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!

Penny Dreadful: The Exquisite Pain of the “Exceptional”

Penny DreadfulI recently finished the second season of Penny Dreadful and can’t stop thinking about it. I will admit – I was reticent to invest my time in this series. The first season didn’t get the best reviews (not that this has ever stopped me before), and I think that it’s entirely possible that the name of the series itself put me off a little. After all, a “penny dreadful” was a less than favorable slang name during the 19th century for serials of sensational fiction. So, basically, the name itself advertises as “cheap thrills” for the masses. But while the series does use many familiar monsters and horror tropes, it manages to do so in an often surprisingly insightful and quality way.

PLEASE NOTE: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW.

The series has a variety of familiar names and creatures. There is Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), his monster (a.k.a. John Clare played by Rory Kinnear), Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney), a Western side-show star/werewolf (Ethan Chandler played by Josh Harnett), an African explorer (Sir Malcolm Murray played by Timothy Dalton), and a possible voodoo priest (Sembene played by Danny Sapani). At the center of it all is Miss Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the doomed spiritualist who is possessed by demons. It all sounds far too fabulous to be put together in any manner that could work – but it does.

During the first season, a sort of team is formed by Vanessa, Victor, Ethan, Sir Malcolm, and Sembene. Together they face a variety of supernatural threats: the majority of which are vampires in the first season, and witches in the second. The first season begins their friendship and the second cements it, since now that the characters are familiar both to each other and the audience, there is opportunity to work in more development. And, the second season is definitely worth waiting for.

Victor pretty much nails the theme when he is discussing his new love with Vanessa. He explains to her that he had given up hope of being loved and thought that it was only for other people – he had resigned himself to the fate of the “exceptional”. This choice of wording is apt in describing the suffering he has undergone throughout his life due to his focus on, and success in, the realm of the mind rather than that of the heart. However, it also fits the singularity of each of these main characters, and the loneliness that plagues them. They may fight monsters together, but they are each very alone when it comes to fighting their own personal demons.

Throughout the second season, they each manage to catch a glimpse of that love that seemed so out of reach, touch it, be warmed by it – only to watch it slip from their hands. There is true torture here where love is concerned: Victor loses his love, Lily (Billie Piper) – a love that he himself created – to the more seductive Dorian Grey; Sir Malcolm is spellbound by Mrs. Poole simply as a means to her nefarious ends; and Ethan and Vanessa come together just long enough to see the other for who they are, grow to love them, and then be so devastated by the blackness within themselves that they cannot find a way to share the path going forward. Perhaps the saddest fate is that of the monster, John Clare, who is shunned by the “love” created for him by Frankenstein, betrayed by the blind girl who pretended to befriend him, and – most tragically – finally seen and loved by Vanessa, only to have her refuse to share her path with him for fear of him falling victim to the black curse that surrounds her life. The weaving together of these story lines is elegant, clever, and tragic.

In addition to the substance of the series, the cinematography is gorgeous and dark. The casting is spot on, as is the dialogue and acting. The exchanges between Josh Hartnett’s character, Ethan Chandler, and the investigator Bartholomew Rusk (Douglas Hodge) are some of my favorite, with Hartnett quickly volleying back Hodge’s questions and digs with short, terse responses.

However, all this is not to say that the series isn’t over the top in places – it definitely is. But the balance between the sensational and deep is interesting and well done. This series has the bitterness and bite of dark chocolate with the sweetest black cherry filling. I can’t wait for Season 3.