Giveaway: “For the Wolf”

Book: “For the Wolf” by Hannah Whitten

Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2021

Book Description: As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

Giveaway Details: Summer is the season of the wolf! Or so it seems this year, what with three (three on my radar, at least) books coming out with this theme. Fantasy fans will either love this trend or dislike it, but as a fan of fairytale re-tellings, this is definitely one trend I can get behind. Though, of course, when there are trends like this in genres, readers are always left biting their fingernails waiting for the first misstep! Luckily, two books in, I haven’t found it yet!

I really enjoyed “For the Wolf.” I’ll post my full review on Friday, of course, but I can say briefly that this was an even more enjoyable read for me than “The Wolf and the Woodsman” was. It was also a bit of a surprise, as I would say it’s definitely closer to a “Beauty and the Beast” re-telling than any other fairytale. That worked out perfectly for me! And fans of that story should definitely check this one out.

The giveaway is open only to U.S. residents and ends on June 23, 2021.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “Children of Chicago”

Book: “Children of Chicago” by Cynthia Pelayo

Publishing Info: Agora Books, February 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This horrifying retelling of the Pied Piper fairytale set in present-day Chicago is an edge of your seat, chills up the spine, thrill ride. ‪ When Detective Lauren Medina sees the calling card at a murder scene in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, she knows the Pied Piper has returned. When another teenager is brutally murdered at the same lagoon where her sister’s body was found floating years before, she is certain that the Pied Piper is not just back, he’s looking for payment he’s owed from her. Lauren’s torn between protecting the city she has sworn to keep safe, and keeping a promise she made long ago with her sister’s murderer. She may have to ruin her life by exposing her secrets and lies to stop the Pied Piper before he collects.

Review: There were, of course, many disappointments that came with the pandemic, and one of the biggest sub groups for me was of the cinematic variety. Not only do I really miss going to the Alamo Drafthouse for throwback movie nights, there were a number of movies I was very excited to see in the theater, that either had to be released on demand, or were bumped back by a year. One of those movies was the reboot of “Candyman”. For the unfamiliar, the premise is that if you say ‘Candyman’ into a mirror five times, he will come out of it and brutally murder you. I really enjoy the original, as not only does it tick my boxes of urban legend based horror and social commentary, it’s also an awesome deep dive into the city of Chicago and all of its darker realities (and seeing that I’m vaxxed now, if the numbers are looking good by the time this new movie comes out, maybe that will be my triumphant return to the movies…. fingers crossed?). Lucky for me, I randomly stumbled upon “Children of Chicago” by Cynthia Pelayo on Twitter, and after looking into it, lo and behold: it’s a horror story in Chicago, involving a mysterious game and the fairy tale of the Pied Piper, the man who steals children away when he isn’t compensated. OH MAN, THIS IS WHAT I WANT IN MY HORROR STORIES!

“You were not content with the stories, so I was obliged to come.” (source)

There are certainly comparisons to be drawn between “Children of Chicago” and “Candyman”, but Pelayo has created a horror story that feels wholly unique because of the themes and twists that she throws into it. The Pied Piper story turned urban legend is a great premise, as the fairy tale on its own is horrifying. When you bring it into a modern setting, and add in elements of “Bloody Mary” like kids games and Slenderman stabbings, it becomes something new and even more sinister. As our protagonist Detective Lauren Medina investigates the deaths of kids in Chicago, we find ourselves in a modern fairy tale with elements that suit both the horror genre and the genre it’s paying homage to. Pelayo has a stellar mystery of what the Pied Piper is, how he connects to Lauren, and how he’s involved in not only the deaths of teens in her jurisdiction, but also that of her younger sister, who was found drowned in a lagoon in Humboldt Park when Lauren was a child. As she investigates and starts to piece together what is going on, the tension builds and the terror creeps up. I loved how Pelayo took the original story and applied it to the present, bringing in modern horrors and anxieties to create something twisted and new. Sometimes things got a bit muddled, or I would feel like it was lagging a bit in terms of pacing, but mostly I was hooked and wanted to keep going.

Pelayo also has a lot of really fun tidbits about Chicago’s history, both that of the innovative and joyful city, and that of the darkness and violence that has plagued it since its inception. I know a little bit about Chicago, given that I’m from the Midwest and it is the biggest city in our region, but I feel like I learned more about it and its history as I read this book. Pelayo has a special focus on the systemic racism that has caused so many problems and damaged so many lives, and how Chicago has a lot of death surrounding it because of its history and because of the ills that still plague it. You get the sense that Pelayo loves Chicago, and wants it to be the best that it can be, while still acknowledging how dark it is in some ways.

But what struck me most about “Children of Chicago” is that our protagonist, Lauren Medina, is not exactly a hero. She carries a lot of baggage from her past, from the disappearance of her mother to the death of her sister, to trying to live up to the Medina name as her father was a highly respected police officer in his own right. There is also the very pesky fact that Lauren has a pretty serious pattern of discharging her weapon on suspects, and while in one case it’s possibly justifiable, in a number of other cases it isn’t. I feel like in cop stories where a cop or detective or what have you is trying to hunt down someone monstrous, more often than not if they ARE a ‘renegade’, it’s portrayed in a way that makes their behavior seem justified (though recently we saw a bit of a challenge to this in Stephen King’s “Later”). Not so in “Children of Chicago”. Lauren is a renegade and it is a serious problem, in that it damages her credibility, it damages the credibility of her department, and it causes damage to innocent peoples lives. It’s just one more layer of darkness to this tale, and getting into the mind of Lauren and peeling back the elements of her character is just as disturbing as some of the other aspects of this book.

Horror fans, you should definitely go read “Children of Chicago”. And I’m on board with whatever Pelayo comes out with next.

Rating 8: Dark and twisted, as well as a biting character study, “Children of Chicago” is a love letter to a complicated city, and an urban legend scary story sure to delight horror fans.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Children of Chicago” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases”.

Find “Children of Chicago” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Book Club Review: “Big Friendship”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Outside the Genre Box”, in which we each picked a book from a genre or format that we don’t usually read.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close” by Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, July 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Genre/Format: Self-Help Memoir

Book Description: A close friendship is one of the most influential and important relationships a human life can contain. Anyone will tell you that! But for all the rosy sentiments surrounding friendship, most people don’t talk much about what it really takes to stay close for the long haul.

Now two friends, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, tell the story of their equally messy and life-affirming Big Friendship in this honest and hilarious book that chronicles their first decade in one another’s lives. As the hosts of the hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend, they’ve become known for frank and intimate conversations. In this book, they bring that energy to their own friendship—its joys and its pitfalls.

An inspiring and entertaining testament to the power of society’s most underappreciated relationship, Big Friendship will invite you to think about how your own bonds are formed, challenged, and preserved. It is a call to value your friendships in all of their complexity. Actively choose them. And, sometimes, fight for them.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m not a big nonfiction reader and when I do read in the genre, it’s usually more history-based. But I was intrigued by this book when it was selected for bookclub. You can throw a stone any direction and hit a book talking about the trials and tribulations of romantic and family relationships. What you don’t often find are books that discuss the work involved in maintaining friendships.

The backstory behind this book in particular was interesting. The two authors have co-run a successful blog for many years before deciding to write a book about friendship and the challenges they in particular have faced and overcome in their many years working together and being friends. And, I think, this is a bit where the concept fell off for me. The book was much more focused on the ins and outs of their unique stories and situations. While they confronted issues such as race and the balance of roles in friends who also work together, the story was also very narrowed down to their own experiences. As such, I felt it was only marginally useful as a general topic book about maintaining friendships.

I also wasn’t familiar with their blog. That being the case, I was perhaps even less interested in the details of their situation. To me, it read simply as two random people writing about their friendship, which started to feel a bit strange as I went on. Fans of the podcast are likely going to get much more out of this book, as they would already have an established interest and investment in these two individuals. But for me, I had been hoping for a bit more of a general examination of the unique aspects involved in friendships.

The writing also threw me off. They made the choice to write the book in third person, essentially referring to themselves in third person throughout. I could see glimpses of the humor and style that must be part of what has made their podcast such a success, but I struggled with the process of actually reading this book.

Kate’s Thoughts

Unlike Serena, I do like to dabble in non-fiction a fair amount, though more often than not it’s usually true crime with the occasional memoir, or a history book. I’m really not big into self help, or memoirs that delve into relationship dynamics. So “Big Friendship” was definitely going to be stretching my reading muscles a bit. My experience with the book was pretty similar to Serena; it didn’t really connect with me the way I had hoped it would.

Serena covers a lot of the same qualms that I had with the book (the writing style drove me a bit batty, to be honest). I thought that it was very much based on their own relationship and personality dynamics, and therefore am not sure that I was getting much out of it from a complete ‘this is how you nurture friendships’ angle. Which is too bad, because I really do think that our culture doesn’t value a platonic friendship relationship in the same ways it does familial or romantic ones. I went into this book with no idea as to who these two women are, or what their friendship is like, and therefore didn’t really have any investment into their thoughts on how they’ve maintained it. All of that said, I am pretty certain that were I familiar with their podcast and had I formed that kind of attachment to them as people, this book probably would have connected better.

And that isn’t to say that I got absolutely nothing from it. I really liked how they talked about how different friendships have ‘rituals’ that help maintain it, like perhaps a favorite bar to go to or a certain routine that applies to a get together or meet up. That section definitely had me thinking about the rituals that I have in my own friendships (Chinese food, video games, and LGBTQIA+ movies with my friend David immediately came to mind during this section), and it kind of made me appreciate the routines that we do have that make our friendships unique to us. I also appreciated the honest talk about the extra work and care it takes between friends of different cultural backgrounds and racial lines, and how exhausting it can be for POC when their white friends aren’t being as supportive or empathetic as they think they are being, and how these white friends need to do the work of listening and applying changes to how they act after letting their friend down.

Overall, while there were a couple of things I felt were insightful, “Big Friendship” wasn’t a hit for me. Fans of the podcast will probably find more to love here than I did.

Serena’s Rating 6: Unfortunately not for me, but it has inspired me to seek out other nonfiction books that discuss friendship.

Kate’s Rating 6: While it had a couple bits that I could apply to my own friendships, overall “Big Friendship” wasn’t my literary cup of tea.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think about the progression of these ladies relationships and lives in the book? Did you relate to either of them more than the other?
  2. The authors talk about the concept of ‘low drama mamas’ who don’t thrive on drama within their personal circles. Do you see yourself that way, or have you had times where you do find yourself drawn to drama?
  3. What do you think of their idea of ‘shine theory?’ Do you see yourself trying to apply it in your life and relationships?
  4. Do you think that social media draws us closer, or pulls us apart?
  5. Moving forward, do you think there are any components of this book that have to do with friendships that you think you will try and apply to your relationships?

Reader’s Advisory

“Big Friendship” is included on the Goodreads lists “Better Friendships: Essential Nonfiction on Friendships”, and “Feminism Published in Decades: 2020s”.

Find “Big Friendship” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler

Serena’s Review: “The Apocalypse Seven”

Book: “The Apocalypse Seven” by Gene Doucette

Publishing Info: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whatever.

The whateverpocalypse. That’s what Touré, a twenty-something Cambridge coder, calls it after waking up one morning to find himself seemingly the only person left in the city. Once he finds Robbie and Carol, two equally disoriented Harvard freshmen, he realizes he isn’t alone, but the name sticks: Whateverpocalypse. But it doesn’t explain where everyone went. It doesn’t explain how the city became overgrown with vegetation in the space of a night. Or how wild animals with no fear of humans came to roam the streets.

Add freakish weather to the mix, swings of temperature that spawn tornadoes one minute and snowstorms the next, and it seems things can’t get much weirder. Yet even as a handful of new survivors appear—Paul, a preacher as quick with a gun as a Bible verse; Win, a young professional with a horse; Bethany, a thirteen-year-old juvenile delinquent; and Ananda, an MIT astrophysics adjunct—life in Cambridge, Massachusetts gets stranger and stranger.

The self-styled Apocalypse Seven are tired of questions with no answers. Tired of being hunted by things seen and unseen. Now, armed with curiosity, desperation, a shotgun, and a bow, they become the hunters. And that’s when things truly get weird.  

Review: There was definitely a phase for post-apocalyptic books a few years back. It seemed you couldn’t help but run into about five different ones the moment you stepped foot in a bookstore or library. No, however, the trends have seemed to move on. But that doesn’t mean readers who enjoy the genre have! So I was pleased to see this book pop up and read it straight away. Sadly, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me, though I think the concept was interesting enough.

Overnight, it happens. The world ends, nature runs wild, and people disappear. All but seven random individuals who wake up to find themselves seemingly alone on an almost unrecognizable planet. Vegetation has reclaimed the cities, and animals have climbed back to the top of the food chains. To say nothing about the bizarre weather. Slowly, these seven begin to run into each other, piecing together their own experiences and trying to make sense of their new reality. Where did everyone go? Why were they left behind? And what do they do next?

While this book didn’t really work for me, I did like the essential premise. The fact that the apocalypse happens suddenly, with no warning, and with no obvious explanations. I’ll also note that this is a handy little trick for an author who wants to just get down to the business of writing the immediate aftermath without needing to put much explanation out there. On one hand, this could be seen as lazy. On the other hand, it could leave open the door for an author to really dig into a more action-oriented story with mysteries that can build toward a resolution as the story progresses. Unfortunately, whichever was the original purpose of the choice, I don’t think the author really used it to its best advantage.

Instead of getting a head start on the story, it felt like sixty percent or so of the book itself was preamble. It takes forever for the seven characters to actually meet up and somehow, in a story full of wild animals and strange weather, everything seemed to kind of plod along. Definitely not what you want for a story with the type of stakes that are set up here, something that should lend itself towards quick action and swift pacing.

The story also didn’t seem to want to (or be able to) fully explore the philosophies and themes touched on in the story. Where does humanity go in the face of the loss of most of humankind itself? What role does religion play in one’s individual journey in these circumstances? Do people rise to the occasion or sink under existential hopelessness? There’s a lot of rich material to be explored with this type of book and, indeed, the story touches on many of these themes. However, it does nothing more than just touch on them. In many ways, it read like post-apocalyptic-lite, unable to settle on a lane between light and comedic or deep and thoughtful. Instead, the book seemed to try to both and thus failed at each.

In the end, I felt like this book was more of a good idea than it was an actual read. I’m not sure if the author just wasn’t sure of exactly what he was attempting to accomplish or just wasn’t up to the task, in the end. Those who are really hankering for a post-apocalyptic story might enjoy this. But, especially for those who don’t mind YA, I’d definitely point readers towards “Dustborn” instead.

Rating 6: Ultimately, the book was unable to fully amount to much, resting too hard on the concept itself and not providing enough fleshed-out story to support itself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Apocalypse Seven” is a newer title, so it isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Best Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.”

Find “The Apocalypse Seven” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “The Lost Village”

Book: “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened. But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice: They are not alone. They’re looking for the truth… But what if it finds them first?

Review: Awhile back I was perusing the titles on NetGalley, and I kept stumbling upon a book called “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten. Every time I would see it I’d ask myself ‘why haven’t I looked into that?’, but then I’d look again and the description was the key. You have me at “Blair Witch Project”, but you lose me at “Midsommar” (sacrilege? Maybe. I just didn’t like that movie). But eventually I decided that I needed to give it a go. So I bought it, and as soon as I started it I never should have waited as long as I did.

Me contemplating the time I wasted. I dislike the movie, but love this meme! (source)

“The Lost Village” is a slow burn horror story that (absolutely) has similar elements to “The Blair Witch Project” and “Midsommar”, but stands very well on its own. The story is told through various channels. The first and most prominent follows Alice and her film crew in the modern day, as they start to explore the abandoned village of Silvertjärn. Alice’s grandmother was a resident who had left before the disappearance, and who lost her entire family. Alice is obsessed and determined to make a documentary about the town in hopes of getting answers, but there is tension in her crew due to messy histories and secrets. In this timeline strange things start happening, and the crew slowly starts finding themselves in danger. The second channel follows Elsa, Alice’s great grandmother who is seeing her town slowly become seduced by a new pastor, whose zealotry is manipulating everyone and leading them down a dangerous path. The third is through letters between Elsa’s daughters Margareta and Aina, which slowly shows Aina becoming more and more entranced with the new leader. All of these pieces come together to tell a well thought out horror story that slowly builds the dread and terror. I liked the back and forth through the narrative, as each storyline contained clues about the others, and the ultimate fate of Silvertjärn. The strongest was the modern day perspective, as not only did it have some of the scariest moments, it also had the most interesting characters. Alice is a flawed but interesting protagonist, and her interactions with her compatriots (particularly with Emmy, an ex-friend that Alice harbors some bitter resentment towards) are realistic as the situation turns from intriguing to dire. I found myself invested in them, so when the stakes are raised, the fallout has true weight. Sten makes you care about these characters, and that ultimately amps up the horror aspects.

And let’s talk about the horror aspects. Because they are spot on and very, very disturbing. The more obvious is that of the feeling that the crew is being watched in the abandoned town, and the slow build of paranoia as strange things start to happen, and one of the members of the crew starts acting strange as well. Some of the images that Sten brings forth in the narrative really messed with me in this regard, from descriptions of a corpse on a post to a shadowed silhouette staring towards Alice and her crew in the dark. The other horror, of course, is set firmly in the past storyline, as a town of generally decent people start to form a cultish devotion to a sociopathic con artist who twists religious fervor to suit his own needs. You eventually kind of see where this is all going, knowing that eventually Silvertjärn’s population just vanishes without a trace, but it still made me tense and completely horrified as people fell under his spell and terrible things came about because of it. The horrors of real life are put on perfect display here, and boy oh boy does it pack a wallop.

Fans of horror stories absolutely need to read “The Lost Village”. I cannot, CANNOT wait to see what Camilla Sten comes out with next.

Rating 9: Tense and ultimately horrifying, “The Lost Village” is sure to disturb any avid fans of horror in all the best ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Village” is included on the Goodreads lists “Haunting Reads”, and “Books Set in Sweden”.

Find “The Lost Village” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Wolf and the Woodsman”

Book: “The Wolf and the Woodsman” by Ava Reid

Publishing Info: Del Rey, June 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

Review: Apparently summer 2021 was the time for all of the publishers to release books with titles/themes derived from “Red Riding Hood.” This is the first of three, yes THREE, books that have something to do with this story and come out within weeks of each other. It’s pretty crazy! This was the first one I picked up, and it definitely started out this run strong.

Growing up in a remote village made up of women who are persecuted for their powers, Evike has grown up as a point of persecution herself for her own lack of power. The daughter of a mother who died when she was young and a father from a different religion and land, Evike has had no place to call her own. But when she’s sacrificed by her own village to be sent to the capitol city as tribute, she finds an unlikely ally in the crown prince, a young man who understands what it means to grow up with your feet in different worlds. Together, they travel to distant corners of the cold, bitter land, attempting to find a magic powerful enough to protect a country that doesn’t want them from the prince’s fanatical brother.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. Strangely, I think one of the things I most appreciated about it was that while the book description could sound very “YA fantasy” (and don’t get me wrong, I still love YA fantasy), the book itself is definitely an adult fantasy novel. Not only are our main characters in their mid-twenties with the life experiences that come along with that, but the story itself was quite dark and brutal at times. The stakes felt appropriately high, and when things went poorly, they went very poorly.

I also enjoyed the seamless merger of pagan beliefs, fairytales (references to Baba Yaga, the fabled firebird, and, of course, the “Red Riding Hood” bit), and the various religions that make up this world. Evike’s village’s background represent pagan beliefs, a belief that is often more centered around feminine power, thus in this story the magical abilities are limited to the women of the village. Evike’s father is Yehuli, a faith and people that clearly represent Judaism, with parallel examples of the type of systemic persecution Jewish people have experienced throughout history, essentially having no land or home of their own and constantly under suspicion where ever they are. The primary religion doesn’t necessarily line up with any one religion, but it does have the general traits of the pitfalls that can fall upon a country when its people begin to only recognize one faith as valid.

I also really enjoyed how the fairytale elements were woven into the story. The monsters were truly scary, and their connections to the more traditional monsters that we think of in fairytales were done in unique, subtle ways that felt clever and interesting. I will say, however, that a few of the portions of the story that dealt with these disparate creatures or events started to feel a bit disjointed from the overall plot. Like, they were almost small, short stories in their own right. I thoroughly enjoyed them, but you could definitely lift a number of them straight out of the book and not even notice. So your appreciation of them really comes down to how much you’re enjoying the main characters and overall style of writing.

Other than some of these extra pieces of story that didn’t necessarily fit in, my only other criticism comes to some of the mid- to late-game decision making of our two main characters. Each seemed at times bizarrely naïve and willing/unwilling to act at strange moments. Evike makes some sense in that she grew up in such a remote location that her ability to evaluate the stakes and situations of the “outside world” could be questionable. But the prince, also, seemed to make strange decisions at times that didn’t really make much sense.

Overall, however, I still enjoyed these two characters, and I particularly appreciated the slow-burn romance that developed between them. There were no short-cuts that got them over the fact that their experiences of life, while similar in some ways, were still miles apart. The end was also very satisfying in that it neatly wrapped up storylines and left our characters in a situation that was pleasing but not perfect. Again, no easy answers to the realities of this world.

Rating 8: Other than a few quibbles regarding pacing and characterization, I really enjoyed this story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Wolf and the Woodsman” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Upcoming Fantasy Debuts (2021) and Jewish Inspired SFF.

Find “The Wolf and the Woodsman” at the library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “When No One is Watching”

Book: “When No One is Watching” by Alyssa Cole

Publishing Info: William Morrow Paperbacks, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised. When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

Review: While it doesn’t happen often these days, between chores, day to day commitments, and a rambunctious toddler to chase after, there is very little more satisfying, reading wise, than sitting down and reading a book in one go. Being able to consume a book in one sitting can leave my brain a little soupy, but overall I love feeling that engaged with a story, even if I rarely make it happen. When I sat down on a Friday evening with Alyssa Cole’s “When No One is Watching”, I figured I’d probably start it and make may way through it that weekend. What actually happened was that I didn’t put it down until I finished the very last page. So yeah, I guess you could say that this thriller really took me on a ride in all the best ways!

“When No One is Watching” is a suspenseful thriller that uses the genre to make an effective social commentary on the harm and damage that gentrification, corporate greed, and systemic racism has on minority communities, specifically the Black community in Brooklyn. While a lot of people have been comparing it to “Get Out”, I think that a more direct comparison is that of “Vampires vs The Bronx” (though not as funny, but that’s by design). We have two perspectives in this book: Sydney, who is a Black woman who has just moved back to her childhood home after leaving an abusive marriage, and Theo, who is a white man who has just moved into the neighborhood with his white girlfriend Kim (though their relationship is in shambles). Both of them serve their own purposes for the reader besides being two narrative roads. Sydney is experiencing the frustration, anger, and pain that comes with a gentrifying Brooklyn as white people move in, prices go up, and Black residents start to move out for other options (or are they? We’ll get to that). She is also an unreliable narrator as the story starts to have suspense moments, as her former husband was a gaslighting abuser, and now she has anxiety attacks and questions her sanity when seemingly outlandish things start happening. Theo, on the other hand, is the well meaning but clueless and ultimately complicit white guy who doesn’t see himself as a racist, but also has never had to think about what gentrification and White Supremacy do to Black communities, and his own role in those systems. He’s likable enough, and has many lessons to learn as he and Sydney are put together when he volunteers to do the research for her burgeoning Black History of Brooklyn walking tours. But he too has some things from his past that he’s trying to move past, and while Sydney is understandably easily frustrated with his cluelessness, he is also genuine in wanting to learn. Both voices worked well for me, and I was invested in both of them.

In terms of the plot, “When No One Was Watching” has a lot of slow burn build up which I personally liked. I like a steady creep of dread as a story goes on, and as more and more things that just aren’t right keep happening to Sydney, and Theo too, the more suspense I felt until I was ready to break from the tension. Since we have two perspectives, we have two different ways of seeing clues laid out, as well as having a third device of a continuing online conversation on a “Next Door”-like website. As more white businesses and people start to move in, Sydney’s neighbors, some of whom have been there for years, abruptly leave, with rumors of them moving on to other neighborhood after being outpriced, or needing a change of scenery. But the more the story goes on, the more reasons we find to believe that maybe that isn’t really the case. Because no matter how much Sydney doubts her senses, something is very not right. Admittedly, the pacing is a LITTLE stunted, as the slow burns turns into a VERY fast and action heavy finale that feels rushed. But overall, I highly enjoyed the mystery and the big reveal, no matter how bananas some of the reveals felt.

The strongest part of “When No One Is Watching”, however, is the stark social commentary on gentrification, capitalism, and systemic racism in housing in urban settings. White it’s true that this book takes it to conspiracy theory laden extremes, the heart of the problem is very real. Sydney and her Black neighbors have to deal with over-policing, as well as the entitlement of their new white neighbors who deal out micro-aggressions to flat out racist acts. Kim, Theo’s girlfriend, is the main antagonist in this case, as we see a litany of familiar actions from her. Be it complaining about noise, to threatening to call the police on her Black neighbors for any little thing, to using not so coded language when talking about them, she is racist white womanhood at its worst. But we also get to see systemic predatory behavior of real estate companies, to the disparities in healthcare, to the historical racism of Brooklyn in all forms. This book is very much about the dangers of White Supremacy, and as satire it’s biting as well as educational for those who may need to become familiar.

I quite enjoyed “While No One Is Watching”. Fiction can teach readers about very real issues, and this one does that as well as being genuinely thrilling.

Rating 8: The twists and turns are well done and the main characters are likable. The ending is a little bananas, but overall “When No One Is Watching” is a fun, suspenseful read with some good satire and social commentary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“When No One is Watching” is included on the Goodreads lists “Tales of New York City (fiction and nonfiction)”, and “Horror/Thriller Books by Black Authors”.

Find “When No One is Watching” at your library using WorldCat, or or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Highlights: June 2021

The weather is warm, people are out and about, and the days are longer and longer. It sure feels like summertime here in Minnesota! As we slowly keep shifting back to a new normal, where outside is still king and finding things to do in nature are prioritized, we do have a number of books we look forward to reading in our backyards in the nice (hopefully not too hot for Kate) weather! Here are our Highlights for June!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Hidden Palace” by Helene Wecker

Publication Date: June 8, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I really loved “The Golem and the Jinni” when I originally read it years ago. I enjoyed it just as much when I picked it for bookclub and re-read it. It was a beautiful meld of historical fiction and fantasy, using its magical elements and characters to touch on themes of immigration, other-ness, and found families. It also definitely read as a stand-alone story, so imagine my surprise when I saw this popped up, a sequel featuring the same main characters as the original story! I’m excited to see what lays in story for our golem and jinni, especially as it seems we will also be revisiting a few of the human characters we met in the first book whose lives were affected by encountering these magical beings.

Book: “For the Wolf” by Hannah Whitten

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Why I’m Interested: There are three “Red Riding Hood” related books coming out in the next two months. Three! It’s always so funny when trends like this hit, because it seems too coordinated to be chance, but it likely is just that. Either way, as a fan of fairytale re-tellings, this all sounds great to me. “For the Wolf” is the first one coming out (thought not the first on my review schedule because I’m not coordinated enough to manage that!). The story follows Red, a second daughter, a daughter destined to be sacrificed to the Wolf, the powerful warden of the Wilderwood. All of the other second daughters before never returned from their journeys into those dark woods, and Red has no expectation of a happy fate either. But fearing the powerful forces building within her, Red believes the only way to keep her beloved sister safe is to face this eternal banishment, locking herself away from the world. All is not as it seems, however, and Red soon discovers that neither the Wolf nor the Wilderwood are what she or her people have always thought.

Book: “The Wolf and the Woodsman” by Ava Reid

Publication Date: June 8, 2021

Why I’m Interested: And here’s the second one for the month! Like I said before, I’m always game for a good fairytale re-telling, but this one has the added bonus of a super unique and cool cover. Other than the obvious fairytale it’s covering, the story also dives into other Russian fairytales and folklore, following the explorations of Evike and a mysterious Woodsman who is not what he seems as they search for a magic powerful enough to save their country from a cruel leader. The story explores themes of religion, persecution, and the power of the majority over the minority in a conquered nation. I’m really excited to check out this one, too!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “That Weekend” by Kara Thomas

Publication Date: June 21, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I have been waiting not terribly patiently for Kara Thomas to come out with another YA thriller, and the time has finally come! Thomas is one of my must read authors, as her thrillers are always well plotted, addictive, and are filled with dark twists and turns. “That Weekend” sounds like it’s going to continue that grand tradition. When Claire goes on a secret weekend getaway with her best friends Kat and Jesse, she thinks it’s going to be the time of her life. But then she wakes up on the side of a mountain she has no memory of being on, and Kat and Jesse are nowhere to be found. As Claire tries to remember what happened, suspicions about her role in their disappearance starts to turn her world upside down. Thomas is sure to surprise her fans with this book, as she never makes it too easy to figure out what’s going on.

Book: “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Full disclosure time! So I read “Malibu Rising” a couple of months ago. And in another act of full disclosure, it’s probably not going to make it on the blog, even though it’s super good, as it’s not one of the genres that I cover. But I can absolutely say that you need to go out and read this book, because it is AWESOME. It follows four adult siblings in 1980s Malibu. The oldest, Nina, is throwing her annual summer beach party at her lavish mansion, though she is in personal turmoil as her marriage is ending. Over the course of the party, secrets are revealed, resentments arise, choices are made, and an invitation to someone most of the siblings don’t want to see sets off a chain of events that ends with disaster. I loved this book. If you liked Reid’s previous book “Daisy Jones & The Six”, definitely get your hands on this one!

Book: “Survive the Night” by Riley Sager

Publication Date: June 29, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Here we have another author whose entire catalog I have really enjoyed! So yeah, I was REALLY excited when I heard that Riley Sager had a new book coming out this summer, “Survive the Night”. Charlie is desperate to get away from her college campus, as her best friend and roommate Maddy was brutally murdered, and Charlie blames herself and hasn’t been coping. When she runs into the affable Josh at the campus ride board, he says that he can drop her off at her grandmother’s on the way out to see his father. But as they start to ride together, Charlie starts to notice things that don’t sit well with her. Is she letting her paranoia and anxiety get the best of her? Or has she found herself in a car with a dangerous killer? Sager always has fun summer reads, and this cat and mouse thriller will almost assuredly suck me in.

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Monthly Marillier: “Flame of Sevenwaters”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Flame of Sevenwaters” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc Hardcover, November 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Maeve, daughter of Lord Sean of Sevenwaters, was badly burned as a child and carries the legacy of that fire in her crippled hands. After ten years she’s returning home, a courageous, forthright woman. But while her body’s scars have healed, her spirit remains fragile, fearing the shadows of her past.
 
Sevenwaters is in turmoil. The fey prince Mac Dara is desperate to see his only son, married to Maeve’s sister, return to the Otherworld. To force Lord Sean’s hand, Mac Dara has caused a party of innocent travelers on the Sevenwaters border to vanish—only to allow their murdered bodies to be found one by one.
 
When Maeve finds a body in a remote part of the woods, she and her brother, Finbar, embark on a journey that could bring about the end of Mac Dara’s reign—or lead to a hideous death. If she is successful, Maeve may open the door to a future she has not dared to believe possible…

Review: After the disappointment that was “Seer of Sevenwaters,” I remember wondering if Marillier should just leave well enough alone and not return again to this series. It was just a dud for me that it even took me a bit to want to pick this one up for the first time when it came out. But thank goodness I did! Not only did Marillier come back strong with this third book in the trilogy, but I think it ended up being my favorite of the three! So I was excited to get to read it again for this re-read, and, not surprisingly, I enjoyed it just as much this second time around.

Though a daughter of Sevenwaters, Maeve has grown up across the sea in the household of her Aunt Liadan and her husband, Bran. There, she learned how to adjust to her new life after suffering terrible burns as a child. With limited mobility, Maeve has found a special connection to the animals around her, especially a magnificent stallion. Eventually, she is called back to Sevenwaters, but she find the house in a state of unrest. The Fae world has crept ever closer, playing dangerous games with travelers through the forest. Soon enough, Maeve, who would like nothing more than to tend to her horse and the two stray dogs she finds in the woods, finds herself getting pulled into a feud that will test her as she’s never been tested before.

There are a few things that made this book stand-out in the last trio in Marillier’s “Sevenwaters” series. First of all, the main character felt refreshingly unique and held her own as an individual among the other leading ladies in this series (some of whom can begin to feel repetitive, with an emphasis on women who enjoy homily tasks but are strong of spirit to the shock of those around them). Maeve’s journey in this book is only the last bit of a path she’s been travelling since before the book starts, and that fact is very felt by the reader. Maeve’s narration focuses a lot on the limitations of the injuries she suffered in a house fire when she was a child. These, of course, include the loss of dexterity in her hands, but also a fear of being pitied by those around her and a lack of trust in her own ability to care for the creatures she loves (her beloved dog was lost in the same fire that burnt her). So much of this book is covering not only the strides that Maeve has already taken to accept and move forward through her struggles, but we also see her confronting her own walls that she has put up to her ongoing recovery. It’s a compelling and new storyline for a heroine in this series.

I also really enjoyed the focus on the animals in Maeve’s life. First, her relationship with the beautiful, but high strung, horse that she travels home to accompany. And secondly with the two dogs that she adopts while living there. The dogs, in particular, are a special relationship and particularly challenging to depict given the layers of feelings that were being worked out on Maeve’s side through these animals. Throughout much of the book, these various animals are the biggest relationships in Maeve’s life and stand in for any other human side characters. So it speaks to Marillier’s strength as a writer that each of the three (horse and two dogs) felt like a fully fleshed out character in its own right.

I also really liked how this book wrapped up the over-arching conflict of this second trilogy. It even did so in a manner that wrapped a few loose ends from the original trilogy, as well. The magical elements were also a bit more creepy in this book, lending a stronger sense of fear and danger to the Otherworld that Maeve eventually has to travel through. Some of the mysteries were, perhaps, a bit easy to spot, but that didn’t make the reveals any less satisfying in the end.

Overall, this was probably either my favorite in the last trilogy or, perhaps, tied with the first one. But it was such a massive improvement on the previous book that I think it often feels like the best in a straight read-through of the trilogy. It’s perhaps the lightest on the romance of the three, but the romantic story that it does have is sweet and works well within the framework of what this story is trying to accomplish. That is, it’s greater focus on Maeve’s own personal journey through reclaiming her life. Fans of the “Sevenwaters” series will surely enjoy this conclusion.

Rating 8: A lovely story of finding your own personal strength with a focus on the beautiful bound to be found between people and their animals.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flame of Sevenwaters” is on these Goodreads lists: Powerful Female Protagonists and Ancient Ireland: Celtic Mythology and Historical Fiction

Find “Flame of Sevenwaters” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” by Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli (Ill.), Jon J. Muth (Ill.), & Charles Vess (Ill).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: When a Dream ends, there is only one thing left to do…

THE WAKE

In which the repercussions of the Death of Lord Morpheus are felt, and, in an epilogue, William Shakespeare learns the price of getting what you want.

This is the tenth and final volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, described by author Mikal Gilmore in his introduction as “nothing less than a popular culture masterpiece, and a work that is braver, smarter and more meaningful than just about anything “high culture” has produced during the same period.”

Review: When I’m coming to the end of a series that I’ve spent a lot of time with, I almost always feel melancholy. It’s like saying goodbye for a comfortable friend. The interesting thing about “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is that we have already reached the crux of the ending of the story, and said goodbye to that friend. After all, at the end of “The Kindly Ones” Morpheus, aka Dream, died. For many stories, that would be the end. But Neil Gaiman knows that true closure means that there is a need for a wake. And that is what this final volume gives us: a moment of goodbye, some ruminations on the memories and the people that Dream has left behind, and the promise of moving on. It’s a volume that serves as an epilogue. And it’s beautiful.

Pretty much my entire being during this final re-read. (source)

As mentioned above, the real climax of the story was in the last volume, and now we get to see the fallout in the form of an actual wake for Dream, attended by not only his siblings, his friends, and other dieties, but also by mortals he encountered throughout the series (though they attend through their dreams, of course). I loved the quiet and gentle tone that this story took as we see those who loved Morpheus mourn and come to terms with his death, the most effective being that of Matthew, his messenger Raven, who is now lost without his master and friend. I haven’t really talked about Matthew in this re-read. He’s always around, ready to provide some insight or a sarcastic remark, but I found his journey to process Dream’s death to be the most bittersweet moment in this volume (well, it may be a tie, but more on that later). But his ambivalence ties into the other aspect of this whole plot point, and that is that, since Dream is Endless, and Endless are ideas and concepts, Dream isn’t really gone. Morpheus is. But now Daniel, Lyta’s son, has transformed into a new version of Dream, as the Endless are, well, Endless. As the other siblings say goodbye to Morpheus, they have to contend with meeting their new sibling, and Daniel!Dream (this is how I’m going to refer to him going forward) has to contend with starting over as someone new, even though he has elements of Morpheus still. It all connects back to the conversation that Morpheus and Delirium had with Destruction in “Brief Lives”, and it all ties up so wonderfully because of it. Daniel!Dream continues on, and nothing ever really ends.

There are two more stories in this volume which both serve as epilogues. The one that the book truly ends on has to do with Shakespeare, as earlier in the series we see the creative relationship and connection he has to Morpheus. But the other one, and the one that I think really works better, involves Hob, Morpheus’s immortal friend whom he meets up with at a pub ever century. Hob’s final bow is him with his current girlfriend, going to a Renaissance Festival, looking at how the life that he literally led at one time has now become re-enacted in modern times. It’s so poignant, knowing what he’s been through, what he’s seen, and seeing him meet up with Death and getting confirmation about Morpheus just feels like the right way for this series to end. I loved this story, as it has all the best things about Hob; his grumpiness, his sarcasm, and his deep love and respect for his friend.

I am so happy that we have “The Wake” to process the end of a truly magnificent series. “The Sandman” is so influential, so engaging and ambitious, and it changed comics as we know them. It doesn’t feel a need to go out in a huge and dramatic fashion, and instead opts for something more bittersweet, and it just fits perfectly. I’ll miss Morpheus. and Delirium, and Death. But luckily, I can always go back and start over again.

Rating 9: A lovely, sad, and hopeful ending to a truly remarkable and transformative series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels that Rocked My World”, and “Mythic Fiction Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: