Book Reviews · Books · Fantasy · Young Adult

Book Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

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My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

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…

Goodreads

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this book, to be honest. I was never a huge fan of the show growing up (although I probably was a little too young to appreciate it) and I never read the comics. I’m not even sure what possessed me to pick this one, but I’m glad I did, because it was a fun read.

Nina is an unlikely candidate for the role that is thrust upon her, especially when her sister Artemis has been preparing her entire life. She grapples with her own feelings towards her newfound role and the life she has come to know. Given the upbringing and neglectful mother she had, you can’t really fault her for being so bitter and confused. I liked the shift in the two sisters’ relationship. It’s definitely not a cliche, “we’re such a happy family” one, but a rather messy one. I appreciated this a great deal, as family relationships are not usually all they’re cracked up to be. Some of the secondary characters, like Leo and Doug, were great, but a lot of the others fell flat for me. Even Artemis, felt a bit too predictable and it grated on my nerves at times.

I wasn’t super familiar with all the lore and background of the Buffy series prior to reading this, but the author does a good job of giving you enough detail without it being overwhelming. I’m tempted to dive into some of the comics now, just to see how what I’ve been missing out on.

Books · Mystery · Young Adult

Book Review: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars 

In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts…

His story begins in the heart of old Barcelona, when he meets Marina and her father Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the fourth Sunday of each month. At 10 a.m. precisely a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman dressed in black, her face shrouded, wearing gloves, holding a single rose. She walks over to a gravestone that bears no name, only the mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.

When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her they begin a journey that will take them to the heights of a forgotten, post-war Barcelona, a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons; and a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.

(Goodreads)

I’d never even heard of this book when I picked it up, but I knew right away that if it was written by author Carlos Ruiz Zafon that it would be a fun ride. (I highly recommend checking out the Shadow of the Wind  books, if you haven’t already) Marina was a thrilling and often unsettling read, filled with mystery and macabre events that will make your stomach do the flips.

It’s no secret that Oscar isn’t very complex or interesting on his own. Marina even cracks jokes about how simple-minded he is. That’s totally fine, however, because the story and other characters make up where Oscar lacks. Marina is a strange and serious girl living in a creepy old mansion. There’s a mysterious woman in black visiting an unmarked grave every month. A shady doctor and his daughter, washed up detectives, and sinister coachmen. Every one of them weaves a story that all lead back to a maniacal man who they should try to just forget about. Of course, Oscar and Marina can’t forget about the things they’ve seen and decide to pursue the mystery that decided to pursue them first.

As usual, the author tells this story beautifully and poetically. He transports you onto the streets of Barcelona and makes you see and smell everything that Oscar is seeing. Every twist and turn keeps you guessing and checking over your shoulder from time to time. Despite the complexity of the story, this one didn’t take me long to read at all because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a fan of Gothic literature, you’ll enjoy this one.

Book Reviews · Books · Fantasy · Young Adult

Book Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Meet Simon Snow, Mage extraordinaire. Actually, that’s not true. Simon is a pretty terrible magician, despite the fact that he has more power in his pinky finger than all the other students at Watford combined. It’s Simon’s last year at school and nothing seems to be going right – his roommate, Baz (aka his sworn enemy) hasn’t shown up, his girlfriend dumps him, magical families are at war, and the Insidious Humdrum is still out there threatening to end it all. What’s a Chosen One to do when he can’t even use his wand correctly?

I’ll be honest, for the first third of this book I was really confused. There are a lot of similarities to the Harry Potter series. So many, in fact that I actually Googled whether or not this book was supposed to be some kind of fanfiction crossover.

-Orphaned teenager who goes to a school for magic folks
-Nemesis who’s family thinks they’re better than other families
-Cryptic headmaster who tries to protect Simon
-The Chosen One (as foretold by the prophecy)
-Villain who repeatedly tries to kill Simon
-Magical war

A lot of the boxes are checked off. By the time I got halfway through the story, however, I began to see the differences in the characters and story and could appreciate them on their own.

Simon was okay as main character, although I wouldn’t call him overly complex or anything. He seemed a bit thick-headed at times, especially considering he’d been at Watford for 7 years at that point. I didn’t love Simon, but I did love the relationship between him and Baz. Baz was a bit of an ass, but he was complex and had a lot of shit going on his life, so who can blame him? Personally, I wouldn’t mind having a vampire/mage as a room mate who could kill rats and stuff. Sounds like a win all around. (Except for the rats. They definitely aren’t winning in this scenario.)

I would have liked a little more exploration of the other relationships in the book, but I don’t think the story is lacking without it. Overall, this was a fun read and I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. If you like stories similar to Harry Potter, this is a good one to read, especially if you don’t feel like investing time in a long series.

 

Books · Favorites · graphic novels

The Chillling Adventures of Sabrina: Comics vs. Show

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My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Back in 2018 Netflix premiered The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and fans of the original show from the 90s (myself included) rejoiced. It was apparent right off the bat that this newer version of Sabrina was hardly anything like the family-friendly version we remembered. It was a darker – much darker – filled with occultism, satanic rituals, orgies, murder, and the Dark Lord, Satan, himself.

I don’t know if everyone was pleased by such a huge shift in nostalgia, but I ate season one up. I enjoyed the newer, more twisted iteration of Sabrina, possibly even more than the original show. Back in the spring, Netflix released a second season, which, to my delight, was just as good as the first. It wasn’t until season two came out that I found out that the show was actually based on a comic series, set in the Archie universe. Recently, I picked up a copy of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible (vol. 1) to see just how the two compared.

There are some major differences between the comic and the television show. The comic, believe it or not, is even darker and more mature than the show. The story arch is similar: Set in the 1960s, Sabrina is a half witch on the verge of turning sixteen. The eve of her dark baptism is approaching – the occasion in which Sabrina signs her name in the Book of the Beast and fully commits herself to Lord Satan – but, naturally, she has some conflicting feelings. Is she really ready to give up her friends, boyfriend, and all that she’s come to know in the mortal world?

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I really liked the comic version of Sabrina. Her mortal friends and boyfriend were a little less present than they were in the show, which I actually preferred because I found them a little annoying at times. (Both versions of Harvey are boring and too white bread for me.) There was more Salem in the comic and he actually talked, just like the original 90s version. More talking cats is always a win for me. I also liked the crossover with Riverdale and Archie characters (I was also delighted to see Sabrina make an appearance in the Afterlife with Archie graphic novel.), although I don’t think this would have worked in the show. Sabrina’s backstory is quite different here and far more fucked up. Her parents aren’t dead this time. Rather, her mother is trapped in a mental hospital and her father is trapped inside a tree. There’s less misogyny than the show. We don’t really learn much about the coven the Spellmans belong to and there’s no Father Blackwood contending for a spot as the biggest douchebag in the series. Thankfully, Madam Satan (disguised as one of Sabrina’s teachers), is still present, following her own agenda and meddling in all of Sabrina’s affairs in a deliciously wicked way. Even without the brilliant performance of Michelle Gomez, comic version of Madam Satan is just as satisfying.

So far, there’s only one graphic novel and there’s some speculation as to whether or not there will be another. For now, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and just have to wait for Netflix to make another season to tide me over. 

Books · graphic novels · mental health

My Brain Sucks. Let’s Read Graphic Novels.

Readers, I have a confession to make: I haven’t been reading many books lately. If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning you’ve probably noticed the lack of book reviews and posts in general. Part of this is due to the chaos that has been ensuing at work the last few months, resulting in a very exhausted Kiersten by the time five o’clock rolls around.  The bigger culprit is my depression, which has decided to pay a visit and stick around for some undetermined length of time. I’ve spent far too many hours the last few weeks (months?) binge watching shows on Netflix and staring mindlessly at social media, rather than pick up the dozens of unread books on my shelves.

Believe me when I say it’s not for lack of trying. In fact, even more frustrating than how behind I am on my reading count for the year, is how many books I’ve begun and quickly abandoned because my brain can’t stay focused on anything for more than five minutes. *Long, frustrated sigh*

Cue my small, but growing collection of graphic novels. For now, I’ve come to accept the fact that I may not be doing the type of reading that I want to, but I have found a solution in graphic novels. My brain seems to be able to take in the shorter length and less daunting nature of graphic novels. Rather than picking up a 400+ page book and immediately feeling like I can’t absorb it all, I can pick up a graphic novel and stay absorbed for only about 100 pages. Even if there are multiple volumes to the story (as there often are), I know I don’t have to read them all at once, which, for whatever reason, is more palatable for my overwhelmed brain at the moment.

I normally feel guilty, like I’m letting my readers and myself down, when I’m not reading much. At this point, I am familiar enough with the cyclical nature of depression and the effects it has on me to know that it won’t last forever and that beating myself up over it will only make me feel worse. For now, at least I have found a way to feel like I’m still reading and able to stay engaged on the blog.

Check out a few of the graphic novels I’ve read recently. (Reviews to follow)

Book Reviews · Books · Young Adult

Book Review: I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

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My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure. That is, until Libby died in a tragic car crash, taking Princess X along with her.

Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window.

Princess X?

There’s an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at IAmPrincessX.com. The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby’s story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon—her best friend, Libby, who lives.

Part novel, part comic book, this one was a quick and easy read. Not that quick and easy is a bad thing. In fact, by the time I was halfway through this one I found myself wishing that the Princess X webcomic empire existed in real life. (Can someone make this happen, please?!)

The premise of the story is fantastic, being the perfect blend of crime and fangirl fiction. I found the way Libby’s past unfolded via webcomic, under the guise of Princess X’s story, to be incredibly clever. Telling this story this way made it feel like the princess was an actual character, rather than just a gateway to May discovering that Libby was still alive.

Despite the short length, the story was rich with detail and intrigue. The cast of characters was a colorful  blend of pretend princesses, heroes, hackers, and rogue punks. I wish we would have seen a little more from Trick (May’s hacker neighbor) because he and May made an unexpectedly good team. But that’s just me being picky. One thing that I did really like was the lack of romance in this book. You don’t see that very often anymore in YA literature.

This was a great read about the power of friendship and not giving up hope. Two thumbs up!

Adult · Books · Fantasy

Book Review: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

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My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

(Goodreads)

Ivy Gamble is a PI with a chip on her shoulder because her sister was born magic. The sisters’ worlds up colliding when Ivy is hired to investigate a case at the school where Tabitha teaches. It’s interesting to see how Ivy navigates the magical world, all while trying to solve a murder at the same time. As far as I could tell, the magical “world,” isn’t really different from the non-magical one (which, to be honest, I found a tad disappointing). There are some magical schools and whatnot, but beyond that we don’t really learn what all the mages go out and do once they are out of school.

The school had a lot of similarities to Hogwarts, albeit a bit less eccentric. My brain couldn’t decide if I liked this or not, though, as I kept thinking “Well, that’s been done already.” The magic system and way the students used magic was pretty cool, being a little more technical than just waving wands around and such.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I liked Ivy and all her flaws. I even liked most of the other characters in the story. I kinda felt like maybe there should have been more mention of some of the other students, since it was all focused on a very select few, but that didn’t necessarily ruin it for me. I think the biggest issues I had with the story was the lack of world-building and the predictable plot. Overall, it was a quick, entertaining read. I’d recommend this one if you’re looking for something that you don’t have to dive too deep into.