Come Take Me: A Celestial Satire by Ethan Herberman

The time is now (almost), and some Americans have decided that Canada is not quite far enough from their roiling homeland. For them there is ComeTakeMe.com, a website where people advertise to get taken by aliens.

Will anyone succeed? How about Marshall M. Shmishkiss, a starry-eyed optimist determined to become his world’s most eligible abductee? Marshall trains his body. He trains his mind. He tries to prepare for every challenge that might await a lone human on a ship of galactic explorers. And soon he will face a choice.

Either make one final, Faustian attempt at leaving his planet . . .

Or get used to down-to-earth drudgery and the end of his dreams. (taken from Netgalley)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Marshall M. Shmishkiss is a man determined to leave it all behind. He doesn’t want to move to a new place or quit his job–he really wants to leave it all behind. He trains in an attempt to be taken by aliens. He submits videos of his training to a website called ComeTakeMe, where they are viewed by the company that oversees the website.

The employees of this company call him the “Shmish” and they get great pleasure out of laughing and mocking the videos. Honestly, it was really cruel, despite the oddness of Marshall’s videos. You would think that would immediately endear me to Marshall, but I did not like him much. I don’t necessarily think it’s the character that I didn’t like, just that I was unable to click with the writing.

When I read a book that is so other, I need to have some sort of thread that connects me to the story, or at least brings me along for the ride. In Come Take Me, I was often confused. Things felt a little…blurry, for lack of a better word. I feel like the book was a little disorganized, especially at the beginning.

While the story idea was a clever one, I ultimately felt a little “meh” about this book. I think that says more about me than the book itself. I just didn’t click. It happens sometimes. I wish the author the best with Come Take Me , but I can’t say I would recommend it.

Across the Fourwinds by Shane Trusz and Daryl Frayne

An ancient Gateway between worlds is vulnerable, endangering life on earth. Two teens begin an epic journey to find out why.

Since his mother’s tragic accident, Will Owens has been a loner. And for good reason: he claims to see dark creatures emerging from the forest near his home. Ostracism is a way of life until he meets Morgan Finley, a fencing champion with everything going for her—except a dark family secret.

In pursuit of answers, these unlikely friends enter the forest and discover a magical kingdom where a dragon has unleashed a powerful disease. When a young sage reveals their true identities, Will and Morgan join a small but courageous resistance on a quest to save the Fourwinds. (taken from Amazon)

A rather simple, but still enjoyable fantasy, Across the Fourwinds had things that I both liked and disliked. It’s a portal fantasy, which isn’t my favorite fantasy subgenre simply because it’s so difficult to get a proper real world/ fantasy world ratio. In this case the jump to the fantasy felt a teeny bit rushed. I would have liked the introduction of the characters to have a little more attention before throwing them into a new world. That being said, the world is pretty cool.

What I liked so much about Fourwinds is the amount of fantastical creatures. I love seeing how different authors tackle the use of familiar magical critters such as dragons and gnomes. While nothing was earth-shatteringly unique, the authors nonetheless made these creatures their own. The world has a lot to it, and hints at things not explored in the book. That always makes the setting seem larger and more interesting to me.

Now for the characters. I have a bone to pick here. The male characters are well-developed and continue to grow throughout the story. The female characters-not so much. I felt like Morgan existed as a mere background note, although there were pretty common reminders of how attractive she is. What a bummer! So much more should have been done with her character! There is lots of potential for character growth in the next book, so here’s hoping we see more from her.

The plotline was interesting, the world was vast, and there was action aplenty. Despite some hiccups, Across the Fourwinds was fun fantasy.

Shorefall (the Founders trilogy #2) by Robert Jackson Bennett

A few years ago, Sancia Grado would’ve happily watched Tevanne burn. Now, she’s hoping to transform her city into something new. Something better. Together with allies Orso, Gregor, and Berenice, she’s about to strike a deadly blow against Tevanne’s cruel robber-baron rulers and wrest power from their hands for the first time in decades.
 
But then comes a terrifying warning: Crasedes Magnus himself, the first of the legendary hierophants, is about to be reborn. And if he returns, Tevanne will be just the first place to feel his wrath.
 
Thousands of years ago, Crasedes was an ordinary man who did the impossible: Using the magic of scriving—the art of imbuing objects with sentience—he convinced reality that he was something more than human. Wielding powers beyond comprehension, he strode the world like a god for centuries, meting out justice and razing empires single-handedly, cleansing the world through fire and destruction—and even defeating death itself.
 
Like it or not, it’s up to Sancia to stop him. But to have a chance in the battle to come, she’ll have to call upon a god of her own—and unlock the door to a scriving technology that could change what it means to be human. And no matter who wins, nothing will ever be the same.
 
The awe-inspiring second installment of the Founders Trilogy, Shorefall returns us to the world Robert Jackson Bennett created in his acclaimed Foundryside . . . and forges it anew. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Continuing on a few years after the events of book one, Shorefall drops you right into the middle of things. I love it when a sequel does that. The group decides to make like Robin Hood (rob from the rich and give to the poor) and we start with a heist. I am a big fan of a complex theft, whether it goes well or ends up becoming jumbled.

It was a treat to return to Bennett’s awesome setting. The city of Tevanne is a mess, kind of like the real world. Unlike the real world, Tevanne has a rocking magic system called scriving. In essence, scriving is convincing an item that it is something it’s not, so that it functions in a way it wouldn’t normally. It’s the most technological magic I’ve ever read and it makes for an interesting world.

This book throws our ragtag group of not-really heroes against an extremely villainous villain named Crasedes. I truly loved him. There’s something fabulous about a bad guy who has a twisted reasoning that almost makes sense. That being said, this book is much darker than its predecessor. Expect higher stakes and an injury/death list that is quite hefty.

And that leads us into the parts I didn’t love. The banter that added bits of fun to Foundryside was lacking in Shorefall. While the darker tone of the book worked for the storyline, I really missed those dashes of humor. The character development was off the charts, though, which is where the book shone. I finished book one with a sense of awe at the world the author created; I had much the same reaction regarding character growth in this book. Just…wowza.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the pacing in this book, unfortunately. It alternated between slower moments and bursts of action. Normally, I enjoy that in a book, but for some reason it felt a little off here. I really can’t figure out why. From time to time, it would take me out of the plot and leave me less than engrossed.

Shorefall was a mixed bag for me. I truly liked it, but it stopped a bit short of Foundryside for me. However, it is still a well-written book in a truly fascinating world. There was much more to like than dislike and it left me wondering what would happen next.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich-ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 21st, 2021.

I’ve heard Cornell Woolrich being spoken of as the father of the crime novel, so I jumped at the chance to read The Bride Wore Black. The plot is fairly simple: there are several murders that seem unrelated, except for the appearance of a mysterious woman, whom no one seems to recognize. It falls on Detective Wanger to solve the series of cases and stop the body count.

Unfortunately, this book was more problematic than enjoyable for me. The issue is, things that are unacceptable now (or at least, they should be) were commonplace when this book was written. Things have changed a lot since 1940. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Bride Wore Black. Racism and sexism were both very much a part of this book, in the casual sort of way that shows just how “normal” it was. For example, several men “good-naturedly” (the author’s word) tried to break down a dressing room door while a woman was changing. It was written as a natural, totally okay occurrence, which immediately put me off the book. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: it’s an older book, and I need to assume these things will be there and take it in stride. Fair point. If I were able to get past the content (which was pretty much impossible for me), my review would be pretty much what follows.

Woolrich made some odd choices. Throughout the book, the reader is given both the who and the how of the murders; the only unsolved part is the why. I’m used to reading books where the identity of the killer isn’t known right away, so this was new to me. I felt a little cheated with so much information being already given. I like the tricky aspect of trying to solve the whodunnit. That being said, the why ended up being a doozy, completely unexpected and rather sad.

If the excess of freely given information seemed odd, the methods of the killings were downright bizarre. The oddest one involved a killer disguised as a kindergarten teacher: the victim thinks it’s absolutely normal for his child’s kindergarten teacher to show up uninvited to cook him dinner while he puts his feet up and reads the paper (see what I mean about the book being problematic?) . I found myself wondering how someone who was so lacking in common sense managed to live so long in the first place. I couldn’t view the murderer as diabolical, smart, or even as much of a threat because the way the murders were committed were so incredibly weird.

I was bummed that we saw so little of Detective Wanger. There would be several chapters involving the killer, then a small aside featuring the detective. There is no opportunity to get to know the character, which was rather disappointing. At least he didn’t immediately discount the idea of a female killer based on gender.

As I’ve mentioned, the ending was surprising and creative. I could see a little bit of why the author is seen as one of the original driving forces in the detective novel genre. It felt like the precursor for later books in the genre. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to make this book enjoyable for me.

Needless to say, I definitely don’t recommend this book, although it could just be an issue of the reader not matching the writing. It happens.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler- ARC Review

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. A brutal war of succession has plunged the court of Kingfountain into a power struggle between a charitable king who took the crown unlawfully and his ambitious rival, Devon Argentine. The balance of power between the two men hinges on the fate of a young boy ensnared in this courtly intrigue. A boy befittingly nicknamed Ransom.

When the Argentine family finally rules, Ransom must make his own way in the world. Opportunities open and shut before him as he journeys along the path to knighthood, blind to a shadowy conspiracy of jealousy and revenge. Securing his place will not be easy, nor will winning the affection of Lady Claire de Murrow, a fiery young heiress from an unpredictably mad kingdom.

Ransom interrupts an abduction plot targeting the Queen of Ceredigion and earns a position in service to her son, the firstborn of the new Argentine dynasty. But conflict and treachery threaten the family, and Ransom must also come to understand and hone his burgeoning powers—abilities that involve more than his mastery with a blade and that make him as much a target as his lord. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 26th.

Reminiscent of Tad Williams’ The Dragonbone Chair, this book is obviously the work of a master. Every sentence, every word, is placed with care and precision. The story woven is a fantastic one, and I couldn’t put the book down.

This book follows Ransom- once a king’s hostage, now a knight hopeful- as he navigates the dangers involved in becoming a knight and in growing up. He finds himself in a very precarious position, in-between warring kingdoms. Threats, both from without the court and within, abound on all sides. One false step and Ransom could lose his sense of honor-or his life.

I loved absolutely everything about this book. The characters were fully developed, complex individuals, each with their own motivations and personalities. The book was told from Ransom’s point of view, interspersed with diary entries from Claire, the recipient of his affection. I loved Ransom, of course. He was often caught between his own sense of morality and the code of honor he swore to follow. It was fascinating and heartbreaking to see him realize that a knightly code of honor does not apply in every situation. His internal battles were just as interesting as his physical battles.

And what battles! They were so vividly painted, it was like being right in the middle of them. They all felt incredibly real. The adrenaline and bloodlust versus fear and even sadness at taking a life- it was all conveyed brilliantly. I often had my heart in my throat (a rather uncomfortable sensation, I might add), reading the fight scenes.

The secret deals and cutthroat politics were engrossing to say the least. Every time I thought I had a character pegged, they would do something completely unexpected. One particular person had me totally fooled. When they made their move, I was absolutely stunned. Even the smallest move can turn a chess game, I guess.

I was fully immersed in the world from page one. It was vast and so well described, I could picture everything perfectly. Honestly, from plot, to characters, to world development, there is nothing that wasn’t done wonderfully. This is an author I’ll be reading more from, I can tell you that.

If you like high fantasy, if you enjoy writers such as Tolkien, Tad Williams, and Sean Russell, if you like stories with a hint of Arthurian themes, you’ll love this book.

Hush by Dylan Farrow- ARC Review

They use magic to silence the world. Who will break the hush?

Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.

From Dylan Farrow comes Hush, a powerful fantasy where one girl is determined to remake the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this review. This book is available now.

I was intrigued by the rather vague mention to dreams bleeding into reality, so I just had to pick Hush up. I have to be honest: this felt rather generic to me in many ways. Dylan Farrow is a skilled author, there’s no denying that, but the story itself felt like an idea that hadn’t been fully fleshed out yet.

Shae is the main character. When she was younger, her brother died of the Blot, a mysterious plague thought to be spread by ink. After her mother is murdered, Shae decides to track down the Bards, the only people who are now allowed to read and write. There is a reason for her choice, but it doesn’t really make a ton of sense if you think about it for too long. A good chunk of Shae’s decision to find the Bards is for knowledge. If anyone can help her, it would be them. This book is a lot of “don’t notice, don’t question”, with Shae needing to overcome her blind acceptance of things to discover the truth.

Unfortunately, Shae was a rather forgettable character. I never really got a feel on who she was. Again, I got the feel of a half fleshed-out idea. She was stubborn when it didn’t make sense to be, had the dreaded insta-attraction that I hate, and I just felt like she was more a stereotype of what people say all YA female characters are like, as opposed to being a full character. I don’t need to love a character to like reading about them, but feeling apathy regarding the main character definitely detracts from my enjoyment of a book.

The world itself is a fascinating one, full of little details that make it more three-dimensional, and it’s apparent that the author has a vision and is capable of realizing it. Even bare bones of the plot are pretty stinking cool. It just needs to be a little more developed.

I have a feeling that this series will grow and evolve into something great as it continues on. Unfortunately, I won’t be reading any subsequent books. Hush was just not for me.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter

In Victorian England, a savvy spiritual medium must outsmart the most important client of her career: a scientist determined to expose frauds like her.

But their game of wits has fatal consequences when a vengeful spirit answers their summons. If they cannot put aside their prejudices—and growing passion—and find a way to banish the ghost together, one of them could be its next victim.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by bestselling authors Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene has many of the trappings of good horror: an old manor with a violent history, a medium (albeit a skeptical one), and plenty of things that go bump in the night. There were things that worked well, and things that didn’t.

This book followed Beatrix Greene, a spiritualist by profession, but not in actuality. She doesn’t believe in that stuff, thank you very much, but a job is a job. However, if she is exposed as a fraud, there goes her livelihood. So when she meets James Walker, a scientist who makes a habit of debunking fake mediums, Beatrix is justifiably nervous. Instead of trying to expose Beatrix, James hires her to spend a night in an old manor to decide if it is truly haunted. Joining them are: Harry, Beatrix’s friend and a rather lousy actor; Amanda, a hired photographer; and Stanhope, a friend of James. Hijinks ensue.

The bones of the story (pun intended) were interesting and it’s obvious that the authors have a love of the eerie. I loved the atmosphere of the book- at least, I loved the first bit. Later on, it went from creeptastic to gory, which kind of bummed me out. It was an abrupt shift that didn’t really work for me.

There were mysteries to solve, and spooks aplenty. My biggest issue with the book was that it felt rushed. The pacing was off. I felt that it could have benefitted from a few extra chapters and a slower buildup to give the creep factor time to set in. It was almost too quick to really appreciate, honestly. There was so much happening that deserved more attention than it was given.

If I look at this book as more of a campfire tale than a horror novel, I’d say it delivers some fun spook. I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it. My final takeaway is that, while there were some thrills, there weren’t any chills.

Into the Never: Nine Inch Nails and the Creation of Downward Spiral

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Full of information, speculation, and a fair amount of geeking out, this book nonetheless failed to keep my attention. Pretty much everyone over a certain age knows who Nine Inch Nails is. It was one of my “angry” go-to bands for the longest time, and I still listen to their music on a semi-regular basis. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, I think everyone can agree that NIN did things with music that hadn’t been done before. The subject of the book is an interesting one.

Author Adam Stein went deep down the proverbial rabbit hole with this book. He pulled out quotes from years ago, found new points of view, and dug up information that painted an introspective and profound picture of Trent Reznor (founder and singer of NIN) and his emotional state when Downward Spiral was being created. He also waxed enthusiastic over NIN and every move made by Reznor. That enthusiasm made the book much more relatable. It’s difficult to be interested in a subject that the author cares nothing about, so his interest made this book fascinating.

Unlike many such books, Into the Never focused on the artist through the lens of his art, instead of the other way around. The author took a very song-by-song breakdown approach toward the latter half of the book, and made connections that I certainly wouldn’t have known to make. Reznor’s thoughts on faith, religion, and the human condition were both fascinating and sometimes unsettling. While I personally don’t agree much with Reznor’s viewpoints, it was engrossing to read them.

Unfortunately, about halfway through, the author’s extreme love of NIN became a little grating. I felt that the author’s enthusiasm started to cloud the point of the book a little bit. It would be that way with anything written by an extreme fan, though. There’s that moment where it becomes a bit much for “normal people” (aka, people who don’t have driving obsessions). For example, you don’t want to discuss Firefly with me unless you’ve cleared your schedule because I’ll go from Firefly to the actors’ continued careers, and segue into the epicacity (I’m over here making up words now) of Nathan Fillion’s mustache. See? There’s always that point where the excitement needs to be reined in, or at least given direction.

I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed this book much more if I’d taken longer to read it, maybe even putting it down to read something cheerful in-between parts. It’s interesting, but also a bit too much at times. It started out strong and I wanted to love it, but this book ends up getting something closer to a “meh” from me.

They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll by Dough Brod

Amazon.com: They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick,  Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll (9780306845192): Brod, Doug: Books

A veteran music journalist explores how four legendary rock bands-KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz-laid the foundation for two diametrically opposed subgenres: hair metal in the ’80s and grunge in the ’90s.

They Just Seem a Little Weird offers an original, eye- and ear-opening look at a crucial moment in hard-rock history, when the music became fun again and a concert became a show. It’s the story of four bands that started in the ’70s and drew from the same seminal sources but devised vastly different sounds. It’s the story of friends and frenemies who rose, fell, and soared again, often sharing stages, producers, engineers, managers, and fans-and who are still collaborating more than 40 years later.

In the tradition of books like David Browne’s bestselling Fire and Rain, They Just Seem a Little Weird seamlessly weaves the narratives of the mega-selling KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith with . . . Starz, a criminally neglected band whose fate may have been sealed by a shocking act of violence. It’s the story of how the four groups-three of them now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame-went on to influence multiple generations of musicians, laying the foundation for two diametrically opposed rock subgenres: the hair metal of Bon Jovi, Poison, Skid Row, and Mötley Crüe in the ’80s, and the grunge of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Melvins in the ’90s. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on December first.

First off, let me just say: I’m not a huge fan of any of these bands, just because I only know them passingly well. They were just a teensy bit before my time. Of course, I don’t live under a rock, so I have at least heard their music. So, if I’m not an uber fan, why did I scurry to read this book? Because it sounded fascinating.

It is an interesting foray into the bizarre world of rock and roll. There were a lot of weird, random happenstances that let me know how small the world of professional music-making truly is. There’s a major “six degrees to Kevin Bacon” vibe that permeates the book. So many things that happened were connected in the oddest ways. About halfway through, I was ready to start singing, “It’s a small world after all…”

Despite this, I found myself getting confused at times because there were so many names to remember. Not only that, each person seemed to have several nicknames bestowed by several different people and the nicknames got a bit perplexing. Also, the way they were all connected to each other was very convoluted at times. Read this book with a pencil ready in case you get name confusion like I did.

That being said, this book is a very engrossing read. The beginning of these music giants was just so much fun to read about, and the little asides were flat-out strange. It made for an incredibly entertaining book. I now know more about these bands than I thought was humanly possible for someone who wasn’t already an obsessive fan.

My biggest gripe is that there was a lot of information but not a lot of emotion. There was a ton of “how” and “when” but not a lot of “why,” if that makes sense. I wanted a little more personality than I got. That’s just a small little complaint, though.

The writing is succinct and well-worded. It flowed well and there weren’t really any parts that dragged or felt superfluous. For those of you who love any of these bands, or are huge music buffs in general, you’ll want to add this to your collection. For me, I liked it but fell just short of loving it.

Prelude for Lost Souls by Helene Dunbar

In the town of St. Hilaire, most make their living by talking to the dead. In the summer, the town gates open to tourists seeking answers while all activity is controlled by The Guild, a sinister ruling body that sees everything.

Dec Hampton has lived there his entire life, but ever since his parents died, he’s been done with it. He knows he has to leave before anyone has a chance to stop him.

His best friend Russ won’t be surprised when Dec leaves-but he will be heartbroken. Russ is a good medium, maybe even a great one. He’s made sacrifices for his gift and will do whatever he can to gain entry to The Guild, even embracing dark forces and contacting the most elusive ghost in town.

But when the train of Annie Krylova, the paino prodigy whose music has been Dec’s main source of solace, breaks down outside of town, it sets off an unexpected chain of events. And in St. Hilaire, there are no such things as coincidences. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

I am not entirely sure why, but this book just wasn’t my bag. I just couldn’t get into it at all. It could be the way it’s told. It switches back and forth between multiple narrators, which normally doesn’t bother me all that much. In this case, though, I really didn’t care at all about two of the characters, so their chapters didn’t keep me engaged.

The idea of a town with sort of a cult feel to it has loads of potential. You could take it in a dark direction, or just keep it fun. However, despite being mentioned very early on, The Guild (which basically runs the town) didn’t really make its presence known in a way that lived up to the reputation the author had created for it. I was just expecting more.

I thought Russ was a fascinating character. The lengths he was willing to go to in order to be the best…zoinks, yo! I didn’t really understand his friendship with Dec, possibly because it was already falling apart when the book started. He and Dec wanted fundamentally different things, and they struggled to accept that. It was kind of a bummer, but it definitely added to the story.

Dec and Annie just weren’t all that interesting. Annie, unfortunately, didn’t seem to add all that much to the narrative. I really can’t put my finger on why I wasn’t a big fan of Dec. I should have liked him and I have no idea why I was less than thrilled by the chapters he narrated. That just happens sometimes.

As I write this, I realize this is a pretty negative review, so let me hasten to add: I didn’t hate the book. The plot is unique, there is a ton of potential for the continuing story, and Russ was a complicated character (I love complicated characters!). When it comes right down to it, this wasn’t the right book for me. Everything that felt a little off to me might be exactly what would make someone else absolutely love this book.