Review: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

A review by Amanda.

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter and five friends rented a cabin in the woods for a birthday party getaway. Quincy is the only one who survived after a deranged killer savagely murders her friends. Surviving made her a “Final Girl”, so called by the media, as a reference to the horror movie trope where the only person to make it to the end alive is the lone female character. Lisa, who barely lived through a massacre at her sorority house; and Sam, who survived a brutal attack at the motel where she worked, are also Final Girls, grouped together despite having never met in person. Quincy has done her best to move past that horrific event. She runs a successful baking website, has a solid relationship with a lawyer boyfriend, and maintains regular contact with the officer who saved her life. A Xanax prescription keeps her anxiety at bay, and her mind has protected her further by firmly repressing her memories of the attack. Everything that she has worked for is turned upside down when she gets the call— Lisa, her Final Girl mentor of sorts, has been found dead in her bathtub in an apparent suicide. Sam shows up out of the blue, the press starts harassing Quincy again, some of her memories start to return, and things are not lining up. Is someone coming after the Final Girls? What are Quincy’s memories hiding?

Final Girls is a rollercoaster of misdirection and plot twists. Readers will question everything and everyone by the time the explosive finale is revealed. Quincy is a ball of anxiety in denial. Her reactions after the massacre seem expected for someone who has experienced trauma; she absolutely has PTSD. Her relationship with her mother is strained and Quincy is encouraged to pretend like everything is fine. Shoving those feelings away instead of dealing with them in a healthier manner may work for a short time but eventually will backfire – which is exactly what happens, in surprising ways. The story is told in alternating perspectives, going from present day and first person from Quincy’s point of view, to flashbacks to the events leading up to the cabin massacre, told in third person omniscient. This adds to the suspense, especially as readers start to wonder if there is a connection to the present day. Readers will not want to put this spooky book down, particularly if they are reading at night. It does drag a bit in the middle, but the mystery keeps going and unraveling until the very end.

There is some sexual content, graphic violence, and strong language.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

A review by Emily.

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwater in 1985, is a story that eerily parallels events in our world today… but goes a step further to describe our worst nightmares turned reality. In the tale, the United States is at war with Islamic Radicals who have laid out chemical attacks leaving 25 percent of the population sterile. The new regime of the U.S. ironically decides to oppress its women in order to propagate the human race by making it illegal for them to read and hold jobs or property. The fertile women called “Handmaids” are ordered to be clad head to toe in red puritan robes and bonnets and are assigned households to serve a master. They are abused and submitted to servitude by putting the fear of God in all of them. It is a dystopian society where the women are forced to be suspicious of each other so they can never unite against their oppressors. Their identities are anonymous, being named after their household’s master and are renamed when their ownership is exchanged.

The tale is written as a stream of consciousness that jumps back and forth between story plot and its main character Offred’s ruminations. This makes the main character relatable and underscores her loneliness and isolation but leads to a storyline with no real momentum. The story lacks backstory which would have helped to explain the main character’s motives and emotions. A more in-depth backstory also would help us feel perhaps a little less disappointed in a character that is less than a heroine and at times seems pathetic; character development that would have added tremendous value to it as a way to contrast and highlight the main character’s present suffering.  Also, character development of the people she interacts with would have added another layer to the story and may have led us to feel the true depth of Offred’s helplessness as those close to her disappoint and betray her.

Atwater’s work lays the foundation for the abysmal and intriguing new world order which MGM/Hulu’s TV series The Handmaid’s Tale adapts. It satisfies the character building and backstory that the book lacks and casts Offred in a more heroine-like role that we can admire. The MGM series takes us on a more fulfilling journey into her world and moves us beyond the stage that Atwater has set.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: “The Sight (Devil’s Isle #2)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

This review may contain spoilers for book one, The Veil. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book two picks up a few weeks after the events of book one. Claire has been dividing her time between running the Royal Mercantile, learning the bounty hunter trade with Liam, and getting lessons in using her magic from Malachi. The tension between Liam and Claire is heavy since Liam has made it clear that his honor won’t allow him to be with her romantically; if she is discovered as a Sensitive he would be the one to turn her in to live on Devil’s Isle, which would break both of their hearts. Claire’s single-minded goal of staying busy to keep her mind off of her non-existent love life gets a boost when someone starts murdering Paras without care for human casualties.

A magic-hating human has developed a following. Calling themselves Reveillon, this cultish group blames magic, Paras, and Sensitives for the Zone’s troubles. Their leader has convinced them that the answer to all of their problems is to eradicate all traces of magic by any means necessary. The violence escalates even further and Claire, alongside her friends and allies, must act quickly to save those who have been targeted by Reveillon.
The Sight moves at a slightly faster pace than the previous book and makes for a quick read. The plot is a bit predictable, but it still manages to be interesting. While Claire still does not stand out amongst all of the urban fantasy heroines (see my review of The Veil), the supporting characters gain more depth. The romantic tension kicks up a notch and things get nice and steamy. Claire continues to hold her own against whatever life throws at her, with one or two exceptions. I imagine book three, The Hunt, will challenge her ability to roll with the punches. This series is great for those readers looking for a fun, quick read, with a classic urban fantasy feel. Fans of Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, Kim Harrison’s Peri Reed books, and Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series will likely enjoy these books. Make sure to pick up book one, The Veil, and look for book three, The Hunt, to be released on September 26th.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR Review: “The Brightest Fell (October Daye #11)” by Seanan McGuire

BOOK TOUR Review:

 

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This review may contain spoilers from previous books in the series.

October’s night started with happiness and fun. Her Fetch sister May insisted on throwing a bachelorette party to celebrate Toby’s upcoming wedding to Tybalt, King of Cats. Many of Toby’s friends, including some unexpected guests, have come to drink, celebrate, and sing karaoke in her honor. It isn’t long after they arrive back home in the wee hours of the morning that things take a turn for the worse. Toby’s reclusive mother, known to other fae as Amandine the Liar, shows up on her doorstep with insults and a request; she wants to hire Toby to find her older daughter, August, who has been missing for more than 100 years. In a horrific act of magic, Amandine ensures Toby’s cooperation by capturing Tybalt and Jazz, May’s Raven-maid girlfriend, trapping them in their animal forms and taking them away with her. Now October has no choice but to do as her mother commands. To make matters more complicated, she must enlist the help of someone who knew August well; she must wake Simon Torquill, the man who turned her into a fish and left her that way for fourteen years, and trust that his love for his daughter is stronger than his hatred of Toby. Their search will lead them in unexpected directions and may bring them more questions than answers.

The Brightest Fell is the eleventh book in the October Daye series and it is the strongest yet, both in plot and in character development. Emotionally, Toby and friends are put through the ringer. The writing is beautifully done and captures the emotions so clearly that readers can’t help but empathize. The plot takes several strides forward in this book, heading determinedly towards the presumed end goal. A few long-standing questions are finally answered, but more arise to keep the reader guessing. There is also a strong sense of adventure throughout Toby’s quest to find August, with several exciting and harrowing moments. Overall, this is another fantastic book in the October Daye series, and each book seems to be better than the last. If that trend continues, I cannot wait to see where the next one leads!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Brightest Fell Blog Tour banner

THE BRIGHTEST FELL

October Daye #11

Seanan McGuire

IBSN:9780756413316 | DAW Hardcover| $26.00


Contains an original bonus novella, Of Things Unknown!

Things are slow, and October “Toby” Daye couldn’t be happier about that.  The elf-shot cure has been approved, Arden Windermere is settling into her position as Queen in the Mists, and Toby doesn’t have anything demanding her attention except for wedding planning and spending time with her family.

Maybe she should have realized that it was too good to last.
                
When Toby’s mother, Amandine, appears on her doorstep with a demand for help, refusing her seems like the right thing to do…until Amandine starts taking hostages, and everything changes.  Now Toby doesn’t have a choice about whether or not she does as her mother asks.  Not with Jazz and Tybalt’s lives hanging in the balance.  But who could possibly help her find a pureblood she’s never met, one who’s been missing for over a hundred years?
                
Enter Simon Torquill, elf-shot enemy turned awakened, uneasy ally.  Together, the two of them must try to solve one of the greatest mysteries in the Mists: what happened to Amandine’s oldest daughter, August, who disappeared in 1906.
                
This is one missing person case Toby can’t afford to get wrong.

Seanan McGuire lives and works in Washington State, where she shares her somewhat idiosyncratic home with her collection of books, creepy dolls, and enormous blue cats.  When not writing–which is fairly rare–she enjoys travel, and can regularly be found any place where there are cornfields, haunted houses, or frogs.  A Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula Award-winning author, Seanan’s first book (Rosemary and Rue, the beginning of the October Daye series) was released in 2009, with more than twenty books across various series following since.  Seanan doesn’t sleep much.  

You can visit her at seananmcguire.com.

BLOG TOUR EXCERPT:

October 9th, 2013

Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell. — William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

THE FETCH IS ONE of the most feared and least understood figures in Faerie. Their appearance heralds the approach of inescapable death: once the Fetch shows up, there’s nothing that can be done. The mechanism that summons them has never been found, and they’ve always been rare, with only five conclusively identified in the last century. They appear for the supposedly significant—kings and queens, heroes and villains—and they wear the faces of the people they have come to escort into whatever awaits the fae beyond the borders of death. They are temporary, transitory, and terrifying.

My Fetch, who voluntarily goes by “May Daye,” because nothing says “I am a serious and terrible death omen” like having a pun for a name, showed up more than three years ago. She was supposed to foretell my impending doom. Instead, all she managed to foretell was me getting a new roommate. Life can be funny that way.

At the moment, doom might have been a nice change. May was standing on the stage of The Mint, San Francisco’s finest karaoke bar, enthusiastically bellowing her way through an off- key rendition of Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window.” Her live-in girlfriend, Jazz, was sitting at one of the tables closest to the stage, chin propped in her hands, gazing at May with love and adoration all out of proportion to the quality of my Fetch’s singing.

May has the face I wore when she appeared. We don’t look much alike anymore, but when she first showed up at my apartment door to tell me I was going to die, we were identical. She has my memories up to the point of her creation: years upon years of parental issues, crushing insecurity, abandonment, and criminal activities. And right now, none of that mattered half as much as the fact that she also had my absolute inability to carry a tune.

“Why are we having my bachelorette party at a karaoke bar again?” I asked, speaking around the mouth of the beer bottle I was trying to keep constantly against my lips. If I was drinking, I wasn’t singing. If I wasn’t singing, all these people might still be my friends in the morning.

Of course, with as much as most of them had already had to drink, they probably wouldn’t notice if I did sing. Or if I decided to sneak out of the bar, go home, change into my sweatpants, and watch old movies on the couch until I passed out. Which would have been my preference for how my bachelorette party was going to go, if I absolutely had to have one. I didn’t think they were required. May had disagreed with me. Vehemently. And okay, that had sort of been expected.

What I hadn’t expected was for most of my traitorous, backstabbing friends to take her side. Stacy—one of my closest friends since childhood—had actually laughed in my face when I demanded to know why she was doing this to me.

“Being your friend is like trying to get up close and personal with a natural disaster,” she’d said. “Sure, we have some good times, but we spend half of them covered in blood. We just want to spend an evening making you as uncomfortable as you keep making the rest of us.”

Not to be outdone, her eldest daughter, Cassandra, had blithely added, “Besides, we don’t think even you can turn a karaoke party into a bloodbath.”

All of my friends are evil.

As my Fetch and hence the closest thing I had to a sister, May had declared herself to be in charge of the whole affair. That was how we’d wound up reserving most of the tables at The Mint for an all-night celebration of the fact that I was getting married. Even though we didn’t have a date, a plan, or a seating chart, we were having a bachelorette party. Lucky, lucky me.

My name is October Daye. I am a changeling; I am a knight; I am a hero of the realm; and if I never have to hear Stacy sing Journey songs again, it will be too soon.

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Review: “The Veil (Devil’s Isle #1)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

Claire Connolly lives in New Orleans, but it is not the New Orleans that we are familiar with. Years ago, a veil between worlds was forced open and magic-using beings from a parallel world, called Paranormals or Paras, came through to conquer Earth. A nasty war was fought and humans won, barely. New Orleans is still recovering from the damage and military forces are in charge. There is very little contact with anyone outside of the containment areas. Paras that survived the battles have been sent to live in Devil’s Isle, a heavily guarded community, for the safety of humans. Some humans were affected by the magic that came through the veil, gaining paranormal abilities that they didn’t have before. Called Sensitives, these people are regarded with suspicion and are also sent to live in Devil’s Isle, whether they want to or not. This is partly due to prejudices against any magic users, but also because Sensitives eventually become wraiths – frightening, zombie-like creatures who attack humans without mercy.

Claire has managed to keep her family’s antique store running by turning it into a general store. She has no family left but has close friends and a tight knit community that she is very connected to. Her recent discovery that she is a Sensitive has taken her by surprise and now she has to keep a huge secret from those closest to her. An unexpected encounter with wraiths brings her to the attention of bounty hunter Liam Quinn, whose motives are unclear. Will he spill her secret, or help her keep it? Equally important, can Claire avoid the fate that befalls all Sensitives?

This is the first book in a new series from Chloe Neill, author of the Chicagoland Vampires series. Claire is a nice character, but fairly typical. As of this first book, there is little about her that stands out from other heroines in the same genre. She loves her friends, misses her father, and feels a sense of responsibility to her community. Her biggest fear is turning into a wraith, followed closely by being discovered as a Sensitive and relocated to Devil’s Isle. When Liam offers to help her, she has to decide if he can be trusted. Her attraction to him certainly complicates things, but that takes a backseat to the danger they quickly find themselves in.

The description of a post-war New Orleans is stark and wonderfully done. Prejudice is a prevalent theme, well explored and thought-provoking. The world-building and magical concepts are where the book stands out, and what makes it worth reading. There is a lovely cast of supporting characters, all of whom I hope to meet again. Claire and Liam both have room to develop, especially since this is the first book.  I will read the next book, The Sight, with a hope that they will continue to grow into their own.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir

Review:

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Earth has colonized the moon, at long last. It runs much like a small town, under a system of domes and tunnels. The colony Artemis was established recently enough that the law and government lean toward the relaxed side. People move there in part to take advantage of some of the freedoms allowed, such as living tax-free. There are a few restrictions, such as the types of flammable items allowed, which is where Jazz Bashara comes in. The twenty-six-year-old works legally as a porter, picking items up from the station and delivering it to her clients. This also gives her a good cover for her not-so-legal side job as a smuggler. Born in Saudi Arabia, Jazz and her father have lived in Artemis for twenty years. This and her reputation as dependable and discreet have helped her land some wealthy clients. An incredible opportunity comes her way, a chance to make more money than she thought possible, and she can’t turn it down. There may be more to this job than meets the eye, and Jazz’s life may be in danger. She has to decide if the money is worth the risk.

This book was captivating from beginning to end. Jazz is an exceptional character. It was a refreshing surprise to read a science fiction novel narrated by a woman of color, especially one as dynamic as Jazz. She has complicated relationships with multiple supporting characters, and her history is revealed over time, partially through her own recollections and partly through an email exchange that progresses throughout the book. There are a variety of supporting characters, male and female, differing in race, sexuality, and socio-economic background. Several positions of power and leadership are filled with women. The diversity in this book was surprising and wonderful, particularly because the author didn’t make it into a big deal. It wasn’t the focus of the story, it just… was. Jazz has her flaws and her strengths. She’s incredibly smart, a bit flirtatious, and full of both confidence and bravado. She has integrity and depth. The plot flows nicely around the characters and keeps the reader entertained as they get to know the world of Artemis. Romance is not really featured in this book, except in Jazz’s personal history and the occasional flirtatious remark. The only improvement to be made would be in her personal relationships with women. Jazz’s closest friends are male, and the female supporting characters are on the sidelines for the majority of the book.

The colony is as much of a character as Jazz. Artemis has personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and the reader cares about what happens to her. The author does a great job of describing the science behind living on the moon, providing enough small details to seem real, without getting too technical. Readers do not need to have advanced degrees to enjoy this book.

This novel reads as a standalone but leaves room for more of Jazz’s story. I would definitely read more!

Andy Weir has also written The Martian, which was recently adapted into a blockbuster film starring Matt Damon.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1)” by Steve LeBel

Review- Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1) by Steve LeBel

A review by Amanda.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for a fair and objective review.

Bernie is a teenager who holds the world in his hands, literally. He belongs to a race of self-described gods who create universes from scratch. Their entire society revolves around building multitudes of worlds, just because they can. Children learn the basics of building in school, leading to various specialties and supporting careers; not everyone has what it takes to become a Builder. Bernie has run into a few obstacles along the way, including a bully, his parents’ divorce, a chaotic cloud that follows him everywhere, and an unwillingness to follow certain directions that he disagrees with. Nonetheless, he has been given an opportunity to show his potential employers what he can do, if he can overcome the new obstacles being thrown his way.

The concept of this book is unique and compelling. The details for the universe creation process are thorough and logical, with some whimsy thrown in here and there for good measure. The story has plenty of heart and humor to keep readers entertained and invested in the characters. The world-building and the overall plot are enough to keep one reading despite the novel’s pitfalls.

Bernie is a likable character, if not an exceptional one. He is a misunderstood geek, an outcast with few friends. Although he is smart and talented, still comes across as a bumbling, absent-minded type. Many of his successes are due to luck and accidents, or because someone else has helped him in some way. The supporting characters feel one-dimensional, especially the female characters. The two women who contribute most to the plot and dialogue only exist as love interests. They do not appear to have any agency beyond that. Other women only appear as needed to help Bernie. Even his mother exists only as part of an explanation Bernie’s circumstances. Women are described as “unfathomable” and naturally manipulative, especially when trying to attract a guy, which plays into misogynistic stereotypes about women.

The writing style seems geared towards a younger, middle-grade audience. There is a lot of exposition and not a lot of room for readers to come to conclusions on their own. Readers are privy to the inner thoughts of almost every character, which can be helpful but feels unnecessary at times. A couple of minor plot points build up and then fizzle out, although there are more books in the series so those could be addressed later.

Fans of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan may enjoy this book.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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