Book Review: The Bone Garden

The middle-grade reading spree continues with The Bone Garden. I got a free ARC of this creepy but cute little book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t think necromancy could be the cute, but alas, it was. In spite of its cuteness, I wasn’t as engaged with The Bone Garden as I hoped to be, but I still enjoyed it.

The main character, Irréelle, was adorable even though she was essentially made of dead people’s bones. For a creature most would label as a “monster” she was kind and often put others before herself. Early in the book, I got very annoyed at how she loved her creator even though the woman was cruel and abusive, but towards the end, I was very happy when Irréelle learned to stand up for herself. 

However, the side characters were flat and didn’t have much of an arc. They were good friends for Irréelle, but they didn’t change or grow like she did. Even though I loved seeing Irréelle’s friendship with them bloom, I got a little bored watching them stay the same while she developed. 

The antagonist, Miss Vesper, was too cliche for me. 

The story and plot were a little more complex than I expected, and there were a couple times where I was actually surprised. There were some scary moments, but for the most part, the book was just morbid in a cute way. There was necromancy and bones were the morbid part, but the character and her friendships were the cute. 

The prose were accessible but not bland. 

The Bone Garden would be a great story for a kid who likes things like bones, worms, and dirt, but doesn’t want to be too scared by what he/she/they are reading.

Book Review: City of Ghosts

For the next couple of weeks, while I try to finish my own middle grade novel, I’m going to be on a paranormal middle grade reading spree. City of Ghosts is the second title I’ve read since I started and it was so much better than the first book I read off my middle grade list.

City of Ghosts had everything I look for in a book while still being accessible for younger readers. I think had I picked this up when I was twelve, I would’ve happily read the whole thing.

As far as characters go, Cass and Jacob won me over right away. I loved their friendship, how Cass was charging into danger while Jacob was warning her away. I loved his comic book obsession. I loved the tension created by introducing Lara to the  mix. The only issue I had with the characters was that I kept thinking they were a few years older than they actually were. I kept thinking Cass was fourteen or fifteen, not twelve.

A few times, the narrator broke the third wall and started talking like she was reflecting back on events. I’m thinking maybe part of why I kept thinking the character was older was because the narrative voice was supposed to be older than the character. I’m not a huge fan of narrators breaking the third wall to say “If I’d known…” but there was so much else to love about the book that I can deal with it.

On the surface, on the sentence level, this book was a work of art. Schawb wrote sentences that were beautiful while still keeping them accessible for a younger reader. She didn’t dumb the language down like some middle grade authors, but didn’t make it overly complicated or wordy like some adult authors do.

I was able to picture every little detail of the city without getting bored or bogged down. The description of the setting and its history made me want to go and visit Edinburgh.

The involvement of Cass’ parent’s was a nice touch. They were entertaining and they actually cared about her. At times, they helped the reader better understand Cass. At other times, they created more tension.

I’m really looking forward to the sequel, and might buy my ten-year-old cousin a copy of City of Ghosts for her birthday.

Book Review: Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll


I requested Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll on NetGalley because I’m currently writing a middle grade horror story, and I haven’t read much middle grade this years. Last year, when I listened to the audio book of Doll Bones, I remembered why I read books in that age category even though I was an adult.

I had been hoping Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would be as magical, spooky, and enthralling as Doll Bones was. Unfortunately, it didn’t come close.

The concept, a haunted doll that cursed people who were rude or didn’t ask permission to take its picture, was great. There was plenty of suspense and tension. After taking a picture without permission and insulting the doll, bad and scary things kept happening to Al, and they gradually got worse as the book went on.

The problem was that Al was very flat as a character. Maybe some kids reading this book would be okay with that. Others would get bored. When I was in elementary school, I was a very reluctant reader. Eventually, it was finding books with fascinating characters that made me fall in love with reading. As a kid, a book like Doll Bones might have held my attention because of the well developed characters. Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would have bored me.

I did like the lesson it taught about consent. I know that word often has sexual connotations, but consent is important with other things too. It’s important in all aspects life whether it is taking pictures, kissing, borrowing things, or playing. In today’s society and political climate, it is especially important for boys to learn about consent.

A book where a boy takes a picture without consent, is punished for it, realizes he was wrong, and apologizes, is valuable even if the character was dull and didn’t grow in any other way.

I didn’t like Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll enough to order it for my cousins’ kids, but I appreciate the suspense and the lesson it taught.

Flash Fiction: Lucky Lady Robes

Note: Generally, I save fiction over 500 words  for paying markets, but every once and a while, I write an odd story like this that just doesn’t fit in most markets. 

Lucky Lady Robes

By Sara Codair

In-home sales and independent consultant programs had been around forever, but none took off like Lucky Lady Robes. They hadn’t even been in business a year, and in some parts of the southwest, traditional stores struggled to keep customers. Up here in the northeast, that spark was just hitting the kindling.

“Now is the time to sign up, if I am going,” I told my friend, Lucy. Swaddled in brown scarves and blonde hair, she looked like a calico cat trying to be a human.

“I’ve only heard good things about them.” Lucy lifted a steaming mug to her mouth, breathing the steam until if fogged up her glasses.

“People don’t want to get sued,” I muttered into my Darjeeling tea. Still too hot to drink, I placed it on the table and re-read my contract for the tenth time. Something about the 80% wholesale discount and optimistic market analysis for my area seemed to good to be true, but all that the convoluted, red-inked document really told me was that I couldn’t get a refund, ever, and that if I defaced the company’s sacred brand image, they would burn me in court.

“You can’t keep bad news off the internet.” Lucy’s hands shook as she tilted her latte to her mouth and sipped. “Trust me, if there was something sketchy, someone would’ve said something about.”

“I’ll do more research.”

“If you do become a consultant, I’ll be your first customer.” Lucy grinned, put her mug down, and looked me in the eyes. “This is a golden opportunity. You’d be foolish to waste it.”

###

IMG_3031My first shipment of Lucky Lady Robes came in super quick. I was giddy, fluttering like magic as I tore open the box and inhaled fresh plastic. I rescued a pair of leggings from their transparent prison and ran my hands over the softest fabric I’d ever felt. My fingers quivered with joy as I traced corn silk swirls through the grass green background. I didn’t realize until I reached the end that I had smeared blood all over that pair.

Cursing my clumsiness, I ran to the sink and rinsed my sliced palm. I guessed I cut myself during my exuberant box opening. I bandaged my hand and liberated the remaining leggings. The colors varied, but they all had strange geometric shapes. Some had cat eyes. One pair had suns so realistic I thought they’d burn me if I touched them. I carefully hung each pair on my display, photographed them, and transferred them to a bright pink rack.

I uploaded my pictures to Facebook and had my first sale that night. Half my inventory was gone in three hours, but true to her word, Lucy bought the first pair.

The next morning, she wore the black and red, geometric beauties to our weekly coffee date.

Lucy gazed at the ceiling, walls, and floor, but she never made eye contact. “They’re as heavenly as pajamas, but it’s socially acceptable to wear them to work. Have you tried them yet?”

“No,” I admitted. “I had to pay for my inventory up front and didn’t have much to invest.”

She laughed at me. Her cheeks creased when her mouth opened, but her eyes stayed absent. “Trust me, you need a pair or ten for yourself. I can’t wait for your next sale.”

###

IMG_3032Lucy bought three pairs at my second sale, and five at my third. Soon, all of our friends were buying, sharing, and tweeting about how comfortable their new leggings were.

I aw dollar signs left and right.

The dresses came next. The sweaters and shirts rode their tails to my inventory. The colors and styles varied, but they all had equally mesmerizing patterns, which, paired with luxurious fabric, enchanted customers.

I thought my inner circle would stop buying after a while, but they didn’t stop. These clothes were like crack and my friends were viral junkies, spreading their addiction to everyone around them.

After a year, I paid off my student loans, bought a house, and upgraded my car. Lucy was on the verge of losing her house, another friend was working 80 hours a week to pay down her credit card debt while a third was getting calls from collection agencies several times a day.

I told them to stop buying. I had a big enough fan-base now that even if a fraction of my customers bought from me at every sale, I’d be making more than I ever did selling cell phones. They didn’t stop – not even when I blocked them from my group and ignored their phone calls.

It was this strange, desperate behavior that led me to start researching the patterns. After venturing into dark corners of internet I hadn’t known existed, I learned that the symbols were from ancient cultures all around the world: sigils old gods used to keep follows worshipping.

I’ve never been superstitious and didn’t believe that symbols could influence anyone, but I was offended. What Lucky Lady Robes claimed as original artwork was appropriated from old religions that been all but wiped out by historic colonizers and conquerors. I blogged about this, hoping it would make people see through the company’s schemes.

Literally three minutes later, I had an email from corporate headquarters informing me that I violated the contract. Six days passed. I was assigned a court date. I hired a lawyer, thinking the worst that could happen was I’d lose my profits and go back to selling phones.

I lost the case, but I never got to hear how much the fine was. Buttery soft leggings had twined all around my limbs and up to my head. Sound couldn’t get through the thick fabric. No one heard me scream when they caught on fire.

 

 

Book Review: Cthulhu Blues

I finally got around to reading Cthulhu Blues, the third installment in the Spectra Files trilogy.

It was refreshing to read a book set New England. Many of the books I’ve read lately have either been set on the West Coast or in the rural midwest. While I do enjoy reading about places I’ve never been, especially in the Pacific Northwest, I also like to see my corner of the US represented in novels.

Another thing I like about Cthulhu Blues is the mental health representation. Becca’s depression always seems well described, and I appreciate how the narrative doesn’t shy away from talking about how Becca’s meds and therapy help her. This is something I rarely see in speculative fiction.

Becca’s love for photography, cargo pants, and her dog is another thing that allows me to connect with her. Django is a faithful, intelligent four-legged sidekick, is the only character in the book that I like more than her. While there were a few times I worried about him, he always makes it through okay.

The other characters are well developed, but Becca and Django are why I read the series.

This series is labeled as horror, but it feels like dark urban fantasy to me. Yes, there are cosmic, tentacles monsters, but they’re not any scarier than beasts one encounters when reading The Dresden Files or The Mortal Instruments.

One thing that annoys me a little is how the narration will start out wide and distant. A chapter will have an omniscient tone in the beginning, then it will zoom into close third one Becca or another character. While it does give the book an interesting tone, it slows things down and keeps me away from my favorite character. Sometimes I’m tempted to do things like this in my own writing. However, when I find myself getting annoyed at it in a book like this, I understand why I shouldn’t start chapters that way.

The end seemed abrupt and left me a little confused. The book really needed one more chapter, or at least an epilogue, to really wrap things up and make it feel complete. I understand not wanting to drag it out, but when ending a series, it is important to really bring everything to a close.

Click here to buy a copy of Cthulhu Blues.