Book Review: Coraline

“Spiders’ webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.” ~The Cat

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Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Middle-grade horror, fantasy

Synopsis: When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous.

But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

My Opinion: Ah, Coraline. The book of my heart. Clearly I love this book. While there is a bit of ableist language, the creativity, heart, and detail this story holds makes it one of my all time favorite books. The movie is fantastic too, although it’s quite different than the book (in fact, the book wasn’t finished when the movie was made). But I’m not here to talk about the movie, I’m here to focus on Coraline the book. This truly is a winner. Four and a half stars!

As this is a middle-grade/early young adult book, this makes for a quick read. But what makes it so enjoyable for anyone is the wonderful characters. While the cast is small, each character is well developed and purposefully made with their own little mystery. I really did love this, and the limited, unique cast made Coraline’s interactions all the more powerful. My favorite character aside from our heroine was the Cat. The relationship the Cat and Coraline shared is one of my all time favorite book friendships.

Another reason I think this book is so timeless and ageless is because everyone can find something that’s downright creepy in it. Perhaps it’s the old house with odd doors that go nowhere and somewhere, or maybe it’s the fact that adults are to be trusted, yet clearly can’t be. Perhaps it’s the button eyes that the Other Mother and those who inhabit her world have. There’s plenty more examples that I could share, but for the sake of length and to prevent spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. Coraline is completely atmospheric, with just the right amount of creepiness, humor, and suspense.

In a way this book is very straight forward. A girl goes on an adventure and has to save herself. And yet, the story is packed with so much more, yet these lessons never beat the reader over the head. Through Coraline’s growth, we learn lessons in hope, courage, and resilience. This has now become a go-to book when I’m going through a hard time. It’s quick, it’s fun, yet it’s deeply important. I also loved that Coraline reminds us that even when others have our best interests at heart, that’s not always what’s right for us, and those who say they have our best at heart, don’t always. It’s such an important lesson for anyone, especially upcoming generations to learn. Coraline is a journey of self discovery and an honest (although fantastical) depiction of that.

There really is something in here for everyone, whether it’s the humor, the moody atmosphere, or the relationships. The writing is lovely as well and completely absorbing.

TL;DR: I have no idea why you’re still reading this and not hunting down your own copy of Coraline. An important, unique, and fun book, I really do think very people wouldn’t enjoy it. If you’re a fan of Gaiman or are looking for a good introduction to his works, Coraline is a must read.

 

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Book Tour: The Thirteenth Gate

Book Tour: The Thirteenth Gate

Welcome to my stop for The Thirteenth Gate book tour! I’ve been pumped for this book for what feels like ages and I’m thrilled to be a part of this tour. Below you’ll find my review, a giveaway (a signed print copy of the first book, The Daemoniac), and a bit about the author. Be sure to check out the giveaway (a signed print copy of the first book, The Daemoniac) and take a look at the rest of the tour here.

|+| Warnings: Death, violence, mild language, mild sexual situations |+|

“[…] monsters are real, Harry. It’s just that some of them are perfectly human.” ~John

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Author: Kat Ross

Genre: YA Historical, Mystery, Paranormal

Synopsis: Winter 1888. At an asylum in the English countryside, a man suspected of being Jack the Ripper kills an orderly and flees into the rain-soaked night. His distraught keepers summon the Lady Vivienne Cumberland—who’s interviewed their patient and isn’t sure he’s a man at all. An enigmatic woman who guards her own secrets closely, Lady Vivienne knows a creature from the underworld when she sees one. And he’s the most dangerous she’s ever encountered.

As Jack rampages through London, Lady Vivienne begins to suspect what he’s searching for. And if he finds it, the doors to purgatory will be thrown wide open…

Across the Atlantic, an archaeologist is brutally murdered after a Christmas Eve gala at the American Museum of Natural History. Certain peculiar aspects of the crime attract the interest of the Society for Psychical Research and its newest investigator, Harrison Fearing Pell. Is Dr. Sabelline’s death related to his recent dig in Alexandria? Or is the motive something darker?

As Harry uncovers troubling connections to a serial murder case she’d believed was definitively solved, two mysteries converge amid the grit and glamor of Gilded Age New York. Harry and Lady Vivienne must join forces to stop an ancient evil. The key is something called the Thirteenth Gate. But where is it? And more importantly, who will find it first?

My Opinion: If y’all aren’t familiar with my review for the first book in the series, check it out here. I adored it. This sequel somehow managed to match it. With a diverse cast, wonderful representation, and a stunning plot I gave this book four stars.

I’ll start with the two things that frustrated me. The first is that there is a plethora of characters that were sometimes introduced too close together. I had to go back and re-read to make sure that I had gotten all the names right. This book is filled with suspects and interesting people, but keeping up with them all was a bit of a challenge. I also wanted to see more of Harry and John. I fell in love with their friendship and was a bit bummed to find that most of the book focused around Lady Vivienne and her partner Alec.

Onto what I liked. As I already mentioned, we met a lot of new characters. Of the new folks my favorites were Vivienne, Alec and Count Kohary. As with the first book Ross delivers detailed characters, and I loved seeing the connections between everyone. Another big selling point for me with this book was the diversity. Vivienne is not a native to London and I really enjoyed seeing how she carried herself despite the racism thrown her way. This element was treated with accuracy but also with respect.

Most of all I was impressed with how well this book wove into the mystery of its predecessor and expanded on an already well established world. I was in awe realizing how many little details I missed in The Daemoniac and how beautifully they tied into The Thirteenth Gate. Watching the two mysteries the groups were trying to solve come together was really enjoyable and kept me on the edge of my seat.

If you’re looking for historical fiction with fantastical elements, The Thirteenth Gate is the way to go. If you enjoyed the first book in the series, the sequel is a must read.

TL;DR: What I loved about The Daemoniac was back in full force in The Thirteenth Gate. A diverse cast, fantastic world building and an entrancing mystery made this book a delight. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially historical fiction with a paranormal element, this series is not to be missed.

About the Author:

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Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

Book Review: Seeds of Eden

|+| Warnings: Detailed deceptions of violence, death, sexual content, and public humiliation |+|

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Author: A.P. Watson

Genre: New Adult Romance, Paranormal

Synopsis: Visions of decapitated corpses, pools of blood, and a masked executioner have haunted Evey for as long as she can remember. Torn between a life in the waking world and dreams of the dead, she realizes her normal existence is nothing more than an illusion. As the veil between reality and her subconscious dissipates, she begins to question her own sanity. Each night as she closes her eyes, she wonders what wrongs she committed to warrant such a curse.

When a handsome stranger suddenly appears in Evey’s life, he is able to provide her with the answers she seeks. However, the only thing more mystifying than Conrad’s appearance in one of her nightmares is the undeniable attraction she feels for him. It is only when he confesses their fates and souls have been intertwined for centuries that an ancient secret is revealed. Now, the two of them must outrun a great darkness or it will claim their lives again.

My Opinion: Thanks to Xpresso Book Tours for providing me with a free copy. The following is my honest review.

Seeds of Eden has a really unique premise combining idea of reincarnation with many stories from Christianity. This story has beautiful writing, interesting characters, and throws a new spin on history. I really liked these elements but I was disappointed by the slut shaming, girl on girl hate, the way that the love interests all treated each other like property, and the fact that abusive relationships were portrayed as somewhat romantic. The book was really a 50/50 for me, so after a lot of deliberation (because there were a lot of things I liked), I decided to give the book three stars.

Evey is mostly normal. She has a part time job, enjoys fashion, hangs out with her best friend, and goes to school. But her nightmares that feel much more real than they’re supposed to. Not to mention the fact the nightmares repeat themselves. Pretty early on we discover why. Evey isn’t Evey at all. She’s the first woman, Eve and she has been reincarnated over and over to help bring out the goodness in humanity. The idea over all is really unique, and really interesting. While I can see how this would be uncomfortable to conservative Christians, as a Christian myself I didn’t see a problem with it. I found this an interesting idea that made for an interesting story.

A big focus of the story is Evey dealing with her memories which come in the form of visions and nightmares. The nightmares and memories were incredibly well done. The descriptions were beautiful and I really appreciated the thought that went into them. As a history nerd, I really liked how different memories focused on different time periods. Although around the 200-page mark I got a little tired of them.

My biggest issue with this book is the lagging middle. This book has such a fantastic start. The pacing, characters, and world building, is absorbing. But towards the middle we get tension in the form of too many love triangles and girl-on-girl hate. I was really disappointed, especially because up until the half way mark, Evey was great. Enter the second love triangle and she stops being supportive of other girls and starts slut-shaming before she even knows someone. It felt out of character and far too petty for the book as a whole. It distracted me from the main plotline and took too much tension away for me.

Another issue I had was how romantic relationships were treated. Evey was someone’s. Couples belonged to each other and while there were multiple arguments about how people aren’t property, the behavior and phrases outside of these arguments said otherwise.

So, what kept me going? The plot and the characters. The idea of reincarnation combined with elements of Christianity really intrigued me. This is one of those books where it is impossible to separate plot and character because both are so integral to each other. The way the characters reacted to the situation seemed so plausible that I could really get behind the majority of them and their actions. I adored the relationship between Evey and her best friend Caroline too. I’m glad I kept reading because honestly that ending came with a twist and cliffhanger I didn’t expect. To top it off, the book was unapologetically dark. My kind of thing for sure!

TL;DR: If you’re into dark soulmate stories, interested in religions, and like a flair of drama in your books Seeds of Eden is probably a safe bet! It has fantastic characters and great world building. It’s a dark and sophisticated drama with romance in it. What more could you want? I can see fans of The Mortal Instruments and the Twilight series enjoying this book as well.

Book Review: The Daemonaic

|+| Warnings: Violence, multiple deaths including suicide |+|

“The trap had been set. Now I had only to spring it.” ~Harry

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Author: Kat Ross

Genre: YA Paranormal Mystery, Historical Fiction

Synopsis: It’s August of 1888, just three weeks before Jack the Ripper will begin his grisly spree in the London slum of Whitechapel, and another serial murderer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. With taunting messages in backwards Latin left at the crime scenes and even more inexplicable clues like the fingerprints that appear to have been burned into one victim’s throat, his handiwork bears all the hallmarks of a demonic possession.

But consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell is convinced her quarry is a man of flesh and blood. Encouraged by her uncle, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry hopes to make her reputation by solving the bizarre case before the man the press has dubbed Mr. Hyde strikes again.

From the squalor of the Five Points to the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin and the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, Harry and her best friend, John Weston, follow the trail of a remorseless killer, uncovering a few embarrassing secrets of New York’s richest High Society families along the way. Are the murders a case of black magic—or simple blackmail? And will the trail lead them closer to home than they ever imagined?

My Opinion: This is how you do historical fiction. Ross seamlessly wove historical elements into the story keeping it realistic, while never beating the reader over the head with it. The characters are well fleshed out. There are so many unique elements here (including an incredibly unique reference to Sherlock). There are just one or two things that I would have liked to see more of and sometimes the pacing felt a little slow for my liking. Over all, I loved this book and can’t wait to dive into the sequel! 4.5 stars.

My biggest issues with the book were some ableist dialogue towards the end and the off pacing in one or two parts. There was a couple of incidences that made me uncomfortable simply because of the way mental illnesses were talked about. While it was a bummer, it wasn’t enough to make me stop reading because the book already had so many great things in it. The other issue was pacing. For the most part the pacing was spot on. There was one part towards the start and then again towards the middle where I felt like things were going a little too slowly. In each of these parts our heroine and narrator, Harry, was waiting on something. So in this case this could very much be a a case of great writing where the reader really feels what the heroine is feeling or a me thing.

On to what I loved. If my previous reviews are anything to go by, I really want a story where I can fall in love with the characters and watch them grow. This book delivered on this front. The characters were all unique and I loved seeing Harry’s relationship with everyone, especially John and Collin. I found that all the characters together helped each other shine. Usually I feel a bit bummed after reading a book with a great cast because the minor characters don’t feel as fleshed out. I honestly can’t find a thing to complain about as far as the cast of characters and the characterization of each one goes. Each character was interesting, played an important role, or lead to more twists in the mystery. I also really liked the relationship between Harry and her sister, Myrtle, as well as their relationship with Moran. There’s a lot to be built upon here for the sequels.

As I said, the characters really helped move the mystery forward. The mystery overall was well balanced. We have two opposing sides here, John’s idea that the serial murders taking place are the act of someone who is possessed by a demonic entity. Despite wanting to be a part of the Society for Psychical Research, a paranormal investigative group, Harry doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Throughout the story we see evidence pointing both ways and yet never forced into one side or the other. I really like it when a book can pull that off. But what impressed me so much was the fact that this story is as much about the mystery of the paranormal as it is the mystery of the serial killer. It was very well done, and I felt like I was never beaten over the head with either mystery as both were combined into one.

I love historical fiction but I find that it’s usually very whitewashed unless the story is by an #ownvoices author. There’s also the issue of a lot of racial slurs because “it’s accurate.” I’ve never liked that excuse and it always makes the reading experience uncomfortable for me. In The Daemoniac Ross did a lovely job of avoiding racist dialogue and putting in organic diversity. While I would have loved to have seen more diversity, there was a mixed-race couple who was portrayed very positively and some diversity as well. This is so rare and it was well done to boot so I was extremely happy.

All in all, historical fiction with some diversity, a lovely mystery and unique characters made The Daemoniac a fantastic read. The world building just sealed the deal. History and the paranormal blended together so well and made the history geek in me so happy. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.

TL;DR: If you’re a fan of historical fiction and are looking for a good mystery, start with The Daemoniac. An authentic world, detailed and interesting characters, as well as a strong mystery really makes Roth an author to invest in. I really do recommend this book, especially if you’re a mystery or  historical fiction fan. Best of both worlds right here.

TBR Pile: Airport Edition

I haven’t had much time for reading this month. Why? Because for the first time ever I’m getting on an airplane and headed to the West Coast. It’s my first time on a plane and so I’m both excited and a little nervous.

Cure for nervousness and a 6 hour flight (and the 5 hour flight back)? Books of course! I downloaded what felt like a ton of books, but here are the ones I’m putting at the top of my reading list. All links lead to Goodreads if you want more details.

Shiloh (Helena Sorensen)

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I had read this book a while back and adored it. I’m looking forward to re-reading it, although my review of the book is already on Goodreads. It’s a YA fantasy with elements of The Giver in it. It takes place in a beautifully crafted world overtaken by the Shadow, a darkness that has not only pushed the world into a physical darkness, but the creatures as well. First in a trilogy, Shiloh follows the story of Amos and his friend Simeon and their struggle against the Shadow as well as the fears and expectations of their town.

 

The Tale of the Vampire Bride (Rhiannon Frater)

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I have been wanting to read this book for the longest time. Vampires and historical fiction are my vice when it comes to books, and I am so excited to finally read this. The story is a New Adult novel about a young woman who marries Dracula via an arranged marriage. I’ve heard that it’s incredibly dark with lovely elements of gothic horror which is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

 

The Emperor’s Edge (Lindsay Buroker)

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A trusted friend recommended this book to me, and honestly this person has never steered me wrong when it comes to books. I’m a sucker for high fantasy, and when you tell me that there’s a diverse steampunk book out there about a law enforcer who gets in over her head, you’ve sold me.

 

Book Review: Illumine

|+| Warnings: Violence/gore, ableism, strong language throughout |+|

“Don’t fight it. You were created for this.” ~Kayden

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Author: Alivia Anders

Genre: YA Fantasy (Paranormal)

Synopsis: For the past five months Essallie Hanley has been trying to forget about the frightening murder of her boyfriend. Haunted by vivid nightmares and hallucinations of the event she does anything she can to pretend she’s like every other normal girl in High School.

Only Essallie is far from normal. Able to conjure blue fire and a shimmering silhouette of wings from her body, she seeks the only known solace left to her name; her first home in Belfast, Maine.

But she soon realizes that her return home is only the beginning of a long and twisted road taking her as far from her humanity as possible, with Kayden, the demon originally summoned to slaughter her, leading the way. Unable to touch her but oddly curious, he joins Essallie in her search to find out just what she is. But neither of them were prepared for the secrets they’ve begun to unravel, secrets that will change Essallie and everyone around her forever.

My Opinion: When I first read this book (soon after it came out in 2012) I adored it. I thought that despite the pacing issues and a few too many pop culture references, it was a fun read. I decided to go back and re-read it for old times sake. And I was very disappointed. This time around I found a plethora of ableism that made me extremely uncomfortable or downright offended me. I have no idea how I missed it all the first time. Despite a cool idea and fun characters, due to pacing issues and a shocking amount of ableism I gave this book 1.5 stars.

As I like to end my reviews on a positive note when possible, I’m going to start with the issues that I had with Illumine then move on to what I liked.

While over all I really liked the concept of the book, I had issues with the pacing. The book starts off with a bang and for the most part goes steady. The end of the book though, was extremely rushed. I found myself having to go back and re-read things multiple times because I was sure I had missed something. I hadn’t, the information simply wasn’t there. I would have loved to have seen the ending expanded a bit more. I feel like more information would have added to the overall suspense. Instead, because things were so rushed, I wound up confused, the tension lost on me.

This also ties into the world building. I understand this is the first in a series but there were so many unanswered questions that could have easily been answered then expanded upon later on. Yes this book takes place in our world, but we’re still left with a lot of missing details. For me this contributed to the ending feeling rushed and left me feeling disinterested in the story.

While the majority of the characters were interesting, I was frustrated with how much girl-on-girl hate there was. Essallie and Ursula disliked each other from the get go, and this is never fully explained or resolved. At the beginning, after the murder of her boyfriend, Essallie and her best friend comment on the cheerleaders and the popular girls. They imply that being popular means being loose, fake, and a brat. Ironically, Essillie becomes the exact thing she was looking down upon but excuses her own behavior. I’m so over this mentality and it really did nothing to help move the story forward.

My biggest issue with this book is how mental illnesses were treated, specifically PTSD. I really disliked how closely linked the author made PTSD and as our narrator says, “asylum worthy behavior.” I know many people with PTSD and how it’s portrayed in the book is not at all what it’s like. Once Essillie discovers her abilities, she realizes that she had never been hallucinating in the first place and she essentially no longer has PTSD. Magical cure at its finest. In this book PTSD was a gimmick to make the story more edgy, not a valuable part of the story. Once she accepts her powers, Essellie never struggles with anything PTSD related. I wish I could say that was the only example I had. But the language the narrator uses about herself and her mental state is awful, making her mental illness into a joke. She frequently jokes in anger about how people should just cart her off to a mental institution or how she’s “crazy.” In fact, all of the parts related to mental illness (weather it was in relation to our heroine or her mother) were extremely ablest and I found them to be incredibly offensive.

There is a light here though. Kayden was an interesting character. We don’t have an Edward Cullen here as Kayden never hides what he is or what he wants. He never tries to redeem himself, yet he does have flickers of kindness. While Essillie didn’t interest me, for the most part I didn’t mind the story being narrated by her. Ursula was my favorite though. She had a surprising amount of depth and she really does come into her own. For such a short book and for such a minor character, Ursula does the most growth. She made the book for me.

The over all concept was set up to be a win. Not only do demons and angels exist, but so does everything in between. Ultimately it’s the idea that all faerie tales are true to some point or another. For such a short book there was quite a bit of diversity when it came to mythical creatures.

But not even a hardcore lady like Ursula could redeem everything this book has going on with it. Nor could the interesting concept. A rushed ending, horrible portrayals of mental illnesses, and fake drama in the form of girl hate was simply too much for me to overlook.

TL;DR: Illumine was a let down for me. I was hoping to fall in love with the world again and instead I was offended by the portrayal of PTSD, worn out from petty girl-on-girl fighting, and confused by a rushed ending. Even if the girl hate and ending were fixed, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book simply because of how harmful the portrayal of PTSD is. If you or loved ones struggle(d) with PTSD, pass on this book. An interesting concept and fun characters couldn’t make me overlook the flaws Illumine has.

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)

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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.