Tag Archive: book review


This was later than planned, still working on fixing that. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. Here’s James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher. Enjoy!

Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher cover

Dead Jack, the best zombie detective in Shadow Shade, saved Pandemonium from certain destruction. It was totally him. The cost was high though, Oswald hasn’t woken up since her took the blast from the Pandemonium Device exploding. Without Oswald there Jack’s fallen off the wagon, spending his days in a haze of dust and Devil Boy. He hasn’t had a case in weeks. Lucky for Jack an old army buddy from his living days, Garry, has tracked him down with the promise of finding their souls. Just, get someone to translate the diary Garry stole, find the alchemist who has their souls, and dodge the neo-Nazis that want to use his sidekick to wipe out Pandemonium. Nothing difficult for the best zombie detective in Shadow Shade. Right?

Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher follows a book that I enjoyed a great deal, removes a big chunk of what I liked about it, and still leaves me waiting for the next book. The last book gave us a noir style detective with all the tropes associated, but then never tried to make him right or to present his behavior as correct. Dead Jack is a massive jerk, and that’s great because he gets called on it. Here though, Oswald is out of the picture so that element of humanization is absent. Instead we get more of Dead Jack the character instead of Dead Jack the plot device, we get into his history as he’s forced to deal with feelings and memories and a lot of things that he generally doesn’t.

A lot of Jack’s memories tie into his time in World War 2, particularly dealing with his death and the horrific experiments visited upon him. The way he became Dead Jack. This works pretty fantastically to show the reader more about the man Jack had been, especially when that man and the zombie we know don’t line up quite right. That’s a fantastic draw for me. Tie it in with Dead Jack seeming to soften up to his companions a little and I’m excited to see where his characterization goes from here.

Now, the group of neo-Nazis who had been experimenting on him follow Garry into the story. They’re after the diary and him again, but more than that, they want Oswald as part of a plan to steal all the souls in Pandemonium. They are the biggest threat of the book, bigger than dark elf prison guards or giant spiders or the devil himself. They have the ability to potentially bring Pandemonium to its knees. They’re weirdly obsessed with their uniforms and how nice they are. The book manages to strike a balance between making it clear that they’re fanboys for the original Nazis and that that is ridiculous and making it clear that they are an actual threat to Pandemonium and very dangerous. It also makes it incredibly satisfying when they get punched.

Much like Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device this isn’t a super serious book and it plays with familiar tropes. I enjoy it all the more for that. This was a fun read, it maintains the quality of the first book, and it leaves me impatient for the next one. So, yeah, Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher gets a five out of five. If James Aquilone keeps this up he’s going to wind up one of my favorite authors.

Advertisements

Free Chocolate

Sorry about taking so long on this one. I had a lot to say but not a great way of saying any of it without spoiling the last third of the book badly. I feel like there’s a lot here that I want to flesh out elsewhere, since that would entail spoilers. In any case, this one’s courtesy of netGalley. Here’s Free Chocolate. Enjoy!

Free Chocolate cover

After the alien Krom made first contact Earth was left with one unique commodity, chocolate. Everyone in the galaxy adores the stuff and will do whatever it takes to get their hand equivalents on it. To protect itself Earth has closed its doors to the greater universe, no aliens allowed. In light of that and recent pirate attacks resulting in the accidental destruction of a civilian ship by and HGB pilot, culinary student Bodacious Benitez is summoned back to Earth to serve as the face of HGB, the Princess of Chocolate. Face of the company or not Bo has long disagreed with HGB’s methods and, with her Krom boyfriend’s help, is going to do everything she can to break HGB’s monopoly and bring chocolate to the universe.

I have a lot of thoughts on Amber Royer’s Free Chocolate. There was a lot of stuff that I feel like could have been fun and some stuff that I feel like needed more focus to work at all. More than anything, I feel like the book lacks focus. There are a number of places in Free Chocolate where it feels like Royer had three or four ideas for a book but not enough for any single one of them, so she kind of stitched them together. Things happen and don’t seem to have any consequences. There’s some stuff that gets talked about not at all, but then both Bo and the reader are expected to just roll with it. It feels disjointed.

A lot of this is down to how the book deals with its timeline. It takes ages for Bo to actually get into space and on the run from Tyson, the space cop, and then it seems like the action is constantly interrupted. There’s the corporate assassin who calls Bo repeatedly to remind her that there’s only so long until he has to hurt her family. There’s cooking for aliens while on the run and being terrified of said aliens. It slows things to a crawl and makes the book super easy to put down

There is also a linguistic thing that I feel slows Free Chocolate down as well, it also contributed to it being pretty easy to put down. There’s a number of alien languages mentioned as being spoken and a handful of words used when Bo doesn’t know them. It’s just sort of tagged and let go. But then Bo is a native Spanish speaker so, while I would expect some Spanish to be used, it’s done largely in a way that feels like the author is reminding the reader of that rather than as a natural part of how she talks. It’s this sort of immersion breaking thing that Bo never says but or head, it’s always pero or cabeza, or she’ll use a phrase and then immediately provide the translation. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of this happens in Bo’s internal monologue, so she winds up translating for an audience she shouldn’t be aware of. I feel like leaving the phrases without the extra translation could have worked well. Bo referring to Brill using various terms of endearment worked really well, I thought. It just sort of feels strange that we get more translating for the existent Earth language than the handful of alien languages.

All of that boils down to it being kind of hard to care about the characters and what’s happening to them. Bo is on the run from a massive corporation with an assassin threatening her family and a venomous space cop on her tail. She’s stuck surrounded by aliens that could easily eat her if she messes up while her boyfriend may have been playing her this whole time. All of that, with all the interruptions and characters dropping in and out in an attempt to keep the drama level high, and I really just could have cared less. Like, the pilot who’s accident kicked off the plot, he’s given this level of importance within Bo’s story that is usually saved for major side characters, love interests or best friends. But after she leaves Earth, he takes a background spot for the vast majority of the story. This is the guy she’s essentially willing to trade her life for, they knew each other for two or three days, tops. Brill, the alien boyfriend, swaps between being super loving and sketchy to no end. It’s like the story couldn’t make up its mind about if he was one of the antagonists, just using Bo to get a hold of the cacao beans, or if he legitimately cares about her and is doing something at least sort of heroic. That leaves the reader to decide about him right up until the end, but then there’s this attempt at explaining his behavior in context of Krom society, but he had not wanted to talk to Bo about Krom society so neither she nor the reader knows anything about it until then. It just doesn’t work for me. I’d have liked to have seen more of the space cop, especially the post Bo stowing away version of him, and Chestla, the cat girl TA, though. They were pretty entertaining.

The galley crew on the Zantite ship were also interesting and I found myself enjoying the cooking segments. Talking about cooking and food were the parts where Royer’s writing shines best. If this had been more of a science fiction cozy mystery thing and focused more on the food and cooking I think it could have worked better, those scenes are just that enjoyable.

That’s where I land on Free Chocolate I think. There are a lot of first novel issues here, largely in the character work and how scattered the overall plot can feel. There are the bones of something good here, but it exists in the small moments where Bo is allowed to be a chef and interact with other characters on that level. I could see Royer handling the grander scale, galactic conflict stuff after she’s written more fiction. That said, this is a book that I found incredibly easy to put down in favor of doing any number of other things. So, I’m giving Free Chocolate a two out of five with the note that, while I’m not likely to read the inevitable sequel, I might check out another one of Royer’s books later on in her writing career.

I’m later than I meant to be. After spending the first half of the week stressing out and not getting anything done I kind of crashed yesterday and got even more nothing done. I also hit PM instead of AM scheduling it, which it A+. But I’m back now, so it’s all good. This one is thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quills Press. This is Sarah Madsen’s Weaver’s Folly. Enjoy!

Weavers Folly cover

A run gone bad leaves elven thief Alyssa D’Yaragen, Lysistrata when she’s on a run, with a fantastic opportunity. All she has to do is work with the guy who made the last run go bad for her and steal some data from a company. A super high profile mega corporation , Americorp, whose security is guaranteed to give both of them more than a run for their money, but still. The pay and challenge are way too good to pass up. Complicating things somewhat her ex, Tristan, shows up begging forgiveness and offering a too good to be true opportunity for information gathering. More complicated even than a cheating ex are the sparks that fly when she meets gorgeous Seraphina Dubhan, feelings and all that. When she becomes the target of magical attacks any other concerns have to take a back seat to keeping her friends out of the cross fire and surviving. Surviving and, of course, getting the Americorp job done.

I initially found myself comparing Sarah Madsen’s Weaver’s Folly to a number of things, mostly Shadowrun. The whole protagonist is a highly specialized thief in a world with both magic and cyber punk style tech is what does it I think. Magic and technology not working together is also a similarity, but I feel like that is a sort of ground rule thing. You don’t want to give a character supercharged magic powers and a cybernetic body to keep them from getting worn out using them, so it’s a functional limiter in the world of the story.

I like that a lot actually. It separates the main character from a near necessary set of tools and forces her to rely on other characters, particularly Logan.  It also gives her an edge that most other characters simply can’t access while forcing her to keep it a secret. I feel like more weight could be given to the secrecy aspect later in the series, but it does make a degree of sense. I feel like this would go hand in hand with more focus being brought in on the elven aspect of the magic, or the elven aspect of Alyssa.

The characters interest me more than the magic though. There are a few places where the interactions are a bit stiff, but most of those feel like they’re meant to be a little awkward. I like most of the characters and enjoyed seeing Alyssa and Logan working together. I wanted to see more of Alyssa’s roommate and more of Seraphina, the mysterious woman Alyssa winds up crushing on. Alyssa herself has an interesting thing going on with regard to where she belongs between Arcadia and Atlanta. She has people she cares about in both places and both places are part of her. It was interesting to see her think on that some.

Weaver’s Folly feels like a first book in a couple of ways. This is largely due to some clunky exposition early on, a couple of things get explained in a block immediately upon being brought up rather than later where they would have flowed better. The bit with light elves, like Alyssa, and dark elves historically hating each other was a particularly jarring example. I would have liked to have seen more on that throughout, since it seems like it should be important in later books.

That kind of ties into my other issue, there’s this prophecy early on that comes back up a couple of times and it feels like it should tie really heavily into one of the antagonists. It feels like it should but the support for that connection isn’t there, just boom here’s an antagonist. This was really frustrating for me for a lot of reasons, but a lot of it boils down to looking back and seeing places where foreshadowing might have been attempted but wasn’t done well enough or consistently enough to add up to anything. It wound up feeling like it had been shoved in at the end to lead into the next book.

The thing at the end affected my reading of the book more than anything else. Stumbles are an expected thing in the first book in a series. But I flat don’t like it when the end of a book feels like the prologue to the next. That said, there’s enough that Madsen did well in Weaver’s Folly that I was already planning on reading the next one when it comes out. I liked her characters and would have liked to have seen more of them. The separation between cyber punk Atlanta and deeply magical Arcadia is fascinating to me. I’m curious about the specifics of how magic works here. The whole of the book leaves me wanting more and for that, Weaver’s Folly gets a four out of five.

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

Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one was difficult. I try to avoid spoiling the books I review, but then this one had a basic enough plot that there wasn’t a ton to dig into. I had fun with it though. This is another one from First Second books, Mike Lawrence’s Star Scouts: The League of Lasers. Enjoy!

Star Scouts The League of Lasers cover

During a routine troop meeting Avani receives an invitation to join the Star Scouts’ elite secret society, the League of Lasers. It’s the chance of a life time and all she has to do to join them is survive a minor initiation challenge. It wouldn’t be a big deal if she was just trapped on a planet full of hostile frog aliens with no breathable air and dwindling supplies, but the worst possible thing had to happen and land her stranded with her worst enemy, Pam. How will she make it a full week?

I missed the first volume of Mike Lawrence’s Star Scouts, having read The League of Lasers I feel like that is something of an over site. This one does mostly stand alone though, so not having read the first one winds up being mostly a matter of not being familiar with characters instead of missing big chunks of plot or anything of that nature. Plus, I had a ton of fun with reading it anyway.

Let’s start from there. This was a really fun graphic novel that is, at its core, about teamwork and building friendships past misunderstandings. It does that by throwing the two leads in a situation that neither of them are individually able to deal with and letting the emergency situation force them to team up. This is one of those plots that crop of fairly regularly, but I’m a fan of it and enjoy reading it when I come across it. That aside, it’s also a really nifty adventure on an alien world.

The world itself is familiar with forests and mountains and bodies of water, familiar, but just different enough. The fauna is largely big and threatening, because there needs to be an outside threat for our protagonists to face, but they’re also notably alien. That’s actually a pretty big thing with the character design, the aliens look alien. Some of them have more human features or features like earth animals, but all of them have things that make them notably non-human. That’s something that I really enjoyed.

The story itself gives us Avani and Pam having to survive on a world with air one can’t breathe and dwindling supplies. The technologically developed native species is hostile to them, but largely out of fear. I do admit that the turnaround in Avani and Pam’s behavior towards each other feels a little fast, but that can easily be chalked up to the graphic novel being short. They have a number of scenes that sort of fast track them from enemies to teammates and, while quick, they do their job and the two working together is believable and fun. The side plot, with Avani’s Star Scouts troop similarly deals with characters being forced to work together and emphasizes the main plot well.

I am not the target audience for the Star Scouts books, which throws my opinion on this off a bit. The big thing with The League of Lasers is that I had fun with it. It’s a cute sci-fi adventure comic with nifty character designs and a fun story. I would review the next one given the chance. Likewise, if Lawrence ever wrote a sci-fi YA novel I would be tempted to check it out. So, I’m giving it a five out of five.

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.