Tag Archives: 4★

In the Shadow of Spindrift House

Author: Mira Grant

My rating: 4 of 5

Harlowe and her friends have been there, done that. They’ve made a name for themselves as teen detectives. Solved cases adults wouldn’t touch, even some paranormal ones. But now they’re growing up, and Harlowe feels like they’re losing something, maybe losing each other. So in one last try to keep the group together and make it work, she brings them something special: a haunted house, tied to her own family history and possibly to her parents’ deaths, with a huge payout if they manage to find the original deed and find out who the house really belongs to. None of them can resist. But they aren’t the first who have ventured into the house. Who’s to say whether they’ll be the first to succeed and make it back out alive?

I really enjoyed In the Shadow of Spindrift House, a paranormal novella by Seanan McGuire, written under the pen name Mira Grant. Right off the bat, I loved the idea of teen detectives who have grown past the point where they can call themselves that, who have already had their popularity and are no longer cute. I mean, you see stories about kids going around solving mysteries and doing crazy stuff all the time. But what happens when those kids grow up? Are they able to adapt, or do they keep doing that crazy stuff . . . only now, it will get them killed or arrested or something? Just saying, it’s an interesting idea to play with, and I thought the author addressed it well, putting this solidly in a new adult fiction kind of genre. Only with lots of eerie paranormal stuff going on. I also liked the way the mystery and the atmospheric creepiness gradually built, tiny details adding up over the course of the story. The author also did a great job of creating characters and relationships that I cared about–enough so that certain parts of this story actually hurt, so fair warning there. There’s a certain lack of definition to some of the paranormal elements of this story, and I still can’t quite decide if there was enough definition, or if I would have preferred a bit more clarity. For instance, there’s a good bit of effort put into building the themes of nature and the sea, and we definitely can tell a lot just from that and from the historical stories that Harlowe and her friends uncover. But we never get a name for what we’re dealing with, or an actual explanation, or anything like that. So I guess I’d recommend this book for those who prefer things a bit more mysterious and open-ended. I would definitely recommend In the Shadow of Spindrift House, though, and I certainly intend to try more of the author’s writing.

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Ghost Hedgehog (Novella)

Author: Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Illustrator: Goñi Montes

My rating: 4 of 5

Jack is special. Ever since he was little, he’s been able to see shades of those who have died, but things got even weirder when he was in 5th grade. He says it’s like he’s got spikes on his back that ghosts can grab onto and stick around. This is the story of his first three ghosts, the ones who changed his life forever.

Ghost Hedgehog is the first of Hoffman’s stories that I’ve read, and I have to say that it’s whetted my appetite for more. The story is creative and interesting, with a timeless feel that’s broken only by the occasional reference to a cell phone or suchlike. The writing style is accessible and down to earth, very enjoyable to read. It’s told in first person, focusing on a small period of time when Jack was eleven, although the tone of the writing is more mature than that–like maybe he’s looking back as an adult to how he got where he is. This story’s pretty short and could easily be read in one sitting. The ending leaves a promise of so much more, though, whether in the reader’s imagination or in other stories. I would certainly be interested in reading a sequel and definitely plan to try more of Hoffman’s books. Recommended.

Note: This is a Tor.com original story and can be purchased digitally or read only for free at https://www.tor.com/2011/11/16/ghost-hedgehog/.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows

Author: James Lovegrove

The Cthulhu Casebooks, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The general public is well familiar with the stories of the great detective Sherlock Holmes as written by his friend and partner in crime-fighting, Dr. John Watson. What they don’t know is that those stories are just a cover, an embellishment of certain insignificant events in order to hide something of far greater import–something the public should never know about. Because, while in these stories, Holmes is presented as an extremely logical and brilliant man who always a scientific reason for events, the truth is that he and Watson have encountered things that defy science. Horrible, ancient things that could spell  the end of mankind if left unchecked. And together, they have pledged their logic and skill to defending mankind from behind the scenes. This is the true story of their initial meeting and subsequent first encounter with the occult, as told by Dr. Watson himself.

Retellings and spinoffs of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories seem ubiquitous, and I’ve personally had mixed experiences with them. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows belongs to a niche segment of these stories, ones that–like Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”–cross over with the Lovecraftian mythos. It’s an intriguing mixture, and I found it to be quite well executed in this book. It is couched as being a confession of sorts, written by Watson late in life and never meant to be published. As such, it evokes a tone quite similar to that of the original Doyle stories–I actually found this aspect of it to be fairly convincing. The author makes a lot of comparisons between what was written in said stories and “what actually happened,” which is intriguing to say the least. I found my vocabulary challenged repeatedly, which was refreshing. Unfortunately (although perhaps necessary to evoke the correct feel), the writing expresses period-typical ways of looking at certain people groups, as well as some terminology for such, that could be offensive. Regrettable, that. The actual story and the way the mythology is interwoven into the story is quite well done, a credible way for Holmes to get dragged into this mess. All in all, I found Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows to be a solid, enjoyable story that I would recommend.

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Midnight Crossroad

Author: Charlaine Harris

Midnight, Texas, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Midnight, Texas: a town so small that if it weren’t for the single stoplight at its main crossroad, the entire place might just blow away. It’s a quiet place that keeps its secrets, the sort of place no one moves to without a reason or a secret of their own to keep. Newcomer and internet psychic Manfred Bernardo finds that it’s the sort of place that suits him just fine. But the town’s quiet is shattered when pawnshop owner Bobo’s missing girlfriend turns up dead outside town and political extremists start stirring up trouble. And as he becomes part of the town’s inner circle, Manfred finds that they have their own ways of dealing with trouble.

I really enjoyed Midnight Crossroad, definitely more than I have Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. They’re set in the same ‘verse, but this book has a different tone to it. It’s not a romance or particularly a mystery, for one, although there are certain mystery elements. More so, it’s an urban fantasy with a noir-ish, small-town flavor that uniquely suits the particular story and characters the author brings us here. It gets kind of dark, and basically everybody has secrets (not all of which are revealed in this volume). But there’s also a lot of small-town southern charm. I really enjoy the various characters–they’re well developed and enjoyable. I liked that we get chapters from the perspectives of more than one person as well, although this particular volume clearly focuses of Manfred, and to a lesser extent on the witch Fiji. Midnight Crossroad is an engaging urban fantasy, er, rural fantasy (?) with an intensely dark yet comfortable to read style that I enjoyed a lot. Definitely recommended.

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Madness Treads Lightly

Author: Polina Dashkova

Translator: Marian Schwartz

My rating: 4 of 5

When Mitya Sinitsyn is found hanged in his apartment, nearly everyone seems to arrive at the obvious conclusion that he committed suicide. But considering how strongly his wife denies the possibility of such a thing happening, family friend and journalist Lena Polyanskaya begins to pick at the threads of his death . . . and finds the obvious begin to unravel before her. The clues she discovers begin leading her on a dangerous trail going back fourteen years to a trip she, Mitya, and his sister Olga took as young professionals together. Because somehow, something that happened on that trip was significant in a way she never realized–if she can only figure it out before she ends up dead because of it.

Madness Treads Lightly is the first Russian psychological thriller/crime novel I’ve ever read. Actually, it’s one of only a few Russian novels I’ve read, period. I should probably remedy that. In any case, this was a worthwhile read, one that would likely be enjoyed by most people who enjoy crime novels in general. Plotwise, you’ve got an interesting story–not really a mystery, since it becomes pretty clear what happened and who committed the crimes. But it’s intriguing to watch Lena go all amateur detective while still being at heart a mom and a journalist–an ordinary woman, not some insanely skilled crime fighter or anything. There’s a lot going on, and a number of interlocking plot threads to follow, but it all comes together quite well. I honestly found the native look at everyday Russian culture and society in the 1990’s to be nearly as interesting as the actual plot, though. Things like the way capitalism and crime were interconnected, foods that were common, polite social customs, etc. are fascinating to see displayed in such a way that they’re clearly just a normal, unremarkable part of the characters lives. But Russian naming conventions, though; I still don’t understand. . . . One more thing of note is that, although I would certainly consider this a thriller of sorts, it has a pacing that wouldn’t fit with the typical Western conception of that genre. It’s more of a slow, steady unfolding of one plot element after another, which sounds kind of dull when I say it, but it actually fits the story and works. Recommended.

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Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja (2012-2015 Cartoon)

Titmouse, Inc. & Boulder Media Limited with Disney XD

Status: Complete (50 episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

For 800 years, an evil sorcerer has been imprisoned beneath the town of Norrisville, prevented from escaping and destroying the world by the equally ancient ninja . . . or so the town’s citizens believe. In actuality, a new ninja is chosen every four years from among the students attending the high school that is now built over the site of the sorcerer’s imprisonment. Randy Cunningham–high-school freshman and ultimate Ninja fanboy–finds this out to his surprise when he is chosen to become the new ninja. Now, with the help (okay, mostly sarcasm from the sidelines) of his best friend Howard Weinerman, Randy must protect his school and town from not only evil monsters created by the sorcerer (because, really, that would be too easy), but also from rampaging robots created by his new archnemesis Hannibal McFist (or, well, his assistant Viceroy) who has allied himself with the sorcerer because he was promised–wait for it–a superpower of his own if they win. So yeah, Randy’s got his hands a bit full, but he’s determined to make the most of his high-school days regardless . . . even if it means maybe misusing his ninja powers just a bit.

Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja is one of those shows that I’ve seen recommended for people who like shows like Danny Phantom, Miraculous Ladybug, and American Dragon: Jake Long–you know, teen superheroes, secret identities, that sort of thing. I put off even trying it for a good while. I mean, you can tell just from the episode titles that it’s more of a shounen story on the grosser side of things–bad puns, fart jokes, and general derpiness seem to be the norm. And I’m not going to like, that’s totally a major part of this cartoon, but in spite of that I’m so glad I actually gave it a try. It took me a few episodes to get into it, but this series definitely grew on me. Mostly, I love it for the great characters. Randy and Howard have a ton of personality (even if it’s a nerdy, derpy personality), and they tend to defy expectations, which is fun to watch. Howard honestly kind of annoys me, and a lot of times I feel like he’s not a good friend for Randy. But then, he goes and proves just how wrong I am. Like, these two have some serious bromance going on. And Randy starts off seeming like just some nerdy goofball who’s barely going to wing it through to graduation, much less actually be a hero. Actually, he stays that way a lot of times, misusing his powers and influence or completely misreading the (admittedly cryptic) advice of the “Ninjanomicon,” a book of ancient ninja wisdom passed down with the ninja abilities. But then, Randy will figure out that he’s made a mistake and will be surprisingly intense about making things right. My point is, these two are actually interesting characters that really make the series so much more fun than it seems like it would be at first glance. Also, tying into the good characters, the voice acting for this series is phenomenal–so much better than I’m used to seeing with a lot of cartoons. Ben Schwartz’s work with Randy’s voice in particular is quite subtle, but in general, all the voice acting is well done. The art style is kind of weirdly angular and stylized, but it suits. Likewise, the episodes generally fall into a pattern of monster/robot/other problem showing up, Ninjanomicon giving cryptic advise, Randy ignoring said advice, big epic fight, things going generally to pieces, Randy finally figuring out advice and taking it, dorky ending; it’s weird but it suits the series and is surprisingly enjoyable, and there’s enough variety within the predictable pattern that it doesn’t get boring. Also, the series doesn’t drag on forever and lose interest, which was smart I think. Overall, although it doesn’t seem at the surface like a series I would particularly like,  I found Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja to be a lot of fun, and I would recommend it.

Created by Jed Elinoff & Scott Thomas/Directed by Mike Milo, Shaun Cashman, Joshua Taback, & Chuckles Austen/Starring Ben Schwartz, Andrew Caldwell, Tim Curry, Ben Cross, John DiMaggio, & Kevin Michael Richardson

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The Chemist

Author: Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for violence, although there’s some minor sexual content

She used to be an agent of the American government, conducting black-ops interrogations, addressing biological threats, and creating new chemical compounds designed to target the human body. Now she’s a fugitive, on the run from her own department since someone there has decided she knows too much to stay alive. She’s gotten good at surviving–staying alone, being over-prepared, trusting no one and nothing. But when the department tricks her, bringing her into contact with sweet, innocent Daniel Beach, everything changes. And suddenly, she’s got a reason to do more than just hide; now she’s prepared to fight back.

In a lot of ways, The Chemist was everything I expect from a Stephenie Meyer novel, although at the same time, it was quite different from anything else of hers I’ve ever read. I have to say that I quite enjoyed it, more than I expected to. It is a book that I think you’ll enjoy more if you know somewhat what to expect, and honestly, that’s not clear from either the title or the cover or the author’s reputation. So I’ll go ahead and tell you: this is a secret agent thriller with a bio-chemistry twist. If you’re into the whole Jason Bourne thing, this should be right up your alley. If needles give you the heebie-jeebies, be forewarned, there are a lot of them here. The book is fast-paced and an easy right throughout, with plenty of action and suspense. And of course, the one element that is definitely classic Meyer, there’s a star-crossed romance thrown into the mix. Although this is definitely a more adult book that the others of Meyer’s that I’ve read (especially with the whole torture and violent death thing), it’s light on the explicit sexual content, and there’s basically zero bad language present. But yeah, torture and violence is definitely a thing here. Tropes are also a thing–as in, the book’s absolutely full of them–but then, they’re the sort of things that are tropes for a reason, right? And this is the sort of story (again, it’s helpful to know this going in) where that’s kind of acceptable because we’re in it for the intensity of the thrills and the sweetness of the love story, not for some great literary exposition. So yes, taken as what it is, I found The Chemist to be a surprisingly rewarding read, one I would recommend, especially to fans of thrillers.

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