Book Review: Folded Notes From High School by Matt Boren

I picked up this quick read off of a recommendation and for the life of me I can’t remember exactly where … I’m thinking it was a writing group and we might have been talking about character voices. No, this isn’t a fantasy book. It’s an epistolary novel, meaning that the entirety of the prose is composed of letters, or in this case, folded notes. There are zero magical elements, mythical characters, or even speculative circumstances.

Sometimes it’s good to branch out… And sometimes, not so much. There were lots of good things in here but there were also things that made me a little nuts.

The Story

Tara considers herself practically perfect. She’s the best actress, on the cheerleading squad, and, like, super smart. She’s got a really good BFF who’s a bit more down to earth named Stephanie. Her big goal for her senior year is to score the lead in the school play, Grease. In the mean time, she also tries to give advice to a new freshman, Matt because her jock boyfriend thought it was a good idea.

The remainder of the story consists of Tara not getting what she wants, then lying to herself and the world that someone or something is plotting against her. She refuses to take responsibility for anything that happens and has no problem blaming what happens to her on literally anyone who has hurt her in the past. We see her impact on her friends as they write each other notes.

As we reach the end of Tara’s senior year, we see her desperation to get what she wants pushes her to take some fairly drastic actions.

The book blurb says it all, “Tara Maureen Murphy is any high school’s worst nightmare, bringing single-minded ambition, narcissism, manipulation, and jealousy to new extremes.”

My Review

To be fair, the writing itself was well voiced and I had no problem believing that this was High School in 1991. In fact, it was so close to my high school experience with bullies and brats, that it was almost uncomfortable to read.

If you’re going to write a story where the main character is meant to be a manipulative narcissist, then you have to have that character earn a surprising but inevitable fate. I wanted Tara to come out of this story having learned the error of her ways and grow as a person, instead of digging deeper into her self delusion.

In this story, we do see Tara get a small comeuppance from Matt who she played emotional ping pong with going from loving to hating to loving again depending on which of them scored roles in the school’s plays. Tara is really a jerk to Matt, who is portrayed as a sweet but not stupid kid who refuses to play her games. When he finally caught her in a massive lie that hurt him and his friends, he “accidentally” let hundreds of incriminating pictures blow across the neighborhood.

But, that’s the only karma she gets – which felt kinda lame.

My Recommendations

Folded Notes from High School contains miles of teenage angst and hormones. As such, there are more than a few oblique references to intimate situations, but no depictions there of. Trigger warning: The point of the book is to show how one girl emotionally manipulates everyone in her path, so those who have experienced this type of manipulation might want to avoid reading. There is some course language, but no violence.

For readers 14 and up.

I rate this story 3/5 stars for failing to have a rewarding arc for any of the characters.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Folded Notes from High School today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I’m branching out! Normally I’m not one to read ghost stories, but hey, this one was recommended and also available in audiobook at my local digital library. Yay. I do miss reading print books and the ritual of curling up and diving into the pages, but lately I’ve also appreciated having a distraction to listen to as I go about all the chores that I don’t really like.

This book makes a lovely distraction.

The Story

Cas Lowood has never had a normal life. His family has moved from place to place as his father hunted and killed dangerous ghosts. When his father is murdered by one of these violent ghosts, Cas inherits the job as well as the special sacrificial blade, the athame.

When Cas learns of the ghost, Anna Dressed in Blood, he knows that she might be the most dangerous target yet and he and his mother relocate to her sleepy small town. But, as all stories go, Anna turns out to be much different than expected. While she is terribly violent and literally tears apart anyone who steps foot into her home, she spares Cas.

Cas goes on to uncover her story and learn what is giving her so much power compared to other ghosts he’s hunted. In the process, he makes friends with the “queen bee” of the school and a totally nerdy kid who happens to be psychic. They work together to find clues about Anna, including casting a spell that reveals how and why she died.

It’s not until a much bigger problem presents itself that they know just how much trouble they’re in.

My Review

This is a story that seems almost a little too straightforward at first and then as the details unwind it gets more layered and to me, more interesting. The writing is very clean and easy to listen to, the characters unique and likeable, and the story itself engaging. And, there’s quite a bit of gore and violence as expected in a horror story, which in itself raises the tension and also makes the book demand to be read past bedtime.

I’ll admit, my writer brain did not want to shut up on this one as I puzzled through the clues that were given and what the possible outcomes could be. The best books give enough clues that I have a good idea where the story might go and the idea of it excites me enough that I want to see it come to life. Anna Dressed in Blood did have a handful of clues leading to something bigger going on beyond Anna’s story, so when that bigger thing stepped onto the page it shouldn’t have felt like a complete 180, but it did.

When listening to an audiobook, it’s much harder time to get a good feel where you are in the story. When I reached the big action scene that was meant to banish Anna back to wherever ghosts go when Cas kills them, I thought it might be the climax of the book. When her climactic scene came and went, but it didn’t’ feel like things were being resolved, I was left wondering what the story was really about.

The bigger story comes back to Cas wanting to find a resolution for the murder of his father and we definitely do get to that.

Another note, I didn’t know that this story was a duology (two book series) so when we got to the actual end and it didn’t feel finished, I wasn’t sure if it was just ended poorly or if I missed something. There are openings for more to happen, so I’ll probably pick up the second book to finish the story.

My Recommendation

As a horror novel, there are a few expectations that need to be lived up to. Anna Dressed in Blood has several on page murders that don’t shy back from the gory details. There is also a smattering of profanity, although not enough to really feel like an issue, I personally didn’t find it offensive.

This book is technically classified as a Young Adult (YA) horror, but its material does stretch above and beyond what many might be consider acceptable for YA. It earns it’s YA standing because the main character is very much a teen and throughout the story we are shown what it means to go through hard things as a teen so the YA assignment does work.

I’d recommend this for older teens and up because of the violence and gore.

I give Anna Dressed in Blood 3/5 for being a solid horror read but the shift to Cas’s bigger story felt disconnected to the events surrounding Anna’s story.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Anna Dressed in Blood today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen

This is a series I’d heard about off and on. So, when I saw it available at the local virtual library I thought, “what the hey, let’s give it a shot.” It’s got royalty, subterfuge, and some snarky characters, so there’s a lot of potential here.

And … it’s a genderbent Anastasia.

The Story

I’m not kidding. The story itself is a close play-by-play of the 1997 Don Bluth animated adaptation of Anastasia. You know, the one with Meg Ryan, John Cusack, and Kelsey Grammer? The one with the lovely hit song, “Journey to the Past”? Yeah, that one.

Except with boys.

Sage is a clever orphan who is constantly making trouble. He’s got a good heart though, most of the trouble he gets in helps to get food for other unfortunates like himself. He and three other boys like him are plucked from their orphanages by one of the Regents of Carthya, Sir Bevin Connor, with the goal of making them into Prince Jaron, who went missing after a pirate attack four years earlier.

We spend the majority of the book watching Sage’s antics as Connor tries to teach him how to be a prince only for Sage to outsmart him at every turn. The other boys take these teachings seriously which puts Sage into a tricky position. He suspects that Connor will kill off whoever isn’t chosen, as he already killed one boy who wanted no part of the plan after it was revealed.

Behind the scenes and out of the view of the reader, Sage is ensuring that everything is in order for him to become Prince Jaron. If you’re familiar with the Anastasia story, you know where this is going. We come to a dramatic show down where everyone gets what they deserve, somewhat.

My Review

I wanted to like this book. There were lots of elements in it that were came close to being good, but fell just shy, including the main character. It also could have been that the book is mostly written in first person, which is a point of view that I find I can’t enjoy as much because it limits what the story can show the reader.

And, I figured out the majority of the plot in the first chapter so nothing really came as a surprise or a stunning big reveal. That is probably more me than most readers (ask the hubby, I’m delightful to watch TV with. Poor plot twists never knew what hit them).

Don’t get me wrong, I was entertained by the book. There was lots of swash-swash-buckle-buckle to keep things interesting, and Sage kept getting his butt handed to him which required people to tend to his various hurts, which I always appreciate. Beyond that, the writing was solid but not breathtaking, the plot interesting but predictable, and the characters rounded but not vibrant.

Recommendations

This book is perfect for younger boys trying to find stories where they can identify themselves in the characters. There’s literally a character for each type of boy, there’s the jock, the nerd, and the clever one who all have both good and bad traits to be likable. The prose is very approachable and the plot straightforward. The recommended reading age is 8-12, which looking back on my earlier remarks makes so much sense. As such, it’s super clean with appropriate levels of anger and violence and some mentions of blood but nothing too graphic.

I give The False Prince 3/5 stars, a solid entertaining read that I really wanted to be surprised by, and wasn’t.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed The False Prince today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles #2)

Sequels can be really problematic, especially if the first book was intended to be a standalone. Thankfully, Cinder ended with enough cliffhangers that Scarlet feels like it belongs as part of the story. To see my review of Cinder, go here.

As with Cinder and Cinderella, Scarlet takes the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood and turns it on its head as it meshes with the unresolved parts of Cinder’s tale. Meyer did a remarkable job weaving the two stories together.

The Story

Scarlet, a vibrant redhead who sells farm fresh vegetables for a living, is searching for her missing grandmother. The police have proved less than helpful, assuming that the woman chose to run away despite all the clues to the contrary. True to the resourceful and determined woman Scarlet is, she takes the matter into her own hands.

Following clues, she meets a man named Wolf who is dangerous in every sense of the word. He’s a powerful fighter, inhumanly strong and fast, and has enhanced senses true to his namesake. He says he might be able to help her find her grandma.

On the other side of the world, Cinder is escaping from prison with the help of her new found lunar gift and a man, Thorne, who becomes her accomplice by accident. She doesn’t know where she’ll go, or what she’ll do, but she’s determined to stay out of the hands of the authorities. As she moves closer to freedom, she starts remembering more and more of her past and is determined to find the truth about her childhood.

Cinder and Scarlet’s pasts are woven together and their paths collide in the search for Scarlet’s grandmother who played an important role in keeping a much younger Cinder safe. But, none of this can be easy. Wolf is part of a secret militia unit and has orders to find and bring Cinder in.

My Review

Overall, the book of Scarlet stays true to all the parts of Cinder that I liked. The female protagonists are both strong women with careers and specialties that make them unique and likable. They have their own goals and are willing to work and sacrifice to meet them. The world continues to stay interesting as we explore new areas in futuristic France – although because we have already seen much of it, it’s not as exciting as when we explored it in Cinder.

Where the book Cinder played heavily into the Cinderella story, Scarlet only takes a handful of stylistic and character cues from Little Red Riding Hood. There’s no clear huntsman character, unless you count the unwitting prisoner that Cinder drags along because he has a spaceship. Where the self centered stepmother in Cinder was played exactly as her Cinderella counterpart, the Wolf counterpart in Scarlet is surprisingly complex.

My biggest struggle with reading Scarlet was swapping between the points of view between two strong female protagonists. While it was executed perfectly, both spoke and acted in unique ways that were different from each other, I found myself getting confused with which girl I was reading because their goals were fairly similar. They both were following clues and trying to find the same woman.

Recommendations

This is a solid fun read. If you liked Cinder for the adventure and action in a futuristic world, you’ll like Scarlet for the same reasons. However, if you loved Cinder for its princess story, beautiful palace, fancy dresses, and Prince Kai – you’ll find very little of that world here.

There is some icky violence and depictions of gore in this one, far more than in Cinder so be warned. However, there’s still no swearing and all the romantic leanings and feelings never progress to anything more. But – there’s a heaping pile of teenage angst that comes with Scarlet, so if that’s something you love, yay. If not, I told you so.

I give Scarlet 4 out of 5 stars – fun and lives up to expectations.


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 and receive all sorts of goodies, including a free short story from me!.

Book Review: The Diabolic, by S. J. Kincaid

This book was recommended to me by a friend in the writing world when I told her what else I’d been reading and happened to mention my random foray into science fiction. She thought this would be a great fit as while The Diabolic is set in space, it’s more of a suspense thriller than anything else. Thanks DawnRay for the suggestion, it was certainly an entertaining read.

The Story

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a creature made to serve as a bodyguard for Sidonia, a galactic senator’s daughter. The two grow up together and have become close. Part of Nemesis’s creation process made her completely loyal to Sidonia to the point that Nemesis expects to give up her life to protect Sidonia.

Nemesis is given that chance when Sidonia’s father angers the Emperor by acting against the decree of the Galactic Court with his interest in science. As punishment, Sidonia is summoned to the court, a vast city-like space station called the Chrysanthemum. To protect Sidonia, Nemesis is altered to appear like Sidonia and is sent in her place.

It is there at the Chrysanthemum that Nemesis discovers not only that there is more to the ruling class of the galaxy, but more to herself as well.

My Review

This story has a super cool premise where the main character is not quite human but is forced to fit into a human world. She literally sees the world from an alien perspective knowing she’s different from everyone around her and therefore shouldn’t expect to be treated the same.

So, by forcing her to pretend she’s a human is quite possibly the most difficult thing that could be asked of her – a brilliant plotting choice. Everything from that moment forward encompasses that struggle of how to act “normal” when you feel so out of place, and that someone else’s life depends on how well you succeed.

Clearly, it doesn’t go well. Nemesis makes huge critical errors that put her in the spotlight in more ways than one. She not only draws the attention of those she’s trying to hide from, but she draws their hatred as well. It’s the opposite of what she was originally sent to do.

For a character who is supposed to be emotionless, this is an emotionally driven story which makes it all the more engaging. The settings created within the story are places that I would love to visit if they were real, including vast gardens with opulent salt baths and domes that reveal black endless space.

While it’s an exciting book, there are elements that as a writer I felt could be stronger. The settings were really cool but there were plenty of scenes where once the setting was established, there was no further mention of the character interacting with the space. There was also plenty of what we call “filter words” where instead of just showing the reader what was being seen or felt, it’s dumbed down by first saying “I looked,” or “I felt,” or “I tasted.” It’s a little thing, but it reminds the reader that they are in fact reading.

My recommendations

Yes, this is technically a YA adventure thriller. However, it’s hugely violent and there are some pretty graphic descriptions of people literally being torn apart. With the main character being a professional killing machine, this isn’t unexpected, but it’s enough that I feel it appropriate to warn off younger readers and leave this one to the older teens.

Within all of this is a pretty turbulent romantic subplot that never steps into anything more than a kiss, but there is plenty of teenage angst wrapped up all around this, so if you really can’t stand that, you’ve been warned.

As for language and swearing, I have the hardest time remembering specifics, especially when I listen to the story as an audiobook. Nothing shocked me, but I want to say there might have been some PG-13 swearing.

I give The Diabolic a 3.5/5 for having some fascinating worldbuilding and characters but also having way more political drama than I was expecting.