Book Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor


In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Timesbestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer, #2)

Hardcover, 528 pages
Expected publication: October 2nd 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

This review is going to be a spewing of feelings while trying not to be spoilery.  Which. Is. Hard. So. Hard!  I needed to read this to find closure from the long wait, and I’m glad that I started and finished so quickly.  The story was definitely worth the wait.

I want to quickly touch on the one aspect that I did not enjoy.  I can’t tell you why because that would be a super spoiler!  But I just did not enjoy one of the new characters and had to force myself to read through those sections once I hit the midway point of the story.

As a fun aside, if you’ve read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, you might find some fun easter eggs throughout this book that build a little on the hints in book 1, Strange the Dreamer.

I’m pretty sure that this book hit every single emotion a human can feel at least once.  And some of the harsher ones, both good and bad, were visited several times.  Don’t read this in public if you don’t want unwanted attention.  Or be prepared by bundling under a blanket with a stuffed animal or significant other nearby for cuddling.

You might think I’m exaggerating.

I’m not.

No really.  I found myself setting this book down several times so that I could compose myself.  Just saying, prepare yourself.

And maybe make sure to reread Strange the Dreamer in order to catch all the hints and lead-ups again.

Book Review: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

Last year, Lisa Maxwell released the first book in a new YA series about a young girl who travels back in time to join a street gang’s heist in order to save those with “lesser” magic in the future.  With the release of the second book fast approaching in October, now seemed like a great time to read and review The Last Magician.
The Last Magician (The Last Magician, #1)
Hardcover, 500 pages
Published July 18th 2017 by Simon Pulse

SUMMARY from GoodReads:

Stop the Magician. Steal the book. Save the future.

In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.


I enjoyed and appreciated the amount of work that the author infused her characters and their relationships with.  It came across the page quite well and worked to make the story more compelling and engaging.  I did have a little bit of a problem with the amount of words used to convey story and personalities.  Some condensing would have helped polish this story to read more fluidly.

I combated this with the speed option on Audible to speed up the narrator as I listened to the audiobook.  However, if I had been reading the printed words, I would have been free to skip around to absorb only the “necessary” bits.  To be honest, this is how I normally read a book the first time through anyway, and I get more out of re-reads when I slow down 🙂

Having recently gone to see Oceans 8 in theaters, I was very happy with the heist aspects in this novel.  Although some of it does rely on magic, all the various bits and pieces and planning made a lot of sense in context and didn’t make me scrunch my face up in disbelief.  I think that readers who enjoy heists, mysteries, time travel, fantasy, twisty turns, and a little thrill will definitely find this book on their favorites list.  There is a bit of romance, but it’s not over-the-top nor does it feel forced or engage in tropes that promote male aggression.  The concept of consent does get explored and adds to the story without detracting from the social narrative happening around us.

I don’t believe there are any troublesome topics or trigger warnings here, but I must confess that I’m not as sensitive to taking notes on this yet.  Feel free to comment with any you think might apply.

With book 2 coming out very soon, I would recommend starting book 1 quickly as to be ready!  You’ll be ready for the sequel as soon as you turn the last page.

The Devil's Thief (The Last Magician, #2)


Space Opera

book cover image

Humanity has just been discovered by aliens. As part of the deal, they must send a representative to participate in the Megagalactic Grand Prix, a galaxy-wide singing competition. The Grand Prix is more than just a celebration of questionable musical choices, though. Ever since the Sentience Wars almost destroyed all civilizations in the galaxy a hundred years ago the Grand Prix has brought everyone together in a a battle for resources and survival though the medium of song. Humanity has one chance to sing for their lives and prove their sentience to the galaxy, or lose and be wiped out completely. Washed up glam-rocker Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros now have to convince the universe that humanity deserves to survive.

Sometimes you just need to revel in sheer ridiculousness. Catherynne M. Valente has written a big chewy novel where every sentence smacks you in the face with a glitter bomb of fabulousness and absurdity and a smidge of total planetary annihilation. This book aims the comedic stylings of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy squarely at the improbable global phenomenon that is Eurovision and extrapolates it into a galaxy full of horrifyingly (and hilarious) alien cultures. Her writing is surprisingly dense and addictive. Once you commit to a paragraph the writing style just keeps dragging you along, throwing jokes and absurd situations at you until you almost miss some of the darker undertones that flesh out the world she has created. It is a hilarious read – full of space flamingos, gendersplat singers, time-traveling pandas, galactic genocides, giddy spectacle, and some stealth topicality that is all the more powerful for being almost hidden by a shiny veneer.

If you like Douglas Adams, Red Dwarf, Terry Pratchett, or Tom Holt, Space Opera will be right in your wheelhouse.


Hey, Remember the 80s – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011) by Ernest Cline

When James Halliday, the 1980s obsessed creator of the OASIS virtual system, dies revelations from his video will kick off a puzzle laden quest for a hidden Easter egg within the system that will reward the finder with control of his company and the OASIS.  High School Student Wade Watts (Avatar Name Parzival) and his friends search for this prize, facing off against other seekers, duplicitous mega-corporations, and challenges that require an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s pop culture.

Back in the 1990s, Saturday Night Live ran a series of sketches featuring Jim Bruer as Goat Boy, a genetically engineered man-goat who hosted a talk show called Hey, Remember the 80’s.  Goat Boy would basically list off various pop culture things from the decade, and then would talk about them, before going wild and attacking his handlers.  It was a ridiculous premise, but I could not help hearing Goat Boy’s bleated cry of Heeeey, Remember the 80s every time Parzival gave an explanation for some classic 1980s arcade game, summarized the plot of a John Hughes movie, or made a reference to some other obscure pop culture point.  This book mentions many artifacts of the 1980s, but just piling reference upon reference does not create a compelling storyEventually it seemed to wander off and get lost in its asides and I was more interested in seeing how many of the references I recognized, rather than focusing on the plot.

The characters in this book seemed more like archetypes then fully realized people, the plot is pretty much the standard “heroes journey” fantasy quest, and at several points Parzival only makes progress because of “Deus ex machina” type events.  The writing was very descriptive, and Cline’s images were easy to visualize, but how much of that is the author, and how much of that is the fact that I have probably seen Wargames a dozen times, and can visualize the opening scene in my head.

I think part of the problem with this book, for me, was that it felt too real.  Not so much in the setting, but in Parzival and the other characters obsession with the 1980s.  I grew up in the era myself, and many of the arguments in this book I have had with my friends (if you ask I will tell why I think the Ewoks are the most hardcore race in the Star Wars universe).  I’ve been to the Tomb of Horrors, and I still go to a tabletop role play game two times month.  If, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt, the maybe my contempt for Parzival is based in my own concern that I am much too obsessed with pop culture of my youth and would got lost in a maze of nostalgia instead of confronting the real world..

But if you are not that familiar with the 1980s, or want to be reminded of the 1980s, then Ready Player One offers a decent look at what it was like to be a nerd or have geeky pursuits at the time.  I read this book as part of a book club that has a wide spectrum of people in it form different age groups, and I am curious to see what their reactions will be.  Stephen Spielberg, the only director really appropriate for this project, is filming a movie version of Ready Player One for 2018, and it will be interesting to see what intellectual properties he can secure the rights to use.

Genre: Pop Culture, Science Fiction

Monsters of Verity


This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab is a dark future dystopian urban fantasy described by the author as “Sin City PLUS Romeo and Juliet MINUS romance PLUS monsters.” Together they make up the Monsters of Verity duology.

Kate Harker is the daughter of the crime lord in control of the northern portion of Verity and August Flynn is the son of the man holding the south against him.  What begins as a standard teen trope of boy meets girl at school quickly escalates and morphs. Kate, who has always wanted and expected to follow in her father’s criminal and brutal footsteps, begins to find out things that shake her confidence in the world around her. August so desperately wants to be a real boy but is forced to embrace the monstrous. Because this is a world where murder and violence births monsters, quite literally. There are heart eaters and blood drinkers and rarest and most dangerous of all are the soul stealers.Kate’s father has harnessed these monsters to create a reign of terror. And now these two teenagers find themselves uniting to save their city.

This is an unrelentingly dark story. Sacrifices are made and blood is spilled (so much blood) and evil people do evil things. But ultimately it is a story of discovering and clinging to humanity. I was rooting for Kate and August not because they were shining beacons of goodness in a corrupt world but because they were flawed and broken and morally uncertain. They were trying so hard to be what was expected o them, to do the right thing. And sometimes they failed, and sometimes they won, and it’s the struggle that made them compelling.

I also enjoyed that there is no pretense of a romance in these books. These characters have bigger challenges than first love, and the hard fought bond that emerges is all the more satisfying for it.


Songs of Terror: Little Star – 2010 and White: Melody of Death – 2011

Little Star (Swedish Edition)

Little Star – John Ajvide Lindqvist – 2010


The author of Let The Right One In (2004), has brought forth a lyrical horror novel focused on the the interplay of music, bullying, internet fame, and damaged children.  Little Star, named for Sweden’s entry in the 1958 Euro-vision Song Contest, opens with the discovery of a baby in the wood’s by mid level Swedish Rock Musician/Producer Lennart.  Lennart takes the child back to his house, names her Thers, and raises her in secret only exposing her to music to make her a perfect vessel for singing.  It also focuses on Teresa Svenson, a young girl who is bullied by her classmates, writes poetry, and loves trolling people on online forums.  When Teresa and Thers meet online, they combine lyrics and music and have a fair amount of success on the Swedish equivalent to American Idol.  However, when a record producer abuses their trust Teresa and Thers who never really trusted the adult world, gather together a group of girls who have also been victimized by society.  Their obsession and plotting leads to a violent act at a music concert, that will change how you regard ABBA’s Thank You For the Music forever.


I enjoyed this book, although I initially assumed that it we be about a cursed song or have supernatural element.  It is instead a chilling portrait of how disaffection, bullying, and cruelty can lead to people rejecting societal norms and creating their own structures that make sense according to the way they view the world.  It is worth reading if you like slow burn horror, and also if you have an interest in the Swedish music industry.


White:  Melody of Death – Kim Gok and Kim Sun – 2011


For a movie where a supernatural song curses those who hear it, I recommend White:  Melody of Death.  When the K-Pop group Pink Dolls finds themselves having little success, they move to a new studio and attempt to create a new image.  Their producer finds a tape of a song hidden under the floorboards and decides it would be perfect for the band.  When the song brings success but also death and destruction, Pink Dolls member En-Jun attempts trace the origin of the song and stop the curse.

There may not be a lot new in this film (if you have seen enough Asian horror films with cursed objects you can probably guess the plot points) but the world of K-Pop idol groups is a unique setting, and the movie has one shocking death that is worth the price of admission.

Genre: ABBA, Horror, K-Pop Idols, Korean Horror, Psychological Horror, Swedish Horror

Youth in Revolt: Beowulf’s Children (The Dragons of Heorot) – 1995 and Wild in The Streets – 1968

The Dragons of Heorot

Beowulf’s Children (The Dragons of Heorot) –  Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes – 1995


I decided to read this novel because I found a mention of it in an unrelated book as one of the best novels about first contact and colonization of another planet.  However the reference actually was for the Legacy of Heorot (1987), this books prequel.  All the big mysteries of the Legacy of Helot are revealed in the first couple of chapters of Beowulf’s Children, so if you were planning to read the prequel , I would recommend doing that first.

This book focuses on a human colony settlement on the planet Avalon.  Years after a disastrous encounter with an alien species nearly destroyed the colony; the first generation of children has grown up feeling constrained by their parents’ rules.  Confined to an island settlement, the youth of the colony wish to venture to the mainland of Avalon and continue with efforts to colonize the planet.  They are left with little chance for adventure and reject their parents’ timidity.  The elder generation, still cautious after nearly being wiped out is loath to let the youth explore, as it might attract the aliens, known as Grendels, attention and bring destruction to the colony.  Additionally there is a split in the youth generation between natural born children, and those who were grown from embryos on the colony ship.

The youth finally win the chance to explore the mainland, but when the expedition is nearly killed by an unknown presence, the elder generation locks down the colony.  A struggle then begins for the future of human settlement on Avalon.

I enjoyed this book, as a story of explorers building a colony on a new world.  It also features a unique alien species in the Grendel’s (with an elaborate biology), and an engaging mystery over the fate of the mainland expedition.  It raises interesting questions over should a society be guided by cautiousness of age or the fearlessness of youth.  Both sides are shown as having sensible arguments for way their attitude is correct.

Wild in the Streets – Directed by Barry Shear – 1968


If you want to see youth politics run-amok and a vision of teenage delinquency designed to scare the squares of America, check out the satirical film Wild in the Streets.  When a cynical politician attempts to manipulate the youth vote by running rock star Max Frost as a candidate, he creates a true generational conflict as the voting age is lowered to the age of 14, and adults are forced to tune in and drop out on LSD.  Of course every revolution shows the seeds of its own destruction, and the 12 year-olds of America wonder why they can be part of the fun.  It’s also the move that originates the stone cold classic rock song Shape of Things to Come (famously covered by the Ramones), and then selling in its old age as a marketing jingle for Target stores.

Genre: 1960s Films, Alien Contact, Satire, Science Fiction

A conversation with Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig, and Fran Wilde.

Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig, and Fran Wilde stopped by the Free Library of Philadelphia on July 14, 2017. You can watch the entire program here or listen to it here.

In conversation with Dena Heilik, Department Head of Philbrick Hall, the fiction department of the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 

Kevin Hearne is the author of the New York Times bestselling Iron Druid Chronicles, the ancient-Celtic-meets-contemporary-mayhem action-adventure series featuring 2,000-year-old Atticus O’Sullivan. In his latest adventure, the immortal Irishman dodges traps in ancient Egypt and soul-stealing demons at a Kansas carnival.

Chuck Wendig’s many works include the YA Heartland series, Blackbirds, and the Atlanta Burns books; the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus; a popular blog,; and several celebrated books about writing. Wendig’s New York Times bestselling Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy tells the canon story of the events that occurred between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

Fran Wilde’s Nebula Award-nominated debut novel, Updraft, won the 2016 Andre Norton Award and the Compton Crook Award. It’s follow-up in the Bone Universe saga is Cloudbound. The series explores a lofty society of towers populated by residents who strap on wings and soar the skies in search of their destinies.

Unexpected Alpha (2015) by Bethany Wicker

Girl with purple eyes.

Bethany Wicker writes about werewolves, specifically the Sapphire Pack, who recently gained a female alpha- unheard of in werewolf society. Of course this leads to males wanting to mate with her and steal her alpha title. Selena is stronger than any of them realize though.

This is a fun read- I could not put it down. It has everything I would want in YA paranormal. The character development was good and it was enjoyable learning more about the characters throughout the book and their relationships with each other. There is lots of action to keep the reader reading- I finished the book in one evening.

The werewolf pack does deal with harsh realities, such as hunters and rogue werewolves, but there are enough light hearted moments to balance out this harshness.

As a YA book, it doesn’t go into great detail on some aspects and I would have enjoyed more details of the werewolf society, but it was definitely worth reading and I look forward to reading the second book, Aluna, due out in March 2016.

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal
Series: Aluna Series |

Of Bone and Thunder (2014) by Chris Evans

Of Bone and Thunder

The forces of the Kingdom are engaged in war with the nation of Luitox. Their forces are far from home, hemmed in by a dense jungle, and facing unimaginable danger. Meanwhile, their home land is in chaos and the average soldier is just trying to make it home alive. Crossbowmen, dragon pilots, and mages will need to band together to survive a battle, where the greatest enemy may be their own leaders.

On April 30th, 2015 it will be the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, and the end of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War had a deep impact on American popular culture, and science fiction and horror are not exempt from this. Whether it is used as a metaphor for chaos and fear, a part of a characters back story, or as a setting, the War cast a long shadow. Chris Evans, in his book Of Bone and Thunder, has presented a novel that serves as both commentary and reminder of the experiences of the battlefield soldier. The novel presents a number of characters fighting a war in a far off jungle kingdom. Many of the characters are commonly seen in pop culture representations of the Vietnam War. There is the drug addicted crossbowman trying to survive, the Lieutenant fresh out of training who is more dangerous to his men then the enemy, and the grizzled, experienced Sergeant ready to protect his men.

The characters are not the only reflection of the actual war. Dragons in the book are used in the role helicopters occupied in the Vietnam War. There is talk of political unrest at home in the Kingdom. (a combination of the Kenned Assassination/Watergate) There are Dwarves, recently integrated into the army and subject to prejudiced. There is even a reporter who has come to the war zone to experience it for herself. By mirroring real events, people, and battles from the Vietnam War, Evans creates a timeless story of people in combat.

I enjoyed this book, although having worked with a Vietnam War collection in my library I found that I was constantly trying to figure out what each event was referencing, and that took me out of the story. You do not need any familiarity with the events of the war to understand the book however. If you are interested in a unique take on military fantasy then check this book out.

Other Vietnam War Related Works

R Point (2004) directed by Kong Su-chang: A Korean horror film, this movie focuses on a platoon of South Korean soldiers attempting to secure a haunted outpost during the Vietnam War.

Koko (1988) by Peter Straub: A group of Vietnam War veterans reunite to track down one of them who may or may not be a serial killer in Southeast Asia.

The Reckoning (2004) by Jeff Long: An American journalist is sent to Cambodia to cover the search for an American pilot missing since the Vietnam War and uncovers an ancient mystery.

Genre: Fantasy
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