Cruel Winter

Cruel Winter

Cover image for Cruel Winter
Cover image for Cruel Winter

I hesitated to read this book (despite it being shoved into my hands by someone I like a whole heck of a lot) because I’m a wimp, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Yet, despite its horror designation, it reads more like a kid’s adventure movie from the 80s, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself not scared at all (okay, except for like, one part).

“Jack Harding and his friends feel sorry for the new kid in town. His name is Ronnie Winter, and he’s a bit of a weirdo. So when the local bullies try to beat him up, Jack and his friends step in to protect Ronnie — and that’s their first mistake. Because Ronnie Winter is not like any other kid they’ve ever known. He lives at the old Steadman place, in the big creepy mansion that used to be a mental hospital. And his young, beautiful mother has a strange way of making Jack promise to be Ronnie’s friend…forever.

The closer Jack and his friends get to Ronnie, the colder it gets. The town is plunged into a wave of brutal snowstorms — and plagued by a series of gruesome murders. And as the grisly death toll mounts, Jack realizes that Ronnie is surrounded by something far more powerful than a mother’s love — he’s guarded by a force of unspeakable evil that will torture and destroy everything in its path…” —Goodreads

This book is pulpy in a big way. It’s mostly cheese, with a little suspense and some decent character development thrown in. It’s pleasant in the way reading sometimes should be: it allows you to switch your brain off and just become engrossed in a silly story. I was told that the book’s intended audience is young adults, but nothing I’ve found online suggests that. I think it’s just a not-very-scary first attempt at horror. Mostly it reminds me of every episode of Scooby-Doo: about things that are scary in theory, but this particular execution is not.

Do you know that trick that authors have of giving a juvenile voice to a third person narrator? We see that in this novel, and I wonder if that’s what renders this less scary than it might be otherwise. The novel is about children, and for most of the novel, the narrator describes the thoughts and actions of children. They’re not very imaginative kids, and the novel is set in a time that seems quaint compared to what we’re living now. Some of the expletives the kids use made me laugh out loud, and it’s cute because they think they’re really tough. That bully though…he’s something else.

The plot did what it was intended to do: kept me engrossed and entertained. I’ve trained myself out of the bad habit of trying to guess what’s going to happen next so I couldn’t tell you if you’ll be able to guess what comes. In all honesty, there don’t seem to be many plot twists. Just a series of events that follow one another. That’s not a criticism, however. We’ve become used to plot twists in recent years, but there was a time when we could read books without them. Try it! It’s not so bad.

A more practiced author, I think, would have given us a little more in the way of character development. Jack is the most fleshed-out, followed by Cassie. Ronnie and the rest of the gang seem a little flat, though they fulfill their purpose well. I enjoyed Emma as a character, and I would have liked to see more of her, though her storyline and ultimately heroic dénouement, despite being almost entirely separate from the rest of the story, was nonetheless entertaining.

This book belongs more in the category of speculative, urban fantasy, rather than horror. Regardless of where you shelve it, definitely save this title for a pool day or a day at the beach, when you need one eye on the page but you can save most of your brain for other activities. It’s a funny, quick read if you want something that doesn’t demand much more from you than simply allowing yourself to be entertained.

Three Anticipated Reads

Three Anticipated Reads

The Young Elites
The Young Elites

The first of my three highly anticipated reads is The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Unlike many of you (probably), this was my first of her novels. I haven’t read Legend or any of that series. I was really excited to read this one, though, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was good YA.

“Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a ‘malfetto,’ an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars–they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.
‘It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.'”

This is a good work of young adult fiction. It had great characters. Some were a little formulaic, but I enjoyed others immensely. Also, I feel like maybe Marie Lu has read the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. Sometimes it felt like she took some details straight from there. It’s a great adventure and pretty dramatic, with some really unforeseen twists and surprises. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars because it’s close to perfect, but not quite.

Slade House
Slade House

Slade House by David Mitchell was the perfect mix of suspenseful, creepy, and beautiful. I truly am amazed by his writing and I highly recommend his work to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I have several more of his older titles still to read and I’m glad I still have some of his stories left to read. I digress.

“‘Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door.’ 

Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents–an odd brother and sister–extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .

Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story as only David Mitchell could imagine it.”Indiebound

This novel was shorter and smaller than I expected, a very light hardcover easily held with one hand. I devoured this book in a day. I could barely put it down. I read it while I cooked, I read it while I ate, I read it outside with my coffee, I read it in the bathtub, and I ignored my family to read it. David Mitchell once again has created a story that completely absorbs its reader and leaves them scrambling for more. Beautiful prose, engaging story: 5/5 stars for darling Mr. Mitchell’s latest.

Bats of the Republic
Bats of the Republic

Bats of the Republic is an illuminated novel of adventure, featuring hand-drawn maps and natural history illustrations, subversive pamphlets and science-fictional diagrams, and even a nineteenth-century novel-within-a-novel an intrigue wrapped in innovative design.

In 1843, fragile naturalist Zadock Thomas must leave his beloved in Chicago to deliver a secret letter to an infamous general on the front lines of the war over Texas. The fate of the volatile republic, along with Zadock’s future, depends on his mission.When a cloud of bats leads him off the trail, he happens upon something impossible…

Three hundred years later, the world has collapsed and the remnants of humanity cling to a strange society of paranoia. Zeke Thomas has inherited a sealed envelope from his grandfather, an esteemed senator.When that letter goes missing, Zeke engages a fomenting rebellion that could free him if it doesn’t destroy his relationship, his family legacy, and the entire republic first.

As their stories overlap and history itself begins to unravel, a war in time erupts between a lost civilization, a forgotten future, and the chaos of the wild. Bats of the Republic is a masterful novel of adventure and science fiction, of elliptical history and dystopian struggle, and, at its riveting core, of love.”

I was very excited to read Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson, but I think perhaps it was written for people much smarter and more artistic than I am. Visually the novel is very beautiful and stimulating, with sketches, handwritten letters, maps, diagrams, and other media besides written words that really brought the story to life. I really liked to concept of this novel. However, something about it felt disjointed to me, and the reading was not as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. It built and built to what promised to be a brilliant ending, but to me the ending felt gimmicky and not as big as it was made out to be. I know plenty of people who loved this book, but sadly it was a somewhat disappointing read for me.

 

Two Books Read Simultaneously (Because One Scared Me And I Couldn’t Read It After Dark)

Two Books Read Simultaneously (Because One Scared Me And I Couldn’t Read It After Dark)

I have mentioned in a previous post that I am very suggestible. Even the hint of something scary is enough to set my mind whirring into all sorts of horrifying possibilities. So when I tried to read Night Film by Marisha Pessl, I was spooked pretty much constantly.

Night Film
Night Film

“On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time, he might lose even more. Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.”–Indiebound

This book is supposedly a thriller, but I would argue it’s slightly scarier than that, although what do I know about true horror? I can’t read it. Books like this are difficult to talk about without giving too much away, so I will just say a few things about it. First, I liked the characters a lot, especially McGrath’s two “sidekicks.” Each main character, even the deceased girl, Ashley, is nuanced and detailed in a way that few authors achieve without seeming to show significant effort. McGrath, though unlikable, is an excellent, flawed protagonist whose mission to prove himself ends up driving the story. My only complaint is that he is not tremendously believable as a father.

There are almost two endings to this story, and I enjoyed that immensely. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.

And again, this book scared the daylights out of me. I could only read it during the day. It’s so spooky, and it hints at some really dark and even perhaps demonic dealings that go on in shadowy locations around New York. There are also pictures in this novel, so you never know when you’ll turn a page and come face to face with something weird and startling. Because of this, I had to have something to read that was definitely less scary, and less adult:

Deep Blue
Deep Blue

“Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe. When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.”–Indiebound

All I really want to say about this book (so I can forget about it quickly) is that it is stupid. The plot is stupid, the characters are stupid, and the world-building is stupid. The stupid “mermaidisms” drove me insane (example: their money is called “currensea.” Stop.)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The lines between the world we know and the fantasy world where mermaids exist are not well-blended, and it comes off rushed and sloppy. This book is about at the quality level of a made-for-TV movie. I’m not interested in the rest of the series. I’m totally disappointed because I think there is a lack of good mermaid literature in the book world, and I was hoping this would make up some ground. It didn’t. Even for children’s level reading, it was bad.

Two Very Different Books (Because This Is a Book Blog and I Need to Catch Up)

Two Very Different Books (Because This Is a Book Blog and I Need to Catch Up)

Last year was not my best book for reading (that would be the year I read 112 books), but I did still reach my reading goal of 100 books. Unfortunately, all that time reading means I didn’t do a lot of writing. Thus, my attempts to play catch-up (all while reading more and digging myself into a deeper hole; isn’t that fun?).

The Selection cover
The Selection cover

The first book in this post is The Selection by Kiera Cass. Any fan of YA fiction has likely read this book. While I did think it was more shallow than my usual YA fare, I was on vacation in Cusco at the time and found myself enjoying it as a light vacation read.

“For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.” —Indiebound

I know, I know. This book is literally about a bunch of girls competing to marry a prince. It seems like it sets feminism back a century. Maybe I should feel ashamed for liking it. But like it I did, and I want to read the rest of them. America is a great character. Hers is an enjoyable voice. She recognizes how atrocious the Selection is, and only applies for it because of pressure from her family. She is a talented singer and a smart kid and uppity to boot. I liked her. The only thing I think I don’t like about this book is the tired love triangle. While I do love a good romance, I hate it when a novel centers around a girl’s pursuit of a boy (or possibly two). There could have been more to this plot, but I still enjoyed it and I will likely check the rest of the series out from the library if I need something quick and easy to give my brain a rest from books like this next one:

The Historian cover
The Historian cover

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This book is a doozy! It took me weeks to read it, and the only books that ever usually take me weeks are penned by George R. R. Martin. This isn’t because I wasn’t reading it constantly. I couldn’t put it down. It’s just very long, with small print, and a really dense, twisted plot. At times, this book tells a story within a story within a story (and possibly one more “within a story”). I honestly can’t remember how many layers of people telling stories there were at each point in the book.

“‘To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history….’ Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor,’ and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of–a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known, and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself–to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed, and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign, and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages. Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful–and utterly unforgettable.” —Indiebound

A few things:

1). ;uerhgf;dkjfhg;onifh;boe9ruyth;wit’wmeisubhnpw;oritjhgslorgjks;hdgslfh[gwneoirvgj’spoj THIS BOOK WAS EPIC AND AMAZING

2) This is a debut?! And the woman has a second novel out (The Swan Thieves, which I have also read and enjoyed). I can’t imagine writing a novel like this and having time left in my life to compose a second one equal to the first in both quality of research and quality of writing.

3) This novel scared the daylights out of me.

A disclaimer about that last one: I am very easily frightened. I don’t read horror, I don’t watch horror, and I can’t even really watch trailers for horror movies or TV shows. Many of you probably have much more backbone than I do and this novel will not scare you as it did me. But Kostova has done absolutely brilliant work in depicting an evil so insidious and knowledgeable as to seem inescapable. The danger and suspense felt by readers while engaged in the novel are so potent and powerful that they seep off the page and seems to lurk in the shadows of reality.

I’m not sure that any characters could get more 3D than Kostova’s. Every little quirk and detail about each of her main characters are there in the text, lovingly included so the reader can know intimately her protagonists. The detail in this novel is exquisite. The nature of the light while a character reads or as the girl and her father arrive in a new locale. The sounds and smells of the presence of evil and the acrid tang of the human body’s reaction to such a presence. The way different fabrics fold and crinkle with wear and use, or the sound of ancient pages being turned. All of these and more make this a novel that engages all the reader’s senses.

The prose and the amount of research I imagine Kostova needed to do to complete this work are both admirable qualities that only add to the sheer wonder of the book. I have to wrap this up because this post is getting too long, but I hope my readers understand exactly how incredible this book is. For quality and for entertainment, this book is 100% a 5/5 stars.

Stoker’s Manuscript

Stoker’s Manuscript

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It’s funny how you can read a book and instantly forget about it. That’s what happened with this book by Royce Prouty. I got this book as a reader before it came out, and even specially requested it from BookPeople’s publisher reps because it sounded great. Then, as often happens with books I can’t wait to read and acquired right away, life and other books got in the way and it took me two years to get around to reading it. When I finally did read it, I was disappointed.

“When rare-manuscript expert Joseph Barkeley is hired to authenticate and purchase the original draft and notes for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” little does he know that the reclusive buyer is a member of the oldest family in Transylvania,…”Indiebound

I so wanted to enjoy this book, but I really thought it was mediocre at best. It was not well-executed though the plot of the novel had the potential to be great in the right hands. The main character is a loquacious narrator and gives mundane details about his personality at the strangest times. The book seems tame for its majority, but at certain parts gets gory beyond all necessity, which makes it feel disjointed. The reader is just expected to accept that vampires are real without much build-up–the narrator himself seems to experience a weak denial that was entirely unconvincing to the reader. There was obvious effort in the writing of this book, but it wasn’t seamless enough to allow the reader to suspend disbelief and forget the existence of its author.

The author did some things well. He created a fantastic mood with the setting, using weather and the superstitions of locals to construct a convincingly creepy locale for his story. There was precisely one character that I found to be believable and sympathetic. And despite its mediocrity, I did read the novel from cover to cover, so his plot kept me at least engaged enough to finish.

It’s very rare for me to say I do not recommend something, but I do not recommend this book to anyone other than people who insist on reading every single vampire text known to man. Pass on this one and spend your time reading something better.