Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

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51uojknkjll-_sx328_bo1204203200_For decades we’ve followed the escapades of Mystery, Inc., and the Hardy Boys among other kid detectives as they solved local mysteries and unmasked the villains. But what happened after these meddling kids grew up? Edgar Cantero tries to answer this question in his comedic and supernatural book, Meddling Kids.

As kids, Andy, Peter, Nate, Kerri, and their dog, Sean, spent their summers unmasking villains in Blyton Hills as the Blyton Summer Detective Club. About 15 years after their last mystery, the gang is still haunted by the events of that night. Now, the gang decides to head back to Blyton Hills and unmask what really happened that night once and for all.

Cantero uses a unique writing style for Meddling Kids where it would go from straight prose to TV/movie script style with dialogue only and described camera angles, which was an interesting choice since the material closely resembled the Scooby Doo gang. However, it wasn’t a carbon copy of already existing material. The characters in Meddling Kids were funnier and more real than the characters from Scooby Doo. Despite their out of this world experienced, I was struck by how lifelike and relatable the characters were, with some of their issues not far off the crises experienced by a normal 20-something year old.

But Meddling Kids was more than a comedic spoof on some popular stories from childhood. Cantero also channeled H.P. Lovecraft, creating a page turning mystery involving the occult that will get the heart racing and keep readers guessing until the very end, where he will still manage to surprise readers with a few more tricks up his sleeve. A mixture of nostalgia and horror, Cantero has written the perfect book that will be sure to keep readers wondering about the bumps in the night.

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The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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36375387In her debut novel, Melissa Albert takes everything we know about fairy tales and adds something new to the mix. For this book, readers will have to forget what the know about Disney and become more friendly with the darker tales found in Grimms. Because these fairy tales do not end with happily ever after.

Alice Crewe Proserpine and her mother, Ella, have never had a permanent home instead traveling from state to state trying to outrun the bad luck that seems to follow them. When they receive a letter stating that Ella’s mother, mysterious author and recluse Althea Proserpine, has passed away all of that changes. Only months after the two settle down, however, the bad luck catches up in the shape of fairy tale characters from her grandmother’s book, stealing Ella away. Determined, Alice begins a journey she has always been forbidden to take: to find her grandmother’s hidden estate, The Hazel Wood, for answers to her unending questions.

Albert creates a strong female lead in Alice Crewe Proserpine, sending her on a journey not only of self discovery, but to discovery who her family really is. Although there are several secondary characters thrown into the tale, Alice proves time and again that she can handle the journey on her own. The fairy tales Albert creates are also like nothing I’ve ever read. Dark and creepy, the tales told sound more like something from a nightmare than a fairy tale, which only fascinated me more. It made me want Albert to write down these tales and release them as a companion book so readers could have a deeper look.

While I enjoyed The Hazel Wood in it’s entirety, there were certain parts of the book that I enjoyed more than others. The first half of the book caught my attention and made me stick around to find out what happens. Albert managed to write realistic and relatable characters in Alice and Finch, from their relationship with adults to their language—curse words included. I enjoyed the many book and music references Albert incorporated into the story. They helped define Alice’s personality while also introducing a bunch of reading material the audience may not have had the pleasure of discovering yet.

However, what enraptured me the most was when the fairy tale portion became more prominent, which reminded me of Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I loved how fairy tale and the real world meshed together and complimented each other. It felt as if there was a shift in Albert’s writing, as well. As if she finally reached her favorite part of the entire book and wanted to use the best words for it. Or maybe it’s just my love for portal fantasy that made me think this. It was here that the stakes felt highest, making the conclusion only that much more satisfying.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from a GoodReads Giveaway. The Hazel Wood is expected to be released in early 2018.

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab

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51f0kzlzb-l-_sx330_bo1204203200_When you enter one London—because in Victoria Schwab’s series A Darker Shade of Magic there are four—you can immediately feel the differences from the others. Grey London is like the real London, with well known landmarks and no traces of magic; Red London is beautiful and lush with magic; White London is hard and cold, it’s hold on magic a constant struggle; and Black London is just that—burnt and in ruins, a myth to most and a memory to some.

Readers are set on an adventure with Kell, an Antari whose job it is to travel between the Londons to communicate with the different rulers, when he is given a token of Black London. A token that should not exist.

But Kell is not the only hero in this story. Although Delilah Bard, a cutpurse with dreams of being a pirate on the open seas, is not a conventional hero, she is the only person who seems to be able to help Kell—whether he wants her help or not. Together the two face numerous challenges and villains, including Holland, the only other Antari that exists, and the Dane twins who rule White London.

Schwab takes several chapters to build up the plot, letting readers first get to know Kell and his world and the different Londons. But not too much information is provided at once. She drops hints of events that have happened or characters who are important to the plot like bread crumbs. All these hints help to lead to the main event, and although the outcome can be gleaned from these bread crumbs, Schwab crafts a story that will still leave readers breathless.

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first in a trilogy and the second adult fiction book written by Schwab. Although the pacing is similar to a young adult novel, the story’s gruesome and random murders, as well as its suggestive dialogue, move it up a peg to adult status.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

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20706317Harry August was born on New Year’s Day in 1919 in the women’s washroom of Berwick-upon-Tweed station. His mother—a servant of the Hulne family—dies after he is born, and Harry is brought back to the Hulne family where he is raised by the groundskeeper and his wife. He lives a normal life, follows in his adopted father’s footsteps, and dies in a hospital in 1989. Then he is born again on that cold winter’s day in 1919.

In his second life, Harry August is committed to an institution where he dies again. It isn’t until his third life that he begins to search for answers and learns that he is an ouroboran—an individual who may die but always comes back to where they started remembering what happened to them in previous lives. But as Harry lays dying several lives later, a young girl comes to him with a message: The world is ending at a faster pace than it should be. And it is up to the ouroborans to find out why.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was a real treat. I found it in a bookstore and was immediately hooked by the premise. The thought of there being individuals who are constantly reliving life over and over—which I’ve seen in other stories—is something I find intriguing and captivating. I appreciated how Claire North (which is one of the pen names of Catherine Webb) made it so there were consequences to the actions of the ouroborans. Nothing is ever perfect. You can’t just keep reliving your life knowing everything and not change anything that happened, whether it’s on purpose or an accident. So it only makes sense that there would be consequences for too many things changing too quickly in the world.

I did think the beginning of the book was a bit slow, but it picked up quickly and kept at a good pace after that. There were also some passages that I had to read several times to understand, because there are sections on physics that go over my head (not being familiar with the theories). The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was well written with interesting characters and a plot that opens to a realm of possibilities. Personally, I think it’s a must read for almost anyone because it’s well balanced between adult fiction and science fiction.

It also begs the question: If you could live multiple lives, what would you do?

The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon

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41gnf18mlal-_sx318_bo1204203200_When beautiful Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room at Armitage Academy, everyone wants to know how she died. The students, teachers and staff, and town locals all find their lives upended as the investigation begins. Everything only becomes more complicated when it is revealed that Claire had recently given birth. But where is the baby now? And how did her pregnancy go unnoticed by everyone at the Academy?

When I started reading The Twisted Thread I was immediately hooked, which was slightly surprising to me because I’m not usually a fan of murder mystery books. But the characters were engaging and the beginning of the story had a great hook that kept me wanting more.

But then about half way through I felt like the book became a bit slow. Some of the information provided was repetitive and some of it unnecessary. The Twisted Thread is not a long book, only 384 pages, but I felt like a good chunk of that could have been cut to keep the plot fluid and going at a good pace. I felt there were too many characters involved in the telling of the story. Some could have been cut or combined into one character which may have helped the plot flow a little better.

I was also disappointed by the murderer reveal, as the end of the book felt a bit rushed with the reveal glossed over. Then there was an epilogue added that I don’t think was needed. By the end, there seemed to be a lot of focus on the main character’s personal lives than that of the case and the impact that came from it. And there are some characters who we never learn what happened to them. Their story starts, their lives becoming more interesting and promising as the story arcs, and then is suddenly dropped at the end.

But The Twisted Thread was interesting enough that I may broaden my reading tastes and branch out to more murder mystery books.

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

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9780385347860_p0_v2_s260x420When Anais Hendricks is found with blood on her clothes the same night a police officer—one known to not get along with Anais—is found brutally beaten, she is shipped to the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. Although she can’t remember the events that landed her there, Anais does know one thing: she is part of an experiment, always has been, and the experiment is closing in on her.

It was a bit hard to come up with a description for The Panopticon because I felt like it didn’t really have a plot. I thought the book started off interesting enough. The characters, especially Anais, were well written and the reason I kept reading the book. I wanted to know what happened to them in the end. But when it came to plot, I think it started off as something, but seemed to have been dropped halfway through and almost completely forgotten by the end.

We only slightly know what happened the day Anais is arrested for a crime she wasn’t even sure she committed, but we never fully find out what happens to the police officer—or really Anais for that matter. It’s obvious that Anais is not a normal girl: she believes she was born in a test tube and is part of an experiment where men with no faces watch her every move. She survives mostly on day dreams of a life that could have been. I think these are the things that make her interesting. I wanted her to succeed and to get a life she deserves to have, not the one she is living. I wanted her to get justice. And I liked learning about her as the book went on. But I’m disappointed that I’ll never really know what happened, and if she gets the justice she deserves.

I would not recommend The Panopticon for readers who are faint of heart or who are looking for a light read as it is a brutally honest book. Loosely based off of Jenni Fagan’s own experiences growing up in the Scottish foster care system, The Panopticon depicts moments of violence, self harm, and drug use, which may not be suitable for all readers.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

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Ten years after Victor and Eli—college roommates with the same ambitions—both had near-death experiences that changed the course of their lives, Victor breaks out of prison determined to catch up with his old friend. With the help of his cell mate and a young girl with her own special abilities, Victor finds Eli hard at work tracking down and disposing of every other super-powered person he can find. And he is just as eager to see Victor again as Victor is to see him.

Vicious is the third book by Victoria Schwab I’ve read this year (with the hope of reading one more before the year is out). Over the course of the year, she has become one of my favorite authors, creating characters and worlds that inspire me both as a reader and a writer. And Vicious was no different.

There probably wasn’t anything about this book that I could point at and be like, “Yeah, I didn’t really like that.” I was enchanted by all of the characters. They each had their own distinct personalities, and each came with their own background stories that were slowly revealed as the main story unraveled. The pacing of the story was well done—none of it dragged, but it also didn’t feel rushed at any point, as sometimes can happen at the end of a book. The ending was also the perfect mixture of closure with hope for a continuation, which is currently in the works and one I can’t wait to get my hands on.