Friday Reads: Monsters and Men

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This week marked my first week of Fall term in my graduate program. From here on out, it’s likely that Friday Reads will deal almost entirely with assigned reading. I’m hoping I’ll get to sneak a few leisure reads into my schedule here and there, but between course assignments and that new No Man’s Sky update I still need to check out for myself, I may not get much leisure reading done before Christmas break.

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Friday Reads: So It Begins

Grad school classes begin on Monday, and it appears no one has informed my anxiety disorder. So far I’m pretty calm about it, maybe even excited. I spent some time this week reviewing my syllabus for Literary Theory, and I’m beyond stoked for this class. The entire month of November will be spent on Feminist Theory and Gender/Queer Theory, which I am considering an early holiday gift from my professor. He also informed us that skimming most of our assigned readings is acceptable and expected, so we’re friends now. It’s fine.

I haven’t heard anything from my other professor yet, but I’m not worried; class doesn’t actually begin until Monday so there’s still time.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: Never Let Me Sleep, Jennifer Brozek

I really wanted to enjoy this book. The blurb was amazing, and the guest post I read by the author on Chuck Wendig’s blog really pumped me up. It seemed like it was going to fling itself into my Top 10 YA books, which is hard to do (especially considering most of the list is filled with heavyweight trilogies).

This book was … disappointing. I do not enjoy writing bad reviews so I’ll keep this short and as painless as possible. I almost hope Brozek doesn’t read this.

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Melissa Allen, a teenager in a small town in South Dakota, goes to sleep. She wakes up the next morning to find that everyone in the state has mysteriously died in their sleep, her sister and brother-in-law included. On top of all this, Melissa is on house arrest, she’s supposed to be at the doctor soon, and her meds are almost gone …. is it possible she’s to blame for her family’s deaths, and the rest of it is just all in her head?

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Literally the only thing I liked about this book was the main character isn’t the picture of perfection; she’s on probation and suffers from mental and emotional disorders, but even that isn’t well-executed (not to mention, based on the cover art, she’s still a gorgeous blonde with perfect skin and a runway-ready body that I seriously doubt belongs to a 14-year-old). There’s a LOT of telling, not much showing, and I really hate that phrase so I’ll go into what I mean here. The main character (whose name I literally already forgot, she’s so flat) explains a couple times what happens to her during her episodes, which is interesting and seems well-researched. When she has to explain to someone else the need to go back for her lost meds, though, it seems like she’s reading from one of those old-school Pill Books that lists all the side effects and interactions of every pill. It felt like reading Wikipedia, not like listening to a 14-year-old explain something she finds obvious to someone who should know better.

The story never really touches on what caused her to develop these conditions, even though it’s implied that she wasn’t born with them. (Also, why the hell was she in juvie in the first place? Did I miss that part, or… ?) The one traumatic event in her life is explicitly stated to have exacerbated but not caused the problems. And the twist hinted at in the blurb (Is the apocalypse real? Or did she kill her guardians and hallucinate it all?) is only barely mentioned, certainly not mined to its full potential. It comes into play only in the last five pages or so, and is quickly hand-waved aside.

Finally, the horror reveal comes too early and is too obvious. By the time you ‘see’ the monster, you basically already know what it is, and honestly, it’s kind of stupid. It’s so implausible and what explanation we get is reaching and still comes up thin and unlikely.

I didn’t even bother purchasing the second two books.

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How I found it: Guest post on an author blog
Genre: Young adult; sci-fi; horror
Does it pass the Bechdel test? No
Is it a standalone? No
So what worked? You can tell there’s a tiny morsel of a good idea buried in here, and I wanted so badly for the author to reach in and grab it and run with it, but she never did. This story has massive potential, none of it realized.
What didn’t work? The utterly flat main character (for several reasons), the unconvincing monsters, the thin veneer of resolution, the pacing, etc. etc.

Overall: I haven’t been quite so disappointed in a book in awhile. It’s also the first trilogy I’ve utterly given up on. I can’t with this book. The author makes an effort at the quick pacing of many popular writers but it seems to get away from her. The main character is not well developed and it seems she was only given a mental illness in an effort to perform diversity, but it comes across as pandering and patronizing. This one is a definite skip.

Tuesday Reviews Day: The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

This week features one of the two books from the third Book Riot YA subscription box. I haven’t yet started reading the second book from that selection, mainly because after two horror novels back to back, I need a break.

The Devil and Winnie Flynn looked interesting from the start, and the neat temp tattoos that came in the box just piqued my interest that much more. The cover gives credit to a brother-sister duo; Micol wrote the novel while her brother David created the illustrations.

Ostow

Author Micol Ostow (L) and illustrator David Ostow (R)

I was pretty stoked to read it, especially with the cover blurb boasting that it will haunt me long after I finish reading (sweet!).

But first, the spoiler-free summary.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: Book Riot YA 03

Oh look at that, it’s a double-header!

This week I was thrilled to get BYA03 in the mail, Book Riot’s third Young Adult Quarterly box. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since BYA02, when I looked ahead on the calendar and realized the next box would arrive just in time for Halloween. I had pretty high hopes for it, and the folks over at Book Riot crushed it, yet again.

Book Riot's Young Adult box #03, October 2015

Book Riot’s Young Adult box #03, October 2015

This month, we’ve got two new books, both by women! Sweet. This subscription has already done wonders for my No-SCWM reading list. I’m still working my way up to truly scary reads, so let’s start with what I’m reading now: The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow, illustrated by her brother David. So far it’s leaning a little toward the lower end of the YA reading level, but I’m not finding it a problem. It just means I can get through it faster, which is excellent. You also get two cute little temp tattoos based on illustrations from the novel.

The second book this month is Daughters Unto Devils, Amy Lukavics’ debut novel. Based on the subscriber letter in the box, this one is super spooky. The letter describes it as “Little House on the Prairie meets Children of the Corn.” Oh, good. Gonna need to read this one  in broad daylight on an ultra sunny day, preferably surrounded by hundreds of people. Like, at the mall. Or a cafĂ©. Yeah.

The super-cute “Sky” package you see in the middle is as handy as it is adorable; it’s basically book-safe post-its, so you can mark your favorite pages without leaving any messes or rips when you change your mind. Plus, add bunches of them and they make a cute little cloudscape on your pages! How sweet. They have tons of designs, and apparently each subscriber got something a little different. Neat! Check out all the patterns—and buy some!—at the designer’s page.

And finally, hidden under the packing strips was a cute little word art poster! Designed by Katy Dwyer, this fun print says “Fight Evil, Read Books” with some spooky decorations surrounding the text. I seriously can’t wait to find a frame to toss this in so I can hang it in my office.

Basically, Book Riot hit another one out of the park, and, while I’ve seen the original Book Riot box for this month and like what’s in it, I’m really glad I decided to stick with the YA box instead. What are you waiting for? Go sign up!

Tuesday Reviews Day: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

This time last year, I started reading spooky books. I honestly don’t remember reading anything scary before then. But within a span of a few months, I made plans to go to a book reading/signing with several authors—including Cherie Priest, whose book Maplecroft had just come out—and then found a horror omnibus for $3 that I couldn’t resist.

And so I became a horror reader.

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Don't go in the box

The Carnival is Coming

Don't go in the box

Welcome to the Carnival. Art by AWisher_ALiar

I never jumped on board the American Horror Storytrain.

I know. Weird, right?

I do like that each season apparently has a different setting and characters, though, and it seems, at least to this uneducated and passive observer, like a well-written and impressive show. Even though last season’s Coven caught my interest like the ones before it never had, I still never picked up the remote and flipped it on.

So now here we are, with the setting of the upcoming season suddenly leaked. And, it’s apparently a carnival.

Steampunk MC

Art by Nam-Tar

Well.

This is probably enough to make me watch the next season. I will be the first person to admit I don’t really like carnivals. They’ve always felt creepy to me, and it probably didn’t help that the fairs I grew up visiting seemed to be plagued with violence and just generally sketchy goings-on. Plus, I’m terrified of clowns. No, seriously, I hate them and I don’t want to be anywhere near them. (Yes I’ve seen the movie It, yes I like it, and yes it disgusts me every time.) And I’ve never really been a big fan of people in giant costumes, and I just assume now that the animals are grossly mistreated. It’s a safe assumption to make; let’s be honest about that.

But the inherent creep factor of carnivals makes them the perfect setting for a horror story. The characters, especially the villains, can be so much more extravagant and sinister because why not? What better place for a spectacle of villainy than a place where guests expect things to be illusory?

I like horror. I prefer psychological horror to gross-out gore, though, and since I’ve never seen AHS, I’m really hoping it opts for the former. I’ll be sitting down to watch at least the premiere of season 4, especially if these rumors get further confirmation.

I’m also interested to see who AHS chooses to focus on for this. If they are going for a literal carnival setting rather than a loose interpretation, I wonder if the writers will focus on the patrons or the performers. There’s so much that can be done with either, or even a combination of both, but of course my hope is that they’ll focus more on the performers and staff. Like I said, it’s the perfect setting for some really down and dirty treachery, but focusing on the staff rather than the guests is just an unusual slant to take. I haven’t read many works set in locations like this, but from my limited scope I can say what I have seen focuses squarely on the patrons. Sure, the staff are slated as villains, but usually fairly one-dimensional ones bent on killing and/or eating the guests. Which is awesome, of course, but what about something completely different?

(Points for that reference, thank you)

The Midnight Carnival: One Night Only

The Midnight Carnival: One Night Only

Of course, I’ve got a personal bias here. Last Halloween saw the release of my authorial debut, and I’m still quite proud of myself. I’m published! A group of us got together and penned The Midnight Carnival: One Night Only. The gates here only open after dark and they close before dawn. Which is understandable when you consider most of the staff can’t be out in the light. The book follows the employees over the course of one night, and of course nothing goes as smoothly as it did at the fairs you went to as a kid. Within the book, I write a Seelie fae who entraps audiences and employees during her performances and a Principality angel who learns he can guide spirits across the void. Of course, not without consequence.  I’m really thrilled about this book. I’m proud to have been a part of it, and I’m proud of the other people who lent their skills to it, from the writers to the illustrator (the fabulous bbshrimp, whose work is basically amazing) to our awesome point person who gathered everything together and made sure we stayed mildly responsible and serious about the whole thing—the fantastic LC Hu, whom you should follow immediately.

If you’re at all a fan of paranormal horror or short fiction, you should really take a gander at this. Maybe it’ll fan the flames while you wait for season 4 of American Horror Story, wherever it’s going to be.

All downhill from here

The ripple effect. Art by AWisher_ALiar