Nightbooks by J.A. White | Book Review

A boy who loves writing scary stories finds himself in one.

  • Rating: ★★★★☆
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Age group: Middle grade
  • Content warnings: Animal abuse, death
  • Recommended for readers who want a more modern fantasy spin on the tale of Hansel and Gretel.

Blurb from Goodreads:

A boy is imprisoned by a witch and must tell her a new scary story each night to stay alive. This thrilling contemporary fantasy from J. A. White, the acclaimed author of the Thickety series, brings to life the magic and craft of storytelling.

Alex’s original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping the witch Natacha happy, but soon he’ll run out of pages to read from and be trapped forever. He’s loved scary stories his whole life, and he knows most don’t have a happily ever after. Now that Alex is trapped in a true terrifying tale, he’s desperate for a different ending—and a way out of this twisted place.

This modern spin on the Scheherazade story is perfect for fans of Coraline and A Tale Dark and Grimm. With interwoven tips on writing with suspense, adding in plot twists, hooks, interior logic, and dealing with writer’s block, this is the ideal book for budding writers and all readers of delightfully just-dark-enough tales.

The Good

Alex’s scary stories: This kid could’ve teamed up with Stephen Gammell and traumatized every childhood ten times more. I mean, the stories were more suspenseful than scary, but that’s my kind of horror. The “Lost Dog” story was my favorite. Imagine the illustration that could’ve completed it. Imagine the illustration for every story. I want this to happen.

Alex: I like a protagonist who’s a writer and an outcast without being a grimdark edgelord. Alex has a dark, twisted imagination compared to his peers, but he wishes he didn’t because it doesn’t make him easy to accept. He also struggles with writer’s block and I like how Yasmin, the other captive who becomes his friend, manages to help him. The banter between them is fairly amusing.

Lenore: I love pets that have humanlike personalities in books. Lenore has an attitude and can turn invisible, so she’s always keeping an eye on the kids, but she’s just doing her job as the witch’s cat.

Hansel and Gretel retelling: I’m usually not interested in retellings, but I like witches. Natacha wasn’t very frightening as a witch, though. She was more like a hot-tempered, self-entitled bully on a power trip. I’m sure it would be scary in person, but it wasn’t quite so on paper. She wasn’t totally uninteresting, at least. She perceives a darkness in Alex like her own and has some relatability.

Unicorns: They weren’t the nicest, but there were unicorns and I appreciate that.

The Bad

Not that scary: Yeah, yeah, I know it’s middle grade, but this read as if it were intended for an even younger audience. Alex’s stories were scarier than the story itself.

Slightly rushed ending: It wasn’t the worst ending. I mean, it worked. I just think the twist could’ve happened earlier and thus the story could’ve been scarier.

Final Thoughts

Although it’s not the scariest middle grade novel, Nightbooks was an enjoyable read overall. It’s fun and a Neil Gaiman type of creative with themes of friendship and staying true to yourself. Apparently, a Netflix film adaptation is in the works and I’m looking forward to watching it!

But I quickly discovered that real darkness isn’t fun, like in stories. People die. You can’t click the backspace key and bring them back to life again. I hated it. It’s not who I am at all.

J.A. White, Nightbooks

The Sunday Post #2

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share News. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog.

Bookish News

I returned the Vankyo tablet and bought the Lenovo Tab M8 FHD. Although more expensive, it was worth it. I should’ve realized the Vankyo had a lower resolution, but you know me. I’m just not good at being new. 😜 At least now I’ll be posting more on my Instagram!

I purchased a Brooklyn Public Library membership. Since my library doesn’t carry many of the titles that I’m looking for, I decided to search for libraries that issue cards to out-of-state residents. I compared the handful that do and Brooklyn had just about everything. The cost is $50 a year, but counties outside my own charge no less. After paying the fee, I disregarded the next step, thinking that showing ID only applied to New York residents, so I waited a week for the activation email and contacted support and yeah, I’m dumb. BUT THE BOOKS! I am happy. My tablet is happy.

The little reading corner in my bedroom is complete! I bought a bookshelf for the books that have been in my closet since forever and a big, comfy and purple chair. It’s all decorated like Halloween because I love Halloween aside from rainbows and unicorns. Pictures coming soon.

Non-Bookish News

I’m finally getting my license. Apparently, the motor vehicle place is reopening soon and I’m looking forward to it. Yes, my twenties are almost over and I still don’t have my driver’s license. I’ve just always been afraid to drive, especially as a slow learner who is exceptionally bad with directions and cries at the thought of a horn honking at me. Wish me luck. 🙃

Wait. I need new glasses and contact lenses first. Damn it.

My old hard drive is not working. I wanted to transfer old art to my laptop, which I should’ve done a few years ago when the thing was removed from the PC because now it isn’t booting up. I have no idea how much it will to cost to recover the files. Life is an expensive adventure.

I might give up my dream of getting published. I’ve struggled for years to finish a story. I’m beginning to accept the fact that I just can’t commit to long-term projects. Being an author is a life job (if you want to really succeed) and I just want to read books and talk about them instead, you know? I’m tired of being ambitious.

Unwritten by Tara Gilboy | Book Review

A girl’s curiosity about her fictional origins puts her back in the story that sealed her fate.

  • Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Age group: Middle grade
  • Content warnings: Intrusive thoughts, vomit
  • Recommended for readers who want an uncomplicated as well as compelling portal fantasy about honesty and self-determination.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Gracie Freeman is living a normal life, but she is haunted by the fact that she is actually a character from a story, an unpublished fairy tale she’s never read. When she was a baby, her parents learned that she was supposed to die in the story, and with the help of a magic book, took her out of the story, and into the outside world, where she could be safe.

But Gracie longs to know what the story says about her. Despite her mother’s warnings, Gracie seeks out the story’s author, setting in motion a chain of events that draws herself, her mother, and other former storybook characters back into the forgotten tale. Inside the story, Gracie struggles to navigate the blurred boundary between who she really is and the surprising things the author wrote about her. As the story moves toward its deadly climax, Gracie realizes she’ll have to face a dark truth and figure out her own fairy tale ending.

The Good

Fascinating plot: I love pretty much anything to do with alternate universes and portals to them, especially if they involve fictional characters. The idea that they’d choose to live in our universe instead of theirs is just so interesting. What more can I say?

Fast-paced and gripping: The pacing might’ve been a little too fast, but I doubt a younger audience would complain. The story couldn’t have been easier to follow and there wasn’t a moment where it dragged. A lot happens within just 175 pages (198 total) and some scenes are pretty intense.

Morally ambiguous characters: Although the characters weren’t some of the most complex, they weren’t all good or all evil. The “heroes” didn’t make the best choices and the “villain” had some integrity.

Good message: Sometimes it’s better to be honest with kids and trust that they can handle the truth. That’s the major lesson in this book.

The Bad

Gracie is kind of a brat: She’s selfish, hot-tempered, and unforgiving, but I guess it’s because she was literally written that way. Still, I felt bad for Gertrude and Jacob and even Gracie’s mother. They made mistakes, but they weren’t malicious, especially Gertrude who was just plain unaware of her ability to bring stories to life. Gracie acts as if everyone around her is supposed to be perfect and morally upstanding at all times. She was honestly more of a “villain” than Cassandra.

Somewhat flat characters: I know this is a middle grade novel and characters don’t have to be that deep, but it could’ve been better had they been more fleshed out. Walter, Gracie’s friend, is the “science geek” trope personified. There’s really nothing more to him and so he’s pretty forgettable, like his parents. Jacob and Gracie’s mother had a little depth, I suppose. Gertrude, too. Cassandra? Well, she wasn’t a cartoonish villain, at least.

Quantum woo: I’m no expert in any field of scientific study, but I’m fairly skeptical and check the facts. Walter, again, is your typical “I need to see it to believe it” science nerd, but then he claims there’s so much dark matter in the universe that scientists think it proves there are other dimensions. He also mentions parallel and infinite universes and how quantum mechanics makes them possible.

Firstly, dimensions in physics are not the same as dimensions in science fiction. They are not synonymous with alternate universes. Real dimensions are shapes and geometry. Secondly, dark matter is mostly just an unknown form of matter that’s difficult to detect and produce. It doesn’t have any significant interactions other than with gravity. So, it also has nothing to do with the multiverse theory despite how some people try to spin it.

As for the part about quantum mechanics, it’s basically all theoretical and doesn’t really confirm anything. It’s impossible to know for sure whether parallel/alternate/infinite universes exist or not. Yeah, reality sucks. That’s why we have fiction.

Final Thoughts

I know I gave this book three out of five stars and expanded more on the cons than the pros, but I did like it. Younger readers are bound to enjoy it the most. A second book was published in April, so I’ll be reading and reviewing it sometime. Hopefully Gracie is a more redeemable character and there’s a little more development, character-wise as well as world-building-wise.

Because what does it mean, really, to be labeled a villain? No one actually thinks of herself as a villain. We are all the heroes in our own stories.

Tara Gilboy, Unwritten