Category: stand alone


Head Games

I’m cutting it a little close to the wire here. I’d driven to visit my folks and spent a fair amount of time on the road today. It was fun and my car is once again fully functional, plus I got to see their new kitten. So, a win all around. This book is a bit of an odd one for me, it’s not my usual genre at all, but it was worth giving a shot. Thanks to the nice folks at First Second, this is Head Games. Enjoy!

Head Games cover

Novelist Hector Lassiter thought his adventure days were behind him. At least, he thought that until an old acquaintance lures him into one last run. He’s found Pancho Villa’s skull and a buyer, he just needs someone to get it to them. Money in the bank, easy as easy can be. At least until others get wind of the skull. Feds, frat boys, and soldiers of fortune are on Hector’s tail and the only folks he can count on are himself, a poet, and a woman hard as nails and twice as beautiful.

So, the Head Games graphic novel is an adaptation of Craig McDonald’s debut novel of the same title. It’s content is more than a little bit of a surprise, given that I’m used to more kid friendly graphic novels from this publisher. That threw me for a bit of a loop. The book very much not my usual thing. The lead character is very much a man losing his place in the world and becoming more aware of it day by day. This might be his last big adventure and he knows it. He knows that the world is changing without him and that he can’t, or won’t, keep up.

That’s actually part of the problem with the book. The protagonist, Hector Lassiter, spends so much time looking back to his glory days early on in the story that, while I’m interested in those stories, I don’t really care what’s going on in the actual plot. The action is tied too much to Lassiter’s past and his adventures in his youth. That’s where most of the characters who are after the skull come from, they’re people he knew from his army days or folks who have been hired by those people. I would have liked for there to have been more characters who weren’t connected to him or, failing that, if the protagonist had been Bud, the poet side character. I could have also done without the second and third parts included, combined they’re about half the size of part one and they don’t really add much to the story proper.

This is the part where I admit that my problems with the book are probably more due to the nature of it being a graphic novel adaptation of a novel rather than an original comic. Some connective tissue and character details were probably cut to make it flow better. For what it is, the writing is pretty solid even as it’s not exactly my thing.

The art fits really well with the plot. It’s blocked out with a lot of heavy shadows and sparse color. The character design is also solid, the characters are distinct and the backgrounds are detailed without distracting from what’s going on.

At the end of the day, Head Games isn’t really my kind of story. There isn’t much of anything wrong with the writing, and very little that couldn’t be attributed to it being an adaptation. It’s a first book as well, so others in the series could easily have less of the looking backward. I would probably be willing to read one of them. So, given that, I give it a three out of five.

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So, I’m behind on this whole Halloween thing. I’d blame work and all the other usual things, but it isn’t any of that. It’s this book, this one that I’m reviewing now. I nearly quit. But I kept going and I’m going to keep going.

The Essential World of Darkness cover

The truest enemy of the Garou is the Wyrm, corruption and pollution incarnate. Its spawn hunt the Garou and contaminate Gaia, bringing darkness and filth to the world. Once there were guardians to keep the Wyrm trapped on its side of the Gauntlet and away from the physical world. Once, but that was a long time ago. Now there’s little more than fragments left, the Great Wolf was shattered and one of its fangs lost, the other guarded by an orphaned werewolf who is little more than a child. If she can’t find the lost fang before the moon is full then the Wyrm and all its horrors will invade our world.

Owl Goingback’s Shaman Moon is the second book in The Essential World of Darkness. In a lot of ways I feel like there isn’t really a good way for me to review this one. This book and I started out on the wrong foot. The bulk of the first chapter covers the main character’s tragic back story in a California orphanage, and this section very nearly made me stop reading the book. We’re talking less than five pages in and I was considering quitting. Because of that, this is going to get kind of spoilery.

Let’s start with the bit that I nearly quit the book because of, because the beginning is always a good place to start. See, our character was found in a dumpster near her parents’ murdered bodies and never felt like she belonged in any of the foster homes she wound up in, so she ran away a lot. This wound her up in an orphanage of nightmares run by a woman the kids referred to as the “Iron Maiden”, a woman who only smiled when she was beating one of the girls under her care with a riding crop while calling them terrible names. This woman has a goon squad of older girls who beat the younger girls until they have broken bones and need hospitalization. They don’t get that though, because hospitals would ask questions, no the only medical treatment the girls at the orphanage get is from an elderly pedophile. It goes on and on. The main character makes one friend who, to avoid getting beaten by the goon squad for smoking stolen cigarettes, kisses her and flirts a tiny bit once. Because of this, best friend character is raped by the Iron Maiden and murdered.  Keep in mind, none of this echoes down into the plot itself, our heroine thinks back to the orphanage maybe twice and both times could have been replaced with almost anything.

In addition to the juvenile ideas of what constitutes dark, the writing in Shaman Moon is less than stellar. There are long bits of out of place exposition and clunky bits of environmental statistics. It leads me to wondering just who this was written for. A fan of the Werewolf: the Apocalypse game would already know a lot of the exposition while someone just looking for a werewolf story would get tired of it pretty quickly and look for another book. There’s big repeated bits that keep covering the same ideas, everything is the Wyrm, details about werewolves’ forms, non-werewolves are at best oblivious to the damage they’re doing the planet, this one type of werewolf is bad. It’s stuff that could have been worked in a lot better or glossed over and left to the reader to understand. Left as it is, it feels like Goingback needed to fill his hundred or so pages but only had forty pages of story.

The environmental stuff gets similarly tiresome, there’s only so much statistics I want to deal with in my fiction reading especially when it’s just shoved in there. Yes, pollution is an aspect of the Wyrm, the werewolves one true enemy, but that doesn’t mean that I need statistics about how it’s expected to affect nature in the coming years. It, again, feels like padding and breaks the flow of the story utterly.

I actually don’t have anything good to say about this one. There were ideas there that could have been solid, but they were covered up in padding and bad writing. At the end of the day and idea doesn’t mean much if nothing gets done with it. Shaman Moon gets a one out of five.

I’m late! Sorry all, long day yesterday, I didn’t get as much done on this as I wanted to then. I’m really excited for this review though. Back when I was dealing with my being at a low point I kept putting off reading this because I adore Seanan McGuire’s writing and I didn’t want to start it only to find that I wasn’t enjoying it, like every other book I was picking up at the time. That I’ve finally read it and enjoyed it as much as I expected if not more so is a great thing for me. So, thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Enjoy!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Jack and Jill, sorry, Jacqueline and Jillian, were their parents’ perfect children. Jacqueline was her mother’s daughter, soft and well mannered and always dressed like a fairy princess, a pretty decoration for the society ladies to coo over. Jillian was her father’s sporty tomboy, fearless and brave and almost as good as the son he’d wanted, at least he could talk peewee sports with the guys at work. They learned early that adults couldn’t be trusted. They learned early that what’s said isn’t always what is. But they never learned to lean on each other. When they find an impossible staircase in the room their grandmother abandoned years ago what they’ve learned won’t be enough for the world they find at the bottom or the choices they’ll have to make once they’re there.

Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a deeply interesting thing to me. It feels like it’s nearly all character study, which I love to pieces. It’s a story about choices and at the same time a story about being shaped by circumstance. It’s a story about expectations and how being forced into them can break someone without them realizing it, but also about how jumping to escape those expectations can hurt just as much. It’s a story about sisters, twins, split by expectations and choice and circumstance.

A big thing I like about Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the way things echo down from the beginning. Jacqueline is constantly told as a young child not to get dirty, to keep her dress clean, it’s part of her mother shaping her into the perfect society daughter. Once she’s on the other side of the door Jack has a phobia of getting dirty, even after years of working with Dr. Bleak as a mad scientist’s apprentice, it still effects her. Their dad does his best to shape Jillian into the ultimate tomboy, to make up for not having a son, but kids are cruel and the boys she was friends with as a kid abandon her as expectations tell them that girls are gross and not fun. She gets to see people calling her sister the pretty one without being allowed to be anything but the tomboyish one, the trouble maker with the same face as the prettiest girl in class. So she has no support structure on our side of the door and thus, once in the Moors, Jill clings to the adult authority figure who promises her comfort and pampering. She clings to him and idolizes him even as it’s revealed that he’s not concerned with her well being. Old resentments grow into a gulf of frustrations with consequences of their own.

I do feel like, ultimately, Jack pushes the story a lot more than Jill does. It tends to happen in stories with sibling protagonists that one gets more focus than the other. That said though, that feels more like a feature than a bug here. Jack chooses to go with Dr. Bleak, so Jill is left with the Master. Jack was tired of being just pretty and so jumped at the chance to learn, while Jill was tired of feeling like second pick and decided to be whatever the Master wanted to convince him she’d chosen him. That this also gave her a chance to be the pretty one is, if not significant to the initial choice, a fantastic bonus. Jack does more in story because she chose to be Dr. Bleak’s apprentice and so works with more people. Jill is the Master’s pampered daughter and so has little she has to do, which leaves her to soak in more of how fantastic it is to be the town ruler’s child and so above it all. It can leave Jill hard to care as much about, since we see her less versus seeing Jack grow.

Another thing I want to talk about real quick is the setting. The book takes place in this sort of fairy tale world, but it’s more gothic literature than the Disney stuff most of us have grown up with. The sun is seldom out from behind the clouds and night comes far too early. The mountains are full of wolves and what lurks beneath the ever stormy sea must be placated. The Moors are a dangerous place, something that the reader is reminded of regularly, but the danger is a fact of life. People plan for it and work around it. The Master is terrifying and dangerous, but so are the things behind his city’s walls. It’s dark, but not oppressive. It’s dangerous, but not paralysingly so. It’s really well written.

I don’t have a lot of wrap up here. I adored this book. I enjoyed the characters. The setting was great. Even the stuff that bothers me works in terms of the story itself, and I’m totally going to go find the one that came before this one. It gets a five out of five and if you can find it you should give Down Among the Sticks and Bones a read.

Hey all, check it out, I’m on time this week. Super impressive, I know. I have a review for you all. It was a little hard to write, because spoilers, and I’m not totally happy with parts of it but the whole isn’t half bad. Thanks to the nice folks from Harper this is The Book of Joan. Enjoy!

The Book of Joan cover

Ciel was meant to be a haven for the chosen few of humanity. An Eden away from an Earth wrecked by wars and over consumption. That ended almost as soon as it began, when the charismatic Jean de Men took full control. When the wars started back up because Earth didn’t want to, couldn’t, send the supplies Ciel demanded he lead ruthless attack after attack. The rebels had one hope, a girl with a glowing mark on her face and a song pulsing in her being, Joan. They never stood a chance. Earth fell, Joan was martyred, and only the faintest memory of her song remains. But there is power in songs and more in stories. Jean de Men’s rule is iron fisted, but rebellion is stirring again even among the withered denizens of Ciel. A story can light the fires of rebellion, and a song can shake the heavens, but not even Joan can know how either will end.

So, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan is a really weird book. It wants to be smart and literary and all that. It wants to explore what it means to be human and humanity’s relationship with the Earth. But it has a lot of spinning its wheels and drama on the way there. It also doesn’t mesh well with its blurb, which made writing the summary a little iffy.

Let’s just jump in on that. When I say this book wants to be literary but spins its wheels, I am mostly talking about the way words get used. Everyone is overly verbose, everyone uses five dollar words where something more common would serve just as well. Just as well or better, honestly, since everyone includes the foulmouthed child soldier. The use of SAT-esque vocabulary makes the whole reading experience feel clunky and obtuse, which of course makes for a really dull read.

I do feel like a lot of the big, look at how smart I am, words are part of the wanting to be literary thing. The Book of Joan wants to impress you with how literary and important and think-y it is, but then doesn’t have a solid line on what it wants to say and what it wants to make you think about. It is sound and fury signifying nothing, and that is unfortunate because there are some nifty ideas buried in the text. A side effect of that is that there winds up being a ton of sex and gender weirdness.

In the early parts of the book we are introduced to the idea that the people of Ciel have been warped by radiation. Their hair has fallen out, their skin is bleached, and their genitals are either sealed shut or shriveled. This leads our point of view character for the Ciel bits, Christine, to contemplate humanity and the loss thereof. Which means she talks a lot about sex and how that’s lost to the people of Ciel. This could have been something about a loss of connection in a better book but, given how The Book of Joan also keeps going over how withered and useless the remaining humans’ genitals are, it doesn’t land well enough to work on any level.

There’s also some gender based stuff that really rubbed me the wrong way, especially towards the end. Because spoilers, I’m not going to go super into it here. Basically though, the end winds up throwing in stuff about women being around to be mothers out of nowhere. It also really didn’t work, because there wasn’t anything to support it as part of the narrative. It also didn’t work for me personally because that’s just not a sentiment I can get behind. There was also an eleventh hour character reveal that pissed me off so badly I nearly threw the book.

There were some ideas I found interesting. The grafts, particularly the stories rather than the skin art, were a nifty idea that I’d have liked to see more about. The change from humans as we know them to the hairless withered version of the book, if that hadn’t happened in a laughably tiny timeframe, I would be super interested in. Ciel itself strikes me as a place very similar to Bioshock’s Rapture, with only the best of the best and the richest able to go there but then also having such a reliance on the world they left behind. That kind of stuff fascinates me and could have been the base for a really interesting story. But it wasn’t.

So, where does that leave me with this book? The Book of Joan is sci-fi that wants to be literature when it could have been fantastic genre fiction if only it felt comfortable being genre fiction. It wants to be big and important and smart and fails utterly on all counts. I do still think some of the ideas from this book could have been good, if they were handled by another author. I admit, my score for this is pretty heavily affected by the thing at the end. That took the book from a meh three to a one out of five.

Mormama

Hey all, I’ve got a review for you today. It’s a little late, just due to general life stuff, but still up on Wednesday. So I’m happy with that. Thanks to the nice folks at Tor, this is Mormama. Enjoy!

Mormama cover

Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. The Ellis house has been standing for three generations, a rotting shrine to fabulous wealth and festering greed.  The house keeps its own, drawing them back when they try to escape. Lane escaped once, until her husband walked out on her and her son. She had to go back to the house that nearly devoured her as a child. Memory less, Dell can only hope that the card in his pocket will take him home to the Ellis house and a family that could be his. Theo, Theo wants out, away from the elderly Aunts who haunt the house like a trio of ghosts, away from his mom being stuck unable to care for either of them, and away from the thing that whispers to him at night. Away from the Mormama who tells him about the house’s tragedies and the darkness that presses in on its residents. Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. Sometimes it refuses to.

Southern gothic isn’t a genre I’ve done much with before. Based on Kit Reed’s Mormama, it’s not quite horror, and it’s not quite genre literature, but somewhere between the two. There’s a lot of almost character versus atmosphere going on and, more than that, a character versus past thing. I really dug both of those aspects. The downside to how atmospheric and into how trapped the characters feel by their situations is that the book can be very easy to put down.

So, what do I mean by that? Part of the atmosphere for the book was this sort of floating hopelessness. It seeped into little corners of the characters lives and pulled them more tightly to the house. Lane wants out as soon as possible, but she can’t find a job to allow that. Dell wants his past back, wants to know where he came from, but he’s so desperate for it to be this one version of him that he can’t accept anything else. He also can’t bring himself to use the one source he has that might tell him everything. Even the Aunts are trapped in their past and the bitterness they have over merely being caretakers of the house rather than the belles they had been in their youth. It’s both something that slows down the book and cuts its readability and also, ultimately, really cool.

That’s kind of my feeling on a lot of the book ultimately. It’s a slow read with a lot of bits that don’t feel super important to the story but that absolutely build the characters and atmosphere. Which makes for an interesting read. I do feel like some of the supernatural bits could have been tied in better, but that’s a little thing for the most part. The fairly slow pace over can make the ending feel a little too fast, but that’s not a huge deal, that little too fast can also make it feel cataclysmic. It’s a scale thing I guess. I actually don’t have a ton to say about this one so on to the score I guess?

Like I said earlier, southern gothic isn’t a genre that I have a ton of experience with. That’s part of why I don’t have a ton to say about it. There’s also a lot of almost fiddly bits that would probably count as spoilers, so I’m not talking a ton about those. That said, I did quite enjoy this book. While it can get slow at points that works for the overall feel of it. I’m giving Mormama a four out of five and would read Kit Reed again.

And, in a turn of events I’m sure no one saw coming, I am late posting my postponed review. Who would have thought, right? I’d have had it if not for that sleeping curse. But it’s here now, much to everyone’s delight. Thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s The People’s Police. Enjoy!

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When Officer Martin Luther Martin was ordered to serve his own eviction notice he didn’t expect to wind up the face for the following police strike against the loan lizards trying to foreclose on everyone. When bordello owner J. B. Lafitte called the strike on being self serving, only helping the police, he didn’t expect them to agree. When MaryLou Boudreau first woke up from dancing with a full hat and no memory of how it wound up that way she never expected to wind up as Mama Legba, television personality and horse to the Loa. No one expected Papa Legba himself to address Luke on tv or the question he would ask. “What do you offer?”

This one might get a little weird, there may also be a few spoilers so heads up. Norman Spinrad’s The People’s Police is a bit of an odd duck as far as fantasy or urban fantasy novels go. It’s well written in many respects, but I’d have a hard time calling it a fun read. It’s got definite fantasy elements, but is also almost cynical in its approach to politics and the way we’re governed. It’s got a really political thesis, but then avoids a lot of what makes that thesis political, becoming sort of a preaching to the choir deal. It’s actually a little hard to come up with much of an opinion on it because of all that, I’m really not used to that.

So, start from the beginning, does the story live up to its blurb? Yes and no. The actual blurb for the book doesn’t really say much, so it’s hard for the book to not fall into it. At the same time the book lacks a certain degree of coherency for much of its run which, in addition to making it feel like it could have been trimmed a good deal, also leads to it feeling very scattered in places. Several characters could have been worked in much better, but instead weren’t introduced until the last probably fifth of the novel. The same can be said for certain events not having enough lead up and so winding up feeling misplaced.

We also get some weirdness with the language of the book both in that Spinrad occasionally chooses to write in characters’ accents, something I’m not a fan of, and that multiple characters will more or less verbatim use really specific wording. That bit is very like being beaten over the head with propaganda, like video game levels of it that you’re supposed to know what it is so you don’t take it seriously, which doesn’t fit because it’s part of the book’s main idea. It feels clumsy or like Spinrad doesn’t trust his audience to get it.

Here’s the kicker, none of that singly or grouped together runs a serious risk of killing a book for me, at least not usually. He’s also got some stuff that’s usually near guaranteed to get me invested. There’s good character work, any number of scenes are strongly written and play well to the reader’s senses, and the weird cynical optimism often works in the book’s favor. It doesn’t set though. We get a lot of back story in the first half of the book, but a lot of its told rather than shown. The supernatural aspect is interesting and the in book discussion had potential, though I feel like maybe Spinrad could have used something other than the Loa or done more to actively show his work. I know next to nothing about Voodoo, so I could easily be missing the mark entirely on that one, but still. Even the character work falls flat in places with a later character’s focus on his religion making him feel very cardboard where he, if introduced earlier, could have been much more dynamic.

I’m sitting at the point where I can easily see people getting really into The People’s Police and any number of other people reading two chapters and reselling it. Its writing is technically pretty good but lacks flavor, for lack of a better word, and has enough little things that I’m just neutral on the whole thing. So that said, The People’s Police gets a three out of five.

Not posted on a Wednesday, but hey, I didn’t skip this week. Quick reminder that the giveaway for The People’s Police Giveaway is still going until midnight Sunday the 19th. This book’s one that I bought rather than being send to review. So, enjoy!

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Beautiful Remorse is your new favorite band. You couldn’t say why if asked. You couldn’t even really say anything about the lyrics. But their music does something for you. To you. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard, and their singer, Airee MacPherson. She’s fantastic, completely out of this world.  Strange things keep happening with each new track they release. Beautiful Remorse is your new favorite band, and your favorite band cannot save you.

Scotto Moore’s Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You: a tale in ten tracks is a quick fun read that’ll pull you along right to the end. The first two thirds of the book is solid genre fiction, but then it gets to a certain point and everything starts to feel kind of rushed. Think of it a little bit like a love letter to the Cthulhu mythos through the lens of modern internet culture.

There are a few bits that needed more attention throughout the book. Without that, the end isn’t a total big lipped alligator moment, but it does still feel under supported. I’d have liked more exposition on Aimee’s plan or the music itself, though the narrator’s limited knowledge goes a ways towards explaining that away.

My other big issue is with the characters. I legitimately cannot remember the narrator’s name or much of anything about him. The same goes for most of the characters that aren’t Airee, they sort of get lost in her or the music and just don’t come up again. I could easily say that this was a purposeful thing and that a big part of the point was a collective nothingness for humanity. It still doesn’t really work for me in the long run though, at the end of the day I’m still very much invested in character over plot.

More than anything, Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You reminds me of a B movie. Despite its faults, the story is aggressively readable and fast paced. It’s eyes off the action to build tension, which works well in a lot of ways. This is a book that could have been a lot better with a little work, but it doesn’t need it to be a fun book. If that makes sense at all. It’s fun, it’s fast, and at the end of the day I still really enjoyed it.

So, where does that leave us? While Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You has some issues, I still had a ton of fun with it. So, from me at least, it gets a four out of five.

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.

The Family Plot

So, this seems like a good opener to Halloween season. I admit, this one feels a little rushed to me because I was trying to hit a deadline instead of just getting it done when I could. But I’m happy with how it turned out and hopefully you all will enjoy it.

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Music City Salvage is in a bad way. Their stock has been standing on the shop floor for months and their last two big sales haven’t come through with payments yet. So it seems too good to be true when Augusta Withrow shows up offering the salvage rights to her family’s mansion and all its outbuildings. In a last bid to keep the lights on and stay in business Chuck Dutton, Music City Salvage’s owner, snaps up the rights and sends his daughter Dahlia and a hand full of workers to break down the site. The place is beautiful, an absolute gold mine for the struggling company. Unfortunately, once they arrive the team discovers that someone or something never left the house.

Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot is not what I would usually grab first on a trip to the bookstore. I’ve just not found a lot of horror that holds me for the long run. After this book, I’m going to have to reassess that.

A lot of the horror I’ve read in the past has relied on a gimmick to make the scary happen, which makes it pretty hit or miss if the gimmick works for you particularly, the scares work. The Family Plot doesn’t do that. It builds its ambiance and characters slowly, letting the reader get used to things and introducing minor bits. Then it builds.  This works really well for me. It also doesn’t shy away from its supernatural aspects; the ghosts are there right from the beginning just as a matter of fact. The house is old, so it’s haunted.

I’m also a big fan of what the author did with the characters. Because she took that same slow build approach she used for the horror aspects and applied it to character interactions and development as well. We start out with the main character Dahlia, her lay about Cousin Bobby, his son Gabe, and the new guy Brad. We don’t get huge blocks of back story on them, most of what’s told rather than shown is told using Brad as a window for the reader. Then that’s pretty quickly replaced with what’s shown and we get more in-depth.

That does bring me to one of the only issues I have with the book though. For all the good the author does with her build up, the follow through feels kind of scattered. Once the main plot hits we get some really cool ideas, but then it seems like they get passed by on the way to the climax. There’s also a bit near the end that the book could have done without, but that’s my only other big thing.

So, how does it all add up? I did really enjoy this book and would like to see more like it from Ms. Priest, but there were just those couple of things that prevent it from getting a full five. Tightening up some of the ideas used would have gone a ways, but could have also gone a bit far on the other side really easily. I think I would have also liked to have seen more of the team discovering the Withrow family back story. That said, the writing is good and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. So I think The Family Plot earned a four out of five.

After I don’t remember how long and don’t feel like checking to see, I return triumphant with a review of a book set in the world of one of my favorite video games. I did wind up having a few minor spoilers in the review, but it isn’t for anything big.

Valya is part of a group of mages on the run from their Circle, trying to save themselves from rogue templars by seeking refuge with the Grey Wardens. When they arrive the Warden Commander asks them to prove their worth through research, and find something anything of use to the Grey Wardens, so he has a reason to keep them there.

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In Liane Merciel’s Dragon Age: Last Flight we have a book that feels like it should tell two separate stories, one of Valya the elven mage in the present and one of Isseya the elven mage, sister to the hero of the fourth blight. It feels that way, but then we get woefully little of Valya’s story in favor of letting Isseya’s story take over. Ideally both stories would have been entwined in such a way that each supported or even mirrored the other to some degree and lead to more development for all the characters involved . I actually kind of wish that the author had been able to split this into two books so we could get Isseya’s story in better detail, instead of with the big time jumps that I’m sure are from the diary format, and then the next book with Valya finding the diary, getting to know some of the other characters mentioned, and then going on her hero’s journey.

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The story as it’s told is a nifty piece of lore, giving us the reason that griffins no longer exist in Thedas and giving the reader a story of the fourth blight. It gives the sense that the blight has been dragging on for years. Some of the battles are amazingly well done. Unfortunately it falls flat because of the switches between time periods and the time jumps in Isseya’s side of the story. The diary framing ties the story entirely to Isseya and the people directly around her at any given point in time, normally this isn’t a bad thing, but in this case it restricts the scale of the story making it feel less epic. It also has the tendency to make Isseya herself kind of flat, we aren’t reading diary pages with the book, but since it focuses so heavily on her trying to make the griffins more effective and the repercussions of that it leaves out a lot of who she is as a character. There are moments when character shines through but , again, they just serve to make me want more. Another facet of the focus being so heavily on Isseya’s story is Valya being there almost entirely to bring Isseya’s story full circle. She solves the puzzle, but we aren’t really shown her doing it. She befriends one of the former Templars, but we get one conversation when they first meet and the next time we see her they’ve been friends for months. It’s frustrating and it left me not caring about that set of characters.

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All that said, the story is enjoyable and it is a nifty addition to the world of Dragon Age. It has moments where it gets bogged down in itself, which slows the plot, but brings focus to the hopelessness of the character’s situation. And when Merciel chose to focus on other characters for any length of time, she did a really good job quickly developing them and making them interesting, I’d like to read more of her if she does that in most of her books.

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So, over all, I enjoyed Dragon Age: Last Flight and would probably read Liane Merciel again, but the book has some serious issues with over focusing. It’s a decent addition to the world’s lore that could have implications for Dragon Age: Inquisition or a later game, but that isn’t required reading for either one. I give it a three out of five.