’s book now and I’ve enjoyed them all. So, of course I was excited to see Sparrow Hill Road on netGalley, even more so when I was OKed to review it. This is one of those books that I had been meaning to read and meaning to read. Bonus in that the second book is coming out soon. Enjoy!

Sparrow Hill Road cover

Rose Marshall is sixteen and running from the man who ran her off the road. She’s been sixteen and on the run since prom night. Since she’d made a rash decision while angry. Since 1952 when she took the keys to her brother’s car and the short cut on Sparrow Hill Road to look for her boyfriend.  Bobby Cross is still hunting her, trying to catch the one that got away and feed his immortality a little longer.  He won’t stop until he catches up to her. But at least he can’t kill someone who’s already dead.

Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road is interesting to me in a lot of ways. It started out as a set of twelve short stories published across a year. Those stories were well received enough to be reworked a little and republished as a novel. That, to me, is all kinds of awesome. Then you jump into Sparrow Hill Road being a ghost’s story rather than a ghost story. It’s Rose’s story to tell and she’s well aware of a lot of the folk lore surrounding her and those like her. I actually have a little trouble talking about this one because of how much I enjoyed it.

This isn’t a settled book by any means. It roams from decade to decade and coast to coast, from living to dead and back again. The characters likewise never seem to settle. Weather that means the phantom driver who spends his afterlife racing the road he died on or the route witches whose magic is called from driving and the road itself. Pauses are brief and stopping or being stopped always seems to carry a risk. That doesn’t mean that the book moves at a breakneck pace throughout its run, Ms. McGuire does a fantastic job with her pacing here. It never felt like I needed to pause and reread something to understand what was going on. It also never felt like the book was dragged down by over explaining things.

Rose’s ability to borrow life from a willingly offered piece of outer ware is fascinating to me, likewise the rule that she can enjoy food and drink only if it’s willingly offered by a living being. Both serve to allow her to, temporarily at least, experience the parts of living that she’d enjoyed and interact with normal people as though she were one of them. It also serves to limit Rose. She can only borrow life until the sun comes up so she’s a ghost, cold and insubstantial, during the day and any food she eats that isn’t willingly offered tastes of ash. The aspect of Rose having chosen to guide the dead is also an interesting one. It isn’t something she’s bound to, at least not beyond feeling a sort of responsibility for the newly dead. It’s something she doesn’t always want to do and, in fact, something of a mirror to her habit of trying to help drivers avoid their deaths. Of course, both of those choices lead to her being seen around horrific traffic accidents and being blamed as a result.

That feels like sort of a running thing through the book, people act without knowing the full story. It happens with Rose, with the story of the pretty dead girl up on Sparrow Hill Road and all the people she’s supposedly killed. It happens with a number of the characters introduced within each section of the book, they react to the bits they know but act before digging further. They jump to conclusions while angry or confused and go based on their impressions. It’s a sort of humanizing thing that allows for a lot of the conflict in the book without it feeling like it was just thrown in.

Speaking of conflict, if there’s a bit that didn’t entirely work for me it winds up being Bobby Cross himself. This goes back to Sparrow Hill Road having originally been a set of short stories. Bobby Cross feels like a week antagonist, largely because he doesn’t have much to do early on. He’s the one who killed Rose. He wants to finish the job. Not has to, wants to. But for a lot of the book’s run it doesn’t feel like he’s a threat. The antagonists from other sections tend to be more present, likely because that’s their moment while Bobby is running a long game. When he’s effective, he’s great but when he’s not he just sort of feels like a disposable villain of the week.

I started writing this review knowing that I was going to give it a five out of five. I enjoyed it enough to not really know how to write about it without just throwing words for pages on end. Even now there are bits that I want to go back and add more thoughts on. I think I’ve come to a decent place to end this though. Sparrow Hill Road is well worth the read and I’m super excited for the next one.

I’m really going to need to learn not to announce things before they’re ready to roll. My computer messed up and wouldn’t work, I think I’ve got it working mostly right again but it took a while to get it going again. In any case, this one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quill Press. Here’s Anne Stinnett’s Creature of the Night. Enjoy!

Creature of the Night cover

It’s TV’s most scandelous phenomenon. Fantastic vampire judges. Roaring crowds jumping at the bit to see contestants fail. Blood and glamour in equal measure.  It’s a chance at eternity for one lucky contestant, and the risk of death for the other eleven, the new season of Creature of the Night promises to be a bloody good time for the viewing public.

Anne Stinnett’s Creature of the Night is a book that I really wanted to like just based on its concept. The whole vampire game show thing where the winner becomes a vampire is kind of awesome and something I’m a little surprised I haven’t found in other urban fantasy novels. Supernatural beings using their being supernatural to grab a wide and adoring audience, or being used to do that, seems like it would be more of a thing. The idea that people not only go wild over this but blood thirsty, mocking failed competitors and camping out wild is interesting and feels like it could say a lot about the culture surrounding celebrity culture. The problem comes when it didn’t seem interested enough in the characters or world to really pull that off.

Let’s talk about that potential though, because I really do think that something like Creature of the Night could do a lot of interesting things with urban fantasy. The ingredients are all there.  The masquerade was broken, so people know that vampires are real. More than that, the television viewing public not only loves them but loves seeing people risk their lives to become vampires. It almost seems like they have the world enthralled. But there’s a limit to how many people can be turned legally, which leads to the show being billed as a sort of way to find “worthy” people to be turned. This makes me wish that we could have seen more of the world beyond the show, possibly through more time in the mansion or more time with the viewers at home. Just something more away from the show challenges themselves so that we get more of the back ground.

That’s sort of a running thing in Creature of the Night, that sort of need for more details outside of the competition itself. The back story for the world is mentioned and teased, but in a way that becomes distracting rather than informative. It’s the same with the protests over certain aspects of vampires interacting with humans, they’re mentioned and it is part of a couple of characters back stories, but they don’t really do anything for the story. It would almost be better, if we were looking to keep the length of the book about the same, to drop the world building hints entirely and allow the reader to make their own assumptions about how this all came about, then use the space from dropping that to develop the characters more.

It’s sort of a thing I think I can see what Stinnett was doing with the characters, this being a horror comedy and all, but she left her characters really flat. They were sort of horror movie cliché sketches of characters rather than being full on developed, which made it really difficult to care what happened to any of them. This ties heavily into my thing about wanting more page time away from the show challenges. While the challenges are largely interesting they also feel big and sensationalistic. They show the characters as competitors but not as people. The between challenge chapters do some character interactions, but they’re also taken up with the in book show’s confessional sequences where the characters talk about the challenges and other competitors and whatnot. What makes this a little strange, is that it’s clear that changes are happening with some of the characters but we don’t see much of them as they change, possibly because the show lasts at most a week. Plus the confessional bits often have characters returning to type, rather than reflecting any sort of development.

At the end of it, Creature of the Night feels very like the novelization of a B movie that doesn’t exist. The characters have little to no presence. It’s often violent or gross for the sake of shock factor for a fictional audience. Cutaways to the audience at home or the judges can be interesting, but usually feel like padding. All in all, it would work a lot better on film than page. I wasn’t a fan of this book and I think I would wait to check out the reviews on any other books Anne Stinnett writes, but I would be willing to read her again. It’s mostly because of that that Creature of the Night gets a three out of five.

Ah, this is finally going up. I feel like I’ve been sitting on this for years and it’s a little ridiculous. I’m going to see if I can get the Crossing Over issue one review posted today or tomorrow as well. We’ll see how that goes, either way, enjoy!

Issue 4 What Dreams May Come cover

So, we’re into the fourth issue of What Dreams May Come and it’s leading into how exactly the Ghostbusters are going to stop whatever Schrecky’s up to. They need a big shared memory, something kind of traumatizing, and a little bit buried. So it can’t be Rowan’s apocalypse, that’s too new. Something shared and buried though, Erin and Abby might have that, Abby and Holtz might, but not all four of them. Right?

This is the first one that I have something of an issue with. The shared memory that the issue centers around is entertaining but it is kind of too easy feeling.  It feels too convenient, which sort of make sense this is the second to last issue in the arc so they do need to tie things up. But it seems to contradict Erin and Abby having grown up in Michigan. Plus, I find myself way more interested in Holtzmann’s nightmare/breakfast machine and just how inserting memories into Abby’s head made her love soup so much. I do hope we see more of that in the future.

I like the idea that the buried connection that the memory makes could allow the Ghostbusters to find each other in Kreuger’s nightmare space and avoid him enough to fight back. That said, I wish there was time left for the buried connections to be separated between the characters rather than one big inciting incident. Without that I find myself wondering just what kind of memory Holtzmann would have used and how implanting a memory would even work.

That said, I’m still excited to see how this ends, the final confrontation with Dr. Kreuger is bound to be awesome and I’m all for it. The art remains awesome, the designs for the younger versions of the Ghostbusters were solid and I continue to be super impressed by how expressive the art is.

It feels like I got really repetitive on this one, and I know I was a little hard on the thing I wasn’t a fan of. I know that’s in large part because I want to see this keep going and I’m kind of worry nitpicking and being picky about background stuff.  That said, I did still have a ton of fun reading this one, so I’m giving Ghostbusters: Answer the Call: What Dreams May Come issue 4 a four out of five.

I’m going to get back to schedule at some point. It might be the point where I’ve caught up with my to read list, but someday it’s going to happen. This one was a wish granted by netGalley. Here’s Jeff Noon’s The Body Library. Enjoy!

The Body Library cover

In a city where everything is stories and stories are everything, what happens when the plot shifts a little? When an infection of ideas has the potential to overturn the balance of fictional how strange can a murder case be? How strange can anything be when words flow just under the skin? It a city where stories are everything and everything is stories, what do a dead man’s whispers mean? Once upon a time a man called Nyquist followed a job right into trouble.

The Body Library is, in more ways than anything else, a story about stories. Yes, it’s still a detective story and there is still a case to be solved, but neither of those feel like the core of the book. I’m not sure that Jeff Noon meant for the mystery bits  to be as overshadowed by the story about a story bits, I haven’t read the previous Nyquist novel so this may just be part of his writing style. The nature of the book also makes it somewhat hard to dig into without spoiling it, so this one might be a little thin on details.

A big part of the story here is focused in on Melville 5, an abandoned apartment building and home to all manner of strange folk. More importantly, it’s something of a flux zone where the strangeness of Storyville is eclipsed by something more, by pages with shifting words and trees with ink flowing through their leaves. This is fascinating to me, this sort of space where reality is kind of separated from itself, just slightly tilted.

There’s a lot of slightly tilted reality to go around here. Storyville itself is a town built on tales where each person’s individual story is quite important and monitored to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s story. There’s a great feel to it when Nyquist is going through the city chasing a lead, just being shown the various areas of this sprawling city of words. Different parts of the city are known for different kinds of stories which feels interesting and I would like to see more of it. The city is probably my favorite part of The Body Library.

The flipside to my enjoyment of the city is the characters. There’s a flatness to the characters, I’m not sure if it’s something of the writing style or if it’s something of Nyquist as a focus character but it felt off.  Tied up in all the story elements of the book, the characters can feel less like characters and more like character sketches. Things don’t ring right emotionally. This is especially noticeably when it comes to Zelda. Nyquist has this whole thing towards her, this significance for her that doesn’t really get built up in any satisfying way but that is a driving force throughout the run of the book. The thing is, of course, that it’s a driving force I have a hard time buying into and so it feels forced.

There were some definite issues with the flow of the story. It’s worse towards the end than early on, but I think that sort of ties into the characters issue. Things feel like they could have been set up more solidly. Ideas crop up here and there, but the frame work can feel like it’s missing in places. The connections aren’t there.

Ultimately, I think I like the background elements and workings of The Body Library more than I like the actual story. There is a lot there that’s already solid, that would have been really well done, if it had been better set up. Would I read Jeff Noon again? Probably. While I had issues with some parts of the book I quite enjoyed others and would like to see what the background work in his previous Nyquist book is like. Because of that, I’m giving the body library a three out of five with the note that it only loses out on a four because of the flow issues towards the end.

Later than I’d planned for, but this is one that I’ve been looking forward to finishing. It’s been a book that I’d been meaning to read since before its release but didn’t get the chance to really dig into until this week. Here’s Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids. Enjoy!

Meddling Kids cover

Back in 1977 the kids of the Blyton Summer Detective Club had their last big case, some guy in a mask was hunting around in a supposed haunted house and the Blyton Summer Detective Club decided to stop him. They succeeded, really, they did. But maybe they saw a little more than they were meant to. A lot more than they were meant to. They solved the case, but what they saw broke them a little and they went their separate ways. The tomboy, wanted in two states. The brain, turned biologist, turned alcoholic. The golden boy, a star on film and in person, burned out before his time. The horror geek who turned himself over to an asylum, the only one who still talks to the golden boy even if he wishes he didn’t.  But the case wasn’t finished, not by a long shot. And that’s going to drag them back to the town where summer lived. The Blyton Hills, where their last big case was never fully solved, where everything went wrong, where just maybe they can put it back together again and put the past to rest. Put the past to rest and maybe save the world while they’re at it.

Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a deeply interesting beast of a book combining a number of takes on its own prose and some distinctly strange ideas that I want to see more of. This is, from title to composition to set up a fond reflection of those other meddling kids and their Great Dane. It isn’t a one to one thing, certainly, but the familiarity from that reflection allows for a certain degree of comfort with the less Saturday morning cartoon aspects. Lovecraftian strangeness and all that.

That’s actually a really good starting point here, Meddling Kids is sort of Lovecraft by way of Scooby Doo. It’s a lot softer than most of the Lovecraft based stuff I’ve read, more comedy than pure horror. But it plays with the wrongnesses worked into the fabric of reality that make up the horror of a lot of that sort of style of horror deals with. The writing will sort of break from standard prose into stage directions and lines and then snap back, characters interact with the narrative in non-standard ways. Kerrie, the resident brain, has hair that’s almost a character of its own. It reacts to things and has feelings, and somehow that’s done frankly enough in the writing to work. Similarly Tim, the Weimaraner, is given a ton of human reactions and is textually treated as being as self aware as the rest of the cast. Even buildings get in on the act. This all makes for some really nifty double take moments. It can also be a bit distracting when you first start reading, so there is that.

As far as the story goes, it feels very much like a comedy horror detective story. It is, in fact, shaped like itself. That isn’t a bad thing by any stretch, but I do feel like it shines the most when the characters have reached Blyton Hills and are poking at the things they hadn’t had the chance or awareness to investigate in the past. The points where things they’d talked about or experienced as kids come back up in the story, how safe a room had always felt or wanting to ride a mine cart, are really strong points for the characters and they feel good. This reads best when the focus is squarely on the characters, when it’s a bunch of former teen detectives trying to go back to what was and get down to the bottom of what is. It stays there too. The reader gets to see Andy being grumpy and aggressive and trying to keep the team going. We get Nate trying to keep it together as things get weirder and weirder and the dead guy won’t stop talking to him. I do wish we has seen more of the dead guy, I feel like Peter could have been a bigger presence throughout.

The setting is also great. Like I mentioned before, buildings become almost characters, reacting to the characters approach, muttering, and the like. The town of Blyton Hills is a town dying a slow death, but not ready to let go. There’s still people and drama and the issue with that old mansion. The choice to have the book take place in 1990 also works well with a lot of standard horror tropes. The technology we rely so readily upon just isn’t there, so they’re cut off in a lot of ways. There is no just grabbing a cell phone to call for back up, because they weren’t nearly as common. Likewise, the research needed has to be done by hand because the internet wasn’t as big or readily accessible. It also sort of slots the story into this sort of timeless place that doesn’t feel quite real, technology is seldom specifically brought up so the reader can sort of let things slide as they will. Blyton Hills itself has that sort of not real feeling so many fading towns get, it meshes well with the cast being comparatively small, but we’re also treated to the protagonists noting how empty the place feels. It makes for a pretty fantastic level of low key creepiness.

Meddling Kids is definitely a book that I hope gets a follow up. The handful of things I wasn’t a fan of pale in comparison to the things that work. This gets a five out of five from me. And I’m probably going to go looking for more of Edgar Cantero’s work.

Wayfarer: AV494

I am really excited to bring this one to you all, mostly because I was excited to read it. Something about checking out new sci-fi does that for me, I think it might be down to how well done the first chapter was on this one. This one’s thanks to the nice folks at Curiosity Quill Press for providing a review copy. Here’s Matthew S. Cox’s Wayfarer: AV494. Enjoy!

Wayfarer AV494 cover

An expedition to planet AV-494 could make Kerys Loring’s career, especially after her bosses took all the credit on the last one. She’s desperate enough to be cheap and experienced enough to know what she’s looking for. She’s everything Avasar Biotechnology is looking for. It’s clear they were right to hire her when she quickly makes a fantastic discovery, one that could change everything. A discovery that does change everything, seemingly unleashing a curse upon the station and driving everyone in it to violence. Kerys will have to find the truth if she wants to survive, though even then it might not be enough.

Wayfarer: AV494 is a solid piece of sci-fi with awesome character work. Matthew S. Cox did a really good job with his setting and, more than just that, with making the station feel both familiar and new. Wayfarer: AV494 is also very much a zombie story and hits a lot of notes familiar to that brand of horror.

That’s actually where my only minor qualms with the book come from. The characters surrounding Kerys are legitimately enjoyable, so seeing them succumb to the hate plague infecting the station is jarring and wrong and it works so fantastically. But then there’s the point where background characters start dropping like flies and these well built, likeable characters are part of that. It got to a point where I kind of stopped caring for a bit because it seemed so completely hopeless. There were a couple of spots of hope along the way and I know that sort of hopelessness is kind of a hallmark of this particular sub-genre, but it did get a little tiring.

Past that I really liked the way the characters, Kerys’ abusive ex aside, were handled. The other xenoarchaeologists Kerys works with, the various military personnel she works with, and Annapurna, the head of the xenobotany team, all wind up with solid if brief characterization that leaves them feeling very human. The way the xenoarchaeology team talks to each other as they work, the joking and such, feels organic. Some of the best work with the infection early on came from them because they were themselves, just a little wrong, where as the unnamed back ground characters were just suddenly ready to fight any and everyone. Which brings up the abusive ex, Will, since we’re shown his behavior through how he acts towards Kerys, most of his positive attributes are more informed than anything. He isn’t really played off of anyone, which makes him feel less solidly a character rather than others with less over all page time but more interactions outside of just Kerys and how she reacts to them. I’m entirely sure that this was on purpose, but it did wind up feeling a bit overdone and made it somewhat difficult to believe that other characters would be as taken with him as Kerys thinks they could be.

The setting works really well here, leaving our protagonist trapped while everyone around her goes mad. If she leaves, then she has a vastly limited air supply and nowhere to go that would be any help. The station itself is nearly a character, starting clean and orderly and well run before devolving into messes and murders and the chaos of people falling apart. The weather outside builds as Kerys’ emotions run high, leaving the station feeling somehow even less safe. Places that are briefly seen towards the beginning get a second run through after the infection sets in, showing how the stations inhabitants affect their surroundings. The changes in some of these areas a just as startling as the changes in the people living in them and it’s fantastic.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. There were a couple of things that lost me a little, but nothing really big. I could have done with a little less hopelessness at times, but I would definitely read another book by Matthew S. Cox. So, yeah, Wayfarer: AV494 gets a four out of five.

Devil’s Demise

So, this has been a time and a half coming, hasn’t it? I’m not planning on this being my review for the week, but I did want to get it up since I feel like I’ve been dragging my feet on it. I was sent a copy of this one by Authoright for review. This is Devil’s Demise. Enjoy!

Devils Demise cover

A killer stalks the streets of Edinburgh seeking a twisted revenge on beautiful women. Successful beautiful women. He gets off on their fear, on the power he has over them and the pain he can inflict. He’s untouchable. That is, he’s untouchable until one of his victims survives.

Lee Cockburn’s Devil’s Demise is a frustrating book for me. This is distinctly a first book, with all the pitfalls those tend to have, but it’s a first book that I had really wanted to like. There were a number of solid ideas here and I feel like the characters could have been interesting given more space to interact, but then the writing itself didn’t support them.

A lot of my issues with the writing come from the odd sort of third person omniscient thing going on. It is all tell and no show to the point that our introductions to the major characters are more or less just lists of traits and how other people react to them. After being told so much how evil and terrible the antagonist was, the serial killer who had committed multiple on page rapes, it started to feel more than a bit like Cockburn didn’t trust her audience to understand but that she also didn’t know how to get it across better. Likewise, being told how good and honest and hardworking the protagonist was without being shown much at all of her doing her job, I started to not believe it, she complains about her boss and worries about her maybe girlfriend a lot though. This continues throughout the book, we get told how bad the protagonist feels about failing to catch the killer or how she and her maybe girlfriend are just so into each other or how terrible and glory hogging the boss character is. It’s distracting and leaves me feeling very little for the characters except mild annoyance.

It’s also all very declarative. The characters don’t so much speak as they declare things at each other. When a situation is meant to have humor, it gets noted that that’s just the sort of gallows humor police all have.  This is, again, very repetitive. It ties into how everything is told to the reader while also making the characters feel less human because the way they communicate is just off.

The book also has a weirdly huge focus on all the sex these characters are having. It feels like if you cut out all the sex scenes the book would be a third its total length, half if you removed the consensual sex scenes. I’m probably exaggerating somewhat but this is a book that interrupted itself multiple times, completely breaking tension, to show characters having sex. The sex scenes themselves wound up feeling repetitive and emotionless and half the time I had trouble figuring out just what characters were doing. Though, again, that feeds into the book being so reliant on telling the reader everything. If the action isn’t being shown, then it is going to feel stilted.

That’s really as far as I can get into the writing without going into spoiler territory. As I’ve said before, this was a book I really wanted to like. The concept of a serial killer driven to punish successful women by his own feelings of not being given the respect he deserves is an interesting one for me. Mission driven serial killers are terrifying. I liked the idea of one of his victims surviving and becoming the focus of his hunt, because a single victim could give the reader more time to get to know them and identify. We did get a fair amount of time with the victim, but we spent a lot more with the killer and that just felt weird for me. I feel like stepping back from the killer, leaving him more in the shadows and more a mystery would have been a benefit to the book. I really didn’t want to know how hard he got every time he thought about hurting women.

Ultimately, I’m left disappointed by Devil’s Demise. It’s a book I wanted to like and it had a number of ideas that could have been good. Unfortunately, the writing and the repetition of descriptions and opinions wrecked it for me. I feel like Cockburn could be a solid writer with more practice and the benefit of a second pass with an editor. I wouldn’t read the next book in this series, but might try out one after she has had more practice. Devil’s Demise gets a two out of five from me.

I’ve got a review written this week, and it’s even on time! This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here is R. S. Belcher’s The Night Dahlia. Enjoy!

The Night Dahlia cover

Caern Ankou has been missing for several years. All the trails are cold and have been for quite some time. In desperation, her father brings in Laytham Ballard the only former Nightwise in the organization’s history. It’s simple, find the girl, save the soul of his lost love. Thing is, if Ballard wants to find Caern, he’s going to have to chase her across the world to do so. He’ll have to face former friends, old enemies, even the case that’s left him haunted ever since. Nothing to it.

The Night Dahlia is an interesting book in that it earned its way up from a one star read to a three star read and then back down to a two. There were cool ideas, yes, some of the ideas here were really cool. Some of the scenes were cool, but for every cool or impactful scene there are three that nullify anything that could have worked with them.

In a lot of ways, The Night Dahlia doesn’t feel confident. There’s this feeling like Belcher wasn’t comfortable with the emotive weight of key scenes and felt the need to hammer them home shortly after to make sure that the reader gets it. That lack of confidence killed a lot of moments for me, especially towards the end where the story hit a lot of what should have been big character moments only to fritter them away. It all winds up being a bit too neat considering how much of a mess the protagonist is supposed to be.

Laytham Ballard himself is also a big part of why a lot of scenes didn’t work. His whole deal is that he’s a bad man, a fallen hero driven rogue by one bad case. But then he spends enough of his time drunk or high or generally running away from himself and the plot that I could believe that he’s washed up, as so many minor characters tell him, but I have a hard time seeing him as more than that. He can come across as the creepy guy at the occult shop, insisting that he just knows a girl is a sensual creature just by looking and describing nearly every woman he runs into’s breasts. He can come across as slimy for the same reasons, plus his constant dodging of the rules of his contract. But Ballard doesn’t come across as the wicked fallen hero that he seems to want to be. There’s a scene that shows what could have been, where he’s legitimately kind of frightening and inflicts a pretty awful curse on a number of people because one of them annoyed him, but that’s once.

That actually feeds into a lot of my issues with The Night Dahlia and Laytham Ballard in particular.  It might be due to missing some of the set up in Nightwise, but a lot of the book just doesn’t land for me. Ballard makes a big point of talking about how his magic style is a mutt thrown together with stuff that works best for him, that could be really cool. But then, when he uses magic, his big thing is using his chakras and pushing energy through them. He uses the specific names of the chakras he’s using but then doesn’t generally explain what that means and the magic isn’t given sensory detail often beyond boiling or bubbling up through whichever chakra he’s using, so it winds up feeling lazy and a little disorienting.  Things just sort of pop up that could have been interesting concepts but either aren’t gone into or just feel too out there. Like Ballard having a random musical interlude at a bar while out looking for clues, he just sort of gets pulled into playing a set with some local band. Everyone there knows his old band and is just super pumped for this random guy to jump on with the band they actually came to see. A lot of it feels like is exists in service to Laytham Ballard rather than the plot.

There’s this really great bit about half way through that shows us a younger Ballard on the big life ruining case. It contextualizes him, gives a foundation to a lot of the things he does in the present day of the story. There’s still messy bits to the writing itself, but it does a lot to make me care about that version of Ballard. But then we jump back to the present and a Ballard who is still in the middle of his bad decisions and is still more about doing things his way than getting to the bottom of things. There’s a character arc here, but it’s done in a way that feels sort of fractured. Like I mentioned about, scenes that should have emotional impact happen but either only sort of land or don’t feel like they have any consequences.  Of course things not landing makes everything feel less impactful.

That’s where I’m left with The Night Dahlia. It had some nifty ideas, some moments that could have been super solid, and some just odd stuff. But it never landed right. It’s a book that felt like it had earned a single star up to around the half way mark and then nearly earned its way back down. It sort of always felt like I was just a touch out of the loop or hadn’t done my homework. The Night Dahlia gets a two out of five.

This one’s late. It’s late and I’m not particularly happy with it. Largely that comes from this being non-fiction and that not really being my cup of tea reviews wise. I broke my own rule and remembered why I had it. This one’s from the nice folks at First Second, here’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Enjoy!

Brazen cover

While I mostly enjoyed it, I am probably not the target audience for Penelope Bagieu’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. That’s not a complaint. Brazen is a cool jumping off point for looking more into the women mentioned in it but, given that it is split into twenty-seven sections, there’s not a lot of deep going into any given story. It’s also a bit of a mixed bag on the women included. Several I understood completely, a few I didn’t quite get.

In large part, Brazen feels like it could be a really good source for a middle school history class to pull from. There’s enough information to catch interest in the women featured and enough to get started. I would have liked to have seen a bibliography or an index at the end. I feel like having the sources included could have made this even better in regards to finding out more.

The writing is simple and straight forward which works well with the short sections. The art has a nifty sketchy quality while also having a fair degree of detail. The overall effect is quite functional and makes for an enjoyable read.

That’s ultimately a big chunk of what decided it for me. I enjoyed reading Brazen and I know that a younger me would have enjoyed it more. Not citing her sources somewhere in the book does lose some points for me. So, I’m giving Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World a four out of five.