Book Review: Greywalker and Poltergeist

greywalkerGreywalker/Poltergeist
by Kat Richardson
Urban Fantasy
352 pages/349 pages
Published 2006/2007

I didn’t want to call this a series review, because there’s currently nine books in the series, and I’ve only read two of them. So this is a review of the first two books in the Greywalker series, because I don’t plan on reading more. I know that sounds ominous! Bear with me.

So Greywalker begins with our heroine, Harper, nearly being killed by a dude she’s been investigating. Well. Not nearly. She does die, but the EMTs bring her back. This experience gives her the ability to see into the Grey – a kind of fuzzy otherworld full of ghosts and other, scarier beings.

Now, this is a cool concept. I’m down with this. My problem, I think, is that Harper just seems to take this in stride. She finds a couple of people who know about the Grey, and teach her how to use it. But I feel like she never really emotionally dealt with this giant change. It felt like she basically went “Huh. Okay. That’s a thing. I need to learn how to use this.” She just went back to being a PI with this new ability. Fifty pages in, she’s back to investigating cases. It would be one thing if these were flashbacks – if the assault had happened prior to the book opening, and she’d done the emotional work. But to have the book open with that, and expect us to believe she’s just – okay with this? That a human could wrap their brain around this news so quickly? I don’t know. That requires a LOT of suspension of disbelief.

poltergeistIf I ignore the start, and the fact that she’s brand new to being a Greywalker and should be dealing with that, the rest of the book is a pretty standard urban fantasy mystery. I liked the world-building and the different takes on supernaturals. Vampires are, rightly, TERRIFYING. Despite being the protagonist, Harper is not magically immune to vampire wiles, which is a nice change. Personally, though, Book One is just spoiled for me because there should be a lot more emotional fallout. The character just falls flat and seems unrealistic.

The second book is better; possibly simply because this isn’t new for her by now, so I’m not expecting emotional work from her. The investigation seems more focused, and less scattered all over the place. It’s still pretty standard urban fantasy, though.

Overall, the concept is interesting, but the execution is lacking. It’s possible the series gets better in later books, but I’ve read two and just don’t have the desire to spend more time with Harper. She’s flat, lacks emotional depth, and is just uninteresting. I’m moving on to other books.

From the cover of Greywalker:

Harper Blaine was your average small-time PI until a two-bit perp’s savage assault left her dead – for two minutes, to be precise.

When Harper comes to in the hospital, she begins to feel a bit…strange. She sees things that can only be described as weird – shapes emerging from a foggy grey mist, snarling teeth, creatures roaring.

But Harper’s not crazy. Her “death” has made her a Greywalker – able to move between our world and the mysterious crossover zone where things that go bump in the night exist. And her new gift (or curse) is about to drag her into that world of vampires and ghosts, magic and witches, necromancers and sinister artifacts . . . 

Whether she likes it or not.

 

From the cover of Poltergeist:

In the days leading up to Halloween, Harper’s been hired by a university research group that’s attempting to create an artificial poltergeist. The head researcher suspects someone is faking the phenomena, but Harper’s investigation reveals something else entirely: They’ve succeeded.

When one of the group’s members is found dead in a brutal and inexplicable fashion, Harper must determine whether the killer is the ghost itself . . . or someone all too human.

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Book Review: Pride

pridePride
by Ibi Zoboi
Young Adult/Retelling/Romance
289 pages
Published September 2018

I have very mixed feelings about this one. I’ve read several retellings of Pride & Prejudice, but I think this is the first one that aged the characters down to teenagers. And I don’t think it works as well. In both The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and Unmarriageable, the main character and her older sister were in their twenties. They were still living at home, but they were graduating college, starting careers – a completely different stage of their lives from the characters in Pride. In Pride, Zuri is a senior in high school and Janae, her older sister, is home after her first year of college. Which makes their younger sister, Layla, thirteen. And if you know the plot of Pride & Prejudice, you know why that squicks me a little bit. (Zoboi did change that plot point slightly so it’s not quite as bad as it could be, but still. Ew.) This is a good example of what should be a New Adult story feeling forced into a Young Adult mold.

Age issues aside, I really liked the other changes made in this retelling; class differences are alive and well in the modern day, and I especially liked how it addressed neighborhood gentrification. Because yes, improving neighborhoods is a worthy goal; but when it raises rent without raising the income of the people living there, it forces people out who have lived in the neighborhood their entire lives. Gentrification is classist and, because our class system is racist, racist.

I enjoyed the Afro-Latino racial change; just like Unmarriageable‘s Pakistani setting, it brings a new cultural wrapping to the plot, and adds racial tension to the lessons on class that the story usually tells.

The book skims over a lot of the normal Pride & Prejudice plot, which I rather expected for a Young Adult book. Unmarriageable was much better in that regard, but Pride is still very enjoyable. It’s definitely a worthy addition to the Pride & Prejudice….pantheon? Shelf? Canon? I do think it would have been much better as a New Adult story, though. I’m still stuck on that.

From the cover of Pride:

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable. 

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding. 

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon – Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape or lose it all. 

In this timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic. 

Book Review: The Bride Test

the bride testThe Bride Test
by Helen Hoang
Romance
300 pages
Published May 7, 2019

I received The Bride Test on Saturday, a few days before today’s release date, through Book of the Month. I’ve been really excited about this one, because it’s another adult romance with an autistic main character, like the first book, The Kiss Quotient. (The author is also autistic.) There’s actually a lot of #ownvoices representation here; Hoang has an author’s note at the end talking about how much of Esme’s personality and struggles are based on her own mother, who immigrated from Vietnam as a refugee at the end of the Vietnam war. I love that in writing the book, Hoang grew closer to her mother as she learned about her history. Definitely don’t miss the author’s note at the end of this book, if you read it!

I have mixed feelings about this one, but unfortunately the part I really have mixed feelings about is very spoilery, so I can’t talk about it without ruining major plot points! Overall, I did really like the book, and Khai showed a lot of the same traits my husband does. The first book’s autistic character is female, so it was nice to see a character so similar to my husband this time. The characters from The Kiss Quotient do make a token appearance in The Bride Test, and I’m hoping Hoang will finally write Quan’s story next! There is an untitled third book in the series due out in 2020, so I’m crossing fingers for Quan!

I absolutely adored Esme in this book. She is hardworking and strong-willed, and knows what she’s worth. I wish she’d been a little more honest with Khai, but I can understand being too afraid to be fully honest with someone who could have such control over your future. I did really enjoy this sequel, and I can’t wait to hear what the plot will be for the third book.

From the cover of The Bride Test:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but he doesn’t experience big, important emotions like love and grief. Rather than believing he processes emotions differently due to being autistic, he concludes that he’s defective and decides to avoid romantic relationships. So his mother, driven to desperation, takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect mail-order bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity to marry an American arises, she leaps at it, thinking that it could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working . . . but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who believes he can never return her affection.

Esme must convince Khai that there is more than one way to love. And Khai must figure out the inner workings of his heart before Esme goes home and is an ocean away.

Book Review: The Poet X

the poet xThe Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Young Adult/Poetry
357 pages
Published 2018

This is another much-hyped book – and oh man, did it stand up to the hype. Told entirely through poetry, this novel was extraordinarily powerful, and had me sobbing near the end. Xiomara is an amazing character, and her poetry shows us her emotions more than prose ever could.

I’ve always loved poetry for that reason; especially poetry that plays with formatting – spacing and line breaks and size of stanzas. It’s so much more evocative than simple paragraphs of prose. (My favorite poet is probably e.e. cummings, who is rather infamous for unusual formatting.)

Acavedo does similar things, making Xiomara’s poetry explode across the page when necessary, and ordering it into simpler stanzas in calmer moments. It’s not rhyming, even poetry; this is written slam poetry. And I love it.

Xiomara is Dominican, living in Harlem, with a very strict, religious mother. Her twin brother is gay but not out to their parents; Xiomara is fine with this but knows their mother won’t be. Her poems cover her need to protect her brother and herself, both from their parents and from the outside world. She writes about street harassment and questioning God and falling in love with a boy, which is also against her mother’s rules. Her poems are at turns heartbreaking and joyous, but always beautiful.

This is an amazing book, and is the second book on my Best of the Year list. I am blown away.

From the cover of The Poet X:

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours her frustration onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers – especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

When she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she knows that she could never get around Mami’s rules to attend, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. 

Because in spite of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Book Review: Empire of Sand

empire of sandEmpire of Sand
by Tasha Suri
Fantasy
432 pages
Published November 2018

This is one of my reads for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge. It follows Mehr, a half-Amrithi, half-Ambhan girl who refuses to let anyone erase her Amrithi heritage, even if the Empire oppresses the Amrithi tribes horribly. When her gift manifests, the Empire comes for her, and she learns the horrible truth behind the Empire’s longevity. Most empires inevitably reach a point where they can expand no longer, and gradually decline. This Empire has not done that, and the Amrithi pay for it with their blood. Along the way, she finds a daiva willing to bargain with her, and an Amrithi man bound by his vows but trying to circumvent them for her sake.

I really liked the magic in this book, and just the world-building in general. Mehr is a strong-willed character, and shows character growth in the book, transforming from the pampered daughter of a governor to a woman willing to fight and die for her beliefs and those she loves.

The sequel, Realm of Ash, appears to follow Mehr’s younger sister, which makes sense, as Mehr’s book seems pretty self-contained. You could easily just read the first book and be perfectly happy at the ending, but I’m quite happy to see there’s more written in this world. I am eager to see what happens after the events of the first book. It’s coming out in November, so I’ll have to make a note to myself to remember it exists!

From the cover of Empire of Sand:

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended from desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember but whose face and magic she has inherited: She can manipulate the dreams of the gods to alter the shape of the world.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda – and should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance . . . .

Friday 56 – Empire of Sand

empire of sandThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week’s quote is from Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, a book I’m reading for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge.

“I allowed your mother to keep her customs,” her father acknowledged. “But in raising you as I have, I have kept mine. Make no mistake, Mehr: You are my daughter. You have been raised in my household, fed with my food, clothed from my coffers. You are your mother’s daughter . . .” He faltered. “But you are also mine. And half your blood is Ambhan, noble and strong.”