Review: “Indexing (Indexing #1)” by Seanan McGuire

A review by Amanda.

Special Agent Henrietta Marchen, or Henry as she prefers, works for an agency that doesn’t officially exist, called ATI Management Bureau. Her job, and that of her team, is to prevent fairy tales from gaining a foothold in the real world. The fairy tale narrative is almost a living being, and all it wants is to bring those classic stories to life, with disastrous results. The narrative seeks people who fit the circumstances of certain fairy tales and then manipulates events to get the story to play out, only no one gets a happy ending. Dispatchers at the Bureau monitor events for signs of incursions. Henry’s team is responsible for verifying and averting whichever tale is playing out, using the valuable company Index as a resource. The team is made up of people who are aware of the narrative and what it can do, either because of a brush with it on the periphery or because they managed to avert or pause their own story.

This book is a page-turner, especially for fans of twisted fairy tales and urban fantasy. Fans of Seanan McGuire’s other works, such as the October Daye series, will recognize her quick wit and clever twists. Henry is stubborn, intelligent, and thinks outside the box. Having a personal connection to more than one narrative, she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep fairy tales out of the real world. The supporting characters are diverse people with very distinct personalities. Plotwise, the twists and turns are well thought out and unexpected. The story does continue past what was assumed to be a natural ending, and gets a bit convoluted. Hopefully that will clear up in future books. There are several character dynamics that will be exciting to explore, both romantically and otherwise. Indexing not only turns classic stories on their heads, but also skims the surface of fate vs free will, and if good and evil are really so black and white.

The first two books have been released in both paperback and ebook format.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review of “The Hunt (Devil’s Isle #3)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

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

This book may contain spoilers from the previous books.

Claire is on the run from Containment, since she revealed her magic ability during the fight against Ezekiel and his followers. Along with her Para friend, Moses, she does what she can to help Paras and Sensitives while remaining hidden and working with Delta. Her heart is still broken from having to leave the Royal Mercantile in the hands of her best friend Tadji, as well as Liam running away after the battle. Liam took his grandmother, Eleanor, and escaped after being hit with both Claire’s and Ezekiel’s magic. He’s been off the grid and out of contact for weeks, leaving Claire to worry about his safety and the state of their relationship. When Liam’s brother shows up unexpectedly with bad news, Claire has to decide if she should respect Liam’s apparent wishes and stay away, or go with Gavin and Malachi to warn him.

An agent of Containment with a well-known beef against Liam is murdered, signs point to Liam as the culprit. He’s definitely being set up, but by whom, and why? The team’s investigation to clear Liam’s name gets complicated with the addition of an ex-lover, a deadly illness, and new information about Claire’s past.

The third Devil’s Isle book is the best yet, having finally found its footing. The plot digs deeper, and the focus on fewer characters leads to more depth for each. Claire shines in this story, overcoming several obstacles with her trademark reckless bravery. She shows a great amount of heart and feels more like a real, fleshed out person. The plot takes several unexpected turns and keeps readers intrigued until the last page. Several questions are answered, while more arise, leaving readers wanting more. There is still plenty of room for growth and development in both characters and plot. I am excited to find out what happens next!

The Hunt will be released on September 26th, 2017.

My rating: 4/5 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: “The Dark Intercept” by Julia Keller

Review- The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

A review by Amanda.

In the year 2294, on a glorious world called New Earth, crime is almost non-existent. Thanks to a highly advanced computer program, called the Intercept, crimes are stopped before they are committed. The Intercept monitors and records the emotional responses of every citizen on both New Earth and Old in order to keep the peace. Each citizen is implanted with a chip that allows the Intercept into their minds, giving up their right to keep their emotions private. When an emotional spike indicates a potential crime, the people whose job is to utilize the Intercept watch closely to determine if an intervention is necessary. The Intercept will then use an individual’s worst emotional memories against them, creating a horrible feedback loop that incapacitates the offender. Violet Crowley, daughter of New Earth’s Founding Father, is one of the employees of the Protocol Hall, where they watch for patterns that indicate potential criminal activity. It is her job to decide if an intervention is needed, a job she does not take lightly.

Violet understands the necessity of the Intercept and how much easier life is with it. Her curiosity about Old Earth and sympathies for the poor people who still live there pushes her to ask difficult questions, especially when her crush, a cop named Danny, makes unauthorized trips to Old Earth and won’t tell her why. Violet decides to investigate on her own, and the answers she finds only lead to more confusion. When threats arise against people she cares about and to the society her father painstakingly built, Violet takes matters into her own hands.

This story has some similarities to Minority Report, without the precognition aspect, and has a frightening take on futuristic class warfare. When New Earth was created, the deciding factor for who was allowed to come along and who had to stay behind was mostly wealth. Many doctors and scientists left Old Earth and the people who were forced to stay behind had very little resources. Many are dying of fevers and infections and crime is rampant there, even though many citizens have had chips implanted because they are rarely monitored by the Protocol Hall.

Violet is a lovely character if a bit naive in the beginning. She loves her friends and her family and is torn between following the rules and protecting her loved ones. She feels some ambivalence towards the Intercept, despite accepting its usefulness. The supporting characters are a little less developed than Violet, although still interesting. There are a couple of unexpected twists that added more substance to the plot, and the ending could work as a standalone or to continue in a series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Bring Her Home” by David Bell

Review: "Bring Her Home" by David Bell

A review by Amanda.

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

Tragedy has struck the small town of Jakesville. Fifteen-year-old Summer and her best friend Haley, who has been missing for two days, were found in a local park. Both girls had been severely beaten beyond recognition and only Summer is still clinging to life. Summer’s mother died a year and a half before and her father, Bill, has been struggling to raise his only child on his own. Relief that she has been found alive is mixed with anger at whoever has done this horrible crime, and guilt over mistakes he has made as a parent. The investigation into the girls’ disappearance has uncovered some surprising and troubling details about things that shake Bill to his core, and lead to more questions than answers.

Bill Price appears to be an average middle-aged man who has been thrown into some extraordinary and tragic circumstances. He is overcome with grief, shock, and occasional bouts of rage, and has some secrets of his own that he’d prefer to keep buried. His sister Paige is his only real confidante as he tries to find the truth about what happened to Summer on his own. The beleaguered lead detective, Detective Hawkins, has his work cut out for him with Bill’s attempts to find the person responsible alternately hindering and helping the investigation.

The story is told exclusively from Bill’s perspective, so readers only know what he knows as the investigation unfolds. Bill is not the most sympathetic of characters; at times he is downright unlikeable in spite of the circumstances. Readers will be drawn in through the mystery and the unexpected twists and supporting characters will keep them engaged. Getting to know Summer, Paige, and Bill’s late wife Julia, albeit through Bill’s eyes, gives the book depth and warmth and gives readers characters to connect with and root for. Aside from the unlikeability of the main character, the story is well written and intriguing. The unpredictable plot twists are a pleasant surprise amidst the oversaturated mystery genre. Violence and strong allusions to sexual assault are mentioned but not graphically described.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review of “The Truth About Happily Ever After” by Karole Cozzo

Review of The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

A review by Amanda.

Alyssa is a walking, talking stereotype. Tall, blonde, and gorgeous, the twenty year old sorority sister spends her summers working as a princess character for a popular theme park (think Disney); and not just any princess, but the most admired and beloved – Cinderella​. Alyssa loves her seasonal job. She thinks of it more as a calling; she lives and breathes princess life. The friends that she’s made while working at the park, and the smiles on children’s’ faces, make the rigorous physical standards worth it. Princesses must meet certain aesthetic requirements and have appointments (called look-overs) every two weeks to make sure they are at an appropriate weight and have a clear complexion, among other things. Alyssa holds herself to the highest standards in both her looks and her mannerisms, even when she’s off-duty. To cap it all off she’s found her fairy tale romance with Jake, a park medic, including the sweetest storybook meet cute the previous summer. They’ve struggled to make things work long-distance, and Alyssa is giddy to have the entire summer together. Only, things do not exactly go as planned, and Alyssa’s perfect princess life might be turned upside down.

This story is light and fun, with very few surprises thrown in. It is definitely a quick read. The conflicts that arise are predictable, but Alyssa’s growth throughout the book makes it worth reading. Alyssa starts out appearing sweet but shallow. As her story progresses, readers get to know her on a deeper level. She isn’t as shallow as she appears, and her kindness is generally sincere. She tends to ignore things that might stress her out, pretending that problems don’t exist until they blow up in her face. The first half of the story might be a struggle, as Alyssa is annoyingly upbeat (and that’s coming from a bubbly optimist). As readers learn more about her family history and what draws her to the princess life, they might sympathize. And as she grows as a person and figures out what she really wants, the story balances out quite nicely.

This is a contemporary YA romance with some swearing and some very light sexual talk/activity.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Chain Saw Confidential” by Gunnar Hansen

A review by Brit.

In the eyes of many horror fans, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest movies within the genre. It was released in 1974 and was quickly renowned for its craftsmanship and surprisingly bloodless violence. It was hated as much as it was loved. And in the form of Chain Saw Confidential, the one taking on the telling of the film’s origin story (and the reckoning of its legacy) is Gunnar Hansen. Who better than Leatherface himself to take on this muddy tale of dead chickens, melted film prints and runaway eight hour makeup chair sessions?

This book is largely an oral history of the making of Massacre, from the origins in the head of cigar-chomping director Tobe Hooper to the placement of the film in the Museum of Modern Art (and the scathing reviews that choice inspired). Helpfully, the story is also organized in the order of the actual movie’s plot. Hansen’s perspective is somewhat limited due to his starring role in the film. But he interviews cast and crew members extensively, openly admitting when details are inconsistent or if something has been completely forgotten. Add in thoughts about the movie from figures like John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London) and it’s a very fun ride.

There are two reasons why I did not give this book five stars. The first is that readers who are inherently interested in horror and/or the filmmaking process itself will have a much better experience reading this book than those who are not. It’s undeniable. I’m a huge fan of Massacre, so naturally I enjoyed hearing about the nitty-gritty details about chicken bones and poor set insulation.The average reader may not care to hear about the post-production money distribution web of confusion that happened after the movie took off.

The second reason is that some readers may find Hansen’s treatise on horror at the end of the book tiring. It’s understandable that he has strong feelings on horror being connected to violence in American culture. But it’s 2017, and this debate now largely takes place only in academic and highly political circles. Even if you have no plans to watch Massacre for yourself, this book is still a good testament to the power of research and desire to tell the “real story” of how a legendary phenomenon came to be. Hansen writes in a wry voice that often reminded me of my grandfather. He’s exactly the kind of storyteller to take on this twisted, fun story.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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