Category: Three Star


The Brilliant Death

Later posting this than I wanted to be. We started working on characters for my Saturday night game and that took longer than I expected it to. This one I actually won a review copy of through BookishFirst. Here’s Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death. Enjoy!

The Brillian Death cover

Teodora DiSangro is her father’s secret weapon. A streghe just like out of the stories, able to turn her family’s enemies into music boxes and other trinkets. Family is everything to her. So when Vinalia’s new ruler, the Capo, sends toxic letters to the heads of all five families, killing all of them but her father. The Capo demanding that all five families send their heirs to his court might give Teo the chance she needs to find a cure if she can find a way to become the DiSangro heir, the son the Capo is expecting to arrive. For that, she will need to find a way to not only trust the streghe who delivered the toxic letter to her father but also convince them to teach her how to change her form like they do. As she grows to know the other streghe and uncovers the layers and layers of secrets in the Capo’s court will she be able to complete her mission and leave, or will Teo become trapped in a web of deception and danger?

Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death is a book that feels a bit unbalanced in its content. The lore is lush and feels fairly deep, the myths that get talked about feel real to the world. There’s a weight to Teodora’s feelings and Cielo’s studied carelessness that works well. But then there are places where it feels like things could have been worked in much better earlier on to avoid stretches of what feels like over much exposition.  I am going to stay away from talking about the genderfluid  aspects of the protagonists. It seems well written, but that is from an outside perspective so I do not really feel qualified to talk too much about it.

The first segment of the book is all set up. The reader is introduced to Teo, her family, her life, her home, and her magic. It shows her frustrations with what seems like her inevitable lot in life as contrasted with how very much she loves her father and her family. The exposition here feels well done. There’s a degree of wonder shot through with frustration and grief when she realizes that Cielo is another streghe in addition to having been the one to deliver the letter that nearly killed her father. Characters feel rounded and like they have their own stories going on, they wind up being easy to get interested in. Even if one Teo’s brothers is cartoonishly cruel and the start to Teo and Ceilo’s mutual attraction feels a little rushed, the first half of The Brilliant Death is pretty fantastic.

It is around the end of the first half that the book started to lose me. Teodora learns how to shift into a male version of herself, to better pass herself off as the DiSangro heir, and is introduced to the other four houses heirs and the Capo’s court and all its intricacies. And the story hits a wall. This part might largely be due to events that drastically cut my time for reading, but the book became very easy to put down once Teo and Cielo reached the capital and their mission properly began. It felt like being pulled back to the start of the book, there were several new characters who needed to be introduced all at once and Teo had never been to the Capo’s court so that had to be expanded on. But the new characters and the court felt so much less fleshed out than the characters and places from the first half. It was like pausing in the middle of a book and starting another book from much earlier in the author’s career.

I confess, in addition to the slowdown in the middle of the book, The Brilliant Death also suffers from an ending that disappointed me greatly even as I saw it coming. It felt very much like Capetta didn’t want to tie any of her major plot threads up. The end felt less like the protagonists heading off into another story than them running away to the sequel. Which is a shame because it could have had a good ending that still offered room for a next book to exist and felt like a complete story had been told in this book rather than the first in a series. There was so much introduced right before the end and no page space for it. That took me way more out of the reading experience than the loss of momentum from entering the Capo’s court did, that had a clear purpose and provided character introductions the reader needed at least. This just leaves me with a disappointed shrug and a vague disinterest in the next one because now I don’t trust her to tie up any of her important plot threads there either.

So that brings me here. The Brilliant Death is by no means a bad book and I quite like the ideas present in the setting, but I feel like it could have been written more smoothly. I feel like my major complaints are ultimately forgivable in light of how much I enjoyed the first half of the book. And while I am left with no plans to go out and buy the second book, I would likely read it if it was gifted to me. I will likely take another look at Capetta’s work on another series too, I think she is capable of writing something really good. For now though, The Brilliant Death gets a three out of five.

Not much to say here this time. It was really hard to write this without including spoilers and I have enough left that I want to talk about that I might do an “And Another Thing” post about it some time. That said, this one is thanks to the nice folks at Entagled Teen. Here is Rachel Rust’s 8 Souls. Enjoy!

8 Souls cover

Villisca, Iowa is known for murder. For the deaths of eight people in 1912. For the Ax Muder house.  The house that seventeen year old Chessie has been dreaming about her entire life, sometimes new and lived in, sometimes as it is now slowly falling in on itself across the street from her grandparents’ house. Across the street from where she’ll be spending the entire summer while her parents work out the details of their divorce. Amid nightmares and ghostly voices, Chessie finds herself stuck trying to figure out her connection to the Ax Murder house and David, the mysterious boy who knows more than he lets on and so, so many secrets.

So, I make no secret of the fact that I love haunted house stories and horror in general. The promise of a small town with dark secrets and a house that can’t forget pulled me to Rachel Rust’s 8 Souls. It’s a book that was pretty good for what it is and than just misses the mark for what I wanted it to be. Notable differences there.

This being a book published by Entangled Teen, I knew to expect a fairly large romance side plot. That’s just what they do as a publisher. The mysterious boy is mentioned in the blurb. It’s something that I was going to have to roll with. My issue, of course, comes not from the existence of this romance plot but from how much feels underdone in the face of and about it.

There were a lot of ideas that could have been fantastic if they’d been given more room or if they’d been introduced earlier. Most of the stuff about the haunting and David’s whole deal could have worked fantastically if they’d been worked in earlier and given more page space. Make that a thing alongside Chessie thinking that David and Mateo were pranking her with the whole ghost hunting deal. Spend more time with Chessie trying to figure out what’s going on instead of avoiding David and watching Netflix instead of looking into the thing haunting her. Even the romance itself felt rushed along once Chessie decided that she could trust what David was saying.

The antagonist gets hit with this harder than most other details. There’s a thread throughout the book about these little girls having gone missing and that there’s more disappearances and strange deaths in Villisca than most cities its size. But there isn’t much done with that until right at the end. It was almost to the point that I’d forgotten about it in a couple of places. There were a couple of characters who might have been antagonists or, in a more horror focused book, solid red herrings. But nothing came of them and the antagonist was left feeling like they’d been brought in out of left field. A last minute, one more thing, secret that David hadn’t bothered to mention yet. It was an idea that got introduced and used within pages so the story could rush on to the climax. That was frustrating for me, because the antagonist and the climax both could have been so, so good with a little tweaking and a little more page space.

That’s pretty well where I land on 8 Souls. Rust did a good job with the setting, a small town that’s losing people as time goes on. The real world Villisca, Iowa was actually the scene of an ax murder of eight people, so that’s something that could be interesting to look more into after reading this. But it is very much a book that wants for a little more. A little more to the horror, and the characters, and the buildup. As a YA romance with supernatural elements, it’s functional. With more time to percolate it could have been fantastic, and for that I give it a three out of five. I would be willing to read Rachel Rust again, but I also want to see what she would do in another genre.

So, this wasn’t the review I intended to post this week, but I really didn’t like the idea of not posting one at all. This is one that I picked up awhile back after enjoying the first one and just didn’t get to until recently. In any case, here’s Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Worship. Enjoy!

Heroine Worship cover

It’s been months since Aveda Jupiter and her best friend/personal assistant turned co-heroine Evie Tanaka saved Los Angeles and the world from a demonic invasion and subsequent apocalypse. Months with no demons. No monsters. No need for Aveda Jupiter, especially with how in love with Evie’s fire powers the people of LA are. Months of feeling more and more like she’s obsolete. A sudden rush of rampaging bridezillas and Evie’s engagement might be just the thing to help Aveda set herself back to rights. At least it might if it doesn’t destroy her first.

Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Worship feels very much like a middle book. The stakes feel a lot lower than in the previous book, Heroine Complex, and things feel much more focused on characters’ feelings and Aveda as a conflicted person rather than a diva boss. It’s a needed slow down, but one that made the book go a little slow in places for me.

So, a big issue with my reading Heroine Worship was that I didn’t really like Aveda Jupiter for a big slice of it. A part of that is a holdover from Heroine Complex, where she’s this complete diva and more than kind of a control freak. That’s not the greater share of things though, in that book it was a little tiring that she was like that but she was also this larger than life character versus Evie being a normal person forced to become extraordinary. Here though, Aveda is the protagonist and the stakes feel so much lower so there’s more focus on who she is as a character. This is Aveda’s story about coming back to herself from being just Aveda Jupiter the super heroine diva perfectionist and learning to embrace the parts of herself that are Annie Chang the regular woman.

That actually lands the book in an interesting place for me. The reader sees Aveda trying so very hard to shed her diva tendencies and to be a good friend to Evie, just on the terms she understands. We see her being bad at communication and making assumptions about what’s best and a hundred other things, and that’s so frustrating even as it does a really good job of humanizing her. We also get the occasional mini chapter seeing what other people think of her behavior, and the outside perspective is also frustrating because of course the characters from these bits don’t have the whole story and of course they’re written as being extra antagonistic. As frustrating as some of this was, especially her running off assumptions, it all made me like Aveda a lot more. All the frustrations and the trying to do the right things and wanting to be her best self but not having the best handle on who that is, that worked really well for me. It baked in the understanding that Aveda and Evie’s friendship wasn’t magically all fixed up after the last book. It baked in that Aveda needs to learn to let herself be a person instead of always a super heroine. It filled out the cast a little, giving Aveda other characters to work with and react to. All that I really liked.

Honestly, the only thing that bothered me and kept me bothered was the romance. Even then it was, more than anything, a combination of second hand embarrassment from Aveda clearly not knowing what to do with feelings  and just feeling like it was there just for it to be there. The love interest, Scott, was a perfectly decent character, the surfer dude spell caster who’s been friends with Evie and Aveda since childhood. But, I feel like I’d have wanted to see Scott and Aveda end things moving towards acknowledging their mutual attraction rather than that being a thing that ate so many words where it didn’t need to. They’re clearly good for each other and I could have been totally behind it, if it hadn’t felt quite so wedged in and if it hadn’t largely followed Heroine Complex in using sexual attraction to short hand the characters being romantically into each other.

Heroine Worship is an interesting one for me to review. I’m already planning on reading the final book in the trilogy, but there are absolutely aspects that I’m expecting to roll my eyes over when I reach them. I mean, the romance issues are pretty set in the series so far. But it was also a book that I legitimately enjoyed the majority of. While at the end I think I remember the things that I didn’t like more than the things I did enjoy, those same things are absolutely bits that other readers are probably going to be here for. So, I think I tend towards giving Heroine Worship a three out of five. I don’t know that it isn’t better than that, I’m certainly going back for more after all,  but there are certainly aspects that are just not for me.

Alright, so right after talking about being close to back to a schedule I’m late again. That’s all good though, it’s a day this time instead of months. This one was an enjoyable read for the most part, but it did feel a bit scattered. This one is courtesy of netGalley, here is John Dixon’s The Point. Enjoy!

The Point cover

Scarlett Winters is a screw up. A troublemaker. After blowing off her high school graduation and, unknowingly, the party her parents had planned for her she finds herself backed into a bad choice. Go to West Point, something she’s never wanted, or be blamed for a terrorist attack and be sent to jail. West Point isn’t what Scarlett expects though as she’s thrown in with other misfits. Other misfits with superhuman powers and backgrounds a lot like her own. Threats from the Point’s troubled past leave Scarlett with a choice, stay the same as she’s always been or buckle down and learn to control her ability to manipulate energy and help save the Point and her classmates.

I’m not entirely sure what to do with John Dixon’s The Point. Left to itself, the book is a bit of a mess that jumps between having really well done moments and leaving me wondering how it reaches certain points. This is largely a matter of character motivation feeling lacking or just strange. The Point itself feels like a good place to start.

The Point doesn’t entirely seems certain if it wants its military element to be a balancing force in Scarlett’s life or a force for negative over all. There’s a fair amount of talking up all the good being at the Point has done for Scarlett in helping her get a handle on herself and making her feel like part of something more than herself, at least in the second half of the book. But then the cadets of the Point were nearly all brought in as opposed to being incarcerated. All of them were forced to go through normal West Point initiation before inevitably losing their tempers and failing out. And they’re kept in line through threat of what amounts to literal torture in addition to hazing from older cadets. And we don’t really see much of Scarlett building towards feeling like being at the Point is a good thing. She spends time getting tormented by this one older Cadet and his flunkies, then her powers are finally triggered and suddenly she’s moved into a better room and being treated much better. She’s suddenly got friends and a degree of freedom if she sneaks out. It’s that combination that helps her start dealing with things at the Point, but not really the Point itself.

Nothing really progresses from there until the antagonists make a move. Then it’s go time, things are personal for Scarlett so she absolutely wants to figure out how to use her power to be allowed to fight these guys. And it feels disjointed here, because you have to wonder if Scarlett would have cared enough to get serious if it hadn’t been personal. But it’s like flipping a switch, that’s how the troublemaker who only just chose the Point over prison is brought in line. That’s how we get from Scarlett barely treading water to Scarlett digging in her heels and pushing herself further and further.

The characters are, by and large, static. Scarlett changes some, but it feels forced. It’s the same for the student that’s supposed to be mentoring her. The love interest starts off hating Scarlett for being given special treatment, but he’s so obviously the love interest that that hardly counts. But then, that’s about it. Her fellow cadets are at best sketches of characters.

I would have liked to see more of the antagonists throughout the book. Just, more of them building towards their plan and letting it feel as dangerous as it’s supposed to be. It makes it hard to care about most of what’s going on because the stakes feel non-existent. Like, in the very lead up to the final confrontation, we get told that the big bad is super powerful and amazing and the most dangerous man to have come out of the program prior to the Point being cooked up. Everyone is just super doomed. But the reader hasn’t really been shown how good this guy is, it was touched on at the beginning and then he just sort of disappears until the climax. There’s this big confrontation at the end. It’s huge and flashy, like summer blockbuster flashy, but the impact is lost because it’s just so out of place. It took me out of the book in a bad way with just how badly out of place and over done it felt. More than that, I found myself asking why I should care about the chaos that was happening.

So, conclusions here, The Point has some scenes that work really well but it has a number of issues with character work and pacing. I’m left feeling like this was originally meant to be the start of a series, but then Dixon changed his mind and just didn’t go back and account for that. I would have liked to have seen more done with the characters overall. I think I would have also liked to have seen more of Scarlett and her fellow cadets daily stuff rather than the romance sub plot. That said, I would read John Dixon again, which leaves The Point with a three out of five.

This came out later than planned. This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quills Press. Here’s Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon. Enjoy!

Please Dont Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon cover

Bad Penny and the rest of the Implacable Machine are bored out of their minds. Going back to school after a break full of super villainy and fighting heroes both their own age and grown up will do that. So of course they jump at the chance to visit Jupiter and see things no human has before. No human except the ones who already live there. With a homemade space ship and the help of a giant spider the Implacable Machine will see everything from alien invaders to robot overlords and the colonies trapped between them. With any luck, they’ll be able to help the rebels and their new friend get their homes back and be on their way towards heroism.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon follows Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain pretty directly with the Implacable Machine trying to settle back into day to day school lives. It’s got a really strong start there, giving the reader a taste of how dull things are after Penny and company have gone toe to toe with some of the best of the best but then have to go back to being just kids. It gives the reader one of a number of good reasons why the team is so ready to take up Spider’s offer to see what lies beyond the asteroid belt first hand. But it also pulls back a little to anchor things back in the reality of the setting, which is good because the book goes way out there.

This one feels a lot slower than the previous book, largely due to the necessity of doing all the world building for the Puppeteers and the Jupiter colonies and, and, and. This is unfortunate because it slows the book down just enough that it makes it easy to put down. There are all these places being introduced and their rules and culture and it leads to things feeling a little flat. The Puppeteers are scary aliens that can take over people and force them to do whatever. One of the colonies is very steam punk flavored and people are constantly being told what to do by the automatons that functionally rule the place. It feels sketched out but not quite filled in.

There’s a similar problem with some of the characterization. The new friend character bounces between being totally cool with Penny’s powers and how they work and then freaked out about it and jealous over how her brothers and everyone else react to Penny’s power. It’s like a switch flips when Roberts felt the situation demanded it. It doesn’t tend to feel like it fits, like there should have been more build for it and more awareness on Penny’s part. The final boss of the novel has a similar issue, though I can’t really go into that without spoilers.

There are parts that are a ton of fun, especially early on before they reach the Jupiter colonies. The whole bit surrounding the Red Herring being built is a lot of fun. Plus the little bits of Penny and company in class and their classmates’ reactions to Penny’s power manifesting make for a couple of nice notes that what she’s got going on is out of the ordinary. I’m also interested in seeing how the workings of her power continue to develop, given the way Mourning Dove reacts to it and how much it seems to be capable of when given free reign. I’m really excited to see more of all that as the series continues.

As and over all thing, I enjoyed Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain more than Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon. While both needed world building it flowed much better for me in the first book, likely due to being set in our world but with supers.  I would have liked to see more put into the new characters introduced, but I feel like at least a couple of them are going to show up again later, so it seems pretty reasonable that they would get more development then. Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon is nowhere near a bad book though and I am very much looking forward to reading the next one, so it gets a three out of five.

Well, this isn’t when I intended to post this. Life kind of ate my ability to get this one polished up for Friday, which is unfortunate. Having finished the series and written reviews for all three books, I find myself kind of wanting to do a spoiler-y overview of the whole deal. Talk about the things I enjoyed more in depth and bring up a few of the places that I think it could have been stronger overall. That might be a project for later. In any case, here’s Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Fourth Closet by Scott Cawthon and Kira Breed-Wrisley. Enjoy!

FNaF The Fourth Closet cover

The past isn’t easy to escape. Charlie died, John was there when it happened, but a woman with her face showed up at the dinner days later. He’s certain it wasn’t her no matter how the rest of their friends insist. Some things aren’t meant to be forgotten. There’s a new pizzeria in Hurricane, Circus Baby’s Pizza. Kids are disappearing again. Just like ten years ago. Strange things are happening, Charlie isn’t herself and nothing she’s doing or saying adds up. Jessica doesn’t want to believe John, but what if he’s right? Carlton, Jessica, Marla, and John have a few more answers to find if they want to lay the past to rest.

I have mixed feelings on this one. Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Fourth Closet is meant to be the final book in the trilogy started back in The Sliver Eyes. There are a number of good moments here, places where things just click and they work really well. But clunky scenes and spots where things just don’t feel solid are also interspersed throughout. There’s been this B movie feel to the books so far. Things haven’t needed to makes absolute sense because it’s been fun enough to make up for it, there’s only so serious you can get with haunted animatronics after all. The Fourth Closet tries to be a more dramatic book, so a lot of the B movie vibes don’t carry as well.

Part of this is down to how rushed the various story lines can feel. We go from the question of if the new woman was Charlie to the reveal of her being an antagonist in what feels like no time at all. There’s a lot early on of John’s life falling apart due after Charlie’s death that drags on for a couple chapters, but doesn’t really do anything once the story gets rolling. There’s a lot that feels like it should have been introduced earlier and allowed to build longer for better impact. A lot of things feel like they should have been given more weight within the story but where cut short to rush on to the next thing.

That’s sort of the major thing for me on this one. When The Fourth Closet lets characters be the focus within the plot it can work really, really well. There’s a bit where resident fashion girl, Jessica, is trapped by the antagonists and has to keep safe and try and figure out what they’re doing. The reader gets to see her forcing herself to think on other things to stay calm, we get to see her being competent and focused. Her confrontation with one of the animatronics is one of my favorite parts of the book. Another character, Carlton, gets a lot of really good lines that reflect his previous funny man characterization. But then he also gets a really nice character arc that picks up his feelings of having failed his best friend from The Silver Eyes. Even Charlie and Circus Baby get a couple of nice moments, though I wish there had been more lead up to those moments.

I do feel like John was the major weak point in the character work though. Any empathy for Circus Baby sort of hinges on the reader being familiar with her from the games’ lore, she really needed that lead up as more than just another monster. But that’s sort of expected at this point, the Five Nights at Freddy’s novels are an alternate universe to the games but still pull heavily from them. John doesn’t really have that excuse. He’s billed as the protagonist of this novel, but then he doesn’t really do anything that any of the other characters couldn’t have. Most of what he does do is bone headed and could have been easily worked around. He’s the not love interest who seems desperate to be in love with the idea of Charlie rather than the character herself. The other characters have their own lives going on outside of the plot, things that happen outside of undead murderers and possessed robots. John doesn’t have that and is a much weaker character for it. He needed something outside of his feelings regarding Charlie to work.

I feel like that’s as far as I can go without delving into major spoilers. In a lot of ways, I feel like The Fourth Closet should have been broken up into two books and more time given to both the new batch of missing kids and Charlie and not Charlie. It’s very wanting in more room to spread out and show the best of itself. There are some legitimately tense scenes here that I really enjoyed. There are some emotional scenes that are good, but that could have been so much more if only we had more time to process them. There’s the big reveal that could have been so awesome, if it had been built up better or if characters were given time to react to it and themselves process it. It’s fun, but flawed in serious ways, which nets Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Fourth Closet a three out of five. I’d revisit this series again if another book was released.

I’m not super pleased with this one, but I also don’t know that I could have written it any better than I have. It sort of makes me wish I had younger family members to bounce this sort of book off of, to get their opinion. Throwing books at children is bad. This one is thanks to the awesome folks at First Second, here is Marcus Sedgwick’s Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter. Enjoy!

Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter cover

The orphaned child of famed monster hunters, Scarlett Hart wants desperately to follow in their footsteps. She has their gadgets and their butler. She has the will to face down everything from grim hounds to dragons. The most dangerous challenge she faces though might be her parents’ old rival, Count Stankovic. His focus switched to her, the Count constantly rats her out to the watch and, worse yet, steals the credit for her kills. He’s up to something more than that though, something that threatens the entire city. It’ll be up to Scarlett to figure out what the Count is planning and save the day.

Marcus Sedgwick’s Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter is, in many ways, a good start that needs more room to be developed. It’s actually a little hard for me to dig into because I am very aware that I am not the target audience for this book. I have issues with this book that I know aren’t entirely fair to the book for what it is. That said, I could see this being enjoyable for the kids it’s written for.

Mostly I find myself curious about the world itself. The monsters seem to be a natural part of it, but then also somewhat separate from it. It’s considered strange when more start showing up. The only protection against them seems to be the hunters, but then we don’t get a lot of how that works beyond Scarlett being too young and that being part of how the Count keeps tripping her up.

The Count himself is also a bit of a sticking point for me. He had history with Scarlett’s parents and is taking it out on her. That’s a little cartoony but I can roll with it. That his nemesis is a literal child and the lengths he’s willing to go makes me wonder how he functions within the setting’s world. It’s a thing that would honestly probably roll past the target audience. Count Stankovic is the bad guy, so of course he’s going to be a problem for our heroine, it doesn’t need to go deeper than that.

The story itself is simple and largely serves to set up the next book. No real complements or complaints there. Though, again, I would like to learn more about the setting. Presumably that would be in later installments. Again, it doesn’t need to go super deep, and the monster designs are cool enough to carry some of the places where the plot it thin.

Thomas Taylor’s art here is interesting. It can be quite expressive and a lot of the back ground elements are really cool. While it’s cartoony that fits the book really well. The faces occasionally feel a little off in places where I’m not sure they’re meant to, but then are really off in the places I’m certain they’re meant to be. It works.

Ultimately, I’m left with this book being functional. It isn’t for me and I didn’t get as much enjoyment out of it as I feel someone pre-middle school might. So, I’m giving Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter a three out of five. It introduces the main character and her story and, while I wish there was more to it, I’m sure that later books with fill in details as they go.

After a pause over the weekend I’m ready to get back into it. This one is thanks to the awesome folks at First Second, here’s Antoine Revoy’s Animus. Enjoy!

Animus cover

There’s a strange playground tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. The swings see into dreams and the concrete animals hear all within the park. When they accidentally stay past sundown, friends Hisao and Sayuri meet the park’s resident ghost. He knows all about the magic of the playground but can’t remember his own fate. When their friend is injured finding out what happened to Toothless might be the only way to save him. They’ll have to bring Toothless’ story and remains to light with nothing to go on but a handful of vague memories.

I find Antoine Revoy’s Animus frustrating. The concept is fantastic and I am, repeatedly admittedly, a sucker for a good ghost story. The idea of a playground haunted by a dead child, his trapped spirit anchoring magic to the playground itself, is fantastic. The protagonists needing to break his curse to save their friend is great. But then the end falls apart and everything feels like lead up to skipped side plots.

There is a lot going on in Animus, and it all feels like it should add up to something. The police superintendent is shown talking about the missing kids a couple of times. There’s whatever connection is between Toothless and the playground. And there’s the maybe saving their friend by saving Toothless. But then it feels very much like our friendly ghost is up to something nefarious. Like he isn’t on the up and up where the hurt friend is concerned. But the connective tissue isn’t there.

There are hints at maybe things and a second or third read paying close attention will offer some connections, but it isn’t anything solid. Things never tie up neatly or otherwise and I found myself with more questions at the end of the book than I had to start with. Not in a fun way that leaves me hoping for a sequel either. I felt like Revoy forgot to include half of his story or got bored part way through writing it and spun up an ending so that he could get to the art.

The art is pretty fantastic though, especially the backgrounds. There is a section with a bridge and the forest around it that is absolutely gorgeous. The art for the human characters isn’t as great, but I feel like that is more for effect than an issue with Revoy’s skill. The faces are a sort of cartoony but in a way that feels like an exaggeration of life rather than a simplification of it. That lends itself really well to moments of uncanny creepiness.

My issue with Animus comes entirely from how rushed the ending feels. There are things that happen that aren’t adequately set up or that are only hinted at in such a way that the payoff for them feels really weak. Again, I’m left with more questions than answers on this one, which is unfortunate because if more time had been taken to work things into the story everything that bothered me about the end could have been awesome pay offs for character work. This could have been a really cool first book in a series with side plots digging into the characters and what makes them tick, but instead it winds up being a lot of build up to a nothing ending.

I keep coming back to that, like a missing tooth or a scab, Animus could have been really good with a little more work put into it. It could have been but, as it stands, it’s a five star start with a one star follow up. I would check out something else by Antoine Revoy, but it would definitely be a library borrow. That lands Animus with a three out of five.

Down to Oath

This is totally Thursday, right? Yeah, trip to get my car fixed was a lot less productive blogging wise than I’d intended, but I have working AC again and my brakes are fixed! I digress. This one is from Curiosity Quill Press, here’s Tyrolin Puxty’s Down to Oath. Enjoy!

Down to Oath cover

Oath is boring. Scheduled to the second, everyone likes all the same things, nothing changes. Boring. But not Codi, she’s different, she goes against the flow. She’s the only one to use the library at the edge of town. More than that, she’s certain that she’s the only one to have met a child, much less a child that claims to be her somehow. The child says she has to find her other selves in other worlds but won’t say why. How much can this child Codi be trusted? Are the other Codis any more trustworthy?

Tyrolin Puxty’s Down to Oath is a super weird book. Multiple worlds layer together, each with reflected versions of the same people. But each world is vastly different, ruled by different emotions and different ideals. It’s sort of an adventure unto itself to try and figure out where the story is headed and what various things mean. That said though, there is a minor spoiler for the whole thing in the blurb itself. It’s a weird oversight given how well the plot works as a sort of mystery about itself aside from that.

The worlds themselves fascinate me. Each is the size of a small town and each is a reflection of the others with the same buildings and people, just different versions of them. Oath is boring and quiet and unchanging. Bond is full of children, left to play and explore and do as they will. Pledge burns with passion and conflict, each citizen a warrior scholar and deeply serious. Then there’s Word, the realm of unbound creativity where everyone is an artist of some stripe. Each world has or had a version of the same people and they’re all notably different from Codi’s view point. I would have loved to have seen more of the worlds and how they compare. I would have really liked to have seen more of how the various core parts of the worlds come together to balance each other out.

While the worlds fascinate me the characters, Codi aside, fall a bit flat. I do think that that ties into the worlds being so different, it winds up meaning that characters who are meant to be different iterations of the same person often wind up not really resembling each other. That winds up being part of where the book falls apart for me. Puxty has a number of really cool ideas both for her world and for how her characters work, unfortunately the book is both short enough and focused in enough on Codi that other characters don’t get the chance to shine.

This shows up pretty heavily with the antagonist and Codi’s love interest, which is pretty jarring. The story proper doesn’t really hit its stride until a fair way in so we spend a good amount of time with Codi and her Bond and Pledge versions. But then other characters bounce between being basically sketches, unrecognizable from one world to another. After Codi herself, the next two most developed characters are rather one note, a joyous love interest and a raging antagonist. There’s a lot with both characters that the reader and Codi are told, but it leads to the whole thing feeling rushed and incomplete.

I feel like that is an issue that sort of eats at the end of the book. There’s a sense to the first parts of the book of adventure as Codi is introduced to all these new things and places. But then the end feels like there was a bigger story planned, a wider arc to the story, but not enough page space for it. There wasn’t a lot of lead up to it either so, again, it feels cramped against itself with all this exposition just coming out of nowhere. It’s frustrating in a lot of ways, I really enjoyed the first part of the book but then the end didn’t live up to it.

This is one of those books that I feel could have been really awesome if it had been given another draft or a go around with a beta reader. The bones of it are solid, but the finished novel winds up feeling very like a first book. That informs a lot on my final feelings here. I think that Tyrolin Puxty has the makings of a good writer and that if she works on her pacing and character focus she could do some fantastic stuff. Down to Oath gets a three out of five, but I would give one of Puxty’s other novels a shot.

 

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.