Tag Archive: book review


Nanoshock

I’m back! This one’s given me a lot to chew on and I’m hoping to work on that in the near future. Courtesy of the awesome folks at Angry Robot, this is Nanoshock. Enjoy!

Nanoshock cover

Riko’s got no clue what she did wrong or what happened to her six months ago. She’s got no clue if she actually sold out Nanji like everyone says she did. Worse, that’s killed her cred and her reputation. With leads colder than diamond steel and nowhere to turn she’s going to have to break every rule she knows to get to the bottom of this. Riko’s in a tight spot. People are after her. Feel sorry for them.

K. C. Alexander’s Nanoshock is the follow up to Necrotech, a violent profane thrill ride of a book that I enjoyed quite a bit. Does it stand up to the previous book? Yes, very much yes. Nanoshock, being a second book, doesn’t have to take its time in the beginning to set up its world. This is very much to its benefit because it lets the story hit the ground running and flow a lot more naturally.

There’s this great sort of interplay of characters in this one. Riko’s not quite back with her old team, but some of them will work with her for Indigo’s sake. A new character, Muerte, plays off of Riko and the other Saints super well. She’s brightly cheerful, nearly playful, which helps lighten up the feel of the book. Indigo is still pretty dour, but we get to see this great dance of trust and distrust and friendship between him and Riko. Even Riko’s pet detective gets built into a more dynamic character. The character work here is awesome. While there are moments where Riko’s actions are impulsive to the point of actively hurting her chances at getting anywhere, those still kind of work. Riko isn’t really working at a hundred percent and has a habit of acting in a very shoot first, let someone else do the thinking way.

I am leaving Malik Reed out of the awesome character work. He isn’t poorly written, though I’m much less inclined to give him slack on his mistakes. He’s still very much my least favorite part of the story. This is a character who is set up as very in control of his world and his situation. He expects perfection from his people and obedience, both of which are things that he should have known better than to expect from Riko. He also seems to make a point of trying to keep Riko out of the loop while she’s working for him. That leads to what can feel like forced conflict between the two. Plus, I got tired of reading about how attractive he is.

Repetition is something of a mixed bag here. More often than not, it works really well to emphasize what’s going on with Riko’s emotions. She’s angry and scared and running on fumes. So a repetition of themes and phrases works really well to keep her human and to keep her actions in context. It can also get clunky though. Certain phrases get used that feel just a little too long for what’s going on. Referring to every “Tom, Dick, and Blow” works well in the context of keeping an eye out for trouble in a club, but less so in the middle of an active fight.

The action scenes were really well done, tense and drawn out where they needed to be and then fast and hard when that fit. The tense scenes contain chunks of character work. That play of feelings and expectations really works to feed into the situation without feeling over done. The scenes that are fast are razor sharp and hit like a punch to the gut. They feel dangerous, not just for side characters but also to Riko herself.

Nanoshock is violent and profane and super fun and I want more.  There’s a lot of stuff here that usually bothers me in books, but it works. Things are seeded very well and pay off in a way that’s super satisfying. Nanoshock gets a five out of five from me. If you can find it and Necrotech, read them.

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I am so late posting this. So late. Like, I was planning on having this up Wednesday and then work was so much more tiring than usual in the lead up to the store renovation.  This one is courtesy of the author, Michael Okon, this is Monsterland. Enjoy!

Monsterland cover

With zombies, werewolves, and vampires Monsterland promises to be the scariest place on Earth. It might also be the perfect place for Wyatt Baldwin and his friends to finally solve their debate about which is the best monster. Even better, they’ll get a chance to see it all on opening night, with full VIP invites after Wyatt shared a burger with the owner of the park, Vincent Konrad. A park full of monsters, what could possibly go wrong?

Monsterland by Michael Okon reads very much like a first book. There are a lot of good ideas and the frame work is solid but then there are bits that move too quickly. It has some interesting characters and others that don’t quite make it. So, some things work some don’t. That’s every book, and I should clarify, so let’s clarify.

The story for Monsterland is kind of ambitious. We’re started with the werewolves and shown that they didn’t join Monsterland on their own, then we get introduced to our protagonist and the world. It stars a pattern in the story, there’s a monster chapter and then a protagonist chapter. That works really well for me to a point. There’s a weird jump from the monsters as sort of victims of the part and planning to escape to the monsters as monster antagonists. That happens without a lot of build up and feels pretty disjointed. Something similar happens with Wyatt and his friends, they go from super excited about going to the park to thinking it was a bad idea and questioning if it was actually a good thing. Similarly again, we get Vincent jumping from being presented as a force for good to throwing out massive bad guy signals. I would have liked much more build up on all of these things. A slow burn and build and then reveal it. As it stands, while the end isn’t a twist or anything, it also isn’t super satisfying and could have benefited from just a touch more work.

The characters similarly could have benefited from more work. As it stands, they’re more or less sketches of characters rather than being fully realized. Wyatt is interested in zombies and Jade, the cute girl from school, he’s super about Victor Konrad’s plan to save the world with this theme park. His friend Melvin is super into werewolves and messes up his turns of phrase. The other friend is always addressed by his full name and is super smart, he’s afraid of the girl who’s into him. Then there’s background characters, I would have liked a fair deal more with them. It feels like Mr. Okom had a few ideas of what he wanted to work with characters wise, but wasn’t a hundred percent on how he wanted to implement them in the story proper.

I’ve said a fair amount about this needing a touch more work. Thing is, the book is average as it stands, but it has a lot of solid ideas. I liked the one friend’s love interest, Keisha, she had some really interesting moments and I would have really liked to see her do more. Vincent as the villain could have been really good if he was a little more subtle, he just gets a little too cartoony at the end for my taste. The monsters revolting could be built up a little more, show the vampires trying to get in contact with the werewolves. It would have been a fair number of little things, but it could have taken the book from average to good.

That’s pretty well where I’m left with Monsterland, it isn’t bad and it was enjoyable, but it is fairly average. I would read Michael Okon’s next book, and think he’s going to keep improving as a writer. That said, I’m giving Monsterland a three out of five.

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.

The Housing Crisis

Coming in under the wire, I’m later than late, but it’s up today! This was one of a handful of book’s I’ve bought from Book Bub. It’s a pretty cool site that sends you e-book deals each day based on what genre’s you tell it you’re into. This is The Housing Crisis. Enjoy!

The Housing Crisis cover

Alyssa’s roommate ditched on her with no warning, leaving her desperate for a replacement before rent comes due. It has to be another girl, or her super Catholic mom would flip. Hannah just caught her girlfriend cheating on her, so that living arrangement doesn’t work anymore. Good thing a former co-worker told her about the roommate she just ditched on. New roommate is super cute. But Alyssa is straight, totally, maybe, and Hannah doesn’t want to go there again. Will they wind up together anyway or will both wind up looking for someone new?

The Housing Crisis by Kate McLay is very much a book that I wish was longer. The story is super cute. The characters are enjoyable. It makes me want more.

Which is actually a really good place to start. One of my only issues with the book is a side effect of it being as short as it is. The relationship is really sweet, but I would have loved to see it developed more. We’re more told that Hannah and Alyssa are increasingly attracted to each other, than allowed to see it develop. As always, I want the build, I want to see the relationship grow from friends to girlfriends. In the same vein, I would like to have seen more of Alyssa realizing that she’s totally into her roommate and not as straight as she thought. More of them dealing with Alyssa playing it straight in public and how that affects Hannah. More of Hannah wanting to fall for Alyssa but being held back by last time. I want to see the character struggles that lead to the triumphant ending.

This is my single big complaint about the book, it’s so short that the ideas behind the story don’t get expanded much if at all. We go from Alyssa being so straight arrows are jealous to being told that she’s been struggling with dealing with her attraction to Hannah for weeks and, never mind struggling, going for it. It goes similarly for Hannah, we’re told that she doesn’t want to fall for another straight girl because the last one broke her heart, but we don’t see her worrying much about it past them hooking up. We see a fair amount of Alyssa’s boss, Martha, but I feel like there should have been more with her. Like she could have been much more developed and contributed a lot more to the story.

So that’s my issue with the book. What else was there to it that I wanted it more developed because of? Friends, this book was adorable and sweet and just a bite of cuteness. I have been trained by pop culture and other novels not to accept when a book aimed at adults is being sweet and fluffy and this was a really nice break from that. I didn’t find a character in the book proper that I disliked. The few scenes that were uncomfortable were meant to be. Most of the bits that we iffy were things that expanding on character and situations could have handled easily.

It was a book that just made me happy, which isn’t a thing I’ve had a lot of lately. It was fun for the sake of itself, a happy little romance story that chooses to be positive. For all that I spent two paragraphs talking about it needing to be expanded on, I keep bringing this up because I want more stories like this. I want more of this story, like a follow up of Alyssa and Hannah and what happens after the end of this one.

So, yeah, this gets a five out of five. I would read Kate McLay again and very much hope that she has a successful career writing.

Hey all. Got a review for you, this one’s from my library and is kind of a throwback to last year. Enjoy!

Places No One Knows cover

Waverly Camdenmar’s life is perfect academically, socially, even her extracurriculars. Her life is utterly perfect, except that she hasn’t slept in days and instead spends all night running to escape herself. Marshall Holt’s life has been falling apart for years. His family can’t stand each other. His friends are bellow the bottom of the social latter. He’s close to not graduating. But he doesn’t care, he drinks and smokes and utterly wrecks himself with how much he doesn’t care. He’d never be good enough for Waverly anyway. But then one night she dreams herself into his room, his life, and nothing can stay the same. She can change in her dreams, but is Marshall worth risking everything she’s built?

Places No One Knows, by Brenna Yovanoff, isn’t my standard fare by any means. I started it back when I worked at the book store and finished it because I’d started it. It is very much a teen romance, but one that’s got some other stuff going on. The other stuff is what kept me going and held my interest.

See, both of our leads have pretty serious issues that they either can’t talk about or just don’t want to acknowledge. Marshall’s home life is terrible and he feels like a failure because he can’t not be bothered by it, so he self medicates. That leads to him being an academic failure and everything cycles back around. He has feelings and wants to help people, but doesn’t know where to start or how to help himself.  The flipside to Marshall is Waverly, the popular girl with the fantastic grades and the best times on the track team. Waverly who isn’t good at social cues or actually dealing with people despite being able to read them like it’s nothing. Who feels robotic and memorizes all manner of trivia to distract herself from her own faults. Waverly who runs until her feet bleed and she can’t think anymore to escape her own mind and the concerns that her life isn’t what it should be. These two I find interesting because they don’t feel standard, but I wish Waverly’s issues had been gone into a little more deeply. She feels like she didn’t get a full character arc and, while this would usually be a positive, the book leaves a lot of room for her to back slide massively and let everything fall to pieces.

In light of both the sheer amount of character stuff going on, and my own lack of interest in romance plots, I would have liked to seen less of the romance and more of Marshall and Waverly figuring their stuff out. Marshall gets a fair amount of this and we see him making efforts to pull himself out of his issues. Not so much with Waverly, she stays pretty entrenched in her belief that she’s somehow broken until the book’s climax. But that doesn’t feel right for her as a character, she moves by inches throughout the book unwilling to admit that she needs anything and unable to meet most people at an emotional level, but then all the sudden there’s this big character moment and things are fixed? It doesn’t fit for me.

I also find myself wishing that there was more with the minor characters. Waverly and her social group have this whole Mean Girls thing going on with a strict hierarchy and unspoken rules. But then along comes Autumn, the social outsider, to shake things up because she’s bored. I would have liked to have seen more of the fallout from that, instead of it being fast forwarded through for magic candle romance stuff.

Ultimately Places No One Knows isn’t a book for me. It has some really interesting character stuff, but then also a romance that feels unnecessary and forced. There’s fantastic ideas, but subpar follow trough. It’s the kind of book that I finished and shrugged, because it ended the way it had too but without resolving a lot of character issues. I didn’t dislike it, but I also wouldn’t read it again, so it winds up with a three out of five.

Project Pandora

And I’m late again. Thanks for sticking with me folks. This one was kind of hard to get done, so that wasn’t fun. Right, so the review of the week is thanks to the nice folks at entangled teen. This is Project Pandora. Enjoy!

Project Pandora cover

Apollo switched back to Tyler in the middle of a job, something that shouldn’t have been possible. Tyler’s aware of his burner phone, though not its implications. He doesn’t know about the second life in the shadows of his everyday, not until it starts bleeding through. Not even when he realizes that the girl he’s crushing on has a phone just like his. They’ll have to learn quickly, find out what’s at the core of Project Pandora, before they’re tracked down and reprogrammed.

Aden Polydoros’ first novel, Project Pandora, is not a book that would find itself in my top or bottom ten for this year. This is one of those books that, it’s not bad but it also isn’t memorable. There are a lot of solid ideas here and I feel like the book could have been really good with a little more refining. In short, it feels very much like a solid first book.

The official blurb promises action and mystery, danger. While the book itself takes a very slow burn approach to its plot. That’s not in and of itself a bad thing and, in all fairness, in a more solidly plotted book could have been a fantastic way to flesh out the characters. Here it winds up dragging on and feeling like padding. We get these scenes of our characters going about their regular student lives and having their YA romance stuff going on, and it isn’t bad but it also winds up feeling disconnected from the plot really quickly. I feel like if more had been done with their programming breaking down earlier in the book it would have been better and could have lead to more of the mystery that was promised in the blurb. As it stands, the Project Pandora stuff is mostly carried by one character and, since he’s got no other life, it doesn’t really give use any build. That more wasn’t done with that side plot is really disappointing, that was one of the more promising ideas presented.

That’s where a lot of my apathy about Project Pandora comes from. There’s a lot of good ideas for the plot and characters both, but those ideas are fumbled in the writing itself. We have these two pairs of characters, the nice young folks who don’t realize they’re assassins and the beauty and the beast pair who have this instant attraction for each other. We follow all four of these characters, which winds up both killing any mystery that could have happened and leads to a lot of overlap in storytelling. There are so many ways this could have been taken and built upon, but what we got was a lot of teens pining after one another and stressing over high school stuff plus Hades’ issues. The ideas were there and so were the bones of a good story, but they weren’t fleshed out well.

I have very few feelings about this book beyond wishing that the author had done just a little more with it or refined it more. Part of this might be that Project Pandora suffers from being the first in a series, maybe some stuff was left out on purpose so it can be filled in later. Part of it might be that this is the author’s first book and he’ll improve with more practice. Either way it gets a three out of five. I might give Aden Polydoros’ next novel a shot, but this one didn’t impress me.

I have an actual reason it’s late this week! I messed up and left my laptop charger in Opelika after visiting for Labor Day, so I can’t get to the original file for this because the battery is dead. So, I’m rewriting it all in one go here because my gaming rig lacks word. This’ll be fun. This one is thanks to the nice folks at First Second publishing, this is Mighty Jack and the Goblin King. Enjoy!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King cover

Jack’s sister Maddy was taken by an ogre. He was supposed to be keeping an eye on her, but she was taken anyway. Now it’s up to Jack and his friend Lilly to save Maddy before she’s fed to something known as the beast. But stories are never that simple and the goblin king in the kingdom below is as mighty as Jack and might be the ally he needs to save his sister and get home.

Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is the second part of his Mighty Jack duology, so I am missing a bit of the story. That isn’t a huge problem though, the story does a good job of standing on its own and most of the references to the previous book can be hand waved as semi-standard fairy tale ingredients. Magic plants definitely fit a Jack story after all.

This is a very quick read, not a bad thing, but the story is enjoyable and I liked the characters. I would have actually liked to have seen more of them together, but I feel like that’s a side effect of missing the first book. Just a reason to try and find it.

Lilly gets separated from Jack fairly early on so, while he’s trying to plan how to save Maddy from the giants, she’s dealing with the goblins and their king. It kind of leaves the scenes with Jack feeling like they’re holding time until the goblin king comes to help save the day. That’s not really a complaint though, even as short a time as we saw the goblins’ hide out was cool and I like the idea of there being trash from every world in the under relm of a multiversal nexus. It’s a nifty idea.

The story is fairly straightforward and the art complements that. It’s fairly simple and a bit cartoony, but nicely emotive and it does a good job expressing what’s going on without feeling choppy. Again, the goblins are my favorite because they don’t seem to have any kind of uniform features while also being immediately identifiable as goblins. The colors are vibrant, the creature designs are fun and remind me a bit of Labyrinth, I very much enjoyed the art here.

So, what’s the verdict? I had fun with this comic from page one to the end and, while I have a few issues with the very end that’re probably more to do with having not read the first one, I don’t have any major  complaints. I’m giving Mighty Jack and the Goblin King a five out of five. It’s good and I’m likely to jump at the chance to review Hatke’s work again if I get the chance.

Frost

Not much to blurb about today. It’s quiet in my neck of the woods and that’s pretty ok. I did wind up cutting several things from today’s review for spoilery reasons. So, if you all are cool with tagged spoilers in the reviews, let me know in the comments. Today’s book is courtesy of the nice folks at Scholastic. Here’s Frost. Enjoy!

Frost cover

At sixteen Frost has never been outside the apartment she grew up in, and with good reason, the world outside is a hunting ground for ravenous cannibals and robots gone rogue. It hasn’t been a safe place to live since before she can remember. She needs to leave though. Her pet, Romes, is dying and she can’t bear to see him in pain. Even as the memories of her father try to hold her back, to keep her in her safe prison with the family robot for company and protections, she knows she has to leave and save the only living thing left to her. She grew up on stories about the utopia at the other end of the city, the Battery, where all the science that’s been lost still exists. With Bunt’s help she might be able to make it.

So, M. P. Kozlowsky’s Frost is an odd book. I mean that in a lot of ways. Part of this comes from the fact that Frost feels very much like the first book in a series rather than a standalone novel. It builds slowly for a good two thirds of its page count, then crams in a ton of stuff that could be pay off but that also feels like set up for next time. This book is kind of a mish mash of ideas, so it can be a little difficult to separate them all out.

Let’s start there though. This book is a mess of ideas that could be really cool but then don’t really go anywhere. There’s too many separate threats and concepts for the time spent on any of them. We get a lot about Frost’s feelings and several imaginary flashbacks to before everything fell apart, but not a ton of world building. For example, the Days of Bedlam are the in world name for whatever happened to lead to the current world. It involved robots. That’s about all I know about it from reading the book. Building on that could have been a great way to show more of the world and to explain some of the other stuff. The cannibalistic Eaters, the Broot, the rogue robots, even the climate being messed up all seems to stem from this one set of events. How? It’s mostly waved away as people going too far and it blowing up in their faces, but that’s not satisfying and ,again, leads to this feeling like the start of a series.

There’s also not a lot going on here in the character department. Frost is our ingénue main character innocent, naïve, and just out to save her pet but she doesn’t really seem to change or grow in the course of the book. She’s out in the world for the first time in her life, finds out all this life changing stuff, deals with some seriously messed up situations, but then at the end she’s not a more mature character or more aware. She’s still desperately searching for the same thing she was at the beginning of the book and with not a lot of change in the tone of it.

But she inspires hope in people who meet her, that’s got to count for something, right? Not so much. The side characters she inspires hope in, Flynn and Barrow, are initially written as being hardened by the world they live in and the tragedies of their pasts. Then in comes this random girl, who is super sure that if she can just reach this mythical place she’ll be able to save her pet. She’s so sure of this thing that they both think is impossible at best that they both start believing in hope again. Flynn this could work with if it was done better. He’s the same age as Frost and, despite his tragic back story, is given several moments where he’s shown to want something to believe in. His father, Barrow, not so much. Barrow’s arc feels like it was cut short, which is unfortunate, it was a pretty standard “guy wants to protect his kid even if it means doing questionable things” but it felt more grounded than any of the other character arcs.

A lot of my issues boil down to being issues about character work or world building. There’s a lot of potential to Frost, lots of interesting ideas. In a few instances there’s a quality pay off to an idea established earlier, but there isn’t enough of that for the book as it stands. The book is also very simple both in how it deals with its characters and how the reader is fed how characters feel, almost to the point of it just being straight up telling. In a more solidly written book that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem, but here it goes back to feeling like the author had so many ideas that he didn’t have time to develop any of them.

That’s kind of where I ultimately land on Frost. It’s way too underdeveloped, if Kozlowsky had taken any one of the ideas he introduced here and focused on it the book could have been fantastic. Most of the other issues I had could have been forgiven if the story had been tighter. As it stands though everything is too scattered and underdone so what could have been a solid three to four book winds up being a two out of five, not because it offends me but because it needed so much more work. I might give Kozlowsky’s writing another shot down the road, but it would need to be a book that I’d heard good things about.

Confession time. I know this is the full name for the movie, so I’m only assuming that it’s also the novelization’s proper title. If anyone knows, give me a heads up. Anyway. There’s a review to kick off my throwing so, so many words at the new Ghostbusters. Enjoy!

Ghostbusters Answer the Call cover

Dr. Erin Gilbert has moved past the strangeness of her childhood. She’s respected in her field, up for tenure at Columbia University, and then some guy shows up with a copy of the book she thought she’d buried. To protect her safe, normal life Erin’s going to have to confront her former friend Abby and her new co-worker Holtzmann. Confront them and then wind up working with them once she’s booted from Columbia and determined once again to prove the existence of ghosts to prove she isn’t lying or insane. Strange things are happening in New York and it’s going to be up to the Ghostbusters to get to the bottom of it.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the 2016 movie, was one of my favorite recent movies. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means but it’s solidly entertaining and a lot of fun. This isn’t a review of the movie though, this is about the novelization by Nancy Holder. This bit is mostly here to point out that I’m not really reviewing the story here, I like the story it gets a four out of five from me. This is mostly going to be me talking about the writing itself.

One of the big differences here is that the novelization has a set main narrator where the movie is more of a group thing. Erin Gilbert is the decided lead of the novelization, she’s the one we’re following and it’s her head we’re stuck in for the bulk of the story. That’s both a positive and a negative. Being in Erin’s head lets us dig a lot more into her character stuff it makes it very clear that she’s got anxiety and serious issues with needing validation from the most conventionally normal people possible. That’s fantastic and is both heavily supported by her back story as well as doing a fantastic job informing her actions in the story proper. The flip side to being in Erin’s head is that she’s not an incredibly likeable character here, she’s judgy and picky and can be just generally unpleasant. I do feel like a lot of that comes from the  writing itself. Erin’s thoughts have this weird stilted diction to them that would have been great if she was one of several leads, it is really notable and feels fairly technical in a lot of places. Unfortunately it can put me in mind of “not like other girls” YA protagonists.

That’s actually kind of a thing with the writing throughout the book, it can feel very like a bad young adult novel when it’s at its worst. There’s a couple scenes that do nothing for the book where Erin talks to other, basically one off, female characters and they feel very like something that would pop up in bad YA. These one off characters exist to mock Erin, and to a lesser degree the other Ghostbusters, which serves to reinforce her not fitting in but the scene doesn’t really work because they have no bearing on anything. Another bad YA moment is when Kevin is introduced and Erin’s brain literally stops working for a paragraph or so. Points for her losing interest as she realizes how incredibly dumb Kevin is.

I feel like I’m being unfair to the main character here. I sort of am. These moments are pretty spaced out and the unlikablilty would probably not be nearly as much a thing for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. What’s it like when other characters get the spot light? There were some bits before Patty joins the party and towards the end with the other Ghostbusters as the point of view characters. I would have loved to see more of that. We also have several short bits throughout with Rowan, the antagonist. Those have a lot of the same bad YA feel, but they work a lot better for me because Rowan is a character that I’ve known people who were like that. He thinks he’s much better than anyone else, that his station in life is an unfairness inflicted upon him by the innumerable fools he must constantly suffer. That whole feel ties in really well to his driving thing being, essentially, revenge against the world as a whole. Rowan is stilted and full of himself in ways that can often throw a fantastic dark mirror to Erin. I adore that. The idea that, in another iteration of the story, their places could have been swapped interests me. Though, I do feel like more could have been done with him to solidify that and make him a bit less cartoony.

What this all boils down to is that, while Holder does some fantastic character work that I would have absolutely loved to have seen more of on more characters, the same character work can come across as more than a little juvenile. And that can be jarring. There’s a section that I actually read like five times featuring Holtzmann and Patty that was really good, it made me wish there was more of them in the book. It felt like a genuine moment for both of them and, after so much Erin angsting over her past mistakes, it felt really good to just have them getting to know each other. As with many things I’ve mentioned here, I would have really enjoyed more of that kind of moment during the quiet points of the plot.

So, I’ve already said at the beginning that I enjoyed the story. I’ve talked a lot about the writing itself being solid but cartoony or overly exaggerated, about it needing a little more. That’s kind of what decides it for me. Ultimately I would read Nancy Holder’s writing again whether another movie novelization or original fiction, but the need for just a little more in a lot of the character work leaves Ghostbusters: Answer the Call with a three out of five all told.

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.