The Demon Trapper’s Daughter: A(n Excited!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana OliverIt’s 2018 and the city of Atlanta is going to Hell. The economy is in shambles, the city is practically bankrupt, and Lucifer’s demons are everywhere. Angels wander the streets but they keep a low profile and tend to stay in the background.

Demons have no such scruples. Whether it’s a Biblio, a Magpie, or one of the Geofiends there is no forgetting that things are bad and on their way to worse.

Especially for seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne. An apprentice demon trapper learning the ropes from her father, Riley already sticks out as the only girl apprentice in the local demon trapper’s guild. When she botches a routine trapping, that’s bad. When her father is killed and Riley is left on her own, that’s a whole lot worse.

Riley is alone in a hostile city. There are some in the guild eager to see her fail. There are some, like really cute fellow apprentice Simon Adler, who want to help. Denver Beck, her father’s trapping partner and a near constant annoyance to Riley, wants nothing more than to run her life. At least, sometimes he does. Sometimes he just wants to be nice to her. It’s confusing.

Either way, Riley doesn’t want help. She wants to get by on her own and prove herself.

In a city where the demons know your name and the old rules are changing, working alone might get Riley killed. Or worse in The Demon Trapper’s Daughter* (2011) by Jana Oliver.

There is a lot to love about The Demon Trapper’s Daughter. Jana Oliver takes the old conventions about demons and demon hunting and  turns them upside down in this dynamic start to what promises to be a thrilling series. Oliver’s world building is phenomenal. Riley and the other characters, particularly Beck, jump off  the page in an evocative story where readers will smell the brimstone and feel the swipe of every demonic claw.

The story is written in the third person and alternates between Riley and Beck’s viewpoints. The one weak point in the writing are the italicized thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative which are a bit jarring–particularly Beck’s since his are written in the vernacular to convey his Georgia accent. Riley can be a frustrating protagonist especially with her low opinion of (the obviously awesome) Denver Beck. But Beck is just as stubborn. By the end of the story the two balance out even though they might not see it that way.

There are a lot of urban fantasies out there. There are a lot of books about demons. There are a lot of books about a young woman trying to prove herself. This book is all three. Gritty, funny, and exciting The Demon Trapper’s Daughter is a charmer with equal parts action and heart. Highly recommended.

*This book is also called The Demon Trappers: Forsaken–that’s the title for the UK edition. Thanks to the author, Jana G. Oliver, for commenting on the review I posted on Amazon to confirm this information! (I prefer The Demon Trapper’s Daughter as it points more to the crux of the story. Either way, this is the first book in The Demon Trappers series.)

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Exclusive Bonus Content: Did you catch by now that I have a ridiculous literary crush on Denver Beck? Seriously, he’s awesome. I can’t even tell you how awesome he is because it gets too far into plot details but I expect him to play a BIG role in the rest of the series (and hopefully not die tragically because that would make me sad). In all seriousness (no really) Denver Beck joins Tom Imura, Alan Ryves and Tucker Avery in the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Also, if I had a club for Book Covers I Love this one would definitely be in it. I think it not only captures the essence of the book but also the essence of Riley as a character in a weird way. I read this book as an arc so, tragically, I do not have information on the who designed this delightful cover.

Pod: A (rapid fire) Review

Pod by Stephen Wallenfels (2010)

Pod by Stephen WallenfelsThis book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

Pod features dual story lines. One features Josh who is 15/16 in Washington state and one features Megs who is 12 in California. Both of them have to fave some MAJOR problems when aliens land. Or hover. Whatever.

I didn’t mind the dual story lines. I thought the contrast was interesting between the two locations and by the end I’m pretty sure there is some connection between the stories (as improbable and thin as it is).

The alien premise was interesting and not having any closure (why did they come? etc.) was annoying but ultimately realistic I guess.

My main problem with Pod is that I hated Josh. He is a complete jerk, totally self-absorbed and ultimately a bad caricature of just about every annoying teen stereotype I  can think of. I thought it was ridiculous how he second guessed his father at every turn with the water and food rationing. I was insanely annoyed by the ending of Josh’s storyline. It was, simply put, sloppy storytelling (and did I mention annoying?).

Megs’ storyline is less troubling because she wasn’t such an annoying character and it is clear she understands that survival was really important–unlike Josh. But she seemed a little flat (all of the characters did actually–it might have had to do with the sparse writing or maybe this one just really tried my patience). I also don’t think she sounds at all like a twelve year old.

Megs’ vocabulary includes a lot of expressions a twelve-year-old wouldn’t know. Similarly why does a child know about cracking open oysters? Why does she know about dehydration and how crying might not be the best thing when you’re already short on water? I get that her home life isn’t great but I don’t get how she would know those things or any number of other things.

I can see the appeal of the premise and the characters but for me Pod was ultimately really unsatisfying and deeply frustrating.

Brain Jack: A (rapid fire) review

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner (2009)

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner This book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

I can see how Brain Jack would have some appeal and could be great for teens who are into computers or are reluctant readers. That said, I personally wasn’t very impressed with the book.

I thought it was too technical. I know nothing about computers but a lot of the stuff sounded downright made up in places and in other places sounded  like gibberish. It felt strange having people typing on a computer be high action and also Falkner at times made it seem like the characters were inside the computer which is jarring.

I personally was irritated when New York’s Avenue of the Americas was mentioned in the story, by a native New Yorker, when everyone who has been living here would only call it Sixth Avenue. Other elements also just felt out of place to me, like story threads that didn’t feel vital to the plot. (Examples: Vegas, Fargas, Vienna, Dodge’s dodgy tattoo ON HIS FOREHEAD.) Many of the characters also fell flat.

The prologue was poorly done and off putting. I got my copy from a friend who I’m sure also didn’t buy it. It was so strange having the prologue talk in depth about getting information from people who bought the book when I didn’t (and I’m sure a lot of people didn’t). Aside from completely disregarding libraries and borrowing books it brought me right out of the narrative since it was so not true for my experience. In tandem with the prologue I felt like the epilogue was too preachy and weirdly so. Neuro headsets don’t actually exist and the book is fiction, but then he is telling us he’ll be watching (much like Santa Claus)?

It just didn’t work for me.

Ship Breaker: A (rapid fire) Review

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

Ship Breaker by Paolo BacigalupiThis book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

It was also the winner of the 2011 Printz Award (given by the American Library Association to a book with high literary merit written for teens).

This book has already gotten tons of attention which is why I don’t feel bad doing a rapid fire review of it instead of a full, traditional one. It was a lot of fun to read it during the Printz announcements and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected (I thought I was burnt out on dystopian novels but this one was really interesting).

I liked the writing and the characters and I can see why it caught the Printz committee’s attention. I liked that the characters were diverse with people of all colors and cultures and even half men like Tool. I liked the writing style and the pacing. I thought the premise was interesting and there was a lot of action. I like the malleability of names, how Nailer was also Lucky Boy. I also thought the pervasive nature of luck in Nailer’s life was interesting. The family dynamics and the idea that family is what you make of it not just blood was also great.

That said, I also had some problems with the book:

I noticed there were a lot of repeated phrases like every time Nailer got hurt, something seemed to be blossoming with pain or a bright blossom of pain, etc. Which is fine–it’s a good phrase. But it started to appear A LOT.

I also thought the book got a little philosophical, not necessarily in a bad way but kind of in a “this looks like someone trying really hard to drive home a point” kind of way.

I thought the author’s world building was pretty well done but I also had a lot of unanswered questions. On the one hand I respect that the story wanted to throw readers right into the action. On the other hand there really were a lot of questions and some of them would have been easy to answer.

For  instance SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER:

(SPOILER!)When Nailer’s back gets infected Pima says Nailer needs to take pills three times a day for ten more days. But then he and Lucky Girl run away. Did Nailer take the pills with him? Did he take them on the train? If he didn’t do either of those things did the infection come back? It was a big part of the story and I would have liked to not have it dangling. Because, frankly, in real life–especially in Nailer’s lousy world–he should have died without the meds. It was weird to have that be such an obvious fact. Only to be left hanging.
(END SPOILER)

I also wanted to know more about the dynamics of Bright Sands Beach. There’s light crew and heavy crew. But are those the only options? If you aren’t crewed up are you as bad off as Sloth? What happens if you get too big for light crew but too small for heavy crew? It seemed weird that there was nothing else mentioned. Couldn’t some of them have worked at Chen’s noodle shop or something?

I also wished there was a little more about the crew tats. Like do you just keep them if you get too big for light crew (as opposed to getting thrown off)? Are there other tattoos for heavy crew?

Basically I enjoyed the book and I thought it was really interesting and deserving of all of its praise. But I was frustrated that there were not more details and background and, for me, can’t say it’s a book I absolutely loved (but I did like it).

Choose what Miss Print Book Club will read in April

My book club is reading Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson in March. But April is still up for grabs! What will we read, vote to decide! (Disclaimer: I have A LOT of issues with Ship Breaker and I fully expect them to come out in the discussion, you have been warned.)

The Wager: A (rapid fire) review

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli (2010)

The Wager by Donna Jo NapoliThis book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

I liked The Wager enough to finish it but it wasn’t great. I didn’t hate it but I can’t put my finger on what made it a book I didn’t hate if that makes sense.

I wasn’t familiar with the story of Don Giovanni (an Italian folk tale) before reading this so it was interesting to find a new fairytale but it felt very clinical and I never really connected with any of the characters or events. The ending felt very abrupt and compressed and yet it felt like the book took too long to get to the wager which was the main event of the book.

I liked the Beauty and the Beast undertones in the story but it ultimately just didn’t grab me.

Some parts of the book also just really nagged me. It’s 1169 in Messina, Italy. Why does Don Giovanni keep wondering who he was kidding? Was anyone at the time speaking that way?

The meat of the story is about Don Giovanni making a wager with the devil that comes down to his not bathing for three years, three months, and three days to win an infinite amount of money (or lose his soul). He gets worms and lice. Sores sprout all over his body. But what about his nails? The more I think about it the more it drives me nuts that no mention was made in the wager itself as to whether or not Don Giovani could cut his nails. And if it wasn’t, no mention was made of how long his nails got over the three plus years.

Guardian of the Dead: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Guardian of the Dead by Karen HealeyEllie leads a typical life for a seventeen-year-old. She goes to class, hangs out with her best friend Kevin, wonders about Mark, her mysterious (and good looking) classmate. She has a black belt in tae kwon do and, after a night of ill-advised drinking with Kevin, she has also volunteered her time to staging fight scenes for a play at the local university. Even if it is being directed by Kevin’s oldest friend Iris who is annoyingly perfect and makes Ellie feel like an ugly, ungainly giant.

After that things start to get less typical.

The news keeps talking about a serial killer. After a literal run-in with Mark Ellie is starting to see things. One of the actresses at the play seems to have an unhealthy interest in Kevin.

The more Ellie learns the more it seems like Mark might be at the center of all of the strange happenings around her and, stranger still, Ellie herself might have a role to play before it’s all over in Guardian of the Dead (2010) by Karen Healey.

Guardian of the Dead was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Cybils. Although it did not win the top spot it holds a special place in my heart as a personal favorite from 2010 and I am very excited I can finally post my review. (It is also set in New Zealand. As such, if you are not familiar with New Zealand school structure the beginning might be confusing, but don’t worry it all resolves itself quickly.)

Without giving too much away, the incorporation of stories and mythology–most notably traditional Maori myths–adds another dimension to the plot here–particularly the notion that stories shape us all. Much like traditional myths nothing is quite as it seems in Guardian of the Dead and, often, nothing works out quite as one would expect it too. Consequently the plot is rich and filled with twists and turns to keep even the most astute readers guessing.

It’s weird to say about a fantasy but Guardian of the Dead is extremely authentic when it comes to the characters and how they interact with each other. All of the characters, even the minor ones and the creepy ones, feel strikingly complex and well-developed in a very natural way. It all seems so real even as all of these improbable things start to happen to Ellie. Healey is really one of those writers that makes her craft seem effortless.

Ellie herself is also a joy. She is proactive and desirable and powerful throughout the story. Tall and ungainly she is athletic but also chubby. None of which is the point of the book or becomes over-emphasized because there is so much more to her. Which is such a realistic and healthy characterization even if it is one that doesn’t always appear in books.

Guardian of the Dead is everything I want to see in a Chick Lit Wednesday book and Ellie is everything I want in a heroine. Filled with mythology, action, wit, and even some romance Guardian of the Dead is a charmer that will leave you thinking even while it leaves you with a smile.

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Misfit by Jon Skovron, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson

Exclusive Bonus Content: I actually have a funny degree of separation story about Karen Healey. Back before she become a YA author Healey wrote a blog/column called Girls Read Comics . . . And They’re Pissed which is a great resource about feminism and, you guessed it, comics. Anyway, in January 2008 in a post called Farewell to Meat, Healey linked to one of my early Chick Lit Wednesday Reviews for Ella Enchanted. It was one of the first times my blog got a ton of views and it was a big deal for me. In late 2010 when I realized Healey was  the genius behind Girls Read Comics it became even more exciting and interesting. So now, having posted about Guardian of the Dead in a Chick Lit Wednesday Review I feel a bit like I’ve come full circle.

Rot & Ruin: A Review

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan MaberryBenny Imura needs a job. He’s fifteen and his rations are going to be cut in half if he doesn’t start contributing to society. Benny isn’t picky. Any job will do as long as it requires minimal effort and doesn’t involve working with his annoying, boring, completely irritating older brother Tom.

But being a locksmith apprentice is boring and involves carrying heavy tools all day. Fence testers have to walk the fence all day rattling it for loose spots that zombies might exploit. It also means possibly getting shot by the twitchy gun bulls because there is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to infection. There’s too much competition selling carpet coats. Pit thrower is too labor intensive. Not too mention it involves throwing  quieted zombies into a burning pit and maybe getting infected. And pit raker, well, pit raker is exactly what it sounds like.

With no better options, Benny finds himself reluctantly apprenticed to his brother Tom, a zombie killer and “closure specialist”–whatever that means. Benny doesn’t really care. At least he can keep his rations and has a job that sounds moderately cool.

But nothing about dealing with his brother, or the zoms, is anything like Benny expected. Out in the rot and ruin where the zombies run loose is different. Nothing is what Benny thought, not his heroes, not his friend Nix and her mother, and certainly not his hometown. Even Tom might be a lot more than Benny ever gave him credit for.

Soon Benny realizes the zombies are bad but they might not be the only monsters in Rot & Ruin (2010) by Jonathan Maberry.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rot & Ruin far exceeded my expectations.

To understand why you have to understand that I’m on Team Unicorn.

I had heard about the book before it came out and was intrigued but after reading Zombies vs. Unicorns and struggling with the zombie stories, I  started to think I wasn’t a zombie person. I was worried about reading this one because not only did I expect it to drag but I also worried it would be too gross or too scary.

I was so, so, wrong to be worried about this book.

Rot & Ruin has everything I wanted from from a good book. It’s the zombie book I’ve been hoping for.

Zombies are everywhere in young adult literature right now–throw a rock and you’ll hit a book about the zombie apocalypse. What sets Rot & Ruin apart is the fact that Maberry’s zombie interpretation (and story) is clever and original. Benny lives in a diverse world filled with shades of grey. Some of those greys happen to be zombies, some are not. Furthermore this isn’t a story about surviving the zombie apocalypse or beating the zombies. That isn’t happening, the humans lost. It’s a fact. The really brilliant thing about Rot & Ruin is that the story starts with what happens after.

Everything about this book works. The story doesn’t open with a lot of action but readers are immediately drawn into Benny’s world and the bizarre and sometimes hysterical reality of his life after the zombie apocalypse. Rot & Ruin is serious, it’s a page turner. But it’s also really funny. Maberry’s writing is clever throughout with the perfect blend of plot development, world building and character exposition.

Rot & Ruin was also selected as a finalist for the 2010 Cybils. AND it is also this year’s winner! (Chosen by me and my other lovely panelists! I’m so excited I can finally tell you all, dear readers, how much I loved this book!)

Possible Pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (editors), Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Generation Dead by Dan Waters

Exclusive Bonus Content: This book also has some really cool endpapers. Not to get too far into the plot but trading cards feature strongly in Rot & Ruin. Some of the more relevant cards (and a special one for Maberry himself) are featured on the endpapers of the book. Rob Sachetto did all of the illustrations (and one of the book’s characters shares his name). The cards add to the books quirky charm that tells everyone this book is going to be something special. I also like that Maberry named a character for the real artist.

(Fun Fact: Dan Brown’s Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon was named after the artist who created the font for the ambigram of the title that appeared on the original paperback title page of Angels and Demons.)

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Devinn for noticing a few name typos in this review and bringing them to my attention! (I cannot post your other comment because it is too much of a spoiler–sorry.)

Prom and Prejudice: A (Valentine’s Day) Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.

Prom is a seriously big deal at Longbourn Academy. It’s everything a girl could dream of and, after winter break, the only thing most girls can think about.

Prom is the farthest thing from Lizzie Bennet’s mind. Yes, she is single but she is definitely not a girl of high standing at Longbourn. A scholarship student, she is the subject of hazing, ridicule, and even outright hatred. All she wants is to survive by keeping up her grades and practicing her piano playing to maintain her tenuous place at Longbourn.

Lizzie tries to put on a strong face for her best friend Jane by going to parties and pretending to have a good time, but like everything else school related it usually ends in disaster. Jane is thrilled when Charles Bingley comes back from a semester abroad. And Lizzie tries to be too because Charles is really nice. But his friend Will Darcy is another story. Snobby, pretentious, and downright obnoxious–Darcy is a complete jerk to Lizzie and drives her to distraction.

Still, there’s something about him. There must be if everyone else likes him so much. But Lizzie still has her doubts. Will Lizzie’s pride and Darcy’s prejudice keep them apart forever? Or will they realize they might be a perfect match in Prom and Prejudice (2011) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, Prom and Prejudice is a retelling and reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice.

Tinkering with a classic is always risky but Eulberg makes it look easy. Prom and Prejudice delivers a charming story that manages to stand on its own while also staying true to the spirit of Austen’s much-loved original.

Narrated by Lizzie herself, Eulberg offers readers a unique view of a story they might already know as Lizzie herself tells readers everything she hates (and perhaps eventually comes to love?) about Darcy. Aside from providing a most excellent title the focus on prom updates the story while keeping all of the urgency and tension Austen herself created. (Setting the story in a boarding school also allows Lizzie to have “sisters” around without them being actually related–so clever.)

Lizzie’s breezy narration and many mishaps, not to mention her myriad misunderstandings, will draw readers in from the familiar opening line right down to the surprise ending. Eulberg creates a delightful story that is both romantic and captivating in Prom and Prejudice.

Novel Novice also has a full playlist for the book!

Possible Pairings: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Exclusive Bonus Content: First and foremost, you all must see Elizabeth Eulberg in person if you can. She is one of the funniest most charming authors I have ever seen. Hearing Eulberg reading from the book was hysterical because she did voices for all of the characters. Her editor, the inimitable David Levithan, was also his usual dynamo self at the release event I attended with my friend Nicole, the Book Bandit.

Second, I wanted to mention the cover. Some reviews have mentioned that it’s too pink or not their cup of tea. I, for one, love it. The pink of the background is actually my favorite color. I also had a prom dress almost like the one on the cover. What I really like is the person holding up the dress is ready to cut the strap. The cover is subtle–very straightforward with the prom dress but also subversive with that small gesture with the scissors. I thought it was a nice counter part to the book itself–a straightforward Jane Austen adaptation but with a clever twist. (And if you take off the dust jacket you’ll find an inlay of a silhouette of the prom dress on the cover. How cool is that?) This jacket, like many others that I praise here, was designed by Elizabeth B. Parisi (she also masterminded the covers for the Hunger Games and Green Witch books).

The Vespertine: A (rapid fire) Review

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell (2011)

The Vespertine by Saundra MitchellYou guys, I don’t even know how to talk about this book. I’m pretty sure this will have spoilers. Or maybe it has fundamental plot basics? I’m not sure. You have been warned.

From the looks of the pretty cover and the intriguing jacket text, this book looked like it would have everything I wanted. Historical fiction, check. Romance elements, check. Paranormal, fantastical visions, check.

The Vespertine has a lot of similarities to A Great and Terrible Beauty with its historical fantasy blended with ruminations on feminism and young women struggling against societal mores of the nineteenth century. Except for the girls in this book that struggle doesn’t turn out so well.

I was telling my mom earlier, I like my fantasies straightforward. I don’t need questions about whether it was all a dream or insanity or whatever. I want to take things at face value and when I hear supernatural I want to know it is true.

That didn’t happen here.

Amelia’s summer in Baltimore turns strange when she begins to see visions at sunset (vespers). But are the visions real? Are they madness? Is it both? Hard to say.

Nothing came together quite to my liking. The writing was a bit too stilted. Amelia was a bit too histrionic. She should be a likable narrator and her romance should be epic. But, for me, it just wasn’t.

I still don’t know what to make of the ending. Literal? Figurative? Again, hard to say.

The other problem, one that’s beyond the writing and my questions and everything else, is the fact that everything–Amelia included–is ruined at the start. There is no fixing anything, there is no hope. In any format, in any genre, that is my least favorite structure; looking back on a catastrophe from the aftermath. It’s hard to really follow that kind of destruction. It’s hard to care about a character when you already know, from the outset, that all hope is lost.

What I can say is that this book will have a lot of appeal to anyone with the patience to unravel the threads of a not entirely linear narrative (the story shifts a few times between Autumn and Spring of 1889) and draw their own conclusions–even if a lot of them are not, shall we say, optimistic. It’s an interesting blend of historical detail and something else–maybe fantasy, maybe not. And it’s a very interesting commentary on feminism and women of that period.

It just also happens to be a book I can’t connect with much as I wish it could be.