Adult Fiction · Book Review · Horror

Fellside

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I’m sure most of us here remember or have heard of The Girl With All of the Gifts. It is sci-fi/post-apocalyptic novel with action, surprises, heart-warming moments, and it gives a lot of food for thought with its themes. The author’s next novel, Fellside, is more of a mystery/thriller with a touch of fantasy.

Fellside is a maximum security women’s prison in the Yorkshire Moors. Jess Moulson finds herself heading toward the prison after an intentionally-set inferno consumed her apartment, killing a child in the flat above her. Jess has no memory of the fire, and she would have never killed Alex, the child from upstairs that she had befriended. With no memory and no grounds to defend herself, Jess goes to Fellside where she encounters a drug ring, tough and troubled convicts looking for a fight, rampant corruption, and a familiar ghost.

I was completely on board with the tone and pace of this novel, at least during the first half. It is creepy, you are unsure of what is going on, and we start becoming close to the main character who has an unreliable memory. However, I have heard that many readers found the pace of Fellside slow, and I can at least see why. The book begins after the tragic fire, so we know how the biggest plot point turns out, but we spend the rest of the novel rather slowly finding out how it all happened. The novel also focuses on some other subplots related to the prison staff and inmates, but they lack the same emotional pull as the mystery of how/who started the fire and killed Alex. The prison subplots have been done before– corruption, drug rings, prison riots and fights– so I wish there was more focus on Jess’s personal mystery because that felt more unique and interesting.

Although Jess is our main character, there are several chapters that center on other characters within the prison. These chapters usually move the prison-related plots forward, so I found myself wanting more of Jess’s chapters instead. In fact, you could probably completely remove several of the side character chapters without impacting the overall plot much, but it would speed up the book and make it more focused on Jess and the fire. I know it probably sounds like I hated the subplots (I didn’t), but they made the book less unique, they slowed it down, and they took focus away from Jess and her troubles, which was what hooked me to begin with. Add to that, when we do figure out everything about Jess, the ghost, and the fire, I ended up pretty disappointed. Also, I mentioned that there is some fantastical element to the novel. This element is not clearly explained in the way it works, its limitations, and who can use it and why. Some readers won’t care that it isn’t clearly defined, but I know other readers who are more strict about magic systems. I am usually OK with a lot being open to interpretation, but even I wanted a clearer explanation of what was going on. Because things were a little muddled in how they were described, the scenes taking place on other planes of existence felt cheesy and unrealistic, which clashed with how dark and serious the “real world” issues had become by the ending.

I had high hopes for this one, but it was a slight disappointment. M. R. Carey can certainly write, and he has some very unique plot ideas. I am still interested to read more from this author, but this novel wasn’t quite as strong. I gave it a three out of five stars.

 

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Fantasy/Magical Realism

The Gloaming

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In the fall I like to read Gothic tales and historical fiction– things that are a little gloomy and brooding. The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan fits this mood as well. If you recall my review of The Gracekeepers by the same author, The Gloaming is supposed to be a “spiritual prequel,” though it has little to do with her other novel, and you do not need to have read The Gracekeepers to understand or enjoy The Gloaming.

The Ross family lives in a very large, pink house on an island where people turn to stone instead of dying. In the Ross family we have Peter and Signe and their children, Islay, Mara, and Bee. As with any family, people change, grow, and go away in one way or another. Islay and Mara are both becoming young women, and they must decide whether to stay on their island or find a home elsewhere. The novel includes themes of grief, romantic and familial love, fairy tales, and growing up to name a few. We follow Mara, Islay, and their family throughout a few years of hardship and acceptance.

The Gloaming is a melancholy little novel. Kirsty Logan’s writing is always beautifully descriptive and lyrical but not over written. Her descriptions have an economy to them, and she easily sets the tone of a scene in a few well-chosen sentences. The writing is easily one of the strongest parts of The Gloaming, but that is up to personal taste to some extent. I also enjoyed the characters. I especially liked how Peter and Signe’s relationship was portrayed almost mythically in the beginning of the novel, but as time goes on, the reader learns more about the reality of their relationship’s beginning and a more realistic story unfolds. Mara and Islay both grow up and change in ways that may be surprising but are realistic given their circumstances.

I enjoyed the experience of reading The Gloaming, but the atmosphere and interest in the characters wasn’t quite enough for me. I wish there had been more of a plot. An event tests the family’s bond, which is the catalyst for the novel, but from there it withers out. There’s a love story, some family drama, and of course some death, but there is a lack of direction or urgency. There’s a slight threat in that people turn to stone instead of die on the island, and there’s something about a bridge connecting the island to the mainland, but not much really happens with that until the abrupt ending.

It’s a very character driven novel, and that’s fine for some people, but even I wanted a little more plot to guide the narrative. There are also many flashbacks that slow the pace even more, though they do add a lot to the character development. However, I do wish that some parts of the characters’ lives were shown in more depth. For example, I wanted to see where Islay and Mara went when they parted ways. The ending was also a bit disappointing. It is open ended, but a major event suddenly solves some of the potential plot lines (like the bridge), which felt a little unsatisfying.

This is a novel for people who enjoy fairy tale influences but don’t need a solid plot. If you enjoy character driven novels that are a little dreamy, a little gloomy, this might be perfect for you. For me, it was about a 3.5 out of 5 star read. Enjoyably moody and thoughtful but lacking a little in the plot area.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Mystery/Thriller

Real World

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As we get closer to fall, I get more in the mood to read mysteries and thrillers. I’m also craving some Gothic fiction, so this fall’s reviews might turn out to be very fitting for the season.

If you remember my review of Out, Real World is by the same author. In Real World, we follow four Japanese high school girls. The girls are all friends, but you can tell that there are some issues with their relationships with one another. As she is getting ready in the morning, one of the girls hears glass breaking and a scream from the house next door. After frantically calling her friends, she sees the neighbor’s son exit the house looking quite pleased with himself. The girls are soon tangled up in a murder investigation, and their differing personalities make them handle the situation in very different ways.

I liked this novel, but I would say that Out is a little stronger in both plot and characterization. In Real World, each chapter is written in first person perspective, but the narrator differs between chapters. The strongest part of the novel, in my opinion, was the characters and how in depth their narratives were. This is a very short novel (~200 pages), but each character is given a bit of backstory, and their pasts impact the current plot line. The reasons behind the decisions that the characters make and why they react to certain events in a specific way are all connected. It was interesting to see how the author pulled back each layer of the characters’ personalities and pasts to highlight their unique thought processes.

Despite all of that, I still considered some of the choices the characters made to be a bit dumb. All of the main characters are teenagers, so some questionable choices are going to be made, but I had a hard time understanding why anyone would make some of these very dangerous choices. Sometimes it felt as if the character made a choice simply to move the plot forward, which made some events near the end feel unrealistic. I also had some issues with the dialogue feeling a little stilted, which could be a translation issue. The author writes in Japanese of course, and the translator for Kirino’s other novel, Out, was different from the translator or Real World, so there could be some difference in translation quality.

I gave Real World three out of five stars. It was an entertaining and fast-paced read, but I felt some character choices and plot points were a little unrealistic. I will certainly read more from this author if I can find more translated works from her.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Historical

Homegoing

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This book has been sitting on my shelf for at least two years. Everyone praised the book when it came out, but I never felt the urge to pick it up because I knew it would not be an easy read. And it wasn’t, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Homegoing discusses the slave trade, family, racism and discrimination, the criminal justice system, motherhood, and so much more. Somehow the novel is able to highlight these issues using a human touch and an engaging and heartbreaking narrative. Though the characters are fictional, their stories hold many truths.

Homegoing tells the story of two half-sisters separated by chance, Effia and Esi. The novel covers 300 hundred years and alternates chapters between each sister’s line, following one child from each side of the family tree. We begin in Africa where the sisters were born. One sister marries a British slaver, while the other is enslaved and taken to America. We follow Effia and Esi’s descendants throughout history as the African tribes fight against each other and the white men and as America fights for civil rights.

For a book that attempts to comment on so many of these issues, it succeeds in doing so without being preachy. As I said, each chapter focuses on a different member of the family, so unfortunately, the time spent with each character is rather small. Some of the earlier ancestors, Effia and Esi especially, have longer chapters, while the chapters get a bit shorter as the book comes to a close. However, once you progress to the next person in the family, there are references to and appearances of past characters to tie things together. A lot happens off-page because of this, so sometimes assumptions must be made about what happened to previously featured characters.

This is an important book, now more than ever, as the U.S. president attacks people for not being “American enough” or tells them to “go back to their own countries.” Homegoing explores what home can mean to different people as well as how difficult it can be to fit in because of one’s skin color. I cannot believe this is the author’s debut novel because it feels so polished. Despite there being so many characters, I can still clearly remember my favorites. I may not be able to remember all of the characters’ names, but I can remember the plot from most of the chapters. And, if the alternating times and characters sounds confusing, there is a family tree in the physical copy of the book at least.

If I had to pick out something I thought could have been better, I would have to say the ending. The whole book packed a punch, but that left the ending feeling slightly unsatisfying in comparison. I’m honestly not sure how I would have made it any better though! So, I had to rate Homegoing a perfect five out of five stars. Such an impressive debut that was certainly worth the hype in my opinion.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Fantasy/Magical Realism

The Poppy War

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I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I am tired of white-bread, European/Medieval fantasy. So, any time a fantasy  novel comes out that is a little different, I have to try it. And fantasy novel based on Chinese history and mythology? Yes, please!

The Poppy War, as the author puts it in her review, “is not a romance story. This is not a YA fantasy school story. […] This is, as I’ve always conceived it, a war story. It draws heavily on the Second Sino-Japanese war.” Rin is a war orphan with unloving foster parents who blazed her own trail to Nikara’s most prestigious military school, Sinegard. Making her way into the school is far from the end of her journey though. At the elite school, Rin faces discrimination for her looks and her social status. When another war sparks up between Nikara and the neighboring island of the Mugen Federation, Rin and her classmates are tossed into a battle they may be unable to win without the help of gods…

As the author herself stated, this is a bloody novel based on a bloody part of history. If you have a problem reading about drug use, torture, rape, and a whole host of other bloody, terrible things, you may want to avoid this series. There are a lot of historical references, from the books the students study to the major events in the novel. However, there are original ideas in the novel as well; it isn’t just a retelling of history with some fantasy splashed in. What could be just another coming-of-age/chosen one story arch is turned into something quite unique with the mixture of Chinese history, mythology, and fantasy.

Even as someone who isn’t wild about the magical school theme, I really enjoyed the first part of the novel as Rin gets into and adjusts to Sinegard. Rin is an underdog from the start, but her plucky attitude and fighting spirit are hard to dislike. It is fun to root for Rin, and even when she faces near-impossible resistance, she presses forward. I enjoyed getting to know her friends and enemies at the school as well as the classes she was required to take. Only a handful of her classmates are focused on, and it seems that very few are important to the broader plot. I wish there would have been a little more time spent on the development of the school and the instructors, but the school portion of the series is overall relatively minor. As the author stated, this is not a YA school story; it is a war story, which brings me to the one thing I slightly disliked about the novel: the pacing.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 deals with Rin getting to Sinegard and her studies there. Parts 2 and 3 deal with the impending war. The pace in Part 1 was fine, but the war began quite quickly, leaving me a little confused about how some events linked together. This happens throughout Parts 2 and 3. Rin has some “fade to black” moments that I thought would benefit from a little more exposition. Rin also mouths off quite a bit, and at times it was surprising that she avoided trouble. The novel doesn’t test the limits of disbelief any more than most other fantasy, but I can see how some readers might find Rin dislikable, too plot-armored, or just plain annoying. Personally, I liked Rin more in Part 1, but she changes for understandable reasons. I look forward to seeing where she will end up in the subsequent novels.

I gave The Poppy War four out of five stars. It is a very solid fantasy novel, especially if you are looking for something a bit different with real-life history and myth thrown into the mix. It’s sequel, The Dragon Republic will be released in the U.S. August 6th, 2019.

 

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Fantasy/Magical Realism

Big Fish

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Big Fish is my favorite movie. I actually wrote two papers in college about the movie. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty passionate about the story. And, well, it never fails to make me cry like a baby at the end. I knew that one day I would have to read the book, just to compare the two. For once, the movie is much, much better than the book.

Edward Bloom is dying. His son, William, tries to make a lasting connection with his father before he passes, but Edward cannot seem to tell his son his true life story. Edward has always been a grandiose storyteller, but William can’t take it any more. Edward’s stories, while fun, leave William with very little real information about who his father was. As Edward fades away from sickness, William desperately tries to understand his often-absent father.

I can’t help but compare the book and the movie, but I know that those who have not read or seen either will be a bit lost. So, apologies in advance. The book has many small chapters. Each small chapter tells a short story about Edward Bloom’s life. The stories are usually over the top and bordering on fantasy, but you can sense a grain of truth in each one. In between a few of the stories, we have sections in the present when Edward is on his death bed. During these present-day sections, William and his mother try to talk to Edward, but Edward has a lot of trouble opening up about who he really was.

The problem is that these short, magical stories just don’t feel cohesive. Characters and places come and go without any impact on Edwards’s overall narrative. The grains of truth do not connect or give much detail about what really happened. The book is much more open-ended, which feels unsatisfying. In the novel, Edward holds tight to his secrets and the moral of the story is a little muddled. The movie succeeds by filling in some of these blanks. For example, book-Edward befriends a giant, but we never hear from the giant again after his short story. Movie-Edward’s giant friend pops up here and there to help Edward on his life journey. The events and characters simply do not have as much development in the book. The stories feel isolated and lack the heartfelt, romantic, and fun moments portrayed in the movie. By the end of the movie, there is a sense of closure for the audience and for Edward’s son, William. The book lacks this, in my opinion.

Both the book and movie are an extended allegory about life, death, truth, and fiction, but the movie just executes it all more smoothly. I could not connect to book-Edward. He was portrayed as someone everyone likes, but his charm did not translate on the page. Movie-Edward is a charmer, but he is also more fallible. He is a bit of an ambitious underdog, while book-Edward never has much trouble getting what he wants. The book portrays Edward’s life a bit more realistically than the movie, but somehow, the movie feels more authentic.

If I say any more, I will probably spoil both the book and the movie. My recommendation? Watch the movie. Then, if you are still curious, read the book for a different perspective. In my opinion, the screenwriter for Big Fish took a good idea and made it into a great movie. For me, Big Fish the movie is a solid 5/5 stars. Big Fish the novel? Maybe three out of five, but only because I love the story itself so much.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Mystery/Thriller

The Chalk Man

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The Chalk Man alternates between two time periods: 1986 in which the characters are young teens to 2016 when they are adults bordering on middle age. After Eddie’s friend received a large bucket of chalk for his birthday, the friends began to use the chalk to write secret messages and make rude drawings around town. It was innocent enough, but the fun ended quickly when the chalk drawings were connected to a string of murders. The quaint English town was quickly upended by salacious and bloody scandals. Now, in 2016, the past comes back to haunt Eddie and his friends when they become the targets of a new murder spree.

Since I’m still battling a reading slump, I wanted something fast paced and gripping. The Chalk Man definitely made me turn the pages, but by the end, I was slightly dissatisfied. The plot was the main draw for me, and I felt it was executed pretty well. There are a lot of twists, turns, and red herrings. I was hoping that the “bad guy” wasn’t the person that the book seemed to be pointing the reader toward in the beginning. Luckily, it wasn’t that predictable. Although, a couple “hints” toward the real bad guy were pretty heavy handed. As always, there are some overly convenient plot devices to move the story in the intended direction, and some parts of the plot could be more clearly explained to tie up lose ends. However, it was not bad. It was entertaining. The book is fairly short and the pace is quick, which could be a pro or con depending on what you’re looking for.

Eddie and his friends did not do much for me as characters. The story was told from Eddie’s perspective, so it is a little limited in what we know and see. Add to that, Eddie as a narrator was slightly unreliable, which made the book a bit more interesting. Still, if you’ve read a lot of the domestic thrillers with unreliable narrators, this is not something new. (This time at least it wasn’t a woman with a drinking problem…) Somehow, despite seeing everything from his point of view, I did not feel very connected to Eddie or any of his friends. Maybe I am spoiled from the mountains of character development in Stephen King’s novels, but I felt like The Chalk Man could have spent a little more time on the main characters and their relationships.

All in all, it was an OK read. For a debut novel, it was good. The writing has some personality, and it pulled me into the story well enough. The plot was unique to me, but the book as a whole could have used a little more polish and depth. I would still recommend The Chalk Man as a quick, entertaining thriller. If you consider some thrillers as “beach reads,” this one might qualify. I gave The Chalk Man a middle-of-the-road three out of five stars.

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Science Fiction

Borne

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Do you ever find a new author, read and like a book or two they wrote, then all of the sudden realize that you found a new favorite author? Well, that’s what is going on with me. I’ve read and reviewed two other books from Jeff VanderMeer, Wonderbook and Annihilation. I really liked them both, and he might be the author to finally get me into the sci-fi genre. But enough about me. Onward to the review!

Rachel survives by scavenging in her ruined, half-abandoned city. The whys and hows of the city’s destruction is a bit of a mystery, but the city’s fate is closely tied to The Company’s. The Company’s experiments and disregard for humanity as well as the natural world are at least partially to blame for the city’s downfall. In fact, The Company’s biggest and most terrible experiment now lords of the city in the shape of a giant, violent, flying bear named Mord. On one of Rachel’s scavenging trips she finds a strange plant-like creature. She takes it home, not knowing exactly what it is. Rachel’s partner, Wick, disapproves of the strange creature, but Rachel cannot bring herself to give it up. Things become even more complicated when what she thought was a plant becomes a sentient being.

Is this one of those Bizarro fiction things? I mean there’s a giant, flying bear terrorizing a city, after all. No, skeptical reader! Don’t let the flying bear distract you! This book has a lot of heart and serious themes, actually. If you read Annihilation, or the entire Southern Reach Trilogy, you might be skeptical of that statement too, as I have seen many readers complain about Annihilation and its sequels lacking in character depth clarity of plot. Yes, Annihilation is a bit odd, and it does not fully explain everything. Borne’s plot is much more focused, and I was more attached to the main characters. Was everything perfectly explained? No. For example, if you want to know why the bear flies, well, he’s been experimented on, and that’s really all the book tells you. If details like that bother you, you might not like it. The science isn’t super scientific. This isn’t The Martian.

As I mentioned, the characters in Borne are more refined and easier to connect to than those in Annihilation. However, like Annihilation, Borne is written in first person from the perspective of a female character. VanderMeer writes from a female perspective well. Rachel is intelligent, strong-willed, caring, and resourceful, but she also has flaws and makes mistakes. Wick, her partner, is also a good character, but he was more difficult to connect to because of his murky past and because we are reading from Rachel’s perspective. And of course, I have to mention Borne himself. I don’t want to give too much away, but it is hard not to love this non-human character because he is so human.

As for the plot, I liked it, but it felt a little less experimental than VanderMeer’s trilogy, which might be better for some readers. As I said, the plot is much more clear-cut in Borne. The plot takes some predictable turns, but it was still a very unique and engrossing read. The ending wraps things up very well, but I found myself wishing that a few more events, characters, and creatures were explained in depth. This isn’t to say that there are huge plot holes. I just wanted to know more about the world and what happened to the city. The world building feels very vast. The city feels both desolate and feral, but the wider world is mentioned here and there, giving a sense that maybe there’s many other stories to tell.

One last thing I want to mention is why I, specifically, liked this novel. Your mileage may vary. As someone who has always enjoyed fiction and non-fiction that deals with the environment and nature, VanderMeer’s work just clicks with me. His descriptions of plants and animals and how humans connect with and exploit the natural world is just great. He examines so many themes of environmentalism, society, and humanity in a sci-fi novel with a flying bear in it. That impresses me! There’s a lot of emotional and intellectual depth in Rachel’s musings too. This is the first sci-fi novel that I have read that felt literary.

I debated on rating Borne 4 or 5 stars, but ultimately went with 4. It was a great read, but I expected the main story arch to be slightly less predictable, and well, I just wanted more from the book. I’m a harsh judge though, and even as I write this I am considering raising my rating…

 

Adult Fiction · Book Review · Historical

The Immortalists

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A few months ago, I picked this up, liked the first chapter, and then put it down because I became too busy. Earlier this month I picked The Immortalists up again, and I regretted it. Not because it was horrible. I simply did not get along with it at all. Why? Well, it’s definitely a “me” thing. If you are not in good place mentally, you may want to avoid this one for now. It could be triggering to anyone who is sensitive to reading about grief, trauma, suicide, self harm, or abortion.

It’s New York City in 1969, and the Gold children, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, escape their parents’ apartment long enough to visit a woman who is rumored to have the ability to predict the day you will die. The children receive their predictions with mixed reactions, but such a simple and supposedly “fun” outing ends up complicating all of their lives for many years to come. The Immortalists follows the Gold children into adulthood as they experience the unique challenges that the 80’s, 90’s, and the new millennium brought to the United States. The novel is broken into four parts, with each part following one of the Gold children.

Fortune telling, death days, family, and historical fiction, it all sounds great! The reality is that this is really just a historical fiction family saga with a little magical spice thrown in. That’s still an interesting premise, but if you are excited about this being a magical realism novel, you might be disappointed. After the fortune teller gives them their death dates, the rest of the novel focuses on the characters’ adult lives. Though the day of their deaths obviously play a large role, it is more of an underlying driving force than being in the forefront of the plot.

I really enjoyed seeing different parts of the country at different points in time. We get to see New York in the late 60’s and early 70’s and San Francisco and Las Vegas in the 80’s and 90’s. Although the book was not very descriptive or atmospheric, it was nice to see such an interesting historical backdrop to the family drama. The family isn’t overtly dysfunctional, but as time goes on, it is easy to see the cracks in the family’s foundation, which is what the novel is mostly about. The family as a whole have some issues with communication and openness, but more and more issues crop up as their death dates approach.

I couldn’t help thinking that a lot of what was predicted became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In particular, a couple of the children made some (in my view) very odd, out-of-character, and just plain bad choices that led to very bad things happening. A few of the family members likely had some mental illnesses and issues with trauma, but I had a hard time believing some of the characters’ reactions and actions. I know I’m speaking in extremely general terms here, but hey, that’s the trade off when I try not to spoil anyone!

The family is Jewish, and I liked that their faith actually played a role in how they processed their problems and viewed the world. Each child of the family even had a different way of viewing and utilizing their faith, and some were more optimistic than others, of course. There were also some very beautiful lines and some interesting connections between main and side characters. The characters were all pretty “gray” in that no one was always perfect or good. They made mistakes and did morally questionable things, but no one was painted as a true bad guy either. There are touches of levity and humor, but the novel as a whole I would describe as melancholy.

The book is about life, and life isn’t always great. The choices you make can be far-reaching, and the impact certain people make can change the course of another’s life. The book is often sad, but if you have recently lost someone, I could see how it may also be comforting. For me, it was not, but everyone copes differently. I hesitate to rate this one. For pure reading enjoyment, 3/5 stars. However, the book was not bad, but as far as family sagas go, it was solid but not standout.

Book Review · Fantasy/Magical Realism · Young Adult Fiction

Every Heart a Doorway

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This book was everywhere a few years ago. Since then there has been about one new book in the series per year. If you know me, you know I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Inkheart trilogy, or anything where a kid finds himself/herself somehow in another world. “Portal fantasy” appears to be the term thrown around to describe these novels and Every Heart a Doorway, so we will go with that. Every Heart a Doorway is a portal fantasy with a boarding school setting, a murder mystery, a diverse cast, and some hints at romances to come. On paper, it sounds great. In reality, it was a bit of a disappointment to me.

Nancy arrives at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Nancy is under the impression that this is simply a boarding school her parents have sent her to because they do not believe that she has traveled into another world. However, the school is specifically for children who have traveled to other worlds. Their parents think that their children have ran away, been kidnapped, or abused, while the children all know that their experiences in various fantasy worlds were real. The Home for Wayward Children helps kids who have returned from their portal world either find their way back to their doors or come to terms with their lives in the “real world.” Nancy meets the proprietor, Ms. West, as well many of the other children staying at the school. While Nancy went to a world very much like the underworld, many others went to candy lands, nonsense worlds, rhyming worlds and worlds with vampires, goblins, insect queens, and the list goes on. Just as Nancy starts to understand her peers and the school, brutal murders begin happening, endangering all of the students. Nancy and her newfound friends must figure out what is going on in order to save their school from possibly closing down, which would leave all of the children without a place to call home.

The characters were probably the strongest part. Nancy and her friends were all good characters. Some of their banter was entertaining, and the cast was diverse with asexual and trans characters. I praise the representation, but some of the conversations about sex felt slightly forced. Especially when the book as a whole is so short, it feels odd to have characters take so much time to talk about sex, sexuality, and masturbation in a fantasy novel. Is it cool that we talk frankly about sex in a YA novel? Definitely! Is it cool that it takes up more time than other aspects of the plot and characters? Maybe not. Again, I truly appreciate that the author spends time on these topics (the author also writes about sexuality/gender issues very beautifully and with respect), but give me all of that in addition to more of the fantasy, magical, creepy school goodness I was promised in the blurb.

This is a novella-sized story that tries to fit in a lot in a short number of pages, and it does not work perfectly. The pacing feels odd. We start with Nancy arriving at the school, we get to know her, she gets to know a few students, then all of the sudden MURDER. The murder mystery consumes the plot from then on. I was looking forward to getting to know the fantasy aspect of how these portals or doors to other worlds work. I was looking forward to exploring the school building (What huge mansions and expansive grounds in a fantasy novel do not have secrets?), the classes, the students, the teachers, and the various worlds more, but there just wasn’t time to develop anything fully. Now, I know that there are several more books in the series, and you cannot expect everything to be explained in the first book of a series, but there was so little here that I do not feel inclined to pick up the next book. The ending also felt abrupt. The murder mystery is rather quickly and easily dealt with at the end. The author drops some hints about how the magic/doors work in the final scenes, but it is too late in the plot to get any actual answers.

I liked a lot of what Every Heart a Doorway had to offer, but it just needed more— more descriptions, more details about the plot/mystery, more character development, more information about the school, magic system, etc. Is this an incentive to read more of the books? Maybe. I am curious about the rest of the series, but I am not sure if I will read them all. If you’ve read any more of the series, let me know your thoughts in the comments. Am I complaining about things that get better in the next books? Tell me! As of now, I gave Every Heart a Doorway a rating of three out of five stars.