REVIEW: After Dark by James Leck

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Title: After Dark
Author: James Leck
Format: E-ARC
Publication: August 1st 2015 by Kids Can Press
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Kids Can Press and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Horror, Humor, Paranormal
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old professional slacker Charlie Harker can’t believe his bad luck. On the first day of the summer holidays, his mom springs the worst news: they’re moving to the sleepy town of Rolling Hills to restore Charlie’s great-grandfather’s old inn. Summer is supposed to be about lazy days spent by the pool, sipping ice-cold lemonade. Manual labor and early mornings were definitely not on Charlie’s to-do list. Things go from bad to weird when his new neighbor Miles Van Helsing runs screaming out of the night, insisting that he’s being chased by “humanoid creatures.” Charlie chalks it up to Miles being the town nutcase. But it soon becomes clear that something’s not right in Rolling Hills. A mysterious illness seems to be spreading through town. At first it seems harmless enough, but the number of infected people keeps growing—and what might be a simple headache by day becomes something entirely different when the sun goes down …

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work. Wry and engaging, After Dark pokes fun at tropes of the genre with irreverent tone and a smart-alecky protagonist.

Tenth-grader Charlie Harker is so ready for summer, a “time for sleeping and swimming and watching three really bad horror movies back to back to back.” But Ma has a better idea: move to the old hick town of Rolling Hills and renovate the family’s decrepit inn. And right on Charlie’s first night, he meets Miles Van Helsing, the town’s resident conspiracy nut. As the two spend more time together, Charlie begins to suspect that Rolling Hills, after all, might not be too boring. Nor safe. Leck’s latest novel finds its strength in its MC. Nothing gets me to stick to a book better than an interesting character and Charlie is exactly that and some. He’s hilarious and endearing and curious but also afraid and lazy. He’s a person. The author triumphantly mixes sarcasm with sincere dopiness.

“Seeing those tracks made my bladder ache. If the Baxters showed up now, I was going to need a new pair of pants.”

After Dark also benefits from its self-awareness. It owns its ridiculousness, and that’s the most amusing part next to the narrative voice. Almost every investigation Charlie and Miles undertake—ironically yet effectively juxtaposed with commentaries from the former—often ends up being an episode of the horror movie Charlie mocks. It would be tacky except our hero is very tongue-in-cheek. Plus, there are several winks at gothic cult (Miles’s last name is Van Helsing, there’s a character called Igor) as well as family drama. The family drama, however, is decent at best, paltry at worst.

“”A trapdoor that leads into a dingy root cellar is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect to see in a ridiculously predictable horror movie. And you know what else would be predictable and absurdly stupid …?” I asked. “I’m going down,” Miles said.”

Moreover, the book is effortlessly atmospheric. Rolling Hills’s sleepy-town-ness is palpable, the kind that teleports you back to your childhood days watching Goosebumps. The kind that exudes old school horror movie vibe. Albeit, more eerie and less scary. And the monster of the story, the “zompire,” is a nice twist on two of today’s most celebrated undead. In fact, I can see After Dark being a massive hit with a younger audience. Because I feel like the resolution was a bit flimsy, at least for my taste. And with a denouement that both surprises and does not surprise, a sequel is not unlikely but unnecessary.

“The world doesn’t want heroes, Charlie. You’ll learn that eventually.”

Light and thoroughly enjoyable, be sure to include “read After Dark” in your to-do list.

3.5 out of 5

Author

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James Leck lives in Nova Scotia, where he’s spent almost all of his summer vacations. He’s always enjoyed lounging beside pools, drinking ice-cold lemonade and sleeping in. Poison ivy, running face-first into trees and waking up alone in the dark are some of his least favorite things. However, he’s pretty sure being chased by humanoid creatures would be worse.

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What was your last light, entertaining read?

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REVIEW: Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda

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Title: Hollywood Witch Hunter
Author: Valerie Tejeda
Format: E-ARC
Publication: July 20th 2015 by Bloomsbury Spark
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Lynn Stevens, Bloomsbury Spark and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Other classifications: Witchcraft and Wizardry, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis

From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them.

Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.

But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California.

Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do.

Welcome to Hollywood.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Hollywood Witch Hunter could’ve taken either of two roads: a clever satire on celebrity culture masked as a gory witch hunt or a fast-paced, kick-ass witch hunt that embraces its ridiculousness. Sadly, however, it took neither.

Across the globe, Witch Hunters have kept witches at bay. Witches who pry on unsuspecting humans. But in Los Angeles, it is quite different; witches go after shallow, spoiled brats. But with the Bentlys in command, the City of Angel is safe. Until it no longer is. Things are getting weirder and a powerful witch is gaining more powers. At the center of it is Iris Maria Bently, the only female Hunter ever. And with her brother and a new recruit named Arlo by her side, she’s determined to take matters into her hands. After all, she knows she’s born to be a Hunter. As someone who grew up in a household that watches dubbed Latino soap operas, I was thrilled to find a female Colombian MC. Tejeda’s representation and feminist references are this debut’s strongest suits. Unfortunately, that’s all there is for me. A couple of chapters in and everything went downhill.

“People aren’t born monsters, Iris. Something always happens that makes them that way.”

This one’s a light read, but my biggest concern is Iris. I didn’t connect with her. She’s irresolute at best, whiny at worst, and the third person point-of-view didn’t help. There are too many plot holes and most confrontations felt at times half-baked and at times downright flat. I mean, why would you discuss the group’s strategies in front of a freaking witch? I’m all for witchcraft and wizardry and there is an unlikely friendship and an amusing villain involved, which are always a treat, but Hollywood Witch Hunter just didn’t slay me. And I’d say another run of edits wouldn’t hurt, but I’m being subjective more than anything right now—as is invariably the case with my reviews. I did enjoy Arlo though. His lines are often grin-or-snort-inducing—but even he can only carry so much dialogues—and I’m totally into his story arc. In fact, I wonder if I would’ve appreciated the book more if he were the point-of-view character.

“I’m just saying, sometimes we don’t understand why people do what they do.”

Reminiscent of the Vampire Academy movie, Hollywood Witch Hunter had good potentials but somehow lost them in translation.

1.5 out of 5

Author

Valerie Tejeda

Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including Vanity FairMTV, The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Latina, Yahoo! Shine, Cosmopolitan, and more. Valerie holds a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and is currently based in Northern California with her husband, where she reads loads of books, binge-watches Netflix, and drinks tons of Peets coffee. Hollywood Witch Hunter is her debut.

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Whoa. This is my shortest review to date. So is this book on your TBR? Can you put up with a novel with a character(s) you can’t connect with? Moreover, do you DNF often? Do you DNF at all? Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Title: The Witch Hunter
Author: Virginia Boecker
Format: E-ARC
Publication: June 2nd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Hatchette Children’s Books and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal
Other classifications: Fae, Witchcraft and Wizardry, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn’t look dangerous. A tiny, blonde, wisp of a girl shouldn’t know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out ten necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the King’s elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practice it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.

When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she’s arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she’s to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor—Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.

As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nicholas’s curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate… and life and death.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

I expected to enjoy The Witch Hunter, what I did not expect is how refreshing it’ll turn out to be. It’s atmospheric, engrossing, and the romance is just so good. I’m admittedly not big on this element but Boecker hits all my marks and I cannot complain, really. The MC has a clear voice and there are serious badass supporting cast. I like Elizabeth’s internal monologue; she’s very introspective. She doesn’t cower from the fact that she’s afraid to be alone, she acts based on principles, and it’s interesting to witness how she processes what she learns along the journey.

“I’m weak. I’m tired. I’m injured. I’m confused. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, afraid of what I’ve got to do. I am what I always feared I’d be: alone.”

It took me a while to settle in the rhythm of this world, but after a few chapters, I was sucked right in. The Witch Hunter is not about the epic battle sequences, although it has a few; it enchants with its quiet scenes. The way Elizabeth questions and makes sense of what she believes in, the stolen glances, the gradual shift of reality for each character. Elizabeth gets three companions: John, George and Fifer. And I feel like every single one of them received the right amount of airtime. And that’s one of the strongest features of this debut, because the dynamics among the four is pure fun. Well, there may or may not be unanticipated punches involve. And Caleb Pace, Elizabeth’s childhood friend, warrants a mention. In the minimal appearances he has, I saw a glimpse of a well-realized, if positively flawed, character. Here’s me throwing a coin in the hopes that one of the planned two novellas centers on him. Basically, I’m saying Boecker gets it right. She gets it right especially with one particular scene which, up until now, still gives me the feels.

“The wizard who rescued me, the boy who healed me, the girl who bathed me, the fool who befriended me. I’m indebted to each of them in some way, yet they are my enemies. They’ve shown me kindness, yet I’m prepared to kill them.”

I have issues with the language, it’s contemporary when I would much prefer otherwise. But this is a pet peeve more than anything. Plus I somehow guessed the twist, but that didn’t stop me from racing through to find out what happens in between. If you’re a fan of works like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, this one’s your cup of tea.

“I’m quiet for a moment, enchanted by the idea of something stealing over you, settling into you, and telling you, with absolute certainty, who you are and what you’re meant to do.”

Boecker delivers a forcible debut—and a duology starter at that—with The Witch Hunter, which places her among the set of authors whose future books I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Virginia Boecker

Virginia Boecker recently spent four years in London obsessing over English medieval history, which formed the basis of The Witch Hunter. She now lives in the Bay Area, California with her husband and spends her days writing, reading, running and chasing around her two children and a dog named George.

In addition to English kings, nine-day queens, and Protestant princesses, her other obsessions include The Smiths, art museums, champagne, and Chapstick.

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Have you heard about this book? Are you interested to pick it up after reading my review? And, while I’m in a streak, do you have suggestions on witchcraft-and-wizardry titles up on your sleeve? Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: Holly Black
Format: Hardcover,  336 pages
Publication: January 13th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Fantasy, Paranormal
Other classifications: Fae, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

In the woods is a glass coffin. It rests right on the ground, and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. . . .

Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Tourists drive in to see the lush wonders of Faerie and, most wonderful of all, the horned boy. But visitors fail to see the danger.

Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake.

Until one day, he does….

As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be. But as she’s swept up in new love, with shifting loyalties and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Review

There are books written so beautifully that you stop from time to time to read passages aloud, as though just by uttering the words they become more alive—breathing, dancing around you. The Darkest Part of the Forest is such one. This is my first of Holly Black’s titles and, already, I’m thinking: this is the power of words. A person can stitch them in a way that does wonders.

“He was every bit as monstrously beautiful as he’d ever been. You could drown in beauty like that.”

A thoughtful blend of contemporary and folkloric, it is easy to get lost in the world of Fairfold—where faeries and elves and dwarves exist at the same time with iPod and Coke. The fantasy is exquisite, in that it isn’t too fantastical to swallow yet enough to draw you back to the days when you believed in once-upon-a-times. But at the heart of it, The Darkest Part of the Forest is as much about family dysfunction. I adore how Black played at subtlety in revealing all that transpired between Hazel and Ben now and Hazel and Ben then, weaving a rich, raw tapestry of love and insecurity and what brothers and sisters say to one another and what they don’t. The only letdown is I wish there was more as to why the parents behave the way they behaved. I wish there was more to glimpse at.

“The worst part was how quietly she wept, as if she’d taught herself how, as if she was so used to doing it that it had just become the way she cried.”

The character voice is distinct and strong, with the narrative alternating from Hazel and Ben and, at times, Jack. I love that Hazel is fierce and headstrong but that she’s also terrified and lonely and she knows all that. I love that Ben believes in love in the storybooks and craves it and that he knows his flaws. I find Severin’s character interesting, in such a way that he turned out to be far from what I initially imagined. And to top it all, I love the sarcasm thrown in sporadically.

“It was right out of a fairy tale, crazy and terrifying.”

I also think the author couldn’t have found a more fitting epigraph. The ending, which I have a sense not to spoil, is absolutely brilliant. Do yourself a favor and read The Darkest Part of the Forest.

5.0 out of 5

Author

Holly Black

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), the Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. She was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, a finalist for Eisner Award, and a recipient of both the Andre Norton Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son, in a house with a secret door.

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