Book Review: Verses for the Dead by Preston and Child

This is a year of trying lots of new things, including authors I hadn’t read yet. I’d heard of the Pendergast novels off and on for ages, they are one of those staples of genre fiction that have collected a wide fan base and end up being referenced at writing conferences. A friend of mine had enjoyed the books and we needed a fresh read for our very casual book group so we chose the most widely available title in the library system, the 2018 release Verses for the Dead.

The Story

This book is very much a murder mystery. It starts with the discovery of a human heart found on a gravestone in Miami along with a cryptic note signed by a Mr. Brokenhearts. Enter Agent Pendergast, FBI. He’s got a remarkable track record when it comes to the tricky cases, and this murder is shaping up to be exactly that, tricky.

However, he’s unpredictable and tends to do things in unorthodox ways that leave a body count higher than what his superiors are comfortable with. For this reason, on this case he’s forced to accept the unthinkable–a partner.

The mystery unfolds as our duo work together to piece together the clues. Their murderer follows a bizarre M.O.: He cuts out his victim’s hearts and then leaves them on the graves of suicide victims. If Pendergast can’t find the connections between the victims, he’s sure more women will die in the same horrific way.

Through many twists and failures, we watch as Pendergast works through the case in a way reminiscent of Sherlock, finding the tiniest clues and using them to track down the killer.

My Review

As someone who doesn’t read a lot of mystery novels I can’t say if the pacing of this one was intentionally slow and methodical, or if it was just a slower read because clue hunting, while interesting, isn’t exciting. The way the different ideas came together, and the way it truly took a team of experts to help the case along, made for interesting reading. And, there was an action-packed danger-filled conclusion, so I can’t complain too much.

There is a reason these books are popular. The writing is solid and clear, the characters fleshed out and interesting, and the different settings vibrant and lifelike. There is always a sense of more going on than what happens on the page, especially with Pendergast’s character, which leaves the reader eager to see what else they can learn about him.

While most of the books in the Pendergast series are flagged as standalone reads, there is a lot of backstory about Pendergast himself that I feel I’m missing. I’m considering reading more, if only to learn more about him and why he acts the way he does.

Recommendations

If you like murder mystery, this is a solid one. A word of warning for the squeamish, there are graphic crime scene descriptions, autopsies, and naturally, a few murders witnessed first hand. There is also a reasonable, but not overwhelming amount of swearing. The clues are not super obvious at first, but like any good mystery start clicking together as the story moves forward only for there to be a subtle twist that changes everything.

If you tend to need things that feel like they’re moving and making progress quickly, this might be a frustrating read. Everything Pendergast does is methodical and deliberate so even when he’s rushing, there is still a sense of calm and stillness. This makes it all the more exciting when his feathers do get ruffled during the thrilling climax, but for some that might not be enough.

I give Verses for the Dead 3/5 stars, a solid read but at times too slow and deliberate.


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Book Review: The Dark Hero by Ken Mears

I know I’ve said this before, but having authors as friends comes with lots of great perks, one of which is that I’ll never run out of reading material. Ken Mears and I met at Wizarding Dayz last year through a mutual friend. He’s an amazing teen with lots of potential and I am glad to help him on his journey. The Dark Hero is his second middle grade book and part of The Stones of the Middle Lands series.

The Blurb

For the past year, James has been remembering his past. From what he can gather, he may not have been the person he thinks he was. Even more worrisome, he is having nightmares about his past, and he has to wonder if they really are memories. With his thoughts darkened and cruel moods coming over him, James has to wonder. Is he a good person?

After being separated from James and Fenn for a year, Aaron has seen some changes he doesn’t like. With his friends closer than ever, Aaron starts to feel ostracized and battles with jealousy. And with his brother, Kai getting bolder and stronger, Aaron is realizing he can’t be nearly as protective of his kid brother. How can he overcome his jealousy and protect his brother from harm?

General Xanog has been beaten time and time again by James, resulting in his body being defaced with mechanical parts. Xanog has been plotting his revenge, seeking out any way to channel his anger towards vengeance. But something more concerning has arisen. The mysterious new leader of the trolls, The Malevolent One, has been controlling the trolls with no regard for their individual well being. While The Malevolent One presses for more control over Xanog and the rest of the trolls, he starts to consider: Does he have a bigger enemy than James?

My Review

This story is full of adventure and action. From one chapter to the next, James quests forward with his band of trusted friends to find the magical Peacekeeper Stones. There are battles, monsters, and fantastical settings as well as dragons, trolls, and near-death experiences.

There is also a lot of heart and moments of introspection as James learns more about his past and struggles to make peace with it as he moves forward. Several of his friends have changed and matured since his last adventure with him and he must adapt and accept them for who they are.

For a teen writer, I give Ken all the kudos in the world for taking on such an ambitious project and creating a book that’s both entertaining and has some depth. He’s got a great ear for character dialogue and his creativity shines through his unique settings and monsters. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

Recommendations

This is a story for older middle grade readers. Considering the age of the main character, he’s 16, and how the quest is ultimately to save the world, it feels closer to a young adult read. The main character also gets seriously injured several times, enough to where a younger reader might be turned off from the story. The only thing that keeps it back in the middle grade category is that the focus of the story stays solidly on adventure and a sense of wonder.

I imagine this book being great fun for 5th and 6th grade boys who like adventure and danger.

As of July 15th, 2020, The Dark Hero is only available at the author’s website.


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Book Review: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

There are only a handful of books that have stuck with me even years after reading them. This is one of them. Flowers for Algernon is as fascinating as it is heartbreaking. It was originally written as a short story in 1960 and won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story, then it was adapted into a novel which went on to tie for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966. There have been dozens of references to the story, including one on the Simpsons on the 2001 episode “HOMR.”

The Story

Charlie Gordon is a 32 year old with an IQ of 68. He begins the story working menial jobs at a bakery to keep from needing to live at a state institution. From the beginning, he has this drive to better himself and to do so takes reading and writing classes at a special school. Two researchers have discovered a way to increase intelligence through a surgical procedure and Charlie’s teacher, Alice, recommends he try the procedure.

Over the course of three months, Charlie’s IQ shoots to 185. Suddenly he no longer fits into the world he’s always been part of. He realizes that his coworkers at the bakery, who he always thought were his best friends, have been mocking him all along. The researchers continue to treat him the same way they’d treat a child, even when his intelligence exceeds theirs. He tries to fix broken ties with his parents only to learn that they no longer recognize him.

Determined to further the research that made his new intelligence possible, he continues writing reports and caring for the mouse they first experimented on, Algernon. However, he discovers a flaw in the theory that could cause the procedure to revert. This flaw is confirmed when Algernon starts behaving erratically and eventually dies.

He knows he will lose his new found abilities as well, but now has a much greater understanding of what that means. After he regresses, he remembers that he was once a genius. He can’t stand being pitied and so chooses to live in a state-sponsored home for the mentally handicapped where no one knows about his past.

His last writing is asking someone to put flowers on Algernon’s grave behind his old apartment.

My Review

The story itself is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be changed in a fundamental way only to have it taken away. But, what makes it powerful is how it’s delivered. The story is written in a series of letters that Charlie writes as part of a continuing assignment to his teacher Alice. In the beginning, we see that he struggles with putting together even the simplest of sentences and spelling is a huge challenge. But, even through that, we see his drive to be better, to be smarter.

Through each letter we see first hand how the procedure is changing him. The sentences become more complicated and the thoughts behind them more nuanced. The spelling issues disappear. As we reach the pinnacle of his intelligence, we see him pass into the language of complicated academia as he starts understanding the research behind his procedure in a much more detailed and granular way.

And then he starts to slip, and what’s so heartbreaking about it is that he can feel it happening. He knows what life was like before and he is terrified to return to what he once was. The sentences grow simpler and the structure and spelling decline until we return back to the beginning, but with one fundamental change. He remembers what it was like when he was smart and knows he can never go back.

Where many books rely on the artistry of the wordsmithing paired with the story to make them powerful, this one is powerful because it strips that away and lets us see pure character and how this huge change affects him.

It’s a beautiful work and deserving of the awards it’s received along the way.

Recommendations

This book is emotionally hard hitting. It touches on important themes such as the treatment of mentally disabled, the conflict between intellect and emotion, and how past events affect someone later in life. I’d only recommend this to readers who like stretching the boundaries of their experience. It hits many of the same notes as the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, when it comes to capturing the experience of the mentally disabled, and does an admirable job.

If you like digging deeply into another person’s world, even when that world is fraught with very real challenges, then this book is for you. But, if you are sensitive (like at all) to any of the issues already discussed, then this book might be too painful to read.

I give Flowers for Algernon a rare 5/5 for challenging my world view and sticking with me.


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Book Review: Ghost Story (The Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher

I did something terrifically stupid by making an assumption that wasn’t true. Somewhere between hearing Dresden fans rave about the books and using the internet to answer a question, I decided that it didn’t matter what order the Dresden Files were read in.

Short answer: It does.

Slightly longer answer: The book still stands up on it’s own, but you miss hoards of character development and relationship backstory which sucks some of the deeper meaning out of it.

Do I regret my decision to dive into the story where I did? Yep. The longer I think about it, the more I realize just how badly I’ve shot myself in the foot. I’ve robbed myself of all those fabulous ah-ha! moments as the story unfolds. Bad author, no cookie. Feel free to chastise me in the comments.

The Story

Harry Dresden is Chicago’s first and only Wizard PI. In Ghost Story, he is stripped of all of his usual tools needed to solve cases. He can’t use his magic, can’t interact with the physical world, and can’t even talk to the people he needs to get information from. Even still, with all of this drastic change, he’s got a huge problem to solve and not much time to solve it.

Three of the people he loves most are in danger. To save them he has to solve his own murder. To make matters worse, there is a huge power vacuum left in the world from Dresden’s actions in the previous book. Several nasty entities are rushing into position to take advantage of this opportunity and are creating chaos and havoc at every turn.

My Review

As my first foray into the Dresden Files, Ghost Story was probably the worst possible place to start the story. That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It simply means I’m still kicking myself for not asking an actual Dresden fan where I should start (for those just joining us, it’s at the beginning).

Judging from the thin slice of the Dresden universe I enjoyed, the fans are right. There’s a lot to cheer for here. The characters are fun and unique, the settings gritty and realistic, the narrative voice entertaining, and the overall story is just the right amount of twisty to keep me interested.

I can’t judge Ghost Story against the other books in the series because I did a dumb. But, from the reviews and articles I’ve read, many fans weren’t crazy about the book compared to their love for the other books. Part of this might be the drastic change in Dresden himself where the most entertaining and compelling parts of his character were taken from him and he was forced to flounder in a new and unexpected way.

For me this universe was a new interesting place to explore and I didn’t have any expectations that I hoped the story would meet. I enjoyed the story enough to most likely pick up the other ones, in order this time, and dive into the world the way it was meant to be experienced.

Recommendations

Start at the beginning. No, really. If you’ve never read any of the Dresden Files, don’t start here.

For being a gritty, crime-solving, Wizard PI novel, it’s a pretty clean read. Swearing and intimate content were at a dead minimum if there was any. Dresden’s preferred swear is “Hell’s Bells” if that’s any indication. There are a handful of graphic injuries and intense fight scenes, none of which bordered on horrific for me, but were present.

I’d recommend this for those who like urban fantasy and a story that seems straight forward on the surface, but gets deeper and more complicated the further you dig in. For the graphic stuff and story complexity at the end I’d recommend this for readers no younger than 15.

If you saw urban fantasy and thought sexy vampires would be featured prominently in the story, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

I give Ghost Story 4/5, a good read and entertaining, but I didn’t leave it thinking “Wow.”


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

There are a few books out there that polarize readers to either loving them or hating them, and this is one of them. I picked up The Slow Regard of Silent Things after finishing the first and second books of the Kingkiller Chronicles and was wringing my hands waiting for the next one. I loved the poetic language that Rothfuss used in his epic fantasy and was curious to see how he would handle novella length fiction.

I was one of the readers that loved this book, not because it had a riveting story or action-packed sequences or amazing magic, but because it was so drastically different than any other story I had ever read. And that was a good thing. I’ll probably say this a few times but Rothfuss uses language beautifully.

The Story

This book isn’t technically a story at all. Rather, it is the reader following a truly unique person through their day-to-day life. Auri is no normal person either. She lives in the complex maze of underground tunnels, sewers, and vent shafts that exist beneath the university in the Kingkiller Chronicles. Her life is guided by her own super enhanced intuition which make her feel more ethereal than human at times. For example, there are a series of doors that change what they are and where they lead according to the feelings they share with her. One of these doors is always a door she must not pass through.

The one part of her life anchored in reality is Kvothe (the main character from Kingkiller Chronicles). He is one the few people she will allow to see her. One of the most unique sections of the book describes in detail how she wants to make him a bar of soap that is truly his. In language that slips in and out of poetic flow and narration, we watch as she finds the ash, oils, and fats, along with different fragrances that capture her impression of him. It’s not the soap making process that makes this action compelling, but her need and emotional weight that she assigns each action.

The book ends with her gifting the soap to him.

My Review

For me, book was lovely, different, and proved that sometimes there doesn’t need to be a compelling story to create a compelling narrative. Sometimes, all you really need is a character that is so unique and different that it’s fascinating to watch what she will do next, how she will do it, how she thinks about it, and how her emotional journey progresses.

I can see why some people didn’t like this book. Because there isn’t a concrete problem for Auri to solve and she does not grow or change in the course of the story, some may argue that there is no point to reading it. They may argue that because of this there is nothing to be gained from reading her experience. I would argue that they missed the point. This book isn’t meant to change the character. It changes the reader. It opens up the eyes of possibility, showing how different people can be from each other but how they can be driven by the same fears and loves.

All things considered, of all of Rothfuss’s works, this book is one I would consider reading again to unlock more of the secrets held there. I have a feeling a second read-through would reveal even more about this unique character and why her being so different is so important.

Recommendations

Understandably, this book is not a fast or easy read. It requires attention to detail and patience as events and actions unfold. For those who like a beautiful read and are not tied to absolutely having to have a strong plot and a strong conclusion, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

I would not recommend this book for anyone other than the most ardent readers. It would not hold the attention of those easily bored or discouraged, especially if they were hoping for a story to dig their teeth into. I also wouldn’t recommend this for extremely literal thinkers as the poetic language leans heavily on metaphoric language.

My personal rating of the Slow Regard of Silent things is a very rare 5/5.


The release of my second book this last weekend went very well. To celebrate, I gave away over 2000 ebook copies of book one, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, to people all over the world. If you were one of them, thank you for taking a chance on this fantasy series, I hope you like it. If you end up reading it, please consider dropping a review, it’s the best thanks you can give to an author.

If you missed your chance to pick up Stonebearer’s Betrayal for free, the ebook is still available for a steal at $2.99.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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Jodi L Milner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Years ago, I went on a reading binge of all the Holocaust books I could get my hands on. The experiences shared in those books were as much cast-iron testaments to the power of the human spirit as they were chilling. This book came out after that binge ended, but I kept hearing about it off and on, so I added it to my list.

That said, it was probably not my greatest idea to read a Holocaust book during our current difficult time. On the flip side of the argument, I would say that it’s also important to maintain perspective. The world has continually gone through periods of difficulty and gotten through them. We will get through this. With hard work and a dash of hope, we will have learned something valuable as well.

The story

Bruno is a nine-year-old German boy who’s father is a high ranking Nazi. At the beginning of the story, his family has to move because of his father’s work and he ends up at a place he calls “Out-With”. While it is never said in the text, readers are led to believe this is the Auschwitz concentration camp.

For the first half of the story Bruno is full of his anger at having to give up his friends and move to a place that is definitely not as nice as his home in Berlin. He misses all the things he enjoyed with his friends and the shops and the places he could go and explore.

It’s this craving that pushes him to go exploring along the long fence of the camp, a place that he has been told in no uncertain terms is “off limits with no exceptions.” This is how he meets Shmuel, a boy from Poland who shares Bruno’s exact same birthday. Bruno is thrilled that there is another boy his age and starts visiting him every afternoon.

We see through all these visits just how different the lives are for the two boys. Bruno always has plenty to eat, Shmuel is starving. Bruno’s life has been merely inconvenienced, Shmuel’s life has been completely overturned. Bruno shows a childlike naivete as he hears about Shmuel’s experience and often tries to tell Shmuel that what is happening to him can’t be all that bad, especially when compared to the minor inconveniences that Bruno has suffered.

***Skip this paragraph if you hate spoilers***

However, this is a Holocaust book, and as such, it certainly does not have a happy ending. Bruno learns that he is to go back home and as a farewell to Shmuel, agrees to help him search the camp for his missing father. They are collected up by the soldiers and marched into the gas chamber and both boys die. The last chapter of the book explores Bruno’s mysterious absence and the father’s chilling realization of what must have happened.

There goes my hope for a story that showed grit and determination in the face of a bad situation.

***End of spoilers***

My review

There are many who applaud this book as a gentle way of teaching children about the Holocaust and expose them to the history of the era. In that aspect, it does a fair job at teaching the basics and some of the ideas of what happened without diving into specifics. In essence, it’s a sanitized and simplified version of history.

For me, this book feels like if Winnie the Pooh were to be a German child in Nazi Germany. All of Bruno’s reactions are realistic to a young child where his immediate worries come first, and the rest of the world come in a very distant second. There is a beauty in seeing the world this way and for that I feel Boyne’s choice in writing style fits well.

However, there is so much about this book that bothers me, like never stating the truth of what’s happening. At every instance where it could have been an educational moment, Boyne pulls back. Bruno is told the correct words for things, but we never see the words themselves, and Bruno himself doesn’t use them because he doesn’t understand them. For example, instead of Führer he always refers to Hitler as “the fury.” Auschwitz is never named, and it’s purpose is only briefly touched on in a very childlike way.

Is the writing unique and interesting? Yes. Does the main character feel realistic and engaging? Yes. Does this book give an accurate sense of history? No. As the son of a high-ranking Nazi, Bruno would have been required to be part of Hitler’s Youth and would have been well educated about what was going on and why. Would he have understood what it actually meant? Probably not. This is a far cry from how Bruno is portrayed as being an innocent young boy. Shmuel in essence was just a hungry belly who Bruno could talk to. We see little more than him responding to Bruno’s endless questions and comments. In reality, Shmuel wouldn’t have been alive. Most young boys his age were sent straight to the gas chambers.

My recommendations

If you have a child who is interested in the Holocaust, but you want to introduce the ideas to them slowly, this book is a good pick because it doesn’t dwell on any of the uglyness and cruelty of the time period. It is an easy read, fairly short, and moves quickly enough so most readers won’t get bored. It is also available in audiobook with an excellent narration.

As an adult who has read a fair share of Holocaust books, this wasn’t as fulfulling as I’d hoped it would be. I wanted a story of survival against the odds or of good overcoming evil and got neither. Instead, I got a tragic story of a young boy who met an early end because he chose to be a good friend.

I rate The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 3/5

You can find The Boy in the Striped Pajamas on Amazon


Don’t miss it!

Stonebearer’s Apprentice comes out this Friday! Squee! It’s been a wild ride to get here and early readers have loved it. Even better, it has a happy ending.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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Jodi L Milner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Book of Secrets by Melissa McShane

In celebration of the seventh book of the Last Oracle series being released literally yesterday, I thought it would be a great time to review the book that kicked it off. The Book of Secrets is urban fantasy, which is a genre I don’t normally wade into unless I have a really good reason, and being friends with the author is a really good reason.

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

The Story

Helena Davis is eager to move on with her life and out of her parents basement. That means getting a job. Working at a bookstore seems like a perfect fit. At least it’s not fast food and the pay is reasonable. But, Abernathy’s Bookstore has plenty of secrets, and none of them are willing to make life easy for Helena.

In case you weren’t convinced, her boss gets murdered in the basement before the end of her first day. There is a war happening between magical forces and alien invaders trying to suck the world dry of its magical energy. The bookstore is the last living oracle and uses it’s books to give important insights and information to those fighting in this war.

There are those convinced that Helena is the enemy, and others that believe that she’s been specially chosen by the oracle itself. This puts Helena in a very dangerous position where she doesn’t know who to trust. She must figure out this new world before whatever killed her boss comes after her.

My Review

The best part of any fantasy is getting a peek into how the world would work if there were different rules. The Book of Secrets introduces a world where magic is fighting against aliens, which is definitely a twist I’ve never seen before. McShane does a great job capturing this world and making it feel real to readers. I especially loved the descriptions of the different parts of the bookstore itself. Her words made the place feel like somewhere I would want to go visit, just to say I’d been there.

While the main character was exactly what she needed to be to make it through this story, it was her supporting cast that made the story shine. Helena herself is loyal and has a great work ethic, not to mention enough grit to see tough things through. Viv, her best friend, is who I really loved for just being a complete character who loves fashion, music, and making sure her bestie has a boyfriend at all costs.

The story itself did get dark, there’s plenty of suspense and danger to keep things interesting. From the nasty creatures running around, to Helena’s perpetual worry that she doesn’t know enough about her new world to understand what she should be worried about, there’s enough intrigue to keep readers on their toes.

Recommendations

This is a solid read. If you like urban fantasy and are looking for something with great magic and an interesting world that doesn’t have vampires, this is a good choice. It’s not perfect, there are a few things here and there that could have been expanded on, but it’s also part of a large series that fleshes out all of those ideas, so it’s forgiveable.

There’s one trope that does drive some readers nuts and it deserves mentioning. The main character is kept in the dark about some fairly important things by the other characters. It’s not that no one knows, it’s that they are intentionally not telling her for some half-brained reason, like if she did know she’d be in more danger. I’m not buying it. It does, however, make the book more suspenseful, which is a good thing.

I’d recommend this for urban fantasy readers ages 16 and up for elements of horror, story line complexity, and intense situations.

I rate The Book of Secret 4/5 stars

Check out The Book of Secrets on Amazon – available for $0.99 on Kindle!

Also, be sure to check out Melissa’s new release The Book of Harmony, (The Last Oracle series #7)


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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Jodi L Milner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

There are books that tell a story, then there are stories that fill books. Then there are stories that are more like an experience than just a tale. The Starless Sea is one of those. It is a story twisted into a daydream that’s wrapped around both reality and the impossible like taffy.

The Story:

The short answer here is “it’s complicated.” You might be better off reading the Amazon listing than struggle through my attempt to sum some of it up.

While the overarching story is that of Zachery Ezra Rawlins, who is the son of a fortune teller and has a love of books and story even greater than his love for people, there are at least four other stories running along side it. These include at least two which are books that the characters come into contact with which the reader gets to read as well.

When Zachary finds a mysterious book that contains a detailed narration of something that occurs in his own life, he’s both terrified and drawn to find answers. This journey takes him into the magical and inventive subterranean world that is the Starless Sea. Here he encounters people and even more stories and a riddle that envelopes him.

There are glorious masquerade balls, secret societies, pirate boats, infinitely detailed miniatures, and lots and lots of doors. Plus, there is a lovely nonbinary romance that develops so so slowly that it kind of takes the reader by surprise.

My Review:

I’d been waiting to read this book because I loved the beauty and strangeness of The Night Circus and was hoping for a similar experience. While the writing shared the same sense of beauty, symbolism, and intention, this story (if we can call it that) was far more complicated and layered. It was a story within a story, wrapped in yet another story where the reader was never sure if the characters were real or imagined.

As a writer, part of me felt like this was a lot of wish fulfillment. It’s like Morgenstern took a list of off her favorite whimsical things, all her childhood fascinations, all her loves and things she held dear, and spun a story that could contain them all. While this isn’t a bad thing, it makes for a very abstract reading experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if dinosaurs and exotic train rides turned up behind the next mysterious painted door (they didn’t, but they could have).

Overall I’m sticking to my description of this book that it’s an experience more than a story. Many of the scenes have a feeling that they are meant to be enjoyed in all their glorious descriptions before attempting to understand what they mean or how they fit into the story. There is a lot of trust being placed in the reader to keep reading to figure out what the different pieces mean in the end. And this is one of those stories that you absolutely have to read it to the end to see how all the different threads of the story play out. It’s a long process, but ultimatly worth it.

Recommendations:

I’d recommend the Starless Sea to those who love a complicated beautiful read with lots of layers and symbolism. It’s not an easy read, that’s for sure. Many of the pieces don’t seem to fit until often dozens, if not hundreds of pages later when something else pulls the ideas back into the story again. It’s long, and it feels long. This is one of those stories that you want to sink into and take slowly.

I wouldn’t recommend this for someone who just wants a good story and isn’t interested in all the pretty words. It does move slowly and deliberately and for many that might be a turn off. I would also warn those who were hoping for something just like The Night Circus to not try to compare this book to that one as they are very different.

I give Starless Sea 3/5 stars.

Buy The Starless Sea Here

Buy The Night Circus Here


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Five Things I Learned From Reading a Janet Evanovich Novel

I did something a little off the beaten path this week and tried out a Stephanie Plum mystery, famously written by Janet Evanovich. My pick, Hardcore Twenty Four, loosely centers around a zombie mystery. This is so far from my usual cup of tea, it’s laughable. In fact, it’s so far from what I’d normally pick up, that I almost put it down.

Then curiosity got the best of me. These books are NYT and USA today bestsellers, and there are over 200 million Evanovich novels in print. Those are some pretty amazing statistics. So, I put my research hat on and decided to take a deeper look.

I discovered that this is the kind of book that’s the perfect read for anyone who wants a happy distraction, and judging from the state of things these days, that’s literally everyone. The prose is easy to digest, the characters are unique and likable, the problems are relatable but treated in a way that they are more humorous than anything. And, there’s a splash of intrigue to glue everything together.

It’s like cotton candy. Sweet, fun to eat, and mostly fluff.

Have no fear, I did grab a few important lessons that are applicable to everyone

For every itch there is a scratch

There are people who love, and I mean love, these books and characters. Reading these books is the perfect escape and a great way to spent a weekend or long afternoon. If you don’t love them, that’s okay too. It goes to show everyone had their own likes and dislikes.

All you really need are charismatic side characters

Stephanie Plum is an interesting character by herself. She has a pet hampster, a crazy grandma, and works as a bounty hunter. But, it’s her friends that spice up the story. From the mysterious Diesel, to the romantic cop Morelli, to her bedazzled coworker Lula, there’s a little of everything to keep things interesting. It goes to prove that life is way better with interesting friends.

The bad guy is the one you’d least expect

This is true for lots of villains in fiction, the one responsible for all the problems is usually the one you’ve been led to least suspect. Or, they sincerely believe that what they are doing is going to either help someone, or give them a unique opportunity. This is true in real life as well, usually people aren’t being jerks because they’re evil. Usually there’s something else far more complicated going on.

If you’re going to have a fantasy boyfriend, make him hot (and talented)

Imagination is a wonderful thing. It allows us an escape. It allows us to dream of new possibilities. It makes reading fun fluffy stories that much more colorful. Every one of the men in Stephanie’s life are a) gorgeous and b) have a unique set of skills, and c) are committed to helping her with anything she might need. Spending a little time in her shoes means readers can dream they have the same thing. Just a heads up – in real life you can only have two of the three.

Everyone has a story

If anything, these books prove that everyone’s got a story, and if you dig deep enough it’s an interesting one as well. In Hardcore Twenty-four, we learned all about grannie’s lovelife, Ranger and Diesel’s special set of skills, and Ethel the boa constrictor’s food preferences. If you want to make someone’s day, find out about their story. I’m sure there’s something interesting there you’d never expect.

Get your copy of Hardcore Twenty-four on Amazon today.


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Book Review: The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

I found this book by happy accident. Namely, my book club thought it looked cool, and I love their discussions so much that I am compelled to read their picks. I won’t lie, most of the book reviews from the past year resulted from my book club. You guys rock.

The Story:

Claire is the librarian for The Library of the Unwritten, Hell’s own library for stories that were never completed by their authors. Most of these stories sleep quietly, but occasionally, their characters get anxious and try to escape. On one such escape, a Hero seeks out his author with the intent of inspiring her to finish writing his story, something that is totally against the rules. During his retrieval from the mortal world things go horribly wrong. The angels believe that Claire has the text of the Devil’s bible, a powerful weapon meant to upset the balance between Heaven and Hell. They will do anything to stop her from finding it’s pages.

My Review:

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that I have a weakness for excellent writing. The Library of the Unwritten is one of those books where the reader is continually delighted by a clever turn of phrase or an exceptional description. The most remarkable part of this book is the concepts engineered to make the worlds work together and the elaborate otherness of it all.

The Library itself is such a cool concept. Imagine, you think of a story and perhaps start to jot it down. As you work and think, the people and things in the story take on form and begin to live. What happens when the story is abandoned? Where do those characters go when the end of their tale isn’t written? In this essence, the library is a purgatory for books and everything they contain. They are stuck in limbo and hold all the potential their story has to offer, waiting for the author to pick up the pen once more. For those stories who’s authors have died, the characters who are restless and won’t stay in their books are allowed to live out the eternities in the Damsel suite, a protected place where they can learn and grow however they choose.

Claire is a compelling and complex character who is fairly snarky and has the wherewithal to dish it out. Her accompanying cast are a circus act blend of characters that include fallen angels, demons, a muse, and the people who spring from the unwritten stories.

As for the story itself, I was hooked right from the start. The idea that there was this librarian who curated unwritten books alone was so interesting that for the first third of the book I simply had to read more to see how all the different ideas were woven together. Don’t get me wrong, the story was interesting, but I think I read more because I was amazed at the creativity of it all – and the excellent writing. I did get a little tired near the two thirds mark, which might have been because I couldn’t relate to the stakes, or that my head cold muddled my brain, not sure which. However, the thrilling conclusion tied everything back together in a pyrotechnic fueled extravaganza that left this reader satisfied.

Recommendations:

This one is tough to place. It’s not a traditional fantasy and skirts into the realm of magical realism. The publisher categorizes it into humorous fantasy, and it was funny at times, but for me that doesn’t fit as well. Is there an existential fantasy category?

I’d recommend this for those who love excellent world and concept building that keeps the reader surprised, you’ll find plenty of it here. Also, for those creatives out there, this is a love letter to inspiration and where it lives when you are off doing other things. Authors especially will enjoy this book because of the many, many references to how we treat our characters, and how they might treat us in return.

However, for those who have issues with the ideology of Heaven and Hell, or of demons interacting with humans, this book will be a problem. There’s some straight up blasphemy in here, creatively used, of course.

I give The Library of the Unwritten a solid 4/5 stars.

Buy your copy here!


Hey, you look like someone who loves a really good read. I’ve got a little something for you. Consider it a tiny gift from me. “Breath” is a short story about Fauna, the original elemental guardian of souls and her journey to take part in the secret her charges possess.

Get your free copy here!


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Jodi L Milner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.