Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins

Behind the Red Door is a 320-page mystery novel by Megan Collins. I received an ARC from NetGalley as a recommendation based on the fact that I love Ruth Ware’s novels. If you like Ruth Ware, you might enjoy Behind the Red Door, too.

Behind the Red DoorAlthough the mystery of the story is great (a decades-old kidnapping that was never solved, even though the kidnapped child was returned), my favorite thing was how well the author portrayed the main character, Fern, who suffers from anxiety. Collins not only shows the inner workings of Fern’s mind and her reactions to stressful and anxiety-inducing situations, she also peppers in bits of wisdom from Fern’s therapist. That’s completely relatable, considering that when I’m feeling particularly anxious, I also repeat mantras my therapist has told me.

Fern has a supportive husband and a prickly relationship with her parents, and those relationships are explored in depth since Fern goes back to her hometown to help her father with *a task* (spoiler). While she’s back home, Fern encounters childhood friends and bullies, and it’s fascinating to see what spikes her anxiety and how she copes with old trauma. Since she’s spending time away from her husband, she has to be her own anchor in an increasingly unsettling situation. While she deals with all of that, she also fuels her own obsession with a recurring dream and her possible connection to the decades-old kidnapping.

It’s not often that I read a mystery novel and come away with an appreciation of how much the main character grew throughout the story. This book is definitely an exception, because the character work was outstanding. Add to that an exploration of mental health and complex family dynamics… Behind the Red Door is truly fantastic and a quick, engrossing read.

TITLE: Behind the Red Door
AUTHOR: Megan Collins
PAGES: 320
ALSO WROTE: The Winter Sister
FIRST LINE: Now that it’s summer, it’s not my job to protect the children.


Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Ghost Talkers is a 304-page alternate history novel by Mary Robinette Kowal. I received a copy from NetGalley a LONG time ago, but I’m reviewing it now since I’ve been reading a lot of Kowal’s books and wanted to post reviews of them all. (She’s an excellent writer.)

Ghost TalkersThe premise of the story is that spiritual mediums belong to a WWI division called the Spirit Corps. The mediums communicate with soldiers who die and have been trained to report in shortly after they pass. Ginger, the main character, is an American engaged to a British intelligence officer. Between their two stories, lots of intrigue occurs throughout the book.

Although the Spirit Corps premise is what drew me in, the murder mystery plot is what kept me interested. Someone dies early on, and Ginger spends a large chunk of the novel trying to figure out whodunnit by talking to both spirits and those still in the living world.

I didn’t love the WWI violence, but that’s just a personal thing. Anyone who is a fan of that period will likely love this book. My favorite parts were the internal struggles of Ginger and her relationships with her friends and coworkers. Kowal excels at writing complex internal drama. The book also explores personal and shared pain, which was prevalent due to the war-heavy backdrop of the story. That pain was difficult to read since it was portrayed so convincingly.

I enjoyed the novel, but it wasn’t my favorite Kowal book (see my upcoming review of The Calculating Stars). However, it was well-crafted, and the pacing was pretty good. After reading this, I went on to try other books by Kowal, since I loved her writing style but didn’t love the setting of this novel. Her writing never disappoints!

TITLE: Ghost Talkers
AUTHOR: Mary Robinette Kowal
PAGES: 304
ALSO WROTE: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Calculating Stars
FIRST LINE: “The Germans were flanking us at Delville Wood when I died.”

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe

Velocity Weapon is a 533-page science fiction novel by Megan E. O’Keefe. I’ve been hearing about this book nonstop since I keep an ear out for fiction about spaceships with AI (called “emergent AI” in this book). Since Velocity Weapon was described as for fans of Mass Effect (one of my favorite sci-fi game series), I HAD to preorder it and see what the fuss was about.

41085049._sy475_The story is told through a few different points of view. The two that take up the majority of the book are sister and brother Sanda and Biran. Biran is a Keeper, a person charged with safeguarding the technology to build Casimir Gates that have allowed humanity to traverse the galaxy. Sanda is a gunnery sergeant whose story takes place a couple hundred years in Biran’s future, since she was wounded in a battle and put into coldsleep by the ship, The Light of Berossus. More

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu is a 450-page anthology of SFF short stories and novellas. I originally listened to Levar Burton read the title story “The Paper Menagerie” on his podcast, Levar Burton Reads (which I highly recommend). I loved the story so much that I bought the full anthology.

Many of the stories are similar in theme to the title story in that they deal with family, history, love, and culture. The anthology is a beautiful and heartwarming work, although certain stories do have a disturbing undercurrent. I loved almost every single story, so I’d HIGHLY recommend this book to all SFF fans. I enjoyed every single story–not a bad one in the bunch! More

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James is a 320-page sci-fi novel. I picked this book up on a whim at Barnes & Noble because I loved the cover, it was about a girl alone in space suffering from anxiety, and it’s written in a sort of diary/letter epistolary format that I’m crazy about.

41212750._sy475_Romy Silvers, the anxious girl in question, is orphaned while on a spaceship that’s flying toward Earth II–a planet with a 99.999% chance of being habitable. Romy struggles with facing that task alone, since her parents were lost to her during the voyage, and she’s the only surviving person aboard The Infinity. More

Why Dragons Hide by C.M. Hayden

Why Dragons Hide by C.M. Hayden is a novella set in the Arclight Saga. It’s technically a prequel to the series, but I read it after The Reach Between Worlds (book 1, review here) and it was rewarding to already know some of the characters from the saga. This is definitely a good entry point into the series, though, since the writing is a bit stronger than in book 1.

36216367._sy475_The story is framed as letters from Kyra, a 16-year-old student attending magical university, to her uncle. Epistolary is my favorite writing style, so I devoured this story in about three days. And even though the story was written as letters, the plot was smooth, continuous and wonderfully paced. I don’t think this story could have been any better. More

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

33790435The Plastic Magician is a 236-page novel by Charlie N. Holmberg. It’s the fourth book in The Paper Magician series, but since it follows a completely different main character and story, it also acts as a standalone. I loved the Paper Magician trilogy, and although this book follows Alvie, a new character, the story fits right in with the style of the others in the series.

Alvie becomes an apprentice to a polymaker, or a magician who can manipulate plastic, as the first step in her dream to being a magician in a wholly new field of magic. (Ooh plastic! Shiny!) While I didn’t love the plastic magic as much as the paper-folding magic of the original trilogy, it was still fun to read about the fascinating magic system overall. Holmberg also included magicians of other types in the story, so that helped spice things up.

One thing I appreciated was that Alvie had the mind of an inventor, which lent the novel a creative and exciting feeling since polymaking is so new to her world. She had a fantastic inner monologue throughout the entire novel, something Holmberg obviously excels at. However, the supporting characters came off as flat and uninteresting. They seemed to exist mostly to be used by Alvie to explore her emotions and magical creativity. She mostly spends time in her head, thinking about numbers and ways to find solutions to various problems, so the lack of interesting supporting characters doesn’t hurt the book too much.

The villain plot felt a little goofy and forced, but Holmberg’s writing still made this a charming novel. All the books in this series so far have been quick popcorn reads–this one is no exception. If there’s ever a sequel to The Plastic Magician, I’ll definitely read it. 

Birthday book goodies

On my birthday, OF COURSE I’m going to go book shopping. After I tried a chai tea latte with a shot of espresso (a wondrous creation), I bought two books at Barnes and Noble.

The first is Disclaimer by Renée Wright. I heard about it a while ago, and its secrets and protagonist, a documentary filmmaker, sounded interesting. The second is Clade by James Bradley. I heard about this book from Amy Brady’s article over at SyFy Wire about climate fiction books. That’s definitely a subgenre I want to read more of. BandN books

Along with Barnes and Noble, I stopped at Half Price Books, because one can never have enough books (I say that as I have to start stacking books in front of other books on multiple bookshelves). More

The Reach Between Worlds by C.M. Hayden

The Reach Between Worlds by C.M. Hayden is a 400-page ebook (and an audiobook that is 9 hours, 14 minutes long). I originally bought the ebook because I’d heard it described in terms similar to The Name of the Wind (NotW) by Patrick Rothfuss, which is a beautifully crafted fantasy novel. After taking a long break from reading at about 25%, Hayden  provided me with the audiobook version, which is what I’m going to review.

The worldbuilding of The Reach Between Worlds is, at first, alarmingly similar to NotW–similar monetary system, similar magic school including an Artificium, and similar age range of students. That’s what tripped me up when I read the ebook. Listening to the audio version (narrated by John Pirhalla) is when the characters grabbed my interest, partially because Pirhalla has such fantastic character voices–especially for the females! I could also start to see the workings of a very different world than NotW, with old gods, class tensions, void magic, and the mysterious(ly broken) Arclight that bolsters crops and growth and keeps away disease. More

To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny

To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny is a 174-page science fiction novel originally published by Doubleday & Company in January of 1973. The book is actually the second in the Francis Sandow series–I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the series now! The book can stand alone, though, as it’s not *technically* a sequel. I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing any information about characters, plot, or setting. I read To Die in Italbar as a part of Vintage SciFi Month.

To Die in ItalbarThe story revolves around the journeys of a mysterious man called “H” who has a unique power that allows him to heal even the most terminal of illnesses. Another important point of view is that of Malacar Miles, a military man who is determined to find H to use the horrifying flipside of his healing power–the ability to spread diseases that H has contracted–in order to strike at Malacar’s old enemies. There is one female POV of note–a girl who works in a brothel but secretly idolizes the military prowess of Malacar and wishes to meet and help him take revenge on their mutual enemies. I loved her raw anger, but More

Vintage SciFi Month

January is considered Vintage SciFi Month (I found out this wonderful fact thanks to an awesome Twitter account). For the reading “non-challenge” (which is in no way competitive), a sci-fi book is considered vintage if it was published before you were born (in my case, I’ve got plenty of options–I was born in 1991).

There’s a little more information about the non-challenge on the creator’s blog here. For a more current post with a little more info, check out this post. Also, the creator and moderator of the Twitter account mentioned above are hosting a giveaway for The Book Of Frank Herbert, which is a collection of ten short stories by Frank Herbert that was published in 1973. Even though I really want to win, I’ll share the link, since I’m so nice! You just have to join the conversation about #VintageSciFiMonth on Twitter to enter the giveaway.

I’ve already finished one book (To Die in Italbar by Roger Zelazny), and I’m in the middle of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells for my second. Shown below are two other books, both by Ray Bradbury, that I’m planning to read this month. As an ongoing personal challenge, I’ve also decided to finish Dune by Frank Herbert, which I’ve been reading on and off for a few months now!


So throughout January, I’ll be posting reviews of these vintage books (most likely the reviews with be shorter than normal… but we’ll see). If there are any sci-fi classics you’re reading, you especially love, or you’d like my opinion on, let me know! I’ll add them to my January to-read list.

The Wolf & the Windlestraw from The Indianola Review

As the Associate Editor for The Indianola Review, I led a project to complete a collaborative serial novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2015. I’ve always wanted to edit a novel, and this seemed crazy enough to work.

Through Twitter, 30 authors from all across the United States signed on to write one chapter each (~2,000 words) on their respective day in November. The chapters were to follow the characters and plot set forth by Chelsea Eckert (our brave Day 1 author). Her characters were two courageous young sisters, Amadeus and Wolfgang, who were tasked with completing a quest using a windlestraw—an enchanted key—in a magical world set in the American Southwest. The first chapter blew me away. When Wolfgang pulled the windlestraw out of her pocket, the possibilities of magical realism–one of my favorite things to read–exploded into being.

I was always the first person to read each chapter of this wonderfully weird story, a privilege I enjoyed immensely. It’s fun and has some serious depth when it comes to the “magic system.” The Wolf & The Windlestraw is a 232-page magical realism novel that was written as a result of The Indianola Reviews  first collaborative NaNoWriMo. (We’ll be setting up the 2016 NaNoWriMo soon!) Here’s the blurb for the fantastic story:

Wolfgang has a sense of adventure unmatched by anyone, even her younger sister, Amadeus. But when Wolfgang is charged with completing three mysterious and possibly dangerous tasks, she drags Amadeus out of their hometown, Lotsett, to help her on her quest.

Their father Saul, desperate to find his missing daughters, seeks out the help of Brooks, a man who disappeared decades ago but has returned to Lotsett for his own dubious reasons.

With only a magical sword and the questionable guidance from local spirits, the sisters must complete the tasks together. Family and enemies alike put pressure on the sisters’ friendship. When pushed to their limit, will they make the right choice?

TITLE: The Wolf & The Windlestraw
AUTHORS (In order of date of completion, November 1-30): Chelsea Eckert, Lane Kareska, Kevin C. Hunt, Robert Perret, Anne Weisgerber, Diane Rosier Miles, Michael P. Adams, Kayla Dean, Ellen Davis Sullivan, Jennifer Met, Jocelyn Paige Kelly, Carrie Cook, Sarah Vernetti, Iskandar Haggarty, Michael T. Fournier, G. E. Schwartz, Cinthia Ritchie, Tim Duffy, Joseph Walters, Vanessa Christie, Arika, Anthony Frame, Janell Zimmerer, Sara Adams, Forrest Dylan Bryant, Jae Singer, Lisa E. Balvanz, Tim W. Day, Jason Sears, Eldo St. David.
COVER ART: Frances Mann
PAGES: 232
FIRST LINE: It was the day that wild dogs, a whole family of them, would try to devour Ama’s older sister alive.
QUOTABLE: Ama relished the air hissing as the sword moved through the unseen medium, but her fantasy was short-lived. She turned around and halted in her steps, splashing into the creek that had been behind her moments ago. A small gray cat peered from behind a tree trunk, its big hazel eyes drawing Ama closer. She dropped the windlestraw and crept over to the cat, extending her arms out to pet its ruffled, damp fur.

The Graveyard Book Half-Moon Investigations

(I had trouble finding any books that were similarly written (one author per chapter), so I guess The Wolf & The Windlestraw is in a league of its own!)

Found: Religious Advice

bomMy town has a Little Free Library, and I try to drop books off there at least once a month. I occasionally glance through the library to see if there are any new goodies. For example, my most recent perusal revealed some romance books, a few dictionaries, some Dean Koontz novels, a couple old Westerns, and a copy of The Book of Mormon with a note penned onto the inside of the front cover. I’m not religious, so I definitely appreciate that whoever wrote this note took to penning it in a book rather than knocking at my door!


The note reads:

Blessings to you
Dear Ones who choose to “read with the wonder and faith of a child ❤
Pray to your Father in Heaven who waits for you to ask if these things are true. If you ask with a sincere heart, having faith in Christ, and real intent… He will warm your heart and bring peace and happiness through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Through this process, you will know the truth of all things.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter is a 342-page psychological/speculative thriller. I received the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dark MatterOne of my favorite things to read about in speculative fiction is the multiverse, and that’s the central idea of Dark Matter. Jason Dessen, on a walk home from celebrating a colleague’s scientific achievement, is kidnapped at gunpoint and drugged to sleep. When he wakes, he’s in an unfamiliar lab being congratulated for something he knows nothing about. From there, it’s a wild ride finding out where Jason is, how he’s going to get home, who kidnapped him, and most importantly–why he woke up in this strange world. More

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane is a 154-page nonfiction book/set of essays scheduled for publication by Little A in September 2016. I received the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent coverThroughout the book, James Duane explores why someone–especially someone innocent–should never talk to the police (and instead should repeat “I want a lawyer”). The content of the book is a bit dry–he uses case histories of people who have been wrongfully convicted or have given false confessions. But Duane livens up the content with some excerpts from his lecture, “Don’t Talk to Police.” More

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