& Review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. Publisher: Picador October 2014

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. Publisher: Picador October 2014

The Book Itself: Definitely looks like a mystery/thriller: stark black backdrop moonlight reflecting off the water, and ghostly letters for the title. No drawings of monsters, but their absence is just as creepy.

My Review: Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy’s only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters seems to be about a young, rather disturbed boy who draws monsters and the slow, psychological horror his family and best friend sink into when they too start seeing those monsters. What it’s really about is people’s stubborn refusal to accept what is right in front of their face.

J.P. (Jack Peter) is a young boy who, after a near-drowning accident years ago, has withdrawn completely. The simple act of walking from the front door to the car terrifies him. He draws obsessively and seems to barely tolerate the presence of both his parents and his friend, Nick. Gradually both his parents and Nick witness monsters similar to J.P.’s scribbles. His father frequently encounters what seems like an emaciated man running on all fours in the snow and fog. His mother hears voices and becomes convinced they have something to do with an old shipwreck that happened near the beach just outside their house.

What frustrated me most about this book was that everyone played ignorant, or truly was ignorant to J.P.’s correlation to the supernatural threats. It seemed strange that while his father claimed to see a monster, and his mother claimed to hear them, that neither one of them believed each other. Even after seeing J.P.’s drawings, even after asking him about them, no character dawns on the completely obvious fact that J.P. draws these things and then they become real. Not even after J.P. draws monsters, and Nick is woken and horrified by those very same monsters do people put two and two together. It made sense to a point – the book was trying to say something about people’s refusal to accept something that at first seems illogical. But after a while it was just plain obnoxious.

The book also seemed to chase its own tail. Monster encounter after monster encounter occurred with no real headway as to why it was happening. No character dug too deeply trying to figure out what was going on. By the close of the book, when someone actually confronts J.P. about it, you just want to scream, “FINALLY! WHY WEREN’T YOU ALL DOING THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE?!”

I will say that the ending, and by ending, I mean literally the last two pages are bone-chilling. I wouldn’t dare spoil it, but it’s a terrific twist, and one I did not see coming. It was the thrill down my spine I had been expecting all book long, and never really got. But the entire rest of the book didn’t work hard enough. There weren’t enough clues or character motivation to properly ramp up suspense. I was just annoyed with everyone and expecting the book to end disappointingly when I was caught by surprise. The ending gets four stars. The rest of the book gets two.

There are some mild thrills for those who like atmospheric novels with occasionally chilling scenes. But I kept wanting the characters to do more, and I desperately wanted the whole book to be more like that ending.

My Grade: C-

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The Problem with Resolutions

Again, happy 2017 to you, my dear readers! May your next twelve months be full of excellent reading, and may your newsfeeds be less full of celebrity deaths.

I have for the past few years posted my reading and blog-related resolutions here on Ampersand Read. Here is the problem: that doesn’t seem to help me reach those goals. For some people, writing a goal down, and having it somewhere semi-permanent helps them keep the goal constantly in mind. Posting it to a public place can help some people feel more accountable: you’ve told people that you are trying to do something, so you are more likely to attempt to accomplish it in order to tell those same people that you were successful.

But apparently I don’t seem to work that way! I thought about the resolutions I posted back in January maybe once or twice this entire year: once about mid-year, when I thought about posting about my progress (but promptly realized that I hadn’t made much progress at all), and once when I finished Fahrenheit 451 when I suddenly remembered that it had been a goal of mine to read more older, “classic” literature this year. It also felt a little silly to post about my goals once, then never return to them until I posted about my new goals an entire year later.

All of that is a long way of saying that I will not be writing a long analysis of what I hope to accomplish this year. At least not on the blog. I am still setting goals, and I will still try my best to achieve them. But I think I will focus on fewer, broader goals in the hopes that that will inspire me to work on them throughout the year, and not just think about them wistfully every once in a while 🙂

But what about you, fellow bookworms? Do you have any new year’s resolutions that you are looking forward to diving into? Because let’s face it: the best resolutions, and the ones you tend to accomplish, are ones you actually look forward to doing. Have you set a book goal on Goodreads for the number of books you want to try to read this year? Do you want to read more classics? Read more new releases?

& Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Publisher: Razorbill August 2016

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Publisher: Razorbill August 2016

The Book Itself: Simple, with the title dominating the cover. Two people (Elias and Laia, presumably) fleeing through a tunnel. Not a standout cover, but no slouch either.

My Review: Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

Note: If you haven’t yet read An Ember in the Ashes, the first book in this series, I reveal a few plot points from that first installment that you might not want spoiled in this review. Proceed at your own risk 🙂

I really like and admire Tahir for writing a sequel that is very different in plot and motivation than the first book. Some series tend to use a plot event or device again and again in later books. In The Hunger Games, the games themselves happened again in Catching Fire, and in a way, yet again in Mockingjay. Plotting and heists feature prominently in both (terrific) installments of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. In A Torch Against the Night, the stakes are higher and the adventure more encompassing of the book’s world: characters physically travel and accomplish more.

Case and point: the story is now told from three perspectives, from three difference characters sometimes going in three different directions. The book is divided into short chapters from Laia’s point of view, Elias’, and Helene’s. This might have to do with the incredible amount of love that Helene’s character drew from readers after the first book. But it does become a lot of voices and storylines in one book. I remember struggling with the two point of views in the first book: I found Elias’ storyline to much more compelling that Laia’s.

Luckily, all three storylines have high stakes and are written very well in this book. It still feels like a lot is happening, and Tahir is very good (or very bad) at leaving each short chapter on a cliffhanger so that you have to read through the other two characters’ chapters before you find a resolution to the one you’re freaking out about. The chapters were often very short – sometimes only a couple of pages long. This could get frustrating, as you got in deep to one storyline only to be yanked away too soon. But it also kept the pace and tension racing high. I could say that I would have preferred just two points of view, but I’m not sure which point of view I would have cut.

Helene’s POV storyline is heartbreaking, as she is sent after Elias, a man she loves, upon threat of violence against her family and appeasing the Emperor she now works for. The book title is actually in reference to her this time around, and at times her story is emotionally hard to read.

Elias took a turn for me in this book. In the first book, he had been turned into a killing machine for the Empire. He was haunted, complex. Here, he seems almost too good. He is almost too generous and misunderstood and wounded. Tahir tugs at the heartstrings, introducing us to his adopted family, showing how good he is with kids, and how he clearly loves Laia to a fault. On the one hand, who doesn’t want their hero/love interest to have a tough exterior but a heart of gold, but it felt a little too good to be true.

Laia is a very interesting character to me. She’s not your typical badass female heroine. She’s not brave and physically strong or crafty like a lot of authors are trying to make their female protagonists. She’s deeply flawed, and she makes a lot of mistakes. Sometimes this is to the point of annoyance, and she messes up a lot of stuff for a lot of characters. But I identify with her. I feel like she would be me, were I in these situations. I would break down emotionally, lash out, and make rash decisions in the face of such stress. I think she reacts more realistically than most fantasy characters do.

In addition to the added POV, there are also more adversaries this time around. In book one, the Commandant was the Big Bad, harming Laia, her slave, and revealing the kind of apathy and cruelty for her son that only the deepest psychopath would display. Marcus was a close second, being the one contestant you didn’t want to win the bloody contest to become the new Emperor.

And then, of course, he won. So he’s Big Bad #2 in this book. He and the Commandant show almost equal amounts of twisted, evil intent. But those two aren’t enough, apparently. Now we have the Nightbringer, the mythical being merely whispered about in the first book (and whose true identity and promise of a new storyline I didn’t particularly care for). And we have the Warden, a demented torturer of children at the prison where Laia’s brother is kept. It’s a lot of bad against our three good guys. It’s one of those insurmountable odds tales that I am always flipping pages manically to see how it ends. With so many corners backed into, how can they possibly get out again and again?!

It’s a busy book, but a quick and intense read if you were invested in the characters from the first book. I will say that I was just as frustrated with the “love rhombus” (like a love triangle, but with four characters) in this book as I was with the first. I haven’t read a whole lot of love triangles where I could see an equal chance for both pairings. They are so obviously biased towards one couple getting together, with the third person just in there for spice. Add two people for the sole purpose of trying to complicate things, and it just feels forced. I have never felt that Laia and Keenan have real chemistry. While I sympathize and like Helene, I can’t see her character’s personality in a romantic situation with Elias. The secondary relationships aren’t interesting or complex, and therein lies my annoyance with trying to maintain plausibility in a love triangle/rhombus.

But this is a terrific sequel, when all is said and done. I will read future installments and wait for them with bated breath!

My Grade: B

Looking Ahead: Books of 2017

HAPPY 2017 FELLOW AMPERSAND-ERS!!

I hope your holiday and your New Year’s was amazing, memorable, and safe!

Have I ever told you that I write down book release dates in my planner? Well I do. And let me tell you…2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for both new novels and continuations of series I already read.

crossroadsofcanopyFirst up: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer
Release date: January 31st 2017

Gods and goddesses are reincarnated into human bodies in this fantasy world. Humans across thirteen hierarchal colonies serve these gods. Our protagonist serves one such god, and much go in search of her newest reincarnation in the dangerous depths of their world.

I like SO MANY THINGS about this synopsis already. I’m a sucker for polytheism stories, and the worldbuilding of Canopy and the lower levels of Understorey and Floor already sound complex and interesting.

caravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber
Release date: January 31st 2017

This might sound like just another magical circus story (think Night Circus, The Menagerie, etc.) but this magical circus depends heavily on audience participation. And when Scarlett’s sister, Tella, gets kidnapped by the ringleader, and a competition is set up to reward the first person to find her…things get more complicated. There is a lot of buzz for this story already. I’ve entered several giveaways for an ARC but so far to no avail. Regardless, I will be snatching up a copy the day it gets out.

allourwrongtodaysAll Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Release date: February 7th, 2017

A time traveler from a far-advanced, alternate 2016 finds himself in the 2016 that we all know… and thinks that it’s an apocalyptic wasteland. This sounds like a very topical book, seeing as how everyone and their mother hated 2016. It also sounds super intriguing – so thank goodness it’s coming out at the beginning of this year!

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
Release date: April 20th 2017

After 2016’s City of Blades’ cliffhanger ending, I was already eager for the sequel. AND THIS ONE IS ABOUT SIGRUD! FINALLY, YAY!! I could happily read more and more books in this series for years, the world is that complex and rich.

thesongoftheorphansThe Song of the Orphans by Daniel Price
Release date: July 4th 2017

Finally the sequel to The Flight of the Silvers, a great book I read back in 2014 about a select group of people saved from disaster and sent to an alternate world where they suddenly have supernatural abilities. I remember there being a lot of adversaries as well, and I will DEFINITELY have to re-read the first book to be properly oriented for this new book.

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Release date: May 2nd 2017

I am both unbelievably excited and nervous for the third book in this series. I fell so hard in book-love with A Court of Mist and Fury that I just NEED this third book to continue the amazing-ness that was that book. I am nervous because it could try to be another re-telling of some fable, or some of my favorite characters might get killed off, or it could just plain not be as good. But you can bet I will read it cover to cover as soon as I can get my hands on it.

downamongthesticksandbonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Release date: June 13th 2017

The sequel to the best book I read in 2016! I love that McGuire is going to tell Jack and Jill’s story. They were two of the bigger characters in the first book, and they seemed to have the darkest and most complex background in terms of the world they both visited. I can only hope it is just as beautiful of a story, and perhaps that McGuire will continue with other stories in this world.

Well, that’s it for now! I am excited for much more than these fine novels, but for the sake of your reading eyes, I will stop for now. What books are you looking forward to this year?!