Book Review: The Turning

|+| Warnings: Unreliable narrator, emotionally abusive relationships |+|

“The big, dark house was their world and they were letting me in. But only so far.” ~Jack (The Turning)

TheTurning_Cover

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Author: Francine Prose

Genre: YA Horror

Synopsis:  Jack is spending the summer on a private island far from modern conveniences. No Wi-Fi, no cell service, no one else on the island but a housekeeper and the two very peculiar children in his care. The first time Jack sees the huge black mansion atop a windswept hill, he senses something cold, something more sinister than even the dark house itself.

Soon, he feels terribly isolated and alone. Yet he is not alone. The house has visitors—peering in the windows, staring from across the shore. But why doesn’t anyone else see them . . . and what do they want? As secrets are revealed and darker truths surface, Jack desperately struggles to maintain a grip on reality. He knows what he sees, and he isn’t crazy. . . . Or is he?

My Opinion: The Turning has all my favorite horror tropes in it and uses them beautifully. Did it scare me? No, but there’s only been one horror book that’s done that, so I won’t hold that against this book. Although it took me a bit to get into the writing style and I wasn’t fully satisfied with the ending, I was in love with the concept, characters, and setting. Overall I gave this book 3 stars.

This book is based off of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, a book I’ve had on my TBR list for a while, but have yet to read. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed The Turning more or less if I had read Henry James’ book. Regardless, this book relies a lot on classic horror tropes and uses them flawlessly. The book doesn’t feel bogged down with tropes because from the start, we know exactly what we’re getting. We expect to get a creepy house with creepy kids and paranormal activity and we do.

I love books that are told through letter style, and to see a horror book that does that was super fun. I think the only problem with this narration style was that we ultimately had three letter writers (Jack, Sophie, and Jack’s father) that all sounded the same. I found myself double checking the “Dear ____” part because I was getting confused. This took me out of the story somewhat.

I also had an issue with the predictability and pacing of the story. There’s odd and interesting things that happen at the start, but it’s easy enough to make (accurate) assumptions about them. This changes 100+ pages into the story. Because this is a short book (just over 200 pages), that meant a lot of waiting.

Despite the slow pace and the predictability I think what sold me on this book was the fact that once it picks up, it picks up. Not only that, while we’re seeing tried and true horror tropes we also are seeing some genuinely interesting things. This is done mostly through the setting and how the characters react to it. The way that the characters and supernatural events behave within the setting was extremely well done. This element was what really kept me going.

TL;DR: If you’re looking for something to scare you stiff and a more serious horror book, this might not be your cup of tea. But if you’re looking for a more fun horror read and are a fan of horror tropes, this is the book for you! Although this book is predictable and has a slow start, it’s still a quick and fun read.

 

Book Review: The Hunger Games

|+| Warnings: Detailed depictions of violence (including torture and abuse), death, suicide mention|+|

“It’s to the Capitol’s advantage to have us divided among ourselves.” ~Katniss Everdeen

“I’m not the forgiving type” ~Katniss Everdeen

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Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: YA Dystopian

Synopsis: The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

My Opinion: For the record, spellcheck keeps wanting me to change Katniss to Satanists. Strange, funny, but true. Anyway, moving on.

We all know at this point that dystopia and sci-fi are not my things. The Hunger Games is phenomenal and the one dystopian book I will swear by. This book is a hard read but worth it. The honest portrayal of violence, survival and poverty, and the portrayal of human brutality and grace makes this one a must read. That’s not even touching the world building and three dimensional characters. Hands down, five stars. 

Honestly, I don’t know where to start. This book gives me such tangled emotions, and everything in the story is so interconnected it’s hard to know where to begin. But I’ll start with Katniss herself.

Katniss knows she’s different in that she’s one of the few brave enough to sneak out of district boarders to hunt for food. Not only is this dangerous, it’s highly illegal. To add on to this, she has a weapon (her bow)-again highly illegal. Both crimes have the penalty of death. But Katniss knows she’s like everyone else in that she hates the Capitol, she wants her family to survive, and she, like the rest of her district, is dreading the approaching Hunger Games. Despite all this, at the start Katniss is surprisingly self centered. It’s her against the world and through her time as a Tribute, she realizes that it’s not just her against the world. There’s others who share her thoughts, who have her back, who are rooting for her. She and her family are not as alone as she thought. Due to the narration style it’s almost hard to see how Katniss grows until the very end of the book because she doesn’t realize it herself. But the growth is there. This touch of realism is one of the things that really sold me on this book and made me root for Katniss and her friends.

Katniss is also perfect for showing us the new dystopian world because she wants no part of it. She’s not indoctrinated into the way of thinking, and she wants nothing of adventure or of being a hero. In this respect she’s very practical. She’s not blindly in love with the system like we usually see in many YA and Adult dystopian books. Again, this adds a dash of authenticity. Katniss’ world is brutal. Some of it hit a little too close to home for me. But I think that can be eye opening for those who haven’t experienced it. Dystopian fictional world? Yes. Completely unfounded? Absolutely not.

Onto the fabled love triangle. Heads up, it’s not there. Katniss has no time for Peta or Gale. She’s too busy trying to survive and keeping her family alive. She manipulates, kills, and allows her humanity to slip. But what makes this book so vital and fascinating is what she does to try to retain and regain her humanity. Peta plays a key role in this, although not in a romantic way. There are others such as Rue, the true Mockingjay, that help with this too. It’s incredibly refreshing, but more than that, it’s incredibly realistic. Love is not a priority when you’re fighting for your life.

There are so many important things and people in this book, but I think Rue is the most important. Without Rue, Katniss wouldn’t have indirectly rebelled later in the book. Katniss was able to keep her humanity while with Rue and then carries her humanity throughout the rest of the Games. That was the biggest rebellion of all.

TL:DR; This book is not a book you can passively read. It’s not the typical dystopian in the way that it offers no hope or a way out where everyone gets a happily ever after. I think that is why this book is such a turn off for so many. Romance is not the core, nor is the taking down of a corrupt system. But that makes it no less powerful or important. The pacing, character development, and the physical and moral challenges these characters face make the book phenomenal and important. Even if dystopian books aren’t your thing, I strongly encourage you to read this.

Book Birthday! Whispers in the Dark

Book Birthday! Whispers in the Dark

|+| Warnings: Death and mild violence |+|

“Good for you dude;  you’re now officially my favorite zombie.” ~Karen 

Happy Book Birthday to Pam Jernigan’s award winning debut novel, Whispers in the Dark! Zombies and the apocalypse take on a new life (pun not intended) in this clean adult dystopian novel.  I had a lot of fun reading it and you can read my review below. You can check the book out on Goodreads and get your copy on Amazon.

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Author:  Pam Jernigan

Genre: Adult Dystopian; Christian Fiction; Romance

Synopsis: She’s a preschool teacher. He’s kind of a zombie. It would never work…
Karen teaches post-apocalypse preschool, safe inside city walls. She never intended to get caught outside.

Leo is technically alive, but perpetually zoned out: Mindless. He can see emotions as colors now, though, so at least there’s that. Like the other Mindless, he feeds on the emotional energy of humans. Then he meets Karen – her unique energy jolts him to partial awareness, and he’s hooked. He protects her but when she’s rescued, he lands in a cage.

Leo doesn’t expect her to even talk to him, much less help him. But that emotion she has when she looks at him? He doesn’t know what to call it, but it’s not fear.
Karen can go back to her life – if she abandons Leo. She can’t stay with him, she can’t take him home… but without her, he’s dead.

He saved her. Can she save him?

My Opinion: Usually Christian fiction is a hard sell for me but the premise of this book was far too interesting for me to pass up. I wasn’t disappointed! Karen is a lovable heroine, and for the most part all characters are well fleshed out. The world building is well done and the wry humor was spot on. I had a couple of issues with the pacing, but overall this book was a fresh and a delightful read. For these reasons I gave the book four stars.

What I liked most about this book was the new take on zombies. The Mindless, while acting lifeless are actually feeding off people’s energy instead of their flesh. They kill not to eat humans, but so that they can experience the intense fear people feel before death. Once dead, the dead are left alone. For people who aren’t a huge fan of gore, this is great. The Mindless are well explained throughout the book. The more we discover about the Mindless the more we discover about the world Karen and her friends live in.

Speaking of Karen…even in the darkest of times people still love and find humor in things. Karen was the epitome of this. Her humor was fantastic and lead to some of my favorite interactions with Leo (as well as other characters). She needs to be saved true, but she does the saving just as frequently. To see her organic growth was delightful. Leo was surprisingly well fleshed out and honestly I can’t decide if I loved him or Karen more. Each character was well defined even if we didn’t see them frequently. There were a few characters I felt could use some more attention but I’m willing to forgive that thanks to Karen and Leo’s relationship. There’s a lovely Beauty and the Beast vibe within that relationship too. This was a really neat and fun touch.

With all that being said, I did have a slight problem with the pacing. For the most part it was spot on, but at times things felt a little too repetitive. Karen has to come to terms with a lot of things, and frequently we see her struggling with these issues over and over again. Eventually it leads to some fantastic character development, but I felt the repetition slowed the book down somewhat.

I also felt that the Christian themes were overstated in parts. For new Christians this is a wonderful book, exploring the ups and downs of faith. For long term Christians or non-believers parts can feel more like a conversion attempt than a way to build faith and can sometimes distract from the plot.

Even so, I really did enjoy this book. It was a quick read simply because it was so fun to read. The world building, interesting characters, and great concept make this fun and fresh.

TL;DR: Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Christian fiction or dystopian books, you really should give this book a shot. With a focus on all kinds of love, a heroine who can save herself and others, as well as a really interesting concept, this book is a fun read.

P.S….

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If you want to hang out with the author and join me and other fans (as well as some special guests and maybe win some goodies), be sure to check out the book release party on Facebook! It takes place on May 6th (this Saturday) at 8pm EST/5pm PST.

Book Review: The Dream Thieves

|+| Warnings: Drug use, mild torture, violence |+|

“Secrets and cockroaches-that’s what will be left at the end of it all.”  ~The Dream Thieves

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Woots! Fist book review of the year! This is the sequel to The Raven Boys, and while I’ve done my best to make sure there are no spoilers for both books I might have accidentally let something slip. Please consider this your fair warning.

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre:  YA paranormal fantasy/mystery, romance

Summary: Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys-a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by there elite private school, Aglonby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface-changing everything in its wake.

My Opinion: This book was awesome. What I loved about The Raven Boys was back in full force in the sequel. The fantastic characters and their organic development, the mythology and magic. Once again, things that seemed random fell in place. There were a couple of plot twists, and once again, they had me on the edge of my seat. My biggest issue was the ending. Unlike the first book, this ending felt a bit anti-climatic in a way. Also, I was expecting more about the school because there’s been so much buildup surrounding it. All in all, I gave this book four stars.

While the last book focused mostly on Gansey and Noah, this book focused mostly on Ronan and Adam. While the last book let me down a bit in getting to know Blue, I felt like I really got to know her character a lot better. I loved seeing more magic from Ronan and Adam, and getting more depth into their characters as well. There are new villains and some old ones, but they show their colors in a new way. At first I was a little wary at some of these changes, but they were executed so well that I was behind these changes all the way.

The world building was one of the things that got me hooked on the first books. Thanks to how the characters and the magic of the world are tied together, I got even more of that. But the school really wasn’t a big part of this book. From the summary and the last book, I was thinking that there would be more about the mystery of the school. It’s clear in the set up in The Raven Boys that Aglionby holds plenty of secrets. This book didn’t touch on them. That seemed like it would be such a huge element, yet it just was not addressed here. I get that it was summer in this book, but still…

Then there was the ending. There were two sub plots that really carried this book, and both had a rather anti-climatic endings. The first plot twist that had me on the edge of my seat was resolved in such a way that I just sort of frowned at the book and went “ok?” The second plot had a stronger resolution, but it still felt weak. Even with the well done cliff hanger ending, the whole last 20 pages just fell short for me.

The ending of The Dream Thieves certainly hasn’t stopped me from diving into Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but it did put a damper on the book for me. Despite not seeing certain things and those anti-climatic plot resolutions, this book was a great one. It built on what had been established in The Raven Boys and really moved the saga forward.

TL;DR: No second book syndrome here! While The Dream Thieves didn’t quite live up to The Raven Boys for me, it still was a wonderful read. It built on what happened in the first book, added depth to all previous elements, and really carried the overall story forward beautifully. The more I read, the more I fall in love with this series. If you read the first book and are hesitating to read the second, don’t, it’s well worth it!