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review 2018-01-17 03:26
Creepy premise that pushes the edge of kid-appropriate horror
Shadow Weaver - MarcyKate Connolly

Disclaimer: reviewing uncorrected digital proof via NetGalley

 

This story had some really interesting ideas but didn't hold my attention as well as I'd have liked. The relationship between the main character and her shadow (invisible friend?) is interesting, unique, and offers some unusual opportunities to show a story from a very interior perspective. I really liked the setup and premise. Adult readers will very quickly pick up on the fact that the shadow is a rather suspicious character, but if kids take a little longer to clue in, it still shapes up a nicely creepy, ominous and dark fantasy/horror-lite atmosphere. The setting is that vaguely Medieval Europe-ish world of stone manors/castles and rural cottages, which is a draw for some readers, but tends to be a little light on worldbuilding because it relies on familiar tropes.

 

The threats that launch the adventure felt unlikely; I just didn't buy into the parents' nastiness or the risk of kidnapping by enemy agents. Other child characters were handled well (kids with powers/light-magic boy & power-radar girl) but adults faded into the background. Which, to a certain degree, is fine in kidlit, because the story has to be driven by the child characters, but I felt like it stole some of the intensity, depth, and motivation from the story. As the first book in a series, it seems to be setting things up, without high enough stakes or a shocking enough reveal for my taste. However, an age-appropriate reader might not have the same reaction, and would probably experience the atmosphere and threats as more creepy. 

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review 2018-01-01 05:25
M.F.K. (graphic novel) by Nilah Magruder
M.F.K.: Book One - Nilah Magruder

A tweet from Magruder saying that "it's asexual AF" put this on my radar. I took this to mean that there was an explicitly identified asexual character. Um... If there is, then it's not in this volume. I haven't read the webcomic, which includes a fourth chapter that wasn't published in this book, so maybe it's in that chapter? That said, those looking for romance-free graphic novels may want to check this out. (I sincerely hope that Magruder didn't think "romance-free" and "asexual" are the same thing.)

The story: Jaime and his grandfather find and injured girl named Abbie and her dying moa mount just as a sandstorm is starting. They take her back to the little town of Marigold (and kill the mount as a mercy) so Jaime's aunt can fix her up. The town has been repeatedly attacked by Parasai, people with special powers who take what they want and then leave. Abbie

ends up fighting back when a Parasai breaks her mom's urn - it turns out that Abbie is a Parasai too. Instead of asking her to stay and help protect the town, the mayor and the other townspeople drive her out. Jaime decides to go with her.

(spoiler show)


That's literally the whole volume. I've seen indications that this might just be the first volume of a series, and that could be the case if Magruder continues the webcomic and future chapters are published in a second volume, but there's nothing on this one physical volume to tell readers that it's just volume 1 of a larger story. It's a shame, because M.F.K. felt extremely skimpy on its own and wouldn't hold up well at all as a one-shot.

To be honest, I wasn't really impressed with this. First there was the disappointment of not getting the explicitly identified ace character that I expected, then there was the moa mount that I believe got another enthusiastic tweet, despite it dying almost immediately after it appeared. And the people of Marigold were idiots who seemed determined to doom their town to a slow and painful death.

Then there was Abbie herself (by the way, for those who are interested, Abbie wears a hearing aid, so there's explicit disability rep even if there isn't explicit ace rep). I have no clue, after reading this volume, what her goals were, or why she was traveling. Was she taking

her mother's ashes

(spoiler show)

to a particular place, or just aimlessly traveling with them? Although all the mysteries surrounding Abbie should have made me want to read more about her, I found that I was more interested in Jaime, who had a much clearer goal than Abbie (get out of dying Marigold and see the world).

I really wanted to love this, but instead I was just vaguely disappointed by it.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-12-20 19:32
Classic fantasy for fans of Medieval-ish settings, royalty romances
Ever the Brave - Erin Summerill

Disclaimer: reviewing an uncorrected proof via NetGalley, so there may be differences from the final version.

 

Those of you who follow my reviews may remember I was disappointed in Ever the Hunted, the first book in this duology. While I was in love with the cover art, I felt like the story was underwhelming and the language use was odd. But I also like to give debut authors another shot to see how they grow, and since I'd already asked for Ever the Brave on NetGalley, I went ahead and zipped through this draft as well.

 

I'm happy to say that Ever the Brave does show growth and improvements over Ever the Hunted. In a way, Ever the Brave suffers from being a lot of set up for the series, and Ever the Hunted delivers on more magic and more interesting handling of characters. Maybe I'm acclimating to the unusual language choices or something, but I also felt it read more smoothly. Some nuanced, insightful handlings of the MC, love interest and, in particular, the young king, with regards to relationships with power, politics, belonging and identity. As before, the romance subplot overshadows the greater story to the extent that there's just not the sense of tension I'd like to see. But the romance also felt better developed and more natural than in book 1. Also, the action/fight scenes are some of the book's best writing, with both clarity and tension.

 

I'd recommend this duology for fans of classic fantasy (Medievalish kingdom setting, elements-based powers, politics/coups and royalty romances) who want to have that itch scratched. The books don't do much that's new, but for a certain audience, they don't need to. It wasn't a right-fit for me, but I'm reading on the upper end of YA, and I think this would do better with younger/newer readers in the genre, maybe teens just graduating from MG fantasy. Only about a 2.5 personally, but I'm bumping the score because it's a pretty well-produced product that may suit other readers much more.

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review 2017-12-13 15:45
A short read recommended for those who prefer psychological rather than gory frights.
Ghosts of Manor House - Matt Powers

I write this review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors check here if you want to get your book reviewed) and thank Rosie Amber and the author for providing me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

The description of the book provides us with a good gist of what the book is about (and it is accurate) but the title itself will stir readers in the right direction. Yes, this is a book about ghosts and it centres on a house. Manor House is a house with plenty of history behind. And Mr. Travels, the old oak tree in its vicinity, has seen its share of events, mostly dark ones.

The book is a ghost story in the best tradition of psychological horror. The clever way in which the story is designed made me think of magicians and sleight of hand artists who misdirect the spectators and create an atmosphere where the most bizarre or magical things can come true. The story is told in the third person and although it mostly tells of the events that happen to the family Wilder, it also has a prologue and an epilogue that beautifully bring the story full circle and incorporate it into the mythology of the house, turning it into a representative of what the house stands for, and of the stories of the rest of its inhabitants. The story is set in the recent past, before social media and mobile phones were the norm, and it is told in the third person, in its majority from the point of view of Edmund Wilder, (although later there are some chapters told from the point of view of his brother-in-law, Charlie), who was a happy husband and father until tragedy stroke and he lost his son, Tommy. His wife is depressed and when she suggests spending a few days at Manor House to have a break and strengthen their family ties, he agrees. The plan is for him to take the opportunity to write the book he has been talking about for ages. The narration is not straightforward. Although the book is pretty short, the reader needs to remain attentive, as Edmund experiences strange events, and his story is interspersed with his writing, that includes stories about the house, a diary where he narrates dreams (sometimes experienced whilst awake and sometimes asleep), and the time frame is not as evident as it might seem at times. Edmund is not a reliable narrator. He interacts with a number of mysterious characters that keep reassuring him that everything is all right, but he is not totally convinced of that. There are moments when he feels that he is not in control of what is happening or what he is writing, but that he is rather a conduit for somebody or something else (Manor House?).

These mysterious characters who work in the house (Lucas, the housekeeper, and the groundskeeper) give him some clues as to what might be really going on, but we experience events through Edmund’s eyes and senses, and although we might be as convinced as he is that things are not right, and we have some extra information (the prologue and later the chapters from Charlie’s point of view), we still feel as lost and puzzled as him.

Matt Powers does a great job of enveloping the story in suggestion and creating intrigue, without using gore descriptions or openly violent scenes. He manages to make the readers autosuggest themselves and creates a psychological atmosphere of disquiet and dread. The fact that we only know some basic facts about the family and the protagonist rather than having a very personalised and detailed portrayal of the individuals and their characteristics helps us immerse ourselves in the story and we can easily identify with the role of observer and writer Edmund takes on (more or less willingly).

The style of the writing is atmospheric and it alternates with stream of consciousness and with descriptive writing of historical events and lore, but as mentioned, due to the state of mind of the character whose point of view we share in, it needs to be followed closely and it is not a light and easy read.

The author explains that he intended to pay homage and create his own version of the horror stories about ghosts and haunted houses he loves, and in my opinion, he is successful. Fans of horror stories will find plenty of nods to stories and authors who have written in the genre and will enjoy that aspect as much as the story itself. Although I did not find the novel scary or the ending surprising per se, it is eerie and it does a good job of exploring the psychology of anxiety and fear, while at the same time touching on the themes of loss, grief, guilt, and the toll losing a child can have on family relationships.

A short read recommended for those who prefer their frights more psychological and less gory in nature. And I agree with the author’s chosen quote by Dean Koontz:

Houses are not haunted. We are haunted, and regardless of the architecture with which we surround ourselves, our ghosts stay with us until we ourselves are ghosts.

 Another author to keep a close eye on.

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review 2017-09-22 23:06
Darkover Landfall
Darkover Landfall - Marion Zimmer Bradley

Erf. I've started re-reading this series, because I remember how much I loved it when I was a teenager... but damn, I didn't remember this one was so bad. (Or is it because I sometimes used to like shite as a teenager, and that was part of it?)

The story in itself is not uninteresting, all the more since it's THE origins book in the Darkover series, but the relationships... especially the way women are viewed and treated... Wow. That was one special level of bad.

I can sort of accept a patriarchal society, women being treated as wombs, etc. in the more 'medieval-like' novels of the series, because 1) it fits a certain conception of 'dark ages obscurantism', as cliché as that may be, and 2) as far as I remember, in those books, it was often presented as something that isn't so good: while it does remain infuriating, it's part of the conflict underlying those narratives.

Here, though, in a group of engineers, colonists, space crew, scientists, where men and women have similar levels of skills, with gender equality laws on Earth? Nope. Doesn't sit with me. Especially not as soon as pregnancies enter the picture, and give yet another reason for males (and some women!) to be patronising, chalk every reaction to 'she's pregnant', veer towards gaslighting at times (because obviously, the guys in the story know better than Judy Lovat who's the father of her child), and go spouting crap about how not wanting children is some sort of mental illness. Camilla's arc was particularly painful, because, yes, she is being reduced to a walking womb, what's with the doctor even threatening to sedate her during her pregnancy (actually, it does happen once), like some kind of stupid, ignorant being who needs to be locked for her own good. Empowering much, right?

So basically, you get accidentally pregnant (not through any fault of hers—ghost wind was to blame, same for her partner), while you thought your contraceptive was doing its job, you don't want to have a child, but you're denied an abortion. OK. Not cool. In the context of colonists stranded on a hostile planet, that poses an interesting conundrum (= it's obvious that either they need to spawn as much as possible, or they'll die in one or two generations). However, was it really necessary to lay it in such rude and demeaning ways? The Battlestar Galactica reboot has a similar subplot, but the episode about it was at least treated with much more gravitas and moral ambiguity.

It is also important to note that, no, Camilla didn't sign up for this, so treating her as a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum was inappropriate. Putting it back into context: she's an engineer and programmer, she signed up to be part of the ship's crew during the trip, not to be a colonist meant to help populate a new planet. And even in the event of staying on that colony, it would've been in a society where she would've had a few years to make the decision.

(spoiler show)



I have no idea if anyone considers this book as a 'feminist' work, but if you do, please stop. This is not feminist, it's patriarchy at its worst: insidious.

[To be fair, I didn't remember this book as being the best in the series either, nor my favourite at all, so I'm still going to try rereading 2-3 others.]

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