Everything Trump Touches Dies by Rick Wilson

“In Everything Trump Touches Dies, political campaign strategist and commentator Rick Wilson brings his darkly funny humor and biting analysis to the absurdity of American politics in the age of Trump. Wilson mercilessly exposes the damage Trump has done to the country, to the Republican Party he served for decades, and to the conservative movement that has abandoned its principles for the worst President in American history.

No left-winger, Wilson is a lifelong conservative who delivers his withering critique of Trump from the right. A leader of the Never Trump movement, he warns his own party of the political catastrophe that leaves everyone involved with Trump with reputations destroyed and lives in tatters.

Wilson unblinkingly dismantles Trump’s deceptions and the illusions to which his supporters cling, shedding light on the guilty parties who empower and enable Trump in Washington and the news media. He calls out the race-war dead-enders who hitched a ride with Trump, the alt-right basement dwellers who worship him, and the social conservatives who looked the other way.

Everything Trump Touches Dies deftly chronicles the tragicomic Trump story from the early campaign days through the shock of election night, to the inconceivable trainwreck of Trump’s first year. Rick Wilson provides not only an insightful analysis of the Trump administration, but also an optimistic path forward for the GOP, the conservative movement, and the country.

Combining insider political analysis, blunt truths, and black humor, Everything Trump Touches Dies is perfect for those on either side of the aisle who need a dose of unvarnished reality, a good laugh, a strong cocktail, and a return to sanity in American politics.”

Full disclosure before we get into this: I’m a registered Democrat, and as you can probably guess from that nugget of info, not a fan of our current president.  One thing I try to do, though, is to seek out points of view that I may not agree with so that I have a more rounded view of things.  Now admittedly, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read books by the likes of Cory Lewandowski or Newt Gingrich, but I have been trying to read books by conservative commentators who take a more neutral view of things.  By doing so, I have learned a lot about the way our two major parties and their politics have evolved (or devolved in some cases) since the Nixon era and how we got to the point we’re at now.  I’ve encountered critiques of the Democrats that I think have merit as well.

All of this is by way of saying that no, I’m not perfect and I do have my own personal views, but I make a conscious effort to not get caught up in a liberal echo chamber.

I was initially drawn to Wilson’s book not because of the title (although I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me a snicker), but because he is described as a longtime conservative and Republican strategist.  I thought that he might have interesting insights into the current state of the country that gave me a few laughs in the bargain.  Goodness knows we can all use one nowadays.

Sad to say, this book didn’t live up to expectations.  That has nothing to do with the content, honestly; rather, it’s more a matter of how the book is written.  The whole issue of “dark comedy” that the book jacket espouses never quite materializes.  It’s obviously something that can be done–late night comedians do it all the time.  Seth Meyers, in particular, has excelled at blending comedy with in-depth looks at current issues, often devoting up to twelve minutes to his “Closer Look” segment.  In Wilson’s book, I think he was just trying too hard to be edgy.  He does have some witty bits, but there were many times that I wanted him to just stop looking for superlatives and get on with the book already.

On the other hand, the author does offer up some interesting food for thought on various topics.  One that sticks out in my head is his statement that it seems that China’s retaliatory tariffs were aimed squarely at industries in the mid-America red states.  If that’s true, that’s a fascinating tidbit of info about current global politics.  I wish these little factoids had been presented a little more cleanly, simply because some of the internal structure of individual chapters sometimes gets slightly messy, but there are there to be discovered.

All in all, this isn’t the worst book that I’ve read about our current political situation.  There are some thought provoking ideas scattered throughout, and even though I have issues with the author’s writing style, I think the book will appeal to some readers.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Scourged by Kevin Hearne

“Two-thousand-year-old Druid Atticus O’Sullivan travels to Asgard and faces off against the Norse gods to try and prevent Ragnarok in the final battle for the fate of mankind.”

Two notes: This book will be published on April 3, and this review contains some spoilery stuff.

Well, that’s it.  The Iron Druid Chronicles is officially over.  And I feel… well… I’m feeling pretty neutral about the whole thing.  While I have certainly had many moments where I enjoyed the series, I think that this book in particular encapsulates why my initial thrill at this series petered out into something like a shrug.

Scourged is split between three different points of view: Atticus, who is involved in the main conflict of Ragnarok; Granuaile, who spends time training with Sun Wukong (the Monkey King); and Owen, who handles some minor things and makes friends with a sloth.  Yeah, that last part happened.  Don’t think I’m not suppressing the desire to make a bunch of Zootopia jokes, because I am.  The problem lies not just in the fact that the characters are separated all over the globe and have almost no interaction with each other.  Embedded in this issue is the deeper issue that the only plotline that has any bearing on the overall story arc is the one starring Atticus.  Granuaile and Owen are just side-trips that have very little to do with how the plot plays out.  Granuaile has been sidelined into a fight that she didn’t need to be in, simply because Atticus wanted her out of the way.  Owen is bounced around putting out fires (quite literally) that are merely distractions from the main fight (also quite literally).  And of course, there’s the sloth.

What I see in this book is Hearne’s fondness for telling stories within stories.  He began this with the third book in the series (Hammered), when he had a bunch of gods sitting around a fire telling their backstories for a non-inconsiderable chunk of the novel.  He’s also demonstrated this propensity in the first book of his new series, A Plague of Giants–I’ve only gotten a few chapters in, but it is literally a bunch of stories being told to a bunch of characters.  I feel like I’m seeing that again here, as Owen and Granuaile are off on their own journeys of personal growth.  While I have no problem with characters growing, these vignettes would have been better as novellas separate from the main novel series.  They don’t add anything to the overarching plotline.

I was also underwhelmed by the final battle.  For some reason, I didn’t get a sense of tension in the action, and a lot of the big conflicts don’t involve Atticus directly.  In fact, at one point a character sacrifices themselves to let Atticus fulfill a promise that he made, and there was almost no drama in this scene.  After eight books of build-up, I guess I expected something more spiffy in the series finale.  Oddly, it all seemed too easy, which seems weird to say about an apocalyptic conflict among Greek and Roman gods, Norse mythic figures, and a bunch of undead soldiers.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing good about this novel.  As much as I might marvel at the whole sloth thing, I liked Owen’s interactions with her.  (I just think they belonged somewhere other than this book.)  There’s a little bit of Oberon, our favorite wolfhound, along with his new friend Starbuck, whose limited vocabulary is charming.  I enjoyed the Monkey King and his promptings to Granuaile to think outside the box.  A few characters from past books make an appearance, although not all of them.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, but it certainly isn’t my favorite of the series, and I feel a little let down.  I wish I had seen Hearne rediscover the blend of humor and action that made the first few books so much fun to read.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

“When you’re studying to be exoveterinarian specializing in exotic, alien life forms, school… is a different kind of animal.

Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she’s learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she’s feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn’t enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she’s started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can’t deny what she’s feeling.

Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what’s happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she’s actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients… or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year….”

This novel begins with a bang—quite literally—with a scene involving her mother and a disastrous procedure on a massive alien life form. After that, though, the book slows down considerably. Much of what follows is focused on Zenn’s training and the evaluation of her fitness to become an exovet. The author has definitely cooked up some interesting procedures and some intriguing alien animals, but I feel that this part of the story went on too long. Mostly it’s just that there’s not a lot of tension to be found in the mundane activities of taking care of animals.

There’s a secondary story that perhaps should have been pushed into greater prominence: the political situation between Mars and Earth. It’s this conflict that lies at the heart of a lot of what takes place with regards to the clinic and its inhabitants, but it seems like Schoon is too focused on creating weird creatures to give this plotline the time and space that might help it to shine. It also would have made it easier to draw on the question of what constitutes an alien, which was touched on here with thought-provoking results.

That said, Schoon does an excellent job at creating those aliens, especially the more intelligent ones. Zenn has a little cat-like creature called a rikkaset as a pet, and they communicate with each other via sign language. The other notable character is Hamish, a giant insectoid alien who is scrupulously polite and gets some funny moments while trying to understand human culture.

The last third of the book picks up the pace, and eventually dramatic things start happening. It feels a little rushed, given that it starts so late in the story, but Schoon manages to pull things together and make the final chapters memorable. All in all, it makes for a fairly solid story, and I think I would have liked it even more if the pacing had been evened out a little more.

Overall, this is a good novel for teen readers. There are plenty of alien beings, some mystery, some politics, and some adventure—there’s something for everyone. It takes a little while to find its momentum, but it gets its footing eventually and starts turning into a very interesting science fiction saga. Zenn Scarlett has a few hiccups, but the author shows enough promise that I’ll probably pick up the next book when it comes out.

This review was originally posted on July 11, 2013.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Omega Days by John L. Campbell

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face.

University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun.

Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before.

Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.”

What popped into my mind after finishing this book is a quote that I’ve heard attributed to various people: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” Or words to that effect, anyway. I would categorize this as the quintessential zombie novel, because all of the elements that you’d expect are here: young person turned badass, gun nut with her enclave, a man having crisis of faith, parents and children eating each other’s faces, cats and dogs sleeping together… okay, wait, not that last one, but you get the idea.

Basically, if you can think of a trope or common image associated with zombies, you’ll find it in here. Any gruesome vignette that might cause a reaction can likely be found in these pages. Bouncing baby undead?… got it. Plucky puppy’s last action is to jump into its strangely pale owner’s arms?… check. One sibling dies in another’s arms?… included. I could keep going, but you get the picture. That’s why I said that if you like zombie novels, you’ll like this one. It’s everything the zombie genre contains packed into one volume.

However, don’t expect to find much plot here. This is the kind of book that you read purely for fun and vicarious pleasure. No subtle metaphor for humanity’s downfall here, just hungry dead folks and the living people who run screaming from them. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every book needs to change your life and elevate your consciousness; sometimes, you just want a little mental junk food. So, I had fun reading this book even as I recognized that it wasn’t really going anywhere. The characters just ran around and ended up in the same place at the end of the book.

I did find a few instances where the author seems to have violated his own “rules” about zombie behavior. For example, zombie move slowly in shuffling hordes… unless it’s more dramatic for them to run. In another example, zombies lose interest quickly in what they can no longer see… unless it’s more dramatic for a lone man (and his dog) to be trapped for days atop a massive storage container, surrounded by thousands of the living dead. Also, zombies are described as having low motor control… unless it’s dramatic for them to climb several flights of stairs and burst suddenly upon hapless military men. It’s not a big deal if you can just take this book as it is—a fun and fast-moving zombie novel—but it did cause me a few raised eyebrows.

So what if this book doesn’t paint exquisite pictures of humanity’s failings through the medium of zombies as a metaphor for our moral decay? It’s a neat little chomp-fest with tons of gunfire and shambling hordes. Omega Days is a great addition to the zombie genre, and would probably be a good intro to the genre for new readers.

This review was originally posted on July 16, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

The Remaining by D. J. Molles

“In a steel-and-lead encased bunker a Special Forces soldier waits on his final orders.

On the surface a bacterium has turned 90% of the population into hyper-aggressive predators.

Now Captain Lee Harden must leave the bunker and venture into the wasteland to rekindle a shattered America.”

Okay, the situation with this book is kind of interesting.  If you have an e-reader, you can get this book right now, but if you want print, you have to wait until May.  In fact, you can download the first four books by this author right now, but print is not to be found.  Not yet, anyway.  So, if you’re a print person, should you grab this when it finally shows up?

Well, that’s a hard call for me to make.  The answer is mostly a “yes”.  There’s no shortage of action in this novel.  Zombies are rampaging across the country.  Hordes of them converge on our intrepid hero, Lee Hardin, who often has minimal weaponry and little more than his brains to help him through dangerous situations.  He perseveres in his mission to rebuild society one little group of people at a time, valiantly braving danger to save the uninfected.

If you’re thinking that this sounds a little campy, you’d be right.  This is not a novel in which things are going to surprise you.  If you’ve seen a B-grade horror flick—or even a Saturday-afternoon action movie—you can see where a lot of this is going to go.  But, as everyone knows, sometimes those kinds of movies (or books) can be just what you want.  Not every story has to challenge and enlighten in order to entertain.

On the other hand, by following some of the tropes, Molles has perhaps unintentionally set up Hardin as something of a dunderhead.  He makes mistakes that even I, inexperienced at combat as I am, know are things that you really shouldn’t do.  There are also some elements that are so typical that I had to shake my head.  On the first page, not only do we meet Hardin, we meet his dog Tango.  The minute I saw that dog, I thought “Poor puppy, you’re just here to die, aren’t you?”  I won’t confirm if that’s the case or not, but you can probably read between the lines of this review and figure it out for yourself.

I enjoyed The Remaining for what it was: a quick, breezy action story, heavy on fighting and terribly injured bodies wandering around, light on any plot beyond “Run around and try to survive”.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go on to the next book or not, but it’s pretty inexpensive for an e-book, so I may just give it a try.

This review was originally posted on February 14, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Caesar’s Last Breath by Sam Kean

“It’s invisible. It’s ever-present. Without it, you would die in minutes. And it has an epic story to tell.

With every breath, you literally inhale the history of the world. On the ides of March, 44 BC, Julius Caesar died of stab wounds on the Senate floor, but the story of his last breath is still unfolding; in fact, you’re probably inhaling some of it now. Of the sextillions of molecules entering or leaving your lungs at this moment, some might well bear traces of Cleopatra’s perfumes, German mustard gas, particles exhaled by dinosaurs or emitted by atomic bombs, even remnants of stardust from the universe’s creation.

Tracing the origins and ingredients of our atmosphere, Kean reveals how the alchemy of air reshaped our continents, steered human progress, powered revolutions, and continues to influence everything we do. Along the way, we’ll swim with radioactive pigs, witness the most important chemical reactions humans have discovered, and join the crowd at the Moulin Rouge for some of the crudest performance art of all time.”

Along with Mary Roach and Bill Bryson, Sam Kean is one of my “must-read” non-fiction authors.  One of the things that has always made his writing stand out from the crowd for me was not only his storytelling ability, but the way he links many disparate tales into a cohesive whole.  For instance, in his last book, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, his saga of neuroscience was structured to parallel the brain itself.  The vignettes illustrated functions and parts of the brain starting with the brainstem (unconscious functions) and moving ever upwards and outward to the most “human” parts of the brain.  It gives what can be dense science writing a flow that keeps you engaged, even if you have to take it slow to digest all the info you’re being given.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t accomplish that nearly as well as usual.  Mostly this is due to Kean’s subject matter–the composition of air.  There is no inherent underlying structure to air, so there’s no ready-made framework for talking about it an a linear manner.  It seems to be sort-of arranged by how common each molecule is, from most common to least, but that’s not a scaffolding that lends itself to telling a comprehensive tale about air as a whole.  To return to my earlier example, while the brain can easily be visualized, air can’t.

The solution I found to enjoying this book was to read it in small chunks.  When I tried reading more than a couple of chapters at a time, I found my attention wandering–there wasn’t anything pulling me to the next chapter to see how the connections played out.  However, when I read a single chapter at a time and then put the book down for a while, I enjoyed it much more.  Because of this, I can’t really call the book’s structure a flaw.  It just means that I think it’s better if you read it piecemeal.  I will still say, though, that Kean did a better job with his earlier works when he was able to write something that you could read straight through and enjoy as a larger whole.

Even so, the stories are interesting.  One of the first ones is about a man who stayed on the slopes of Mount St. Helens until he was literally blown away by the eruption.  Another deals with a man who created an entire stage routine around farting.  There are intriguing tidbits about how sound bounces around the atmosphere, and why.  And of course, there’s the scientific breakdown of why you are probably breathing in molecules exhaled by Caesar as he died on the floor of the Roman senate.  That thought experiment alone is worth the price of admission, because it’s going to make you ponder what’s in your lungs right now as you’re reading this.

Although not one of his best works, Caesar’s Last Breath still has a lot going for it.  Just take it bit by bit and  you’ll likely enjoy this exploration of what’s in the air you breathe.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Mortal Bone by Marjorie M. Liu

“When the bond Maxine Kiss shares with the demons tattooed on her skin is deliberately severed, the demon hunter is left vulnerable and unprotected. For the first time in ten thousand years, the demons have a taste of freedom. And as the little demons grow more violent and unpredictable, Maxine starts to fear they will lose their minds without her. Reuniting won’t be easy, since a greater temptation waits for these hellions: a chance to return to their lives as Reaper Kings, and unleash hell on Earth.”

It’s been quite a while since I read this series.  I read the first three as they came out, and then I dawdled at getting to this one.  As a result, I had forgotten a lot about the series and its characters and plot.  I didn’t find it too difficult to get back into the swing of things, and mostly that was because of how memorable Liu’s characters are.

What always stood out for me were the demons: Zee, Aaz, Raw, Dek, and Mal.  Quite inhuman, they still took on human-like qualities that came from long association with humans.  Zee is the only one who talks, and he always seems genuinely fond of Maxine.  Raw and Aaz eat anything, but have a fondness for chewing on teddy bears.  Dek and Mal communicate by humming tunes that express what they’re feeling (for those of you familiar with Transformers, think Bumblebee as a large lizard).  It has always been clear that they’re dangerous, but in this book, readers get to see them as the Reaper Kings, the entities that they were thousands of years ago.

Paradoxically, the fact that Zee and the boys are free from their bond to Maxine allows the author to show how strong that bond really is.  Maxine is heartbroken at losing her connection to them, and she has to deal with feeling abandoned when they’re not constantly around her.  But even though they have no mortal ties anymore, they still protect Maxine out of love for her.  They’re still beings to be feared—even Maxine treads warily around them—but the very real affection between them all is one of the novel’s high points.

I’m not quite sure I bought the reasoning behind the severing of Maxine’s bond to the demons.  I’m not going to spoil it, obviously, but the explanation felt kind of thin to me.  What breaking that bond was meant to accomplish is something that, to me, was rather trite.  I didn’t think it ruined the book or anything, but I wish I’d gotten to the end and seen a better reason for why things fell out the way that they did.  Readers do get to see more of the politics of the demon realm, though, and find out some of the background of their world.  If it took a silly reason to get to all of that, I guess that’s okay.

This particular installment of the series came out more than two years ago, and I have the most recent one sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.  I think I’ll be getting to it much quicker this time around, as I realize how much I missed Maxine and Zee and the boys.  The Mortal Bone may have been created with some shaky reasoning for letting the demons go free, but I still enjoyed it and will be continuing with this series.

This review was originally posted on March 10, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Wakeworld by Kerry Schafer

“Vivian Maylor is trying to hold it together. But her attempts to build a life with the man she loves seem doomed by the dragon inside her yearning to break free. Vivian is a dreamshifter, the last line of defense between reality and the dreamworld, and the only one of her kind.

Weston Jennings also believes he is the only one of his kind. He fears his powers as a dreamshifter, and resists learning to control them. After suffering a tragic loss, Weston heads deep into the woods of the Pacific Northwest to embrace a safe life of solitude. But when a terrible mistake leads to an innocent’s death, his guilt drives him to his former home, where he encounters what he never thought he would find: another shifter.

Now Vivian and Weston must work together to defeat a new threat to the dreamworld.”

I had some trouble connecting with this book, but some of that is my own fault.  I didn’t realize that this was the second book in a series until I had already started reading.  There were things that had obviously happened in the first book that were having repercussions in this one, and I had to pick up on those as I went along.  Although I do have to give props to the author for making it possible for me to do so and not just plowing straight ahead and leaving a possibly new reader in the dust.

It’s interesting the way the author has set up the various layers of the Dreamworld.  It seems like there is a layer called the Between, which lies (obviously) between waking and dreaming, and a general layer of Dreamworld.  There also seems to be enclosed or “pocket” Dreamworld areas, as evidenced by spheres that dreamshifters can use to enter these areas.  This is something that I wasn’t too clear on, but again, this may be an issue with not having read the original book.  I was able to get enough of an idea of Dreamworld’s structure to get through the book, but I would have liked to have known more.

I felt that the book picked up steam as it went along, getting more momentum as Vivian was forced to confront the dragon inside of her more often.  I think it’s a pretty obvious metaphor for Vivian becoming more comfortable with her growing association with the Dreamworld, as she doesn’t willingly allow herself to shapeshift until she really accepts that she has a responsibility to the Dreamworld and its denizens.  This is paralleled by Weston’s inner journey to accepting his powers—he never wanted to use them to begin with—as he has the same realization.

I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read the first one in the series, but as it stands, I found Wakeworld to be a pretty good read.  Schafer got enough info into this book to keep me from being lost, and there’s no shortage of action and thrills.  I’m seriously considering going back to pick up the first book, because I am curious about how this all got started.

This review was originally posted on March 3, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

“Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.

Literally.

Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.”

On the whole, I have no problem with “teen goes to magic school” novels.  Admittedly, there are lots of them out there since the Harry Potter phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all pale copies or unoriginal in and of themselves.  They’re usually quick, light reads that enliven an afternoon or two.  And The Nightmare Affair definitely falls into that category: it’s a fast read with some mystery and some magic, which is pretty much what you’d expect from such a novel.

In a way, that’s the problem: this novel feels far too much like others in the genre.  It has its unique elements—my favorite being the fact that objects which are around magic for too long begin to develop personalities—but on the whole, it doesn’t break enough new ground.  There is the search for the magical artifact, the obligatory love triangle, a secret society, and the heroine being kept in the dark about what’s really going on.

Aside from the tone and general plot, though, I found this a reasonably good teen novel.  Making Dusty a form of succubus is an interesting choice, although linking her to a guy in order to be able to fully access her powers made me roll my eyes a little.  The aforementioned “enchanted objects” contributed to fun little vignettes when they showed up.  The murders themselves were not too graphic, but they had just enough detail to them to bring a genuine chill upon reading them.  I would have liked more detail on the school itself, but the plot focused more on the mystery than on the school in which it takes place.  There are plenty of other magical races mentioned, which will probably play into future novels.

There was one aspect in particular that I found intriguing and that I wish had been explored more.  There’s a spell called “The Will” which essentially keeps magic users from harming each other.  It’s not something that I’ve seen in other novels, and it’s believable that something like it would exist.  It also hearkens uncomfortably to our own real-world fears of having our lives interfered with by the “powers that be”.

I’m finding that I don’t have a lot to say about this particular book.  It’s a pleasant read, with some nice touches, but it didn’t really stand out from the crowd.  This could be a good “gateway” book to teen fantasy for those trying to get a young person into the genre.  The Nightmare Affair hits all the major points common to the type, and in that respect, it does the job it came to do.

This review was originally posted on March 8, 2013.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

“Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.

They are.

The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?

As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove and what she would risk to stay there..because even the brightest people make terrible decisions when they are offered the things they desire most.”

There is much to enjoy in this novel.  Acosta’s writing is evocative and often quite beautiful.  From the prologue’s storm and blood to the brooding grounds of Birch Grove, readers will have no trouble visualizing the scene and being pulled into the tale.  The author’s writing style also meshes well with the mystery woven through the story.  The dark, insular setting complements Jane’s explorations of the events that led her to Birch Grove and its odd happenings.

There are some supernatural elements in this book, but they are not what I expected.  The good news is, this is definitely not your typical teen vampire/ghost/what-have-you novel.  Much of the story is rooted more firmly in the real world than most other tales on the shelves today.   However, the author spends so much time building the mystery and the portions of the story that are not supernatural that when the supernatural does show up, it doesn’t fit into the plot as well as it might have.  I almost wanted the plot to be entirely mundane, because I found that part to be more fleshed out.

The author falters the most when it comes to the characters.  Jane’s friend Mary Violet loves poetry and being flamboyant, but at times it comes off as being almost a caricature.  This is especially true when she’s first introduced, but I’m happy to say that she does grow on you.  Lucien and Jack are not really all that likeable, as they spend a good chunk of time being jerks to Jane and then trying to make up for their actions.

Jane is the character with the most dichotomies in her actions.  She comes from the streets and seems to have a side to her that is hard and fierce; and yet, she moons over Lucien and Jack and lets them treat her with little to no respect for much of the novel.  It’s like two entirely different characters, and frankly, I like street-smart Jane better.  She’s daring enough to approach the local gang leader for help, and her interactions with her friend Wilde and her history with another friend named Hosea are gritty and realistic.  I guess I wanted to see that tough Jane more during the Birch Grove sequences.

On the one hand, I did enjoy this novel; on the other hand, I had mixed feelings about the way the story was presented.  I do still recommend it, but do be aware that it has some rough patches.  Dark Companion is lovely and disturbing by turns, and if you like teen supernatural tales, this might be one that you’ll enjoy.

This review was originally posted on March 2, 2013.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

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