Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

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HoB.jpgIf you’re looking for a short (read: 106 pages), amazingly awesome and creepy page turner you need go no further than Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw.

I happened to come across this book because I read an article on new releases in 2017 that featured the sequel, A Song for Quiet. I immediately fell in love with the cover art (seriously, go look it up. It’s gorgeous!), and once I realized it was the second in a series, I knew I had to get my hands on the first. Because I really wanted to read A Song for Quiet. This can be kind of scary because what if you don’t like the first book? Do you still read the second one? What if it’s just as disappointing as the first? It all comes down to: Is it worth it?

Trust me, friends, Hammers on Bone is worth it.

The story follows John Persons, a private investigator hired by a 10-year-old boy to kill his abusive stepdad, McKinsey. But there’s something else that leads Persons to investigate: McKinsey is also a monster. Being one himself, Persons is no stranger when it comes to dealing with monsters. But can Persons manage to stop McKinsey spreading the alien presence he is infected with without giving in to his own horrifying potential?

I think my favorite aspect about Khaw’s writing is her ability to paint the most beautiful and creepy pictures. Her word choices are impeccable and allow the reader to vividly see what is happening in the story. Although Hammers on Bone is short, it is the perfect pocket read, providing just a taste of the world within its pages that keep the reader wanting more. The short length also allows for multiple reads, which helps if you want to re-read it prior to diving into A Song for Quiet.

 

 

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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297673Over the past several years I have begun to enjoy reading memoirs. There’s something about learning about someone else’s life that fascinates and captivates me. I guess it has something to do with being able to relate with someone you have never met and understanding that you are not alone. Although The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is fiction, I thought that it read similarly to a memoir, which actually surprised me since I had started the book anticipating a fictitious story surrounding Oscar Wao. However, Oscar may be the main focus of the story, but his family plays a large role and helps the story unfold from multiple angles.

I have to admit that it took me several years after being recommended this book to actually read it because of the footnotes included with the story. Lame excuse, I know. But there’s something about seeing paragraphs of footnotes that makes me lose my resolve. Luckily, I am not alone. A coworker who had just finished reading this book said he was put off at first by the footnotes as well, but he assured me that they really weren’t that bad. And he was right. Although lengthy, the footnotes provide a lot of great historical and pop culture information that help in the telling of the story. In fact, the book may not work so well without them.

One of the coolest parts about the book was the amount of Spanish used throughout. It made the story feel authentic, which I loved, despite it holding me back a little. Since I don’t know any Spanish, I had to keep my phone nearby to look up the phrases (Junot Diaz does not provide a translation, which only became problematic with the more slang terms) which slowed my reading. But a lot of the phrases were repeated throughout the book and by the end I barely needed to look them up.

So this is the lesson I learned from reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Do not be afraid to read out of your comfort zone. A whole new world may be opened to you.

 

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny

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26156474When we lose someone—whether it’s our parent, sibling, grandparent, friend, pet, etc.—grief is there to put its arms around us, to hold our hand through all of the firsts, and to never, truly ever let go. Even as the years pass, you may do something or see something that may send a jolt through you of remembrance and a cocktail of feelings. I spent the majority of my childhood mourning over the loss of my mother, and even though my dad died two years ago there are still certain things that make me wish I could call him up and tell him about it. In the memoir It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too), Nora McInerny explores the loss of her father and her husband both weeks after miscarrying her second child through a collection of stories, essays, and lists guaranteed to make you laugh, cry, and feel all of the feels.

I was first introduced to Nora McInerny through her Podcast: Terrible, Thanks For Asking, which asks the question “How are you?” with the intent for people to answer honestly. I don’t quite remember how I found the Podcast, but I found it several months after my dad passed away from Parkinson’s Disease and it helped me deal with a lot of emotions I was feeling. So, I knew reading this book would probably be a good idea. And it was.

I personally found it helpful that I listened to Terrible, Thanks For Asking prior to reading It’s Okay to Laugh because then I could hear Nora narrate her stories as I read them. Which may or may not have made some of them funnier than were probably meant to be. While reading, I felt like Nora was a close friend giving me the low down on what to expect from my loss. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything because all of these things have happened before. You are not special. But she doesn’t do so harshly. She’s just being honest and putting herself out there by sharing her experiences with sickness, death, and grief with a bunch of strangers on and off the Internet.

I would recommend this book for anyone going through a tough time, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or something else entirely. But if you haven’t experienced anything devastating, you should also read this book because it is not all about loss. There were a few chapters that just left me feeling empowered and inspired overall and which could speak to anyone at any point in their life.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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29283884I’ve never been one for history. Needless to say I can count how many historical fiction books I’ve read on one hand. Nothing against historical fiction—I’m sure it’s a great genre. I just never felt the want or need to read it. Until I heard about The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee on the Podcast Literaticast.

Set in the 1700’s, the book follows Henry “Monty” Montague, a flirtatious and somewhat wild teen of the upper class, on his tour of Europe after getting kicked out of yet another boarding school. The purpose: to shape him up into a true gentleman before taking over the family affairs. But Monty is determined to make the trip as fun filled as possible, all while harboring a crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy, and despite the unfortunate inclusion of his sister, Felicity. That is until Monty’s recklessness has the group pursued by highwaymen looking for something far more valuable than he realizes.

Within the first few pages, I was immediately blown away by this book. The characters were lifelike and the story weaved together the comical antics of teenagers set loose in Europe with the serious topics of illness, sexuality, race, and gender. Lee did a beautiful job at making the story as historical as possible, even keeping the fictional parts historically accurate so the story ties together nicely without any anachronisms. She even includes a few pages of historical information at the end of the book, which taught me a lot and showed just how much research she did for this book.

I also loved the stark differences between all of the characters. While Henry and Percy were similar in many ways, Percy was strictly the level headed one of the two while Henry tended to act before thinking. This helped make their relationship feel lifelike and kept a good pace to the book because you were never sure how one would react to the other. Then there is smart and witty Felicity, who reminded me a lot of Hermione from Harry Potter, but who was still different enough that she wasn’t a carbon copy. She was probably my favorite character because she was strong willed and spoke her mind during a time when women were supposed to be seen and not heard. She wanted an education, but resented the fact that her education would consist of learning to be a good wife and mother. Felicity was a force that helped move the story forward by being able to figure ways out of tricky situations quickly (although maybe not as smoothly as Henry).

I only wish that there was a bit more information on Percy. When the book began, I actually thought that’s where the plot was going: while on their tour of Europe, the group would somehow learn more about Percy’s family. But I was not disappointed with the direction that the book went and am interested to see what other works Lee comes out with.

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.

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.