2 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews

Book Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

peopleshistory★ ★

A panoramic thriller that begins with a missing body from a small town morgue, A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising was a title that I was anticipating when I heard about it. As soon as my summer semester wind down, I reached for this, unable to wait any longer, but after a few chapters, I lost the momentum to continue on. A crafty plot that had a lot of potential that unfortunately fell flat in execution. Told through multiple POVs, this story started off strong, beginning with Dr. Lauren Scott from the CDC investigating the virus, but each chapter with a different narrative became dull, repetitive, and echoed the thoughts and emotions of each character with the virus overrunning the nation.

I don’t consider this a vampire “uprising” but rather an overview of the NOBI virus that is at times intriguing but often felt unorganized without a real plot. About a third of the way through, I started to skim the remainder because even at that point, I didn’t feel the thriller factor, there was no action and not much progress with the story to keep my attention. It felt like a premise that came to the author’s mind—which was unique and clever—without much time put into planning before the writing process began. Two aspects that I liked included Dr. Lauren Scott’s POV, which I preferred out of the rest, and the format of the novel with eyewitness reports, magazine articles, blog posts, congressional testimony, and interrogation transcripts. However, it was just too long and by the end, it didn’t feel much like a conclusion to what was supposed to be A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising.

Synopsis

The body of a young woman found in an Arizona border town, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, walks out of the town morgue. To the young CDC investigator called in to consult the local police, it’s a bizarre medical mystery.
More bodies, dead of a mysterious disease that solidifies their blood, are brought to the morgue, and disappear. In a futile game of catch-up, the CDC, the FBI, and the US government must come to terms with what they’re too late to stop: an epidemic of vampirism that will sweep first the United States, and then the world.

Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by Mulholland Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Star Reads, Recommendations, Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Poison Study is one of the best young-adult books out there and easily one of my favorites. While this review is focused on the first book, titled Poison Study, I would recommend the entire Chronicles of Ixia series, which includes the Soulfinders series. If there is just one recommendation I can give you, it would be this because, truthfully, I did not know if I would like it–at the time I wasn’t reading fantasy, it was new to me–but it’s been a year since I’ve read Poison Study and it is still one of the only books that I talk about frequently because I fell in love with the world and characters that Snyder created, so I thought it was time to write a review–which was difficult because it’s easier for me to discuss the book than it is to write about it. In person, I’ll just ramble on about everything that made Poison Study the only series I’ve ever finished and every reason why you should be reading it. It was one hell of an introduction to fantasy, that I will definitely say.

It begins with our young female protagonist, Yelena, who is awaiting execution for killing a man in the Commander’s dungeons when she is given a choice. She can follow through with her execution or become the new food taster for the Commander. She chooses to become a food taster, but the chief of security, Valek, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust, and the only way to prevent an agonizing death is to report to him for her daily antidote to delay the poison. Life in Ixia begins to unravel when Yelena develops magical powers that she can’t control as rebels plot to seize Ixia.

I loved this book. The characters, world-building, and plot were crafted brilliantly to create a world that was shown to the reader through Yelena’s eyes. I do not typically read books in first perspective because I prefer third person POV, but Yelena is a character you grow even fonder of throughout the story and become invested in. She is witty, intelligent, calculated, and an all-around badass that I never once got annoyed or tired of, and has an inspiring transformation by the end of the novel. I feel like we could all use to have a little bit of Yelena in our personalities because she is such an admirable character.

Then there is Valek, who is this cruel character that does not have one redeeming quality but has a whole lot of mystery surrounding him–let’s be honest, I disliked him the moment he gave Yelena Butterfly Dust, but damn, did he grow on me. The relationship that develops between Valek and Yelena was one that I didn’t care for in the beginning because of the obvious, but eventually I rooted for them because it wasn’t the sole focus of the story and they work really well together–it’s one of the first times I did not get frustrated with a romance because of how well written it was. Valek is definitely someone that has multiple layers and there are reasons for why he is such a complex individual in the series.

It’s a dark story with violence and assault, so there are some who would rather not read because of some of the things that take place, which is understandable, but there is so much more to the story than that. This is one of the underrated books in my opinion that needs to be discussed, reviewed, and shared. It’s a fantasy novel with a lot of action and a beautifully crafted romance between the relatable and smart heroine and mysterious and sometimes questionable assassin. The world isn’t told to you, it’s shown through Yelena’s very observant perspective, and as a reader, you become invested in so much–at least I did. The narrative is sometimes dry, always straight-to-the-point, and the plot stayed focused without straying too far with many sub-plots, which made it more enjoyable.

I did not know if I would like this, let alone be able to finish it, but I absolutely loved it. I only have one book left in the series to read, and I can honestly say I’m a little (maybe a lot) heartbroken to see the story come to an end, but it’s been quite the journey with magic, assassins, love, poison, politics, and without a doubt (for the first time ever) I will going back to reread a book. So again, if there is only one recommendation I can give you, it’s to pick up a copy of Poison Study.

You can tell when a book is a favorite of mine because what I’ve dubbed a blog for short, brief reviews that get you back to reading, just became a 6 paragraph review.

Synopsis

Choose: A quick death…Or slow poison…
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.
And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.
As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear…

Paperback, 409 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Mira

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4 Star Reads, Adult Fiction

Book Review: Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić

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★ ★ ★ ★

Saša Stanišić’s Before the Feast was a strange and whimsical story. It was one that had to be read in small portions, so it took me quite a while to get through despite thinking it would be a quick read. At times it was a challenging book because it required my full attention, but it was memorizing and beautifully written. Without giving too much detail away, it is about a long night in Fürstenfelde, a small East German village, on the eve of the feast–the feast that is not exactly defined. We learn about the history of Fürstenfelde, the mysteries and magic, we also follow the inhabitants of the village with their distinctive personalities and different circumstances. Told through short chapters and the town as the narrator, I enjoyed this story, although at times it was chaotic, and didn’t have a straightforward plot–if you go in expecting that, this may not be book for you. If you want to not just read, but experience a story that brings you into that world through captivating prose about old stories, myths, folklore, and fairy-tales, this would be a fine choice. This vibrant, odd, yet charming village full of its people both living and dead, of all backgrounds, that end up coming together.

Often I found myself putting the book down because I needed to pull myself from the story and read something a little more solid in terms of a plot. In a way it felt like I was in this dreamland, though not completely in slumber–you know that middle, where you can’t seem to fully wake from the trance? I still feel like that when trying to form my thoughts on the story. I feel like while there is a vagueness to it, and a reader can easily be confused with where it is going, there is a lot up to the reader on interpretation and whether or not they think there is meaning or a point behind it. Take the time to appreciate how well crafted this story is, and don’t rush through it–travel through Fürstenfelde with a curious and open mind. Before the Feast was an unusual and riveting novel that I hope to come back to one day to relive.

Synopsis

Someone has opened the doors to the Village Archive, but what drives the sleepless out of their houses is not that which was stolen, but that which has escaped. Old stories, myths, and fairy tales are wandering about the streets with the people. They
come together in a novel about a long night, a mosaic of village life, in which the long-established and newcomers, the dead and the living, craftsmen, pensioners, and noble robbers in football shirts bump into each other. They all want to bring something to a close, in this night before the feast.

Paperback, 353 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by Tin House Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

4 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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★ ★ ★ ★

Before we get to my thoughts on The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, I wanted to let everyone know about a great website that I recently discovered because I am partnering with them for this review. SocialBookCo is a website that helps you find, locate, and compare book prices so you can find the cheapest deal by comparing your chosen books with over 50 book shops around the world to make sure you get the best bargain. There are different formats available, such as paperback, audio, eBook, out-of-print, and even textbooks along with second-hand copies. SocialBookCo is a comparison engine and not a bookstore, so when you find the best price for your purchase, they will direct you straight to the retailer where you carry out the transaction. They give shoppers all the options when it comes to book buying, and want you to save your money, which I think is cool for those of us who frequently purchase books through online retailers because who doesn’t like saving some money that will most likely go towards another book? I sure do!

Ken Liu is a phenomenal author of speculative fiction, as well as a translator, lawyer, and programmer. He has won numerous awards for his novels, such as the Nebula, Hugo, and World’s fantasy awards. The Paper Menagerie, his debut collection, contains 15 fantasy, magical realism, and science-fiction short stories and novellas–some of which have been previously published. If I had to summarize this collection in three words, it would be profound, thought-provoking, and distinctive. Very rarely do I come to the end of a book, unable to form my thoughts on the experience because I am still in a literary daze.

The Paper Menagerie is an exceptional short story collection, but at times it was a challenging read. Through different genres and exploring different themes such as love, history, suffering, and diversity, to the complexity and connections with the characters, and Liu’s brilliant, imaginative, and unique story-telling. When it comes to short-story collections, it is common to find a mix of feelings and thoughts when it comes to the individual stories, but with this collection, whether I enjoyed the story or not, I appreciated and was engrossed in the writing. The stories strike a reader’s core when it comes to experiencing so many emotions throughout every story.

This is the first of Liu’s work that I have read, and I think it was the perfect introduction to his writing. When it comes to the stories, you really need to clear your head, focus, and dive into the worlds and character stories he build–afterwards, take the time to reflect on each one before beginning the next. There is no doubt that Ken Liu is a remarkably talented author, and writes effortlessly and poignant no matter the genre or subject. My ultimate favorites were Good Hunting, The Regular, The Paper Menagerie, and The Waves. The Paper Menagerie is a beautifully crafted collection that was equally heartbreaking, captivating, and engaging. I am not one to often pick up or recommend short-story collections, but I highly encourage anyone who appreciates rich, authentic prose, to read this.

Synopsis 

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Saga Press

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4 Star Reads, Book Reviews, Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill

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★ ★ ★ ★

The Beginning Woods is Malcolm McNeill’s debut novel, a peculiar story that is full of magic and wonder. The Vanishings are a mystery that no one can solve — people disappearing into thin air without any trace left behind aside from piles of clothing. Max was the baby no one wanted, abandoned in a bookshop. As Max grows up, he is haunted by memories of his real ‘forever’ parents and sets out to find them no matter what it takes. What is to come when Max believes there is a connection to finding his parents and putting an end to The Vanishings? Meanwhile, the number of people disappearing is increasing rapidly, and scientists have yet to discover the cause of what is going on, let alone how to fix it.

While it is marketed towards children, I would find YA more suitable because it is a chunky book with 448 pages, and I think that would be too long for some young readers on top of that it is a fairly dark story with fantasy elements. I think that adults would enjoy The Beginning Woods, too,  and be able to appreciate the philosophical aspect that is throughout the story. It does at times become complex and can be a bit confusing, and while there are also parts that seemed to drag on, I did often pick it up to read a couple chapters then set it down again–I feel like it was a bit too long, and wouldn’t be such a heavy read at times if it were cut down in length.

This is a dark fairy-tale with such rich world-building; unexpected characters like witches, dragons, fairies, ‘cold’ people that we know as ghosts; and endless adventure. Anyone who picks this up will find their imagination is as vivid and weird as this story was crafted. My thoughts on this are still settling, but I do know that while at times I took breaks in-between reading, it was a wonderful, whimsical read, and this is one of the few books I will be rereading in the future.

Synopsis 

A MYSTERY NO ONE CAN SOLVE
The Vanishings started without warning. People disappearing into thin air – just piles of clothes left behind. Each day, thousands gone without a trace.
A BABY NO ONE WANTED
Max was abandoned in a bookshop and grows up haunted by memories of his parents. Only he can solve the mystery of the Vanishings.
A SECRET THAT COULD SAVE THE FUTURE
To find the answers, Max must leave this world and enter the Beginning Woods. A realm of magic and terror, life and death.
But can he bear the truth – or will is destroy him?
A STORY THAT WILL TAKE YOU TO ANOTHER WORLD
Greater than your dreams. Darker than your fears. Full of more wonder than you could ever desire. Welcome to the ineffable Beginning Woods…

Paperback, 448 pages
Published September 1st 2016 by Pushkin Press

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews

Book Review: The Trees by Ali Shaw

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★ ★ ★

This was a unique concept with an intriguing premise. The cover is stunning, with a wolf made out of leaves. I thought that was cool and fitting into the story-line, and have to say it is one of the best covers I’ve seen this year. It is a different view of a post-apocalyptic world, and as someone who enjoys novels of the genre, I couldn’t wait to read what was in store with The Trees. The beginning is strong with vivid world-building, and an introduction to the characters to get an idea of who they are when it first begins. Within the first 100 pages or so, I was lost and overwhelming in the world that was becoming consumed by trees. Can you imagine an end to the world coming not from a plague of some-sort or global disaster… but by trees breaking through the ground everywhere, destroying anything in their path?

That is an eerie and frightening thought, and Shaw’s writing places you in the story as it all unfolds. It was interesting as the characters attempted to cope with what was going on in the world and come together to find their path through the destruction and chaos. To have a character who is a mother with an odd and different view on what was going on, that was unexpected. Adrien wasn’t an easy character to find relatable, and he certainly wasn’t always one that I rooted for, but I thought it was interesting to read this story with the contrast of characters and still being realistic-you never know how a person is going to react in such a bizarre and otherworldly situation.

Come just over half of the book, the pace and story-telling began to shift, and it was just difficult to get through it because it felt clunky, and as if the author didn’t know where to take the story and characters from there into the end At times it couldn’t keep me engaged so it took me a while to read the entire book. While that was the only downfall, I did really enjoy this suspenseful, haunting novel.

Synopsis

The Trees. They arrived in the night: wrenching through the ground, thundering up into the air, and turning Adrien’s suburban street into a shadowy forest. Shocked by the sight but determined to get some answers, he ventures out, passing destroyed buildings, felled power lines, and broken bodies still wrapped in tattered bed linens hanging from branches.
It is soon apparent that no help is coming and that these trees, which seem the work of centuries rather than hours, span far beyond the town. As far, perhaps, as the coast, where across the sea in Ireland, Adrien’s wife is away on a business trip and there is no way of knowing whether she is alive or dead.
When Adrien meets Hannah, a woman who, unlike him, believes that the coming of the trees may signal renewal rather than destruction and Seb, her technology-obsessed son, they persuade him to join them. Together, they pack up what remains of the lives they once had and set out on a quest to find Hannah’s forester brother and Adrien’s wife–and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
Their journey through the trees will take them into unimaginable territory: to a place of terrible beauty and violence, of deadly enemies and unexpected allies, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness–and also the power–inside themselves.

Hardcover, 496 pages
Published August 2nd 2016 by Bloomsbury USA

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I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. All opinions are my own.

5 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews

Book Review: The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Gentleman is Forrest Leo’s debut novel, about a husband who conjures the Devil, and accidentally sells his wife, which results in planning a rescue mission to Hell. A variety of personas come along for the quest, and a whole lot of over-the-top encounters happen along the way that will have you laughing out loud. I have been talking about this novel to anyone willing to listen, and I think I will for a while even now that I finished reading it.

There was so much about this novel that I enjoyed, especially the writing style–it was one of those stories that captured me from the first page and brought me along on the ridiculous adventure that took place. The novel itself is beautiful with the dust-jacket’s vivid colors, the hardcover is red with a gold spine, and the author’s initials are engraved on the cover. Throughout the book, there are illustrations and footnotes that I really enjoyed while reading because it brought another experience to the reader. While it is a short read, I took my time to cherish how exquisite the novel is as a whole. It was hysterical and delightful.

I would not mind seeing this as a play, or possibly a movie, as long as it sticks to the story-line because there wasn’t an aspect in this that I didn’t find entertaining. It is a charming, enjoyable story that is full of madness and humor that is crafted so brilliantly. Between the story and the characters, it was a memorable read that I will continue to come back to, and recommend to anyone looking for a fun and lighthearted novel. It is an absurd, action-packed, and witty read, and I cannot wait to read more of Leo’s novels in the future.

Synopsis

When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they’re broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him.
Distraught and contemplating suicide, Savage accidentally conjures the Devil — the polite “Gentleman” of the title — who appears at one of the society parties Savage abhors. The two hit it off: the Devil talks about his home, where he employs Dante as a gardener; Savage lends him a volume of Tennyson. But when the party’s over and Vivien has disappeared, the poet concludes in horror that he must have inadvertently sold his wife to the dark lord.
Newly in love with Vivien, Savage plans a rescue mission to Hell that includes Simmons, the butler; Tompkins, the bookseller; Ashley Lancaster, swashbuckling Buddhist; Will Kensington, inventor of a flying machine; and Savage’s spirited kid sister, Lizzie, freshly booted from boarding school for a “dalliance.” Throughout, his cousin’s quibbling footnotes to the text push the story into comedy nirvana.

Hardcover, 287 pages
Published August 16th 2016 by Penguin Press

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own