Review: “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” Robert Ford, Matt Hayward

Pros: Like a horrific, paranormal house of cards!
Rating: 5 out of 5

In A Penny For Your Thoughts: (The Lowback Series – Book 1), by Robert Ford and Matt Hayward, Joe has spent eight years in prison. Now that he’s out–and clean of drugs–he’d like to stay that way. His friend and neighbor Kenny wants to rope him into some ethically questionable dealings, but he does need the money. One day while he’s hiking the Lowback Trail, he unearths a jar full of wishes taped to pennies. It’s some child’s hoard. He opens one, and it’s a wish for a bike. When he gets home, Kenny has left a bike for him! But when he opens the next wish, it’s a wish to take someone else’s bike from them, and Joe ends up meeting Ava, a rather cunning young woman who blackmails Kenny and Joe into including her in their shenanigans. Wanting to see if the wishes coming true was just coincidence, Joe tricks Kenny and Ava into opening wishes of their own. Before long, it seems like wishes are spreading like a plague. And not all of them come out well. In fact, it seems that Joe, Kenny, and Ava are up to their ears in danger.

The story that gradually unfolds about these wishes, and the pennies taped to them, is fascinating. It’s handled well, and the pacing is great. It absolutely kept me glued to the page. This world is strange, and even stranger than the main characters realize. I’ve already pre-ordered the sequel (don’t worry–this volume ends somewhere satisfying; it isn’t a cliffhanger).

The characters are fascinating. It’s hard to really like any of them, but they all feel very real. I did get, I guess, attached to some of them, is the best way to put it. The plot twists and turns, and I get the impression that whatever was fulfilling those wishes was deliberately trying to spread things around and keep things going.

The town is vividly portrayed, and really comes across as the kind of town where there’s a lot of drug use and a number of problems going on. Much like the characters, it felt… real.

All in all this is definitely a diverting read! It’s great for when you need to distract yourself from everything else that’s going on.

Postscript: OMG! Someone besides me remembers Sho Kosugi in “Ninja III: The Domination”!

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Review: “White Pines,” Gemma Amor

Pros: Stunning rural cosmic horror
Rating: 5 out of 5

I absolutely love Gemma Amor’s horror novel White Pines. Megs (Megan) has just been informed by her husband that their marriage is over. Since she just inherited a tiny cottage from her grandmother, she packs up the van and heads off to live by herself in the Scottish woods for a while. When she gets there, the locals seem almost to have been waiting for her. She spots an island off the coast that she can barely tear her eyes away from, and when she moves away from it her head starts to hurt. A colleague, Matthew, with whom she once had a one-night stand, shows up–he’s been in love with her for a while, and doesn’t want to waste any time now that she’s “available.” Megs, however, has more important things to think about. Like that island, her piercing headaches, and the mysterious tunnel under her house. Before she knows it, she’s caught up in events beyond her reckoning–and she’ll never be the same again.

One thing that amazed me about this book is that Amor managed to make a dream sequence that was interesting and meaningful, and that furthered the plot. I so rarely find visions or dreams in fiction to be worth the space they take up.

Megs hit a chord with me. Her confusion and anger and frustrated questioning of “why?” rang so true as she tried to deal with the reality of her marriage having fallen apart without her even having recognized it was happening. Of course she ends up having much more important things to think about, which keeps the divorce thread from becoming overly depressing.

The cosmic horror/rural horror aspects of this are fantastic. There’s a very bizarre thing going on in this rural town, and the residents will go to great lengths to keep it secret. Fortunately (unfortunately?) for Megs, she is not an outsider, even if she hasn’t been there since she was a child. Soon she’s going to be forced to realize that her missing finger wasn’t lost in an accident like her mother said it was. She’s connected to the island. And no one but her can save her.

Content note for mild sexual material as well as some body horror. Most of all I love the way this book ends; one problem with cosmic horror is that it’s hard to end in a satisfying manner, but Amor pulls it off!

“The Island deceives.”

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Review: “Pandemic,” A.G. Riddle

Pros: Impressively grand scope!
Cons: I hope some coincidences get resolved in the next book!
Rating: 4 out of 5

A.G. Riddle’s long novel Pandemic (The Extinction Files, Book 1) dumps us straight into the realm of pandemic apocalypse. Dr. Peyton Shaw, who’s a highly-placed epidemiologist with the CDC, is sent to Mandera, Kenya to help deal with a new hemorrhagic fever that’s extremely virulent. Meanwhile, we also meet Desmond Hughes, who woke up in a hotel in Berlin with no memory of who he is. He finds some extremely abstruse clues, as well as a dead body in his hotel room. He escapes the police, and seems to have great knowledge of how to outwit his pursuers. He meets up with a journalist who was going to use him as a source to expose something horrible, but he has no memory of what that might be. Peyton and Desmond are connected through their past, as well as through this pandemic. There’s a mysterious organization called Citium that’s been around for more than 2000 years, and the pandemic is one part of its plan to “fix” the human race. Did Desmond have something to do with setting this in motion? And can he help to stop it?

The characters are a high point in here. Plenty of detail goes into them; we find out bits and pieces of Desmond and Peyton’s pasts as Desmond’s memories are unlocked bit by bit. There’s a wide array of characters, but enough detail went into them that I didn’t have any trouble remembering who each one was. Most if not all of the bad guys genuinely believe they’re trying to save the world–some of them absolutely believe that the casualties of the pandemic are worth what comes after.

There are definitely too many coincidences and unanswered questions. There are three parts to the Citium’s plans: Rook, Rendition, and Rapture. Rendition is Desmond’s baby, but by the end of the book we still have zero information about what it is, and I have no guesses. Hopefully the next book will live up to the drawn-out expectation. Also, Peyton and Desmond were from very different places, and met by happenstance at a Halloween party. The idea that there are multiple connections between them that go back much farther than that beggars belief. Especially paired up with some other coincidences and connections. I’m moderately hopeful that Riddle will be able to make this believable in the next volume, but I can’t see how.

This is definitely a matter of individual reader taste, but if you like a book where it’s obvious the writer has done lots of research and wants to share it with the audience, this is the book for you. There’s plenty of interesting info about everything from pandemics to Berlin tourism. This does keep things a little bit slow at times, but it’s balanced by a decent amount of action of various types.

I’ll definitely read the next book, but it isn’t my highest priority. This volume was enjoyable enough to want to continue and hopefully find out more.

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Review: “Allison,” Jeff Strand

Pros: Had me on the edge of my seat!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Jeff Strand’s Allison takes the girl-with-supernatural-powers-gets-pushed-too-far trope and makes it delicious again. Allison found out the hard way that she can move people with her mind. Unfortunately she has very little–if any–control over this, so whenever her emotions spiral out of control (good or bad), she tends to break bones. She’s resigned herself to a life of hermitude. Then one day she instinctively catches a pregnant woman who nearly falls, and her abilities help out a bit. She’s terrified she might have hurt the baby, so the father of the baby, Daxton, decides to pretend that the baby died so as to extort some money out of her. When her emotional reaction to the news causes him to discover her powers, he decides that the guy he works for, a mob boss, would reward him for capturing her. Meanwhile, Cody, a young man who’s willing to believe what he’s seen with his own eyes, gently calms Allison down and asks her about her powers. The two of them hit it off, but Allison knows she can’t get too close to him.

I love the characters in this book. In particular, Allison and Cody are both quirky enough that I could read whole pages of even their most mundane dialogue and not get tired of it. I love that Allison is a strong, middle-aged woman. She’s been stuck with this power-as-curse because the only thing she can affect is the human body, and there’s no way to practice that without breaking a lot of bones. So this means she can’t trust herself around anyone. But this also means she doesn’t use her powers as a cure-all. She’s a gutsy woman who will grab whatever’s to hand and start swinging when the bad guys come for her.

Daxton and the mob boss, as well as Daxton’s pregnant girl Maggie, also add a lot of depth. They’re neither cartoonishly evil nor overly misunderstood. They have their own agendas and loves and hates.

If you want to read an awesome paranormal short novel about a woman with power forced to go up against a bunch of bad guys, grab this one today and give it a read! Content note for torture, some blood and guts, and very mild sexual material.

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Review: “From Twisted Roots,” S.H. Cooper

Pros: Absolutely excellent short horror stories!
Rating: 5 out of 5

S.H. Cooper brings us From Twisted Roots: Thriller, Horror, and Mystery Short Stories. I absolutely love this collection. Each story packs a punch, even though they’re all a little different. Some end in tragedy. Others in victory. There’s revenge served cold, and even heartwarming endings. All of them have that emotional impact, and a thread of fear runs through them.

There’s a woman who still has two teddy bears her grandfathers gave her. Each one has a recording of the man saying “I love you, Sadie,” whenever it’s squeezed. But one night, the script changes. There’s a woman whose family has a tendency to get “messages from the universe” when someone dies, and she just got a message that seems to be from her daughter. So she races home to find out what’s going on. (I had my hand over my mouth with my eyes wide on this one.)

There’s a free carnival for children, and a bullied girl who calls her bully just before she does something terrible. A little girl disappears, and her family gets a tape of her talking to them once a year. A young boy feeds a monster that lives under the house, named Smidge. There’s a mean neighbor in one tale who refuses to allow any child near his property. One family’s grandmother always has a reason why her family shouldn’t visit her at her home, until she has no choice but to take her granddaughter for a night.

Hazel has to visit her beloved Grandpa on his farm for a little while, but something strange starts to happen to the animals in their pens. Another little girl tells her family they’re no longer allowed to kill spiders because the queen spider is protecting her. One teenager learns a valuable lesson from her father’s D&D games, while another takes advantage of her single father’s desire to give her everything she wants. A stuffed animal meant to protect a little girl takes on a new role. A little old lady has a bit of magic of her own when two people want to make her leave her home.

There’s a grandmother who warns her grandchildren to stay away from “the little people,” and another who makes “annoyance curses” at her grandchild’s bullies–ones that come true. Another little girl remembers her “past lifes” and tries to warn her mother about events that repeat themselves.

There are plenty of surprises, but even when I can guess what’s coming the stories are so engrossing that it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t in any way take away from the suspense. There are a ton of stories in here, and they’ll definitely get you through some of the current craziness in the world–this is some quality escapism here. The characterization is excellent, the quickly-sketched-out worldbuilding is engrossing, and the variety of material is wonderful. Most stories have an element of the paranormal to them, but not all. (And in some you can’t be sure.)

Content note for suicide, rape (not shown on the page), torture, child death, child abuse, animal death, and human trafficking. All of these things are handled bluntly and with a minimum of gory detail. Most of them happen off of the page.

Sometimes, though, you just have to smash a psychopath in the face with a door half a dozen times.

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Review: “Thunderbird,” Chuck Wendig

Pros: Deeper and deeper into the worldbuilding…
Rating: 5 out of 5

Chuck Wendig’s Thunderbird (Miriam Black 4) picks up about a year after The Cormorant left off. Miriam is trying to find Mary Stitch, also known as Mary Scissors, who supposedly knows how to remove one’s “gift” or “curse”, depending on how the individual thinks of their psychic powers. Unfortunately Mary moves around a lot. Miriam is currently in Arizona, and Gabby is with her. Miriam nearly gets killed by someone who’s trying to kidnap a child, and thus ends up embroiled in a terrorist plot to bomb a courthouse. Once again, she’s stumbled across people like her–psychics, with their own unusual powers. One is a human lie detector. One has had a vision of the apocalypse, involving plague and invasion. Miriam is pushed to her limits–and beyond–in her attempt to stop a bombing and get rid of her curse to see people’s deaths. It seems that Death has a blind spot when it comes to her, however, and her ability to control the birds is leveling up. Both come in handy when she winds up mostly-dead and abandoned in the desert.

Miriam tried to contact Louis at the end of the last book, but apparently he’s gone and found someone else and is engaged to be married. Despite the fact that Miriam has left him behind on multiple occasions, this isn’t easy for her to face. I like the fact that she thinks all of the selfish thoughts we’d all like to pretend don’t go through our heads when we have to be the bigger person. I also like the fact that sometimes Gabby calls Miriam on her “woe-is-me” drama (although to be fair, sometimes Miriam has earned that pity party).

The apocalyptic visions intrigue me. I really hope that the last two books in the series will get into that more, because it isn’t resolved in this book. One of the things I find most interesting about the various psychics Miriam comes across is that these are the only people who can change fate, each in their own way. Miriam knows that each death she foretells will happen exactly as predicted no matter what she does… unless she trades a life for a life (kills one person to save another). One of the ways she knows something is up with a militia that chases after her is because they manage to kill someone who should have lived much longer. The whole system is really original and creative.

Content note for blood, violence, and animal harm. Also, I’ll note once again that Miriam can be a bit offensive, but I never get the impression the author condones her offensiveness–rather that Miriam is meant to be a work-in-progress as a human being.

Gabby admired Miriam for knowing exactly what she was and leaning into it, even if what she was happened to be a drunken clown car crashing head-on into a tractor trailer carrying beehives.

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Review: “The Cormorant,” Chuck Wendig

Pros: A fascinating bloody mess!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Chuck Wendig’s The Cormorant (3) (Miriam Black) is book three after Blackbirds and Mockingbird. In book one, we discovered that Miriam Black has an unusual power: the first time she touches someone skin-to-skin, she sees how and when they’ll die. She’d become a scavenger–she waited for people to die and took their money to live off of. She met up with conman Ashley and trucker Louis and figured out how to finally cheat fate–by trading one life for another. In book two, Miriam had to stop a serial killer stalking schoolgirls. It turned out to be another psychic, someone culling girls who would “poison” the lives of others. They believed they were doing something similar to what Miriam does, and wanted her help. She, of course, disagreed. Now Miriam finds herself in the hands of the FBI, agents Grosky and Vills from the BAU, who seem to think she might be a serial killer. She starts to relate her story of what’s been going on, and chapter by chapter we find out that an old friend is now stalking Miriam, killing people she’s touched and leaving her messages in her visions of their deaths. He’s gained some power of his own, and seems to outwit Miriam at every turn. She realizes that he’s going to kill her mother, and even though she isn’t fond of her mother, she’ll do everything she can to save her.

Miriam has been experimenting with saving lives, but it isn’t as profitable and doesn’t always end well. It also requires her to kill. It’s interesting to watch her try to come to terms with when and how she should interfere with fate. The Trespasser is still coming to her, and it isn’t thrilled with her little experiment. It apparently doesn’t want her to interfere in all of the murders and violent deaths she sees. She’s learning that situations can have nuance. She also experiments with living with roommates, which similarly doesn’t go entirely well. She has yet to find a decent way to live with what she is.

Miriam turns out to be bisexual in this volume, and I like that. It isn’t made a big deal of; she just spends the night with Gabby, a woman she meets in a bar, and their relationship is one more target for Miriam’s stalker. I think my favorite part of this volume is watching the ways in which Miriam’s stalker is manipulating her, because he knows how to use her powers against her in this way. Wendig is really building up a fascinating world where it comes to psychics.

Miriam also enters the sights of a drug dealer, Tap-Tap, who has been told that she stole his cocaine shipment. When he finds out she hasn’t, he makes it her responsibility to find out who did and bring them to him. Miriam is kept limping around Florida half-crazed not always even aware of what she’s chasing. I’m curious to see what the next book will bring!

Content note: animal harm, torture and violence, and also Miriam can be offensive sometimes. (I don’t get the impression from reading this that we’re meant to condone this, or that the author does–it’s just that Miriam’s a work in progress as a human being.)

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Review: “Hidden Magic,” Various Authors

Pros: Some intense, delightful stories in here!
Cons: Not all of them stand up
Rating: 4 out of 5

Hidden Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies Book 1) is the first in a “trilogy” of anthologies, with each author writing three linked stories, one for each volume. It’s a really neat format. Some of these stories take place in pre-existing worlds, but they’re made to stand alone from that. I had no trouble making sense of all of them.

The only authors in here I was already familiar with were Lee French and Erik Kort, who wrote a story that fits into their Greatest Sin world (although it doesn’t involve the main characters of those books). That series happens to be one of my favorites, and The Greatest Sin: A Sacrifice of Blood lived up to my high expectations. Teenaged Algie and his Grandma Katona are practicing magic and playing chess when murderous thieves break into their mansion. Algie has been taught his whole life that killing is the greatest sin, but in order to keep his grandmother alive, he’s going to have to do more than run away. This was a riveting story, and I was able to really empathize with Algie’s despair at the idea of having to kill. The authors managed to get it across so well. (In most stories where a character is reluctant to kill when it seems the only way out, it’s hard to imagine how they struggle against it for so long. Here, I could get it.)

“Hello, my name is Jannil. My men and I will be robbing your house tonight.”

Anela Deen’s A Veil is Parted is another excellent story. Jessa stumbles across the existence of a whole other world of beings, and nearly dies when she gets in the way of a battle. There are some unexpected twists to what’s going on, and events get quite tense.

H.B. Lyne’s The Hunter was an engrossing tale of veteran Felix Jones. He’s going to a support group for veterans when his sister, who was supposed to go for emotional support, never shows up–and her phone number is out of order, and he can no longer remember where she lived. He’s neither the first nor the last person to suffer a bizarre loss of memory regarding part of the city, which seems to have disappeared. As he struggles to figure out what’s going on, he comes across a group of shapeshifters who are looking into the same thing. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Will he be able to get into the missing part of the city? Can he save his sister? Felix is not wholly a likable character, but he’s understandably damaged and willing to do whatever it takes to get his sister back. I’m curious to see where this one goes in the next two volumes.

The Catch, by Gwendolyn Woodschild, is an intriguing story of Viking Brandur and his Jarl wife, Torhild. When Brandur, who prefers the life of a simple fisherman, returns to find his village under attack by invisible forces, he ends up setting out to find his grandmother. She lives in the woods, and has a reputation of having supernatural abilities. Brandur finds out that these abilities have been passed down to him, and he gets a crash course in interacting with the souls of the dead. But will he be in time to save his village? I like the characters in here. Brandur and Torhild in particular are layered and interesting. I’d like to find out what happens to them next.

The Druid’s Heir is Tiffany Shand’s story of Rhiannon (Ann) Valeran, the archdruid’s heir. She has a guard and friend named Edward who wishes he could be more than that to her, two half-brothers (their father seems well-known for his many affairs–some with very ill-considered partners–and this is treated with odd glibness), and a doting, if perhaps stifling, father. Her father is working to put together a treaty that would bring peace to the various lands, but of course not everyone wants that. A mysterious seer tells Ann her house will fall, and she rushes to figure out what might threaten her family. Edward and Ann are very good characters, and I look forward to finding out what happens to them next. This tale was a little rough around the edges, but it was still gripping to read.

Leah W. Van Dinther’s The Amethyst Window introduces us to Carol Conley, who can see spirits associated with objects. When she visits her supplier to look for new items to buy, she meets Mr. Fred Archegon. The spirits are terrified of him, but he seems so elegant, friendly, and nice! The characters in this one are really interesting; Freddie is genuinely charming and a little bit forbidding, while Carol is a sweet lady who isn’t sure who to trust, or what to do about Archegon. I’m very curious to see where this one goes!

The Mark of the Red God, by Majanka Verstraete, is another favorite from this collection. Saleyna had the mark of the Red God branded into her forehead as a child in order to subdue her outlawed magic. The priests of the Red God still persecute magic-users, looking for reasons to kill them. If they knew that some of Saleyna’s empathy abilities remained, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill her. Saleyna doesn’t want to join in the quiet resistance against the priests, but her brother is in over his head and in order to save him, she agrees to infiltrate the priesthood as a new acolyte. I found this world intriguing and gripping, and I very much want to see where it goes next.

Amaskan, by Raven Oak, is a story about brother-and-sister pair Bredych and Shendra. The Order of Amaska is an order of trained killers, but they serve at the behest of the king and carry out “Justice.” Shendra thinks that murder is murder and thus wrong, but the Order picked her up out of the gutter and she feels she has no other choice than to finish her final trial and move on to the next stage of her training. Her trial, however, involves killing the madam of a brothel who’s believed to be involved in human trafficking. The woman has seemed fairly untouchable so far, and Shendra really doesn’t want to kill anyone, so naturally things go terribly wrong. I’m very curious to see how things continue from where this left off.

The Mail-Order Witch, by Joynell Schultz, was a sweet, cosy, and fun story. Ettie is a witch and a mail-order bride. Arranged marriages like hers and Roman’s aren’t unusual in their magical community, as pairing off with normal humans dilutes the magic in their bloodlines, and Roman’s a warlock. I like how they’re falling in love with each other, and how Roman sticks with Ettie even when people start to believe she’s cursed the children of the town into growing foxes’ tails. This is a fun little mystery that wraps up enough to stand on its own, while leaving plenty of questions for the further stories.

There are some negatives in this anthology. One story that seems set in a fantasy-land uses terms like “kamikaze” and “sword of Damocles,” which are cultural references from the real world, and thus jarringly out of place. Some of the stories have bizarre pacing, cartoonish action sequences, or stilted dialogue. One names its comic-book villain “Count Repugnian,” which is far too on-the-nose. One character we’re supposed to like muses on how much he wants his sons back, and then seems to indicate that one is trans, so suddenly he seemed much less likable since apparently he wants to reverse that. One story is apparently based on a philosophy piece, and unfortunately it shows–the philosophical parts of things make the story unbelievable as a fantasy story.

One princess pretty much spends her entire story doing nothing, having amorphous things happen around her, with no agency on her part. Some authors spend too much time trying to tell us what everyone feels, when they should just let us see it for ourselves. Other authors spend too much time on irrelevant details to the story, working in too much background information and taking away from the urgency. One witchy main character we’re supposed to identify with comes across more as the mean popular girl from high school, and she just isn’t very likable, even when she’s the wronged party. (Also, I’m not fond of the “I’m not good at social stuff but somehow I’m dating the most popular guy in the school” trope.) Another story has way too many weirdly hostile characters for no apparent reason. It doesn’t feel natural at all.

Some of the stories I haven’t called out by name do have some excellent action sequences, however. Overall I really enjoyed this anthology, and I look forward to reading the next two.

Content note for “Ariana’s Hope” by H.M. Jones: it involves body-policing of and lechery toward a thirteen-year-old girl. General content note: there are some mild sexual situations and some blood and death.

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Review: “Mockingbird,” Chuck Wendig

Pros: The world has gotten so much stranger!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Chuck Wendig’s Mockingbird (Miriam Black Book 2) is the follow-on to the wonderful Blackbirds. Miriam Black is a psychic with one, very obnoxious ability: the first time she touches someone skin-to-skin, she sees how they will die. Over the years she found that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t prevent someone’s death–until she discovered somewhat accidentally that as long as she sacrifices a life, she can save a life. She discovers this when she kills the man who is torturing and about to kill Louis, her friend. Now, Louis has caused her to settle down, living in a trailer park and working as a cashier at a store. Unfortunately, it’s killing Miriam’s wanderer spirit. (She used to hitchhike, follow people she knew would die soon, and take their valuables when they kicked off.) She’s even bowing to Louis’s desire for her to wear gloves so she doesn’t find out about anyone’s deaths. One day her manager fires her for her attitude, and she decides to ditch the gloves. What she sees and does next will catapult her right back into dealing with her abilities. She ends up visiting a boarding school for troubled girls, where she discovers that several of the girls are fated to be killed by a serial killer. Of course that’s supposed to happen a couple of years hence, so how is she supposed to figure out who the killer is now?

The mysterious powers that pushed at Miriam toward the end of Blackbirds amp up their game. They make it very clear they expect her to get involved and kick fate’s ass. They even appear to someone else at one point, and they start to interfere beyond merely giving confusing instructions. Miriam meets another psychic who has a similarly unusual and specific ability and who uses it to alter fate. The question is, is this someone essentially doing the same thing she is but from a different angle, or is this someone doing something altogether terrible? We also find out how Miriam first developed her ability, which is a dark and troubling story.

One of my favorite parts of this book was watching Miriam have to repeatedly find ways to sneak in and out of the Caldecott School, trying something a little different every time. There’s some entertaining material in here.

The relationship between Louis and Miriam is also interesting. Louis doesn’t want Miriam to give in to using her abilities, and he’s trying to decide if he can come to terms with her using them or not. The two have an on-again off-again relationship that makes sense given how utterly and completely different they are. Miriam has a tendency to say and do things that hurt Louis, largely because she feels trapped by his desire for her to lead a more “normal” life.

I really liked everything surrounding the other psychic Miriam meets and how they do their thing. The whole story and background and structure of it is really fascinating. I hope we’ll get to see more things like this as we continue the series, because the worldbuilding is really neat.

Content note for violence and death. I should also note that Miriam is sometimes a bit problematic (she makes inappropriate and offensive jokes sometimes), but I never get the feeling Wendig is condoning her attitudes. Instead she very much comes across as a work-in-progress who definitely has room to grow and learn.

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Review: “Blackbirds,” Chuck Wendig

Pros: Raucous, whirlwind adventure
Rating: 5 out of 5

Chuck Wendig brings us Blackbirds (1) (Miriam Black), book one of a six-book series. Miriam Black has a unique ability: when she touches someone skin-to-skin, she sees how that person will die. She’s been trying for years to figure out how to change fate, but no matter what she does she can’t keep people from dying. So now, instead, she finds people who are going to die very soon, tracks them until they do, and liberates the cash in their wallets. She isn’t exactly “suited” to a 9-to-5 job, so she hitchhikes all over the place and lives off of the cash she collects. Then she meets Louis. He’s a very nice trucker who seems interested in her. But when she touches him, she discovers that he’s due to die in about a month, tortured and killed with her name on his lips. She flees him, only to get roped into helping out a con artist, a guy named Ashley, with her ability. But Ashley has a secret–he stole a suitcase full of drugs. And there are three people on his trail looking for that case–three people with a taste for torture and murder.

Ingersoll, Frankie, and Harriet–the three people after Ashley–are fascinating creatures. Harriet likes to hurt people, and her story of how she got that way is really fascinating for all of the questions it doesn’t answer. Frankie is a very reluctant thug, giving him a bit of instant depth. And Ingersoll has no hair whatsoever, and is obsessed with a bunch of bones he carries with him. Once he finds Miriam’s diary, he becomes obsessed with her.

There’s plenty of danger, adventure, and close calls. Miriam is a cynical young woman with a lot of hard times in her past. Ashley is a self-serving ass, but the two of them strike a chord with each other. Miriam really is something of a vulture, keeping a datebook with notes on who’s going to die when so she can go rifle through their things when it happens. It’s interesting to see her waver on whether she wants to get close to Louis, and whether she wants to do it for her usual reasons, or maybe try once again to see whether she’s able to change fate.

All in all this is a really fun book and I can’t wait to read more of the series.

Content note for lots of salty language, slurs, death, sex, violence, and torture.

“I’m a wait-and-see kind of girl. More vulture than falcon.”

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