Author Archives: Invested Ivana

The Menagerie Trilogy by Rachel Vincent

Much like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a beautiful, fascinating, and timely commentary on gender and economic inequality and religiously-justified politics, Rachel Vincent’s Menagerie trilogy is a beautiful, fascinating, and timely commentary on xenophobia, “otherness,” and our tragic tendency to treat other people as sub-human out of fear, ignorance, and selfishness.

Titles: Menagerie, Spectacle, and Fury
Author: Rachel Vincent
Series: Menagerie Series
First Publish Date: September 29th, 2015, by Harlequin MIRA
Genre: Urban fantasy, dark fantasy
NarratorGabra Zackman
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description of MenagerieWhen Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions” — mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons, and kelpies — are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

In the world of Rachel Vincent’s Menagerie trilogy, cryptids have always existed—human/animal hybrids of myth and legend, creatures that look human but have inhuman abilities, etc. But it’s a horrible time for them. If they are outed and caught, they are ostracized from society, separated from their families, exploited and bred like beasts, and treated as deadly or evil creatures by humans.

The impetus for this treatment is an event that happened several years prior—a mass killing that occurred all across the globe, committed by creatures that were not human. Rage, fear, and ignorance spurred humans into tormenting all cryptids, believing that one form of cryptid was responsible for the killings.

Delilah Dawson has returned to her hometown after going to school for cryptid zoology in order to understand and care for the various cryptid creatures. Her boyfriends treats her to a trip to the carnival, where a menagerie of cryptids is on display. After watching the brutal treatment of a child werewolf by the menagerie staff, Delilah has an unexpected transformation—and gets labeled a cryptid herself.

This change in Delilah’s status is the real horror and appeal of the series. As a stand-in for the reader, Delilah—a perfectly normal human—suddenly becomes “other,” and the treatment she receives after that point is atrocious. It leads the reader to think, “What if that happened to me?” It reminds us that anything a group of people is allowed to do to others—such as tear children from parents and place them in animal cages—they can eventually do to us. It forces us to recognize the “frog in hot water” phenomenon that many people believe we are living through today.

Delilah, who has learned to view cryptids much the way a sympathetic vet or zoologist views animals, is now forced to see how little difference there is between them and herself. She comes to know them as individuals with the same concerns about their family and survival as she has. And because she had the privilege of a human upbringing and education, she is able to plot and scheme and fight for cryptid rights with more skill and righteous indignation than a cryptid without that privilege.

There are so many timely and relevant themes in this trilogy that it could be great fodder for a book club. At the same time, it is rich, beautiful, sorrowful, devastating, and empowering fantasy fiction and a joy to read. Stories like this one justify the theory that reading can help people be more empathetic, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent because they are “experiencing” events from a point of view other than their own. The audio version, narrated by Gabra Zackman, is fantastic. For me, hearing the characters’ voices really amps up my emotional connection to the story.

And did I mention the ending? Wow! It’s not a happy ending, but it’s not an unhappy ending, either. It’s clever, victorious, sad, and hopeful with a huge dollop of karma, which I adore. But it also leaves the reader with questions: What happens next? What impact does the final event have on the world? Will things get better for cryptids? Those questions go unanswered in the book, indicating that it is up to us how the future goes for everyone who is “other.” We readers have to be the ones to make that better future manifest in our own world.

The Menagerie trilogy is not popcorn fiction, but a significant commentary on the state of humanity in the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, and other great dystopian classics. But it’s also a beautiful, accessible, and highly-entertaining piece of fiction, one that will leave you with some deep thoughts and lots of feels. Five stars for each book.

Little by Edward Carey

A mix of very quirky characters and a superbly innocent voice make Little an intriguing look at a famous, yet little-known, historical figure.

Title: Little
Author: Edward Carey
Publish Date: October 23rd, 2018 by Riverhead Books
Genre: Historical fiction
Narrator: Jayne Entwistle
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionThe wry, macabre, unforgettable tale of an ambitious orphan in Revolutionary Paris, befriended by royalty and radicals, who transforms herself into the legendary Madame Tussaud.

In 1761, a tiny, odd-looking girl named Marie is born in a village in Switzerland. After the death of her parents, she is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor and whisked off to the seamy streets of Paris, where they meet a domineering widow and her quiet, pale son. Together, they convert an abandoned monkey house into an exhibition hall for wax heads, and the spectacle becomes a sensation. As word of her artistic talent spreads, Marie is called to Versailles, where she tutors a princess and saves Marie Antoinette in childbirth. But outside the palace walls, Paris is roiling: The revolutionary mob is demanding heads, and . . . at the wax museum, heads are what they do.

In the tradition of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Edward Carey’s Little is a darkly endearing cavalcade of a novel–a story of art, class, determination, and how we hold on to what we love.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

A while ago, Agent Annie suggested I might like the book Little, a fictional-yet-apparently-accurate-in-facts history of Madame Tussaud, of wax museum fame. Her recommendation was spot on. Little, particularly the audio version, is spectacular!

We meet Marie, who will eventually become Madame Tussaud, as a small child in Switzerland whose family is struggling after her father sustains a serious injury in the military. After her father’s death, her mother becomes housekeeper to a professor and then dies, leaving Marie to be buffeted on the winds of fate for the majority of her remaining life.

There are a couple of things I find fascinating about how this story is written. First, the tone of the story is so quirky-gothic. It feels similar to, though weightier than, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Addams Family, or the card game Gloom. Every character has some eccentric, quirky feature, such as the professor who is in love with bones, the Paris historian who never takes off his shoes, Marie’s childhood friend who comes to believe he is a dresser’s dummy, or the street urchin who behaves like the stray dogs who raised him. The eccentricities of each character are fascinating and the quirky tone of the story is very compelling, assuming quirky and dark is your thing. From a historical perspective, this tone also does a great job of characterizing the experience of the common citizen caught up in the craziness of the French Revolution.

Second, Marie’s voice, which we first hear as a child, retains that same child-like, innocent quality for the whole book. Not only her “voice,” as in a writing style, but also her literal voice, provided by narrator Jayne Entwistle, is absolutely perfect for the character and tone of the book. Particularly toward the end of the book, the reader witnesses Marie mature into an adult in terms of her actions and decisions, but her “voice” continues to be that of an innocent child, caught up in the machinations of fate, war, and people who have more power than she does.

This is a book I will listen to again, probably more than once. There is a lot to digest in terms of history and the way the writing style is both fun and yet layered to communicate the dynamics of power and absurdity of war and politics. It’s a brilliant piece of work, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Horror Flash Fiction & Art: Shadows On The Page

Today, dear readers, I have a treat to share with you! Picture, if you will, the literary version of popular TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, or Tales from the Darkside. That would be the beautifully dark and creepy website, Shadows On The Page.

“It’s been in the hall for days now. Standing at the door to my apartment. Sometimes it leans forward and presses its face against the peephole. Looking in at me. Willing me to let it in, too unintelligent to know that it could have me if it wanted.”  —The Thing In The Hall, Vince Font

Ivana says…

SotP pairs the hauntingly beautiful watercolor art of YouTuber Jane Font with her husband Vince’s horror-genre flash fiction—fictional works of extreme brevity that never-the-less contain a complete story. The husband-and-wife team match a story to a piece of art, or vice versa, and post the combo to the SotP blog a few times a month.

Vince’s stories range from simply mysterious, like Out Beyond The Mist and The Mystery At Laughing Rock, to disturbing, such as Mother and The Killing Tree, and from touching, like the companion pieces Night Visit and Tess, to downright scary, like The Thing On The Lake and The Thing In The Hall.

The Darklings by Jane Font

Jane’s watercolor art enhances the feel of each story. The art for The Darklings foreshadows that visceral feeling of disbelief and betrayal that comes when adorable pets turn into scary killers. The oddly-romantic red moon and evergreens of Howl: A Lycanthropic Love Song create the perfect setting for a painful werewolf transformation. And the art for The Thing In The Hall really ups the creep factor for that story! My favorite images are probably the ones for Tess and for Cemetery Man, a story that reminds us that the supernatural is oftentimes less monstrous than mankind.

Each post on SotP is a sparkling jewel of creepy, carrying with it a sense of mystery and wonder that is often missing from the mundane world. If you want just a little taste of spooky, just enough to remind yourself that you are alive and safe and living in the normal world, be sure to visit Shadows On The Page.

The Cemetery Man by Jane Font

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Vince Font is a published author and founder of Glass Spider Publishing, which offers support services for self-publishing authors.

Jane Font is an artist and art instructor. She offers acrylic and watercolor tutorials on her YouTube channel, Painting With Jane.

Devils and Details by Devon Monk

On our second visit to Ordinary, Oregon, things heat up as the god powers are lost, people turn up dead, new players come to town, and more secrets are revealed.

Title: Devils and Details
Author: Devon Monk
Series: Ordinary Magic, Book 02
Publish Date: August 31st, 2016, by Odd House Press
Genre: Urban fantasy
Cover: Lou Harper, Cover Affairs
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionCaught between the devil and the deep blue sea…

Police Chief Delaney Reed is good at keeping secrets for the beach town of Ordinary Oregon–just ask the vacationing gods or supernatural creatures who live there.

But with the first annual Cake and Skate fundraiser coming up, the only secret Delaney really wants to know is how to stop the unseasonable rain storms. When all the god powers are stolen, a vampire is murdered, and her childhood crush turns out to be keeping deadly secrets of his own, rainy days are the least of her worries.

Hunting a murderer, outsmarting a know-it-all god, and uncovering an ancient vampire’s terrifying past isn’t how she planned to spend her summer. But then again, neither is falling back in love with the one man she should never trust.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

As with the first book in this series, there were a couple of story points I didn’t care much for, but overall, I really enjoyed this visit to Ordinary, Oregon.

I mention in my review for Death and Relaxation that something happens at the end that I feel was too little reward for the sacrifice. Unfortunately, part of the plot of Devils and Details is built on this event, so I was constantly thinking about that while I was listening. There is also the fact that neither Delaney nor her sisters, who are supposed to be the experts at Ordinary guardianship,  recognize that a blatant violation of the agreement made between the gods and Ordinary would cause a problem. That bothered me, especially since the rule was made very clear to the reader. That aspect felt too forced in order to make the rest of the story work.

The last bit I didn’t care for was the introduction of a shadowy para-government agency. There is so much going on in Ordinary already that it didn’t feel necessary or fully developed. But perhaps more will come of that in future books.

Despite those story elements, the characters and quirks of Ordinary are fun and compelling, as is the mystery. Bertie and her manipulations, Crow and his cockiness, Odin and his stubbornness, Death and his wacky outfits, Old Rosi, and the werewolves are all wonderful characters that I love visiting. I care about these characters and the town, and that, for me, is what makes for a good story.

Other reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

…you might try the Scarlet Bernard series by Melissa F. Olson, the Madison Fox series by Rebecca Chastain, or the Nicki Styx series by Terri Garey.

Death and Relaxation by Devon Monk

NEW: Audiobook review added.

Small town politics, family legacies, lost loves, vacationing gods, mysterious deaths, and lots and lots of rhubarb. Be sure to check out this fun series by Devon Monk!

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

27828473Title:  Death and Relaxation
Author:  Devon Monk
Series: Ordinary Magic Book 01
Publish Date:  June 20, 2016, by Odd House Press
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Cover: Lou Harper, Cover Affairs
Genre:  Urban fantasy
Source: ebook provided by the author, audiobook purchased

Publisher’s Description: Police Chief Delaney Reed can handle the Valkyries, werewolves, gill-men and other paranormal creatures who call the small beach town of Ordinary, Oregon their home. It’s the vacationing gods who keep her up at night.

With the famous Rhubarb Festival right around the corner, small-town tensions, tempers, and godly tantrums are at an all-time high. The last thing Delaney needs is her ex-boyfriend reappearing just when she’s finally caught the attention of Ryder Bailey, the one man she should never love.

No, scratch that. The actual last thing she needs is a dead body washing ashore, especially since the dead body is a god.

Catching a murderer, wrestling a god power, and re-scheduling the apocalypse? Just another day on the job in Ordinary. Falling in love with her childhood friend while trying to keep the secrets of her town secret? That’s gonna take some work.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

Audiobook review, Jan 2019

I read this book back in June of 2016 but didn’t end up finishing the series at that time because … life, ya know? So I picked up the first three books in the series in audio so I could catch up.

The series is read by Khristine Hvam, who also narrates the Jane Yellowrock book. It took my brain a bit to adjust to that voice representing a different world, but not too long. Hvam is awesome and did a fantastic job.

I always find it interesting how the mood I’m in at the time really affects how a book sits with me. I remember when I read this book the first time, I was pretty tickled with it, but later couldn’t recall many details. This time around I listened to it (which I think involves processing the story very differently) and enjoyed it a lot, but was feeling more critical—not in the negative sense, but in the sense that I was paying more attention and evaluating with a deeper eye.

For example, there is something that happens near the end of the book that bugged me this time around because it felt like the sacrifice wasn’t worth the reward; there was a bit of foreshadowing that felt MacGuffin-ish or never fully explained; and the romance aspect was a bit too melodramatic for my taste at times.

However, I really enjoyed the mystery, the mythology, the characters, their relationships, and the world overall, so I still enjoyed it quite a lot. Plus there’s humor, which is a treasure at times. I had read some darker fantasy just prior to reading this series, and the lighter, more optimistic feel of this series was a wonderful change.

So I have to say that I’m still pretty tickled with this series, particularly in audio. It’s engaging and optimistic, and I’m invested in the characters. Ordinary, Oregon seems like a great place for a vacation. 4 stars.

Text review, June 2016

What drew me to this book: I’m a big fan of Devon Monk; I love her Allie Beckstrom and House Immortal series. So when I saw she had a new series coming out, I was pretty excited. Plus, the cover, designed by Lou Harper, is lovely.

Why I kept reading: Death and Relaxation is a lighter series than I’m used to from Monk, but I really liked it. It’s a murder mystery, a light urban fantasy, and a bit of paranormal romance all in one book.

The small town of Ordinary is home to many things—the Reed family, the Rhubarb festival, and every type of supernatural creature and divine immortal imaginable. The Police Chief, Delany Reed, gets to deal with it all, including vacationing gods, old boyfriends, the death of a god, and the rehousing of the god’s power. Oh, and judging the Rhubarb festival—and she doesn’t even like rhubarb.

At one point, I thought I had the romance part of this book figured out; but I was totally wrong. At least, so far. I never did have the murder figured out. I like that! The end of the book hints that there are much bigger things in store for Ordinary. With so much going on in this small town, I have no doubt there will be more good things to come.

Why I recommend it: Monk’s new book is great entertainment. It gives you a little taste of several genres and the mystery is unpredictable. The town and characters are interesting and quirky, as you might expect from a small town. The ending is satisfying and yet hints that things are about to get serious. I’m really looking forward to the next book.

If you like this book…

…you might try the Scarlet Bernard series by Melissa F. Olson, the Madison Fox series by Rebecca Chastain, or the Nicki Styx series by Terri Garey.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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