Review: Weregirl by C. D. Bell

Review: Weregirl by C. D. Bell

Weregirl (Book #1)

By C.D. Bell

YA, Fantasy

Nessa Kurland is running for her life.

High school junior Nessa Kurland is a cross-country runner with her eyes set on one thing: a college scholarship as her one-way ticket out of Tether, Michigan, a town on the brink of shutdown since it was devastated by corporate polluter Dutch Chemical.

Talented teammate, Cynthia, invites Nessa on a nighttime run through Tether’s overgrown forest trails. But she speeds ahead, leaving Nessa alone to discover a trapped wolf. Nessa tries to free the animal but is badly bitten, seemingly ruining her hopes for a strong fall season.

Instead, Nessa’s freakishly quick recovery is followed by improved running times. All her senses are heightened. Nessa has transformed.

She has become a werewolf.

In her new state, Nessa learns that Tether has many secrets. What is really going on at the small-town clinic? Can she decipher what the wolf pack she’s been running with is trying to tell her?

Nessa must navigate true human darkness and the uncertainty of young love, while making peace with her new, wild nature.

oOo

The cover for this book is what drew me in. It’s gorgeous. Get into the pages and it’s a good read, too. I like Nessa, she’s an active character that makes things happen in the book. The initial bite is the most passive thing she does. After that, though, she dives straight in to figuring out what secrets are hiding in the woods and the clinic. Nessa is pretty generic in her looks—blonde hair and blue eyes—but at least she’s fit because she runs cross country and not just because.

Nessa’s little brother, Nate, is autistic. I wasn’t able to find any reviews that noted how this representation shook out, but as an allistic person I thought Nate’s character was well done. He was well rounded, he’s not treated as a burden or a plot device. Nessa often comments on how she reads his body language to know how much physical contact he’s familiar with at any given time. I think he was a positive representation for autism, but, again, this is coming from an allistic person. If anyone finds or writes a review about Nate and his representation I would be really interested in reading it.

We do have a “Magical Native American” in the book, sort of like the “Magical Negro” trope in a lot of fantasy movies. This character exists solely as a way to convey information and pops up in some cringe worthy deus ex machina ways. So I wasn’t thrilled about that and it takes some of the luster away from this otherwise tightly written story.

There’s one other Native American character, his name is Luc, but he reads like a white character slipped into brown skin. He’s also portrayed as mysterious and standoffish for the first half of the book.

This story starts off sounding like it’s going to be a Chosen One trope, but in a nice twist, while Nessa is important to the story, it’s teamwork that solves the mystery and brings down the baddies. Nessa’s best friend, Bree, is a great character. And the two never fight. Even when they’re both crushing on the same guy, there’s no girl-hate or catty behavior between the two of them or any other girls they interact with. I was really excited about that because it’s all too easy in YA books to have girl besties turn on each other for dramatic tension. Even if they make up at the end, it’s still tiring to read.

Speaking of tiring things to read: There’s no love triangle! I thought for sure one was being set up, but NO! And I am thrilled. It was so nice to read a book and not have to slog through a seventeen year old try to decide if she wants to go with tall, golden, and handsome or tall, mysterious, and dark.

Honestly, for that alone I would recommend this book. But the story is very good and the mystery isn’t resolved until the final ten pages which will keep you up. So our Native American representation is…nonexistent, but I think we have a great character with positive autistic representation. Nessa is a take charge character that doesn’t have all the answers and her becoming a werewolf doesn’t make her all powerful or The One.

You can pick up Weregirl by CD Bell at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

 

Also, check out Book 2 Chimera

 

Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face like Glass

By Frances Hardinge

MG, Fantasy

In the underground city of Caverna, in virtual darkness, the world’s most skilled craftsmen create the extraordinary—wines that remove memories; cheeses that bring on visions; and perfumes that convince people to trust the wearer, even as he is slitting their throats. Like their goods, the people of Caverna appear normal. But their faces show no emotion; they are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach someone the art of displaying joy, despair, fear—or how to fake them.

Into this shadowed and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past, and a face so terrifying that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths—and real. That makes her very dangerous indeed…

oOo

This story reminded me a great deal of Alice in Wonderland with its dark whimsy and strange foods that alter the mind and reality. Neverfell is apprentice to the reclusive cheesemaster, Grandible and spends seven years of her life locked away in his tunnels helping him craft cheeses and keeping her face hidden behind a mask on the rare occasion someone stops by.

She escapes one day—chasing a white rabbit no less—and the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. She’s an Outsider. The people of Caverna never leave their subterranean burrows, but they do trade with other people who live in the above ground. But they themselves never leave because they think the sun will scorch their skin off. It’s illegal for Caverna people to bring Outsiders in because they believe they carry diseases. So Neverfell is promptly caught and thrown in the dungeon where someone immediately tries to murder her.

It’s a really rough day.

From there, she’s thrust into a spiderweb of political alliances, lies, murder, and more assassination attempts. There’s a great deal of political intrigue in here as well which is complex enough to keep older readers interested but simplified in explanation so it remains accessible to younger readers.

I’m on the fence as to whether or not I like Neverfell. She grows up with no memory of her early life and extremely sheltered in Grandible’s tunnels so the first time she gets out she’s like a baby chick and imprints on the first people she sees. She decides this girl, Zouelle, is her friend because she likes that she’s pretty and graceful and an eloquent speaker. Again, she’s super sheltered and it’s clear from the way Zouelle speaks to her that Neverfell is another playing piece in her complex game, but Neverfell doesn’t see it.

Neverfell spends the first two thirds of the book as other people’s pawns in one way or another, but she’s never passive. The trouble she gets into is mostly her doing it or her trying to make it better, so I can’t complain there. But she takes everyone at face value, even though she knows people are taught different faces and can use whatever face they want whenever they want. She still believes what they say, unerringly. And that—as someone whose cynicism increases exponentially every year—is really annoying.

But I get what Frances is doing; the learning curve Neverfell has of who she can trust and how to separate what someone’s face says versus who they are. As you read, you’re learning with Neverfell and that’s a pretty neat thing to do. Her wide-eyed naivete is still frustrating, but I can appreciate the reason why it’s done.

It seemed to me this book had three endings. Every time we reached a point where the storyline could neatly resolve I looked and realized I still had a hundred pages left. I think the front third of the book should have been loaded a little heavier with the different problems that needed to be resolved so that it makes sense for the book to keep going even when there’s a natural ending point.

If you like Alice in Wonderland then I think you’ll enjoy A Face like Glass. The world building is excellent and so subtle you don’t question when the floor becomes the ceiling or vise versa. It’s a very well written novel and trusts young readers with a fairly complex web of political intrigue and alliances which I really enjoyed.

You can find A Face like Glass at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Frances Hardinge at her website: www.franceshardinge.com

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

27 Hours

By Tristina Wright

YA, Sci-Fi

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from under his mother’s shadow and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

oOo

I wasn’t sure if I would even review this book since an arc reviewer, Aimal, did a really great job of laying out the good and bad of this book. I really encourage you to read her review.

So Tristina Wright does a great job of gender/sexuality inclusiveness; Rumor is bi, Jude is gay, Nyx is pansexual, Braeden is ace, and Dahlia is a trans girl. Nyx is also deaf and uses ASL and reads lips for the entire story. Again, great representation in this area and I know a lot of people are going to be moved to happy tears reading about characters that feel the same things they feel. And good, that is awesome and we need so, so much more of that.

Where we start to go off the rails is when we look at the ethnicity of our main characters. And by that, I mean there is none. If there weren’t a few sentences of each character listing their heritage there would be nothing to distinguish these characters from any other white sci-fi heroes/heroines.

27 Hours is set in the future, it’s never said how far in the future, but humans boarded a generational ship and then landed on a forested moon. Our main characters are the first generation born on the moon and they’re all about seventeen. Now, all these humans live in colonies and they’re a cross-section of humanity. And yet the only human-on-human prejudice we see is against the “forest-humans” who live with the Chimera outside of the colonies.

I know we would all like to believe that one day we’ll move past racism, but I can hardly believe that just because you put a bunch of humans on a ship and blast them off to a moon they’re going to come out of it with perfect equality. And maybe Wright is more optimistic than me, but if you’re going to tell a story with POC characters who never once experience a microaggression or any sort of racism, you’re gonna have to dedicate a paragraph or two to how that came about. We’re one hundred and fifty years removed from the Civil War and there are still people on TV right now who will say without hesitation that black people aren’t people. There are people on Youtube right now posting vlogs about genocide. How much time has passed in 27 Hours that this generational hate has burned itself out?

**Slight Spoiler Alert**

No major plot points are given away, but it might take some emotional suspense out of the end of the book.

I will say, one thing I found particularly cringe worthy that I haven’t seen anyone else comment on: Dahlia’s near death experience. The book revolves through four different POV, Dahlia, our black/latinx trans girl doesn’t have any chapters. She’s not quite a side character but not really a main character. When we get down to the wire and war is imminent it’s pretty obvious our plucky little group is going to suffer some losses. And Dahlia takes the hit, literally. I don’t want to bombard you with statistics, but one of the most vulnerable populations in the US today are trans women of color. They’re more likely to be homeless, more likely to be beaten, more likely to be killed. They’re also one of most underrepresented groups in…well, everything. So when Dahlia, a trans girl of color, who is essentially without a voice in this narrative is the one who gets mauled and almost dies…Yikes. Maybe I’m reading too far into it and I don’t think there was a ‘better’ character who could have been attacked, but again, Yikes.

**End of spoiler**

I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, except Angel and George, two Chimera that only get a handful of pages each. But they seem like fun people. Rumor is so driven by hate for the Chimera he flings himself into suicidal battles and drags everyone else along with him. He has nothing left to lose and it shows in the decisions he makes.

Jude was a bit more interesting since he had a lot more at stake, since he is a human who lives among the Chimera in a commune thing. He’s an enemy to colony humans because he lives among the Chimera and many of the Chimera see him as an enemy because he’s human. Divided loyalties are always interesting.

Braeden also has divided loyalties, his mother is in charge of the colony military that are tasked wiping out the Chimera, but he’s also open to Jude’s way of life. He’s also ace, so I enjoyed his chapters because they were the only ones not saturated in teen hormones and sex.

Nyx spends her chapters pining over Dahlia. That’s it. That’s what she does.

Overall, I think if the characters had just been white and not airbrushed darker, this would be an enjoyable middle of the road YA science fiction story. But the gaps in the world building in regard to how humans have shed all of their racial biases left me wondering more about those questions than anything going on in the story.

 

You can find 27 Hours at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And learn more about Tristina Wright at her website: www.tristinawright.com

 

Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Tool of War

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Adult, Science Fiction

In a dark future swamped by rising seas, depleted resources, and endless civil war, the price for survival is brutally high. The wealthiest powers buy and breed self-protection by creating bioengineered “augments”: half-men, half-beasts designed solely for combat and blind obedience. But then an anomaly breaks free: the legendary half-man known as Tool.

Tool has found a way to resist his genetically controlled impulses and has gone rogue from his masters, emerging as the victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by a global force determined to destroy him, led by someone who knows the darkest secrets of Tool’s past. Soon, Tool must make the inevitable, bloody choice of whom to serve: his gods, his pack, or himself.

oOo

Originally, I bought this because it looked like a good comp title for one of my manuscripts. This is the third book in a series of connected stories set in the same world. I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the characters so I don’t think it’s necessary to read the first two books, but I really enjoyed this world and Paolo’s writing so I’m going to pick them up as well. The first two are called Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities. I powered through Tool of War in a day. The characters don’t have a great deal of nuanced inner lives, but their struggles and conflict keep the story moving forward.

The main character is Tool a genetically bioengineered Frankenstein monster or some kind. I never got a clear visual of what he was supposed to look like, but I haven’t read the first two books, so it’s possible a more detailed description has been given before. I do know that the augments are made to be virtually indestructible. Tool is napalmed, shot, stabbed, and falls out of the atmosphere and still gets up ready to maul. So he’s kind of a badass. Reading this book is like reading a Superman comic. You’re told right off how goddamn strong and resilient he is and the other characters spend the book looking for chinks in the armor.

Much as I enjoyed this book, the more I thought about it the more I realized Tool’s character is an iteration of the “Noble Savage” trope. But literal. He has some human DNA in him—which I assume is what allows him to speak despite having a dog muzzle for a mouth—but he’s mostly animal. He’s a military genius, which again, I assume is illustrated more in the first two books, because here he gets out of a few tight jams, but he does that mostly because he’s eight feet tall and can throw a full grown man through a wall. There’s some strategy he uses when he’s evading his pursuers after he’s injured but again, the ‘genius’ part doesn’t seem very apparent.

He speaks in a stilted overly formal way. I’m really curious to know what kind of schooling augments are given because none of the characters he interacts with speak like he does. Except other augments. All the augments have the same Thor-esque manner of speaking with grand statements and rhetorical questions.

The antagonists aren’t much more than antagonists. Like I said, it’s the action and conflict that really drive this story. I think there’s supposed to be some love/hate relationship between General Caroa and Tool, but it never really comes to fruition. The final confrontation between the two has a good bit of drama but it still felt a bit lacking. The emotional attachment didn’t quite take hold. And even if that relationship is explored in a previous book, the lack is still apparent in this. This is Tool’s story. The other two books center on human characters wherein Tool is in a supporting role. The emotional history of General Caroa and Tool should bleed through the pages in this book. Luke vs. Darth had more emotional output than the final battle between these two characters.

So I am a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more from the characters, but I still enjoyed this book and I’m sure I’ll read it again once I get the first two. It’s a good quick read and if you’re looking for something like a palette cleanser between genres this would be a good one. There aren’t a lot of characters you need to keep straight and it doesn’t delve too deeply into the politics of the world. It’s pretty much nonstop action from start to finish.

If you’d like to read Tool of War you can find it at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Paolo Bacigalupi at his website: www.windupstories.com

Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex (Book 1)

By Sarah Kuhn

Adult, Fantasy

 

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full on demonic invasion.

*~*~*~*

This was a fantastic read from start to finish. It reminded me a lot of Summer Heacock’s The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky in humor, swearing, and spunky protagonists. All the characters in Heroine Complex are nuanced and well rounded, even the characters that only pop in from time to time. Evie and her best friend Aveda are wonderful foils for each other. There are moments early in the book where it feels like Evie is set up to be “different from other girls” but—in a nice change of pace—the arc ends by showing there are different types of strength and we all have our own style.

Sarah Kuhn does a fantastic job handling multiple character arcs and subplots like Evie’s and Aveda’s rocky friendship, Evie doing her best to take care of her wild-child sister, and Evie figuring out how romance works after a three year hiatus.

The story is interspersed with snippets from San Francisco’s demon tour website and reviews as well as Maisy’s—our Mean Girl antagonist—blog. These short intermissions give the world more depth and reflect the world that we live in that’s rife with gossip blogs and good/bad reviews about everything from nail salons to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The blog entries also help bridge time jumps in the story without the story feeling rushed and characters interact with the information in the blog posts so they aren’t happening in a vacuum. It’s a really great piece of storytelling and skill to weave the story around these outside POV pieces.

Another great thing about this book that might get lost in the shuffle of everything else happening: Both Evie and Aveda are Asian-Americans and they interact with the world as such. There are a lot of stories out there with characters that are Asian or Black or Latinx but they still interact with the world in the same way a white character does and that doesn’t make sense. Evie talks about how she and Aveda were teased when they were younger about their features and about the food they brought to school. She also observes that the food that made them targets for bullying is now trendy. It’s a subtle thing, but it adds so much verisimilitude to the characters and the world they live in.

Evie and Aveda have been friends since elementary school, but right now as Aveda becomes more and more of a diva, the relationship is starting to fray. When the story opens up, they’re not really best friends anymore, it’s a boss-assistant relationship first with friendship coming up a distant second. As the story progresses and Evie starts to come out of her shell as she masquerades as Aveda Jupiter there’s a great tension build up. The release of that tension is even more subtle than its buildup and it makes for a very real conversation between friends.

A lot of the high drama points in Heroine Complex are short conversations between characters and not all action-y explosions and shows of force. There are plenty of cool action sequences, but what makes this book great aren’t the superpowers but the relationship dynamics. Like Evie and her seventeen year old sister, Bea. As someone who has a wild-child for a younger sister, I weathered the storm with Evie as she tries to connect and help Bea grow. I can remember plenty of frustrated conversations and fights with my sister. I just wanted to reach through the pages and tell Evie that things will get better; they don’t stay—as wild—forever.

I know it says on the back cover that there’s unexpected romance, but I totally forgot about that when I started reading. So the romance really was totally unexpected. As with The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky, I didn’t’ find the romance in Heroine Complex to have the same tedium that I feel in other stories. Most of the time when I’m reading I accept that romance is part of the story and gloss over it to get to back to the primary storyline. But in this, I was interested in Evie’s relationship and wanted to see how it evolved and how the arc would end.

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn really has it all: romance, action, cool superpowers, and demons in San Francisco. It’s a story that really needs two or three reads to appreciate how well Sarah Kuhn weaves in subplots, drama, and red herrings. I would recommend this as a Sunday afternoon read so that Monday you’re ready to go out and save the world.

You can find Heroine Complex at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Sarah Kuhn, at her website: http://www.heroinecomplex.com/

And after you finish book one, pick up book two! Heroine Worship

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End

By Cassandra Rose Clarke

Sci-Fi

 

Esme Coromina has always known that one day, she would run the Four Sisters, the small planet system that her father grew into a corporate empire. Raised as the pampered heir to the company, Esme lived the best years of her life at Star’s End, the estate her father built on the terraformed moon where he began his empire. In the tropical sunlight and lush gardens, Esme helped raise her three motherless half-sisters. But as Esme is groomed to take over the family business of manufacturing weapons for the mercenary groups spread across the galaxy, she slowly uncovers the sinister truth at the heart of her father’s company. And when those secrets are finally revealed, Esme is sure that she’s lost her sisters—and a part of her soul—for good.

Now, after a lifetime of following her father’s orders, Esme has a second chance. For the first time, Esme is making her own decisions and the impact of her decisions will reverberate throughout the Four Sisters. As Esme struggles to assemble her estranged sisters for one last good-bye with their dying father, she has to choose whether she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps—or blaze a daring new path.

 

It took me awhile to finish this book. The world building is stunning and it’s well written, with an interesting narration choice. There aren’t chapters, but the book alternates between a third person limited present storyline, following Esme’s current mission to find her sisters and a first person past storyline following Esme throughout her young adult years. The past portion on the book really dragged for me, I was much more interested in what present day Esme was up to than her growing up in Star’s End. Despite the back cover synopsis, the only way Esme helps to raise her sisters is telling the fleet of nannies and tutors to keep an eye on them while she’s off doing her company internship.

I could not find it in me to care about Esme. The Coromina family owns four planets. They literally make trillions of dollars a year manufacturing bioengineered soldiers and weapons to equip those soldiers. The ‘company’ is a government system called coporcracy and Esme’s father is the current ruler/CEO. People who live on the four planets are called citizen-employees. This is capitalism at full throttle. Everyone and everything on the four planets exists solely to fuel the weapons manufacture and to add to the upper echelon’s wealth. There’s a hefty dose of Big Brother as well, of course. Media is strictly monitored, business espionage is the norm, and the CEO often has troublesome people ‘relocated’.

So there’s a lot going on and in the middle of it is Esme and I wouldn’t say I hated her, but I disliked her immensely. She’s a coward and despite what the ending tries to spin, she is just like her father in terms of power ambition. She only on two occasions finds her spine and stands up to her father, but those moments are quickly over and she goes back to doing everything her father asks.

Her father is Exhibit A for sociopath. He doesn’t care about anything but his wealth and status. There are a few moments in there where Esme thinks she sees something else in him, but I chalk that up to an unreliable narrator ploy. The dude is an AssHole.

This book is 432 pages of things happening to Esme. She’s never proactive and most of the book is her waiting to be summoned or waiting for the other shoe to drop. She spends a lot of time slumping against chairs, sitting on beds, headaches from too many thoughts, and sleepless nights. The only reason this story exists is because her father sets her out to collect her estranged sisters. She wasn’t going to do it on her own.

She also spends the entirety of the book afraid. Honestly, her entire narration is dictated by fear. Fear of her father, fear she’s becoming like her father, fear for her sisters, fear of her sisters, fear for her mother, fear she’s going to do/say the wrong thing. The list goes on and it never ends. I can’t tell if Esme is supposed to be a sympathetic character or an unlikeable character. All those fears would make sense if this was a YA, but Esme is in her forties. At this point it’s Learned Helplessness and I have no time or sympathy for it. She has the emotional depth and fortitude of a wet tissue.

The characters of this book never fully come to life Esme, with all her cowering, is the most well rounded of them all. Her sisters are plot devices on Esme’s convoluted journey to redemption, her closest friend, a bioengineered soldier named Will, is another plot device whose only purpose is to help her find her sisters. Her father is the evils of capitalism personified. It gets tedious, especially since Esme does little more than fret about everything.

The ending of the book, I think, is supposed to have an A Tree Grows in Brooklyn vibe; not happy, but hopeful, but it falls a little flat. Esme may not have her father’s cruelty, but she still wants the power being CEO/ruler affords her. She promises to only use her powers for good and she’s going to help people and blah, blah, blah. But the whole thing reads like those ridiculous accounts of ‘good’ slave owners. Yeah, so some of them didn’t flay children, but they still had slaves. Yeah, Esme wants to change the company’s focus, but she’s still keeping a system in place that has proven to be easily corrupted, abused, and refers to its citizens as employees and property.

I can’t say I’d recommend Star’s End. As a dystopic system of government, it’s awesome, but the main character, Esme, has little to enjoy and can make getting through some places a chore. But if you’d like to give it a try, you can find it here:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Learn more about the author Cassandra Rose Clarke

Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper Cypher #2)

Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper Cypher #2)

Shadowhouse Fall (The Shadowshaper Cyper, Book #2)

by Daniel José Older

YA, urban fantasy

Sierra and her friends love their new lives and shadowshapers, making art and creating change with the spirits of Brooklyn. Then Sierra receives a strange card depicting a beast call the Hound of Light—an image from the enigmatic, influential Deck of Worlds. The shadowshapers know their next battle has arrived.

Thrust into an ancient struggle with enemies old and new, Sierra and Shadowhouse are determined to win. Revolution is brewing in the real world as well, as the shadowshapers lead the fight against systems that oppress their community. To protect her family and friends in every sphere, Sierra must take down the Hound and master the Deck of Worlds…or risk losing them all.

*~*~*

This is the second book of Older’s YA series, the first is Shadowshaper, so if you haven’t read that one, skip over to a bookstore and pick it up or you’re going to be confused in the next few paragraphs.

Daniel José Older is one of my favorite authors. I thoroughly enjoyed his Bone Street Rumba trilogy, but I love his YA. We’re still following Sierra in this book and she’s tiptoeing into her role and Lucera. The crew is still with her and they’re growing with her as they all figure out their new abilities. The book starts right off though with hinky hijinks unsettling the tentative equilibrium Sierra picked up at the end of Shadowshaper.

On top of one of her classmates telling her the Sorrows haven’t given up on annihilating her and Shadowhouse, personal tragedy also strikes, shady cops seem to pop up at the worst times, and there’s also boy trouble. It’s a lot for one young girl with the ancient powers of ancestors to handle, but she’s got a cadre of ride or die friends helping her out.

The writing throughout the book feels like the breathless, breakneck, tumble Sierra is in as she tries to find answers to what the Deck of Worlds is and what it means for her and those she loves. Sierra is just trying to keep her head above water with everything happening in the spirit world and in the physical world. It’s not until you get to the final twenty or so pages that you feel like you can breathe. Finally, things start falling in to place, characters reveal their true motives and Sierra can go on the offensive.

All of Older’s books are rapid page turners and Shadowhouse Fall is no exception. Answers are always juuuuust out of reach and you’ll find the whole night gone as you tell yourself, “One more chapter, then I’ll go to bed.” But by then you should be at the end and you’ll have all the answers and you won’t be tossing and turning thinking about How’s the Scooby gang gonna get out of this one?

Let’s take a moment to talk about dialogue. If you’re a writer, take notes of Older’s dialogue. These characters come alive on the page because it’s not just the world of NYC that is fully realized it’s in how characters talk to each other, it’s in their nonverbal interactions, it’s in their silences. Take a page, any page from Shadowhouse Fall or any of Older’s book and read the dialogue out loud. Even when talking about spirits and otherworldly creatures it still sounds like a conversation you’d hear in the gas station or at a bus stop. I can’t get enough of Older’s dialogue. That’s the realness at the heart of Older’s work.

The stakes in Shadowhouse Fall in the spirit world are up a notch, because while her family and friends were in danger in Shadowshaper just for associating with her, now they’re targets themselves. In the physical world, Older keeps things true to a group of young POC running the streets of NYC. Illegal arrests and abuse from police and white teachers in primarily black classrooms tiptoeing through lessons on slavery and Civil Rights. And if that makes you uncomfortable then it’s time to have a good long conversation with yourself about why that is.

Anyway, I’m not here to get on a soapbox. Yet.

I really enjoyed this book as I did Shadowshaper. Sierra is a well rounded and conflicted character. It does seem to me though that she keeps making the same mistakes that she made in Shadowshaper of keeping secrets from people closest to her. The threat of a spy in this book makes it understandable, but there are a few chapters I wanted to knock my head against the wall. The goal though is to get Sierra to the point that she realizes she doesn’t have to shoulder this burden alone, that she has people who have her back and will step up next to her no matter what.

Still.

But if an MC doesn’t make you want to bang your head against a wall a couple times, are they really a good MC? People make the same mistakes all the time in real life and they, too, will make you want to jump out a window.

Shadowhouse Fall is an excellent follow up to Shadowshaper. You can read the first book and immediately pick up this one and feel like you’ve just turned to the next chapter. While I highly recommend all of Daniel José Older’s work, Shadowshaper Cypher series is at the top of the list.

 

As always, you can find Shadowshaper, and Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Read more about the author on his website: http://ghoststar.net/

 

 

Book Review: Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo

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Last month I read a really wonderful book by Beth Whitman called Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. I picked this up a couple years ago at Half Price on a whim. So glad I did. I read it for the first time last month as I really started kicking my preparation for Cambodia and China into gear. It’s a really smooth, easy read. Even if you’re only looking to visit another city in you state or country, I think it would still be beneficial not only for solo women travelers, but for anyone traveling alone.

This is of course aimed at women, so if you’re a guy and want to pick this up there are some parts that won’t apply, such as the section discussing tampons, birth control, and interrupted cycles. But other than that, I’d say the advice in this book applies to all solo travelers.

My favorite section of the book is the “Idea Generator” chapter. There’s even a helpful chart you can copy down or write directly in the book. It’s a really simple way to make that dream vacation a reality. I used it to chart the logistics and costs of three trips I want to make: An Antarctic cruise, a road trip visiting a couple National Parks out west, and a two week Egyptian antiquity tour.

Let me tell you, dream trips aren’t cheap.

But, now that I have a ballpark estimate of what kind of expenses I’m looking at I can start saving now. So maybe it’ll be five years before I get to take an Antarctic cruise via the Chilean fjords, but, if I keep up with my savings then in five years I’ll be writing to you with a penguin looking over my shoulder. So if you’re serious about traveling, even if it’s to visit NYC for a week or see the lighthouses of Maine or fly to Europe for a month, map it out. Start saving. It might take a little time and you might have set backs, but start saving and you’ll get there.

Another two chapters that are really helpful is “Let’s get Booking” and “This Bed is Juuuuust Right”. They go over the different travel and accommodation options you have. In chp. 5 (Booking) some of this information is a bit outdated—it was published in 2007—and you’ll be disappointed to find that you can’t readily book cheap flights on courier flights anymore. I spent a week trying to find a way to do it, but post 9/11 a lot of companies now only hire professional couriers and won’t accept anyone off the street to hang out in their planes. The explanations on a lot of things are also a little outdated, she spends a great deal of time discussing e-tickets versus paper tickets, sites like Priceline and Hotwire and how they work. But some of the cheap fare sites are still active and if you’re looking to book last minute on the cheap they’re a really good source.

Chp. 6 discusses accommodations ranging from resorts to campgrounds and gives the pros and cons of all depending on your preference and budget. We’d all like to stay at five star resorts, but for most of us the budget won’t allow it. That doesn’t mean you have to sleep in your car. Whitman mentions the often overlooked family owned Bed and Breakfasts that can add a really unique twist to a vacation and are often cheaper than the local Fairfield. There are also tips on booking European lodgings such as Hostels and Pensions. Did you know that women can overnight at YMCAs? I didn’t, so there’s a handy fact if you need somewhere to rest for a night.

The chapter I’ve been rereading the last couple of weeks is “Pack it Up”. There’s a list in there of handy first aid supplies, and honestly, I 100% forgot about a first aid kit. I don’t usually bother with band-aids and antibacterial stuff. But I got hellaciously ill for a week while in London and if taking a dose of Nyquil and eating a cough drop will keep even half of that kind of sickness at bay I’ll fucking take it. I know I’m going to get sick, it’s inevitable as I’m being introduced to radically new environment with new bacteria and whatnot, so anything I pack to keep me ahead of the game is a win. There’s also a general packing list for clothes, toiletries, and accessories/documents. Again, really helpful if you need a jumping point on what to pack or just a list of reminders for obvious everyday things. I almost forgot to throw deodorant in my packing box.

I thought this book was pretty thorough on dealing with language barrier and culture shock and ways to work through it. The language barrier, of course, is to purchase a phrase book beforehand and practice a little so you’re used to the language. Or, you can do like I did and download a language learning app and practice a couple hours a day. Memrise is the app I have and of the free apps it has the most languages ranging from French to Icelandic. As for culture shock, you just have to know it’s coming. I didn’t get it too bad on my trip to Europe, but I wasn’t dealing with an unknown language and I had a professor who from day one explained some of the differences in culture. This time I’m a bit more anxious because I’m heading into two unknown languages and two very different cultures both from each other and from my home culture. So I’m certain the “shock” will hit me this time, but Whitman gives a list of common culture shock symptoms and the best ways to ease yourself through them.

In one of the final chapters “Coming Home” she also deals with reverse culture shock. That I can attest to experiencing. I spent three months in London and after a couple weeks of being back on US soil I was patently irritated with the “odd” way people spoke, the way people drove—although that could be my road rage—and I was irritated with how far away everything was. I could walk everywhere in London or catch a bus. Here? Maybe if you live in a big enough city. So I’m glad this book mentions reverse culture shock because I feel like a lot of travel books forget to mention that part of coming home. Yes, it’s nice to see your pets and sleep in your own bed or eat your favorite food, but there will still be an adjustment period where you have to reorient yourself to home culture.

Another great chapter that I don’t think a lot of general travel advice books mention is “Responsible Travel”. It gives tips and sites that help you do low impact travel both on the flora and fauna but also on the native cultures you might be going into. Remember, if you’re going to visit a little town or village no matter where it is, these are people you’re meeting, they’re not zoo animals for you to gawk at. Also avoid taking pictures with exotic animals such as monkeys, tiger cubs, etc. Often these animals are taken from their parents—or their parents are killed—and their teeth and claws are removed so that when they try to snap and bite when frightened they don’t harm the paying tourists. They’re often not kept in humane conditions and once they’re too big or wild to be cute they’re sold or killed.

The only chapter that’s a real bust is “Gadgets and Gizmos”. Technology has come a long way in eight years and when this book was written it would have been prudent to choose between phone and laptop if you were backpacking across Europe. But now, we have smartphones, tablets, and featherweight laptops. All of which you can download a compass onto or already have one installed. Buying an international phone isn’t really worth it when you can just upgrade your phone plan to an international one. And packing a camera is up to you since the phones you can get now take excellent pictures.

Overall, this is a quick read with a lot of great information streamlined in the chapters to make it easy for you to either read cover to cover or to pick and choose the sections you want/need at that moment. If you’ve ever wanted to travel, I highly recommend Beth Whitman’s book Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Review: Catch Me When I Fall + Bonus, Cover Reveal!

Catch Me When I Fall

By Vicki Leigh

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 “Recruited at his death to be a Protector of the Night, seventeen year old Daniel Graham has spent two hundred years fighting Nightmares and guarding humans from the creatures that feed off people’s fears. Each night, he risks his eternal life, but that doesn’t stop a burnt-out Daniel from risking daring maneuvers during each battle. He’s become one of the best and wants nothing more than to stop
“Then he’s given an assignment to watch over sixteen year old Kayla Bartlett, a clinically depressed patient in a psychiatric ward. Nightmares love a human with a tortured past. Yet, when they take an unprecedented interest in her, the job becomes more dangerous than any Daniel’s ever experienced. Soon, Daniel finds himself watching over Kayla during the day, drawn to why she’s different, and what it is about her that attracts the Nightmares. And him.
“A vicious attack on Kayla forces Daniel to break the first Law, revealing his identity, and whisk her away to Rome where others like him can keep her safe. Under their roof, the Protectors discover what Kayla is and why someone who can manipulate Nightmares has her in his sights. But before they can make a move, the Protectors are betrayed and Kayla is kidnapped. Daniel will stop at nothing to save her. Even if it means giving up his immortality.”

Who doesn’t love a jaded, brooding hero? Daniel is on par with Batman for broodiness. But he’s keeping it together. Like most of us who are sick of our jobs, he’s looking for a good time and reason to turn in his two week notice. He has a very distinctive voice, he’s two hundred+ years dead and while his speech is modern there are places where he’ll slip into an older cadence. He’s also British, so you can read the whole book with Cumberbatch’s voice in your head if you’d like.

Then there’s Kayla. I would love to see a book from her perspective. We get a lot from her just from Daniel’s point of view, but it’s easy to see how much more there is beneath the surface. She’s funny, and maybe because she already thinks she’s lost her mind, we don’t have pages and pages of disbelief, denial, and anger to get through. She passes Go, collects her $200 and jumps pretty much right on board the crazy train that becomes her life. It’s awesome. Again, another reason I would love to see a book from her perspective. Even if you think you’ve already gone off the rails, having Daniel and his cohorts appear like they do would take some mental acrobatics.

Now, if you like Silent Hill you’re going to thoroughly enj1oy the Nightmares. While reading I was reminded somewhat of the faceless, homicidal nurses, except they’re darkness incarnate, featureless with claws and teeth. So, you know, nightmarish.

And the travel in this book! The Protectors are stationed out of Rome and I don’t know if the author has traveled to this place or the others, but there’s wonderful detail about the buildings that really gives the setting life without burdening the story with twelve paragraphs describing the pillars and flagstones. There’s a scene in Paris that I absolutely loved. She captures how breathtaking the Eiffel Tower is at night when it’s lit up. And the meal Kayla and Daniel share does Lady and the Tramp so proud. Shy flirting and getting-to-know-you cuteness.

But if cuteness isn’t your thing, fear not, there’s still a homicidal maniac after Kayla and there’s plenty of edge of your seat fights and close calls to keep you flipping pages. There’s also the mystery of what exactly Kayla is.
It’s a lot packed into a svelte 197 pages. I finished in only a couple hours so if you jump into it before bed, don’t worry, you’ll finish with enough time for your Dreamcatcher to get comfortable and fodder for your Dreamweaver.

 

And, coming soon to a bookshelf near you, this lil’ gem:

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http://www.vleighwrites.com/#!novels/cjg9

Oh look, a link where you can order both books. How did that get there?