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review 2018-11-15 17:58
"The Elementals" by Michael McDowell
The Elementals - Michael Rowe,Michael McDowell

If you're looking for a deeply atmospheric, well-written and perfectly narrated novel to fill you with an inexorable dread, "The Elementals" is the book for you.

 

"The Elementals" has a remarkably powerful, cliché-free start, that embeds your imagination in the South like a throwing knife splitting a rotting log. What better way to start than with a funeral that goes from dire and depressing to deeply disturbing in a few pages.

 

I'd never read Michael McDowell before but I wasn't surprised to learn later that he was an excellent screenwriter.  The style of"The Elementals" is cinematic in a lots-of-close-ups, see-the-motes-in-the-sunlit-air lighting and strange but intimate camera angles kind of way.

 

The characters, especially Luker and his preciously independent daughter India are engaging and believable. Despite being unconventional people (Luker came from around hear but he raised his daughter in New York City so you can't exactly expect them to be normal, can you?) become the anchor points for sanity in a world that is sliding towards the lethally strange with the slow grace of an unmoored house sliding of a cliff into the sea.

 

The heat becomes almost a character in the story in its own right. India discovers for the first time the heat and humidity induced languor of the South that bends time and alter perceptions. Luker explains to her that this hot humid coastal resort of Beldame is:

"...a low energy place. The kind of place where you can only get one or two things done in a day and one of those is getting out of bed."

 

Not surprisingly, the horror in this book is of the slow but deeply disturbing kind. It seemed to me that the dread in this book had a pulse: slow and strong, like an ambush predator waiting on a branch.

 

Having this atmospheric tale delivered to my ear in R.C. Bray's gravelly but insistent voice was a remarkable reading experience.

 

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review 2018-11-13 18:34
Review: A List of Cages
A List of Cages - Robin Roe

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

Not something I would probably have picked myself, I got one of those pre approval emails from Netgalley for this one. Since I never get approved for anything by Disney Hyperion I jumped at the chance to try something they were offering.

 

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book much.

 

Trigger warnings for extreme abuse – both physical and mental.

 

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, I did skim a few reviews on Goodreads before-hand so I was aware of the subject matter. The novel deals with two different boys who were once friends, despite a few years age difference. Quiet and reserved Julian the younger boy, and off the wall Adam. Adam is bright, friendly handsome and very chatty. He has ADHD. Something that’s referenced throughout the novel.

 

Julian lives with his uncle and suffering terrible abuse he keeps hidden. He’s miserable at school, not doing well in his classes, and doesn’t talk to anyone. Adam is popular with lots of friends, not the best student, maybe. He finds himself reconnecting with Julian when he gets a job as an assistant to the school psychologist and has to collect students to go to their appointments – Julian is one of those students.

 

We learn that they spent some time living together some years ago after the sudden and unexpected deaths of Julian’s parents. Adam and his mom became Julian’s foster family. Until Julian’s uncle showed up.

 

The uncle is a monster. I can’t even go into the level of manipulative torture he inflicts. It’s gut wrenching and horrible to read. I just wanted to hug Julian and keep him safe. He finds solace in Adam and his friends, who include him as one of their own. And they all get involved and help when things start going south and they discover what’s going on at Julian’s home and try and remove him from it. Uncle is slipping and becoming more off balance and cruel.

 

One thing I really liked was the sense of friendship and togetherness of Adam and Julian and how Adam’s friends helped Julian fit in and open up again.

 

There was just something about this book that wasn’t working for me. And I think it mostly had to do with the fact that every adult in this book was a villain of some sort. The teachers were mean, Julian’s teachers seemed to single him out, the psychologist wouldn’t listen, the police when they were involved were bullies who wouldn’t help. Adam’s mom was portrayed as the only competent adult. She had some odd ideas about how to handle Adam’s ADHD – herbal remedies instead of proper medication?!? I know nothing about ADHD so I shouldn’t judge but that doesn’t sound right.

 

The novel had its moments, but I didn’t really enjoy it all that much.  The writing had some potential, so I would definitely read this author again.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Disney Hyperion for the pre-approval email.

 

 

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text 2018-11-08 21:56
Late entry to Halloween Bingo
Devil May Care - Elizabeth Peters

I picked this one up for Southern Gothic (it's set in Virginia, so near enough), but real life and the Red Sox got in the way and I've only just started it.

 

And all I can say is I hope Henry dies a horrible death. He is awful. Run Ellie, run.

 

Of course the edition I have (ancient library copy) isn't in the Booklikes database. Published in 1977 by Dodd, Meade and Co. ISBN# 0-396-07413-8

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-11-07 21:36
Review: The Belles
The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I read this book twice in a relatively short few months space of time and even after two reads I’m still unsure how I feel about it. This is one of those uber hyped books that I saw all over my Twitter feed and Goodreads. Needless to say it very high up on my highly anticipated reads.

 

So I was very excited when my review request was approved. Only to find that…I wasn’t blown away by it as I had hoped. There was something about the world building that made me very uncomfortable, and I didn’t particularly like the main character much. I found her annoying and childish, the villain cartoony and the barely there romance was completely unnecessary in my opinion.

 

I didn’t feel comfortable reviewing after the first time I read it since I couldn’t put enough thoughts together on whether or not I really liked the book or not. I did wind up buying a finished copy (cover love among reasons) and reading it again a few months later.  It’s still taken me months later to finally put a review together.

 

The novel is set in a fictional kingdom where above all else beauty is the most prized thing in the world. There’s a really interesting origins story at the start of the novel explaining about the Goddess of Beauty and her spurned jealous husband and how the people of the kingdom came to be, and how they were all born grey and ugly. As a gift to the people the Goddess created Belles, who have the power to make people beautiful. Belles are born into each generation. They are revered and worshipped, when the Belles reach sixteen they are presented to society, and Royal Court. In each generation of Belles one is announced as a Favourite and she works at the Palace for the Royals.

 

In this generation, there are 6 Belles we meet on the eve of their presentation into Society. The heroine, Camellia yearns to be chosen as Favourite. It’s all very opulent and glamorous. The excitement is evident in the writing. One thing I really liked was how close all the Belle girls were, they were sisters who adored and loved each other – no obvious dislike or rivalry. They’ve grown up together, learned their gifts together, and support each other. There’s arguments of course, it’s not all harmonious, but the camaraderie between the girls was lovely.

 

Once the Belles make their debut, votes are cast and the Favourite is announced. Not the result anyone expected, the girls are sent to different Tea Houses where they will perform their services. Belle services are highly prized, and the girls live in extravagant luxury.  However, there are very strict rules they must live by – one is they are not to be alone with a male outside of beauty appointments. They cannot fall in love. Yet in a brief moment of weakness when Camellia is caught alone – she finds herself talking to a handsome young man. Someone she finds herself meeting again and again at odd moments. Feelings start to develop.

 

I think it’s supposed to hint at Camellia’s curiosity – she’s never been alone with a boy before, there’s new emotions to explore. The banter between them is amusing, the boy, Auguste, is quick witted, handsome and appears intelligent. He’s bringing out new ideas in Camellia she’s never thought about. To this reader, it was eye rolling, annoying and unnecessary. She finds herself rather lose lipped about him as well. Things she’s not supposed to tell anyone have a strange habit of spilling past her lips before she can stop herself.

 

While the world building is certainly glamorous, rich and elegant, and with hints of some fancy technology mixing in with the fantasy setting there was something very uncomfortable about it, at least in my opinion. I just couldn’t get on board with a society that is just obsessed with looks. People go to Belles to get themselves beautified anyway they want – though there are trends and rules and endless amounts of Belle products to make the client’s beauty dream come true. Though it appears Belle treatments are not without pain. People don’t seem to care. Though I must admit – if I had the option of a Belle – hell, I would probably take it.

 

Camellia settles into her own new routine, she’s worked very hard. Though she learns things in the new tea house she’s assigned to. There’s secrets about the Belles from the generations before her, she hears strange crying in the night and no one will answer her questions. One thing I liked about Camellia was she didn’t take things at face value – she asks questions, she investigates when things are off and she doesn’t let things drop. She’s definitely strong willed and inquisitive. On the other hand though, she’s very rash and impulsive, also bull headed and stubborn. Normally impulsive and stubborn is a trait I admire in my heroines, but there were some of Camellia’s actions that just irritated the hell out of me and came across as childish more than anything. After all, she has lived a very sheltered life and probably doesn’t know how to control herself in certain situations.

 

Something else about the Belles also bothered me – even though they have the most sort after gifts in the kingdom, their power is beholden by everyone – even Royalty doesn’t have the magic the bells do. Yet the Belles are not…free. They live their lives according to the strict rules set out by others – they are not allowed to use their magic as they see fit. They are worked until they are exhausted. They don’t get to make their own choices in a lot of things. Services are bought and paid for. They may live in the lap of luxury but it seems to come at a price. And as the plot progresses, some of this seems to sink into Camellia. Is being a Belle really all it’s cracked up to be?

 

Things for Camellia change and she finds herself voted the new Favourite and shipped off to the palace to work for the Royal family – the Queen and her daughter, Princess Sophia.  The Queen is getting ready to announce her Royal Heir – the oldest daughter – Princess Charlotte has been in a coma for several years. No one knows why and no one knows what causes it.  Torn between the desire to be the best Favourite she can be and the burning questions about what happened to the previous Favourite, Camellia finds herself getting to grips with the pressures of living in the Palace. Princess Sophia appears to be rebellious and rule breaking – she can be very very generous – but she can be a viper.

 

There are more mysteries and the Queen has a special mission for Camellia regarding saving Princess Charlotte. Princess Sophia is to be announced as Heir if Charlotte can’t be woken, and no one wants Sophia as Queen – she’s manipulative and cruel to an almost cartoon villain level of giddy evilness, and her crowd of Ladies in Waiting and court friends are forced to go along with her, no matter how mean or awful. They are punished terribly if not.

 

Nothing is simple and there’s more mysteries to solve. And it doesn’t help matters when the truth about who Auguste really is comes to light as well. The more Camellia learns about Sophia the more horrified she becomes. The mystery of Princess Charlotte is begging to be solved as well – I certainly have my theories about that one! More questions, hardly any answered. And Camellia is not the only Belle who has been digging into things.

 

Things take a bad turn before the end. The plot is a little slow in the middle but picks up towards the end.

 

There’s also a really interesting author’s note about the end which explains a little bit about the inspiration behind the story and helped tremendously in making sense of the fact that the world building made me so uncomfortable. I understand a lot more now about the overall message behind the book.

 

I can’t say even after two reads I particularly liked this book, but I am very interested to see where this is going to go story wise. Camellia irritated me a lot throughout the book but she did show enough growth over all that I want to know what happens next.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for approving my request to view the title.

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text 2018-11-04 23:05
Halloween Bingo 2018 | That's a Wrap!

This post is definitely a couple days late, but I had my reasons, so I'm rolling out all the final Halloween Bingo reviews and updates and have hopefully caught up with myself now.  As I'd stated in a previous update post, I tried to remain off the grid for a while in an attempt to finish the rest of my Halloween Bingo books.

Frankly, I'd stopped counting Bingos the week prior to the end of the game.  My main goal was finishing reading books.

I managed to finish one last Halloween Bingo book, The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins, about four hours after midnight, November 1st.  It may not count towards Halloween Bingo in terms of timeline, but I count it as a personal success.  Honestly, I could have ditched both The Haunted Hotel and Midnight Blue-Light Special, and inserted two short stories by Edgar Allan Poe to finish with a Blackout.  I have a volume sitting on my bookshelf with randomly bookmarked stories I'm interested in.  And his books would be able to fill the 'Classic Horror' square AND the 'Creepy Raven Free Space' just fine.

But I was stubbornly refusing to give up on The Haunted Hotel... which I managed NOT to finish before October came to an end, mainly because I'd been so exhausted from the past few evenings at work that I kind of just passed out after dinner and slept through until I suddenly awakened at 2:30 A.M. on November 1st and decided to just read.

 

le sigh... even the best laid plans have other plans in mind...


But moving right along...

I cannot stop expressing how much I love these reading games at Booklikes, which have, more than once, brought me out of a full reading slump.  This year my reading slump was probably the worst it's been in a very long time, starting up sometime in February... and continuing on until June when I tried to marathon Jayne Ann Krentz books... and then dipping again until right before Halloween Bingo started up.

 


So once again, a big thank you to Moonlight and Obsidian!  I'm prepping myself for Halloween Bingo 2019 already!

While September was still a slow month for me, in terms of average books read (as well as quality), October was a month of wonders as I pretty much increased my number of books read times two.

September:  8 books read
October:  17 books read

Meanwhile, I also discovered a few new authors I'd love to continue reading from!  In my book, that is one of the biggest pluses about Halloween Bingo--discovering new-to-me authors, and lots of new books to add to that ever-growing TBR!

In a nutshell, I decided to wrap up this post with some stats as well as The Good, The Bad, and The Meh--books I liked or loved, books that were sorely disappointing, and books that were just okay.

 

 

The Card

 


Nothing really changed from the last time I updated.  Since I technically didn't finish reading The Haunted Hotel before the end of the game, I didn't earn that one last Bingo in the first column.  It wouldn't have made much of a difference since without that middle square being read (which should have been the easiest one to finish), I'm short four Bingos and one Blackout.

But no matter!

I've got 23 books read and 23 squares completed with 7 total Bingos to appease me!

 

 

The Good

 

 


As I'd already stated, I discovered a lot of new authors I'm very interested in continuing to read from.  While there were some pretty disappointing books these past two months, there were fortunately more than enough enjoyable ones to make up for it.

I found an author that made me super giddy to continue reading in Seanan McGuire's Discount Armageddon.  I found a strong, intriguing, fast-paced cozy mystery with LynDee Walker's Nichelle Clarke series--three books of which I read for Halloween Bingo.  Jasper Fforde is an author I've always had my eye on, and after reading The Big Over Easy, I will definitely be picking up more books by him.  I enjoyed The Name of the Star much more than I'd expected.

Then there were my typical go to authors: Laura Griffin and Jayne Ann Krentz.  Finally, Barbara Michaels is an author I'm still following since I started reading her in last year's Halloween Bingo.

 

 

The Bad

 


I think, in terms of quality of books read, September's reads were the more disappointing ones.  I'd been looking forward to Nora Roberts' Circle trilogy, if only because I like her Romantic Suspense books, and because all three books potentially fit several possible squares on the Bingo Card.  Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting into them and they felt repetitive.  How I finished them was a bit of a miracle in itself.

Same goes for Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright, in that I think I probably would have abandoned it if not for it being a Flat Book Society read that I stubbornly wanted to finish.  The Splendour Falls was only easy to finish because I listened to it as an audio book during my drives to work and back.  Secret Admirer's only good point was that it was a quick, bite-sized read.

 

 

The Meh

 


These books were neither excitingly awesome, nor were they really terrible.  My favorite of these might actually be Spinning Silver, if only because the writing is wonderful.  But the drag of the story, and the chaos of the multiple first person POVs kind of played a disadvantage to it, so I couldn't quite love it, even if I didn't dislike it.

 

 

The "I Don't Know Where to Put This One"


Because I'm still reeling from the ending weeks later and still cannot say whether or not I liked it... for reasons.

 

 


Yeah... I don't know how to feel about this one.  I still feel kind of blindsided, but I'm not sure whether it was a GOOD feeling of being blindsided (if that even exists), or a bad way...

 

 

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