Bout of Books 17 – Updates

It’s time for another bout of books. I actually did really well last week with catching up on some books (reviews are coming), but hey, Bout of Books is always a fun challenge. Plus, 2016 has been a very good year with lots of interesting titles coming out and I haven’t even read half the new publications I wanted to.

Bout of Books

As I mentioned in my sign-up post, I will be doing things differently this time. Instead of daily updates I will simply update whenever I have time or something to say.  I’m curious to see how that goes but I think it will take some pressure off and give me more time to concentrate on the books. Speaking of books: I said I’d probably read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo but I kind of finished that book yesterday. Here’s some books I might be reading this week:


Number of books read:
Challenges done:

Books read:


Here is the general update area where I will post my thoughts on current reads, challenges, the Twitter chat and anything else to do with Bout of Books. This post will remain a sticky until Bout of Book is over.

Monday

I’m reading Marissa Meyer’s Stars Above and while it’s nothing groundbreaking, this is just a nice world to flee into when reality is too depressing. I am halfway done with this book, but I admit I skipped the stories that I had previously read – some of them were available for free online or in Meyer’s newsletter. If anyone’s interested, I talked about them here.

Tuesday

I was just tired. All day, whenever you asked me, I could have fallen asleep on the spot. So I almost finished Stars Above but there’s still a few pages left. However, I also started another book – An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. So far, it was pretty good – a harsh and cruel beginning to what I hope will turn out to be a great story.

Wednesday

I’m really liking An Ember in the Ashes. Maybe since the Hunger Games, YA authors dare to write about darker stuff. The beginning was pretty grimdark. Stars Above continues to be fun and fluffy, just how I expected. A wedding is about to happen and the characters all behave pretty much exactly as they should. If I manage to finish this book today (and as I’m not as tired as yesterday I’m pretty sure I will) then I have to pick a new book. Aaaaaah, exciting!

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Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Illuminae

This book has been surrounded by enormous hype ever since it came out. Without that hype, I wouldn’t ever have thought of picking it up. The cover, although I like the colors, didn’t really speak to me and the synopsis just doesn’t do the story justice. So thank you internet, once again, for pushing stuff onto me that ends up being just as awesome as you said.

illuminaeILLUMINAE
by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Ebook: 608 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director.

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.
This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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We all know the kind of book that isn’t written in prose but is made up of interview transcriptions, chat messages, letters and so on. Illuminae is one such book, but the format is used very cleverly, not just to create a visually interesting book but also to deliver a whole new level of emotional punch. Kady and Ezra had just broken up and now their planet has been invaded, they are refugees on big space ships and they both have bigger things to think about than their petty relationship fight.

So, fine. Relationship drama is sent backstage in favor of the more urgent threat of the BeiTech ship pursuing them (most likely to kill any survivors from the attack on their home planet, Kerenza), the space ships need to deal with all the additional people they are now carrying – you know, feeding them, treating wounds, giving them a sleeping place, and so on. Families have been torn apart, some dead, others separated with one family member on each of the ships. In addition, a disease is breaking out that nobody seems to be able to cure just yet. So yeah… things are looking pretty damn miserable.

The author-duo throws their protagonists into a horrible, horrible situation and then makes them deal with it beautifully. Kady, a genius with a computer, tries to figure things out by hacking into the system, looking for classified information, anything to make sense of what happened. Ezra, in the meantime, becomes a pilot and joins the fight in his own – much more immediately dangerous – way. And despite this, these two still think about each other and that stupid fight they had. Things just gained a new perspective and they realise that they love each other, never mind the fight.

Through e-mails, chat messages, surveillance footage (described in prose), and snippets of the Alexander‘s AI (the Alexander is one of the three ships carrying our refugees), a story unfolds that is both thrilling and exciting as well as heartbreaking. Actually, mostly heartbreaking. At some points, it was the things that weren’t said that kick you in the face the most. Both Kady and Ezra are suffering from PTSD, both have lost family members – or at the very least they have no idea if their families are still alive and whether they got infected with the Phobos virus. And the only way they can hold on to each other and to life itself, is by talking across two space ships, grasping at the last bit of the life they had.

Plot-wise, I am going to shut up here. There is a lot of potential for spoilers and I am steering right clear of that. But I can say that Illuminae started out incredibly exciting, a real page-turner, then hits a slumpy bit where things don’t seem to move forward, where conversations seem to repeat, where I was waiting for something new to happen. And then it does. And, boy, it doesn’t let off until the very end. There are some plot twists in store that actually made me cry, there are several crowning moments of awesome, and there were times when I was just so proud of Kady – as if she were my friend or sister or something – where I marvelled at her bravery. The same goes for Ezra but Kady was just my heroine. You know, the kind of character that makes you wish you were as brave as her.

Apart from epic space battles and a virus gone crazy, Illuminae examines several difficult themes. The way Kady and Ezra deal with their PTSD, how creating artifiction intelligence may or may not be a smart thing to do, how people with power have to make impossible decisions for the greater good. These characters, even the minor ones, are faced with terrible, impossible situations and in most cases there is no right or wrong answer. There is only death or more death. Morality, gut feeling, none of those help you when you are responsible for thousands of lives and on the run. It’s a hard book to read and I am all the more impressed that it got to me so much with the chosen style. Because we rarely – if ever – read about people’s feelings or thoughts, all of these have to be conveyed through other means. And pulling that off is an amazing feat!

Another great thing was that I was never sure how the book would end. It had that anything-goes-feeling to it, where it could end in complete disaster, or with a bittersweet half-victory, or even with everything turning out fine-ish (I mean, lots of people die way before the end, so “fine” is a relative term here). The ending chosen by the authors was better than I could have imagined. I don’t mean better as in “all was well” but better as in it makes a better story. I’m also glad I waited this long to read the book because now I won’t have to wait so long for the sequel. And believe me, after that ending, I am more than excited.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

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Second opinions:

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Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven King

This is it, guys. I know all of you have probably read this book ages ago when it came out but I’ve been drawing it out. Ending a book series is always hard, but when the ending seems to be pre-determined from the very first chapter of the first book, that makes it even harder. But, as I can’t keep away from Ronan and the other Raven boys, I did eventually read the book. I may not have loved it as much as The Dream Thieves (do I ever love anything as much as The Dream Thieves?), but it is a worthy and beautiful ending to a truly amazing YA series.

raven king

THE RAVEN KING
by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press, 2016
Hardcover: 439 pages
Series: The Raven Cycle #4
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.

Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.
For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.
Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

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Don’t be me. Don’t try and draw out this book just to make it last longer. First, you will fail anyway because this book refuses to be put down, and secondly, it takes away from the emotional punch when you do force yourself to put it away. Because guys, this is it. This is the end. And it is an amazing, perfect ending to a brilliant series that defies all the tropes of YA books. As a long-time YA avoider, I can only say that – like probably any genre or type of literature – there are bad books and there are good books. And then there are gems like this series. Don’t condemn an entire section of the book store just because you had one (or ten) bad experience.

Just like us, the characters in this story know that the end is coming. At least the end of something, of their search for Glendower, their quest, their big destiny. Blue and Gansey continue to be a lovely couple, despite their difficulties (no kissing, remember), but it was – again – Ronan who got all my attention. I’ve been in love with this guy since day one, but in The Dream Thieves, seeds for a romance started growing that I’d hoped so very much would work out. Having just read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I know that not all authors are willing to go with their characters’ “organic” love interest (if you’ve read the play too, you’ll know what I mean), but Maggie Stiefvater is amazing and just lets her characters be who they are. Whew, writing this without spoilers is becoming more and more of a tightrope act and if you haven’t read this series at all, I won’t make much sense. Also if you haven’t read this series, what are you doing here? Go read The Raven Boys!

Having established a larger cast throughout the previous three books, I found that some characters were left behind a little or didn’t get as much attention as I’d have liked. The inclusion of the fairly newish Henry Cheng felt forced, although I did end up liking him a lot. I don’t really see why, if he was essential, he couldn’t be introduced earlier or at least more naturally. It almost read like he was added as an afterthought. So I’m not quite sure about him, especially as his presence takes precious page time away from Noah, or Ronan’s brothers, for example. There were some great moments involving Noah and Blue in the previous books, and that was completely missing here.

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But let’s get down to what everybody’s been waiting for. The search for Glendower and – more importantly – Blue’s prophecy. No spoilers, I promise! Both plot strings reach a conclusion. I found both pretty satisfying, if you can say that when your heart has been ripped out a billion times along the way. But yes, of all the endings I could have imagined, Stiefvater deliverd one that both surprised me and didn’t make me mad. I honestly didn’t think that was possible.

However, with the subplots adding up throughout the series, something got lost as well. I believe The Raven Cycle reached its peak with The Dream Thieves, which had just enough going on to be fast paced but also put the right amount of focus on character development and the complex relationships between this group of young people. In The Raven King, with several threats raining down on these guys, and many other viewpoint characters who get their own chapters, there simply wasn’t much time for the quiet, more contemplative moments. Those are my favorite parts so I was sad to miss them. I would have gladly dropped some side characters – or at least chapters focusing on them – in favor of more Raven Boys and Blue.

Now I’m done bitching about this book not being exactly what I wanted it to be, let me repeat some things I’ve said about the other books in the series. Maggie Stiefvater is a wizard. She expresses more in one sentence than other writers do in entire books; her word choice is delicate and sometimes you only understand just how clever she is many chapters later. I can’t wait to re-read the Raven Cycle because I’m convinced this is the kind of story where re-reads pay off and let you see a whole different side of things.

The development these characters went through is honest and raw. They have each grown into themselves, they have sacrificed and learned, they have learned to deal with life when it doesn’t go their way (and when it does), and most of all they have all found each other. This chosen family with its many, many kinds and facets of love makes the Raven Cycle one of the best young adult book series I have ever read.

All things considered, I enjoyed The Raven King and how it toyed with my emotions. But most of all I liked it because it’s the final chapter in a bigger story that I ADORE. After all, it introduced me to the world of Aglionby sweaters and psychics, big flashy cars and sinister prophecies, ravens and trees that speak Latin. This series was my first foray into Maggie Stiefvater’s world but, boy, it won’t be my last. I’ll gladly let her break my heart over and over again.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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The Raven Cycle:
  1. The Raven Boys
  2. The Dream Thieves
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  4. The Raven King

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Bout of Books 17 – Sign-Up and Goals

It’s been very quiet around here. I’ve been reading some big books, and then some devastating books, and then some audiobooks – all of which were (and still are) hard to review. But it’s time to get back on track. My Goodreads page tells me I’m way behind on the reading challenge and my spreadsheet makes me do the shame-walk from Game of Thrones every time I check up on my stats. So it’s time for Bout of Books again.

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

I am in again, ever the optimist, hoping to catch up both on reading books as well as reviewing some. As always, I look forward to the twitter chats and the challenges and being jealous of how fast some of you people read.🙂


Goals

I’ll be a bit more modest with my goals this time. The way I’ve lagged behind on… pretty much everything, I’ll be glad to read one book and write a couple of reviews. I’ll also change my update posts’ format, because writing those up every day takes away precious reading time, and sometimes I just don’t have anything to say.

  • finish current read
  • read one more book
  • review both
  • if there’s time, throw in a comic book

That’s it. These are my goals for the read-a-thon. I won’t specify a page number or pick the books I’m going to read ahead of time. I do have a feeling that Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone will be one of the books I read because I’ve been eyeing it for a while now and I’m really in the mood. But we’ll see how things go. Wish me luck and click the link above if you want to sign up also. It’s a lot of fun, I promise.

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Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings

This is a seriously big book! I mean really, really big. It’s a good 1000 pages long, it features one of the best character arcs I could have wanted and begins a huge, epic tale of war, finding truth, rediscovering history and, you guessed it because it’s Sanderson, intricate magic systems. While I started reading the hardback book, which also has beautiful illustrations by the way, I did end up buying the Graphic Audio audiobooks again. More on that after my thoughts about the story itself (but spoiler: it was totally worth it again).

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THE WAY OF KINGS
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2010
Hardcover: 1007 pages
Graphic Audio: 37 hours
Series: The Stormlight Archive #1
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast.

Speak again the ancient oaths,
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

and return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.
Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.
In one such war on ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by ancient text The Way of Kings, troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.
Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

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This is a very difficult book to review because there is so much going on, although the time covered in-world isn’t even that great. Since we’re following three protagonists, I’ll break this up into three parts, starting with my favorite. Because I can.

Kaladin Stormblessed stole my readerly heart immediately. He is a slave who was once a soldier and he’s basically given up on life. We meet him as he is transported and then sold to a Highlord waging war on the Shattered Planes. The Shattered Plains by themselves made me go Woah! because it is such a cool world-building idea. The illustrations in the novel show a place that looks like wet earth left to dry in the scorching sun broke into lots of little pieces, almost a mosaic of ground with chasms between the single plateaus. It’s not just a piece of world-building for easthetics’ sake, but the premise for Kaladin’s entire existence in this book.

Twenty years ago, the king was murdered. An assassination ordered by the Parshendi, a race of human-like people who had just made peace shortly before apparently changing their minds and killing the king. So now there’s a sort of revenge-war going on that has warped into something quite different. With the use of bridges, the High Lords cover the Shattered Plains to meet the Parshendi and fight them. But on some of the plateaus, there are gemhearts – a sought-after type of riches and glory and whatnot. It’s way too much to explain here (which is why Sanderson wrote 1000 pages, duh). The important thing is that Kaladin becomes a bridgeman, a person who – along with other slaves – carries a bridge at a run, puts it down for the army to cross, crosses himself, then picks it up again and repeats until the assult is done. And then do the whole thing on the way back again. It’s absolutely gruelling but also has some of the best descriptions in the book. The utter hopelessness that takes hold of Kaladin permeated his early chapters and gave the novel some serious atmosphere.

Through the course of the book, Kaladin changes, grows, learns things about himself and faces his past. That’s all I’m willing to say, spoiler-free, but his character development was simply stunning and I looked forward to his chapters the most. He also becomes friends with a spren, a sort of Sanderson-esque Tinker Bell. She’s awesome!

Next there is Dalinar, a High Lord on the Shattered Plains, showing the war from another perspective. He’s got his own problems, apart from running assaults and fighting a war he no longer believes in. During Highstorms (oh boy, another bit of world-building too intricate to describe. It’s just a really big storm, you guys) he is haunted by visions. It’s the Stormlight Archive version of VR where Dalinar sees stuff and can interact with the people he is shown. Sometimes he “wakes up” in somebody else’s body. I won’t say I understood all of it – which was definitely on purpose on the author’s part – but it was damn thrilling to read. I liked Dalinar a lot, not just because he is basically a lonely Stark in a Lannister world, but also because his story line creates such a nice balance to Kaladin’s. Where we follow the lowliest of slaves, doing the hardest and most dangerous job during the war, Dalinar shows what it’s like on top of the food chain, being the man who commands slaves to run into their death. Except, Dalinar being a Stark, he doesn’t waste bridge crews the way his rival Sadeas does.

Dalinar’s story served pretty much to make sense of the societal norms. We learn things like reading and writing being a woman’s job. Men need glorified secretaries if they want stuff written down or written stuff read to them. I found this incredibly silly, but then again, so is the idea that people are “sorted” into castes based on their eye color. Lighteyes are aristocracy, darkeyes are on the bottom. I suppose it’s not much sillier than dividing people by their skin color, but picking eye color made it all the more obvious how arbitrary and stupid it really is – picking people’s station by physical differences. Dalinar’s story is the one that delivers the most exciting battle scenes and offers a seriously AMAZEBALLS epic ending. All balanced with a nice dose of world-building. Well done indeed.

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My least favorite story, I’m sad to say, is Shallan’s. The only female protagonist got the worst deal, if you ask me. She is far from the Shattered Plains, and she has a plan of her own. Shallan arrives in Kharbranth, a city hewn into stone, to become the apprentice of the notorious Jasnah Kholin (who’s related to the current king, who is thus related to the guys fighting on the Shattered Plains). Jasnah is a scholar, so much time in Shallan’s storyline is spent with books, in dusty rooms, establishing more of the world, this time from a woman’s perspective. Another silly bit of world-building is that women (at least aristocracy) have a “safe pouch” in which they keep one of their hands hidden. Showing that hand is equivalent to me letting a boob hang out in public, so one hand is always sewn inside whichever garment Shallan wears. I hope there’ll be some cool explanation for that because it seems incredibly stupid and hindering in daily life. Seriously, I need to use both hands all the time.

Shallan’s story takes a LONG time to pick up pace, but when it does, it is both weird and creepy, and wonderfully exciting. She is the one who discovers this book’s big plot twist at the end, and it wasn’t even a cheap one. I really liked how it changed my world view (for the world in the novel, that is) completely and puts things into a different light. Shallan’s story isn’t bad, but it felt to me like much less care was put into it compared to Kaladin. I fully believe Kaladin was Brandon Sanderson’s favorite bit to write and that shows.

Lastly, there is another character who shows up much less frequently, but who is another constant. Szeth the assassin probably has the worst job you can imagine. He’s an assassin who has to kill whomever he is commanded by his current master. The only person he can’t kill is himself. And he yearns to die! We know very little about Szeth, except that he’s got some seriously cool tricks up his sleeve but, boy, do I want to know more about him.

All things considered – also the ones I didn’t even mention here, like Shardblades and spren, stormlight-infused gems and Parshendi armour – this is one hell of a book. It has epic battles, great character development, the right amoung of flashbacks, plus interludes following completely different characters in different places. As a series starter, the book did a lot of groundwork for the world-building, and there is no shortage of that, but it kept a nice balance between plot and exposition. We are thrown just enough hints to get us intrigued but Sanderson skilfully leaves many questions open for later.   It is a long book, yes, and it’s only the first part of ten (!) but I honestly can’t wait to read on and find out more about this world, follow these characters and see how everything is connected.

About the Graphic Audio edition:

Graphic Audio is usually unabridged recordings with a full cast, great sound effects and background music. This time, I noticed that some bits were abridged, although nothing important. It’s clear that “Kaladin said” and “Shallan thought” were left out, because we hear their actual voices saying or thinking stuff (thoughts have a sort of echo to distinguish from regular speech), but sometimes when I read along in the book, I noticed that a sentence or two of description was dropped. Again, nothing vital, and I can’t fault Graphic Audio the cuts in such a long story. I did follow along in the book quite a bit, if only for the illustrations and chapter headings. I also recognised some actor voices from the Mistborn series, and I must commend them on the excellent job they did – although all I have to go on is their voice, they truly sounded like completely different people.
Now I’m facing the difficult decision of whether to wait for the next book to come out as a Graphic Audio or to start reading my hardback copy. We’ll see how long I can wait…

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Seriously excellent!

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Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home

This is it. It’s over. No more Fairyland stories with September. I took a good long while reading this book because if there’s ever a time to draw out a story, this is it. The Fairyland series has grown so dear to me that it was incredibly hard letting go, even though Cat Valente ended her series in the most perfect way imaginable.

fairyland 5

THE GIRL WHO RACED FAIRYLAND ALL THE WAY HOME
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2016
Ebook: 308 pages
Series: Fairyland #5
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, a country called Fairyland grew very tired indeed of people squabbling over it, of polishing up the glitter on the same magic and wonder and dashing dangers each morning, of drifting along prettily through the same Perverse and Perilous Sea, of playing with the same old tyrants and brave heroes every century.

Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…

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This is the last book in the Fairyland series and with it, the series comes full circle in many ways. September and her friends must participate in the Cantankerous Derby, a race for the crown of Fairyland, but of course, this being Fairyland, it’s not just any old race. Because what they have to find is the heart of Fairyland and you all can imagine that it’s not an actual heart lying around somewhere under the Perverse and Perilous Sea or deep in the Worsted Woods. But with Ell, Blunderbuss, and Saturday, September follows every lead she has to win a crown she’s not even sure she wants.

I felt sad the entire time I read this book, even when Blunderbuss made me smile and Saturday filled my heart with joy. Nailing the ending of a series is always difficult, and with this one especially I was wondering how it could possibly end without tears. But Cat Valente has proven herself to be a trustworthy author who knows exactly what she’s doing. After a wonderful adventure, with a particularly delightfull chapter under the sea (I want a Bathysphere, that’s all I’m saying), a trip to the land of Wom, and several encounters with bloodthirsty tyrants, we do get an ending and it is that rare sort of perfection that I wouldn’t have believed to be possible.

In many ways, it reminded me of Peter Pan, where Wendy’s story in Neverland may come to an end but that doesn’t mean that Neverland’s story is over. As the beginning of this book tells you, Fairyland has become a character of her own and she will live on, even after all the changelings and heartless children are done with their adventuring.

[…]a door is a door, and a door is always an adventure

I could tell you about all the wonderful new places and creatures we meet in The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home, but that would take out part of the fun. We meet old friends (and foes, and in-betweens), we see lots of new faces, we discover new places in Fairyland and revisit some well-known ones.  The last Fairyland novel still keeps up that sense of wonder that’s made it so beautiful in the four previous books.

But what really makes this instalment shine is how clever everything falls into place. There are hints about the ending strewn all over the place but I, at least, didn’t make sense of them until I had read the ending. My biggest worry was always how September could possible unite the two worlds living in her heart – her family are waiting for her back in Omaha, after all, and September loves her parents. But come on, it’s Fairyland. Who would ever want to leave? It’s a big conundrum and I’m glad that Cat Valente solved it because so many others have failed before her.

fairyland 3 aroostook

Aroostook is back!

I always hated stories where kids get swept into a magical world and the only thing they can think to do is find a way back home. Like, really? Is home always such a perfect place? Dorothy left Oz, Wendy left Neverland, and yes, I understand that these are all metaphors for growing up, leaving childhood behind you – that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Valente understands this and she also sends a powerful message with her book series. You don’t have to leave wonder and fun and silliness to be a grown up. Yes, there are difficult decisions to be made, and yes, the grown-up world can be an adventure as well. But there can still be stuffed combat wombats, and marids, and wyveraries. This is really all I can say without spoiling the ending.

There is one scene (there always is one, isn’t there) that was so beautiful and thrown in so seemingly carelessy, that made me well up again. September and Saturday’s relationship has been sort of fortold from the very beginning. With marids living all times at once, September has seen several Saturdays, at varying ages, throughout the series. But this Saturday, her Saturday still delivers the gut-punchiest speech of the book, and part of it only makes sense after you’ve finished reading all of it. Maybe I’m just a crybaby when it comes to books – yes, okay.. I definitely am – but man, that bit tugged at my heartstrings. I want to jump up and down and giggle and cry all at the same time.

The one thing I do have to say, however, is that the book felt a bit rushed at times. With the introduction of a TON of new characters, things get hectic. September’s journey through Fairyland also feels a bit too fast at times. While a nice number of pages lets us marvel at the underwater world that Saturday knows so well, other places and people barely get a full chapter. But it’s a minor quibble considering Valente has written such an amazing book series that can appeal to people of all ages. I have endless love for Fairyland… there’s a reason these books live next to Harry Potter on my shelves.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Most excellent!

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Enjoyed That Have Under 2000 Ratings On Goodreads

This was much easier than expected. The Broke and The Bookish picked an excellent topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. I love finding underrated and not-so-well-known books and I love telling others about all the underrated books that I know. Now, I’m not sure I interpreted the Goodreads ratings correctly because I only checked the number of ratings on whichever edition of a book I own (or whichever came up first). I’m sure if one adds the ratings on all available editions, all these books have more ratings but, honestly, I don’t know if Goodreads gives you that number and I was way too lazy to add the ratings up myself.

So I’ve included the number of ratings (of my edition) in brackets next to each title to show you just how unloved these gems are. I also linked to my review if I wrote one. Seriously though, pick these books up, they’re all excellent!

My Top Ten Books With Less than 2000 Ratings on Goodreads

Angela Slatter – Sourdough (82 ratings) and The Bitterwood Bible (73 ratings)

Oh my god, you don’t know what you’re missing! Angela Slatter is an Australian author who weaves the most beautiful fairytale-esque stories you can imagine. Her two short story collections are much more than just some short stories put together. They actually tell a much larger story. In Sourdough every story gives you a new puzzle piece about the history of a place and its inhabitants. The Bitterwood Bible spins this further (although it is a sort of prequel), with recurring characters, intertwining stories, and lots of fantastic female characters. I love these books to bits and urge you to get yourself an ebook copy – they’re affordable and available worldwide. Yay for the internet!

Régis Loisel – Peter Pan(434 ratings)

I suppose French comics aren’t read very widely and my own interest in them comes from having lived in France for a while. But if you like Peter Pan and comics, this is for you. Loisel gives J. M. Barrie’s story a new spin and although there are many recognisable characters and plot points, this is not the children’s story you remember. It is brutal, devastating, not for kids, and absolutely heartbreaking. The six-part series is completed so you won’t have to wait for sequels either. So pick it up.

Theodora Goss – In the Forest of Forgetting (615 ratings)

Another short story collection that deserves to be better known. Theodora Goss has a distinctly lyrical, fairy tale style that makes the most mundane things seem magical. The titular story is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read, and some of her other tales stuck in my mind, refusing to let go.

Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira (Leo) – Aldebaran (161 ratings)

Another comic book series, yippie! Aldebaran is a science fiction comic and I’ll be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of the artwork. But the story, now that’s quite brilliant. A village on Aldebaran is devastated by some sort of natural (or not so natural?) catastrophe, so the survivors set out to find what happened and to make a new home for themselves. They discover way more than they thought was possible. This is a story that spans years and many miles, and while I may not love the art, Leo came up with some incredible flora and fauna for his planet. It is well worth checking out.

Sarah Pinborough – Poison (1869 ratings), Charm (1150 ratings), and Beauty (1071 ratings)

Anyone who loves fairy tales and retellings should pick up these three short novels. The titles tell you which fairy tale they’re about (Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty respectively), but these are twisted, more adult versions of the stories you know. They are connected and you only get the full ending if you read them all, but you can also pick up each book on its own and enjoy it. With covers like these, I honestly don’t understand why they don’t have more ratings.

Ysabeau S. Wilce – Flora’s Dare (1217 ratings), Flora’s Fury (685 ratings), and Prophecies, Libels & Dreams (97 ratings)

The first book in the adorable, original, quirky Flora series has more than 2000 ratings on Goodreads but for some reason (I think I know which) people don’t continue reading. The first book is very childish, although it already shows the greatness that is Ysabeau Wilce and her imagination. House ghosts, magical boots, an Aztec-inspired Empire, and in the middle of it a young girl who just doesn’t want to join the military like her parents, but wants to be a ranger. I adore Flora and Flora’s Dare is by far the best book in the series. If you’re unconvinced, try the short story collection set in the same world – algthough featuring other characters. I am still hoping for sequels.

Catherynne M. Valente – Speak Easy (258 ratings), Radiance (1438 ratings), and Six-Gun Snow White (1818 ratings)

Okay, so Radiance is still pretty new and has been getting nothing but rave reviews. I know reading a Valente book can be a big leap. Her language is demanding and beautiful, her subject matter varies from whimsical fairy tales to deeply difficult themes. In Speak Easy, a novella, it is the language that makes the book so great. That is, until the ending. That ending destroyed me.
Six-Gun Snow White was hard to read simply because the main character is put into such a horrible position and her stepmother mistreats her, all under the guise of love and care. But it is also an amazing twist on the Snow White story, seven “dwarves” and all.
Radiance is perfect. That’s all I have to say.

Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber (1274 ratings)

Another book that gains a part of its appeal through language. Written in patois, it isn’t easy to get into if (like me) you were unfamiliar with that way of speaking. But I love discovering new languages and this felt like such an organic way to speak English, it took me a couple of chapters and I was all in. The story itself is breathtaking, a mix of science fiction and coming of age story with Caribbean influences. It was the first Hopkinson book I read and I can promise you that although this is my favorite so far, she is a fantastic writer to follow.

Karin Lowachee – Warchild (1459 ratings)

Any book that can pull off even a single chapter written in second person singular deserves a chance. In the best cases, you don’t even notice that the book is written in second person. This was the case in Warchild – and don’t worry, only the beginning is written about “you” – and it made the life-defining things that happen to the protagonist all the more immediate and touching. The title keeps its promise and Lowachee does tell the story of a Warchild. Someone born in war, swept up in it, fighting in it, and suffering everything that comes with it. This was a deeply moving, closely drawn portrait of a young boy growing up. It also has cool aliens and space battles.

Genevieve Valentine – Mechanique (2002 ratings)

Ok, so I’m cheating a bit because this book actually has ever so slightly more than 2000 ratings, BUT it doesn’t have nearly as many ratings as it deserves. I think Genevieve Valentine’s genius is slowly becoming more appreciated but I suppose few people go back to her novel Méchanique, a book that broke my heart so many ways I stopped counting. The premise is the story of a strange travelling circus – so far, so ordinary. Except everyone in this circus seems to have secrets, carry emotional baggage, or fight silent feuds against other circus members. Finding these secrets in a steampunky world was just amazing. Plus, Valentine throws in sentences that say so much more than an entire other novel would. She knows excatly what she’s doing with language and for that Méchanique is still my favorite of her stories.


Also, yes, these are a bit more than ten books, but I’ve grouped them all nicely for you so I’m sure you’ll let it slide. Plus, that just means more great reading for you guys. Now I can’t wait to discover all the books I’ve never heard about that others are recommending. There’s still room on my wishlist, after all.

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Brandon Sanderson – The Alloy of Law

I have made no secret of my love for Graphic Audio and the way they do audiobooks. With a full cast of actors, fantastic narrators, sound effects and music, it’s my favorite way of listening to a story. It took me a while to get over Vin’s story in the Mistborn universe but now I am ready to read the next chapter set in that big sprawling world of allomancers.

alloy of lawTHE ALLOY OF LAW
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2011
Ebook: 332 pages
Audiobook: ~ 8 hours
Series: Misborn #4, Alloy Era #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Wax crept along the ragged fence in a crouch, his boots scraping the dry ground.

Centuries after the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity – railroads, electric street lights, and skyscrapers. Waxillium Ladrian can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After 20 years in the dusty Roughs, in the city of Elendel, the new head of a noble house may need to keep his guns.

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It was hard for me to accept a story set 300 years after Vin’s tale and my mind buckled a bit when Waxilium Ladrian used his allomancy in combination with guns. But I quickly fell into this new version of the Mistborn universe and I really enjoy the different vibe of this story. Other than the epic scope and Dramatic And Important Tale of the first Mistborn trilogy, this is a much lighter, more fun read that makes the pages fly even faster.

Wax is a twinborn, somebody who can use both allomancy and feruchemy, and he has just returned from the Roughs to the city of Elendel to take over his dead uncle’s estate and keep the family name going. This premise already set off an explosion in my head because of course everything hails back to Vin and Elend’s story and there are tons and tons of references to the first Mistborn trilogy. Some are in plain sight, such as city names, others are woven into the world building. A religion may be based on real events (but twisted, of course, as history handed down the story and invariably changed it in the retelling), or swear words based on actual people. Sanderson is a smart man so he doesn’t give a lot away but just enough to get me to bite and break my brain trying to fit everything into its place. I really enjoy that sort of thing.

alloy of law GABut of course, a new era of allomancers means new characters and this was what worried me. Unnecessarily, as it turns out. Wax and Wayne, the cheeky but adorable friend, took my heart by storm. Marasi turned out to be great although she blushed a bit too much for my taste. Although she doesn’t appear for long in this book, I also really liked the gun specialist Ranette. Another female character, Steris, was a completely over the top heartless, practical, stoic woman whom we’re not supposed to like but who showed some real emotion towards the end. I was actually impressed and hope that she gets to develop more in future books.

The plot is fast-paced and fun. Wax, Wayne, and Marasi are investigating the Vanishers, a group of criminals who rob train cars, but so quickly nobody understands how they do it. They also kidnap women and nobody knows why. Being a former lawkeeper, Wax can’t help but stick his nose into the case and he and Wayne banter their way to the truth. Dialogue, especially funny dialogue, is something that Sanderson didn’t have down all that well, at least to my taste. But Wayne – who is definitely the heart of all that’s fun in this book – bantered his way merrily through the entire book. He cleverly cons people using his allomantic powers and it’s just pure fun to watch.

Speaking of allomantic powers – allomancy leveled up! I was surprised at how many things stuck in my brain from the first Mistborn trilogy, like which metal gave you which power and so on. Now there’s a complete new set of rules to learn, but unlike Kelsier’s lessons to Vin, there are no chapters dedicated to explaining allomancy and feruchemy, or how they can be combined. It’s all kind of clear from context, at least the abilities of the protagonists and the villain. I especially love that there is now a power that can manipulate time. This opens so many doors to cool places I can’t wait to continue reading this series.

The writing was Sanderson lite. At less than 400 pages, this is a short book, but it is right just the way it is. The lower page count doesn’t give Sanderson enough time to dive into his new world endlessly but gives us just a big enough taste to keep us wanting more. The plot happens quickly but doesn’t feel rushed, the characters get enough time for development to make them sympathetic but there’s room for more. And there was even enough time for a few surprises about which I can say nothing because spoilers in Sanderson books are really, really huge things.

All things considered, this was a Hollywood movie in book form with guns and action, witty banter, great new superpowers and a well-known setting in new clothing. I am hooked!

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

About the Graphic Audio version:

Graphic Audio did a perfect job of keeping the Mistborn universe alive. They use the Mistborn theme to set the tone, the narrator is the same one who told us Vin’s story, but the character actors are (mostly) new. Of course, certain actors from the first trilogy play new characters here, but they changed their voices and accents in such a way that I didn’t find it distracting at all. When allomancy is used, the same tingling sound effect is used that I heard so many times when Vin was learning how to push and pull metals. It’s the perfect combination of old and new.

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases For The Second Half Of The Year

It’s another great topic from The Broke and the Bookish. Their weekly Top Ten Tuesday is something I’d love to participate in all the time but sometimes I find it difficult coming up with 10 books (or any) for their chosen topic. Not this week though. Oh no, I have plenty of books on my wishlist, most of which haven’t come out yet. So here they are, my

Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2016

N. Kobelisk gate. Jemisin – The Obelisk Gate

OH MY GOD GIVE IT TO ME NOW!!! I read The Fifth Season pretty late, just in time to nominated it for a Hugo Award but long past most other book bloggers out there. But this book, man. It has blown me away. Everything about it is perfect. There are twists, there are the most amazing characters and the coolest, most original world-building I’ve encountered in a long, long time. Actually, I can’t think of anything quite as refreshing that didn’t also come from Jemisin’s brain. Give me the sequel already, I can’t wait to find out what happens next to these beloved characters.

Publication date: August 2016


Sarah Porter – Vassa in the Nightvassa in the night

An author I’ve never heard of before so not something I’d naturally freak out about. But a book description that starts with “In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn…” and then promises magic and Baba Yaga (Babs Yagg) is just begging to sit on my shelf. I love retellings and I love Russian fairy tales. So give me Vasilisa, give me Baba Yaga, and let’s not forget that beautiful cover which is partly responsible for my excitement.

Publication date: September 2016


Becky Chaclosed and common orbitmbers – A Closed and Commom Orbit

Another sequel, one to the amazing, make-you-warm-and-fuzzy-inside The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It introduced the crew of the Wayfarer, a super cool space ship with even cooler people living on it. I’m pretty much okay with whatever Becky Chambers has in store for Lovey and Pepper, who I’ve come to love in the first book and who will be the protagonists in this new story. Chambers writes with heart and great care for her characters and I can’t wait to wrap this book around my brain like a cozy blanket on a cold day.

Publication date: October 2016


Scott Lynch – The Thorn of Emberlainthorn of emberlain

A new Locke Lamora!!!! It was a long wait between the second and third book in this amazeballs series and while The Republic of Thieves disappointed in the romance department, it was full of witty banter, clever cons, and a few twists that turned my world upside down. I desperately want to know more about the things uncovered in the last book and I always want more Locke Lamora.

Publication date: September 2016


last days of new parisChina Miéville – The Last Days of New Paris

A new China Miéville book is always reason for excitement. I’m really bad at catching up on his backlist because his books are just so damn big. But I have yet to read anything bad by Miéville so I’m going to get this book as soon as it’s out. I mean, Paris in 1941, Surrealist fighters, streets that are “stalked by living images and texts” – how could I resist? This sounds like dream and nightmare fuel alike and since it’s written by China Miéville I think I’m in for a treat again.

Publication date: August 2016


Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 6saga volume 6

Saga has been continuously excellent with the last collected volume one of the stand-out great ones. I pre-order these things as soon as they’re listed on Amazon and then forget about them until they show up surprisingly in the mail. But that doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to every new instalment in my favorite comic book series. What started as an interplanetary Romeo and Juliet has grown so much bigger, with a cast that I absolutely love, heroes and villains alike, and a world that offers so much more room for exploration. I also appreciate that the dream team Vaughan and Staples have stuck together to work on this. Let’s never stop, okay?

Publication date: July 2016 (so soon, yay!)


accident of starsFoz Meadows – An Accident of Stars

I have loved Foz Meadows’ non-fiction writing for a while so, naturally, I’m curious to see her fiction. With a cover like that – what are these people riding and where can I get one for myself? – and a portal fantasy description, I am giddy with excitement. Add to that four women protagonists, and I don’t even mind the otherwise fairly standard-sounding plot of world-saving. For some reason, I don’t think Meadows will go the tropey route of girl saves world so I want to book just to find out how she’ll subvert the tropes and stereotypes of the genre.

Publication date: August 2016


Angela Slatter – A Feast of Sorrowsfeast of sorrows

A new thing by Angela Slatter!!! *heavy breathing* If you missed it, Angela Slatter is my newest author crush. I shall devour all that she writes forever and ever. This is a collection of short fiction, so there will probably be some tales I’ve read already. But it also includes two brand-new novellas so I cannot miss it. Plus, Slatter got another great cover that immediately makes you think Snow White… a very dark version of Snow White. Which is just how I like it.

Publication date: October 2016


nevernight1Jay Kristoff – Nevernight

I’m on the fence. I had mixed feelings about Jay Kristoff’s debut novel, but I’ve been super excited about the acclaimed Illuminae (which he co-wrote with Amie Kauffman). Now this new book sounds amazing and has a wonderful cover to boot. There are so many buzzwords in the description: a “city built from the bones of a dead god“, “a land where three suns almost never set“, assassin schools, a protagonist who has to beat her opponents in “contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts“… aaaargh okay I give up, I want this book!

Publication date: August 2016


sex criminals volume threeMatt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky – Sex Criminals Volume 3

Another comic book series that I just pre-order without even reading the description anymore. The first volume was just wonderful in its depiction of a relationship between two extraordinary humans who thought they were all alone in the world. And then Matt Fraction started really playing around in this world he’s created. There are many more secrets to discover, the characters still have a lot of growth in them and there is always room for more humor (glowing genitalia aside).

Publication date: June 2016 (next week!)


So these are my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2016, although I’m sure there are more to come. What books are you looking forward to?

Matt Wallace – Pride’s Spell

Trust Sin du Jour to get me out of a reading slump. What with so many great and long-expected books coming out recently (the last Fairyland book, the last Raven Cycle book, tons of fantastic new stuff…) I had a bit of an overload or books and didn’t feel in the mood for anything. Except Matt Wallace’s novella, the third in his series about a catering service for the supernatural.

prides spell

PRIDE’S SPELL
by Matt Wallace

Published by: Tor.com, 21st June 2016
Ebook: 240 pages
Series: Sin du Jour #3
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: The lights burn brighter than any layperson can imagine, but Bronko is used to sweating in kitchens far hotter than this studio.

The team at Sin du Jour—New York’s exclusive caterers-to-the-damned—find themselves up against their toughest challenge, yet when they’re lured out west to prepare a feast in the most forbidding place in America: Hollywood, where false gods rule supreme.
Meanwhile, back at home, Ritter is attacked at home by the strangest hit-squad the world has ever seen, and the team must pull out all the stops if they’re to prevent themselves from being offered up as the main course in a feast they normally provide
Starring: The Prince of Lies, Lena Tarr, Darren Vargas. With Byron Luck. Introducing: the Easter Bunny.

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We all know something sinister is going on in Hollywood, right? I mean, why do the most vapid movies get three sequels when the best TV shows are cancelled after only one season (Firefly, I will never forget you!)? Matt Wallace knows what’s up in his latest Sin du Jour story which takes the crew to Los Angeles for a big catering event with surprisingly ordinary food. Well… ordinary by Hollywood standards, I suppose. There’s a vegan option for everything, the food has to correspond with all the famous people’s particular diets and whatnot, but there are no supernatural ingredients this time, so you’d think Ritter and his people would catch a break.

Except Ritter and the others who remained back home are all visited by, let’s call them interesting guests. It won’t spoil the fun when I tell you that the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause are not like you expect them to be. They offer a few very action-packed, hilarious chapters in which Ritter and Co. show just how awesome they are in the face of danger – even if that danger is so crazy you don’t know whether to laugh or grab a sword first. Hollywood, apart from all the insanity you’d expect anyway, also has some surprises in store for our kitchen heroes.

It’s a movie poster.
The title is Authority over Unclean Spirits and the one-sheet is dominated by an image of a very pretty actor the makeup department has tried very hard to make unpretty (which seemes ludicrous to Lena, among others, considering how many talented ugly people there already are in the world) kneeling in the mud in front of barbed wire, looking to the sky.

So while Bronko, Lena, and a handful of others are trying to survive Hollywood Hell (literally) and Ritter and his team fight off all sorts of creatures gone mad, there is actually quite a bit of character development going on. Lena is still a skeptic, despite having witnessed angels, goblins and horny lizard monsters. Her relationship with Darren has been strained ever since Lena started sort-of-dating-but-mostly-just-sleeping-with the sous chef Dorsky. He knows this relationship isn’t good, Lena knows it’s not good, we readers know it’s not good, at least not in the long run. But why not let Lena have some fun?  Matt Wallace doesn’t judge what his characters do, he simply offers up a situation and, through his characters, different perspectives on the situation. I like Lena, I like how she handles things, I totally get why she hooked up with Dorsky in the last book (it was a very heated moment, after all), and I also understand why Darren doesn’t like it. Considering the ethics of sleeping with a sort of superior from your work place already makes this a bad match, but then there are the vibes going on between Lena and Ritter. It’s a lot of fun to read about.

With the crew split apart between cities and the plots happening pretty much seperately from each other, the book doesn’t feel quite as fluid as the first two did. The back story for the Hollywood plot was a little neglected because I guess then the novella would have grown into a novel. With all the characters already introduced, Matt Wallace still had a lot of work showing the readers new settings and the scary dream world that is Bronko’s mind. He did a great job, although the story drifted more into horror territory than humor this time. I still can’t get enough of Sin du Jour and although I hope the next volume will be more focused (maybe not having all characters in each volume), I enjoyed reading this a lot.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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