The Book of Lies by Teri Terry

Book of Lies feels very much like a concept that was turned into a story; there are many well-worn tropes, random faery/fae influences, and a story that tends to fall apart if you look too close. However, it is decently written and I think less sophisticated readers will enjoy this tale of witches and the supernatural.

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Story: At the funeral of her mother, Quinn discovers she has a twin sister that she was not told about. Her sister, Piper, enjoyed a normal life growing up with their mother and father. Quinn, on the other hand, was shut away in the moors, living almost technology free with her harsh grandmother while working as a hotel maid. Piper, meanwhile, knew she had a sister and knew her sister is the key to getting their mystical ‘inheritance’. As the two come to know each other, they begin to piece together their mother’s legacy that has been hidden from them. And they discover the awful truth that they were separated at birth because one of them was destined to kill her sister and destroy the family.

I realized at the very beginning that I didn’t connect with or even like either character. Fairly unrealistic situations/dialogue didn’t help but it was clear from the beginning which twin was the problem. Granted, that likely was on purpose but it felt manufactured. I would have preferred a bit more subtlety rather than clearly making one sister the obvious problem. And then making both very deceitful meant I didn’t really care what happened to either.

As for the story itself, not much happens until the end. Quinn enjoys being Piper at school and then later Piper plays as Quinn in order to find something she wants. In the middle of the two is Zak, Piper’s boyfriend who loves her only because of her persuasion ability. Piper isn’t in love with Zak in return (she is pretty much shown to not love anyone) and of course Quinn falls for Zak hard. Queue conflict. The book alternates between Quinn and Piper and it gets very confusing – both girls had a similar voice, with the exception that Piper is always shown to be manipulative and selfish.

The story itself is very muddled and I think the author is a bit guilty of outhinking herself. The ending doesn’t make much sense and the solution to the girls’ problem is so easy and obvious, I have to wonder why no one else chose to do it. Add in the usual elderly person who has all the answers but chooses not to tell anyone anything except cryptically, even if it constantly puts lives at danger, and you get the problem I had with most of the story.

Because so little felt organic and too much was recycled (e.g., the Wild Hunt mythos), I had a hard time with Book of Lies. I understand what the author was doing with the concept, but it is hard to like a main character who succeeds and triumphs by learning to lie, deceive, and manipulate as well as her ‘bad’ sister. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Taproot by Keezy Young

Taproot is a gentle, inviting, and nicely told urban fantasy of a young man in love with gardening and the ghost in love with him. It draws you in immediately and it is a story you want to follow as each of the characters has a unique voice. But a shift in tone near the end and abrupt change in the story flavor are interesting, if jarring, and feel tacked on in order to create a future storyline.

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Hamal is a quiet young man working in a nursery. He loves plants but has an oddball reputation for talking to himself – understandable, really, since he can communicate with ghosts. Blue is one of the ghosts who follows Hamal’s otherwise mundane life. When the ghosts suddenly start being pulled into a dead world, a quippy and quixotically lazy Reaper appears to deal with the disturbance. Hamal might actually be more than a ghost whisperer – and the target of the Reaper if he is the one causing the dead world.

Hamal is the definition of a gentle giant – somewhat potato-drawn, quiet, unassuming, and resigned to his unusual fate. Blue, on the other hand, is impulsive, quick to emotion, and wrestling with being completely in love with Hamal. Most of the story is the two trying to figure out what they want (and can have) in the world, until the Reaper appears with her sass. And although I liked Hamal and Blue, the Reaper really stole the show. Her dialogue always put a smile on my face.

There are other characters, mostly ghosts, but they don’t figure much in the story. And Hamal and Blue are very broadly drawn – this isn’t a character study and the focus is on the romance. As noted above, the tone shifts abruptly to be an adventure with a touch of mystery and feels like an add on that perhaps should have waited for a second book. But otherwise, I found this surprisingly adorable, sweet, and heartwarming. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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I Love My Wok by Nicola Graimes

I Love My Wok is a nicely laid out, easy to use cookbook for a wok. The recipes are cleanly presented, there are full size pictures for many of the meals, and a nice introduction with recommendations and tools in the beginning. Ironically, the cover looks very basic but the inside is very professionally presented. You won’t need a lot of tools – the wok really is the only component of many recipes.

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The book breaks down as follows: Introduction, Appetizers and soups, Salads and sides, Noodles and rice, Meat, Poultry, Fish and shellfish, Vegetarian, and an index. The book is nearly all recipes and is very full – there are quite a few to choose from and the recipes are multi cultural, not just Asian (e.g., Pesto pasta). The books delves beyond stir frying in beef and also has recipes for braising, blanching, and using water instead of oil. And as noted above, there is a vegetarian section.

Each recipe comes with an allergy index, preparation time, cooking time, servings, ingredient list, and then directions. About half have full page photographs of the finished item (there are no small images, just full page). The ingredient list is right justified, which admittedly makes them fairly hard to read. Left justified Bullets would have made this much easier. The directions are in paragraph form and can get chunky and difficult to remember where you were – numbered brief steps would have been easier. I’m guessing the publisher or author wanted to make the recipes seem ‘easier’ by not listing a bunch of steps. But I hate having to find my place in the directions when they are in the middle of a large chunky paragraph.

So yes, a lot of really good recipes, most with a health conscious approach. Nicely designed, cleanly laid out with large text, and with some accompanying full page photographs. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Monstress Volume 2 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Where Monstress Volume 1 felt more of a cypher than a full tale, Volume 2 solidifies the story while never giving away too much of the lore. The art work, as always, is breathtaking; more than a pretty face, the illustrations beautifully enhance the story, adding even further nuance and character to an already rich world. I wasn’t completely sure if I should keep reading after the first book – worried it would continue to be inscrutable. However, I am very glad I continued with Monstress Volume 2.

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Story: Maiko learns she must travel to the Island of Bones, just as she knows Ren the cat and young half fox Kippa will follow her, each for reasons unknown. But the journey is perilous, the island a toxic morass from the death of a god there, and Maiko will soon discover that in finding out more about her mother, she will have to face some hard truths about her own existence.

The personalities here are so fully formed, each distinct and unique. And they work perfectly together to tell the story. From contentious Ren to innocent Kippa, avuncular Seizi, and the various side characters, each is a treat. Not just for the beautiful artwork – this is a fascinating and layered story in and of itself. There are moments I laugh (Ren!) and moments I recoil, and they are all masterfully told. This is horror, fantasy, and fairy tale combined.

Much has been said about the beauty of the artwork and the subtle watercoloring. But really, a closer examination reveals a mastery in the graphic form – from panel layouts, perspective, to the subtle but important positioning of the dialogue boxes. The story flows seamlessly from word to art to word in a way that is so rare these days in the graphic novel format.

Japanese culture is definitely an influence here – and I am reminded of the wit and mastery that went into Avatar: The Last Airbender. Subtle winks and nods to the lore – from a dead-raising feline character called a ‘nekomancer’ (‘neko’ is Japanese for cat) to the Hokusai waves seamlessly layered throughout the sea-faring chapters.

In all, this is why we read graphic novels. The story would be interesting on its own and the artwork lovely to admire. But when they work together, they create a synergy that makes for an extremely rewarding read. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Book two in the Legends of the First Empire continues exactly where the previous book left off and moves on with the plot without wasting time reiterating events. Personally I like this approach in book series where the author is confident that readers are already familiar with what has happened.

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While the plot continues on as before, we do get a lot more characters and the concentration is on different view points than previous. On occasion this is a bit annoying; it feels like we only some get a full account of some while so many others are left to the wayside. Fortunately all the points of view are interesting save one – that of Mawyndul√ę the elven prince whose chapters of whining teenager idiocy were quite hard to get through. A few plot elements felt maybe a bit too Lord of the Rings-esque. And honestly, the main heroines inventing the writing, the wheel,AND the bow within what must be just weeks requires quite a bit of suspension of belief. Still, the main plot of the upcoming war feels solid, with the politics and logistics feeling even surprisingly realistic.

Writing is good as ever and pacing feels perfect (except, again, with the prince). I did miss a bit of the odd couple dry humor that exists in Sullivan’s Riyria books, and in the first volume of this series between Raithe and Malcolm.

All in all, I enjoyed this book a lot and am quite looking forward to the next installment.

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Anne of Green Gables by Mariah Marsden, Brenna Thummler

Anne of Green Gables was ripe for a contemporary graphic novel translation: the beloved story of a plucky young orphan growing up in Prince Edward Island in Canada is a beloved classic to many. Those watching the 2017 Netflex show likely believe Anne is a story of a young girl who is psychotic from mistreatment in her youth and having ‘episodes’ that fuel her imagination (AKA multiple personality disorder). But Montgomery’s book was not about the bad in life so much as the very good: it’s a story of hope and imagination – something this graphic novel gets right. Author and illustrator condense quite a bit to make the story fit and perhaps in doing so, lose quite a bit of the story. So I recommend this as a companion to the origin book rather than as a stand alone for those who have not read of Anne’s adventures.

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Story: When elderly siblings Mathew and Marilla Cuthberg request a boy from the orphanage to help with Mathew’s farming, they are surprised to find a scrawny, red haired, but very precocious Anne waiting at the train station. Mathew is taken with the young girl and her flights of fancy yet Marilla isn’t easily convinced. But chance affords them the opportunity to keep her anyway – and Anne’s life in the small Canadian town begins.

Most of the key Anne scenes are there: the locket, the green hair, Gilbert and the pier rescue, etc. But there really isn’t enough time in the translation to give us reasons why things happen as they do. When Anne brains Gilbert with the slate, for example, it feels very sudden if one didn’t understand Anne’s image problems. Similarly, the blow up with Rachel at the beginning is very abrupt. Character relationships outside of Diana are also similarly excluded – few of the girls at the school are mentioned at all. So we lose the conflict with Josie Pye and the bullying from the girls.

I hadn’t read the books recently so I had to jog my memory at several scenes to understand the context. If anything, Anne seems to be living a very happy and not very troubled life with all the small incidents cut out – I would have been wondering what all the fuss was about when Anne doesn’t do much in the graphic novel except talk with people. The translation is best described as vignettes – concentrating on certain scenes which don’t allow enough room for subtle context.

The art style reminded me a lot of the TV series Daria – circular eyes with no pupils, potato faces and bodies, and very odd squiggles for noses (all nostrils, oddly). I can’t say that I really liked the illustration work and I honestly felt it let down the story telling quite a bit. It lacked character emotion and nuances that would have helped fill in the greatly needed context. Prince Edward Island is very windswept and open but has a unique beauty that I just don’t believe the illustrations captured enough.

In all, this is a nice companion book – a way to see the story you just read illustrated (or to remind you of the great scenes in the book). But as a stand alone, I think many will be left wondering why Anne of Green Gables is so Beloved. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Zero Repeat Forever by G. S. Prendergast

I’ve seen some interesting comparisons for what you find in Zero Repeat Forever – from a “Canadian 5th Wave” to “Alien Warm Bodies.” And certainly, the plot does echo what is found in those stories: an alien invasion, a girl who has to survive, and a creature that has little control over itself but becomes obsessed with a girl anyway. But where this book shines is in the pathos: Prendergast tells a story that, although not necessarily surprising, is full of nuanced and non-cliche characters. There are no unique snowflakes or Hallmark moments to be found.

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Away at a remote Canadian forest camp awaiting the arrival of the students they have to watch, Raven and her teen counselor friends are horrified to learn that an alien invasion is occurring – and people are dying en masse. Trapped, unsure of where to go and what to do, with supplies dwindling, the teens are going to have to figure out what to do when survival is becoming increasingly difficult. Meanwhile, a member of the invasion force, Eighth, is killing humans as directed but increasingly realizing he is defective. Conflicted, Unsure, and unable to process and even hide his defectiveness, he will be driven to desperation when he allows a single human girl to escape – and realizes he no longer has the will to kill the humans.

The story is not a soppy sci fi romance nor is it silly YA instalove. What we have is a bleak but also character driven survival tale with a very beating heart at the center. Raven, the female protagonist, has a checkered past and is stuck at a Summer camp to make up for her misdeeds. She’s there with her boyfriend Tucker and his twin Topher. Eight, meanwhile, wants only to follow his Sixth – the female who gives him orders – but she despises him for his weaknesses and ‘defectiveness’ in not following the directive completely. She is lethal, unequivocal, and he knows only that she is the most important thing in his life. His agonizing over the free will thoughts that make him ‘defective’ are what drive most of his narrative. Eighth’s POVs are brief but poignant; full of self loathing and confusion. Raven’s are also conflicted: surviving, dealing with the death of her friends and family, yet full of fire and desire to live.

By the end, these very flawed characters will have gone through great trials but also great growth. Both Raven and Eighth have much to learn about themselves; through their interactions with each other, they come to individual catharsis that are quite grounded yet also very emotional.

There is a lot of action but also a lot of harshness. Prendergast doesn’t spare the readers and so for that reason, I reminded a lot of what made Hunger Games so good – there’s so many small moments but also heartbreak and triumph. It’s always a mixed bag. Since this is the first in the series, we are given some ideas of where the story will go but there is still a lot to be answered. The ‘twist’ at the end certainly wasn’t a surprise, especially how the aliens kill the humans. But the book was very well written and kept me reading well into the night. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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