Category: stand alone


I had a hard time writing this one. It gets minorly spoilery, due in part to the official blurb itself . This one’s thanks to netGalley for providing me a copy for review. Here’s Sean Grigsby’s Daughters of Forgotten Light. Enjoy!

Daughters of Forgotten Light cover

Oubliette, prison city, population: forgotten. Unwanted. Worthless. The women society doesn’t want. It’s been Lena Horror’s home for the past ten years. A flimsy truce keeps everyone from killing each other. Keeps the gangs mostly in line. At least, until something unexpected arrives in the quarterly supply drop. Back on Earth, Senator Linda Dolfuse has been ordered to find an excuse to wipe the prisoners off of Oubliette to allow good, honest citizens of the United Continent of North America a chance at a better future away from the frozen Earth and its endless war. Seems like a smooth enough job until she sees something on the drone footage that shouldn’t be there, the baby she’d given up.

This is one of those books that I started reading ready to love it. The concept of a prison world ruled by motorcycle gangs where unwanted and misbehaving women are sent to be forgotten, that’s something that has a lot of potential. Unfortunately the writing just doesn’t stand up to the concept.  Similarly, the Earth side portions, where corrupt politicians live big while their constituents are often forced to sell their children to Oubliette or the massive unending war just to survive, could have been fascinating. That concept could have carried a book on its own if it had been done well. It just doesn’t. And then, of course, we have the mess with the baby.

The baby thing bothers me, in part because it could have been done so much better, but largely because it lands the book with a bunch of hardened prisoners who all want this helpless kid for what feels like no reason. Each gang is only allowed six members and, even with the treaty keeping outright murder from happening, none of them should be willing to give up one of those slots for something that’s such a handicap against the other two gangs. Of course this means that all three gang leaders want the kid, because reasons? I keep coming back to that. I don’t want to say that they all want the baby because women, but it feels an awful lot like that. The cannibals want her, the all black gang wants her, and Horror wants her. Horror wants the kid mind, not the Daughters as a whole. It also isn’t even like the baby was a secret test and the drone was sent to see how the prisoners would react to her, the drone came way later in the book and existed just long enough to force the two stories together.

The time line is super vague. Three months pass between our introductory supply drop and the one the drone shows up on. That’s three months for both Senator Dolfuse on Earth and the prisoners on Oubliette, with it being repeatedly mentioned that there is nothing to do on Oubliette except fighting or having sex. Three months where Horror and the Daughters of Forgotten Light seemingly do nothing except get their new member, Sarah, her motorcycle and her weapon. Then it’s like Horror remembers that the cannibals have that baby she wanted and she’d been itching to break the truce her mentor set up anyway, let’s go take the kid despite having not prepared for a fight at all.

The worst of this is, the three month gap was taken up with Senator Dolfuse’s adventures in ill defined guilt and getting the drone on the shipment. She’s probably the single character we spend the most time with, but she feels way less important than the others. The Earth bits would have probably served better as shorter segments that attempted less with the world building, as is, they just felt like they dragged on forever without showing anything for it. It could have been great to see Dolfuse checking in more actively with the Vice President, or having her interact with characters that are against shipping, showing her growing awareness and how she changes as a result. That could have been aces.

If we had seen any character development, that would have been great. Most of the women on Oubliette are terribly static, which isn’t helped by the vague timeline because there isn’t really anything for them to grow from. Horror we see being aggressive and murdery, but it feels empty because she’s just like that, either ready for violence or ignoring everything because baby. The new girl goes from being afraid of everything, including the other Daughters, to being jaded and nearly as violent as Horror in the space of something like three paragraphs. She gets what feels like way too much page space talking about how Oubliette has taught her not to trust anyone when we don’t see Oubliette teaching her not to trust. It doesn’t work, especially given that early on Sarah feels like she’s meant to be the reader’s view point into the workings of Oubliette, and we never really get that either.

Even leaving aside the character issues, the world building really isn’t there for me on this one either. There are so many things that feel like they need explanations that just get breezed by. Why are only men sent to the army? Why wasn’t an eye already being kept on Oubliette to make sure that they weren’t just dropping prisoners into an airless void? Why not provide something for the women on Oubliette to do with their lifetime of being stuck in the middle of nowhere? How can the UCNA afford to ship these women to space and fight this massive war, but then food is horribly scarce and the average citizen is in real trouble of needing to sell one of their kids to survive? It’s all very forced feeling, things need to happen so that the plot can exist, but they can’t be gone into deeply enough to feel solid because reasons. I really feels like the author was trying to fit two or three books worth of information and ideas into half a plot.

Daughters of Forgotten Light is a book that I really, really wanted to like. I was excited to start it despite the baby thing in the blurb. I mean, really, space motorcycle gangs and a plot from Earth to wipe them out, that falls right in my wheel house. It just didn’t have nearly enough substance to it, everything felt half done and under baked with a rush to the end that leaves neither a satisfying conclusion nor the possibility of a next time. There were a lot of cool ideas. But then they felt wasted when nothing came of them. I finished the book not caring if anything changed for the better, if anything changed at all. I feel like Sean Grigsby could be a really decent author with a couple more books under his belt and a better feel for character and flow. After this, I’m not likely to be there for it though. Daughters of Forgotten Light gets a one out of five.

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This one was a bit difficult to get written. I enjoyed it a great deal, but didn’t have a ton to say about it. That said, this one’s thanks to the awesome folks at First Second. Here’s Hope Larson’s All Summer Long. Enjoy!

All Summer Long cover

Bina and Austin have been friends forever and with summer vacation starting she’s excited to get started on their yearly Summer Fun Index. At least, she’s excited until finding out he’s headed to soccer camp instead. There’s a waiting list and he’s super excited, but that leaves Bina alone for a month with nothing to do. She practices her guitar and watches way too much tv, but the summer doesn’t really get started until she finds herself hanging out with Austin’s older sister Charlie. When Austin comes home, he’s acting weird and distant and embarrassed. They’ve been friends forever, but are Bina and Austin growing apart or just growing up?

All Summer Long is an interesting slice of life, a school summer vacation from the middle of middle school. The time where things start changing super quickly and the people you’ve always known start growing into new versions of themselves. It’s a nifty coming of age story with a focus on music that makes me want to look up the bands mentioned.

All Summer Long is comparatively short, hitting the high notes of the summer rather than the entirety of it. Though, in a lot of ways that feels a lot like my memories of summer vacation. Bina’s friends are all away, her best friend isn’t texting her back, and her parents want her to do homework instead of watching tv. She’s in for a boring one until she starts hanging out with Charlie and listening to the Steep Street album Austin lent her before he left. She’s got family stuff happening, but happy family stuff, with her older brother and his husband adopting a baby. It’s coming of age stuff, and most of it’s cute. The parts that aren’t are the kind of arguments that come from growing pains, for all the characters involved.

I don’t have much more to say about this one. I enjoyed it a lot and, like a lot of First Second books, think it would be a great fit for a middle school library. Hope Larson did really good work here, this is something I’ve read multiple times leading up to reviewing it. I give All Summer Long a five out of five.

Going up a little late, not terrible though. I admit, I spent most of the day in line at the book store and hunting down a novel I’ve been massively looking forward to. That’s for later though. This time I’ve got Leander Watts’ Meet Me in the Strange for you, courtesy of netGalley. Enjoy!

Meet Me in the Strange cover

Davi’s life is comfortable, if uneventful. Uneventful, at least until that Django Conn show and Anna Z. Uneventful, until the gorgeous girl and all her talk talk talking about the alien drift and other dimensions. Uneventful, until Anna Z.’s brother comes hunting for her and they make a run for it, following Django Conn and all the glister and glam that follows the man and his music.

There is a level of oddity I expect from a book titled Meet Me in the Strange. Even more so when it features a rock star/ possible otherworldly being as a major part of the story. Leander Watts presents something a bit beyond the expected level of odd, though enjoyable so.

This is a book that thrives on its setting and the interactions between Davi and Anna Z., or rather how taken with Anna Z. Davi is. She does most of the talking between the two of them, and it paints these fantastic jumbles of ideas and thoughts. Frankenstein’s monsters and souls from the way way out there, the evolution and change of humanity and a sort of mutation of the soul, it’s got this fantastic patter to it that dances along to an almost hypnotizing beat. She’s out there and disconnected, but then it works.

Then there’s the setting. There’s this whole retro-future deal where they’re talking about recent space visits and Davi’s buying music on records, but then instead of feeling set in the past it feels like the future as seen by the 80’s. The Angelus hotel is stately and elegant and a historic throwback that draws in all manner of fancy visitors. Anna Z. talks about classic horror movies and old stories in relation to Homo Lux and the alien drift. But then there’s this bright energy with the glam-boys and glister-girls and the teen speak used. It’s unfamiliar, but feels right from a words perspective. Like, I really enjoyed the slang as part of the world building because even when I didn’t get it, it felt right.

If I have an issue with the book though, it’s that the plot is really not present for most of the run of the book. The antagonist takes awhile to show up and we’re told how much of a threat he is and shown how scared of him Anna Z. is and then not a lot happens with him. When I said that the book thrives on its setting and character interactions, that’s almost all it has. This wasn’t a major problem for me because of how much I enjoyed everything else. But it is the weakest part of the book.

So, in a lot of ways Meet Me in the Strange makes me think of Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie, just with the way it feels. It’s spacey and odd and a ton of fun. It says, at times, quite a lot but also very little. The chapters are short and it feels a bit like eating chips, you just want to keep going. I actually really want to listen to some of the music from the book’s world, to catch the kind of wild brilliance that Davi and Anna Z. hear. It gets a four out of five from me. The weakness of the plot is the only thing keeping it from getting the full five.

So, it took a little longer than to the end of the night. But , it turns out I had a bit more to say than I’d thought. Worse things have happened. I spent two weeks tracking down a copy of the second book in this series, here is Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex. Enjoy!

Heroine Complex cover

Aveda Jupiter is San Francisco’s super heroine, stopping demonic invasions as they crop up throughout the city. She’s brilliant at it and fantastic with the crowds. Unfortunately she’s also brilliantly difficult to work with, at least for anyone except her assistant Evie Tanaka. Unfortunately for Evie posing as Aveda Jupiter, being her while the real Aveda is out of commission, is much more difficult than just working for her. Stopping the incoming demonic invasion might just be easy by comparison.

Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex was a total impulse pick for me while I was visiting my folks awhile back. The cover was cool and the blurb sounded fun. It kind of reminded me of some of the stuff I read back in high school. Plus, I just like the concept of the sidekick having to take on super hero level stuff and, through that, becoming a hero in her own right.

I liked Evie a lot, she opens up as the book progresses and lets herself have her feelings instead of keeping them locked back. Evie starts out so afraid of her feelings, afraid of what could happen if she felt strongly enough to trigger her powers. She’s afraid of the damage she could do if she lost control again. But then she’s forced to play the hero and the love interest is brought in and her feelings for him grow. She learns to not be afraid of them or of herself, which is a plot line that I enjoy greatly. It feeds into that character coming into her own, thing that I tend to enjoy so much.

I do wish less had been as reliant on the love interest, Nate, as it felt like it was. The book starts with Evie and Nate being almost at odds. He’s this big grump who serves as the team’s physician and demon researcher, he doesn’t do his share of chores around the HQ, and he’s inflexible in his methods. At least until Evie as Aveda needs a body guard/date to an event and it’s revealed that he looks really good in a suit. Then long moments are given over to Evie and Nate having couple moments and he becomes Evie’s rock. It interrupts the story and, since I’m not really here for the romance, drags more than a little. Admittedly, my issues here are almost entirely to do with how much page space the romance takes up rather than with Nate himself. He’s a solid character and it was nice to see him come out of his shell a little as he and Evie got closer.

The romance was mentioned in the blurb, so I expected it, but it felt fairly sudden and out of nowhere.  They were at odds and then they weren’t. He was an off putting grump and then he wasn’t. The turnaround is fast and I find myself wishing that there had been more of a slow burn thing going on. I also find myself wishing that it had eaten less of the page count just on its own, that more had been done make it feel like a break from the plot that gave Evie a much needed break from being something she wasn’t. It could have given a great view into her growth rather than feeling like the reason for it. This is one of the things that reminds me a lot of the stuff I was reading a decade ago and it’s the only bit I feel like I could have done without.

The flipside to the romance, something that I really enjoyed quite a bit, was Evie’s history with Aveda. This friendship that they’d had since they were grade schoolers that had kept solid for years and years through being social outsiders and the initial demon portal, through Evie’s power erupting horribly and Annie’s rise to super heroism and reinvention as Aveda Jupiter. It’s a friendship that’s gone a bit sour with Aveda’s whole super heroine diva thing and the way she tends to steamroll Evie’s thoughts and feelings on issues. Evie’s there to deal with Aveda’s temper tantrums and to guide her into better moods when things aren’t going her way, but then there doesn’t seem to be a ton she gets out of it aside from a pay check and fulfilling a sense of loyalty to her oldest friend. It was nice to see that have to change as Evie continued to stand in for Aveda and the public loved her and her power. It was nice to see how their relationship changed and strengthened as the plot rolled on.

That’s really where I land on this one. Heroine Complex was a fun nostalgic read for me. The characters were awesome and, while I could have done with less of the romance aspect, I’m definitely reading the other two books in the series. I want to spend more time with these characters, to see them grow and continue to come into their own. I want to see what Sarah Kuhn does going forward and how a world with demon portals and super heroines continues to develop. I’m giving Heroine Complex a four out of five and noting that the second book is already on my desk waiting for its chance to be read.

This one was a ton of fun to read and then not so much to review, I kept trying to stretch it to my usual review length and feeling like I was being over repetitive. So this one is short, but I think I’m happier with it this way. This one’s from First Second books, here’s George O’Connor’s Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster. Enjoy!

Olympians Hermes cover

God of thieves and businessmen, travelers and shepherds, Hermes began his godly career the night of his birth by sneaking away from the cave his mother had sequestered them away in and stealing his half brother Apollo’s cattle. He features in many stories and has inspired many more. For now, let a wanderer entertain you with a few of them.

I have a tendency to assume that everyone had a middle school Greek mythology phase, where they were super into it and wanted to know all the things. George O’Connor’s Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster reminds me of that pretty seriously.

This isn’t a super in depth book of mythology, it isn’t trying to be, but it is a fantastic introduction and includes some of the better known Hermes myths with a couple that I don’t remember ever seeing before. That was pretty nifty. The lack of going super in depth is likely also because this is aimed at a younger audience. That’s worth noting mostly because reading this really made me wish that my schools’ libraries had had something like it back in the day.

The art here is awesome. It makes me think of super hero comics with how buff the male characters tend to be and how bright the colors are. The character art is expressive and fun, especially when Pan is being focused on. Similarly, the back ground art can be fantastic with sprawling hills and forests and night scenes that have fantastic light work. I almost want to track down the previous books just for the art.

Overall after reading Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster I find myself very much wanting to read the other nine in the series. I very much enjoyed this comic and would happily suggest it to readers who want to check into or back into Greek mythology. It’s definitely aimed at a younger audience than me, but then is still well written enough to be entertaining outside of that. I give it a five out of five and note again that, if the rest of the series is as good as this one, O’Connor’s Olympians series would fit well in a school library.

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’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.

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.