July Short Reviews

Here are a few things that I’ve been reading:

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy Carpenter is one of only three “final girls”, each of which survived a massacre in different areas of the country.  While Quincy survived her ordeal, her memory did not and she has no recollection of most of what happened that terrifying night. However, at the beginning of this book, she is not doing too badly. She has a fiance and a successful cooking blog. But when one of the final girls, Lisa, commits suicide, it seems so out of character that Quincy becomes determined to figure out what really happened. The appearance of the third final girl, Sam, further complicates matters, and soon Quincy is struggling to figure out not only who she can trust, but also the truth of what happened to her that night, and it soon becomes clear that her life is depending on her figuring out the answers.

This book has a great thriller pacing to it, and I found the story to be engaging. Sager drew me in quickly with the idea of playing with the final girl trope. I know it’s something that’s been done a lot at this point, but Sager works to keep this fresh and different. The story kept me guessing until the end and it was definitely a fun read!

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

Maisie Cothay grows up with an unusual curse: anything she touches dies – or is revived. She lives on an estate at the edge of a mysterious forest, isolated from the world around her because of her condition. Her father, and pretty much everyone, has warned her not to go into the forest, and there are many legends of local men who have gone missing over the years. What Maisie additionally learns, though, is that many of the women in her family – ancestors from years gone by – have also gone missing in that forest. However, when Maisie’s father goes missing, she dares to venture into the forest in search of him, and she finds much more than she had bargained for.

I love the fairy-tale feel of this book, but it is not soft and pretty, there is definitely an edginess to it. It is frightening in some areas, and the fantasy elements have a darkness that I always enjoy. The resolution of this book, is interesting, but I think I mostly enjoyed the telling of the story itself. Maisie has an interesting viewpoint and her struggles with her condition and those around her lend a loneliness that makes the story even more haunting. Recommended for those that like Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Constable Peter Grant is just starting his career and hoping that he won’t be assigned to what is basically desk duty. However, his fortune changes when while assisting with a murder investigation he is approached by a ghost – offering him information. This odd interaction leads to him being assigned to work with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightengale, who works on those sorts of cases, and who also happens to be a wizard. Peter and Nightengale team up to investigate a mysterious string of murders. Along the way, they are assisted by a variety of water elementals, each of whom is a different river that flows through the city. Throughout it all, Peter struggles to master his own growing magical skills, and become acclimated to his new role.

I loved this book and will probably devour the series! This would probably fall more into the urban fantasy genre, and readers of Jim Butcher’s Dresden series will probably enjoy this, as well. As the story developed and I learned more about the case, I was pleasantly surprised at how very original this idea was!


Check back in for more posts soon! I’ve been reading and watching some great stuff, and there are some new releases that will be coming out soon that are going to make for some excellent reading!

Book vs. TV: The Magicians

For my birthday this year, I was gifted with a copy of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I had already started watching the TV series on the Syfy channel, so I wasn’t sure if I would want to dive right in on the book. I mean, we all know how it usually goes, right? The book is better than the movie! I ended up waiting until I had finished up the first season on Syfy, and then I waited a little longer to pick up the book when I could really enjoy it.

This is the kind of story that I’m a sucker for, and one which the millions of Harry Potter fans have already proven is a good one. The very basics of the two stories are the same: a young misfit gets plucked from misery and sent to a magic school. However, Grossman’s version of this type of tale is most definitely more grown up. There is a darkness here that is definitely the weight of adult struggles such as failure, search for meaning, and, of course, love.

BEWARE: there are spoilers from here out!

Quentin Coldwater is a senior in high school, and more than a bit of a book nerd. His favorite series is about the adventures of several siblings in a magical world called Fillory, and his favorite hobby is doing magic tricks. He is struggling with the typical boredom and general dissatisfaction that go along with that age, when he stumbles upon a strange school that seems to exist almost in its own dimension. He is tested, admitted, and begins his studies in magic, along with a cohort of fellow students. What follows are adventures of a variety of types, some of the normal, growing up variety, but others that will take them beyond the world that they know and change them in ways that they couldn’t have imagined.

What I loved most about this book was Grossman’s humor. It is delightfully dark and clever, and it often made me laugh out loud. Like when they were exploring a cave:

Nobody noticed a large – ten-feet-long large – green lizard standing frozen amid the remains of the shattered tables and benches until it abruptly unfroze and skittered off into the shadow, claws skritching on the stone floor. The horror was almost pleasant: it wiped away Alice and Janet and everything else except itself, like a harsh, abrasive cleaner.

and when they were hanging out a bar in another land:

The others were conspicuously silent, or talked among themselves, elaborately play-acting that they were unaware of the fact that Quentin was conversing with a drunk magic bear … Quentin understood that he was operating outside most of the group’s comfort level. He could see out of the corner of his eye that Eliot was trying to shoot him warning glances from the other table, but he avoided them … It wasn’t like what he was doing was easy. The range of Humbledrum’s interests was suffocatingly narrow, and its depth of knowledge in those areas abysmally profound. Quentin still vaguely remembered being a goose, how laser-focused he’d been on air currents and freshwater greenery, and he realized now that all animals were probably, at heart, insufferable bores. As a hibernating mammal Humbledrum had far more than the layman’s familiarity with cave geology. When it came to honey, it was the subtlest and most sophisticated of gastronomes. Quentin learned quickly to steer the conversation away from chestnuts.

Often it is in Quentin’s darkest hours when the humor seems to be most striking, and Grossman has an amazing feel for the small ironies and indignities of life. Quentin’s character is built on the insecurities, id urges, and a general confusion about how to be human that we all recognize. His behavior is often childish and sometimes tedious, but he is somehow more likable for that – and more realistic. Usually, he responds badly to situations. He’s not even the hero much of the time. In this book, our protagonist is very much an “Everyman”, albeit one with magical powers.

Grossman’s writing style is literary without being overbearing. If you look for details in the descriptions of surroundings or places, only what is needed is there. Instead, it’s the internal workings of Quentin’s mind that are provided with rich detail and tone. One of the most striking aspects of how Grossman does this is in the last part of the book where Quentin’s thoughts and actions consistently revolve around one path of action, but when presented with the opposite option in reality he immediately chooses it. The contradictory nature of his internal workings is so very like how we all seem to work. It makes him very human.

So, I definitely loved Grossman’s book. And, I have to say that in this instance, I was not disappointed with the TV version of this story, either. The first season doesn’t follow the book very closely and branches off into some other directions. For example, Quentin’s friend and schoolboy crush, Julia, has an entire storyline associated with her. Some names have been changed – Janet has become Margo – and Penny becomes more of a main player from the start of the story. However, I think that the changes work well, and many of the characters from the book have still been used, just in slightly different fashion.

One of the things that the TV show does extremely well is show the magic. The book talks about them making odd gestures with their hands, throwing fireballs, doing all kinds of crazy things – and then the TV show gives you what that might look like. The special effects are outstanding! Additionally, the various worlds are visually different and interesting.

If I am honest, I have to say that the characters in the TV show probably made me like the ones in the book more. The cast seem perfect for their parts. Individually, they nail their characters, but together they all seem to have the sense of camaraderie that their alternates in the book displayed. But, here you get to see it play out on screen with all of the inherent chemistry between real people.

I’m not far into the second season of the series, but so far it has been a lot of fun, too. And, I have definitely put the other two books in Grossman’s series on my list to read in the future. I would definitely recommend both the book and series to anyone with an interest in witches and dark fantasy.