Friday, February 17, 2023

Review: THORNHEDGE by T. Kingfisher


Rating: 4.5/5 stars 

I’ve recently become obsessed with T. Kingfisher’s novels so I’m trying to get my hands on everything she’s ever written. Thornhedge is her newest adult fantasy novella that’s a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty but where the princess is the villain and the one who curses the princess is the heroine. 

I loved this story. It was so fun to get to know Toadling, a girl who can transform into a toad and who can cast spells. She is patrolling the hedge made of thorns (hence the title) that surrounds the tower that contains the sleeping princess, when one day a man on horseback shows up and wants to explore the land beyond the hedge of thorns. 

I won’t say any more because this story is short and it deserves to have some mystery to it, but I love how Kingfisher wrote this. This is a version of Sleeping Beauty that I’ve never seen done before, and I thought it was quite unique. 

If you love fantastical novellas that take place in dark, creepy forests and stories about curses that maybe shouldn’t be broken after all, then you should check out Thornhedge. It was a delight to read, and I loved the ending. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Review: THE BODY FINDER by Kimberly Derting

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I remember the spring of 2013, being in my last semester of high school and going to a local WA thrift store and finding a copy of The Body Finder on the shelf. I had heard friends talk about how much they loved the book, and the cover had a big gold “Seattle Author” sticker on it, so I brought it to the checkout line. 

I’ve always loved reading books that take place in the Pacific Northwest and that are written by local PNW authors, yet somehow this book sat unread on my shelf for ten whole years before I finally got around to picking it up. 

I was very excited to see, however, that the story takes place in Buckley, WA with references to Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps, White River, and Enumclaw. I grew up in Lake Tapps and I’ve been to all of the places listed and could picture the setting perfectly! I’ve never read a book set so close to home before; it was a very neat experience. 

The Body Finder follows Violet, who can sense “echoes” of bodies that they leave behind when they die, both on their own bodies and on their killers’ bodies. Violet’s ability allows her to sense a dead body buried in the woods when she was a little girl, and again another body drowned in the lake when she was a teenager. 

When a string of local girls goes missing and there is no evidence pointing to a potential suspect, Violet decides to use her ability to track down the killer to help keep herself and her friends safe. 

I absolutely flew through this book; the writing was so digestible and compelling, which was this novel’s biggest strength. The story itself was pretty good too. I loved the idea of Violet being able to sense echoes of the dead. 

The aspects of the story that I didn’t like really weren’t any fault of the author. The book feels like it was written in the early 2010s, which it was. As such, there is some phrasing that would not be acceptable nowadays but was commonplace a decade ago, such as references to the “short bus” and calling someone a slut and a complete lack of any diversity whatsoever. Also, this book falls into the trope of the boy saving the girl from all harm again and again. Sometimes it worked with the story (the final scene for sure), but other times it seemed completely implausible (how did he get to this location at the exact right time?). I don’t see a lot of modern books using this plot device anymore, but it is very apparent and present in The Body Finder

Also—and this is a personal preference—but the plot was only 50% of the story because the other 50% was centered around the romance between Violet and Jay, which kind of pulled me as a reader out of the narrative that was focused on finding the killer. I think that has more to do with the fact that I am an adult reading a book about a teenager and I’m so over reading about teens pining over each other and communicating poorly, etc. 

However, I fully believe that had I read this book ten years ago when I purchased it, I would have totally loved it and rated it in the high-4s or maybe even 5. My reading tastes have changed drastically in the last couple of years, even more so in the last decade that I’ve been reading. I can see this book being something I would absolutely eat up as a teen, especially since the mystery aspect still intrigued me as an adult. I was kept guessing until the end about who the killer was and how the plot would play out. It was just all the other stuff in the narrative that got in the way of me giving this a higher rating as a 27-year-old adult with many many books under her belt.

Overall, The Body Finder was a really fun read, if a bit dated. The concept is super cool, and I appreciated the execution as well, but the heavy romance element breaks up the story too much for my adult taste. Teens who enjoy crime-thriller-romances would likely love this more than I did, but just know it is a product of its time so don’t expect it to be perfectly written. Also, this novel reads as a standalone even though there are four books in the series, so it’s a good one to pick up if you want a quick read without the commitment. I will not be continuing on with the series, but I’m glad I read this first book at least. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Review: THE FOXGLOVE KING by Hannah Whitten


Rating: 1.5/5 stars

DNF at 50%. 

The Foxglove King is an epic fantasy that reminded me a bit of Vespertine. It features death magic, poisons, catacombs, and a religious setting. 

This is my second Hannah Whitten book, and both For the Wolf and The Foxglove King are 95% vibes, 5% fitting a plot into the vibes. Hannah even said in an interview for For the Wolf that when she was writing the book, she was going for vibes above everything else. And you can totally feel that in both of her books that I’ve read. That must just be her writing style, which is fine, but it’s not my preferred reading style. This is why I feel like something is missing in this book, but it’s also hard to pinpoint what that might be. 

The death magic is not super well explained in The Foxglove King. Lore can channel mortem, which is the essence of death (I think?), which allows her to raise the dead for a small time. This, of course, is illegal, so when she gets caught at the beginning of the book, the king and priest offer her an ultimatum: help them figure out who is slaughtering villages by raising some of the dead villagers to question them, or she will be sentenced to death. So of course Lore agrees to keep her life and help them. 

In the meantime, Lore gets to roam the palace, and she is also given the task of spying on Bastian, the king’s heir who may or may not be a traitor to the crown. And you can already tell, without having read a word of the book, that a romance will form between Bastian and Lore. Not much had happened at the point that I quit reading, but it was very clear from the context that is the direction the story was moving in. 

This book contains lots of discussions about church and court politics without actually setting a good stage for the distinctions between the church and the court and how they operate together or separately. I honestly didn’t love the religious setting here, and I usually tend to enjoy reading about religion in fantasy novels. The importance of the foxglove, belladonna, and other poisons was also not super well explained, and I still can’t tell you why the title of the book is what it is. 

I had the same feeling during this book that I had while reading Whitten’s debut: I kept looking at all the pages I’d read and think, what even happened in all those pages? And then I’d look at all the pages I had left to read and think, what is even going to happen in all those pages? This book is very slow-paced and meandering in its story, which, unfortunately, made it pretty boring for me. I almost DNFed the book twice, at I finally did quit reading it after the third time I contemplated whether I should continue or not. There are far too many books I’d rather be reading than one that bores me so much that I’d rather do anything else than pick it up again. 

I think maybe Hannah Whitten’s writing style just isn’t for me. I like the ideas behind her books, but so far I haven’t really cared for her books themselves. In The Foxglove King, the characters don’t have much development or distinction from one another; the magic system is flimsy at best and largely undeveloped; the setting is not fleshed out beyond “church” and “palace” and “catacombs”; and the plot is very slow-moving while also being extremely obvious what will happen. The combination of all those factors created a book that I just couldn’t push myself to finish, sadly. I think this book will be a big hit for the right audience, but that audience doesn’t include me. I’d be willing to give Whitten one more try again in the future, but I honestly don’t know if I’ll have any better luck with her next series. 

Review: A HOUSE WITH GOOD BONES by T. Kingfisher


Rating: 4/5 stars

This is only my second T. Kingfisher book, but I'm already obsessed with her writing style and I've made it my mission to read everything she's ever written. 

Last week I read What Moves the Dead because it's a rather short book and I wanted to pick up something non-fantasy that I knew I'd be able to finish in one sitting as a quick palate cleanser. It was incredible, and as soon as I finished it and went to put it back on my bookshelf, I picked up my ARC copy of this book that was sitting right next to it. I thought: I'll just look at it real quick and then move it up on my reading list. Well, an hour later I was still sitting on the floor in front of my bookshelf, fifty pages into A House with Good Bones

So I guess you could say Kingfisher's books are quite captivating and grab you right from the beginning, since that's happened to me twice now. 

I don't think I've ever read a horror book before these two books because I don't like to be scared and I generally just prefer fantasy worlds instead, but maybe I'm becoming converted to the genre. I know Kingfisher writes a lot of fantasy in addition to horror, but both of her books I've read so far have been horror, yet neither one of them was scary. They were more creepy and unsettling, giving me an urgent desire to know what mysterious thing is going on. I don't know how to classify this specific horror subgenre, but I like it. 

Overall, A House with Good Bones is a quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Pick up this book if you're interested in a modern southern gothic tale, a creeping unsettling feeling that you can't explain, a fat 32-year-old protagonist who's very smart, insects and archeology, lots of ladybugs and roses, generational family trauma, the possibility of severed hands, and vultures. Lots and lots of vultures.