Lil Bootz’s Book of the Month: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

I don’t normally read fantasy books, but my dad randomly gifted me with this gorgeous paperback, and he usually knows what he’s doing when it comes to book selections. We tend to read the same things, especially Texas noir and anything from BookPeople’s horror aisle, so this was somewhat of a surprise coming from him! In all honesty, I think it was the cover that did it.

At first, I was intimidated by the size of this thing. A 470-page tome is a commitment, y’all! Turns out, this was a super-fast read that I was able to knock out in a weekend. I was hooked right from the beginning when the kidnapped Harper landed in Emberfall, a fantastical land of lush forests, evil sorcerers and enchanted castles. It’s basically Fantasyland…only with lots of bloodshed and a man-eating beast.

This really is a creative spin on the Beauty and the Beast cannon. The main character is a departure from the book-toting, ball-dancing Belle. She has cerebral palsy and lacks the ballerina-esque grace and ethereal beauty that all the Disney princesses posses. She’s scrappy, street-smart and impermeable to the prince’s charms. I must gives the author snaps for keeping up with the times and giving the readers what they want: a tough-as-nails anti-princess protagonist! Move over, Prince Rhen, and leave it to the women to save the land of Emberfall! Ya Ya!

I also love how the author deviates from the Disney tale while also keeping with some of the themes. The prince is in a race against time (sans the falling rose petals) to save himself and his kingdom from doom. The trapped “Beauty” must rescue the kingdom and her family back at home. Inanimate objects take on a life of their own–only instead of singing teapots and candelabras, there’s wind instruments that relentlessly play the same songs day after day after day, and so on. If that’s not enough to throw myself off the highest castle turret, I don’t know what is!

Either way, this is a fantastic reimagining of and old tale that so many of us just can’t get enough of–myself included! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched the animated classic. Only in this newest iteration, the beast is a tad more frightening than that fluffy, overgrown Chow dog looking thing in the movie.

Needless to say, I’m excited to dive into the next installment of this series. This is the perfect break from reality that I need these days. I couldn’t’ think of a better way to spend a Sunday than in Emberfall, where I can sword-fight with hot guardsmen and ride through the forest on a magnificent steed. Such fun!

Lil Bootz’s Friday Flop Day: The Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

The premise of this book and the glowing reviews of it being as creepy as the Blair Witch Project really suckered me into checking it out (thankfully for free via Libby), but boy was I disappointed. I tried, y’all. I really did. I got as far as 50% through the audiobook when I decided to hit the “return early” button. Here’s where it went all kinds of wrong:

The premise it great–a bunch of teenage explorers lost in the woods whilst experimenting with an urban legend in search of a missing girl. My hopes for this story quickly dissipated when I met the main character, Sarah and her slew of friends via tedious direct message threads. Note: these long text conversations do not translate well on audio. Needless to say, I did not enjoy their snarky dialogue, nor did I care much for their personalities in general. The lack of character development is where this book went horribly wrong. We really don’t get under the surface with any of these kids–and there’s way too many of them. It’s like watching a classic teenage B-grade horror movie that makes the audience root for the monsters. The only character with a semblance of depth is Sara, and she’s a real Gloomy Gus. I mean, yeah it’s sad her adopted sister went missing and that she was scorned by her girl-crush, but it was even more sad for me to have to endure her emo attitude. But hey, if you’re into Sylvia Plath, you may enjoy Sara. To each their own.

And then there’s this false promise that this book channels the Blair Witch Project. Sure, there’s a bunch of bickering kids lost in the woods, but that’s the only connection. The genius of the Blair Witch Project is the building suspense of an unseen force that may or may not exist, leaving everything up to the imagination. This book, however, is full of zombie people, ghosts and gates to multiple otherworldly dimensions. Sure it was disorienting, but in a bad acid trip kind of way.

To be fair, I only got halfway through this thing, but from what I could tell, this book was missing a very important element: A villain, either physical or supernatural, that ties the whole legend together. There’s a bunch of rules to follow in order to survive the cursed woods, but what overarching power is casting this spell? What’s the actual “Ghost of Lucy Gallows” legend here? Somewhere before reaching the midpoint of this story, the characters should have figured this out. I mean, it’s good to know what they’re up against, right?

With all the gates to different levels, I felt like I was inside a video game on a mission to capture the damsel in distress from the evil castle troll. But hey, if you’re into that, maybe this book is for you. I’m just not really into fantasy and sci-fi, so it’s not my cup of tea. I’m more into gothic ghost stories and psychological thrillers with supernatural twists.

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: The Whispers by Greg Howad

It’s been a long time since I’ve said this, but this book is close to perfect. This right here is why young adult–even middle grade–books can be more illuminating than your typical mainstream adult novels. This is some powerful stuff—especially for those of us who went through adolescence feeling alone and unwanted. Even if you don’t have any childhood battle scars, this book will bring back some nostalgia from those long summer days chasing fireflies and camping out in the backyard. As for young readers, I hope this story will draw some empathy for the “weird kids” who often sit alone on the school bus.

Little 12-year-old Riley is one of those kids who always gets picked on for being just a little different. I really felt for the poor guy as he desperately tracked down the magical illuminated “Whispers” floating around in the woods—hoping they would lead him to his missing mother, the only person on earth who loved and accepted him and all of his “conditions.” But of course, he wasn’t totally alone because his faithful best friend Tucker stayed right by his side throughout his journey, as dogs do.

While reading this book, I got to thinking about my own four-legged BFF CeeCee Honeycutt, and how she has always, without fail, been my rock. I could totally relate to Riley when he would reach for his dog during tense moments. I mean, this kid is going through a lot—the mystery of his missing mom, bullying, an emotionally-detached dad, homophobic bible-beating townsfolk and even unrequited love! Oh to be a preteen again…no thanks.

Admittedly, I saw what was coming, so I had to put the book aside for a few days. The last few chapters tore me up, but I needed a good cry because as Riley says, sometimes you just need to cry out your entire soul. Again, this is some heavy stuff, but there are some comforting themes that can really stick with you, like the power of unconditional love, self-acceptance and healing.

At that, I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from this book. It’s clear this author truly loves and understands these magnificent creatures we call dogs. And that’s why CeeCee chose this as her book of the month!

P.S. Kudos to the author for helping to bring LGBTQ into the mainstream! This is a brave, yet risky move in a society that still seems to be living in the dark ages, so I applaud him for it.

CeeCee’s Book Bites: Now Entering Adamsville

image of Now Entering Adamsville
In this new age of social distancing, disinfecting and chronic hand washing, CeeCee and I are turning to our towering bookshelf (this thing is massive!) to escape from this grim reality!

Since we’re knocking out our TBR list at a breakneck pace, there’s little time left for reviewing. Therefore, we bring you the first in our new Book Bites series, in which CeeCee is taking a bite out of crime—crime fiction that is!

The gist: Zora, an angry, demon-slaying teen on the wrong side of the tracks, must save the town of Adamsville from fiendish pyromaniac beings that are claiming the lives of townsfolk and tourists—including a rather unlikable team of celebrity ghost hunters who are quite literally playing with fire!

What I liked: Ever since Jarred finally hooked up our TV to Netflix, I’ve become obsessed with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The Gothic setting in this book is right on par with the creepy visuals in Sabrina’s world. I just loved the descriptions of the many haunted homesteads, the creepy caves and the haunted woods surrounding Zora’s trailer park. I also enjoyed the witty quips and snarky banter among the teenage sidekicks.

I would be remiss to not point out something truly special about this author’s gift. She has a way of articulating some really heavy emotions that had me shouting, “Yes! This!” After the week I’ve had (I work in dog rescue), I can certainly relate to this musing:

Sometimes you have so many thoughts and feelings that your brain decides to ignore every single one of them. It hangs a Closed for Business sign and walks out. No more worrying whether you did right or wrong. No more flashes of the only home you ever had reduced to beach wreckage. No more fear. No more anger. No more tears. You can’t look inward anymore, so you look out and see what’s left, and you’re happy to take it, no matter what it is. And if you’re lucky, you find exactly what you need. 

What irked me: I enjoyed the story, but yet it took me a long time—a whole month—to finish this book. I think a big part of the problem is the main character. I really didn’t connect with Zora, and it was rather unpleasant being inside the head of a bitter, angsty, hot-tempered teenage girl. I get her reasons for being this way, but it would’ve been helpful if the author softened her up just a tad. Maybe this book would’ve been a faster read with multiple narrators.

Favorite character: Zora’s historian/ghost-hunting cousin Artemis stole the show. I would love her to narrate the next book, if this becomes a series. Considering how it left off, I’d be surprised if I didn’t see book two on the shelves sometime soon.

Overall: This is a quality YA paranormal thriller that is sure to please fans of Buffy and Sabrina. There’s even a few LGBTQ+ characters thrown into the mix (about time this becomes mainstream!) and no annoying love triangles—hallelujah!