Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The February Short List

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

The Short List is the list of books that I read in a given month, but for one reason or another, I didn't write a full review for. I still wanted to be able to talk about these books, and I've found that this format is the easiest way to do so.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

The Devil In the White City by Erik Larson

Blurb: Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.

My Thoughts: This was a re-read for me, so the story wasn't able to surprise me. That being said, this feels like it's two separate books. One accounting the story behind the World's Fair in Chicago, and another about H.H. Holmes crimes as one of America's first serial killers. It's understandable why both stories could be told together, but they do feel a bit disconnected. The writing itself is good and Larson did an extensive amount of research, but this wasn't my favorite read. It's an interesting read, even if the two plots feel disjointed at times.


Gheist by Richard Mosses

Blurb: After losing a card game to Las Vegas gangster Danton, Kat McKay is kidnapped, her heart removed from her chest. Bizarrely, Kat wakes up with a newfound power: she can see the dead. Together with a motley crew of criminal ghosts, including mobster Clint, stage magician Melchior and hitman Jack The Knife, she sets on a quest to restore their freedom - and her heart. But who is worthy of her trust, and can she regain what was taken from her?

My Thoughts: This book has a great premise but not a good execution. From the description, I thought it would be more interesting than it was. The story was slow to start off, and even after the inciting incident, things moved slower than I would've liked. There was a great deal of focus on side character's backstories that I didn't feel were that important. I was expecting Ocean's Eleven, but with ghosts and instead, the story was a normal heist story with very little supernatural elements thrown in.

Image result for crisis on infinite earths giant #1 and #2  Image result for crisis on infinite earths giant #2

Crisis on Infinite Earths Giant #1 and Crisis on Infinite Earths Giant #2

Summary: Between December of 2019 and January of 2020, the CW's Arrowverse had its big crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earth, which they've been building towards for six years. These two comics are a tie-in for that event, with two all new stories, and are also a reprint of some issues from the original Crisis on Infinite Earths event.

My Thoughts: I'm a big comic book fan. I'm also a big fan of Arrow. While I have some strong opinions about the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" television event, I did enjoy these two comics.

E=MC2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis

Summary: This book outlines the history of Einstein's famous formulation, which was overlooked when he released it in 1905, and delves into how groundbreaking such a simple equation has been, the discoveries made as a result of its application and what it means to our understanding of the universe and the future of said universe.

My Thoughts: This was a re-read for me. I first read this book in high school and remember thinking how cool it was that E=mc² led to such a diverse range of discoveries. Reading it now as a college graduate with a degree in math and having taken higher-level physics courses, I can fully both understand and enjoy the content of this book. It's an interesting read, especially for anyone with an interest in physics, and poses some thought-provoking questions towards the end.

Those were all of the books I completed in February but did not write a full review for. What are some books that you read this months? Any recommendations?

Monday, February 24, 2020

Odriel's Heirs

Odriel's Heirs by [Chow, Hayley Reese]

Odriel's Heirs is a 2020 young adult high fantasy novel by Hayley Reese Chow. It is being self-published by the author and is scheduled for release on March 1, 2020. The e-book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and you can purchase it here.  The author provided me with an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel's blurb reads as follows:  As the Dragon Heir, seventeen-year-old Kaia inherited the power of flame to protect her homeland from a godlike necromancer’s undead army. But after centuries of peace, the necromancer has faded to myth, and the Dragon Heir is feared by the people. Persecuted and cast out, Kaia struggles to embrace and control her seemingly useless gift while confined to her family’s farm. But when the necromancer’s undead terrorize the land once again, Kaia runs away to join the battle. With the help of her childhood rival, the handsome Shadow Heir, and a snarky, cursed cat, Kaia must figure out how to control both her fire and her confidence in time to save Okarria. If she fails, she will sacrifice her family, her new friends, and the enchanting world she has only just begun to see. And time is running out.

Before I discuss what I think of the story overall, I'd like to talk about the characters within the story. Kaia is the main character, and our point-of-view character, for the novel. I liked her character, I enjoyed her growth as a character from a girl who's unsure of herself and her powers to a confident and powerful fighter. She had fears and doubts and agency which made her story compelling. Even when she did things that frustrated me, it didn't make me stop liking the character, I just didn't like the choice she made. Best of all, she's a seventeen-year-old character that reads as being a seventeen-year-old. Along her journey, Kaia encounters, and the reader is introduced to, an array of colorful and interesting characters. There is Klaus, the Shadow Heir, and Kaia's childhood rival. At the beginning, he mostly serves as a foil to Kaia as she struggles to gain control. She's unsure of her abilities, while he's confident in his. She's optimistic while he's most pessimistic. Their relationship at the beginning can best be described as "playfully antagonistic"; they aren't friends but for the most part, their fighting isn't serious. Klaus is a well-rounded character in his own right, having needed to come to terms with his own abilities long before the current crisis arose. I liked Kaia and Klaus, but my favorite character by far is Gus, Kaia's ragehound, who serves as a quasi-therapy dog making sure that Kaia keeps her emotions in check. Because as the Dragon Heir, Kaia sometimes experiences something called Dragon Rage, which is pretty self-explanatory. Gus is a good boy and deserves nice things. There are a number of side characters that I could discuss, but it would take me a long time to say what I need to say about all of them. Overall, I liked the diversity with these characters. I liked the fact that characters didn't drop out of the story entirely after they served the initial purpose they seemed to have. I enjoyed the simplicity of the main villain, the necromancer Nifras, as well. He didn't have some complicated motivation where he thought he was doing the right thing. He wanted to use his Lost, the term for the undead in this world, to overrun the world and cover the planet in darkness. Villains that are evil, simply to be evil, are great when utilized properly and Chow did that here. This novel had excellent characters.

Now that I've finished gushing about the characters, let's talk about the story itself. Reading Odriel's Heirs, it's easy to see what works inspired this world and this story, and there's a great deal of variety within that pool. At the same time, while the author took inspiration from Tolkien and others, the story is its own and not an attempt to retread old grounds. I liked the world-building overall, in that there was some information given about specific groups and races, but not everything was spelled out. The reader was able to fill in the blanks and create their own vision of parts of this world. I enjoyed the plot of this novel because things escalated in a way that makes sense. Kaia leaves home to save a handful of people, which turns into needing to save a village and that snowballs into needing to save the world from the undead. The stakes keep getting raised, but they aren't going from very low stakes to extremely high stakes right away. I appreciated that all fight and battle scenes were giving an appropriate number of pages to take place. Short fight scenes didn't run as long as the battle that's going to have more lasting and widespread consequences which is exactly how it should be. Most stories have several plot twists, with some being smaller than others, and this story is no different. I don't spoil books as a rule, and I'm definitely not going to ruin the plot twists of a book that, at the time that I'm writing this, hasn't been released yet. What I will say is that the twist that happens towards the end of the book surprised me in the best way. I didn't see it coming, but on reflection, I could see the hints and pieces of foreshadowing that preceded it. Overall, the novel has a good, solid plot with some fun surprises thrown in.

One of my favorite parts of this book relates to Kaia's character arc, but I wanted to discuss it on its own. That is the focus on problems Kaia faces due to her being the Dragon Heir. Inwardly, there's a great deal of self-doubt and struggle she faces with her role as the Dragon Heir. In-universe it's explained that only the first-born child of the Dragon Heir will inherit his or her parent's gift. Kaia's father is the Dragon Heir and she is also the Dragon Heir because she was born six minutes before her twin brother. One of her biggest struggles is dealing with the fact that, maybe, her brother should be the one with this gift. She wonders if she's going to be enough to stop Nifras. Is she able to live up to the destiny she's supposed to fulfill? At the beginning of the story, she's not sure that she can. She messes up, she fails and she has to learn not only how to use her gifts, but why she's meant to be the Dragon Heir. Aside from Kaia's inner struggle, there's also a degree of outer conflict around her gifts. Normal people are scared of Kaia, scared of what she can do. Even as a child, people were wary and cruel to her. Through a few short interactions, the reader gets to see what the downside to being a Chosen One is. Or what it's like when the people you're meant to defend and protect don't actually want you around to do that. I found the focus on Kaia needing to accept, but internally and externally, that she is the Dragon Heir and that she isn't meant to be normal, to be interesting.

While I enjoyed the book overall, there are a few pieces of criticism I need to share.While the novel has a good, solid plot, the pacing needs a little bit of work. It's a bit too fast-paced in certain parts, making it easy for a reader to get lost or need to go back and reread to figure out what's going on. I liked Chow's writing style overall, but there were some aspects that are indicative of this being a debut novel. Mostly, this was when she told the reader things rather than showing it. This is her first novel, and as a debut, it's excellent, but occasionally, I came across things that reminded me of it being her first novel. The third, and final, criticism I have is about the romance in the story. I didn't think that the romance was bad, but it was a bit predictable. It was predictable, which isn't necessarily bad, and it somewhat relied on a trope that I don't enjoy reading. However, the romance didn't overshadow the rest of the story, so while I'm so-so about that, it didn't take away from my overall enjoyment. 

I loved this book more than I expected to. It told an amazing story and it doesn't read like an author's first novel. While not perfect, it's a solid, enjoyable story. I recommend it to any fantasy reader that finds the premise intriguing. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel's release, which doesn't have a release date, but the author has announced that there will be one. I'd like to thank Hayley Reese Chow again for providing me with an advance copy of novel so that I could write this review.

Rating: 4.7 stars

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Cake Flavored Book Tag

Image result for cake

I was tagged by Krista over at The Bookish HedgeMom last week. It took me a little while before I had time to sit down and do this tag, but I finally was able to. (Yay me!) Anyway, let's get into this tag.

Chocolate Cake: A Dark Book That You Loved

The Power by Naomi Alderman

This is a very dark story, but I loved how well the author committed to the concept. I also enjoy books where the premise isn't inherently bad (in this case, women all developing the same power) but humanity turns this neutral aspect into something bad. Or maybe i'm just a sucker for a "humans are the real monster" theme. This was one of my favorite books that I read last year and I would recommend it to anyone interested in speculative sci-fi.

Vanilla Cake: A Favorite Light Read

Holes (Holes, #1)

Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes is just a great book. It makes me nostalgic, it's a quick read. I don't know if everyone would say it counts as "light" but I categorize it that way. I often need to be in a certain mood for certain books, but no matter what "mood" I'm in, Holes is a good option. It was one of my favorite books as a kid.

Red Velvet: A Book That Gives You Mixed Emotions

The Giver (The Giver, #1)

The Giver by Lois Lowry

It's not The Giver that gives me mixed feelings, but the later books in The Giver quartet. The Giver was amazing. Gathering Blue was amazing, Messenger was fine and Son I did not like. So, I'm torn between my love for The Giver and annoyance at how the rest of the series went. In hindsight, it would've been better if there wasn't a series at all.

Cheesecake: A Book That You Recommend to Everyone

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I loved this book. I heard it was good and I was surprised to find that I agreed with the majority here. Given that I tend to read either fantasy or science fiction books, this is my current go-to for people who tend to avoid those two genres. I liked the story, I liked the writing and I highly recommend.

Coffee Cake: A Book That You Started But Never Finished

The Savior's Champion (The Savior's Series, #1)

The Savior's Champion by Jenna Moreci

I went into The Savior's Champion expecting to like it. I'd heard great reviews about it. Other readers and bloggers who I follow gave it a lot of praise. I really thought I'd like this book, but I just couldn't get into it. I had trouble immersing myself in the story. So, when I reached a point about 1/3 of the way through the book, and I found that I wasn't enjoying it, I decided to DNF it. I might revisit it later, but for now, I've stopped reading it.

Carrot Cake: A Book With Great Writing

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

The book that launched a Broadway sensation. While Wicked (the musical) was inspired by this book, I feel like I should make it clear that the stories differ a lot. The book has more adult content and leans more into themes of what separates good from evil. All of that being said, the book is exceptionally well-written. Maguire is able to both recapture the wonder of Oz while also making it his own. The use of imagery and symbolism in this book deserves to be praised.

Tiramisu: A Book That Left You Wanting More

Image result for a dream within a dream kristina mahr

A Dream Within A Dream by Kristina Mahr

This book left me wanting more in a bad way. The conclusion felt very rushed and I just wanted more from the story. Too much attention was given to the romance aspect and not enough to real conflict or characters that the writer had spent two novels building towards. It missed out on a lot of interesting plot-points in my opinion.

Cupcakes: A Series With 4 or More Books

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1)

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

This series was the one of the first, if not the first, series that I read to completion. Like with Holes, some of my love for it comes from nostalgia, but these books are also unique and whimsical in an unexpected way. I love this series. I love the writing, I love the literary tricks Snicket employs within each book. I'm also a fan of the Netflix series that these books were adapted into.

Fruit Cake: A Book That Wasn't What You Anticipated

Image result for the girl the sea gave back

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

This book makes the list because I didn't expect it to be anywhere near as good as it is. I expected it to be a run-of-the-mill YA fantasy story. I had every reason to expect it to be completely average. The writing was better than I expected, as was the plot. There were interesting and unique aspects to the story that I wasn't expecting. This book took me by surprise, so it's the first thing that comes to mind for this category. 

I tag:

  • Anyone who finds this tag interesting and wants to participate. I can't think of specific people to tag at the moment

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Monday, February 17, 2020

I'm Fine and Neither Are You

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I'm Fine and Neither Are You

I’m Fine and Neither Are You is a 2019 literary fiction novel by Camille Pagan. It was released in April  by Lake Union Press. I stumbled upon it while browsing Amazon one day and the title intrigued me. It’s a Washington Post best selling novel. It can be purchased here from

The novel follows Penelope Ruiz-Kar, a married mother of two who seems to be doing it all and barely keeping it together. Her best friend Jenny, meanwhile, seems to have the perfect life and marriage. Jenny’s shocking death reveals that her life was far from perfect, leading Penelope to decide to truly confront the problems in her life, starting with her and her husband Sanjay committing to complete and total honesty. As Penelope’s vow to stop keeping the peace turns her life upside down, she begins to wonder if honesty really is the best policy.

First, I feel like I should say that I probably wasn’t the target demographic for this story. While this is adult fiction, and I am an adult, a 26-year-old single woman with no kids is going to have different tastes than a married woman, a parent or someone who is a little older. I didn’t find tis book to be terrible, but it also wasn’t especially interesting to me. The story started off interestingly enough, but it honestly began to feel like it was going anywhere special. The story centers around a woman trying to fix her semi-broken marriage, which isn’t especially interesting to read and didn’t leave me feeling much of anything.

Penelope spends most of the novel thinking about the way her marriage used to be and how happy she once was with Sanjay. Or contemplating how her job makes her a decent living, but its not really what she’s passionate about. Or how confused and frustrated she is about the secrets Jenny was keeping from her that she learned after her death.  It’s a story where the main character thinks about a lot of things, but very little plot happens. Additionally, Penelope isn’t a main character that I enjoyed. I felt like she didn’t have much personality and the most prevalent personality trait that she did have was whininess. Both before and after Jenny’s death, which serves as the inciting incident of the story, Penelope does a lot of thinking about how she wishes her life were different, she thinks about the problems she’s just been ignoring, but it takes an exceptionally long time for her to say or do anything about it. Some of her actions, which are supposed to feel selfless, read as very selfish or self-obsessed to me, especially where Jenny’s family are involved. Scenes that are meant to be read as empathetic instead feel like an excuse for her to talk about herself and problems she’s had in the past. Between a plot that crawled along and a main character I didn’t like, the book was very hard for me to stick with and enjoy.

I think the most frustrating aspect of this novel is that it did have potential. Jenny’s death, and the cause was the reader learns later, was a good opening to talk about an issue that’s very topical in 2019. I’m Fine and Neither Are You could’ve used the set-up to actually discuss the current issue and show it from many different sides. It could’ve focused on the grieving process itself and how to struggle with grieving someone while also being angry at the secrets they kept. These elements feature in the story, but end up taking a backseat to the marriage melodrama. (As an aside, perhaps I’ve read too many thrillers, but I half expected Jenny’s death to have actually been a murder and thus add something to the story). A story doesn’t have to be a sweeping epic to keep my attention, but the story does need to go somewhere. Something needs to happen, and for the most part, nothing really happened here other than Penelope thinking a lot and her talking to other people a little bit.

This review has been negative so far, but there are some aspects I think the story does well. Penelope and Sanjay’s relationship is one of the most realistic ones I’ve read in a while. I know plenty of people in real life whose marriages look an awful lot like theirs. They don’t hate each other, but clearly a lot of the romance has gone and they’re in the stage where things have become routine. The conclusion of the story is also realistic. Some changes take place, but no one’s life has become drastically different. It’s frustratingly mundane. The author isn’t a bad writer, but the story being told is far from interesting or exciting in my opinion.

I’m Fine and Neither Are You is just as its title says. It’s fine. It’s not great, but it’s also not the worst book I’ve ever read. If I had to assign it a color, the color would be beige. Boring, safe and doesn’t stand out in any way. I think my experience with this book shows that I need to pay a little bit less attention to how highly-recommended a book is on the internet as a whole. This book is a best-seller and the composite rating is high, but just because 20k+ people like it doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for me. It’s a short read. You can easily pass time reading it, but I don’t agree with the reviews saying that this book is interesting or deep or life-changing.

Rating: 2.4 stars

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Reader Problems Tag

I found this tag on The Book Nut's blog and decided to give it a try because it looked interesting/fun.

1. You have 20,000 books in your TBR, how in the world do you decide what to read next?

I actually (and I know this sounds dorky) have a spreadsheet of all of the books on my TBR and use a random number generator to pick the next book.
2. You’re halfway through a book and you’re just not loving it. Do you put it down or are you committed?
I try to stick it out most of the time. Occasionally, I'll come across a book that I just can't get into but that rarely happens. If at the halfway point, I can't find something to make me keep going, it goes into the "Try Again Later" pile.
3. The end of the year is coming and you’re behind on your reading challenge, do you try to catch up? And if so, how?
It depends. If I'm 5 or less away, I'll reread some short books I liked when I was younger. If I'm more than 5 away, I probably wouldn't rush to catch up, but try harder next year.
4. The covers of a series you love do not match, how do you cope?
I don't really care all that much. Having matching book covers isn't a make or break for me.
5. Everyone and their mother loves a book that you do not. Who do you bond with over your shared feelings?
Random people on Twitter. Because if I've learned one thing from the Internet, its that no book is loved by everyone.
6. You’re reading a book in public and you’re about to start crying. How do you deal?
Maybe this makes me weird, but I don't read a lot of books in public for this exact reason. On the rare occasions that I do read in public, I'd probably just leave and let everyone wonder where I'm running off to.
7. The sequel to a book you loved just came out but you’ve forgotten a lot of what happens. Are you going to reread it?
I might, depending on how long the first book is, how excited I am for the release and if, after reading a bit of the sequel, some details start coming back to me.
8. You do not want anyone to borrow your books, how do you politely say no when someone asks?
No one usually asks me. The one person who has in the past year keeps asking at odd times, so I always don't have the book with me and I just kind of shrug and say they forgot to remind me.
9. You have picked up and put down 5 books in the last month. How do you get over this reading slump?
A lot of the time, my slump is due to reading too many similar books, so I'll pick a book that's in a completely different genre.
10. There are so many books coming out that you are dying to read, how many do you end up buying?
I'll buy two or three that I'm completely excited about. The others I'll either get from the library, when its available, or try to borrow from a friend I know bought it.
11. After you purchase all of these books that you’re dying to read how long do they sit on your shelves before you get to them?
It depends, but I try not to let new releases sit for more than six weeks.

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Monday, February 10, 2020


Image result for ankerita seasons out of time

Ankerita: Seasons Out of Time is a 2013 Gothic horror young adult novel by Robert Wingfield. It was published by The Inca Project and released in November 2013. It is the first book in the The Seventh House series. The author’s website can be found here. I was provided with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The novel follows Ankerita, later called Anna, a woman from the Tudor era who escapes the grave she’s been imprisoned in for over five hundred years after her resting place is unintentionally disturbed. She takes on the life of one of the vandals who released her and finds herself thrust into the modern world. She is able to see restless spirits and is forced to intervene in order to put them to rest. As a woman without identity, Anna must also dodge the attention of the authorities and prevent her return to the grave and succumbing to the plans of demons attempting to claim her soul.

Ankerita, or Anna as I will refer to her for the rest of this review, was my favorite character in this story. She’s incredibly complex and just when I’d start to think I knew everything about her character, there’d be a new facet to her revealed. I won’t lie, when I started reading, I thought Anna was going to be an antihero. Early on, the reader learns that she was imprisoned at an abbey, and later cursed with living death, because she killed her husband. Her first act in the story is to trick Tox, a graffiti artist, into taking her place at the abbey so that she can escape. Yet, Anna isn’t quite an antihero, but instead a young woman trying to recapture the life she was robbed of. in addition to that, when Anna gets into trouble, which happens quite a bit, she doesn’t wait around to be rescued, but in most cases, manages to get herself out of danger. She meets too many people on her journey to list, but there are a handful that left a big impression. Captain Slash, the ghost of a highwayman, she meets early on. He was the character I found to be the most entertaining, especially on the few occasions where he comes to her aid. She is also followed by a demon named Didiubas and its not clear whether he’s helping her or just getting Anna into more trouble. It depends on what exactly she’s doing at the time. While this book had some heavy and dark moments, the characters helped the story feel balanced.

This novel tells the story of a woman out of time, and one of the things that I enjoy about it is the author’s commitment to that idea. Anna is thrown five hundred years into the future and the alien-ness of the world around her shows. She retains some knowledge of the modern world from the body she’s inhabiting, but there are many moments where her actions or behavior shows that she’s brand new to this world. Many times, this takes the form of her wording things in a way that no one else understands, she sounds a bit like Shakespeare at times, but her inner monologue also reveals aspects of that. I enjoyed reading her struggles to understand and live in the modern world and adapt to things. Many stories where a character is thrown forward in time, or backwards in some cases, depict a short adjustment period and no longer-lasting implications beyond that which tends to annoy me because it glosses over how much things change over a few centuries. Ankerita’s depiction of a woman out of time is the most realistic one I’ve read, possibly ever.

The pacing of Ankerita isn’t as structured as some other novels, but that works in the novel’s favor. Rather than having a strict progression of events that lead from beginning to end, the novel is a series of adventures that Anna experiences as she moves throughout the United Kingdom, sometimes by her own volition, and sometimes because of the actions of others. She’s trapped between the real world and the afterlife, allowing her to see ghosts around her with unfinished business. As she moves through the country, and searches for her place in this strange new world, she’s slowly being nudged towards her destiny, which she doesn’t want to accept, but everything she does only pulls her closer to it. it’s a story as much about exploring the world as it is about self-discovery.

I tend to avoid spoiling things in my reviews as a rule. I’m going to abide by that rule in this review, but that makes it a bit difficult to discuss the end of the story, especially given that this is the first book in a series. I enjoyed the ending a lot, especially the twist that came in the last few pages to set up the sequel and make the reader reevaluate everything that had happened previously. Wingfield did an excellent job of bringing the story almost full circle, but not completely in order to deliver a great ending. I finished Ankerita and wanted to read the next book.

I enjoyed Ankerita overall, but unfortunately, no book is perfect. There are a few things I need to address that I wasn’t as thrilled about as most of the story. Wingfield was able to combine humor into the horror aspects of the story pretty well for the most part, but there were a few scenes where it didn’t quite fit in my opinion. The humor in those moments just felt a little off.  There were a few things that happened that were confusing and didn’t really make much sense or weren’t explained enough to make sense. I was able to understand most of the events in the story, but the few that confused me took me out of the story.

Ankerita was a book that surprised me. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It starts with a great premise and uses that premise to tell an engaging and unique story. The author’s writing style is one that I enjoy and its an easy book to lose oneself in.  As this is the second book I’ve read and enjoyed by Robert Wingfield, the first being Countdown to Omega, its clear that he’s talented at writing in more than one genre. I’d recommend it to any Gothic literature fans out there and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Rating: 4.3 Stars

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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Five Endings I Hate (and Five I Love)

Image result for book closing

I think about endings a lot. While the beginning of a story needs to be intriguing to get the audience interested, a bad ending can ruin a story. I’ve been thinking about endings a lot recently, due to a few factors. One is reading some books with less-than-thrilling endings. Another is that, as of writing this post, two shows that I’ve watched for years have ended in the last week. While this is a book blog, and I mostly talk about book endings, some of the ideas listed below also apply to shows.

Five Endings I Hate

5) It was all a dream: This category also includes the story being a simulation or the final thoughts of a dying character. This is pretty much the epitome of lazy storytelling, because it was all a dream, like using time travel, means you don’t have to write an actual ending. It means the story, and the stakes, weren’t real and that I shouldn’t have cared. The only time this has worked is in The Wizard of Oz, and that only worked because Dorothy knew she was dreaming the whole time, so it wasn’t some last-minute subversion.

4) The rushed conclusion: If you spend hundreds of pages building up the villain/main conflict and it gets resolved in less than five pages (ten if the book is longer than 400 pages), you didn’t plan your story well. Or you didn’t balance other elements as well as you could’ve.

3) Back to the Start: In most cases, the story/plot is a journey. If the characters don’t change in some way, or they change but end up in the same position as at the start of the story, its not emotionally satisfying. One of the biggest complaints I heard about the Game of Thrones ending was that characters, mainly Jon Snow, started and ended in the exact same place, because it rendered their character arcs pointless. This doesn’t just apply to characters either. If the village/country/world is being ruled by a tyrant, don’t end the story with a different, but just as tyrannical, guy in charge.

2) Tonal Dissonance: Call me crazy, but an ending depends very heavily on the story that precedes it. If the novel has been gritty and dark the whole time, it shouldn’t have a bright, clean “everything’s all better now and everyone’s happy” ending. Similarly, if a book deals with some pretty light topics, or it’s a general coming-of-age story, having everyone die or something horrible happen at the end doesn’t make sense. Don’t have a general fiction novel turn into a spy thriller in the last 20%.

1) Death. All of the DEATH: I’m going to say this, and then get off my soapbox. (This applies more to shows than books, but whatever). I’m a fan of redemption arcs, when done well. I know that sometimes, characters need to die. However, just because a series is ending doesn’t mean you have to kill the main character. “Hero sacrifices his/her life to save the world” is good sometimes, but not others. It’s not the only type of sacrifice that can take place. And, in stories that are about a character finding redemption, killing them off cheapens that redemption.

Five Endings I Love

5) Foreshadowed: I love endings that are foreshadowed enough to give me a hint at what’s going to happen, but not so much that I can guess at the start what’s going to happen. The right amount of foreshadowing makes it look like the author planned and outlined the story really well, and upon editing, refined some of those ideas/plotpoints.

4) Clear Intent: Every book has a theme, or a message the author is trying to put across. The trick is for the author to make it clear what he or she is trying to say. Even if I didn’t like the way the book’s main conflict is resolved, if it’s clear that the author had a specific intent and the ending drives that intent home, I view it as a good ending. I don’t like Animal Farm all that much, but Orwell’s closing sentences did exactly what they were supposed to do and left the reader with the exact message as he was trying to send.

3) Emotionally satisfying: Some stories have happy endings. Some are more bittersweet. And some have dark endings. Which one works and which one doesn’t depends on the story. A lot of series have these, a lot do not. if a book has a central mystery, the mystery needs to be solved. If it’s about overthrowing a dystopian government, government need to get overthrown. As I mentioned above, you can’t give a dark story a happy, shiny ending. And if at the end, I’m wondering why I wasted my time reading/watching this, it wasn’t satisfying. As example of a conclusion that wasn't emotionally satisfying was the White Walker storyline in Game of Thrones. While seeing Arya kill the Night King was cool, it wasn’t emotionally satisfying because the Night King had been a major part of Jon’s story, not Arya’s.

2) Can’t Go Back: Would you like to know what one of my favorite film moments of all time is? It’s in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when Frodo explains to Sam why he’s sailing to the Undying Lands. He says “We set out to save the Shire, Sam. And it has been saved, but not for me.” I love this scene because its one of the few scenes where a character acknowledges how much their journey has changed them. Frodo saved the Shire, saved all of Middle Earth, and he returns home to find that he doesn’t belong there anymore. Endings that acknowledge this, whether its to this extent or a lesser one, will always outrank one’s where the hero accomplishes their goal and goes home.

1) Not Really An End: I like stories that don’t wrap every single thing up. This isn’t the same thing as an ambiguous ending, though, where you either don’t know what the ending means or the major conflict felt unfinished. I like being able to close the book, knowing how the main conflict was resolved, but still wondering what happened next. It speaks to the idea that nothing every really ends.

Those were some book (and TV) endings that I hated and some that I loved. What are your opinions on endings? Which ones do you dislike? What ending is your favorite? 

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Monday, February 3, 2020

Sister Carrie

Image result for sister carrie

Sister Carrie is a 1900 novel written by Theodore Dreiser. It tells the story of an 18-year-old girl from Wisconsin who leaves her rural life behind and moves to Chicago. While in Chicago, Carrie begins realizing her own version of the American Dream. This starts out as her becoming the mistress of a man with higher standing than she does, but progresses to her going into the theater and becoming an actress.

While Dreiser’s novel didn’t see much praise by the general public when it was first published, it did receive positive reviews and has been referred to as one of the greatest American novels. Most of the praise the novel received centers around the sense of realism in the novel. The descriptions of life in New York and Chicago around the turn of the century were praised for how accurate they were, for better or worse. Other praise centered around the novel’s realistic depiction of the human condition, with one review even stating Sister Carrie didn’t have “the slightest trace of sentimentality or pettiness”. Criticism at the time of the novel’s release centered around Dreiser’s writing style, which many found to be lacking and highlighted his own lack of education. There was also criticism over the sexual content it contained, which is laughable by today’s standards, but was shocking in 1900. Somehow, despite the lack of sales and heavy criticism, Sister Carrie survived over a century to the modern day.

While very little of the critique at the time of the novel’s release seem to be about the story itself, most of the things I dislike about Sister Carrie relate to the plot and characters. To be blunt, I don’t like any characters in this story. Carrie is fickle and seems to only care about furthering her own social standing, to the point of me hoping she gets run over by a trolley. She had dreams of moving to the big city and being rich, which there’s nothing wrong with, but everyone who tries to bring her down to reality is entirely written off. Carrie wants what she wants and at no point do other people factor into her behavior at all. George Hurstwood, who is one of the men Carrie has an affair with, not only cheats on his wife and steals from his employer, for Carrie no less, but he doesn’t seem to grasp how little the object of his affection truly cares for him.

Most other characters are one-dimensional at best, serving a purpose only to further along the plot. Carrie’s sister Minnie wants Carrie to focus on getting a new job after losing her old one and when she can’t, or doesn’t want to, Minnie’s family can’t support her which sets off the chain of events that leads to Carrie becoming someone’s mistress. One of her neighbors in New York serves the sole purpose of making Carrie dissatisfied with what she already has, which is remarkably more than most other New Yorkers.

My main issue with Sister Carrie is the plot itself. I spent the entire length of the novel waiting for Carrie to run into an obstacle. Any obstacle. She doesn’t get the part she wants, or someone from her past resurfaces, or she loses what she’s already gained. None of that happens. Carrie goes from one high point, to another and never pays for any of her actions. She has setbacks, but they never set her back too far or inspire any kind of change. This plot I’d be more likely to accept if she wasn’t such an awful person. At the end of the novel, Carrie’s rich and famous, but not happy, and comes to the conclusion that if she isn’t happy now, perhaps she’ll never be.

Sister Carrie is an American classic and like most other classics, that doesn’t make it enjoyable. If I were to rate every classic I’ve ever read, this one would probably rate pretty low. None of the characters are interesting or even likable, the plot is meandering and has no real flow to it, and overall, its just boring.

Rating: 1.4 stars

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