Book Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson (2018)

Image result for wolves of winter book tyrell johnson

Review #17


Somewhere in the near future humanity has been decimated by the combination of nuclear winter and a fatal flu pandemic. Deep in the wilds of the Yukon, Lynn and her family have been forced to learn how to survive in this harsh new environment. Their fragile existence is shattered when a mysterious lone figure shows up at their cabin, bringing with him the shadows of the world they left behind.

This is author Tyrell Johnson’s debut, and he does an excellent job of drawing us in to the cold snows of Canadian winter. The opening chapters are like a post-apocalyptic Little House on the Prairie. We meet Lynn McBride as she is hunting, and are later introduced to the rest of her small family, all of whom work hard to pull their weight in the harsh Northern climate.

As a heroine, Lynn is vulnerable enough that we believe when she is in danger, while also being resourceful enough to hold her own against both her enemies and the elements. She is yet another example of the “bow-and-arrow” girl that has become so popular in YA literature. I get the appeal of the bow-and-arrow girl. The weapon has the feminine undertones of Diana the Huntress while still being effective at bringing home food. It also doesn’t carry with it the negative connotations associated with firearms. The bow is the “sexy” way to hunt. Just once, I would love to see a YA heroine who hunts using a boomerang. Or a blowgun.

There were parts of the novel when I wondered if Lynn was initially written to be much younger than the twenty-three year old that appears in the book. Maybe Johnson re-wrote her character to be older when he decided to make her sexually active? It was more of a curiosity, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. There are aspects of The Wolves of Winter to entertain both older teens and adults.

This would be a great novel to read while sitting inside sipping a mug of hot chocolate while a blizzard rages outside.

My rating: 4/5

You can find The Wolves of Winter here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (2017)

Image result for caraval

Review #9


Having spent her entire life on the island of Trisda and under the thumb of her bullying father, Scarlett Dragna has dreamed for years of Caraval. A yearly game run by an enigmatic man known only as Legend, Caraval entices participants with the prize of a single magical wish. With the help of a renegade sailor, Scarlett and her sister Tella escape their island and arrive at Legend’s magical island. But Scarlett quickly learns that nothing in Caraval is what is seems, and the consequences could be deadly.

The last two books I read for this blog were both about horribly dysfunctional families and the lasting scars they leave on their children. Having been through the emotional wringer, I wanted my next book to be something a little lighter. I chose Caraval because its cover is gorgeous and I knew it was YA fantasy. Turns out I might have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

Caraval is a fantasy that exists in a vacuum. The novel opens on the “Conquered Isles” in “Year 50 of the Elantine Dynasty”. Yet we are never told why these Isles were conquered, or by whom. What is the Elantine Dynasty, and what happened fifty years ago to set it in place? A lot of the place names are derived from Spanish such as the hotel La Serpentiene and the Castillo Maldito. Even the name of Scarlett’s home island, Trisda, comes from triste, the Spanish word for sadness. So we’re on Earth? In the past or the future? None of these questions are addressed which made it increasingly difficult to envision this world as a place that has weight and meaning.

Caraval is also a fantasy that exists without any meaningful character description. The only thing we know to be true of Scarlett is that she loves her sister. This is repeated twice a page, lest we should forget. When the generic love interest is introduced, we are subjected to the familiar “I hate him but he’s so intriguing”. Which of course changes without warning to “I cannot live without him”.

Then there are descriptions such as this:

“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.”

What does that even mean? What the hell does midnight taste like? But that’s not the only example:

“The world tasted like lies and ashes when Scarlett woke.”

“Every touch created colors she had never seen. Colors as soft as velvet and as sharp as sparks that turned into stars.”

“She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black.” 

None of that makes a bit of sense, and it kept pulling me out of the novel because I had to roll my eyes. I can get on board with a bit of purple prose, but when you use it at the expense of actual character development it becomes tedious.

The biggest problem was that, at the end of the day, this book was not written for me. It was written for thirteen year old me. Thirteen year old me would have bathed in all of those overly romantic descriptions. She would have reveled in the countless descriptions of gorgeous ball gowns. She would have relished the oh-so passionate and yet determinedly chaste romance between Scarlett and Julian. This book was written for thirteen year old me. Thirty year old me is just too savvy (cynical?) to fall for it.

In the immortal words of Agent Murtaugh, I’m getting too old for this shit.

My rating: 2/5

You can find Caraval here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan (1973/2010)

Image result for lois duncan i know what you did

Review #2


I found this book on a Buzzfeed list and my immediate reaction was “What! That’s a book!?” The slasher film of the same name was one of my favorites when I was a teenager. I immediately wait-listed it at my local library and it came in just in time to be my second book of the new year.

Before I can even begin reviewing, I have to explain something about this novel. It was originally published in 1973. The movie came out in 1999. Then, the book was re-edited and re-released in 2010. This was apparently to update the novel for modern audiences. because it would seem that modern teens just cannot envision a world without their precious technology. So there are now references to texting, Google, and web-chats. I was so incredibly confused when I started reading this book, because I knew the film came out in ’99 when the internet was in its infancy and texting was most definitely not a thing. I had to stop and dig around just to prove to myself that I wasn’t crazy.

The novel focuses on four high-school aged teenagers who try to cover up a terrible crime, only to find it haunting their steps a year later. When threatening messages begin turning up at their houses, they realize that their past has returned to take revenge. Sound familiar? That’s the basic plot of the film. However, that’s where the similarities end. The ice-pick wielding fisherman is nowhere to be seen. The person killed in the opening scene is not a young man named Ben. Spoilers? Not really. The movie is twenty-years old. Come on.

I really wish I had managed to obtain the original copy of this book. It is glaringly evident that random changes have been wedged in wherever the publishers and Lois Duncan thought they could fit. We have vague descriptions of texting and webcasts, but it’s then followed by a conversation about whether or not it’s okay for a married woman to work. It’s 2010 technology squished together with the dumb machismo of the early 1970s. One character keeps mentioning that he is a veteran from Iraq when it’s almost painfully obvious that he is describing the Vietnam War.

I don’t know why the publishers thought it would be a good idea to “update” this novel. It seems like a mixture of a cash-grab and a “those young folks will never understand a world without iPhones!” Heads up, young people are way smarter than you think. They are perfectly capable of putting their imaginations into an historical context. It’s a little condescending that anyone would feel the need to shoehorn in a Google reference here and there just to make their book feel “relevant”

My rating: 2/5 for the 2010 revision. I’ll update if I ever get my hands on the original version.

You can find I Know What You Did Last Summer here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.


Book Review: MILA 2.0 by Debra Driza (2013)

Image result for mila 2.0

Sixteen year-old Mila Daily and her mother have recently moved to a small Minnesota town following the death of her father. After surviving an accident that should have proved fatal, Mila is forced to confront a difficult truth. She isn’t a normal girl. She isn’t, in fact, even human.

This was the December pick for my monthly book club and overall, I enjoyed it. It’s well paced with an engaging heroine who behaves with all the impulsiveness of any teenage girl. I loved the descriptions of Mila’s “bonus features” which point out both the positives and the negatives of having something like Terminator-vision. The action sequences were well-written and easily to follow, which is a lot harder than it sounds. The most interesting scenes take place when Mila is talking with Three, her counterpart.

I finished this book in about a day, and it kept my attention the entire time. I wish I could rate it higher, but at the same time there were a few glaring problems that kept me from truly submerging myself in this fictional world. MILA 2.0 sometimes feels like an alphabet soup of common YA tropes. I picked up strong hints of Divergence with Mila’s constant internal (whining) monologue. The author, Debra Driza, has a habit of ending every chapter on a cliff-hanger, which is one of the reasons I eventually stopped reading The Maze Runner books. I also found some of the characters to be a little implausible. Hunter, as the generically perfect romantic interest, is introduced and then almost immediately left behind. The military general was unnecessarily evil. I get that the military does shady things for shady reasons but at least there are reasons. Whereas this guy seemed to be a dick just for the sake of being a dick. The bond between Mila and her mother is awkward. One minute, it’s a normal mother-daughter relationship with typical angsty rebellion. Then it’s wild anger and betrayal, followed way too quickly by forgiveness and undying loyalty. Also the character of Lucas was obviously a plot device; from the moment he showed up it was painfully obvious exactly what role he was there to fulfill.

I wish that the science part of the science fiction had been given a larger voice. We discover pretty early on that Mila isn’t human. Let’s talk about that! This novel had the wonderful opportunity to explore the essence of humanity and to question the existence of a soul. Instead, too much of the book is given over to lengthy chase scenes and internal monologuing.

With all that, I still did enjoy the book. It was a fun and uncomplicated read. I will probably pick up the other books in the series at some point.

My rating: 3/5

You can find this book here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Book Review: Throne of Glass (Books #1-5) by Sarah J. Maas

Image result for throne of glass Image result for crown of midnight Image result for heir of fire

Image result for queen of shadows                                                     Image result for empire of storms

Over the summer I discovered Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) trilogy on a Buzzfeed list of fantasy novels. I read the entire series in a few days and thoroughly enjoyed it. The second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury, was one of my favorite books of the year. When I learned that Maas had another fantasy series out, Throne of Glass (ToG) I quickly downloaded them from my local library and got to work.

I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there may be important plot points given away. You’ve been warned!

Image result for spoilers doctor who


Magic has been banished from the continent of Erilea. The king of Adarlan has expanded his empire by overthrowing the nearby kingdoms, leaving thousands either in poverty or in slavery. Celaena Sardothien is in the latter category. An infamous assassin, she was sentenced to life in a labor camp after she and her partner were betrayed and caught. After a year of struggling to survive, a man shows up with the power to change her life. The king of Adarlan is holding a contest to find a new Champion. He is recruiting thieves and killers from all of Erilea to compete against one another, the winner to receive riches and a position in the court of Adarlan. Celaena must now compete against others just like herself or risk being thrown back into the horrors of the slave camp.

Aelin Galathynius is a princess without a throne. After the king of Adarlan had her parents slaughtered, she has been running and hiding for most of her life. She journeys across the sea to Wendlyn, the kingdom of the Fae, to beg for help from the ruthless Fae Queen, Maeve.

I love a badass heroine, and there is no more heroine more badass than Celaena Sardothien. I’m going to be very frank right now, the first novel does not do her justice. I noticed something similar with the first installment of ACOTAR. Maas struggles to get her characters on their feet and behaving like people as opposed to paper dolls. Had the series as a whole not gotten such rave reviews I might have stopped reading midway through Throne of Glass. The other characters spend an awful lot of time referring to Celaena as a dangerous, bloodthirsty, heartless killer…but we are often treated to long descriptions of her pretty dresses or the books she likes to read. Celaena frequently muses on how quickly she could kill the people she is interacting with, but we never actually see this happen throughout the duration of the first novel. I got the sense that Maas was trying to make sure her deadly killer could still be seen as likable, but she somehow managed to declaw Celaena in the process. This problem is quickly solved in the next few books, so I would encourage readers to at least get to Crown of Midnight before making any final judgments.

It must be acknowledged that ToG is YA fiction. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I really enjoy YA fantasy, however; it still is reined in by the limitations of its genre. Parts of the series get overly hung-up on various love affairs and relationships. There were times when you want to roll your eyes and tell two of the characters to please just f*ck already so we can move on with the plot. And Aelin Targaryen – I’m sorry –  Galathynius’ journey to reclaim her kingdom takes a lot of time to get off the ground as she weebles and wobbles her way from place to place. ToG shares many themes with GoT except that, for me anyway, it lacked a little of emotional resonance. I never doubted that the characters were going to end up where they wanted to be, and with the impossibly good-looking people they wanted to be with. This isn’t necessarily a criticism; there are few authors in world who can match George R. R. Martin’s malevolent delight in killing off his main characters. It does, however; take away a certain amount of suspense. Who knows, perhaps the next novel in the series will make me eat those words. One can only hope.

After the underwhelming first novel, ToG shakes off its early sluggishness and begins fleshing out its characters and their various story arcs. Our primary focus is on Celaeana, and her journey builds momentum at a blistering pace. Once she gets into her groove, Maas is an expert at hooking her readers and keeping them on the edge of their seats. I recently finished the fifth novel and am livid that I have to wait a few months until the sixth installment becomes available for checkout at the library.

Overall, I would definitely recommend these novels to anyone who is a fan of high fantasy in general and YA fantasy specifically. Yes, there are some moments when you are going to roll your eyes. But overall, the Throne of Glass series is a fun and riveting set of books that is perfect for those days when you want something that is generally uncomplicated but still capable of packing a punch.

Note: I will mention that this series is on the mature end of the YA genre. Some of the scenes get very steamy. I wouldn’t recommend this series to anyone under the age of sixteen. 

You can find the first book of the series here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

My Rating: 4/5

Happy reading everyone!