Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Beckoning Shadow by Katharyn Blair


Unrated | 480 pages | Paranormal YA | Katherine Tegen Books | Release Date: 07/02/2019

The Beckoning Shadow feels like a unicorn of a book in the world of YA because it's paranormal and...get this..it is standalone.

Vesper Montgomery was your average caramel frappuccino-drinking-carefree, high school cheerleader--until she discovers she is an Oddity-- a  human with superhuman powers that have to be kept hidden unless she wants to risk the wrath of the mysterious Wardens. Vesper has the rare ability to control and pull out people's fears. When she loses control of her powers she becomes a danger to her family and decides to run.

Then one night in San Francisco Vesper stumbles upon a crew of Oddities who are putting their powers to use in a series of underground cage matches for the chance to undo one moment from their lives. Vesper wants in. This former high school cheerleader ditches the pom-poms for a pair of boxing gloves and the cage match of her life.

I jumped at a chance to review this book because I've always wondered why the popularity of MMA fighting in New Adult has never leaked over to YA since most fighters start young.

To win the competition Vesper teams up with Sam, a young human MMA fighter who knows more about the world of Oddities that he should.  There was just the right amount of stakes and plot to keep this book going but then Blair introduces a murder mystery which was interesting but a lot of the reveals were like ..."Hey, remember that guy? He's really THAT GUY" it fell a little flat.

On one level I like that this book is genre-savvy, it sort of breaks the fourth wall to poke fun at the "let's start a rebellion" trope you see in most YA. The stakes aren't about changing the world order-- but about the characters having a chance to overcome their personal shortcomings. The different types of power are unique and I thought it was really creative how Vesper uses her power to pull out fears to fight.

On the other hand, I also think the world-building was revealed in such a strange way. Like we don't get a feel of how Oddieties fit into the normal (as they call it Baseline) world. Vesper mentions that everyone has heard the stories of Oddities, yet no humans ever talk about it. Its's like...what stories? It gets ironed out in a  pretty big exposition dump, but I think trying to construct the world distracted me until it was fully explained.

With that said I'm ready for paranormal YA to have a big comeback. Blair has solid pacing and writes vivid action scenes. This gave me some 2010's YA feels, I'm curious to see what this author does next.

Nitpick
I think the title of this book does it a serious disservice. It just sounds like every other YA Fantasy. I couldn't remember the title of this book for anything. The characters have a strong relationship with the poem Invictus... why couldn't that be the title?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan


Rating: ★★★ | 12 Hours 2 Min | Crime/Suspense | Harper Audio | Release Date: 12/01/2015

I am one of those people who really got into true crime after listening to the Serial podcast. I like how true crime gives you a snapshot of people's lives and how chance encounters and small moments can change lives forever.

Because I dive so much into true crime I don't generally gravitate towards crime fiction however, I was in the mood for some plotty fiction with momentum and maybe some plot twists--- crime fiction seemed to fit the bill and  What She Knew was one of the top audiobooks on Scribd. It's ominous background and san-serif text instantly told me it was suspense/crime fiction.

Set in the small city of Bristol, England What She Knew flips POV between Rachel, a recently divorced single mother and Detective Inspector Clemo; their paths collide when Rachel's eight-year-old son is abducted in broad daylight. Rachel has an emotional outburst during a press conference that makes the public suspicious of her. As the case hits the national spotlight both Clemo and Rachel endure public outrage, dark family secrets and lies that threaten to crumble the investigation.

 Because of the first person POV it feels in the beginning like there is some unreliable narrator stuff happening or that there was going to be a major plot twist, but honestly most of this book felt like a procedural with the kind of bonkers out of left-field reveals you'd find in a 2010's episode of Law and Order SVU --that had nothing to really do with the main crime.

Audiobook narrators Penelope Rawlins and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart are a dynamic pair. They really work the silences in the text and give emotional moments room to breathe. They capture the hopelessness of the situation as everyone scrambles to find the missing child. Rawlins narration mimics Rachel's fragility as she endures harsh accusations and is publicly shamed for losing her own child. Bruce-Lockhart gets that tough authoritative tone as Inspector Clemo, but I really liked his no-nonsense lilting portrayal of the Scottish police chief.

I like reading books that take place in other countries and it was a nice change of pace to read a British book that didn't take place in London. I think my only real barrier to entry was trying to understand how their police system works.

When I finished this book I thought it was a little outlandish and that the portrayal of the media and police was over the top...then I listened to True Crime Obsessed talk about The Disappearance of Madeline McCann  which just had a lot of rampant and harmful speculation, so I wonder if Gilly McMillian was inspired by the case at all ?

Suspenseful and a little head scratchy this is a book that will keep you on your toes, but doesn't quite hit the landing.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

★★★+.5 | 12 hours 32 minutes | Adult SFF | Harper Audio | Audio Release Date: 11/10/2009
In this 1990 Sci-Fiction/Fantasy debut novelist Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett tell a satirical story about the end of the world. I went in knowing this book was about an angel and a demon teaming up to stop armageddon, but Good Omens also involves a book of prophecies, a witch hunter, the four horsemen of the apocalypse and...an 11-year-old antichrist.

I have a vague memory of a teacher talking about this book when I was 9th grade but I'd kind of forgotten about it. I was reading a lot of Left Behind books at that time so I can't imagine what I would have thought about this tongue and cheek interpretation of the end days. The only reason I picked it up this year is so I could check out the Amazon Prime show. A show that I was Streisand Effected into knowing about. I had no idea this show was even a thing until the controversy.

I found this book to be imaginative and kind of weird and the humor felt very British. There are a lot of plots threaded into the story and I feel like some of it may have gone over my head. I’m sure this is a book like this holds up well to re-reading, In fact, I started the show and the show is essentially a scene by scene remake of the book and things kept clicking while I watched the show that I hadn’t noticed when reading.

 The audiobook narrator Martin Jarvis does such a good job bringing the material to life and his voice work is outstanding. I don't know if I'm just biased but his Crowley sounded eerily like David Tennant. His female voices left a lot to be desired but everything else he did was so excellent. That said, this book relies a lot on footnotes and parentheticals in a way that didn't always come through as cleanly in the audio version.

Like I said, the show appears to very much be a line by line adaptation (with some added bits here and there) so I don't think you'd be missing anything if you just dived right into the show. Either way, I'm glad I checked this out.



There are a lot of people in YA who pushback against the idea of YA in the 90s being historical. And guys, this book is set in 1990 and it read extremely historical. It's not just about the pop culture references. The way in which computers, young people and technology are talked about made it feel very much of a past time.

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