Review: “Horde (Razorland #3)” by Ann Aguirre

10596724Title: “Horde (Razorland #3)”

Author: Ann Aguirre

Genre: Biopunk

Publication Date: October 29, 2013 (Macmillan Children’s – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: The horde is coming.

Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they’re not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn’t run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade’s love.

Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn’t been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them.

This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

☆: 5/5 stars – The best possible ending to a series I’m really going to miss.

Review: This trilogy, you guys. I’ve been keeping score since book one, and the way that Aguirre has grown in her writing for YA has grown in such measure that I can’t even. Really. Seriously. This book is the best possible ending, and yet, the most the most painful, as I’ve really grown to love Deuce and the boys. In this final book in the “Razorland” trilogy, we see a major tribute paid to the US Civil War, almost re-enacted, and prairie life come back to life in a hell of a future created by humanity itself. If there’s a final book in a trilogy you’ve got to read this year, or better yet, start, it has to be “Horde”.

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Review: The Cutting Room Floor by Dawn Klehr

The Cutting Room FloorTitle: The Cutting Room Floor

Author: Dawn Klehr

Genre: YA Contemporary, Mystery, LGBT

Publication Date: October 1, 2013 (Flux)

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: Behind-the-scenes secrets could turn deadly for Desmond and Riley.

Life in the Heights has never been easy for seventeen-year-old Riley Frost, but when she’s publicly dumped and outed at the same time, she becomes an immediate social outcast at her high school. So Riley swears off romance and throws herself into solving the shocking murder of her favorite teacher, Ms. Dunn.

Riley turns to her best friend, budding filmmaker Desmond Brandt, for help. What she doesn’t know is that Dez has been secretly directing her life, blackmailing her friends, and hoping his manipulations will make her love him. When his schemes go too far, Dez’s web of lies threatens to destroy both of their lives.

2.5/5 stars – Needs more of a focus so the bad gets thrown out and the good becomes great

Oh, The Cutting Room Floor. This one came really, really close to being great, but because it didn’t fully understand who it was (much like its co-narrator Riley!), I had a hard time understanding who it was too.  With a stronger focus and a lot of story-snipping, The Cutting Room Floor could be a dark tale of the lengths people go to when they’re obsessed and think they’re in love. What do readers get? A story with that, a lukewarm exploration of a girl’s sexuality, and a badly written, unneeded murder mystery.

Dez’s obsession with Riley and the horrifying lengths he goes to in order to make her like him back are strongly written and fulfilled all my expectations. Had this been the entirety of what the novel was about, this would have been a four-star or even a five-star read. He just about takes the spotlight away from Riley because he’s that well-written and thoroughly characterized. As he reveals what all he’s done in his pursuit of Riley, you can only stare with wide eyes and a gaping jaw. Horror rooted in obsession is one of my favorite kinds of horror to read!

The storyline about Riley’s burgeoning sexuality and how she’s not sure if she’s into girls or boys is okay, but the way everyone seems to be afraid of bisexuality really puts a damper on it. It’s treated like she was straight, then a lesbian, then straight again. I could ask if anyone in this novel has heard of bisexuality, but since it’s brought up a few times, it appears they have.

However, it’s only brought up in a situation where it will go nowhere or when someone says “screw the labels” when it comes to sexuality. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s completely avoiding the issue instead of trying to address it. It is okay to openly say someone is bisexual. They are not disqualified from this even if they prefer men more at one time in their life and prefer girls more on another. GAH.

The murder mystery plot line is strong at first, but it quickly fizzles out, taking with it two important plot points that are neither brought up again nor resolved. When the killer is revealed, our narrators suddenly start throwing out all the evidence that person was the killer and acting like it was there all along–but readers never saw any of that evidence in the story. Rather than clever, it feels like someone gave up on trying to weave those clues into the story without making the killer’s identity obvious and decided to take the easy way out: hold it all in until the end and then backtrack. Doing so makes an already badly-written mystery even more frustrating.

In the end, this book needed a little more time in the editing room and more stuff left on the cutting room floor (it’s a pun that must be made!). The murder mystery is altogether unnecessary, the question of Riley’s sexual identity needs better handling, and Dez’s obsession with Riley is great but deserves more time.

Review: The Outside by Laura Bickle

The OutsideTitle: The Outside

Author: Laura Bickle

Genre: Horror, Survival, YA, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 3, 2013 (Harcourt Children’s Books)

Source: print ARC via Amazon Vine

Synopsis: One girl. One road. One chance to save what remains…

After a plague of vampires is unleashed in the world, Katie is kicked out of her Amish community for her refusal to adhere to the new rules of survival. Now in exile, she enters an outside world of unspeakable violence with only her two “English” friends and a horse by her side. Together they seek answers and other survivors—but each sunset brings the threat of vampire attack, and each sunrise the threat of starvation.

And yet through this darkness come the shining ones: luminescent men and women with the power to deflect vampires and survive the night. But can these new people be trusted, and are they even people at all?

In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, it’s up to one Amish girl to save her family, her community, and the boy she loves . . . but what will she be asked to leave behind in return?

3.5/5 stars – More survival-horror than vampire-horror, but still well-paced and entertaining

Thank goodness I didn’t have to wait long to read this! After enjoying The Hallowed Ones and its version of the vampire apocalypse, my ability to be patient and wait for a sequel like a champ disappeared. The Outside turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment, but it’s still a great novel and fans of the first book will no doubt love it just as much!

Katie was forced to undergo a lot of character development as the vampire apocalypse took hold last we saw her, but now that she’s no longer considered part of her community, she gets even more. She breaks all the rules trying to survive, including some of her most deeply held beliefs. She and Alex have plenty of moral arguments about good and evil, what sacrifices have to be made (and boy, are some big ones made!) in the name of survival, and forgiveness. This book takes a much quieter approach than its predecessor and it works perfectly. Love it! In addition to all that, it’s fast-paced comes up with plenty of new scares and schemes to make our characters suffer through now that they’re Outside. Whee!

With all that said, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I liked this installment less. The rough recaps offered toward the beginning were definitely a factor. It might have been helpful to someone who read The Hallowed Ones a long time ago, but that recap felt unneeded considering how recently I read it. Even then, it and the out-of-place detailing of Amish life were a little much. Katie’s not even in her community for most of the book and what she details isn’t always of use. This installment also feels like the kind of survival-horror narrative I’ve gotten bored of over the last couple of years. The semi-old-fashioned vampire horror of the first book was more entertaining in a way, though this is the superior book thematically.

Though the ending is open, enough questions are answered and enough loose ends are tied up that it appears The Outside is the end for this series–duology, really. Bickle’s writing and plotting is strong enough that if she decides to write more YA novels, you bet I’ll be back to read them.

Review: “The Resurrectionist” by EB Hudspeth

15799400Title: “The Resurrectionist”

Author: EB Hudspeth

Genre: Historical Fiction, Horror

Publication Date: May 21, 2013 (Quirk – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC/FC

Summary: Philadelphia. The late 1870s. A city of cobblestone sidewalks and horse-drawn carriages. Home to the famous anatomist and surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a “resurrectionist” (aka grave robber), Dr. Black studied at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—
were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?

The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from his humble beginnings to the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia, a Gray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts—dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus—all rendered in meticulously detailed black-and-white anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman.

☆: 3.5/5 stars – a gorgeous bestiary of mythical creatures past, and the downfall of one man into madness!

Review: There’s a lot going on in “The Resurrectionist”, guys. It’s not all pretty sketches of various people and mythical creatures (though those do make up a pretty big chunk of the book), but it’s also all about one famous doctor’s descent into utter madness. Or is it? Though this obviously draws a lot on historical bits of Americana (the vaudeville/carnie scene of the late 19th century/early 20th century) and Gothic atmospheric books like “Frakenstein”, his tale is short, and it kind of left me wanting more. If anything, it felt like a bit of a short summary of his life, and only really got detailed when he became obsessed with mythical creatures. Nevertheless, if you want to see some amazing pictures of what could have been our genetic ancestors (according to Dr Black) and be treated to a tale of evolving scientific academia, definitely give “The Resurrectionist” a try.

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Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

12930909Title: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Author: April Genevieve Tucholke

Genre: Gothic, Horror, Magical Realism

Publication Date: August 15, 2013

Source: Print ARC via the publisher

Summary: You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.

☆: 5/5 stars – WOW. Beautiful and dark and horrifying and perfect

It took an hour of fangirlish screaming for me to get it all out of my system and write this fangirlish, scream-devoid review. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is hard to put words to, but what words I can pull together into a review are nothing put positive. The rest of 2013 is going to have to work hard if it wants to top this as the best novel I’ve read so far in 2013.

Though Violet lets a few things River did to her slide when it seems unusual for her to do so, she’s got a strong head on her shoulders and she’s not afraid to ask River directly if he’s causing the changes within Echo. There’s not a lot she lets slip by her, but she’s got this sweet naivete going on too. That naivete and River’s gift are how she “lets” him get away with what he does for so long and how she makes the same mistakes over and over again. Why else would a straightforward, no-nonsense girl like Violet let a blatant liar like River stay around as long as she does? It takes the entire book for some of his lies to unravel, and it’s delicious to watch every single one of them go.

River. Oh, River. He messes with Violet’s head so easily and it’s hard not to ask if he’s pulling the same trick on our minds through the pages. It’s the only explanation when the guy you’re swooning over is basically a serial killer. (What do I mean? Got a secret, I will keep it, swear this one I’ll save~…) He’s hardly the Devil like it’s implied, but he’s far from being a good boy or God. He’s more like a demon. Or maybe he’s exactly what he is: a boy with a crooked moral compass and powers too great for him to handle.

The jacket copy is almost inaccurate and doesn’t begin to cover all the layers of this novel and what’s going on as Echo starts to fall apart post-River, but the twists and turns and truth are all too precious for me to reveal. It’s something you’ll have to see for yourself! People burning witches, furry-toothed men, illusions everywhere, dead bodies galore, brothers who may or may not be good, and so much more are what you’ll find if you give Devil a try.

Between the Spark and the Burn, the sequel scheduled for fall 2014, is sure to be one hell of a ride and I’ll be anxiously awaiting it as I clutch Devil and reread my favorite bits.  Fans of magical realism and Gothic horror? You need this like your lungs need air.

Review: Truly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne

Truly Madly Deadly - Hannah JayneTitle: Truly, Madly, Deadly

Author: Hannah Jayne

Genre: Thriller, Contemporary YA,

Publication Date: July 2, 2013

Source: Publisher-provided ARC via NetGalley

Synopsis: Sawyer Dodd has it all. She’s a star track athlete, choir soloist, and A-student. And her boyfriend is the handsome all-star Kevin Anderson. But behind the medals, prom pictures, and perfect smiles, Sawyer finds herself trapped in a controlling, abusive relationship with Kevin. When he dies in a drunk-driving accident, Sawyer is secretly relieved. She’s free. Until she opens her locker and finds a mysterious letter signed by “an admirer” and printed with two simple words: “You’re welcome.”

☆: 3.5/5 stars – One of the most deliciously creepy reads I’ve come across lately, but the resolution was a little troubling.

Books about people being stalked never fail to catch my attention. Stalking and vengeance are the two most fascinating dark facets of the human psyche and reading books about either one is the safest way for me to explore them. Truly, Madly, Deadly is a strong novel for fellow stalker-book fans, but the ending is a little… iffy, to say the least.

Jayne’s straighfoward prose and tight plotting keep the story moving with little time to stop worrying over what will happen to Sawyer. Some of the scenes she writes, such as Sawyer’s Spanish teacher getting a little closer than he should when she went over her Spanish test, creeped me out in the best possible way. Between her teacher’s very unprofessional behavior, her boyfriend’s recent death/possible murder, the anonymous murder confession from her stalker, and her ongoing recovery from an abusive relationship, Sawyer’s all sorts of messed up, lending her thoughts and actions throughout the novel a realistic touch. It’s sad to remember that millions of women experience what Sawyer does.

But speaking of everything Sawyer has recently been through, the romance she develops with a classmate feels out of place because we know she isn’t in a good place. She needs time to recover, not hurriedly develop what is supposed to be seen as a genuine romance. That and the mean girl antics from a former-friend-turned-bully take away from what could be a powerful story.

Now, I knew the ending was going to disappoint me because the theory I supported came right out of left field wearing a pink tinfoil hat. Seeing it jossed wasn’t a problem, actually. There wasn’t even disappointment at my theory not being the solution. What surprised me was how problematic the resolution of the stalker’s identity would be. In hindsight, it’s somewhat clear who they were, but… There’s not really a way to discuss it without going into spoilers I don’t want to go into, but we’ll leave it at how it plays into a very negative stereotype people have spent years fighting.

My review may seem to have more of a negative slant, but Sawyer’s growing paranoia and Jayne’s skill at conveying it are hard for me to convey properly. It’s got to be read to believed, Fellow readers who want to feel chills run up and down their spine and enjoy the stories of stalking from the safest possible perspective will love Truly, Madly, Deadly. Jayne has another thriller called See Jane Run coming out in 2014 and it’s already on my to-read list.

Review: “A Midsummer’s Night Scream” by RL Stine

16075935Title: “A Midsummer’s Night Scream”

Author: RL Stine

Genre: Retellings, Horror, YA contemporary

Publication Date: July 2, 2013 (Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Everyone knows that Mayhem Manor is cursed. After production on the horror film was stopped due to a series of mysterious deaths, it became a Hollywood legend–which makes it perfect for Claire and her family. If they can successfully finish the film, it should be enough to save their ailing movie studio.

Sure, the old haunted house is creepy, and strange stuff has been happening, but this is Claire’s chance. Her chance to become the movie star she’s always dreamed and her chance to finally convince her friend Jake that she is girlfriend material. Of course, the fact that Jake thinks he’s in love with her best friend, Delia, who is crushing hard on Jake’s friend Shawn, who insists on following Claire around, could be a problem, but Claire is sure she can figure it out. After all, the course of true love never did run smooth.

But once shooting starts, “creepy and strange” morph into “bloody and deadly,” as the lines between film and reality begin to blur…

☆: 1/5 stars – great idea, but fails to deliver.

Review: Oh boy. Where to start with this one? When I heard that RL Stine was returning to YA, I was really excited. I loved “Goosebumps” as a kid growing up in the 90s (which 90s kid didn’t?) so I was hoping for the same quality with this horror/retelling of “Midsummer’s Night Dream”. Alas, it was not to be had. Where did everything go so hideously wrong? I just…I can’t even really see where it’s a retelling with the horror element so heavy within it. Maybe if it’d been written differently, or had Stine chosen to tell his story with different words, or different characters, or anything like that, I might have been able to see the retelling of Shakespeare’s classic tale. All I can say is that I was looking forward to this one, and Stine let me down. I wish I could say that I recommend “A Midsummer Night’s Scream”, but I just can’t.

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