Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

I did a buddy read of A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo in February, and ended up reading the whole book in one day on the 17th. Since V was born it had been a long time since I’d had the time and the inclination to do that, which if you’ve ever had an infant should tell you a lot about my enjoyment of this book. 

Female friendships are fucked up. I think almost every woman has a story of a relationship that was more complicated than they can explain – maybe there is a romantic dynamic, a weird powerful jealousy or sense of competition, an intense secret world that you build with another person and you feel threatened when someone else infringes on it. That’s this book. While most of those experiences don’t involve murder, I think we need more of these stories.

I’m going to clarify that while we need more stories with this dyamic, this is also written to be a thriller and I think a good example of a toxic friendship, as well as a very toxic romantic relationship.

Because I have to start by saying that I think everything is Margot’s fault. Girl is a big old c-word. She is incredibly controlling of her friends and Angie as her girlfriend. While I do think Jess gets a little petulant because of her feelings about Angie, most of her anger and concern are valid. The novel is also a good example of how very difficult it is to tell our friend they are in an abusive relationship – because we still struggle to accept that being excessively controlling and causing a partner to feel guilt is abuse – no physical harm necessary. Margot’s actions towards others initiated this chain of events and even though the end really surprised me, I still blame her and she’s definitely either an all caps K on the Teen Creeps scale, if not into full on Vera territory.

This book is a solid thriller with an emotional punch. Jess is a good character in that you understand her and are also frustrated by her. You definitely doubt her and find yourself believing she’s capable of murder. 

I gave this 4 stars because I wanted more and I felt like something was missing, but I would definitely recommend it. I hope Malinda Lo writes more teen thrillers because this is so well done. It’s solidly YA, versus being an adult thriller written about teenage girls. That’s an important distinction and a hard thing to shape, and shape well. 

Review: The Curses by Laure Eve

Continuing the story of the intriguing, mysterious Grace family…4/5

I eagerly read the sequel to the Graces on January 25-31, 2019 and my waiting was rewarded. The Curses was released in the beginning of this year and I waited for it to be my last read of the month sort of to pleasurably torture myself. And because I know the clock resets to waiting for the next book.

From GoodReads:

Picking up the pieces after the chilling events of the previous year isn’t easy, but the Graces are determined to do it. Wolf is back after a mysterious disappearance, and everyone’s eager to return to normal. Except for Summer, the youngest Grace. Summer has a knack for discovering the truth—and something is troubling her. After a trail of clues leads her to what could be the key to both her family’s mysterious past and the secret of Wolf, she’s determined to vanquish yet another curse. But exposing secrets is a dangerous game, and it’s not one Summer can win alone.

At Summer’s behest, the coven comes back together, reluctantly drawing their erstwhile friend River back into the fold. But Wolf’s behavior becomes unpredictable even as Fenrin’s strength fades, and Summer must ask herself whether the friend she so loves is also planning her family’s ultimate, cursed demise.

This riveting sequel to The Graces is saturated with magic, the destructive cost of power, the complications of family, and the nature of forgiveness.

I loved being in Summer’s head. As much as I enjoyed River in the first book she was seeing everything from a place of disbelief and the unknown. Summer has just as much of the unknown to face, but the unknown isn’t magic – it’s herself and other people. In the first book I never entirely understood why the Graces were drawn to River, and it seemed that River needed them so much more than they needed her. It can feel like that when you’re in a friendship that is deep and powerful – that you’re the needy one. It was interesting to see the same friendship from Summer’s side and find that she felt the same about River. What you don’t see about Summer in the first book is that she is so damn lonely. Some of it is her age and position within her family, and some of it is the nature of her power isolating her from others. By the end of the book the relationship between Summer and River isn’t repaired, but it’s starting to be fixed.

The theme of this book is definitely desire, and the things desire can drive us to do both for good and for bad. I like that it doesn’t treat desire as a negative thing, because so much does. Desire is a motivation to focus intention, and tracing desire revealed how the magic within the Graces universe works. While some of the language on that gets a little gray and confusing, it’s in line with the fact that despite how confident they seem to outsiders, the Graces are still just barely getting a grip on magic themselves. This book was definitely a reminder that they are still kids – full of dreams, imagination, immaturity, and without restraint when it comes to some of their emotions. When you’re a frustrated, confused teenager and then you add powerful magic to the mix there’s no way things will always go right.

The ending of the book was tense, heartbreaking, and super dark. The first book was dark and broody but the Curses crossed even further into that territory. Magic has a dark side more than a light one in this universe, and it is so easy for that power to corrupt people. It’s also a sign that parents need to be open with their children because that definitely led to some of the drama in this book. There was one point during the height of the tension when I actually said, “noooo” out loud because part of me wanted the happy ending. You don’t really get a happy ending to the Curses, but you get a much less miserable one than the end of the Graces.

I’m left with a lot of questions and I’ll be interested to see how they evolve as more of the Graces story is told. Are the Graces actually cursed? Can people be cured from magic?  Are Thalia and Marcus going to be a thing again? What kinds of love trigger the curse? WHEN WILL I GET ANOTHER BOOK!?

This was 4/5 stars from me – I loved the continuation of these characters and I think it was even stronger than the first. The first was a mystery, the second was an emotional flaying that tested the bonds of these characters and gave them space to grow.

Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

Back in the Buffyverse – 4/5 stars!

I read Slayer by Kiersten White on January 20-24, 2019. The year is already turning into a KW heavy year and I am totally fine with that.

Slayer is complicated to talk about, considering it’s place in a much wider universe. While I’ve watched all of the series, I have not kept up with the expanded universe of graphic novels and comics. The good news is that you don’t have to – the question is if this satisfies your further Buffy needs.

From GoodReads:

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.” [emphasis mine]

This was a fun dip into the world of the Watchers. They are somehow stuffy, endearing, infuriating, and fascinating. Their numbers were destroyed, so a handful of people of a variety of ages are all that remains of a society that lasted millennia. They are keepers of knowledge and some of it’s totally useless now. Magic is gone, but the evil remains. They are a people without a purpose now that Slayers have rejected their oversight. The novel does a fascinating and thorough job of interrogating the power dynamic between Watchers and Slayers. Slayers are imbued with immense power, but they were also young women basically sacrificed to save the world in a decision made by a bunch of dudes. The idea that Slayers only get out of their job by dying is repeated. The Watchers’ power is knowledge and magic – but when those things are mostly irrelevant…who are they?

Oh Nina and Artemis. Ultimately, Artemis is the kind of character who drives me insane – she’s strong and powerful and dead effing silent. If you put the whole world on your shoulders, and refuse to give it up even though it hurts and others try and take on some of the burden but you won’t let them, well I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you. I am excited to see how she turns out for the rest of the series, because currently I want to grab her and shake her. She’s being bad to herself, and ultimately bad to everyone around her.

Nina. Athena. Precious little Watcher-Slayer. It was enjoyable to see her get more confident and powerful as the book went on. Being inside her head provided perspective to the reader – she was so much more than she could see. Nina was so negative about herself not just because that’s being a teenage girl, but because until shit started hitting the fan no one took a moment to tell her she had value just being herself. It’s the lesson she starts to learn in the events of the novel, and it was so poignant.

Now, one of the most important themes in the Buffyverse is friendship. Slayer definitely tackles the subject and honestly, there’s a moment between Cillian and Nina where he is just a great friend, and knows exactly what to say to Nina even though he has no idea that’s what he’s doing. I loved it so much. It was fun in those moments to see how themes and work I associate specifically with Kiersten also fit into a pre-existing universe. It was moments like that which showed me how well-chosen Kiersten was to write this series. A lot of the things that matter in Buffy are things I know already matter to her, and can be woven sincerely into the work. It’s not an effort, she’s not told to add those things, it’s things she would write about anyway.

There’s also some really interesting things going on about motherhood in Slayer as well. There’s a trinity of moms that on the surface appear very different from one another – Helen Jamison-Smythe (the girls’ mom), Wanda Wyndam-Price (Honora and Wesley’s mom), and Eve Silvera (Leo’s mom. We aren’t even going to talk about Leo.) Helen comes off as cold, Wanda comes off as a helicopter, and Eve comes off as the perfect parent. All of them are different than they appear on the surface, and all of them have different expectations for their kids. And frankly, different expectations of themselves as parents. Having just become a parent myself it was interesting to see how what they wanted for their kids overshadowed what the kids wanted for themselves, and the myriad ways in which that dynamic damaged all of them.

From reading other reviews I think this book is getting the short end, probably because there’s too much comparison. And a lot of people are forgetting that the characters are TEENAGERS. So let’s keep that in perspective.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. It was life or death for a teenage brain and literally life or death for the Watchers. I can’t want to see Nina continue to embrace her identities and become who she’s meant to be. With lots of chaos and heartbreak along the way. It was 4/5 stars for me!

Review: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

4 stars!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White was my first read of 2019! It was a birthday gift from BG friends and I dove in immediately.

From GoodReads:

“Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.”

To start, this book is fucked up.

The concept is what is the story of the sidekick – we know Victor and his story told different ways over and over – but what about the people who facilitated his madness? In that context, Elizabeth is insanely frustrating. You can nearly feel the constraints of society and her position holding back this brilliant, almost cruel, young woman. What she would be in that time if she were a man is heartbreaking. Still, you see her manipulate the expectations of her position to find her own kind of power. There are parts that are meant to make you feel an aversion to Elizabeth – the way she has of looking at and evaluating people for their usefulness to her – but that same trait makes it even more devastating when the things she does care about are hurt or damaged. Elizabeth is complicated – and she’s also very young. Some of the things she does betray a kind of naivete that makes her lovable, even at her most terrible.

Victor is a total dickwad. He is an amalgam of all the worst kinds of abusive men in this world and honestly, doesn’t get what he deserved in the end. That might be my own bloodthirst talking though. Actually most of the human men in this book are total dickwads, and some meet fairly grisly ends. It’s kind of satisfying even if that also makes me a monster. The women in the book are treated accurately for the time period – as objects and achievements. It’s fun to see the many different ways in which that expectation can be ignored from Elizabeth, Justine, and Mary. All three have been hurt by the world they were born into, and all three found ways to be happy even if the happiness was short-lived or intermittent.

This book is relatively short, which is, I think, one of it’s few frustrations. The ending felt a little rushed and I didn’t get time to settle with certain events or characters before it was quite suddenly over. Hints are dropped in the last few chapters that make the twist a little more obvious, but I wanted more time.

If you already like Kiersten White, you’re going to like this book. If you like books with complicated, dynamic women, you’re going to like this book. If you really deeply love the original Frankenstein, I don’t know if you’ll like this book. The book is well-written, sharp, cruel, and accusatory. It’s also a little bit gross so if you have issues with body horror or really accurately described gross smells, this maybe isn’t for you.

This was a 4 star read for me – something felt like it was missing even though I enjoyed myself. But honestly a 4 star read for White is basically a 5 star for any other author, so you know it’s a good book.

Review: Daughters of Eve

My favorite podcast is Teen Creeps – a podcast that reads classic YA pulp fiction like Christopher Pike, LJ Smith, and a host of other stories that we definitely found in our school libraries. The hosts, Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai, are hilarious and have definitely gotten me excited to go back and read some old favorites. They have covered multiple books by Lois Duncan, who I read a ton of back in the day, but they didn’t inspire me to pick LoDunc back up until they did Daughters of Eve.

I was OBSESSED with this book in 8th grade. I thought there was something supernatural about the bond between the girls in the club, and liked the idea of invoking powerful words to create an unbreakable circle of secrets. Like any teenager, of course.

From GoodReads:

The girls at Modesta High School feel like they’re stuck in some anti-feminist time warp-they’re faced with sexism at every turn, and they’ve had enough. Sponsored by their new art teacher, Ms. Stark, they band together to form the Daughters of Eve. It’s more than a school club-it’s a secret society, a sisterhood. At first, it seems like they are actually changing the way guys at school treat them. But Ms. Stark urges them to take more vindictive action, and it starts to feel more like revenge-brutal revenge. Blinded by their oath of loyalty, the Daughters of Eve become instruments of vengeance. Can one of them break the spell before real tragedy strikes?

Now, I had a copy with the original text but I have no idea what happened to it. My current copy that I read is updated to match the times and I can’t help but be disappointed by that. The context of the struggle between the sexes from the late 70s did not entirely ring true now. It made every male in the book infinitely worse if the entire town was still treating women the way they did. There was barely a redeeming male in the books purely because of the modern context. It makes the men evil and the women psychotic. No joke. In the original context, they are all much more sympathetic.

Part of what makes this story so good though is focusing on who the real enemy is – the system. The girls, led by a very fucked up teacher, begin to focus on individuals. That’s when things go off the rails and it becomes a thriller. How far will they go? Will they hurt someone else because they are also hurt? What is too far, and will they keep secrets?

This is a fantastically campy read and a classic LoDunc novel. I enjoyed it again as an adult, having experienced both the deep bonds of female friendship and desire to fight for one another, as well as the wonderful worlds of both casual and violent sexism. It’s both a critique of fake feminism as well as a fantasy of vengeance. I remember not liking Ms. Stark the first time around because I felt that I could not trust her – Tammy had been my favorite character and I trusted Tammy’s instincts. This time around, Ms. Stark made me actively angry. The kind of person that I would actively fight against in the real world for hurting progress, and would basically renounce as the worst kind of white feminism, especially when she talks about the school she worked at in Chicago (for all her updating, LoDunc is the WORST about race – it is a legitimate critique of her work.)

For me it’s 4 stars when viewed from it’s original publication time because it’s a time warp, and a lesson. It’s one of her best books though, and I recommend it to any YA pulp fan.

Also, please please please, listen to Teen Creeps. Or join their Patreon. They are the BEST.

Thoughts On: Timekeeper by Tara Sim

A damaged clock can fracture time, it’s Danny Hart’s job to prevent that from happening. A review of Timekeeper by Tara Sim (4/5)

Timekeeper by Tara Sim was published on November 8, 2016 and I read it on December 3-4, 2017. There’s emotions.

A summary, from Amazon:

“In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.”

Reading is powerful because it allows us to experience lives that are different than our own, or experience a resonance because we realize that we are not alone. That’s kind of how I felt about Timekeeper, but it was unexpected.

All through the book the narration and other characters talk about Danny as “weird” because he’s quiet or reserved; he doesn’t see the need to make small talk, or even necessarily to form bonds, with the people he works with. Danny is mostly okay inside his own head, and focuses on the things he cares about rather than the things people tell him to care about. I think it’s what gives him a cool head in the crisis that comes from falling for a clock spirit. I identified with this – keeping work and non-work life separated. I’ve been…criticized [this is the nice word] because I don’t tend to become besties with co-workers and like to run circles in my brain on my work before talking to other people about it. Danny is just outwardly chill with a chaos brain and I related to that HARD.

To start, I thought the concept of Time in the book would bother me, but the blend of religion and science helped. I also appreciated that there wasn’t an exhaustive amount of exposition explaining the way the world functioned. If there was too much detail I think it would make more holes and pieces to pick at than telling the bare minimum. Sim makes some excellent authorial choices in how she has the mythology develop across the book and what she spends page time on. I think it’s way more important to understand how the fibers of time work for Danny than it is to understand how the fibers of time work in general. I have a vague notion of the magic that runs the world, but at it’s heart I need to know how the world impacts Danny. That’s who I’m invested in.

I’m hoping in the next book, Chainbreaker, we get more of Cass and Daphne (especially Daphne – I have SO MANY QUESTIONS.) They are both intriguing and fiery and could probably beat Danny up really easily. I like that the more masculine/physically fierce characters in the story are the women. It was fun to see how Victorian London was bent to Sim’s vision, and how that opened up fun explorations of sexuality and gender roles.

I gave this book 4 stars because I think there’s more here, and I think I’ll get it in the next one. If you like alternative worlds, sad boys, angry boys, a LOT of justifiable drama, big scary moral dilemmas, and crazy tension leading to resolution – this is definitely the book for you.

Chainbreaker comes out January 2, 2018 – consider reading Timekeeper and picking it up!

Review – Every Heart a Doorway

What happens when children come back through the door from a magical world to this one? Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (5/5)

I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging and doing reviews because I was dreading doing them. It made the reading less fun, and that’s always going to be a priority.

That should also tell how much I loved this book that I am breaking my break to write about it. Be warned that this is going to be a semi-spoilery review so if you haven’t read this or have an interest in reading it, gimme a like and get outta here!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was published in 2016 – I read it on the night of November 4, 2017 in about 2 hours. 1) I read very quickly, and 2) it is very compelling. It was the way I gave my brain a break after finishing Stephen King’s 11/22/63 both of which are sort of portal fantasies, ha! (I would argue that going down a staircase that leads to the past and the possibility of an alternate time stream is both portal and time travel)

A summary, from Amazon:
“Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.”


I’m just going to tell you that this book is a murder mystery. And it’s a good one. One of the biggest struggles I have with murder mysteries, especially the whole – it’s one of us in this isolated group murder mysteries – is that they take too damn long. It’s not that hard! There’s obvious things everywhere! This book is so small but you get so much out of it, and part of it is that once you are fully introduced to the existential horror of these young people’s lives, you are then smacked in the face with the fact that there are still real horrors on this side of the doorway, and that people are selfish dickwads and just because they are chosen does not mean they are good.

The book lays out the concepts of the worlds on the other sides of the door, and it leaves you with a lot of questions (is each world unique to each child? why do some children go to the same world and some never do?) but at the same time the labels for the worlds are so much more helpful than coming up with names – Nonsense v. Logic, Wicked v. Virtue, etc. I loved the idea of identifying the worlds by “directions” versus trying to figure out what they were like based on names, or having to hear too much description. It’s not really the worlds that matter in the story, it’s what the worlds did to the children.

Also, I am in love with Kade as a character that exists. If Seanan does not write his story at some point in the fullness that it deserves, we’re gonna have words. And she’s one of my favorite people this year because 1) this book is very good and 2) a post of hers that I saw got me to read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan which is the last book I broke hiatus for and one of my favorite reads of the year.

Back to the story.

Nancy is a good character because she’s different, and not easily labelled. Nancy likes people and she’s good and kind and wants to do the right things, she just needs stillness. Sometimes we all do. I also loved that in Nancy’s world, compared to some of the other kids especially, she’s not the savior or the princess or whatever. She’s working to earn her spot, and she has to make choices. There’s no Nancy the Chosen, there’s Nancy the person who belongs in the world that she found through the door. It was important to follow a character in that position rather than one of the “special” kids because her choices were what mattered – it wasn’t about understanding her position in the world, it was about understanding herself. Which is the coming of age aspect of the novel.

I cannot say enough about the efficiency of story in this novel. It’s short but it is PACKED, and I felt like I understood things quickly. Some books rely on the reader to take leaps of understanding, or rely on prior knowledge the reader may have, and I think EHaD does that in the best way. There is shorthand to understand the worlds that allows the reader to take the leap to understand why each character is the way they are and why they were meant for that world.

I did not know much about this book going in, and had vaguely heard that there were more books connected to this one. About halfway through I paused and looked that up. I am hoping to acquire the next book as soon as possible because I have so many questions, and I am excited that this time we are going to be on the other side of the door. The third book comes out in January 2018 and I am sure I’ll end up pre-ordering.

This was a five star read for me on both a plot and technical execution level. It’s not a happy book for the most part, and it’s hella violent and gory in some parts, as well as a reminder that people are shitty. Definitely read it.