Review: “Halloween Carnival Volume 2” by Glen Hirshberg, Lee Thomas, Holly Newstein, Del James, and Al Sarrantonio

35487670‘Twas the night before Halloween and this reviewer finally got around to posting her review on Halloween Carnival Volume 2Just in time for the spookiest day of the year.

This short story collection is comprised of five short stories:

Mr Dark’s Carnival is by Glen Hirshberg. It’s about a man, David, in search of the town’s long fabled Halloween carnival. When he finds it, it’s more of a scare than he’s bargaining for. This one was slow to get started, dragging out way too much backstory for a short story, but the twist at the end is well worth it. This was my favorite out of all of them.

The Facts in the Case of My Sister is by Lee Thomas. This one tells the story about a man, another David, and his sister. At a young age, David dabbled in magic and is seeing the consequences now that he is older. This story was not as creepy but the ending was slightly jarring. I’m not a huge fan of endings that make you say “Huh?” because it feels like a cheap trick when the rest of the story wasn’t as engaging.

Mischief Night is by Holly Newstein. This one is about Devil’s night, pranking kids, and an alcoholic. And it’s not Devil’s night unless someone dies, right? I wasn’t a fan of this story. Even though the timeline is based around Halloween, the vibes of the story are more from a morals standpoint rather than a fun scare. Again, the story focused too much on backstory rather than driving the here and now of the plot.

The Ghost Maker by is Del James. It’s basically about a mob hit man, where even on Halloween you’ve got to be on guard or risk swimming with the fishes. This was a fun read. The narrator is the real champ of the story, mostly because the writing has a good voice.

Finally, The Pumpkin Boy is by Al Sarrantonio. Written as more of a novella than a short story, the Halloween vibes are back in this story. There’s a creepy pumpkin boy, a disappearance, and a mystery to solve. This story was a bit longer than the rest and had more “meat on it’s bones.” While not my favorite, this one definitely wrapped up the collection with its spooks.

These stories are mostly chalk full of murder, gore, and horror, all revolving around All Hallows Eve. If you’re looking for short, spooky reads, this collection is right up your alley.

3/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of Halloween Carnival Volume 2 from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Miles Morales (Spider-Man) by Jason Reynolds

32793053Forget Peter Parker.

Miles Morales is the Spider-Man that everyone should be paying attention to.

In this refreshingly not another origins story (here’s looking at you movie franchise), Miles is an average Brooklyn teen navigating the pressures of keeping his school scholarship, staying out of trouble with his hilarious best friend Ganke, talking to his brilliant crush Alicia, and keeping his web-slinging secretBut, being a teenage superhero is not as easy as it sounds– especially when Miles’ spidey-sense is not as reliable as it used to be and it ends up getting him suspended from school.

I’ve always said that the Marvel-verse should give more love to Miles Morales, so I’m so glad that this book exists. I hope there are at least ten more. This book did everything that I wanted and more, yet still left me wishing that the last page wasn’t the last. As we all know, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and Jason Reynolds really handled that responsibility well.

Not only was Miles Morales a great addition to the Spider-Man story and an entertaining hero vs. villain adventure, it points to some very important topics– racism, poverty, social injustice. We see Miles, a Black-Latino, deal with a teacher who thinks its okay to teach about the “benefits” of slavery. We see the failures of the prison system, especially for juveniles. We see Miles struggle to prove that he won’t fall into a life of crime, like many of the people in his neighborhood. This book sinks so deep– and it’s wonderful.

The benefit of having a character from comic books transition on to the pages of a novel is that you can get more characterization and background with a few paragraphs than from a few panels. (Side note: Not that comic books can’t do that, because they can. I just sometimes find that superhero comics favor the side of action rather than development.) Miles is such a well developed character. He’s dynamic and vulnerable, intelligent and determined. He’s flawed; we see his impulses and failures, but we know that he’s good and that he tries to do good.

Also, Miles Morales and Reynolds really do side characters justice– Ganke’s not just the funny best friend and Alicia’s not just the pretty crush. They have their own emotions and motivations. They struggle and they triumph and not just for the motivation of Miles. Have I mentioned that it’s wonderful?

It’s true that the action and super-villainry play second fiddle and take a while to progress in the novel, but it’s worth it. There’s so much to explore with a diverse superhero like Miles and this novel was a fun way to kick it off.

Plus, Spider-Man is just cool.

Miles Morales (Spider-Man) comes out August 1st, 2017.

4.5/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of Miles Morales from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Tales from the Haunted Mansion, Volume II: Midnight at Madame Leota’s” by Amicus Arcane

Goosebumps meets Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in Disney’s new series that centers around the live-in spooks of the famous Haunted Mansion. Our ghost host and author, Amicus Arcane, is the Mansion’s resident librarian and keeper of tales. This is a fun and entertaining series, especially for those who are fans of the Haunted Mansion.

In this second volume of Tales from the Haunted Mansion, Arcane spins the story of William, a visitor seeking a seance with the famous Madame Leota in order to find out what happened to his sister many years ago. Along the way, William learns the spooky stories of a few of the Haunted Mansion’s ghosts. (Fun fact: these are based on actual ghosts that are seen in the theme park ride.)

Geared towards ages 8-12, this book is the perfect amount of creepy without being terrifying. The stories are simple, yet with enough twists and turns to fit the age range. It even manages to have a bit of morbid humor through fourth wall breaking interjections by Arcane. The design of Midnight at Madame Leota’s, which is to look like an old book from the Mansion’s library, fits excellently into the style of the book, with creepy illustrations and ghostly figures hiding between the pages.

Read at your own risk!

Tales from the Haunted Mansion, Volume II: Midnight at Madame Leota’s comes out July 18th, 2017.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of Tales from the Haunted Mansion, Volume II: Midnight at Madame Leota’s from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Jane of Austin” by Hillary Manton Lodge

32143887As a Jane Austen fan, I was fairly excited for this book, despite the fact that I think Jane Austen retellings are very overdone. Hillary Manton Lodge‘s Jane of Austin is a modernized version of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility with a few nods to other Austen works mixed in. Though the concept was exciting, the ultimate result– unfortunately– was not.

In this version, we follow Jane Woodward and her sisters Celia and Margot (Marianne, Elinor, and Margaret Dashwood, respectively) as they are forced to close their San Francisco tea shop and relocate to Austin, Texas (hence the title). In Austin, Jane meets her John Willoughby (known to her as musician Sean Willis) and the expected events of the story unfold. Interwoven with Jane’s story is retired Marine Callum Beckett’s (our Colonel Brandon), who instantly falls in love with Jane (emphasis on instantly).

The story strongly mirrors the original Sense and Sensibility, but adds a cozy modern flair. The tea shop, in particular, was my favorite addition. (Food is a huge driving force in this novel and Lodge kindly provided multiple recipes for the described food throughout the book.) The skeleton of the story is well planned and carefully adapted, but being that it’s a retelling, it falls prey to underwhelming predictability. I couldn’t invest myself in the story because I knew how things would pan out– and not just because I’ve read the original.

Not only was the story underwhelming, the characters were, too. I felt like I just got to know cardboard cutouts of them, maybe with the exception of Jane. Even more importantly, I felt like I missed out on a lot of character interaction and development through interaction. I couldn’t invest in the romances because I didn’t get enough growth from the characters. I love flawed characters but the only flawed ones in Jane of Austin were the “villians,” if you know what I mean.

Overall, this book just made me feel neutral. I didn’t love it or hate it. I’d recommend it to someone looking for a simple romantic read or a hardcore Jane Austen retelling fan. Or someone looking for some good Texas inspired recipes. This was simply not my cup of tea. (See what I did there?)

2.5/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Jane of Austin from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Once and for All” by Sarah Dessen

32078787When I got the notification for this Galley, my high school self just about screamed. High school self had read every Sarah Dessen book she could get her hands on, multiple times, in a rotating order. High school self and friends rated the dreamy-ness of all the love interests (Wes was our favorite, Dexter a close second) and mapped out which characters crossed over into other books. High school self even wrote an article for the school newspaper about Dessen’s books and it made the front page of the entertainment section for the May issue.

But let me get to the point.

Sarah Dessen’s writing has an almost magical quality to it that sucks you into the pages and pulls on your heartstrings and steals your time away, because before you know it, it’s four in the morning and you’re internally sobbing over characters that you just met. At least that’s how it was with Once and for All.

Once and for All is about love– not just romantic love, but first love, family love, broken love, all love in its many forms and functions. It’s also about weddings and bets, but I’ll get to that. Louna is our main character in this novel, she’s a smart, overly cautious, recent high school graduate, working at her mother’s wedding planning business for the summer. Being the daughter of a highly popular wedding planner, she’s seen weddings of all shapes, sizes, and meltdowns. As expected, Louna is cynical about love and marriage and happily ever after. *cue dramatic flashbacks to Louna’s first love*

Enter Ambrose. He’s an absolutely charming weirdo and I mean that in the nicest of ways. (I think he’s up there on that list with Wes and Dexter, now.) Abrose is a bit cocky and a lot rich, but as Louna’s counterpart, he loves to love (and by that I mean he’s a serial dater). After a bit of a rocky start, Louna and Ambrose develop a friendship and place an entertaining bet– but as to what, you’ll have to read and find out.

Dessen has tackled some serious topic in her other novels and Once and for All is no exception. Louna’s flashbacks, which alternate chapters with real time, build up to some heartbreaking truths that I won’t spoil, but Dessen is really on the nose with writing about the somber subject.

Once and for All nicely tells us Louna’s journey to self discovery and coming to terms with things that you cannot change. The cast of characters are fun to get to know and all add their own purpose to the story– shout out to Louna’s mom and William for the best duo and BFF Jilly for being all around awesome. The novel lives up to Dessen fan expectations and delivers a satisfying ending. High school self would be proud.

Once and for All comes out June 6, 2017.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of Once and for All from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


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Review: “The Backstagers, Vol. 1” by James Tynion IV

31390219The Backstagers is basically a gender swapped version of The Lumberjanes (it’s fantastic, so if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?). I’m not complaining, though, because I absolutely adore Lumberjanes and I really loved getting to read the first issue of Backstagers. It’s a quirky story of friendship done with some colorful and imaginative art.

In the first issue of the new comic series The Backstagers,” Jory is the new kid in an all-boys private school, St. Genesius. Considering himself an outcast, Jory tries to join the drama club but ends up backstage instead. Behind the theater scenes, the self-named “Backstagers” are not only responsible for setting up the scenes and fetching props, they’re job also requires reigning in the supernatural stuff that happens in the changing tunnels underneath the school.

This issue sets up Jory and his new friends for further hilarity and adventures. With adorable creatures and a cast of diverse characters, The Backstagers promises to tell some entertaining and heartfelt stories about friendship, magic, and good times. I’ll definitely be keeping in tune with this series, not only for the stories but for the representation that shines in the characters.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of The Backstagers, Vol. 1 from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1” by Mark Lewisohn

23308447Well, if there’s anything you ever want to know about the Beatles here’s a 900 page textbook that covers their beginnings through 1962. If you want anything after that, you’re in luck because there’s supposed to be two more volumes. If they’re both 900 pages long each, then good luck to you because that’s a lot of information.

I’m a Beatles fan– I really am. A lot of older people think that young people don’t know who the Beatles even are, but my dad loves them, so by default, I love them, too. Given that, I know their music well, but I’m not as familiar with their history, so that’s where Tune In comes in.

Mark Lewisohn’s epic about the Beatles thoroughly chronicles the pre-fame lives and beginnings of John, Paul, George, and Richy (a.k.a. Ringo). The book is filled with more facts than you can imagine. Lewisohn is clearly an expert on Beatles history and demonstrates that in his ability to get the reader to turn the page with a ‘gotta know more!‘ attitude. Though, to counter that, the writing style misses engaging prose because it seems to literally just be fact after fact.

Tune In: All These Years is definitely a must read for fans who want to know absolutely everything about the Beatles and who have a lot of time on their hands. For those not so inclined, the book has pictures. And I mean, they’re pretty nifty pictures of the young Beatles, so that’s a major bonus.

3/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1 from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal” by Erin Gilbert, Abby L. Yates, and Andrew Shaffer

28185873Ghost from Our Past is a media tie-in to this summer’s new Ghostbusters film. In the movie-verse, the book was initially written by Drs. Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates (Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, respectively) during their college days in the 90s. It was a doomed failure until recent events (spoiler alert) forced the scientists to become the Ghostbuters in order to save New York (end-ish of spoilers, but just go see the movie). Now published as a “Newly Revised and Somewhat Updated” edition, Ghosts from Our Past has the throwback nostalgia as a ghost hunting book of the 90s with the comedy of modern techniques and technologies.

This is a laugh-out-loud guide to the interesting history of paranormal studies and ghost hunting with the positive promotion of girl-power and women in science (including some on-point clapbacks at some of the misogynist new movie haters out there). Ghost from Our Past gives a thorough, factual history of early ghost studies, including hunting and communicating. Tied in are some anecdotes and history on our new Ghostbusters and includes some special appearances by Holtzman, Patty, and KEVIN. At the end of the book, there is kind-of a DIY guide for ghost hunting. It comes complete with an equipment checklist and a handy questionnaire for gathering your ghost knowledge.

I really enjoyed diving into this book. Outside of the fact that it takes place in the Ghostbusters-verse, it has a lot of cool information. The real author, Andrew Shaffer did an excellent job at gathering data and embodying the Gilbert and Yates’ characteristics and attidudes from the movie, allowing them to really come to life.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Ghost from Our Past from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “A Fine Imitation” by Amber Brock

26053121Amber Brock’s A Fine Imitation is 1920s glamour mixed with high society issues and a commentary on restricting gender role expectations. Told with two alternating narratives a decade apart, A Fine Imitation tells the story of Vera Bellington, a woman born into privileged life in Manhattan. In 1913, Vera is an art student discovering a new friendship with Bea Stillman, a wild and energetic girl with a knack for catastrophe. Flash forward ten years to the Prohibition era and Vera is now un-happily married, living the life of a lonely, very wealthy socialite.

Then handsome artist Emil Hallan arrives at Vera’s Park Avenue penthouse to work on a mural for the building. Despite his mysterious past, Vera finds herself drawn to him through their mutual connection to art. Emil stirs Vera’s familiar world of elegance and expectations causing her to question herself and what she really wants from life– comfort or love?

I honestly didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, but once it picked up steam, I couldn’t put it down. Not only was the world constructed in an elegant Gatsby-like way, the characters were meticulously developed. Vera’s change throughout the story was seamless and entirely fitting to the plot. Brock’s writing managed to transport me back to the early decades. She wrote smoothly, well educated in her subject matter. She not only brought her characters to life, but she brought the whole world to vibrant, glamorous life, too. I could really feel Vera and Emil’s love for each other; I believed in their story and rooted for them until the satisfying end.

A Fine Imitation is also an excellent title– and I’m a sucker for a good, metaphorical title. The Imitation not only plays on the subject of art and forgery, but also within many of the characters, who are not face-value as the story line develops.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of A Fine Imitation from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Simply Calligraphy” by Judy Detrick

25734064For a long time, I’ve always wanted to learn the art of calligraphy but I just never took the time to sit down and do it. Getting an ARC of Simply Calligraphy helped solve that problem. With book and new broad-edge pen in hand, I sat down to read and practice.

Judy Detrick’s calligraphy guide is a well-informed how-to handbook to introduce the beginnings of artful writing. It’s not simply a how-to though, Simply Calligraphy provides the history of calligraphy and breaks down the science of pen strokes and letter forms.

Simply Calligraphy really works to help with comprehension of calligraphy, how different writing tools work and how the math of angles factor into letter positioning so that the final product looks elegant and finished.

The guide is educational and well put-together, simple and easy in explanation. Compared to other calligraphy handbooks that I have seen, it is a forerunner to be among the best. Everything you need to know to get started in word art is in Simply Calligraphy; the only thing you need to do to keep going is practice.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Simply Calligraphy from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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