March 28, 2022

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #30 Katherine Webber, Ilsa J. Bick, Mira Grant


Intro


Hello beauties!

Welcome again to my own brand of mini reviews! I never thought I'd do minis, until I recapped a few of my long reviews in some digest post in 2014, and then guest-posted some shorties for a blogging event in 2015. And Karen from For What It's Worth started praising my short recs/recaps 😊. Just to be clear,  I'm NOT taking a break from writing long reviews - no such luck LOL (though for anthologies, shorter books or books that I didn't enjoy/I don't have enough to say about, I decided to stick to minis). But while I'm making up my mind about a new book I've read, I might as well give you the short version 😉. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random!

Note: all the mini blurbs (in italics) are of my own creation.

The Revelry by Katherine Webber

★★★

The friendship between two 16 y.o. girls is put to the test after they sneak into a mysterious party in the woods called The Revelry, and something sinister starts creeping into the life of one of them, causing it to unravel while her friend seems to thrive.

***

First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Walker Books for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

Magical realism meets teen issues in a compulsively readable story with a twist I didn't see coming. The complicated friendship between Bitsy and Amy rang true enough to me, though I wish there was more depth and history to it, and though I'm still not convinced that both sides of the argument bore the same weight - while I do think that Amy was too often self-absorbed and oblivious to Bitsy's plights long before the Revelry came along. (Speaking of which, could the latter's parents be more clueless about...everything?). Also, some of the fights the girls had felt a bit petty - but I was pretty much friendless in my school years, so maybe they will resonate more with people with a different history (or with actual teens). 
I appreciated the story's centering on friendship/coming of age instead of romance, and I found the magical realism and contemporary aspects to be well-balanced, but I would have liked the book more if it had been a tad darker and the magic system had been clearer - are the woods evil? and in that case, why would they do a good person's bidding? or are they neutral, but somehow influenced by what the folks of Ember Grove project on them? All in all though, The Revelry was a captivating read, and I'm sure fans of lighter (and bloodless) horror* in a contemporary setting will love it.
*(Please note: there are still potential triggers like spiders, fire and drowning).

Note: definitive review (I don't have enough to say to justify writing a full-length one later).

Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick
(Ashes | Shadows | Monsters)

 
★★

After an EMP that either changes young people into living zombies or enhances their senses, a teen girl with terminal brain cancer, a little girl with an attitude and a troubled young soldier band together and try to survive, only to stumble upon horrors that go beyond the flesh-eating monsters.

***

(Individual ratings: Ashes -> ★★★★ | Shadows -> ★★ | Monsters -> ★★)

Ilsa J. Bick wrote one of my all-time favourite series (the Dark Passages duology), so no one was more shocked than me when I throw the towel on Book 2 at the three-quarters mark - though I did look for spoilers about Book 3 and I read its last pages, which is only understandable, after following the story for so long.
The fact is, Ashes has got all the Bick trademarks that made me fall in love with Dark Passages or that I didn't mind for it to have - damaged but spunky female leads (heck, both series' heroines even have a "bad" head), unusual little girls, a large amount of POVs, an even larger amount of gore, unflinching horror, cliffhanger chapter endings before a narrator switch, and strong writing to boot - except in this case the recipe ultimately didn't work for me. It may be that the series employs a few tropes that I dislike (like the kind of cult-like organisation where women - surprise! - are reduced to incubators, strong girls becoming week in the knees around guys they're not supposed to like, and weird "love" geometries, though not in the classic sense). It may be that there are TOO MANY CHARACTERS, and most of the male or adult POVs/stories bored me after a while, while I cared for everyone in the DP duology. It may be that the plot is convoluted in places, or makes some wild jumps. Whatever, reading became a chore, and I decided to call it a day. I did like Book 1 (despite the aforementioned tropes), but at least that one was only from the heroine's perspective.
I'm so bummed. But maybe this one will work better for you if horror is your primary jam. I still have faith in Bick anyway - Dark Passages is SPECTACULAR, so she probably learned a trick of two after writing Ashes.
(BTW, I probably shouldn't have rated Monsters, since I only read the ending - but Goodreads reviews confirm it follows the same pattern as Shadows, so I'm sure I couldn't have liked it better).

Note: definitive review (I don't have enough to say to justify writing a full-length one later, and of course I don't plan to reread this series).

Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

★★★

Two twin sisters with a family secret, brought by their xenobiologist parents to a planet full of deadly fauna and flora, find themselves on the run after a tragic incident (along with the love interest of one of them) and have to fight an even deadlier alien monster from outer space.

***

Sort-of-disclaimer: I've never seen a single Alien movie - I can only tolerate my horror on paper, especially if there are, basically, giant bugs involved 😅 - so I don't know how much of this story is canon (though of course the author got guidelines to do licensed work), but my friend Carrie helped me get my bearings 🙂.

I love McGuire/Grant, and I love YA, and I love sci-fi/horror - but I guess even your favourite ingredients may not necessarily belong together or produce a masterpiece.
I was surprised by how juvenile this book sounded, despite the amount of horror/carnage and fight-for-your-life scenes (mind you - THOSE were very well done. No surprise here, given the author's track record). Olivia (the main character) is as resourceful and brave as they come, and she could have made for an interesting perspective (also as a budding xenobiologist), had she not spent half the time kissing her maybe-girlfriend or fantasising about it, even with deadlier-than-deadly monsters on her tail and ahead and some HUGE stuff to process (no spoilers). Kora (Olivia's love interest) vacillates between being tough and interesting on her own and making poor choices that should alienate Olivia, and yet..."Oh, but she's beautiful" 🙄 (to be fair, she apologises later - BUT). Viola (Olivia's twin) is basically reduced to a pawn in the grand scheme of things (though she makes for some dark comedy if that's your jam). The family secret doesn't make sense, and I can't comprehend how it even managed to remain a secret for so long - not to mention WHY. The side characters are either inconsequential or infuriating. The ending is...eh...a bit too vague, even for me. Lastly, I couldn't wrap my head around the lazy editing (I've never seen so many word reiterations, even in the same paragraph, in a single book).
BUT! If you like alien worlds with lots of potentially intriguing wildlife (if not dwelt upon enough), pulse-pounding action (if frequently punctuated by kisses), top-notch horror and resourceful badass girls, this one will entertain you, at the very least.

Note: definitive review (I don't have enough to say to justify writing a full-length one later).

So, have you read/are you planning to read any of the above? And if you have, what do you think of them? Do you post mini reviews? Do you like to read them?

27 comments:

  1. Revelry sounds like something I'd like... anytime you ask is a woods evil lol my ear perk up! Forests and evil seem to go well together hahahahaha. Ad clueless parents... SO common, Just once I want parents who are with it, ya know? But I digress...

    Your trademarks for that Ashe trilogy are tropes that I like too, so that's disappointing that this series didn't work.

    Aliens is really the only movie in this franchise I REALLY like, but this is interesting- of all the authors to do this franchise! I'm actually surprised to hear about the editing and whatnot a little bit. I wonder if maybe she's a little TOO prolific at the moment?

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    1. "anytime you ask is a woods evil lol my ear perk up! Forests and evil seem to go well together hahahahaha."
      😂 They do! I think you might like this one.

      Echo is the only YA book in the Alien franchise, I heard. SMcG is a fangirl at heart, so she loves it when someone asks her to take part in stuff like this...but yeah, I agree - she writes a lot, so something's got to give.

      Delete
    2. Maybe YA doesn't work with Alien lol... then again, why not? But yeah maybe she felt the need to use certain tropes that weren't entirely necessary? I feel like love interests are not something strictly needed in a story set in that universe, but then again they don't all need to be the same, right? I'm rambling. :)

      Delete
    3. Yep, why not? This one might have been a great addition to the franchise if it had been a little less "typical YA" in some respects (and the very fact that it is strikes me as odd, coming from Grant).

      Delete
  2. I was curious about Webber's book because I enjoyed her contemporaries. Horror isn't my thing, but you made it sound like it could maybe be a crossover sort of book. I am sad your ratings are just ok. I like seeing more stars for you.

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    1. Yep, it isn't heavy on the horror - no gore.

      Eh, it happens! It's worse when it does with authors one usually enjoys, but 🤷‍♀️.

      Delete
  3. I remember reading Ashes and liking it somewhat but I also never continued for plenty of reasons (honestly my Goodreads review for that never helped?!). I think I remember the synopsis sounding really awesome but the main character grated on my nerves a lot plus there was a lot of stalling (as much as it was fast paced and horrific). It might have just been all the POVs though since I generally struggle with that. 😔

    I'm sorry to hear the series turned out to be a let down (but I suppose I'm also glad I dodged a bullet with not continuing the series?).

    Anyways GOOD AFTERNOON ROBERTAAAAAAAA

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    1. I read your GR review a while ago - you rated it 4 stars but were unsure if you would continue...There is, indeed, some stalling, despite the pace being fast overall. As for the POVs, the first book only has one, but after that...it's characters galore 😂. If I - as a Bick fan - didn't finish the series, I'm sure you dodged a bullet LOL.

      I missed your screaming at me 😂.

      Delete
  4. Ahh, no! The Revelry sounds like my kind of thing, but with your lukewarm review, I think I'm going to put it off for now. I do have a copy of Ashes that I want to get to at some point, but I'm forbidden to start any more series until I make progress on some of the ones I have started. 😅

    *** SPOILERS for Alien: Echo and all the Alien films ***

    Okay, since our buddy read I've (re)watched the four Alien movies in the main series. (There are a couple in-universe offshoots like Prometheus that I'm skipping for now, and I'm leaving off the two AVP movies until I get through the four Predator ones first.) (Also... the series stops after two, as far as I'm concerned. I agree with Greg; Aliens is the best, no contest.) BUT there are a couple things I thought you would be interested to know.

    1) Alien evolution plays a major role in some of the films, especially the last one! A recurring theme throughout the series is that "The Company" is trying to get their hands on the Xenomorphs to train them as weapons (haha, good luck with that). The films span a lot more time, and as the series progresses, they keep trying to evolve it into something more deadly and easily controlled, even mixing their DNA with a human clone's in the last film. Grant definitely sped it up a bit in her book, but I thought it was cool that it had precedence in the canon.

    2) This also explains the ending a bit because the powers in charge are trying to keep the Xenomorphs a secret biological weapon all through the series. Wherever the main character, Ripley, ends up in each film, people often have never heard of them or don't believe her. Assuming the girls get rescued at all at the end of the book, they probably won't allowed to go public with it.

    3) Robots-as-humans are apparently very hard to detect, since there's a secret robot character in 3/4 films. Grant was totally playing into tropes of the canon with that. 😂 There's also a major amount of prejudice against them, so that might have played a role in people reacting so strongly in the book. Apparently, there's already an in-universe bias.

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    1. I hope you (Carrie and Roberta) don't mind me jumping in here. I've only seen the first three Alien movies and none of the offshoots, but I've always really liked the sinister Company behind the scenes trying to get Xenos as bio weapons. One thing the films do really well, I think, is evoke that sense of dread, and the almost claustrophobic feel of this world.

      Also... I'll bet Grant had fun with the robot/ human element. :)

      Delete
    2. @Greg: I love it when you jump in! Alas, I can't comment on the movies, but maybe Carrie will see your comment and do that.

      "Also... I'll bet Grant had fun with the robot/ human element. :)"
      I'm sure she did...😉

      Delete
    3. @Carrie: The Revelry was fine, but maybe more geared to the real YA crowd, which is perfectly valid of course. Not horrific enough for us, haha.

      All those Alien trivia were very interesting! She worked well with the tropes/elements at her disposal. If only she had used less of the other tropes...

      Delete
    4. I agree! Especially in the first couple movies, the Company is like this looming background threat. Keeping it all hushed up like that has very real consequences for Ripley (and whoever else *throws expendable characters like confetti*). The setting is almost irrelevant, since no matter where she ends up, there are always these two practically insurmountable threats. She can defeat the Xenos one-on-one, often at great personal cost, but as long as the Company still wants them, it's a battle not the war. There's really no chance for it to be actively in play in the book, but I feel like knowing about it in-universe explains the ending a bit more-- and makes it that much more ominous.

      "Not horrific enough for us, haha."
      Story of my life. 😂🤣

      "She worked well with the tropes/elements at her disposal. If only she had used less of the other tropes..."
      Truth. Ironically, I like my romances the way I like my aliens: as the premise of a novel, not as a surprise plot device.

      Delete
    5. Thank you for being the one who watches movies and explains their impact on novels to me (see also The Shadow Glass) so that I don't have to! 🤣

      "Ironically, I like my romances the way I like my aliens: as the premise of a novel, not as a surprise plot device."
      😂

      Delete
  5. I'm sorry these books didn't really blow you away! The Revelry does kind of interest me. It's been a while since I've read magical realism and this does give me the same vibes of some of my favourite magical realism books, like The Raven Cycle series.

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    1. Maybe it will work better for you if you decide to try it...I'm a bit jaded when it comes to certain plot points LOL.

      Delete
  6. I've (been forced to) seen the Alien movies so many times but I still don't understand *the world* lol

    None of these are really my thing and it's too bad they weren't stand outs considering how much you love the authors. I guess they can't all be winners lol

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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    1. Forced??? Oh my. Didn't you lose your appetite? 😉

      I think Bick refined her craft after Ashes, but I was surprised by Grant's playing into certain YA tropes. Anyhow...well, considering how prolific she is, she's allowed to be a little subpar LOL (at least in my opinion).

      Delete
    2. I actually love Aliens (the second one) but I could never watch them (or any movie) as much as he watches those and the Resident Evil ones lol

      Delete
  7. Alien: Echo sounds like a book that I would probably like. Love love Alien movies, big bugs, stuff like that.

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    1. Aaagh, I only saw your comment now! I don't know why my blog hates you LOL.

      I can't stomach bugs LOL. You're a though badass woman! 😂

      Delete
  8. I understand the frustration about the lack there of world-building (or inconsistent world-building in the case of The Revelry ) in stories. I also get frustrated whenever that happens.

    I enjoyed reading your reviews 😃,
    -Quinley

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    1. I can believe anything, as long as you make an effort to make it "real" and grounded somehow. The book wasn't half bad, but it lacked a bit of nuance. I bet you spend a lot of time building your own fictional worlds! 🙂

      Thanks!

      Delete
  9. I have not tried those :)
    ALso mini reviews rock

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    1. LOL, they can be a lifeline for us busy bloggers...

      Delete
  10. I was on the fence about The Revelry, but I am so hit or miss with magical realism that I probably should just skip it. I have read the first two books in the Ashes series, and I actually liked them- though Shadows, to me, was VERY dark- maybe too much? I just checked Goodreads, and I gave Ashes a 4 and Shadows a 3- so it is very in line with your experience, I just liked them a tiny bit more maybe? Anyway, I have not gotten to Monsters yet, despite having owned it for close to a decade heh. It's just so... big and daunting? Maybe I'll take your approach and just read the ending bwhaha. I have never seen the Alien stuff, so I will likely just skip that one- especially since it reads so young. Thanks for the great reviews!

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    1. I don't know if I'd recommend reading Monsters after a decade...it's hard enough to get all your characters straight while reading the books one after another! 😂 And yep, I do like me some dark stuff, but Shadows depressed me.

      Thank you!

      Delete

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