In the Shadows of Men – by Robert Jackson Bennett (Review)

Novella

Horror, Supernatural

Subterranean Press; August 31, 2020

120 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

In the desolate wastes of West Texas, In the Shadows of Men finds two brothers down on their luck, looking to cash in on the oil boom. To do this they need to renovate the old Moon and Stars Motel, sold to them by a cousin who wanted nothing to do with the place. As the younger Pugh and his brother, Bear wade into the wreck, they find its dusty halls and empty rooms strangely comforting, at least at first. But after a while, little Pugh begins to notice a disquiet about the place. Apparitions haunt his dreams; a looming man in white, young Mexican women, and an almost palpable feeling of lust and desire. Soon these thoughts begin to infect more than just his dreams—and that’s when things get stranger still.

The brothers find a hatch in one of the rooms: a steel door padlocked from the outside. As neither can discern the combination lock, they try to forget about it and move on. But once unearthed, it proves to be a mystery that just won’t die. Especially when the local sheriff comes by, teasing them with information on the history of the place and its owner—their great-uncle—Corbin Pugh.

Their own father was a devil of a man, but supposedly his uncle was something else entirely. What kind of man was Corbin Pugh, and what was the secret he was hiding? And how badly do the brothers want to find the truth, when it means they can never unlearn it?

My first question is what kind of person would think that moving to Texas would solve all their problems?

Well as they’re both from Texas, I guess this point is moot. West Texas is far removed from Houston, which the younger Pugh has just left. The story takes place in a small, lonely town, a suitable setting for just such a ghost story. And while little Pugh isn’t a terrible narrator, he’s not not the best lead, either. In fact, as neither brother is a conversationalist, the story often skips ahead days or weeks at a time, even after unearthing some new piece of the puzzle. While he’s pegged as the less inquisitive of the two, Bear seems to be more interested in solving the puzzle than his brother, who typically finds something curious and then goes and doesn’t think about it until a week later. Who finds a golden puzzle piece only to wait until a week later to see where it might fit?

Though the stoicism of the narrator works against the story, I felt it also prolonged the mystery in a way, which helped the atmosphere surrounding it. There was a greater sense of anticipation, a bigger building of tension. Though while the build was more enjoyable, I would’ve liked it to’ve been longer, or more intricate. Also, the conclusion itself was slightly underwhelming. So, yes, it hurt in some ways, but helped in others. All in all, the story evened out. Definitely a good read—though it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression.

On an unrelated note: I really hate when we don’t learn the narrator’s name. We learn his brother’s name, his uncle’s, his wife’s and daughter’s—but not his own. Annoying. And harder to write a completely coherent review.

TL;DR

In the Shadows of Men was an entertaining enough read, considering a sped through it in less than a day. It’s the mystery, if nothing else, that drove me through it, as neither the story nor the premise are particularly original or interesting enough to carry all the weight. But a dark tale, full of supernatural elements, a mystery that needs solving, and a man whose life is in desperate need of an escape—all combine to make this an enjoyable (at least in some ways) horror-thriller. It’s a good, quick read, just don’t expect it to leave much of a lasting impression.

Peace Talks – by Jim Butcher (Review)

Dresden Files #16

Urban Fantasy, Paranormal

Ace; July 14, 2020

352 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit, Ace (Roc) and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

I was fortunate enough to be granted a very late ARC of Peace Talks, arriving shortly after I’d given up hope on one, and right in the middle of my time reading of Ashes of the Sun (which was AMAZING—expect a review July 19-21). Since this is the latest book of an extended series, expect a pretty short blurb. Now, either you’re caught up, or you’re not, but if you aren’t… Warning: Unless you’re all caught up on the series, there may be spoilers below.

In the aftermath of the events of Skin Game—the daring heist that both created a new Knight of the Cross and further damaged Harry’s relationship with a few of his not-quite-enemies—Peace Talks begins.

Peace Talks features what you may expect; the supernatural nations have agreed to meet and discuss the path forward, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re coming to Chicago. As Chicago’s biggest beat-wizard, Harry Dresden has been assigned to the White Council’s security detail, to make sure the negotiations run smoothly. Furthermore, Mab—Queen of the Winter Court of Fae—is acting as host, forcing Dresden to pull double-duty.

Featured players include the White Council, both Fae Courts, the White Vampires, Vadderung, Marcone, Ferrovax, the Forest People, the Fomor, and a number of others [note: if you don’t recognize anyone of these, don’t panic. Simply refer to either of the links featured later, or prepare to abuse Google. Either or]. But with the sheer amount of heavy hitters in town for the summit, tensions are sure to be high. And Harry must ensure that no tempers boil over during the talks. Not even his own.

Yet this is easier said than done. And with mistrust flying around the Council, Harry is on thinner ice than ever before. The fate of the White Council, of the supernatural world, the fate of Chicago, even of the world itself—may hang in the balance. And of course Harry Dresden’s right in the middle of it.

Okay, so by Book 16, we’ve picked up quite a few characters. It’d been a while since I immersed myself in any Dresden book, so I had some trouble remembering who was who. Thus I would definitely suggest, if not a reread, then a quick read of a character cheat-sheet [wiki] [fandom]. Additionally, if you’ve not read the ‘Working for Bigfoot’ stories (I believe they’re also included in the 2nd story anthology), this would be the time to do it, as otherwise you’ll have more than one “who dis?” moment.

I loved the opportunity to re-immerse myself in the universe, and my love-affair with Harry picked up just where it left off. It’s been six long years, but it was as if no time had passed at all. The story, the setting, the… nostalgia were all superb—with but one caveat. I only had one real issue with the book, but otherwise totally adored it. The world-building and lore by this point are incredibly deep and drawn out, and not only does Peace Talks add to a packed library, it expands what we knew about so many bit characters, enemies, allies, and companions.

The largest caveat in the story is actually a pretty big piece of it. Or, it SHOULD HAVE BEEN a big piece of it. Due to spoilers, I can’t say what it is, just that it’s fairly noticeable. If this book had come earlier in the series, this mystery would’ve been central to the plot. But coming after a six-year hiatus, Butcher has simply brushed it to the side. It’s not so much that the author’s priorities have changed—it’s that Harry’s have. And so I’m going to give this a bit of a pass. A BIT of one. Because this mystery still should’ve enjoyed a decent amount of screen time. But it didn’t. And it didn’t for no particular reason. Harry dismisses it early on, touches on it only briefly later, and then the book ends without it being resolved. Now, while he may’ve had larger, arguably more important things on his mind, this still feels like something an earlier-Harry Dresden would’ve obsessed about. Though apparently not a later-one. Or maybe Butcher just missed one here. Or this may yet be resolved in Battle Ground. In fact, I certainly hope it is. But as of now, I can’t promise anything.

Otherwise… Harry no longer shouts “parkour” intermittently, which is a big downer.

And that’s it.

TL;DR

An amazing return to the Dresden Files universe, Peace Talks should impress and overjoy new and old fans alike. But for one caveat, the book was incredible, and one that shouldn’t stay unread on your shelf for very long. I ran through it in about three days, but could’ve read it in two. Butcher waited six years to bring us another Dresden adventure, but delivered in the end. While I had trouble remembering some characters and events due to the length of the series, those can be solved with one of a few cheat-sheets you can find online [wiki] [fandom]. I also had a bit of trouble connecting the current Harry Dresden with the Detective one in early books, but people do change. Even wizards. Even, it seems, Harry Dresden.

The Dresden Files continues with Battle Ground, due September 29th, 2020. Can’t wait!

Tunnel of Bones – by Victoria Schwab (Review)

Cassidy Blake #2

Supernatural, Paranormal, Middle Grade

Scholastic Press; September 3, 2019

304 pages (ebook) 5 hr 5 min (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake… even more than usual.

Thus begins Tunnel of Bones, the second Cassidy Blake story, following up City of Ghosts in 2018. Fresh out of Edinburgh, where she tangled with the Red Raven, a spectral lady with aims of becoming flesh reborn. She also met Lara, a girl that can also see and interact with the dead, and whom lets Cassidy in on a little secret. That they must use their power to send the ghosts on, lest they linger in our world and become a danger to it. Enter Paris: one of the most haunted cities in the world.

Not above ground—but below, in the catacombs, ghosts crowd the tunnels, haunting everything and everyone in reach. Fresh into Paris, Cassidy and her parents venture below, filming an episode for their TV show while Cassidy tags along, attempting very hard to slip between the Veil as soon as she’s able. And slip she does. While in the spirit world, Cassidy runs across more than she was prepared for, awakening a very powerful spirit who proceeds to follow her across the Veil.

Thus begins a cat-and-mouse haunting in the center of Paris—where Cassidy is most certainly not the cat. And as a cat, it delights in toying with her, breaking things, and sleeping in the sun. Well… two of those, anyway.

After speaking to Lara, she determines that the spirit is a poltergeist—a ghost of immense power and potential—something that remembers neither who it was nor how it died. Two things Cassidy must discern in order to stop it. And stop it she must—in only a few days. Otherwise, while Cassidy Blake will leave Paris behind, the poltergeist will always remain her problem, her doing, her mistake. And she will have to live with the consequences.

I was torn on City of Ghosts, which I found lacking polish, drama, and shine. I found it rather bland, uninteresting, and short. Tunnel of Bones had more character, polish, but was still short. There’s only so good a story can get in five hours. But Tunnel of Bones surely gets better, quicker than City of Ghosts. To compare the two: Bones had more polish, more charm, more character. Though neither provided the length, the thrill, the immersion that I like in a story.

Again, I found the actual ghost-hunting itself a little bland. Dismissing a poltergeist proved to be more interesting than the Red Raven, but only just. There was no boss-fight (not that I expected one), very little detective work (though there was some), and too much chocolate (only because I can’t eat any). Pretty much like an episode of Danny Phantom—short, less than very thrilling, and over before you realized there was a plot. Was better than the first, though, so it was a step in the right direction.

Jacob is… bland. Lara—who was a cynical, pompous brat in City of Ghosts—actually fleshes out some in this entry. She actually seemed a real person over Bones, something that I did not expect. Something that pleased and encouraged me. Actually may’ve been my most favorite element of the book itself. But while it was something, it was little enough as development goes. Not that there is much character development to speak of, but between the two books there is a little, and Lara accounts for most of it. Cassidy commands the remainder. Jacob… okay, I know he’s a ghost and all, but I would’ve liked to see something out of him. Schwab tries to nudge him toward it in the end, but it’s too little, too late by that point. Might set something up for the third book, but does nothing for the first two. Jacob is actually a little like an imaginary friend; there’s no change, no development—he’s consistent, for better or worse.

There’s one particular event that I need to harp on: late in the book, Cassidy literally mugs a ghost and steals his clothes to disguise Jacob—something that makes no actual sense. We’ve established that ghosts manifest beyond the Veil following their death, and that how they appear in death is directly related to both who they were in life and how they died. It’s their sense of self, basically. One cannot steal someone else’s sense of self and wear it around. And it’s an important plot-point, somehow! If an absolutely ridiculous one.

Audio Note: Reba Buhr is a solid narrator throughout the book. I wouldn’t read the series entirely to hear her voice, but it’s not like it ruined the reading or anything. She was a talented, interesting narrator who enunciated and pronounced everything quite well—both in English and French.

TL;DR

For better or worse, Tunnel of Bones continues on the same path City of Ghosts started, albeit with more polish and shine. There’s even a bit of character development, though not nearly enough. It looks like we’re going to continue in this vein—an episodic, city-to-city, traveling ghost-hunting show. There’s an overarching plot, but it’s thin; as befits a kids’ book, I suppose. Each book so far has shown its own subplot, which has been raced through in the (5 hours of) allotted time. Going forward, I would like to see a little more effort, a little more adventure, a little more intrigue, a little more legwork, and a little… MORE. While Tunnel of Bones is likely better than the original, it still leaves much to be desired. But in terms of readability—it’s good enough; a decent read, that does just enough but little more.

The series continues with Bridge of Souls, expected out in March of 2021.

By some amazing coincidence, I’ve posted this exactly one year after my review of the first one. Huh, weird.

Blood Tally – by Brian McClellan (Review)

Valkyrie Collections #2

Urban Fantasy

February 11, 2020

200ish pages (ebook)

4 / 5 ✪

The fictitious Cleveland Brian McClellan has painted has not grown much more realistic, but that’s okay. The story of Blood Tally—like that of Uncanny Collateral—is quick, clever, and entertaining; the real clincher. While I didn’t enjoy all the time I spent in the OtherOps arena, I loved far more than I loathed, which is well worth it in my book.

Blood Tally is a little longer than Uncanny Collateral’s 151 pages, though with the ebook it’s kinda hard to tell how much. I’d guesstimate it at around 200 pages or so.

Alex Fitz is a reaper, a soul collection agent for the Valkyrie Corporation. He is also a slave—illegally bought and sold to the company owner back when he was a child. For years, Alex has been searching for his birth parents, the contract they signed, and some, any way to get free. While little has changed in that arena, Blood Tally opens with an unusual case—one that hits way too close to home. A vampire has come to Valkyrie in search of his runaway thrall. While technically a would-be vampire, Alek knows thralls are little more than slaves to their lord before their conversion to full-on vampirehood. While he would normally opt out of a case like this one, this time Alek has little choice. His master has her own deal in place, to betray their original client, Boris Novak, to one of the vampire lords, a guy named Ruthven.

While Alek has little choice but to go along with the scheme, it seems that more than just Boris has been holding out on him. Indeed, soon it seems to him that Lord Ruthven and Alek’s boss, Ada, have their own agendas. Agendas that have little room for a certain reaper.

Thus Alek must uncover their secrets while trying to conceal his own—in the form of the mysterious jinn, Maggie. He might still win the day, but to do so he must live long enough to determine just what a “Blood Tally” is, why both his employers are willing to kill for it, and what to do with the information even if he manages to find it. It’s hard to tell friend from foe in the latest Valkyrie Collections entry, which features a lot of vampires, a sphinx, a rogue witch, and a whole mess of secrets worth killing over. Oh, and the fate of the world itself might be at stake.

With the first book, I noted that while I had no problem reading it, McClellan didn’t exactly go out of his way to try to make the “real world” very realistic. That holds true for Blood Tally—where the supernatural is again commonplace, while at the same time a (maybe?) secret from the rest of the world. I mean, I was assuming it was, but this really hasn’t been touched through the first two books. I can’t tell if it’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kinda story, or if the author just hasn’t addressed it because he hasn’t wanted to get into it. Either way, there was an awkward kind of uncertainty to everything, at least for me.

While Uncanny Collateral centered heavily on Alek—a lone reaper with no backup and few friends—Blood Tally instead tells Alek’s story, a reaper amidst a small cast of friends and allies. I mean, it’s still 1st PPOV, but instead of Alek and Maggie alone, we are treated to a few other recurring, non-hostile characters. Nick, the hired gun (necromancer) from the first book is back, albeit in an uncertain role. There’re a few other supernatural creatures who may turn into allies or friends, if they can go the whole story without trying to kill Alek. Maggie is still around, though their banter wasn’t as central as it was in Uncanny Collateral.

TL;DR

The second Valkyrie Collections delivers right where the first left off. If you liked the first, you’ll love the second, and vice-versa. While a bit fast-and-loose with the state of affairs of muggles and Cleveland and the world itself, Blood Tally does an adequate job of world-building through a basic framework of pictures and lines and color thrown in. Though it’s not the vibrant, vivid, description-heavy fantasy I may be used to, Blood Tally is an exciting, interesting adventure that I never had any trouble reading. If you didn’t back the Kickstarter—which, I mean, right?—then you’ll have to wait until February 11, 2020 to read it. Good luck!

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire – by John August (Review)

Arlo Finch #1

YA, Fantasy

Roaring Brook Press; February 6, 2018

326 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

Arlo Finch is 12. After his father fled to China, his family moved around a lot, passing between cities like the trees in a forest. Eventually, they made their way to Pine Mountain. But Pine Mountain isn’t like any of the rest. Indeed, it’s not a city at all—the town doesn’t appear on most maps, there’s little to no cell service, and trees vastly outnumber the residents. That said, this quaint little hamlet might just be the break that Arlo and his family need. The new start that they deserve.

Arlo, despite having an old man’s name, is an immediately relatable character—at least to me. I share some of his worrying, his anxiety, his love for adventure, open spaces and nature. After one day of moving to Pine Mountain, Arlo knows he’s going to love it there, as long as the world doesn’t try to kill him very much. And the world obliges. His uncle doesn’t immediately change into a bear and kill them. A rockslide doesn’t destroy the house, trapping them all inside. A mountain lion doesn’t unlock the front door, sneak upstairs, and attack Arlo. At least, it hasn’t yet.

For his part, Arlo does his best to avoid everyone and remain aloof and friendless. He does a lousy job at it, however, as within a week he already has a pair of friends and a new hobby to consume all of his non-homework time: Rangers.

Rangers is sort of like Scouts, albeit a Scouts dipped in magic and sweetened by the supernatural. You see, Pine Mountain (among other places) is home to the mysterious Long Wood, a transition point between our world and many others. Due to its isolation and locale in the mountains of Colorado, Pine Mountain sits right on the doorstep of the Long Wood, a place where the veil is thinnest, where someone can stumble right through and end up—anywhere. Rangers shares its knowledge of the inhabitants and ways of the Long Wood, so that its members might survive it. Rangers is built around “the Wonder”—the supernatural thread that connects our world to the Long Wood. Due to its locale, there is quite a lot of Wonder in Pine Mountain.

But there is more to the Long Wood than magic and mystery. Before long, Arlo has worn out his welcome in Pine Mountain—and the world goes back to trying to kill him. Actively, this time. For there is something different about Arlo Finch, something that the Long Wood may awaken, if he survives long enough to see it.

Arlo Finch turned out to be just what I needed.

In a month (well, a second month) where I’ve been dealing with health and illness, reading anything has proven difficult. Focusing on anything an impossible challenge. My stomach has been bothering me constantly. Nauseous most of the time. Had little enough sleep and no energy besides. My thoughts have been fractured, making writing anything coherent a challenge. Arlo Finch was light enough that I didn’t have to focus all my energy on it, but possessive of an entertaining and immersive story that kept me consistently involved. John August did a magnificent job on this one, a YA that toes the line between an immersive, detailed mystery and a light fantasy adventure. James Patrick Cronin was an exceptional narrator, effortlessly bringing Arlo’s story to life.

It wasn’t perfect, but near enough that my nitpicking will wear little upon it. A few points consistently bothered me, probably because I’m an adult, waaay over analyzing a kid’s book. But whatever. The first is that August clearly doesn’t live in the area he’s trying to recapture. There’s nothing wrong with that—I realize that residing in a place and recreating it are not the same thing. Furthermore, I doubt that Brandon Sanderson actually lives in the Cosmere, like, all the time. It’s just that August’s rendition of the place doesn’t really fit. The town has actual buildings. It has THREE full Ranger troops. It actually has SOME cell service. And mountain lions, though it’s too high for them. As someone who lives in a nowhere adjacent locale, my worldview and his butted heads. I guess I’m complaining that August didn’t do enough research, or didn’t make his setting believable, but hey—kid’s book, it’s probably fine,.

It’s the story itself that makes In the Valley of Fire a must-read. The story, and Arlo himself.

It’s an adventure that embodies the Ranger’s Vow: loyal, brave, kind and true. It’s entertaining. It’s fun. Though the plot mostly follows the Rangers, the story revolves around Arlo himself. Him, and his life. His idiosyncrasies. His heterochomia iridum—his two different colored eyes. His personality, his journey. If Arlo was a superhero—or if that’s what he’s to become—then this is his origin story.

TL;DR

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire is a lovely adventure reminiscent of Gravity Falls and Percy Jackson. A light but immersive YA tale, filled with excitement and steeped in mystery, this tells the tale of Arlo’s origin story, his move to Pine Mountain, and his first involvement in Rangers. Everything that comes before—it all started here. Arlo is quite the lead; full of character, strong yet with all the flaws borne of youth, humanity. I loved the audiobook: raced through it in 2-3 days, then moved on to #2 and did the same. It’s short, light, fun—a great YA adventure. And exactly what I needed.

Book #2, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon continues the series with the third installment, Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows, due out in February 2020.

In Shining Armor – by Elliott James (Review)

Pax Arcana #4

Urban Fantasy, Supernatural

Orbit; April 26, 2016

424 pages (PB)

3 / 5 ✪

Carry the Story, Check its Baggage

In Shining Amor stars Harry Dresden and Taylor Lautner knockoff love-child John Charming. Fresh off the events of Fearless (or was that Daring?), which found Charming the godfather of Constance, knights and werewolf daughter alike, In Shining Armor finds her a captive—I suppose because James needed a new book idea and went with his very first thought.

It’s been a few months since John and Sig got together. Charming, being his usual optimistic self, has spent this time automatically assuming something will go wrong. Eventually, you’d have to assume he’d be right. The kidnapping of his goddaughter certainly qualifies. And yet the intriguing part of this is that although her abduction is the initial selling-point of this book, it’s not the all-encompassing story that I assumed it’d be.

No, instead of Constance, In Shining Armor has more to do with her absence. In particular, what her absence means. For when everything points to her abduction being an inside job, the two factions behind her protection start pointing fingers. Mostly at one another. And when the tenuous alliance between knights and werewolves begins to decay, a war is brewing.

Though not the war you’d expect.

The worst part of this was book was the relationship between John and Sig. Seriously, they were really annoying. Really, REALLY ANNOYING. I mean, the casual, witty, sarcastic banter was cute at first. Entertaining, even. But to read it throughout the entire book got old very, very quickly. Especially as it seemed to bleed into every single conversation. The group gets ambushed and almost killed? Witty banter underscored with sexual tension. Our heroes battle for their lives against an ancient, unknown foe? Witty sexual banter. Trying to figure out who wants to start a war and why? Sarcasm and banter mixed. An old ally, a new enemy, any bit of mystery or any kind of planning? Sex. Sarcasm. Relationship. Drama.

It all reads like a guide to Sig and John’s relationship, with the actual plot a simple undercurrent to it. Which is too bad, because the actual plot is pretty solid. Wasn’t what I expected, that’s for sure. The abduction of Constance is too obvious, too quick. The war, the misdirection, the rest—it’s really quite entertaining. Like, a 4.5 or higher story. And yet everything seems to distract from it.

The action is… actiony? I mean, it seems to be added specifically because the author thought there should be action. Because he wanted his characters (semi-action hero-y in the past), to be total Action Heroes. The first fight scene blends pretty well into the background of the tale. From then on, it seemed the fights were just an addendum to everything. Violence for the sake of violence. Now, as a guy, I love a good violence every now and then. You know, 300, explosions, kung fu, Braveheart, All For One and that kinda thing. In Shining Amor reads kinda like a mystery covered in a bunch of sticky notes. Through these, James tries to flesh out the characters, the action, the romance, the development and everything else he thinks the text needs. All the while the real story sits buried—perfectly good in its own right. It really tries to be too much. Could be a romance (well, maybe a casual chick-flick), just cut the action. A thriller, just get rid of the John-Sig affair. A mystery, or paranormal fantasy, just stop trying to add everything else.

TL;DR

In Shining Armor tries and tries, just in the end it tries too much. Its fantastic story is buried beneath heaps of romance and action and thrills that don’t really work. And certainly don’t go together. The dialogue is disgusting and annoying, especially once you get into it. The action is your basic fight-scene, copied and repeated throughout. The story is pretty amazing, by itself. In the end, In Shining Amor is a pretty good read, without all the fiddly bits. It really is. I recommend it, just don’t take it too seriously. Skip over some of the dialogue, some of the fight scenes, some of the sex. It becomes a shorter, much more entertaining adventure, mystery, and experience.

Review: Ghosts of Gotham – by Craig Schaefer

Standalone

Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Supernatural

47North; April 9, 2019

427 pages

DNF (No rating)

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Ghosts of Gotham was described to me as a “mystery-thriller with supernatural elements”, something like the early Preston & Child books before they got all… well, bad. So I was completely unprepared when the story went sideways, entering a realm of witchcraft, demigods and immortals. What it really should’ve been described as was a novel of conflicting genres. The first third doesn’t mention any kind of supernatural forces, beyond saying that they’re a hoax. When the “supernatural” element of the supernatural-thriller shows up—it’s all at once. No build. Then we have to deal with it as any first sequence magic book introduces us to its magic system. I thought this slowed both the story and lost the mystery while things were explained. Wasn’t particularly smooth, though also not the reason I stopped.

Actually, there were two elements that really killed my interest in this book.

First, the relationship of Maddie and Lionel. Honestly, I thought the story picked up when Maddie was introduced as a POV. We got to see things from a different perspective, travel the paths to an objective a different route, not to mention the limited interaction between the two was quite entertaining. I felt the story slowed when Maddie and Lionel hooked up, the disconnect between the two shrank, the paths they walked independent of one another withered away, and the book fell completely to the mystery. And it was quite the mystery, with unexpected twists and turns. It was not, however, enough to keep me invested in the plot.

The second was the supernatural itself—or, really, Lionel’s reaction to it. At some point he’s quoted as saying that the realm of magic is “something he’s been searching for his whole life”, which is why he’s made a living defrauding charlatans and fakes. The ease at which he takes to the supernatural world in Ghosts, however, is… out of character. At other points, he says things like that “he knew this time was different” because of all kinds of ridiculous things. The timbre of someone’s voice. The goosebumps he got from thinking about someone. The look in someone’s eyes. The… please don’t get me started on the love scene.

I made it to a little past that, but it really was the last straw. I wanted to like this, I saw so many good reviews of it, but I just couldn’t. And I don’t waste my time with books I can’t stand, just like how I don’t throw my kindle off the wall. Anymore. It’s old and fragile enough as it is.

Since this was a DNF (I made it to the 70% mark, but hey) I can’t rate it. I’d even hazard to recommend it. As far as I can tell, I’m one of the few people that didn’t enjoy Ghosts of Gotham.

Huh, sucks.

I DO LOVE the cover, though. So, there’s that.

Audiobook Review: City of Ghosts – by Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake #1

YA, Supernatural, Fantasy

Scholastic; August 28, 2018

272 pages; ~5 hours (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

City of Ghosts is a YA effort from Victoria Schwab, first in the Cassidy Blake series. Previously, Schwab had released the Archived trilogy (which I’ve heard good things about), and the Monsters of Verity duology (of which I’m a fan). This said—City of Ghosts doesn’t feel like the polished, complete work I would’ve expected from her.

Everything started when Cassidy Blake died. That day she went across the Veil for the first time, she met Jacob—whom since has become her best friend—when he saved her life. Impressive, as he’s dead and all. Now, they’re inseparable, and frequently take trips back across the Veil, where Cassidy can interact with Jacob as if he were alive. Or she were dead.

This whole thing seemed like… an idea. Like, that it isn’t… complete. It comes across unpolished, unrefined—something I wouldn’t’ve expected from Schwab, since her ideas have always seemed to come to life on the page. Early on, when we are introduced to this ability to interact with events through the Veil, it seems like Cassidy is fairly new to it all. Not long after, she states that it’s something she’s been on about for the last nine months. Nine months! And even though she goes on to say that the process has been streamlined and polished, in reality it seems anything but. Frankly, it kinda seems like a spinoff of Danny Phantom; even down to the famous, ghost-hunting parents.

The beginning really did nothing for me. It was hard to get into, contradictory, and as I’ve said before, unpolished. Not “boring” exactly, but not entertaining either. Once we get into the meat of the story, it’s entertaining enough, I guess. Not that much really happens. I mean, there’s a plot and stuff, but it comes to fruition so late in the book (it’s only a 5-hour audiobook), that I’d hesitate to reveal anything in the interest of spoilers. That and… the whole thing basically feels like setup. Like the quick pilot of an episodic show. One that identifies the characters and the premise but really does little else.

I’d read the next one—probably—but wouldn’t pay full price for it. Not if it’s over $10, at least. I’d wait for the library copy, and hope VE Schwab nails some things down before then. Tunnel of Bones comes out September 3, 2019

Note: Reba Buhr was an excellent narrator. Though not anyone I’d encountered previously, I had no problem with her reading. She was actually a pretty good Cassidy; engaging and entertaining.