Creatures of the Night – Grace Collins

I have diaries. I’ve been writing them since middle school, on and off, and I took a 5-year break from sharing my most personal everyday thoughts on paper. But I got back to it a year ago and it’s been helpful. A few days ago, I started writing about things that I’m grateful for every single day. When I started this book, I wrote this: ‘‘I’m grateful for stories that I think I won’t enjoy but that end up surprising me.’’

There’s little very enticing about this book. I almost didn’t request it, because come on. Look at that unoriginal title, cover and premise. Hunters. Creatures. Secrets. Been there, read that about a hundred times.  The more I looked at it, the more I considered getting rid of my copy without even finishing the first page. But then I remembered that I’m a book blogger and that nothing and no one can force me to love a book or even finish it, so I opened it with the idea in mind that I would read enough of it to be able to review its negative aspects and then donate it.

Talk about pre-reading judgement. But admit it, we’re all guilty of it. Skipping over a cover that isn’t attractive enough or reading a premise and finding it too similar to past stories we’ve read and deciding that this thing is not worth our time. Well, I’m grateful for this book because it has reminded me that some people are able to surprise me and that sometimes the content of a book is much, much better than the way it is presented, marketed, publicized.

Grace Collins writes with a lot of intensity. This is as much a character-driven story as it is an action-driven one, my favourite combination in the entire world and something Sarah J. Maas excels at. Grace Collins may not be Miss Maas but she has delivered here a sympathetic and relatable heroine whose character-development is felt and makes me want to see what she’ll do next. The world-building she has created relies on its creatures – hollowers, wispers and shifters, oh and humans – more than its environment. The politics of the world are not heavily nuanced, but what Collins does share about the world is accessible. There is a war brewing between the hollowers and the others, who have been in conflict for a long time, mainly because hollowers kill stuff to stay alive. They ‘‘hollow’’ people out.

Milena thought they were the good guys, but she had no idea who she was living with until her 20th birthday, when her family and friends decided to murder her. She was rescued by shifters who enlightened her on the world she lives in and its real ‘‘creatures of the night.’’ What I like most about this story is that there is a lot going on. Milena doesn’t spend 5 chapters not doing anything. She’s constantly thinking, planning and moving forward. At first on her own, then with friends she’s made. The worst element is the romance, which confused the hell out of Milena. Her love interest is dealing with some stuff and does not have the capacity to be open and honest – two important qualities if you want a long-lasting and healthy relationship. But if you just want something dramatic to entertain the reader, sure, let your heroine and her love interest enter in some unhealthy push-pull type of dynamic.

So in some ways it is a cliché story, but in other ways it is surprising, super entertaining and simply a decent addition to the YA fantasy genre with a heroine who has a lot of growing up and learning to do.

Thank you Raincoast Books for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Series Review: Fence, Vols. 1-4 – C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad

Of course I was going to read this one. First of all, it was written by C.S. Pacat, the author of one of my all-time favourite series ever: Captive Prince. Second of all, I’ve read an original story based on the series, in novel format, by Sarah Rees Brennan titled Fence: Striking Distance and really enjoyed getting to know the characters. Finally, it’s just been a long time since I’ve read a comic, so it was simply pleasurable to get back to the genre.

I’m reviewing the entire series at once because I basically read the four volumes in one sitting. I couldn’t help myself, I was addicted and my (sub)conscious was waiting for something specific and romance-related to happen. (It never did, unfortunately, but the wish pushed me to keep reading and that’s not a bad thing.) So this is the story of Nicholas, a newbie in the world of fencing, but he’s got potential that the Kings Row coach notices after he fences against one of the country’s best fencers, Seiji.

I thoroughly enjoyed Nicholas and Seiji’s rivalry, especially since both have such different personalities and ways of seeing the world around them. Their rivalry doesn’t end on the fencing court because they must share a room together. I have to say that watching them slowly get to know one another was one of the main reasons why I read this series with such fervour. The other main reason was Aiden, because his character story is very important in Sarah Rees Brennan’s Fence: Striking Distance so I was very interested in seeing him again in the comics. I do recommend getting to the comics first and then the two novels, because you will understand the novels so much better that way.

As interesting as these comics were, the fourth volume was a letdown for me and I actually have no idea what the future comics (should there be more) will look like. The reason why I was so let down is that there seemed to be too many similarities with previous issues. I understand that this is a sports-themed comic and that fencing matches will be a big deal throughout, but I wanted more of the characters’ pasts, emotions and interactions with one another. I will, however, keep an eye out for the rest as I did get attached to Nicholas and Seiji quite strongly. I do recommend this series if you like to see underdogs succeed.

Burn It All Down – Nicolas DiDomizio

I knew I would love this, and not just because James Patterson blurbed it, raving about its addictiveness. It is, by the way, super addictive. It’s the type of story that you start and finish deep into the morning. Forget about getting your beauty night sleep, which likely won’t happen when it comes to this book. In my particular case though, I’m simply typically a night owl and prefer to fall asleep when I just can’t keep my eyes open anymore and fall into slumber the moment I close my eyes. This book will make it hard to close your eyes, but hey, I’m not complaining.

I also knew I would love it because after I finished watching the movie French Exit, I was subconsciously dying for another mother-son story. This is very different from the movie mentioned above, but it does feature that strong mother-son connection that I really liked from the movie and touched the part of me that adores seeing strong familial connections. Joey and his mother Gia Rossi certainly have that connection, especially when it comes to men. They both get their hearts broken by jerks and handle the heart breaks together. This time, however, they both got their hearts broken at the same time and they decide to get their revenge on. It’s cathartic for them and entertaining for the reader.

The first 100 or so pages of this book are thrilling, the rest are a bit calmer. I do admit that I prefer when it’s the other way around—when stories start in a chill way and gain energy the more I read—but for Joey and Gia Rossi, the storm never really dies. After completing their revenge plans, exteriorly they might seem okay-ish and certainly the environment they are in is more peaceful, but both mother and son are actively dealing with the aftermath of what they’ve done and how they feel, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. Of course, as interesting as it was to see Joey and Gia interact, more like friends than mother and son, it is not necessarily a very healthy type of dynamic, and both have to grow up in their own ways.

It’s part thriller, part literary, part romance and almost all coming-of-age. There are secrets and revelations, beautiful and dark moments, tears of happiness and despair and a lot, lot, lot of love. I adored it. If you like unconventional stories, this one is for you. Enjoy.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Blood Like Magic – Liselle Sambury

I am so proud of Liselle Sambury. Not just because she wrote a wonderful dark debut novel here, but also because it’s so nice and motivating to see Canadian authors publishing fantastic stories. I’m Romanian-Canadian and one of my dreams if to one day publish a story that is meaningful to me as well. So reading this and taking in Liselle’s words felt particularly important to me.

This is not a commercial book. I think of those as stories that are written to be sold, written because that’s what’s trending and that’s what readers want to read. Though there is more emphasis on diversity in YA and stories with POC do sell more than 10 years ago from my understanding, everything in this book felt like it came from a place that truly believes that this content is worth sharing and has a place in the world.

It’s a big book—close to 500 pages—and it is slower than most fantasy books I read. I won’t deny that there is too much description for my usual liking. However, and this is important, Liselle does take the time to lay down the foundation for our understanding of the world-building, magic system and characters themselves. It quickly became clear to me that the author spent a lot of time thinking of and developing her characters—bringing them to life. They are each peculiar and human in their own way, even the magic-wielding ones. I especially enjoyed Voya’s interactions with her cousin Keis, whose magical ability is to read thoughts, and Luc (the love interest) certainly intrigued me.

Voya will only earn her powers if she completes a task given to her by one of her ancestors. The problem is that there is more at stake than just her power ascension, and she is not used to making decisions on her own. She must learn to trust herself better and embrace the path that her instincts direct her towards. It’s hard not to feel for Voya, since she is vulnerable and insecure but also caring and determined. She does not exist to entertain or please the reader. She really does have a story to tell, and I for one felt honoured to be privy to her storytelling.

Thank you Simon & Schuster for the copy in exchange for a review.

WolfWalkers: The Graphic Novel

I am not normally a fan of movie novelizations. I like original works. If a book came first, I like to start with that and if I really, really enjoyed it or want to know more about the characters and world, then I watch the movie and vice-versa. But in this case, I tried to watch the movie and that did not work out. While the graphics were absolutely stunning and unique besides, I simply could not take the slow-pacing. Perhaps it does pick up, as it does in the graphic novel, but I had to force myself to watch it and that never feels quite good. All of that to say that I was very pleased to learn that the movie was turned into a graphic novel, as I did genuinely want to know more about the story.

This is a very beautiful graphic novel. Unsurprisingly, the illustrations are gorgeous. Because I did watch a bit of the movie, I was already a little acquainted with the characters and was able to imagine their voices while I read, but it still felt very nice to learn more about them through paper. It’s quite convenient, I’d say, because with books you can generally read slower or faster. Of course, every story has its own pacing, but you can cheat a little if that allows you to have a better reading experience. With movies, not so much. I guess, in some cases, one can change the speed but it doesn’t feel that good or natural to me. So I absolutely loved being able to follow the story at a pacing more suited for me. It allowed me to feel comfortable reading this graphic novel and get through the storyline much quicker and easier.

To briefly summarize, this is the story of two girls – one human and one half-wolf. One lives in town and the other in the forest near the town. The new ‘‘protector’’ of the town wants to eradicate the forest and the wolves in it, but this puts the half-wolf and her family in danger. Robyn, the human girl, decides to help Mebh, the werewolf, be safe from human danger. The two are quite the pair. Robyn’s goal proves itself to be particularly challenging, since people of the town are scared and angry and think that they will only feel safe if they kill the wolves. Also, Robyn’s father is a hunter and he is especially hard to convince that wolves must be protected. It’s an emotional story with a touching beginning, middle and end. I do admit that I did not find the ending all that realistic, even for a fantasy story, and it was pretty quick besides, but the rest as they say in French chapeau!

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Fence: Striking Distance – Sarah Rees Brennan

You’ve probably heard of the comic series Fence by C.S. Pacat, the author of one of my all-time favourite series, Captive Prince. This story in novel format is in the same world as Fence, with chapters featuring Seiji, Nicholas, Harvard and Aiden. I myself have not had the chance to read the comics, a situation I have to remedy quite soon, so I cannot tell you how it compares with the comics, but it is publicized as an ‘‘original novel’’ so I’m assuming the content is fairly new as well.

There are three different story arcs that are brought together at some point or another but mainly different characters are dealing with their own various issues. Harvard started dating, which makes Aiden jealous and lonely and ready to suggest something to Harvard that might change their long term friendship together. Seiji and Nicholas are also roommates but not friends, and yet they might need to become cordial with one another if they want to progress, Nicholas in the fencing department and Seiji socially. There is more involved, but basically this is a story about teammates realizing they are stronger when they are working together and slowly breaking down the walls between them.

If this didn’t already have its comic adaptation, I would have probably suggested that, just because the way the author describes scenes at times reminds me of comic book panels. The characters have just enough of a cartoonish vibe to them to belong in a comic. All four main characters actually have exaggerated traits: Aiden is a big flirt, Harvard responsible to a fault, Nicholas innocent and Seiji super serious. Yet, it works. And while these exaggerated traits do seem to keep the story from reaching deeper waters at times, overall I have enjoyed spending time with these four boys and I’m looking forward to reuniting with them in the next book.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

B*WITCH – Paige McKenzie & Nancy Ohlin

To my slight surprise, I enjoyed this. I don’t typically expect to dislike a book, or even hate it, but this title in particular has few readers and few stellar reviews, so I really was not predicting love at first sight or love of any kind. At the same time, I do find myself usually excited about giving under-the-radar stories a try and I am a fan of witches and magic in general, so perhaps I should have had higher hopes for a positive reading experience.

In this world, there are various witches but these witches live among non-witches. This specific society half tolerates them and half wants to see them gone. So while Greta’s coven wouldn’t necessarily get executed if their witchy status was found, Greta and her friends still prefer to keep things on the low. Now more than ever, since an anti-witch president was elected and the girls fear for their lives. Their fear is tragically validated when one of their own is found dead.

The truth is that it’s not particularly well-executed. The writing is amateurish, the characters very immature (with the exception of Ridley I would say) and the world-building vague and not convincing. This means that I understand people who are turned off by this book. It’s okay—maybe even good—to have a specific criteria and look for reads that match that criteria as best as possible. I have criteria as well for ‘‘keep’’ books, those that I know I’ll want to forever preserve on my bookshelves. This is not one of them, but it is an ‘‘escape’’ book regardless. It has energy and the characters’ silliness and cartoonish personalities were entertaining. This may not be one of those stories I’ll be interested in revisiting in a few years, but it has served its brief purpose and I have no regrets.

Thanks Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Horrid – Katrina Leno

She ripped a corner from the page and put it into her mouth.

The house creaked again.

She imagined the paper re-forming in her belly. She imagined the words dissolving off the paper and sinking into her bloodstream. She imagined her body filled with words. Made up of them. Words instead of blood, words instead of organs.

This is a deeply atmospheric story. After Jane’s father dies, she and her mom move away, back into her mom’s childhood home, now empty. New town, new school, new friends and even a new job. Jane’s new life in Maine isn’t so bad, except for the fact that she’s somehow managed to make an enemy. Oh and there’s something strange going on at the North Manor.

Katrina Leno definitely managed to convey the creepiness of the manor to the reader. Even the town itself seems to be an extension of the manor, as though all evil comes from this specific isolated spot. Her writing is also surprisingly elegant. Not the adjective I would typically have used to describe the writing style of a horror/suspense story, but there you have it. Its elegance actually contributes to the atmosphere and I personally had an enjoyable reading experience.

The cast of characters is limited, and no one plays as big a role as June. No one really holds a candle to her, seeing that we really see and feel everything through her. The author doesn’t hide that there are paranormal forces at play at the manor. The word ‘‘ghost’’ even appears in the book’s description, so it will not come as a shock to anyone. There are, however, some surprises and I certainly liked the Agatha Christie reference, which I found smart and fresh. It’s also one of those books that does not aim to please and whose story seems to gradually take a life of its own. I recommend it to all fans of slow suspense and horror books.  

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Shark Summer – Ira Marcks

SHARK SUMMER is a colourful graphic novel about three kids who have goals they wish to accomplish this summer on the Martha’s Vineyard island. Gayle wants to make some money since she and her mom are struggling right now. She then teams up with Elijah, an aspiring filmmaker who wishes to make a movie this summer and enter it in a competition that rewards the winner with 3000$. But they need a story to tell, and so they need Maddie who certainly has one she’d like everyone to be aware of.

As a side ‘‘story’’ or ‘‘event,’’ this summer on Martha’s Vineyard, there is a motion picture movie being produced that involves a shark and a whole lot of gore. The three kids sometimes get inspiration from the set, its props and the production team. But to be honest, while it’s a big deal to the residents of this island, it is not such a major part of the plot. I actually would have liked to see these kids be somewhat involved in the production of this movie, but the author/illustrator did not share my wish. Instead, he sends Gayle, Elijah and Maddie on basically a treasure hunt, the treasure being the memory and physical proof that the Captain, a legend of the island, truly existed.

I am not disappointed with this graphic novel. I definitely think that there were many paths to choose within the storyline and the author chose the one that spoke the most to his vision. As I said, I would have liked the characters to be involved with the movie, as I was personally curious about it. I also found the ending to be a little too cutesy, whereas the rest of the graphic novel is intense—drama, mystery and secrets—so I did not feel like there was a satisfying climax. I did, however, enjoy learning more about the Captain, discovering different aspects of the Martha’s Vineyard island and spending time with Elijah, who was adorable. It’s not a  ‘‘wow’’ book but it’s a decent afternoon read.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

DNF Review: For the Wolf – Hannah Whitten

I’m going to be honest with all of you. I haven’t DNF’d a book in about 8 months. It’s not because I haven’t read any that have rubbed me the wrong way or whose reading experiences were negative. It’s because, with the pandemic and my mental health taking a toll, I’ve felt pretty bad about not forcing myself to find the good in every book I read and to adapt to its pacing and not-so-fun elements.

Before the pandemic, I would DNF a book out of ten, sometimes more, without giving it a second thought. But although I’m struggling with that right now, I do tend to put some books aside, weakly thinking I’ll pick them up another time. All of that to say that me choosing to not finish FOR THE WOLF is a little hard, and even now part of me wishes to find a way to finish it because I actually have nothing against these characters.

Red is the main one, the young woman who is sent to the woods, to the wolf, in hopes of being a good enough sacrifice that the old kings, who are believed to be prisoners of the woods, will be released. It’s a pretty dark tradition and these people don’t necessarily have a reason to believe that the woods will hear their prayers. It’s pretty much blind fate and unnecessary sacrifices, since the woods have made no promises, and besides, there’s something trickier going on.

It’s a perfectly intriguing premise, one that certainly drew me in. The problem with this book lies in the fact that the idea is better than the execution. It is quite unfortunate when that happens, because I can feel the potential of this story in every page, and yet it never truly morphs into the greatness that I know it can be. In other words, I think Red is a strong heroine, and if I was into the writing, I would have been quite excited about her and Wolf’s evolving relationship and somewhat curious about her sister’s plan to do something about Red’s disappearance. But the writing is not very enjoyable. It is thick. There is too much description for its own good. Not even very good one… There is too much emphasis on description of action and the world around, and too little on emotion and connection between people. Little to no lyricism. Because of that, I would not mind being summarized this story/book instead of reading it myself from start to finish, whereas I would NEVER want anyone to summarize and spoil, say, HURRICANE SUMMER which I’m also currently reading. (I was going to say HARRY POTTER or THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, but that would not have been very fair.)

So I regret that I don’t have enough patience? interest? dopamine? inside of me to get through this one. I don’t recommend it, unless you’re a die-hard fantasy lover or you are not turned off by anything I mentioned above.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review!