Career of Evil

Career of Evilby Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Mystery
3 of 5 stars
Book 3 in a continuing series

Although I enjoyed this installment for the most part, it’s my least favorite in this suspenseful crime noir series. Detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott, have a severed leg on their hands, and their third high-profile murder case together. This one manages to unnerve the unflappable Strike, and Robin is determined to hide her fear. The leg was addressed to her.

As they begin their investigation into three grisly men from Strike’s past, Robin tries to cope with the additional stress of her upcoming wedding to Matthew, who is still displeased with her low-paying, dangerous job.

There are elements of the things I loved in The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm—Strike and Robin’s banter, the author’s acute sense of humor and observation, and the feeling of an old, black-and-white detective show. Unfortunately, this time around the humor isn’t enough to lighten the black mood of the increasingly dark plot, and the pacing alternately speeds through important events or crawls like molasses through mundane details. It’s a cat-and-mouse game with a slightly overweight, confused cat. I’m already looking forward to the next book in spite of all that, but I’m a little wary. Still, as someone who doesn’t read many mystery/thriller novels, it’s a nice diversion.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Career of Evil is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Like so many people, this was my introduction to the acclaimed mystery author. It’s addictive and highly enjoyable, but if Hercule Poirot isn’t to your taste, I suggest her stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence or perhaps Miss Marple. All of them have a string of cases that are impossible to solve independently.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The heart of detective noir, Sherlock Holmes stories obviously have an older tone but still possess a good sense of humor and suspense. This is one of the creepier tales in the collection and a good evening’s read.
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe – Before Sherlock Holmes there was C. Auguste Dupin. Poe created the detective genre and its tropes, only to be eclipsed by a more famous investigator a few years later, but this is still worth a read and very creepy.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Set in small-town Missouri, this novel chronicles the turbulent relationship of Nick and Amy Dunne. We begin with Amy’s disappearance and possibly murder as Nick tries to piece together what happened to his wife without letting on to the public that he doesn’t miss her that much. This has an addictive plot, excellent writing, and a fantastic ending. (You can judge that statement after you’ve read it).

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Racesby Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This book has a strange and wonderful magic. I’ve read it at least four times, and each time I come away with the mood, the atmosphere, some snapshots, but I can’t remember the details or the outcome. It’s weird, but immensely satisfying (probably a sentiment that Stiefvater would approve of in general). She is one of my favorite authors, and definitely my favorite in terms of delicious prose. I’ve read almost all of her books (still need to make it to the Shiver trilogy) and they continuously improve. But back to this book!

Set on a British/Scottish-esque island at an undetermined time period (though you can guess if you follow the world-building clues), Kate (Puck) Connally and Sean Kendrick are both set to ride in the island’s most popular and dangerous event: the Scorpio Races. Every November the islanders capture and train murderous water horses (capall uisce) to run in a race along the beach. Whoever can control their magical horse and reach the end first without it dragging them into the sea wins a hefty purse. Tourists come to bet, and the island’s fragile economy plods along.

Puck is the first girl to compete in the races—she has to worry about sexism and foul cheats as much as the killer horses. Sean Kendrick has won the deadly race four times, but this is the first time he could win the one thing he wants most in the world—his water horse, Corr.

This is a beautiful blend of slow island life and a grisly competition.  Emphasis on slow—traditional YA pacing is not present here, but if you settle in for a slower, moody experience you will not be disappointed.  The characters are both stubborn and emotive, and their single-minded determination to win the race and change their own lives is captivating. You’ll come away from this wanting your own horse, though perhaps one that doesn’t survive on red meat.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Scorpio Races is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • National Velvet by Enid Bagnold – I’m familiar with this story from the film, but this 1935 novel has stood the test of time. 14-year-old Velvet’s true love is horses, and when her piebald shows an aptitude for jumping, she decides to race in the Grand National steeplechase. Even if girls aren’t allowed to ride.
  • First Test (Protector of the Small #1) by Tamora Pierce – Keladry is the first girl to follow Alanna’s footsteps by training to be a knight. Unlike Alanna, everyone knows Kel is a girl–and they are not happy about it. This is a spunky series and a decent follow-up to the Song of the Lioness quartet.
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman – This book has several titles, but the story is always the same. Eon is training to become a Dragoneye, one of twelve people chosen to share a dragon’s power and keep balance in the land. The only problem is that Eon is actually Eona–and she will die if her secret is revealed. See my review here.
  • The Black Stallion by Walter Farley – Alec and the fierce black stallion make a harrowing and dangerous journey to America together, but their journey has only begun. A classic horse-lover’s story from 1941.
  • Misty of Chincoteague – I read this probably fifteen times when I was a kid. The Phantom is the wildest horse in Virginia, and every year she escapes the roundup men. But this year she has a foal, and is herded across the channel for Pony Penning Day. Two children want to buy them both, but they don’t realize how it will change their lives. This is a sweet story that will make you want your own horse.

Ice Like Fire

17404295by Sara Raasch
YA Fantasy
2 of 5 stars
sequel to Snow Like Ashes

Snow Like Ashes took a while to grab me, but once it did I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this one failed to engage my interest. The bulk of it (and it is a hefty length) is spent on indecisive and repetitive politics. The fiery, headstrong Meira is gone, replaced by an unprepared child-queen desperate to protect Winter but without the assets or knowledge to do so. Facing this, she spends most of her time lamenting her lost status as a simple warrior and her ineptitude as a politician.

We get a split narration with Mather, but this doesn’t serve to move the plot along until about the two-thirds point. It was challenging to connect to Meira’s voice in the first book, and some pacing oddities prevented it from being a flawless debut. This book veers off in unexpected directions that spend a lot of time building up to a rushed and chaotic conclusion. All the action in the last 100 pages is cinematic but overwhelming after so much plodding exposition. Overall, the characters felt like they were being pushed through actions they didn’t fully support or understand. I’m not sure what to expect from the conclusion to the trilogy. This was a tough book to review, but I still hold out hope that the last book will make sense of it all.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Ice Like Fire is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Infinite by Lori M. Lee – This sequel further explores the powers of the Infinite and the fragile political and economic ties between Ninurta and the surrounding area. Kai finds herself being an ambassador with no experience trying to prevent a deadly war. See my review here.
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Although this wasn’t my cup of tea, it seems to have wide appeal, so I recommend this for similar style and tone, and the brewing political tension between the Silvers and Reds that entangles Mare. See my review here.
  • Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George – Cousins Dacia and Lou find themselves less than eager to deal with the family secret of shape-shifting, but getting out of it is harder than they think. Especially since the family has extensive plans for their powers. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – For a politically-driven YA fantasy that’s a bit faster-paced and more interesting, I recommend this sequel. Kestrel’s struggle to balance her engagement-alliance with her country and her true love for Arin and his country has her walking a knife’s edge that is addicting to read. See my review here.

A Tarot Reading of Your Novel

Raven's ProphecyWhen I first created this blog I intended to include some posts about the novels that I write – the process, the problems, the progress – and what do you know, it’s taken me this long to think of something I felt would be interesting (and not embarrassing) to contribute! My writing is slow and not always methodical, but this was something I did in a moment of inspiration during my first-ever writing retreat and I think it’s a fun way to re-imagine your project.

I’ve been an admirer of Maggie Stiefvater’s art for a while, and when she started creating these tarot cards I knew I had to have it! I know almost nothing about tarot, but the artwork was so beautiful I couldn’t resist. They’re done in colored pencil, which is one of my favorite mediums! Totally sold, end of story.

This is a way to plot your novel using the loose interpretations of tarot cards. This deck comes with a helpful guide on each card’s meanings and connections, so even if you don’t have them memorized you can align them to your story. Here’s how you can do this too!

Gather your main cast

Pull out some cards that you feel represent your main characters – for these I used the major arcana and pulled one for each of my characters’ key traits or flaws. In this example, my protagonist is The Fool, because hers is the most expansive character arc. She is full of potential, she’s brash, her ignorance gives her a fearlessness to take on the story’s challenges. Her best friend is represented by Strength. She has already come through her own journey in a previous story, so she has earned patience, self-control, and belief in herself. Finally, my last character is The Devil. He is full of ambition and selfishness, and these vices are going to come into play in this story.

Begin their journey

Now that I have my characters, it’s time to start Act 1 (or part 1, or the beginning of your story). For this I picked the Seven of Coins for Stiefvater’s interpretation of assessment, choice, risk, and reward. My characters are presented with an opportunity for adventure and reward, and the duality of the roses happens to align with this mission in my book. The mission involves an old love and a clash of values, so The Lovers was perfect here. And last, they attempt to start this journey with clarity and a successful plan, so the Ace of Swords fits in here. The best of intentions begin our plot. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - MCs act 1

Complicate their journey

We move on to Act 2 (or part 2, or the middle, or the plot thickens). As with all stories, nothing is as simple as it seems. The minor arcana tend to revolve more around events or actions than traits so I relied on these for my plot points. I chose the Seven of Swords because not everyone is on this journey for the same reason. Not only is there intense strategy going on, we have secret manipulation and deception. The Eight of Swords increases the drama with self-doubt and confusion. My main character is starting to realize there’s more going on than meets the eye, but she isn’t sure what to do. But then we come to the Page of Swords, and the truth comes out. My characters get some clarity regarding the reality of their situation. What’s the next course of action? Seven of Wands – sort out your priorities and begin a defense. Brace yourself for the storm. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - act 2

Complete their journey

We have reached Act 3 (or part 3, or the end). Now that specific actions are connected and moving towards resolution, I mixed the major and minor arcana to grasp the scope and tie everything together. The Five of Wands kicks everything off with some chaos. Everything they feared and prepared for in act 2 is now unleashed. The Tower captures the betrayal and divisions between my characters now that their different priorities are fully realized. Death is a dramatic card but this is the point where several characters undergo transformations and change–the end of their character arcs, the reason a story is told in the first place. Going along with this, The Sun takes them from change to self-awareness, clear-sightedness, and hope. This pairing is probably going to appear in every story, unless you are exploring the effects of a static character. Finally, The World declares that we have reached a conclusion. Characters have grown and changed (for better or worse), conflicts are resolved, we feel a sense of completion now that the story is over. My main character has transformed from The Fool to a self-actualized character, and in another story she would be represented by a new card, just like her best friend became Strength. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - act 3

The Final Spread

When you’ve chosen your cards and arranged them accordingly, you can see the character arcs and beats of your story as broadly or as detailed as you like. You can even see how the parts of your story are balanced, and whether everything is tied together in the end or not. As a bonus, you end up with a tarot spread that looks beautiful and that teases your story without giving away anything *too* concrete! (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary

There are so many styles and types of tarot decks, so you can easily personalize this project even more – have fun and unlock some inspiration!

Paper Towns

6442769by John Green
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars

I’ve read almost every other John Green book so I thought I’d round it out by catching this one. Obviously he has a specific style and formula for his stories, so I kind of knew what to expect, and although I enjoyed some of his other books more, this one still had plenty of hidden gems for me. There’s still some laugh-out-loud moments and thoughtful commentary (even if it feels a bit forceful).

Quentin and Margo could be Miles and Alaska but the bones of the plot are different enough that you can ignore those similarities. When Margo has Q assist with her wild night of pranks before skipping town, Q thinks he is meant to find her. While the quest to locate Margo drags on a bit longer than I’d like, I did enjoy the last third of the book a lot. We spend time on multiple characters’ opinions about why Margo ran away and what would or should happen upon finding her (or if they should even look for her to begin with) and the interplay is compelling. This is a solid entry on the high school coming-of-age shelf and having read four of his novels now, I can say if you like one of them you’d probably enjoy the rest.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Paper Towns is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green – I know, but seriously, I still view his first novel as my favorite of his, and I think it’s a bit of a touchstone for YA. Also, this has the same nostalgic feeling for summer camp and high school like a few other books I’d recommend. And if you’re in high school, trade “nostalgic feeling” for “rings true but clear it’s with a graduate’s perspective.” See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – This is one of those “high school nostalgia” stories I just mentioned. This covers a longer period of time but the feeling is there. See my review here.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Another quintessential high school story that lacks the mission of Paper Towns but fills it with all the feelings of first love instead. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not okay with her new step-family situation. When she finds out her mother is sick, she decides to take a solo road trip to see her. This has a lot of the same vibes as Paper Towns. See my review here.

Carry On

23734628by Rainbow Rowell
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars

This book is such a meta experiment I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! A story about a fictional fanfiction character? I don’t know that it’s ever been done on this level. As it turns out…there’s sort of a reason for that. Although I loved a few scenes and plot twists (and of course, Baz) overall this just didn’t do it for me.

I think part of the issue is Carry On is supposed to be the 8th book in a series similar to Harry Potter. If you skipped to the last book, you miss a lot of the emotional significance, not to mention adventures and clues to the ultimate ending. The first third of Carry On attempts to catch you up on seven books’ worth of relationships and events, and it’s rather dull. We weren’t there for the journey, and recapping it doesn’t really matter. Once Baz shows up things get moving, but there’s still a sense of detachment. I found it difficult to connect to Simon’s—or anyone’s—narration, Baz being the exception.

The story takes a lot of risks, and I definitely appreciate that, but I found myself wishing Baz was the main character and wondering what he sees in Simon. I would say the last quarter or so makes up for the slow start, but coming from Rowell’s other novels, I just felt like this didn’t live up to her potential.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Carry On is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – The most obvious comparison, yes. But it really can’t get more Chosen One and Magic School and The Fate of the World Hangs in the Balance than this series. As someone who grew up on it, of course I think it’s better!
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – The story Carry On stems from, written by college introvert Cath, who is trying to cope without her twin sister for the first time. This story is cute!
  • Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare – The Mortal Instruments series might actually be closer to Simon and Baz’s world than The Infernal Devices trilogy, but I enjoyed these more. There’s the same feeling of students in magic saving the world (in secret) all the relationship drama you could hope for mixed in with the adventures.
  • Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George – Cousins Dacia and Lou are whisked away to Romania to learn some–unexpected–family history. Maybe not Chosen Ones, but definitely chosen within their families, the girls must decide what to do with the strange destinies pushed upon them. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Hazel and Ben have lived in the shadow of the faerie forest their whole lives. Hazel dreamed of being a knight and saving the town from the faerie mischief–and menace–that lurked within, but she thought that time was over. Until she realizes if she doesn’t become a knight now, the forest’s power will swallow her home and everyone she loves. See my review here.
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – Although this isn’t the most original YA urban fantasy novel, it was so much fun to read! Echo is a thief who has grown up with the Avicen in New York City. The only certainty in her world is the war with the Dragon Prince, and that the firebird is the only thing that can end it. But finding the firebird might be the first heist she isn’t ready for. See my review here.
  • Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo – The epic finale in this trilogy forces Alina to make harrowing choices and risk everything she has for future of her country. As the reluctant Chosen One, Alina has finally accepted she can’t stay in the shadows any longer. This is one of the best trilogies out there right now, I highly recommend it!
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman – I really need to read the second book, but anyway, I enjoyed this one immensely! Eon has trained for years to become a Dragoneye, someone fortunate enough for one of the twelve dragons to bestow its power and governance on you in a magical but deadly bond. This isn’t the most dangerous thing Eon’s done–that was pretending to be a boy to get there in the first place. If her true identity as Eona is revealed, she’ll be killed. This is “Mulan” meets “Avatar: the Last Airbender.” See my review here.
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” to his email pen pal (and boy he is crushing on) Blue. When a classmate discovers an email and threatens to reveal Simon’s (and Blue’s) sexual orientation to the whole school, Simon must juggle the blackmail with the demands of junior year. This story is adorable and well-written, pick it up! See my review here.

Juniors

23528142by Kaui Hart Hemmings
YA Contemporary
2 of 5 stars

Kaui Hart Hemmings burst onto the scene with her debut novel, The Descendants (you may have heard of the film, which garnered considerable Oscar buzz and put Shailene Woodley on the list for “The Divergent Series” movies). The writing is fantastic and I snatched up her next novel, The Possibilities, and it was nearly as good as the first one. It was a bit darker, but still had the prose I loved. Juniors is her YA debut, and unfortunately, this is her weakest book.

Part of my issue was the jacket copy—this wasn’t about fitting in as part Hawaiian/part Mainlander at all. This was entirely focused on social classes—namely Lea’s upper middle class life and her experience living on a millionaire’s estate for most of her junior year of high school. I’m always curious about other cultures and how they have to bump up against each other these days, but Lea’s constant (and I mean constant) attitude regarding the mostly-rich vs. the extremely rich was exhausting. Lea spends the novel wishing she had more money and a different personality, and in the end she ends up staying exactly the same. I just didn’t enjoy spending all that time in her head.

There’s an attempt at female friendship (after the typical catty back-stabbing and gossiping) that falls flat. There are a few observations about social quirks and some insight into life on Oahu, but overall this felt like the author’s cathartic (but largely unrelatable) project about her high school experience. This reads like a Hawaiian version of The OC or something, and it’s just not my cup of tea. I just don’t enjoy drama for drama’s sake.

None of this means the writing isn’t good—as usual she makes excellent choices with her sparse descriptions and dialogue—but I’ll be more cautious about her next book, especially if it’s YA. Juniors has been optioned by director Jason Reitman.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Juniors is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi has a tough senior year ahead with her best friend’s pregnancy and her other best friend kicked out of his home for being gay. But she’s determined to get into college and her poetry can support her along the way. See my review here.
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – Hadley misses the flight to her father’s second wedding, but ends up meeting Oliver: cute, British, and a good listener. Maybe it’s fate! See my review here.
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – Lara Jean has had many crushes, but never a boyfriend. She writes down her feelings in letters (to save, not mail) to get over them. But then her letters DO get out, and she has to encounter her feelings for these boys and their reaction to them. See my review here.
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – Alex has to navigate the high school landscape with a slight disadvantage: she doesn’t always know what’s real and what’s not. Her schizophrenia tries to trick her every day, which she has started to get used to, until she starts to wonder if her best friend is imaginary. See my review here.

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