The Motion of Puppets ~ By Keith Donahue – 3.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Picador for providing an eArc in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: October 4th, 2016

272 Pages

Synopsis: In the old city of Quebec, Kay Harper falls in love with a puppet in the window of the Quatre Mains, a toy shop that is never open. She is spending her summer working as an acrobat with the cirque while her husband, Theo, is translating a biography of the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Late one night, Kay fears that someone is following her home. Surprised to see the lights of the toy shop are on and the door is open, she takes shelter inside.

The next morning Theo wakes up to discover his wife is missing. Under police suspicion and frantic at her disappearance, he obsessively searches the streets of the Old City. Meanwhile, Kay has been transformed into a puppet, and is now a prisoner of the back room of the Quatre Mains, trapped with an odd assemblage of puppets from all over the world who can only come alive between the hours of midnight and dawn. The only way she can return to the human world is if Theo can find her and recognize her in her new form. So begins a duel odyssey: of a husband determined to find his wife, and of a woman trapped in a magical world where her life is not her own.

I absolutely loved Keith Donahue’s The Stolen Child and The Boy Who Drew Monsters, which kept me completely enthralled, so I’ve been really looking forward to The Motion of Puppets. Much to my dismay though, his latest didn’t captivate me like his previous bestsellers. First off, despite the publisher billing this as horror, it’s not. It’s more of a love story mixed with an intriguing mystery and a small dose of suspense. There’s no doubt that Donahue’s writing is elegant and emotional, but there seemed to be something missing here for me. The story and its characters are based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is one of my favorite tragic love stories, but I had difficult connecting to both Kay and Theo. Actually, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t like Kay at all. We’re told how much she and Theo are in love, but once she’s trapped as a puppet she shows little inclination to get back to her husband. I thought Theo was likable, but there wasn’t really anything that made him standout. The mystery behind everything is definitely interesting and it’s what kept me reading. Unfortunately when I arrived at the end, there were several loose ends that were never tied up which left me extremely frustrated. In the end, The Motion of Puppets turned out to be a disappointment for me. That said, I would still recommend this, particularly if you’re a fan of the author’s. As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing what Keith Donahue comes out with next.

The Next ~ By Stephanie Gangi – 4.5 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: October 18th, 2016

320 Pages

Synopsis: Is there a right way to die? If so, Joanna DeAngelis has it all wrong. She’s consumed by betrayal, spending her numbered days obsessing over Ned McGowan, her much younger ex, and watching him thrive in the spotlight with someone new, while she wastes away. She’s every woman scorned, fascinating about revenge…except she’s out of time.

Joanna falls from her life, from the love of her daughters and devoted dog, into an otherworldly landscape, a bleak infinity she can’t escape until she rises up and returns and sets it right–makes Ned pay–so she can truly move on.

From the other side into right this minute, Jo embarks on a sexy, spiritual odyssey. As she travels beyond memory, beyond desire, she is transformed into a fierce female force of life, determined to know how to die, happily ever after.

I have to be honest and admit this was an impulse request from NetGalley. From the synopsis I wasn’t even sure if I was going to like Joanna, but the story sounded very different and quirky, so I went for it. Much to my surprise, I really liked her. Joanna’s pain and anger just radiated off the pages, yet so did her love for her daughters and her poodle, Tom. Her transformation from a caring, compassionate woman to a vengeful, hate-filled ghost, is for the most part understandable and lends a humanizing quality to her. The secondary characters were also richly drawn, even Tom, the poodle, who’s devotion to Joanna extends well beyond her death. You get to see things from both the daughters’ and Ned’s perspectives, which gives you a real sense of who they are. The close relationship that Joanna has with her daughters was beautiful and amazingly I even wound up liking Ned a little near the end. The author’s prose is elegant and flows smoothly right up until the perfect ending. The Next is a very unique mix of literary fiction and ghost story, and I think it’s going to attract a lot of readers once it’s released. I know that I’ll definitely be looking into any future books by Stephanie Gangi.

Rebel Genius ~ By Michael Dante DiMartino – 4.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Roaring Brook Press for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: October 4th, 2016

384 Pages

Synopsis: In twelve-year-old Giacomo’s Renaissance-inspired world, art is powerful, dangerous, and outlawed. Every artist possesses a Genius, a birdlike creature that is the living embodiment of an artist’s creative spirit. Those caught with one face a punishment akin to death, so when Giacomo discovers he has a Genius, he knows he’s in serious trouble.

Luckily, he finds safety in a secret studio where young artists and their Geniuses train in sacred geometry to channel their energies as weapons. But when a murderous artist goes after the three sacred tools–objects that would allow him to destroy the world and everyone in his path–Giacomo and his friends must risk their lives to stop him.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the name Michael Dante DiMartino, he’s the co-creator of the multiple award-winning animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and the sequel The Legend of Korra. So being the geek that I am, I immediately jumped on this as soon as it popped up on NetGalley, especially when I read the premise. I love stories set in renaissance worlds, so I was prepared to be completely captivated, and for the most part I was. I have to be honest and say I thought that the first few chapters were a little slow. It seemed like a lot was thrown in regarding characters and world-building in a very rushed sort of fashion. By the time I had reached the fourth chapter though, things evened out. I was also dismayed that there was just as much an emphasis on geometry as there was art. Of course this was probably due to the fact that I flunked geometry not once but TWICE in high school! Thankfully there are these beautifully drawn sketches provided by the author that not only made this element easier to follow, but also really brought to life the characters and their world. Giacamo is an underdog that I think many kids will relate too. He goes from being an orphan who’s forced to live in the sewers, to realizing he’s an outlaw artist who now has a Genius of his own. Even with all this being thrown at him, he jumps right in and with his new friends, does everything he can to save the world. There is a large cast of characters and some aren’t quite as developed as others. I was especially frustrated with the fact that the villain of the story, the evil Empress barely makes an appearance, and that’s only during the epic battle near the end. I also thought some of the dialogue was sloppily written and came across stilted at times. I was initially going to rate this 3-3 1/2 stars, but what saved this book for me was the uniqueness and gorgeousness of the world-building. Well, that and I REALLY want my own Genius! It’s also extremely fast-paced and filled with swashbuckling fight scenes, which even though it was almost 400 pages, made it a quick read for me. Despite it’s flaws, Rebel Genius is an exciting middle grade adventure that kids will love and will also appeal to creative types and math lovers alike. No, it’s nothing like Avatar, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m quite looking forward to the next book!

Pretty Wicked ~ By Kelly Charron – 5.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Dark Arts Publishing for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: September 30th, 2016

300 Pages

Synopsis: The daughter of a local police detective, fifteen-year-old Ryann has spent most of her life studying how to pull off the most gruesome murders her small town of Colorado has ever seen. 

But killing is only part of it. Ryann enjoys being the reason the cops are frenzied. The one who makes her neighbors lock their doors and windows on a hot summer’s day. The one everyone fears but no one suspects. 

Carving out her own murderous legacy proves harder than she predicted. Mistakes start adding up. And with the police getting closer, and her own father becoming suspicious, Ryann has to prove once and for all that she’s smarter than everyone else–or she’ll pay the ultimate price.

Some people are called to certain things in their life. That’s what hunting is for me. An urge. A desire. The closest thing I have to a calling.

My name is Ryann Wilkanson. I’m fifteen years old.

And I’m a killer.

And with that chilling opening, you know this isn’t going to be your typical YA novel. Oh sure. Ryann may look all perky and polished.

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You know. The cheerleader. The straight-A student. The girl everyone wants to be. But inside she is seriously twisted.

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She’s been planning her first murder since she was nine-years-old and was helping her older sister babysit a neighbor’s annoying little girl. Studying up on serial killers by watching true crime specials, she idolizes the likes of John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper. She dreams of the day when she can start her own reign of terror in her small Colorado town, and now she feels the time is right.

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Starting with the little girl, who’s now twelve, she proceeds to cut a bloody swath through her town, reveling in each kill. But, as the body count rises and Ryann grows more and more confident, she starts making some pretty rudimentary mistakes, and she becomes desperate to turn suspicion away from herself.

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What ultimately shocked me the most about this story, is that in some incredibly bizarre way, I kind of liked Ryann. I actually found myself rooting for her at times. Oh God! I know! That’s just so wrong! Most of the book is told from her perspective so you really get an inside look at what makes her tick. Okay, yes she’s a complete psychopath, but she realizes exactly what she is and is completely comfortable with it. She knows precisely how to play people and also has this wickedly black sense of humor which had me laughing out loud a couple of times, especially when she’s fangirling over famous serial killers. I know how demented that sounds, but trust me. If you decide to read this, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I also felt a little sorry for her. The youngest daughter of a respected police detective, she just can’t seem to step out from under her sister’s shadow. Nothing she does seems good enough, and it’s obvious how this plays into her psychosis. Surprisingly, for all the carnage that unfolds, there’s very little blood and gore, and best of all, no adorable pets are killed. So, if you’re an animal lover like me you can heave a sigh of relief. There’s also a secondary mystery involving a secret admirer who knows exactly what Ryann has been up to, which adds an additional intriguing layer to an already mesmerizing story. As Ryann became more and more sloppy in choosing her victims and covering up her kills, I knew she was going to eventually get caught, although I was half expecting her to pull a rabbit out of her hat and charm herself out of the corner she had painted herself into. I couldn’t tear myself away until the exciting conclusion. I began reading around 8:00 p.m and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning because I just had to know how everything turned out.

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In the end, while Ryann may be down, you just know she’s definitely not out. Thankfully there’s going to be a sequel, Wicked Fallout, which hopefully will be out next year. Pretty Wicked is going on my short list of favorite books of 2016. I highly recommend this for older teens and adults who are in the mood for a dark read with an anti hero you’ll find yourself becoming reluctantly enthralled with. I guarantee Ryann won’t be a character you’ll forget anytime soon!

Listen (Earthen Witch #3) ~ By Sarah Doughty – 4.5 Stars

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Thanks to Sarah for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: October 3rd, 2016

443 Pages

Synopsis: When vampires Liam and Jon go missing, it’s up to Aisling Green and her friends to find them, but doing so and surviving what awaits won’t be easy.

Battling against things she cannot fight isn’t something Earthen witch Aisling Green isn’t used to, but she must act quickly and outsmart the one that wants her dead and save the lives of her friends before it’s too late.

As they follow the trail, they rescue a most unlikely person, and uncover a deeper, more sinister plot. With the lives of the two vampires on the line, they must fight for their lives, try to rescue their friends, and stop the evil plans. In the face of so much danger and uncertainty, they are forced to go to war and make a discovery that will change everything. The question then becomes at what price will they be forced to pay to survive?

I started Listen with a small amount of wariness because I hadn’t read the first two books in the Earthen Witch series. Sarah assured me though that I’d have no problem following the story, and the premise really intrigued me, so I jumped in and was immediately hooked. Sarah does an amazing job at filling you in on what’s happened in the previous two books and she does so without beginning the story with a huge info dump. Instead,  summaries of past events are related throughout the story, which helps keep things moving at a fast pace. I absolutely loved Aisling! She’s a seriously kickass heroine, which in this case is even more impressive, because there’s something happening with her that keeps causing her to pass out at inconvenient moments. She’s someone you’d love to have as a friend because she will have your back each and every time. There’s quite a bit of sizzling passion between Aisling and Connor, but I didn’t connect to him as much, perhaps because this is the third book, so I didn’t get to see how their relationship developed. I still found him likable though, and his devotion to Aisling is really sweet. The secondary characters are an eclectic bunch and are made up of vampires, werewolves, ghouls, zombies, ghosts, a shaman, a sphinx, and even Dracula, who Aisling has always wanted to meet. Her unabashed fangirling over him (he’s a good guy) provides for some of the more humorous moments of the book. There’s also an evil voodoo priestess, Renata, who is one nasty piece of work and makes the heroes’ mission a perilous one. The world-building is fantastic and actually encompasses two worlds, ours and the spirit realm. Each one is thoroughly depicted and makes you feel as though you’re there. I did find the ending a little anticlimactic, but it tied up everything in a satisfying way, and set things up nicely for the next book. Overall, Listen is a captivating and imaginative urban fantasy that adds several new elements which distinguishes it from other books of the same genre. The story’s themes of love, friendship, family and loyalty come through strongly even with all the action taking place. I think it more than holds its own against well-known authors like Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Kelley Armstrong. Listen has not only made me look forward to the next book, but has me determined to go back and read the previous two. What’s obvious to me though, is that Sarah Doughty is a talented author to keep an eye on, and while she may be self-published for now, I’ll be shocked if that status doesn’t change in the near future.

 

Chills ~ By Mary SanGiovanni – 4.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Lyrical Underground for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: September 27th, 2016

320 Pages

Synopsis: It begins with a freak snowstorm in May. Hit hardest is the rural town of Colby, Connecticut. Schools and businesses are closed, powerlines are down, and police detective Jack Glazier has found a body in the snow. It appears to be the victim of a bizarre ritual murder. It won’t be the last. As the snow piles up, so do the sacrifices. Cut off from the rest of the world, Glazier teams up with an occult crime specialist to uncover a secret society hiding in their midst.

The gods they worship are unthinkable. The powers they summon are unstoppable. And the things they will do to the good people of Colby are utterly, horribly unspeakable… 

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I’m always looking for a good horror story to give me the shivers, but never more so than during this time of year. I especially like it when an author pulls something a little different out of their hat, which is exactly what Mary SanGiovanni has done with Chills. Part police procedural, but more Lovecraftian horror story, this story hooked me from the first page and I wound up finishing it in one sitting. The premise alone is fantastic! Imagine being in a small town that’s hit with a late spring snowstorm which cuts you off from the rest of the world. Feeling claustrophobic yet? Then add to this already creepy setting, a crazed cult that’s decided it’s a great idea to open an inter-dimensional doorway and let ancient malevolent gods and their monstrous beasties in to bring about the apocalypse. When oh when will these people ever learn? *shakes head sadly* Beginning with the perplexed Colby police detectives examining the oddly mutilated remains of a murder victim, the author wastes no time in segueing into the more supernatural aspects. Her characters, for the most part, are very well developed, although I wish she had done a little more with the main character of Jack, but there’s another one that she spends a lot of time on, Kathy Ryan, who has one of the most interesting backstories I’ve read in a while, so I’m not going to fault her too much. The monsters are plentiful and come in a few grotesquely different forms, but they’re all more than capable of stalking poor unsuspecting townsfolk and committing gory mayhem. I did think the ending was a little abrupt, but it still sets things up nicely for a sequel. Overall, Chills is bloody good fun and I highly recommend it to all you horror fans out there who are looking for a quick scary read for the Halloween season.

Happy Birthday Stephen King!

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Amazingly Stephen King is 69 years young today! There are many writers who have earned the title “Master of Horror”, but since his first book, Carrie, which he wrote when he was twenty-six, and after more than forty years of writing there is only one “King”! There are so many wonderful quotes to choose from to illustrate what an amazing writer he is, but this one from Salem’s Lot particularly appeals to me.

But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since he last saw you.

Seas (Wendy Darling #2) ~ By Colleen Oakes – 4.5 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Sparkpress for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

288 Pages

Synopsis: Wendy Darling: Seas finds Wendy and Michael aboard the dreaded Sudden Night, a dangerous behemoth sailed by the infamous Captain Hook and his blood-thirsty crew. In this exotic world of mermaids, spies and pirate-feuds, Wendy finds herself struggling to keep her family above the waves. Hunted by the twisted boy who once stole her heart and struggling to survive in the whimsical Neverland sea, returning home to London now seems like a distant dream–and the betrayals have just begun.

Will Wendy find shelter with Peter’s greatest enemy, or is she a pawn in a much darker game, one that could forever alter not only her family’s future, but also the soul of Neverland itself?

Hmm. I guess I am in a Peter Pan frame of mind! Anyway, last October I read/reviewed the first book in this series, Stars, and wound up only giving it 3 stars because I had a lot of issues with the characters, namely Peter. However, the ending was really good and it was enough to make me want to check out the sequel, and I’m so glad I did, because Seas wound up being quite enjoyable. To be honest, I think this was partly because the psychopathic Peter wasn’t really in it until near the end. Wendy also became much fiercer this time around which was a welcome sight, as in the previous book she was a bit of a doormat. She still has many of the same fears, but now she courageously fights through them and becomes a force to be reckoned with. Hook and his pirates are much more likable than Peter and his Lost Boys. While Hook has his flaws, he’s nowhere near the villain readers of Peter Pan have become familiar with. His and Peter’s relationship is thoroughly explored and shows an unexpected side to Hook which had me loving him by the end of the book. The ending is even more surprising than the first’s and as it’s a cliffhanger, I’m quite excited for the third book, Shadow,  which comes out next year. Overall, Seas is rollicking good fun with plenty of action and phenomenal world-building. Colleen Oakes breathes new life into Neverland and readers will feel as though they’re right there in the thick of things. 

Whimsical Wednesday ~ Neverland Edition

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Last week my friend Jonathan from http://husbandandhusband.net told me about this song called Lost Boys, by Ruth B. Its haunting lyrics and beautiful melody have been stuck in my head since then (thanks ever so much Jonathan!), and since I still haven’t figured out how to link to a video, I thought I’d share a few lines from the song. 

There was a time when I was alone

Nowhere to go and no place to call home

My only friend was the man in the moon

And even sometimes he would go away, too.

Then one night, as I closed my eyes,

I saw a shadow flying high

He came to me with the sweetest smile

Told me he wanted to talk for awhile

He said, “Peter Pan. That’s what they call me.

I promise that you’ll never be lonely.”

And ever since that day…

I am a lost boy  from Neverland

Usually hanging out with Peter Pan

And when we’re bored we play in the woods

Always on the run from Captain Hook

“Run, run, lost boy” they say to me

“Away from all of reality.”

Neverland is home to lost boys like me

And lost boys like me are free.

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