Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Patricia Morais' 'Tides' is a fun and scary read

 Title: Tides - Ada Hughes Novella

Author: Patricia Morais
Published: June 8, 2022
Pages: 80
Genre: YA Fantasy


What Goodreads has to say:

Years before Lilly Ashton was recruited, Ada Hughes had already caught the eye of the demon hunters. But what led Ada, the quiet and sweet girl from Diabolus Venator, to be recruited to fight supernatural creatures?

When children start to go missing in a fishing town, Ada Hughes starts to fear for her two little brothers’ safety. Tide Springs was never really safe for them but she has a plan to escape their toxic family environment.

While battling her own loneliness and ignoring her forbidden love, Ada is faced with one more unexpected twist. Mythological beings and an ancient demon-hunting order will change her life forever.

She is suddenly afflicted with questions… Is this a new reality or just a hallucination? Will she be able to face this new world while being confronted with the secrets of her hometown?

What I have to say:

Who loves a good spooky read? Me! (And hopefully you too.) 

This year I got to kick off spooky season in just the right way: by reading a creepy book about monsters! (And also visiting the best cemetery ever, aka, Sleepy Hollow, but that's a story for another day.)

I'll start with the obvious: this does not look like a spooky book about monsters. From the cover and the tagline, I'd guess it's a coming of age story featuring some family drama and messy love triangles. 

Now the book does indeed have all those things, but it also has a vampiric sea creature, a disturbing murder, and a pair of sassy monster hunters. The author manages to weave all these threads together in a seamless, suspenseful narrative I couldn't put down.

At the start of the story, Ada Hughes is dealing with an abusive father, trying to save enough money to fight for custody of her two younger brothers, and feeling conflicted about her feelings for her best friend's boyfriend. This is all pretty engaging by itself, so I definitely wasn't bored. But the real action didn't pick up until a few chapters in. Then things really got going, and from that point on, my eyes were basically glued to the page. 

While I did feel the final climactic battle scene could have lasted a bit longer, overall I have no solid complaints about this story. It was fast-paced, fun, and just the right amount of creepy. 

I also appreciated the complex characters and their equally complex feelings and dynamics. Ada's conflicted emotions about things like her father and her friends' relationship made her feel very real, and I was rooting for her from pretty much the first page. There was also some real tragedy that never got reversed, which, again, made it feel very real and valid as an origin story. 

In my opinion, those are some of the elements that make for a really good horror story, whether on the page, stage, or screen: characters with complex psychology and real tragedy in their past.

And, of course, scary-as-heck monsters.

On that note (MINOR SPOILER ALERT): I do love a good lamia and was very excited when one showed up in this book. 

So all around, kudos to the author for a good monster story well told.

Postscript: yes, this is a prequel and no, you do not have to have read any of the other books in the series to understand or enjoy it. I hadn't and I loved it.

Rating:

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

In 'Death at Friar's Inn,' Rob Keeley weaves a stimulating mystery against a legal backdrop

Title: Death at Friar's Inn
Author: Rob Keeley
Published: March 10, 2022
Pages: 107
Genre: Mystery


What Goodreads has to say:

Dinner at an Inn of Court takes an unusual turn when a corpse falls onto the Benchers’ Table. A battleaxe and a rubber glove are found at the scene. A trophy has been stolen. But who could have wanted the Porter dead – and why?

Aspiring barristers Tom and Becca set out to investigate. But another murder isn’t far away...

Rob Keeley is an established award-winning author of children’s novels, short stories and picture books, including the Spirits series. Other credits include the award-listed stage play Mr. Everyone, and Chain Gang and Newsjack for BBC Radio. Death At Friar’s Inn is his first novel for adults and draws on his own experiences training as a barrister.

What I have to say:

Who doesn't love a good mystery? Whether it's Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, the best mystery writers present complicated characters and intricate webs of unraveling deception in atmospheric settings. And we love them for it.

Rob Keeley's Death at Friar's Inn checks all those boxes: a murder mystery set at a historic inn, featuring a cast of characters who all have something to hide. 

This may be the author's first book for adults, but it's definitely not his first mystery. After Childish Spirits--a mysterious MG ghost story that I absolutely adored; and The Treasure in the Tower--a MG story about a treasure hunt, it's no surprise that his first book for adults is a murder mystery in a historic setting.

When aspiring barrister (that's a type of lawyer, you're welcome) Tom decides to investigate a death he witnessed at a prestigious student dinner at Friar's Inn, he may get more than he bargained for. Not only does Tom himself end up falling suspect because he, you know, was caught holding the evidence at the scene of the crime; he also has to deal with Becca: a gorgeous but devilishly sly fellow law student who's already bested him in a mock trial, not to mention exacerbated his allergies with a scented tissue. 

It's funny, well-paced, and had enough twists and turns to keep me  guessing. Just about every character fell under suspicion at some point, which is just how I like it. And while I can't say the final reveal completely blindsided me (I had my suspicions but was by no means certain), it did take me by surprise, and there may even have been a slight intake of breath. 

I'm giving this one three trees (good), because while it was a very fun read and a clever, well-structured mystery, the author has set a high standard for his own books to live up to. While the character dynamics, especially between Tom and his roommate and Tom and Becca, were fun, I didn't fall in love with the characters the way I did in the Spirits series, and while I loved the historic setting, I felt it could have been played up a bit for more atmosphere, which I know the author can do very well because he's done it in, again, the Spirits series. (I guess if you get nothing else from this review, you should take my recommendation to read the Spirits series.)

Also, I feel like I'm getting too lax with the 4 and 5-tree ratings, and we need to vary things up. 

But at the end of the day, would I recommend this as a stimulating, slightly spooky but not too scary mystery? Absolutely.

Rating:

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Rob Keeley's 'The Treasure in the Tower' is exactly the right kind of MG story--and awakened my inner Anglophile

Title: The Treasure in the Tower
Author: Rob Keeley
Genre: MG mystery

What Goodreads has to say:

A school trip to historic Deanchester becomes more exciting when Jess and her friends discover the city hides a secret treasure. Local historian Dr. Joseph Pyrite left a series of clues scattered around Deanchester’s landmarks, which Jess, Mason and Kessie are determined to solve. But they only have three days. And they have competition. A series of increasingly cunning tricks awaits Jess and her party as they try to beat Perdita and Thomas to the treasure.

What I have to say:

I always know a book by Rob Keeley will be fun, heartwarming, and full of twists--and The Treasure in the Tower was no exception. This middle-grade story about a group of students who decide to hunt for a long-lost treasure while on their school fieldtrip is a delightful adventure that kept me guessing and smiling. 

Sometimes MG books like this are just the kind of read you need: charming, breezy, and exciting without getting too intense. I was caught up in Jess's search for the treasure and amused by the various mishaps she and the others got into, but I didn't have to worry that serious harm would befall any of my favorite characters. (The worst thing that happens is someone gets doused with cold tomato soup.)

The characters are fun. Jess is determined but ethical in her pursuit of the treasure, whereas her arch nemesis Perdita, for all her sense of superiority, is not above cheating. Perdita's accomplice Thomas might have been my favorite, even though he's technically "the enemy." Though he is working against Jess for most of the book, it's only because he gets pushed around easily and Perdita ropes him into it. And unlike Perdita, he does feel bad about cheating. Mason, Jess's "evil twin" is also a fun character.

Also, can I just say how much I love seeing illustrations in chapter books? I love collecting illustrated novels and really think we should bring that trend back. The Treasure in the Tower has simple, whimsical black and white drawings by Simon Goodway that add yet another layer of charm to the story.

Unlike Perdita, I may be above cheating, but as an American, I'm not above being an Anglophile, and I guess there's something enchanting to me about a group of school children on a treasure hunt in a historic English town (even if I had to put up with a few Briticisms along the way). It makes me want to take another trip to England--and maybe go on a treasure hunt myself if the opportunity presents itself.

Rating:

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Once again, Hûw Steer knows what I want in a book

Title: Nightingale's Sword
Series: The Boiling Seas (#2)
Author: Hûw Steer
Genre: Fantasy

What Goodreads has to say:

In the endless jungles of Tyria, the Blackbird flies again.

Tal Wenlock and Max Odyn make a formidable team. The thief and the scholar have already unearthed one ancient scroll, filled with priceless knowledge and forgotten magic - and with it cured Tal's sister of her crippling illness.

But four more scrolls still lurk in long-forgotten tombs - and Tal and Max are determined to find them. Unfortunately, so is everyone else. Tal and Max will have to race the world's finest treasure-hunters across the deadly Boiling Seas, from the depths of the earth to the heights of the sky, if they want to win the glory - and the gold.

Thankfully, this time Tal and Max have help. Because Lily Wenlock is back on her feet - and she's not about to let her little brother have all the fun.

The jungle islands of Tyria hold secrets unimaginable - all the Blackbird and his friends have to do is find them first.

What I have to say:

What do airships, pirates, tomb raiders, duels, magic, and jungle expeditions have in common? 

They're all things I love in a story.

They're also all in Hûw Steer's newest novel, Nightingale's Sword. The second book in his Boiling Seas series (I reviewed the first one here), it's possibly even more action-packed and atmospheric than the first. And it sure is a great read.

After finding the first of several magic scrolls that contain ancient wisdom and spells, Tal Wenlock, alias The Blackbird, is determined to find the others. Helping him is scholar and unlikely adventurer Max Odyn, and Tal's intrepid sister Lily. The trio work well together both on and off the page: they're each strong characters in their own right, but they have a great group dynamic that makes the story fun and fulfilling. I'm hoping their relationships continue to develop and deepen in the next book.

The adventures begin on a huge, fancy airship sailing over the boiling seas. As far as cool stuff in stories go, this is pretty near the top. So just imagine how much cooler it gets when the airship is attacked by pirates, and Tal and his friends have to fight their way free. 

Honestly not sure what could be cooler than that, but a quest to find a magic scroll in a ruined temple in the deep jungle of an uncharted island seems like a strong contender. And did I mention it's a race?

At this point, I was starting to wonder if the author has mind-reading powers because he literally put everything I love in a story into this book--except maybe dinosaurs, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Thanks to a great, high stakes plot and engaging characters with great relationship dynamics, the story never gets stale or boring. But it's not just action at the expense of plot, worldbuilding, or character development. We're treated to a tour of the airship and an explanation of its inner workings, an artisan mapmaker's shop, a deep jungle, and an abandoned, unexplored temple. 

We also see characters having to make tough decisions and grapple with the effects of their choices, which is something I appreciate in a story. And we get a taste of this world's history and geography, so that it feels like a real place with a real past. 

Basically, Nightingale's Sword is part steampunk, part high fantasy, and part classic adventure tale. If that combination doesn't appeal to you, I don't know what will.

Rating:

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Did You Know That Goblins Invented Baseball?

 


Author: Paul Lonardo
Publisher: PL Publishing
Published: April 11, 2021

Goodreads Blub: 
The one thing eleven-year-old Jake Lupo loves more than anything else is baseball. However, despite his father being a professional pitcher, Jake's fear of failing has kept him from competing against children his own age. When his father, who has recovered from a serious arm injury, is invited to pitch for an independent team, Jake and his parents move to Pine Barrows, a far flung forested mountain outpost. Jake is excited about his father's chance at a comeback, but he soon learns that he is not the only one in Pine Barrows who loves baseball. Goblins love to play baseball, too, and Pine Barrows happens to be chock full of them. Then Jake discovers that the region is occupied by two factions of warring goblins.

Seeking to take control of the goblin kingdom, the leader of the evil goblins kidnaps Jake's mother and bans baseball, a game which itself is a natural source of power for the goblins.

It turns out that Jake has a secret kinship with the legendary beings, and he is the only one who can save them, their kingdom and his mother. However, Jake must believe in himself and play a winner-take-all game against the best goblin players in Pine Barrows. 

My Thoughts: This book was absolutely delightful. I'm an avid reader of folklore, so I really loved that all the different types of goblins and other faerie creatures were straight out of lore or fairystories. The hogboon, fachan, redcap, kallikanzaros, and Jenny Greenteeth, (just to name a few) are all creatures pulled from (mostly European) legends. These terrifying creatures have been stalking human imaginations for centuries. Jenny Greenteeth, goblins, and hobgoblins have even made their way into D&D (Dungeons & Dragons). I found Lonardo's depiction of the goblins quite accurate, I loved how many different species there were - every goblin was unique, and contributed something useful to their society. 

While this story abounds with magic, goblins, and intrigue, the true heart of the story is about baseball. I like baseball, I like going to baseball games, but I do not speak baseball. Jake speaks baseball. He knows every facet of the game, he knows statistics, and theories, and formulas that made absolutely no sense to me. So it's understandable that I got a bit lost during the "big game", I could follow everything until the baseball lingo really started. So, avid fans of baseball, you're gonna love this book, casual fans, maybe find a dictionary. 

At the end of the day, goblins really love baseball. And I mean REALLY LOVE BASEBALL. They invented it after all. The game is everything to them, Buach (evil goblin overlord) first started down the path to the darkside because he got cut from a junior league team. Seriously. I'm not making this up. The goblins are divided into two factions - The Order (which Buach leads) and the Resistance (lead by Skip). Basically the Resistance wants to play baseball and have a good time, and the Order wants to control everything and demolish all happiness. Seems pretty easy to pick out the good guys, as Jake's dad says: "You can't trust anyone who doesn't like baseball". Turns out all the goblins LOVE baseball, even Buach, though he may deny it. 

I thought this book was very fun, a good step into the world of fantasy for young readers, AND an awesome bridge between sports and fantasy. If Rip Van Winkle's dwarf friends could play nine-pins, then goblins can play baseball.

Rating:


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Song of Echoes is a rich, epic fantasy with a wonderful heroine


Title: Song of Echoes
Author: R. E. Palmer
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: July 12, 2021


Blurb:

All that has gone before is woven into the Song; joy, sorrow; kind acts and cruel acts; creation and destruction. Past, present, and what has yet to come, make themselves known — if you know how to listen.

For three hundred years, the people of the Five Realms have lived in relative peace, protected by their great leader, the Archon. Yet, far to the north, in the frozen lands beyond the Draegalen Trench, the Ruuk stir, driven by a rising evil, long believed banished from the world. But rumors questioning the Archon’s ability to defend the realms once more, persist.

Elodi, the Lady Harlyn, uneasy in her new role following the death of her father, and Toryn, a farmworker and outsider in his village, must discover a way to fight an enemy that all but defeated their ancestors.

Song of Echoes is the first book in this epic fantasy series.

Me:

This is an exciting post because I get to review a book I beta read that is now being published! 

R. E. Palmer's Song of Echoes is a rich fantasy adventure in the tradition of Prydain, Earthsea, and dare I say Middle-Earth. It strikes that balance that's hard to achieve but crucial in fantasy: beautiful world-building and a forward momentum plot. Plus it has a young, precocious hero of unknown origins (Toryn) and a fully developed heroine (Elodi) who is much more than just a "strong" female character. In other words, it has everything I want in a book.

There are three reasons I couldn't put this book down: the action, the suspense, and Elodi.

The action. There are a couple of really epic battle scenes that almost made me miss my subway stop (seriously, it was real close) because I was so engrossed. I could picture the action vividly in my head. 

The suspense. By which I mean mysteries that I just had to keep reading to find out about. For example: how did Elodi's father really die? Who was Toryn's father? Who is the strange magic-worker who saves Toryn's life? Is the Archon, protector of the realm, really a good guy? Etc.

Elodi. All the characters in this book are very distinct and well-developed, and both Toryn and Elodi (the two main characters) have great arcs. Some characters I absolutely loved, others I found mysterious and intriguing, and there are others whose morality I'm still not sure about. But when all is said and done, Elodi is just the best and clearly I can't review this book without mentioning her multiple times. Picture Eowyn but as the queen of Rohan and with more inner dialogue, slowly gaining confidence in her leadership abilities. 

While all of that kept me reading, the land, lore, and magic ushered me into a rich, wondrous new world I didn't want to leave. In the end, isn't that one of the best things about fantasy? There were moments that felt numinous and sublime in the way Narnia sometimes feels, and references to old tales and myths that reminded me of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Sometimes fantasy worlds feel a little thin or lacking, but this world is rich with history, legends, creatures, peoples, and places. 

All in all, a truly epic read.

Rating:





Until tomorrow.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Grimmir is Freaking Fantastic - A. M. Robin's "Fallen Thief"


Title: Fallen Thief
Series: Merrows (Book 2)
Author: A.M. Robin
Genre: MG Fantasy
Pages: 272
Published: July 2021
Preorder: Fallen Thief
Buy: Hidden Scales (Merrows Book 1)

What Goodreads has to say:
Mira, Kay, and Peter have finally returned home, but not everyone is happy to see them. Despite the town bullies who never fail to remind the young merrows just how different they are from the rest of the townsfolk, the adventurers try to enjoy the remainder of their summer break from school...until a devastating fire reminds them of the evil that is still lurking in the shadows. After discovering the true identity of the malicious leader of the Shadowveils-the hooded merrows who hunt and imprison anyone who gets in the way of their mysterious missions-it seems their troubles have only just begun.

With their eyes opened to a secret world of sorcery, Mira, Kay, and Peter turn to the only place where they can learn more about what they're up against: fairy stories. They soon find out that the tales they had heard growing up might hold the key that will help them save their friends from a terrible curse. As they journey into abandoned cities, treacherous hideaways, and deep into the sea, they must stay vigilant to distinguish friend from foe and work together if they hope to stay one step ahead of the Shadowveils and keep their loved ones safe. 

My Thoughts:
Another wonderful installment in the adventures of Mira, Kay and Peter. I love this world that A M Robin has created. As an avid reader of folktales and fairy stories, I especially loved the emphasis on finding the truth in fairytales and connecting them with actual history. 

The story starts fairly soon after the last one left off. But this time instead of finding new adventures afar and visiting exotic places, Mira, Kay and Peter are stuck in their own village of Crispin. They have to go to school, deal with bullies, and do chores. It's not easy to spy on secret meetings when everyone knows who you are. And while there is some fame (especially with the younger children) for being Merrows, Mira and Kay are shunned and rejected by many of their elders and even some of their peers. Besides Appoline and a few others, the villagers don't view the Merrows as something to celebrate. They want nothing to do with the supposed war between the land and the sea, and absolutely no contact with the Shadowveils. The twins get bullied at school by their peers and even harrassed and unduly punished by their teacher! 

Somehow amidst all this "mundane" chaos, Mira, Kay and Peter manage to slip away and discover an abandoned Merrow city. I loved the description of Nesston. It sounded like a truly lovely town where merrows and humans lived mixed together. I loved how it was centered around a lake, allowing fully merrow families to live underwater, and mixed to live on the shore. The imagery Robin uses to paint Nesston is astounding. 

Now let's talk about the Grimmir. As before mentioned, I adore folklore and fairy stories. The Grimmir is AMAZING. Robin is comfortable enough in this world she's created to add in fairy tales and folklore, AND IT WORKS. Not only is she telling a current tale, but she weaves in a "long forgotten" tale and the two merge together beautifully. One of my favorite things about the Grimmir is that it's a story of change. A normal merrow gains power through sorcery and becomes obsessed with gaining more and more power even at the cost of those around him. Eventually it becomes too much and the people of Nesston retaliate, stealing his hair and even blood to bring life back to the land. Finally his mentor finds out, and instead of being proud of his prodigy's power, curses him to assume the form of a giant serpent that prowls the ocean depths. Not only is he forever changed, and his memory altered, but he is given healing horns that all being seek after. Always to be hunted. 

And that seems to be where the story ends, until Kay and Mira discover a shell that tells them a way to end the curse. They must reunite a vial of the sorcerer's blood with the Grimmir. This will allow him to regain his merrow shape, and finally be at peace. Because the children have no hope of waking their friends from the dreaded everlock sleep without the healing horns, they travel into the depths in search of the fabled Grimmir. 

A shark encounter and many miles later, the twins find him. Impossibly huge and frightening. In fact, the Grimmir has no visual sight, but instead "sees" by feeling fear in others. Once Mira realizes this, she is able to expand her protective field to Kay, and then have something of a conversation with the serpent. She tries to barter the blood for the last horn, but when the Grimmir lashes out, she loses her courage and drops the vial, allowing the serpent to crush it and disappear into the deep. 

Heartbroken and desperate the twins have only seconds to breathe before the Empress of the Sea herself and entourage surround them. In this tense dialogue, Mira and Kay learn that the empress will never stop until she has control of the whole earth. Escape seems impossible, until Mira sends her thoughts to the Grimmir yet again, pleading for his help. When death seems moments away, the Grimmir suddenly appears tossing merrows like bowling pins. He is an arrow in the dark, too fast and enormous for the empress to subdue. In the chaos Kay creates a portal and manages to steer both the Grimmir and Mira through. And this is where the change really happens.

The Grimmir expresses to the twins how tired he is of being a monster, and how lost his true self was, sunken in the deep. He tells them that their call for help was a redemption point for him, which will allow him to finally rest in peace. As a parting gift for giving him his soul back, the Grimmir gifts the last healing horn, the cure for everlock sleep.

As soon as they leave the Grimmir, Mira and Kay portal to the Ripple where they rush to the infirmary where their friend Alexandra and her mentor Aristide lie in everlock sleep. The Grimmir is as good as his word, and the horn works, awakening the sleepers. 

With the whole team back in action (Tonttu is also at the castle, and Peter is on his way with Eola) the Empress of the Sea had better watch out!

This book is fantastic, I honestly can't praise it enough. A great middle grade read, that promises to be a wonderful series. I look forward to book 3!

Rating: