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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Paranormal/Supernatural

Shadowshaper
Older, Daniel José
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Sierra Santiago is looking forward to the perfect summer. Class is finally out, she has a close group of friends to hang out and party with, and best of all she has the perfect summer gig: painting murals on the walls of old buildings in Brooklyn. But when she starts work on her first mural, she notices something strange going on with the other paintings around her. For one thing, they’re fading way faster than normal, and for another – well, it almost seems like they’re moving. Most confusing of all, when she gets home her grandfather – who hasn’t spoken since his stroke – suddenly wakes up and starts speaking directly to her: she HAS to finish the mural she’s painting, he says, and she needs to do it as fast as possible – before it’s too late. Sierra is thrown. What could a giant picture of a dragon have to with anything? And what does her grandfather mean about time running out? He leaves her with a riddle about a missing woman and more questions than answers.

Most infuriating of all, everyone in her family seems to know exactly what’s going on – but no one will tell her. Her mother even gets angry with her when she tries to ask about the connection between her grandfather and the murals. Something about the subject is just too dangerous to discuss. At first this seems ridiculous to her, but when she goes to a party with a group of her friends suddenly the danger is all too real. A zombie crashes the party and heads straight for her. Sierra is in shock, but Robbie, the quiet, artistic boy from her class that she’s been chatting with, knows what it is – and knows Sierra’s grandfather, too. Sierra escapes, but it’s a close call, and her problems are only just beginning.

Afraid and more confused than ever, she decides to go to the best place for research: the library. While she’s there, she discovers that an anthropologist, the mysterious Dr. Wick, was studying her grandfather and his group of friends just before he had a stroke and everything went wrong. Dr. Wick was researching a power called shadowshaping: the ability to imbue ancestral spirits into their artwork, whether it’s storytelling, music, or, you guessed it, painting murals. Sierra’s starting to put together the pieces, but time is running out – the murals are fading faster than ever and her grandfather’s group of friends, the shadowshapers, are dying one by one. Sure, they’re elderly men, and there’s not a mark on their bodies, but it can’t just be a coincidence, can it? And what about Dr. Wick – he went missing at the same time as her grandfather's a stroke, but is he a victim or a killer? Sierra sets out with Robbie and her group of friends in search of answers. Along the way, she’ll face the walking dead, living paintings, and her family’s tangled past.

I love fantasy, and this had such a unique premise that I had to pick it up, but sadly it fell far short of my expectations. First, the good: the magic system is very original and a lot of fun to read about; the idea of imbuing artwork with ancestral spirits is already interesting, but having murals and chalk drawings come to life to dance and fight and interact with the world made for great reading and some really cool action scenes. In addition, the cast is very diverse in terms of both race and sexuality, and Sierra’s budding relationship with Robbie felt natural rather than forced (and I say that as someone who usually hates romance in YA, but it was very subtle and actually rather sweet). Unfortunately, none of this could save the book from its biggest problem: the pacing. Usually I’m complaining about books that are bloated with filler, but this one had the opposite problem: way too many ideas, not enough space. In just 280 pages, there wasn’t enough room to develop all of the world-building and plot and character development that could have made this book great. As a result, it’s very uneven, and there’s no room for the plot to breathe; the book jumps around a lot from plot point to plot point, and most of the interactions between characters are, quite frankly, bizarre. Older forces awkward conversations that seemed designed to cram in as much background detail as possible before ending abruptly mid-stream so that Sierra can get to the next scene. It’s as if he’s written a check list of everything Sierra needs to do and he’s decided to follow it doggedly regardless of whether or not it flows. Details are introduced but then never followed up on or resolved in any way.

This is compounded by a second problem: the writing just isn’t very good. Part of that is just the book being aimed at a younger audience, and that aspect doesn’t bother me, but another part is awkward transitions between scenes, ham-fisted dialogue, and way too many editing errors for such a short read. These problems together made it honestly quite painful to get through, especially in the rushed beginning chapters when you can see Older trying to get to the main plot as quickly as possible at the expense of everything else. Basically, good idea, poor execution. I would give it 2.5 stars. I still think this has appeal for teens who love urban fantasy or who are looking for something different and original to read, but I wouldn’t call it good by any stretch of the imagination.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Monstress: Volume 1, Awakening
Liu, Marjorie M., Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Monstress follows Maika Halfwolf, a hybrid human/monster called an "Arcanic", as she tries to free fellow Arcanics from human cruelty and avenge her mother's death at the hands of a powerful group of human witches. Oh yeah, and Maika herself keeps turning (at least partially) into an old-world style monster that kills almost everything in its sight, regardless of whether they are friend and foe. As we follow Maika in her quest for revenge, we get flashbacks that inform us of her motivations and murky past.

This was definitely one of my favorite graphic novels of the year.

Maika is a layered anti-hero with a disability (she's missing an arm). I liked her more and more the more I learned about her. She's not shy about killing people, though, hence the anti-hero label. In fact, she's probably more of a villain than an anti-hero, but that really only added to the story for me. I mean, this title earns its "M" rating. It's very very bloody. Maika does not do nice things to her enemies.

The art was GORGEOUS. SO PRETTY. I'm fairly new to graphic novels, but this just might be the best art that I've seen. The cover is actually relatively simple compared to the insanely intricate steampunk/art deco panels on the inside. Art lovers, check this book out for the artwork alone (but be prepared for a rather gory experience).

So even though I very obviously loved this title, it was not perfect. Like in many graphic novels, there is little by way of introduction to the characters, and you are just thrown right into the story with background info being filled in later. Because the world-building was so complex, I found myself having to read certain parts several times (or having to revisit prior pages/storylines). This could just be a me thing because I have this problem in a lot of graphic novels, but I also found some of the action scenes to be incomprehensible.

I can't believe I almost forgot this amazing detail, but there are talking cats. You know what makes almost every story better? A talking cat.

This was definitely an excellent read. Graphic novel fantasy lovers, you would be remiss to not check this book out (but stay away if you don't like blood). 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
A Monster Calls
Ness, Patrick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A Monster Calls is an award winning, simple, easy to read book about a very complicated, emotional issue. A young boy, Conor, faces the stark reality of his mother’s terminal illness. He has been suffering from a recurring nightmare and suddenly a new dream-like monster comes to him to see him through this upheaval. It is a short book that will have you emotionally tied up in knots written for young adults, but applicable to all people that are dealing with loss, closure and guilt. Conor’s internal struggle vividly comes to life in the form of the monster in this book. If you’re looking for a quick read that will pull you in and hold you, this is the book for you.

Reviewer's Name: Jenny G.
The Raven Boys
Stiefvater, Maggie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Blue Sargent has unusual name, but she is an unusual girl. She lives in the small town of Henrietta, in a house filled with psychics, including her mother. Ever since she can remember she has been told that she if she kisses her true love he will die. Up until now Blue has tried to stay away from boys, especially the preppy rich ones that go to the boarding school in town. But when she gets involved with four boys from the Aglionby School who are searching for the burial site of a mythical Welsh king, Blue’s plans go out the window. As the hunt for the grave becomes more dangerous (ghosts and Latin speaking trees included), so too does Blue’s relationship with one of the boys named Gansey. Will Blue be able to be part of the quest without killing one of the Raven boys?

The Raven Boys is a dark and gritty fantasy, which turns the ‘true love’s kiss’ cliché on its head. For anyone looking for a more modern take on the fantasy genre or are interested in the paranormal, this is the book for them.

Reviewer's Name: K. S.
White is for Witching
Oyeyemi, Helen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

White Is for Witching is a difficult book to describe. I suppose you could say that it's the story of a young woman, Miranda Silver, who suffers from pica, a condition which compels sufferers to crave and eat inedible foods: chalk, plastic, metal, rubber. The story follows her life -- loosely -- from her mother's death when she was a little girl up until her mysterious disappearance in her late teens/early 20s. The story is told from the perspectives of Miranda, her twin brother, her college girlfriend, and the (possibly evil) house/bed & breakfast she lives in, along with a few brief POV sections from side characters. They're nominally piecing together the events that led up to Miranda's disappearance, but that thread often gets lost in the meandering chapters. Fair warning: the plot is difficult to follow and it wasn't until I reread the opening that the story started to click into place. There's a strange, dream-like atmosphere, none of the narrators are anything close to reliable, and it wasn't always clear to me (read: it was almost never clear to me) what was going on. To give a sample of just a few of the plot threads: There are a string of assaults/murders of refugees happening in Dover, England, where Miranda and her family live. Is she connected to them somehow? Some passages seem to suggest so, but we certainly never find out. The house she lives in seems to hate immigrants and may or may not have eaten her female ancestors to keep them from leaving, but don't expect either of these points to be brought to any sort of conclusion. The closest thing to a central thread was the obsession with the possibility that Miranda was or was controlled by a soucouyant, a sort of vampire/shape-shifter in Caribbean traditions. So race, identity, and immigration are obviously big themes, but it's less clear where Oyeyemi is going with everything.

For me, the actual story-line wasn't very satisfying, but the writing style and atmosphere made it worth it. I've read almost everything Oyeyemi has written, and a lot of her stories fall apart at the end; she's great at creating interesting characters/evoking an eerie, ominous mood, but in my opinion resolving a plot is not her strong point. This might be frustrating for some readers, but if you're interested in something a little more experimental and don't mind that it's a bit rough around the edges, you might like this book. I would recommend Oyeyemi's first book, The Icarus Girl, for anyone interested in reading something a little more accessible by her. If this had been the first thing I read by her I might not have picked anything else up, but I enjoyed it for what it was.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Awards:
Midnight Riot
Aaronovitch, Ben
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Peter Grant has just finished training to be a PC (police constable) in London. Right as he's about to get assigned to the paperwork unit (not his first choice) he chats up a ghost witness to a gruesome murder. After that, he discovers that he has some magical ability, and begins training to be a wizard copper whilst trying to solve the murder.

This was so fun! If I were to describe it, I'd say it's like the Dresden Files (both are urban fantasy series about crime solving wizards) but like a billion times better. It's fairly similar in premise, but different in most other ways. It has a lighter tone, a more likable protagonist, diverse characters, and was just a more enjoyable reading experience for me. The author used to write for Doctor Who, so fans of that show may also like this read. My only complaint is that it read like an ARC. Did anyone bother to edit this thing? The grammar was terrible (some of which was probably intentional, but some of it clearly wasn't), and occasionally character names were just wrong. Like, all of a sudden, a character who wasn't in a scene would "say" something and it was clear that her name was just transposed with the other lady main character - this happened at least twice.

Anyway, lack of editing aside, this book was an absolute joy to read. I've already checked out the next in the series and would strongly recommend this to urban fantasy readers. 4 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
A Monster Calls
Ness, Patrick
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Patrick Ness keeps writing books that resonate with me. His work tends to focus on emotional journeys with characters either growing from a painful experience or coming to accept something about themselves. This book is no different. At a glance, this book appears to be a horror story. "A Monster Calls" is a cryptic title and the description implies a monster is after a teenage boy. The story follows Conor, a boy who has nightmares about one monster but is visited by another. The other monster wants to tell him 3 true stories and, when the third story is done, Conor must tell it a 4th...or else the reality Conor fears will happen.

In actuality, this book is not scary - at least not in a horror sense. It contains a few unsettling moments and any scary moments come from human fears we carry with us throughout our lives - fears of loss or change or the unknown. It examines them in such a way that is poetic and compassionate, particularly as it relates to grief. Ultimately this book is about learning to cope - it just happens to explore this concept with monsters, nightmares, and a tree. This book made me cry at work - which is a good thing, but you know...kind of awkward nonetheless. Would recommend to lovers of reality based fiction, modern faerie-tales (in a way), unsettling stories, or emotional stories.

And seriously, have the tissues at the ready.

Reviewer's Name: Meagan
This Savage Song
Schwab, Victoria
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Three monsters plague the US in the future: the zombie like Corsai, the vampiric Malchai, and the soul-stealing Sunai. Kate Harker has always been safe from the monsters - her father is the man who controls the monsters in the northern part of Verity City. After her mother died when she was a young child, Kate's father has done all he can do to keep Kate out of town to keep her safe from the monsters in Verity. But Kate wanted to come home, and so she made sure to get kicked out of every boarding school possible, until the only one left is Verity's own Colton Academy. On her first day at Colton, she befriends a fellow new student named August. Unbeknownst to Kate, August is a Sunai. His father is in charge of southern Verity City, and is working to eliminate all of the Corsai and Malchai in the area. After a botched assassination attempt at Colton, Kate and August find themselves on the run from monsters - but which of their fathers sent the monsters after them? Or was it BOTH fathers? Or could it somehow be neither?

Phew, that was hard to explain. Clearly there is some pretty complex and creative world-building happening in this book, but I would expect nothing less from Schwab. I picked up This Savage Song because I've been reading Schwab's Shades of Magic series (if you are reading this review, just stop and check out A Darker Shade of Magic, you can thank me later), and in both series the world building is quite well done. In fact, the first third or so of This Savage Song was spent on world building, and I found that part to be the most enjoyable. It seemed like the book might then start to veer into "do they like each other" sort of romance territory, but my fears about having to read about teenage angst for the next 300 pages or so were pretty quickly assuaged as Kate and August find themselves running for their lives. For me, the "running from the monsters" parts of the book were ok - there wasn't a ton of new ground covered and it read as a fairly standard on the run type of novel. The mystery of who, exactly, put the hit out on them was interesting and made the running parts of the book more enjoyable. Neither character seemed to have a ton of personality or got a lot of development, but I definitely liked August more than Kate, and feel that I got to know him a bit better over the course of the book.

While this book was not without its problems, the last page or so was AMAZING. Like, ensures you'll read the next book in the series AMAZING. Well played, Schwab.

3 stars. I liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Mr. Splitfoot
Hunt, Samantha
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

20-something-year-old Cora is dissatisfied with her life. She’s bored of her office job, she still lives with her mother, and she’s just found out that her tumultuous affair with an older, married man has left her pregnant -- and he’s not as enthusiastic about the child as she is (to understate the matter). Then her long-missing Aunt Ruth shows up at her house, mysteriously mute, and draws her into an epic cross-country journey on foot. Chapters alternate between the present, as told by Cora, and the past, as told by Ruth, detailing her childhood with her adopted brother in an orphanage run by an abusive religious cult, their career pretending to channel the dead, and the long road that led her to her niece’s door a decade later. There’s an eerie, supernatural tone throughout the book, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a horror story, and I thought it was a surprisingly tender, thoughtful look at family and finding one’s place in the world. I stumbled across this book by chance and I was glad I picked it up. It’s a quick read with admittedly little in the way of action that nonetheless managed to keep me turning pages like it was a thriller.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Truthwitch
Dennard, Susan
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Many people in the Witchlands are witches - folks born with magic. Most have some sort of elemental magic (water, wind, fire, earth), although some have powers based in the "aether" or the "void". Our two protagonists are a Truthwitch - she can tell if someone is telling the truth or not, and this is super rare/desired in this mythology - and a Threadwitch, which is someone who can see connections between people. At the start of the book, they upset a very powerful and rare Bloodwitch, these witches can control other peoples' blood, and spend the rest of the book on the run from him and other nefarious foes out to exploit the Truthwitch's rare powers.

This is a perfectly good fantasy series opener. It's got a very conventional system of magic (elemental magics aren't exactly a new concept), and while one of the main characters was one of those magical beings that men just die over, which, ick, I did enjoy the two main characters. Their strong female friendship was at the heart of the story, and I think that's great modelling for young women. The magic wasn't inventive, but there were a few fun new critters (sea foxes!) that I really enjoyed reading about. Fairly standard fantasy fare, but a solid first outing. I'd check out the sequel, and would expect the series to improve going forward. For the most part, I liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Red Queen
Aveyard, Victoria
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Mare Bellow's blood is red, which marks her for a life in poverty at best, and a brutal death on the front lines of a war she didn't ask for, at worst. She lives under the harsh rule of the Silvers, folks with special powers (mostly elemental, though some are X-men like). Later, surprise surprise, she finds out that she has special powers too and her life is upended.

Confession: I tried to read this book like 5 times. I finally got through it. I should've stopped trying. This book is one big, cliched, full of plot holes mess, there's a seriously stupid, unlikable, mean (and not even in a fun way) main character. In addition to an unoriginal plot and vapid characters, the writing is not stellar. I can see a certain type of reader enjoying it, but it certainly wasn't for me.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Raven Boys
Stiefvater, Maggie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Blue Sargent is not a psychic. Her mom is a psychic. Her aunts are all psychics. But Blue has another skill - she can amplify psychic power. So every year on St. Mark's Eve, she accompanies one of the "real" psychics to
greet the ghosts of the people who will die in the next year. Usually, she sees nothing. But this year, she sees the ghost of a boy: Gansey. Later, Blue and Gansey have a meet-not-cute, and Blue finds herself swept along with Gansey and his friends Noah, Adam and Ronan on an epic quest to find a long lost Welsh king...because Blue thinks that this king might be the only thing that can save Gansey.

First, I love the way Stiefvater writes. She manages to imbue whimsy and/or something otherworldly (and often slightly sinister) into almost every paragraph, and her descriptions are often at once hilarious and spot on. For example:

April was a bad time for the Aglionby boys; as it warmed up, the convertibles appeared bearing boys in shorts so tacky that only the rich would dare to wear them.

or

Ronan kept staring at Whelk. He was good at staring. There was something about his stare that took something from the other person.

Great, unique descriptions. I just love her writing and her ability to make the reader feel like they've known the characters forever.

On top of that, the plot is simply and uniquely marvelous. I had never heard of Glendower (our long lost Welsh king), and this story felt really fresh, even though I was reading it for the third time. A colleague thought it was boring, and I will concede that it gets off to a bit of a slow start to allow
for world-building and character development, but I DARE you to try to read the last 100 pages or so in more than one sitting.

It's just soooooooooooooooo goooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

5 unreserved stars. J'dore.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Coldest Girl In Coldtown
Black, Holly
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Imagine waking up from a high school party to find that all of your friends now littering the house around you attracting flies. Then you hear a noise and realize you are not alone. Upon exploring the house you discover your friend chained to a bed and a vampire chained beside him—just out of reach. What happened while you were blacked out in the bathroom is a chilling story. Readers might find it shocking, but for Tana vampire attacks are an all-too-common occurrence. Not all of the monsters can be contained in the Coldtowns created to preserve the vampires and protect the population. The all-night parties within the walls are streamed live as reality entertainment that gives the vampires a rock-star quality. Those who escape are featured on the daily bounty hunter programs. These parallels to real life, as well as the characterizations of the vampires make them seem approachable and almost amiable. How close can Tana get before she is in danger?

Reviewer's Name: Renee
Book Review: Far Far Away
McNeal, Tom
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is and isn't your typical fairy tale. It is haunting, but not because Jacob Grim is the narrator ghost that only Jeremy can hear. Jeremy's mother may or may not be dead, a child may or may not be missing, the sheriff may or may not be evil, the baker may or may not be jolly, the girl may or may not be gotten and it may or may not have a happy ending. But read it and see if you can predict what happens in Far Far Away...

Reviewer's Name: Renee
Book Review: Circus Mirandus
Beasley, Cassie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a heartwarming story of the relationship of Micah with his grandpa plus the magical aspect of the mysterious Circus Mirandus. Micah is a wonderful well-rounded character and you really feel his deep desire to help his grandpa at all costs. I loved this book and the writing style of its author, Cassie Beasley.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Riggs, Ransom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The story of Miss Peregrine's children just keeps getting better! I enjoyed the first book, but Hollow City, in my opinion, was a more finely tuned and intense story. So many beautiful and unusual images, and I love how the characters continue to grow and reveal hidden aspects of themselves. I can't wait until the final book come out!

Reviewer's Name: Cassie
Ajvide Lindqvist, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Though, it was a very rare situation that I actually preferred the film to the novel, this horror story was very well written and kept my interest the whole way through. Oskar is a 13 year old boy with very few friends and broken home. When along comes the mysterious Eli, who says she's been 13 years old for a very long time. It's unexpectedly touching, terrifying, and psychologically fascinating. I feel that it could've done with fewer chapters, however, focused more on the the primary characters.

Reviewer's Name: Cassie
Harkness, Deborah
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A friend came to the library looking for the third book in this trilogy. It doesn't come out until July 15, 2014. She told me that she really liked the series. I checked out A Discovery of Witches not knowing what to expect, but I love it! It's very well-written and the 579 pages read quickly. I don't want to spoil the plot for you, but there are witches, vampires and demons, lots of interesting history and a "political" (if you are a witch, demon or vampire) issue that make for a spell-binding story. Can't wait to read the second in the series.

Reviewer's Name: Susan
Riggs, Ransom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I liked this book better than book 1 (Mrs. Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children). It felt to me like book 1 was a prequel to this one. I'm glad there was some resolution with the main character's parents. I'll probably read the next installment. Definitely a cool idea to make a story out of found strange photos.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Oliver, Lauren
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A most magical story that weaves together the lives of several seemingly incompatible characters. In the author's note, Lauren Oliver explains that she wrote this book as a manner of dealing with the loss of her best friend, and the concept of death and loss are pervasive throughout the story.

Liesl is locked in a tiny attic bedroom by her evil stepmother. Will is the mistreated orphan assistant of an alchemist. Po and Bundle are ghosts, from the Other Side. Together they embark on a touching adventure in a darkened world and learn the true meaning of magic.

Liesl & Po is a sensitive book that pretty much demands that the maturity and sensitivity of its readers accepts that it is a tale of mystery, fantasy, and magic. If you stop to question the plausibility of certain events within this story, then you've already lost the point. Let yourself be drawn into the warm embrace of Oliver's thoughtful prose and let your heart bloom with this lovely tale of friendship.

Reviewer's Name: Evan

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