Kate’s Review: “Highway of Tears”

40538634Book: “Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” by Jessica McDiarmid

Publishing Info: Atria Books, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: In the vein of the astonishing and eye-opening bestsellers I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and The Line Becomes a River, this stunning work of investigative journalism follows a series of unsolved disappearances and murders of Indigenous women in rural British Columbia.

Along northern Canada’s Highway 16, a yellow billboard reads GIRLS, DON’T HITCHHIKE. KILLER ON THE LOOSE. The highway is a 450-mile stretch of dirt and asphalt, surrounded by rugged wilderness and snowy mountain peaks. It is known as the Highway of Tears. It is here that at least twenty women and girls—most of them Indigenous—have vanished since 1969.

Highway of Tears explores the true story of what has happened along this troubled road. Journalist Jessica McDiarmid reassembles the lives of the victims—who they were, where they came from, who loved them, and what led them to the highway—and takes us into their families’ determined fight for the truth. The book also indicts the initial police investigation marred by incompetence and systemic racism, even as it shines a light on a larger phenomenon: more than a thousand missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada, a topic brought to international attention when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened an official inquiry into the case.

Combining hard-hitting reporting with a keen, human eye, Highway of Tears is a penetrating look at decades’ worth of tragedy and the fight to honor the victims by preserving their stories and providing them the justice they deserve.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

I’m a true crime aficionado to the bone, and I have been for as long as I can remember. But I do recognize that there are problematic issues within this genre that should definitely be acknowledged and worked on. One of those issues is that the stories that usually get paid the most attention to involve pretty white women victims, and other victims, especially POC, are not as widely acknowledged. One of the most egregious examples of this is the case of the Highway of Tears in British Columbia, Canada. Highway 16 is a highway that runs a number of miles, and a number of Indigenous women have either disappeared altogether near it, or have been found murdered in the vicinity. Almost all of the cases have gone cold and unsolved, and the victims have been deprived of justice. In “Highway of Tears”, Jessica McDiarmid jumps into a deep and emotional investigation of the crimes, but also of the stories of the women who have been victimized and cast aside, and the life that they were leading before. And boy oh boy, this is one of the most emotionally wrenching true crime books I’ve ever read.

The most important aspect of this book I mentioned above. McDiarmid is very conscientious to give backgrounds and back stories to a large number of the victims, whose disappearances and murders have been happening since the 1970s and up through today. Instead of just being a number of names and a group of lumped in all together, as if their violent ends were their only defining traits, we get comprehensive stories about the various lives that these women led, and the people who were left behind to mourn their loss. I had known about the story of Alberta Williams because of the podcast “Missing and Murdered”, but as each profile and backstory was explored my heart grew heavier and heavier. She makes all of them personalized individuals, and by seeing the trauma that some experienced in life and all of their families experienced in death just shows how unjust it is that not only did they meet these horrible ends, but they haven’t gotten answers or justice.

McDiarmid doesn’t pull any punches when she talks about how the victimization of these women, and in turn their families, is a direct result of a racist system that doesn’t value these women because of their race, their place in society, and their gender. She also does a very good job of showing how the system perpetuates multiple social injustices towards the First Nations population, and how in turn these injustices create an environment where this kind of victimization is far more prevalent compared to other populations in Canada. She also pulls in colonial practices throughout Canadian history, and the direct line that these practices have to modern fallouts for Indigenous groups. From residential schools to alcoholism to poverty to many more, McDiarmid makes it VERY clear that many of these practices have consequences that are still felt today. And on top of all of that, she juxtaposes the differences in approach, attention, and outcomes between the Indigenous women who are missing and murdered, and a few cases where the victims are white women. Suffice to say, Missing White Woman Syndrome plays a huge role, and while the missing and murdered Indigenous women fade into the background, white women get lots of media attention, and lots of resources are poured into the investigations surrounding them. It’s all very upsetting, but all too true.

On top of all of this, McDiarmid has a writing style that will suck you in, and will set the scene so that you feel like you are there. I had a very hard time putting this book down, even though the topic was very upsetting and hard to read about. But McDiarmid insists that you do so, because the story is far too important and has gone unacknowledged by too many for too long. I want this to become the next “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark”. I want this to be read and I want these womens’ stories to be heard and I want them to be seen as who they were. There is no closure with this story. Justice hasn’t been served. But one can only hope that if more people learn about this and speak up, perhaps more will be done.

“Highway of Tears” is a must read. One of the year’s best.

Rating 10: An incredibly powerful and evocative examination of the Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered along Highway 16 in British Columbia, “Highway of Tears” in unforgiving in its indictment of a racist society, and emotional in its profiles of many victims who have been cast aside or forgotten.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Highway of Tears” is new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Best True Crime”, and “Canadian Indigenous Books”.

Find “Highway of Tears” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Gone”

2536134We 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 ‘Books On Our To Read Shelf’, where we pick books that we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to.

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: “Gone” by Michael Grant

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, June 2008

Where Did We Get This Book: From the library!

Book Description: In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young.

There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened.

Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your 15th birthday, you disappear just like everyone else…

Kate’s Thoughts

When I was in middle school I had already dived right into adult fiction. I would imagine that part of that was because when I was that age (totally dating myself a bit here) we were still a number of years off from the YA boom and I had already read horror and thrillers for teens by the time I had entered fifth grade. Because of this, I had a few preconceived notions about what to expect from “Gone” by Michael Grant. True, it was published in 2008, a time when the YA book dynamics had already started to change, but I thought that it was going to be straight forward and ‘kid gloved’. I was wrong. I was so wrong.

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Probably my face as disturbing detail after disturbing detail came to fruition. (source)

“Gone” is an imperfect YA end of world tale, with a lot of ideas, a lot of characters, and a lot of details that are building to something that has yet to be seen. It also has a lot of darkness within its pages, at least compared to other YA end of world thrillers that I’ve read. Nothing I can’t handle, of course, but damn, Michael Grant, you went all in. That said, I LIKED that he went all in, because it makes it seem like he trusts that his readers can handle whatever he tosses their way. And boy, does he toss some rough things their way. From grotesque wounds to spates of violence perpetrated against children to the very concept of very small children being left alone with no one to protect them, “Gone” was bleaker than I anticipated, but that made it all the more enjoyable.

That said, there is a LOT going on in this book. It makes some sense, given that 1) Michael Grant used to work on the “Animorphs” books with Katherine Applegate and those had a lot of details and world building, and 2) it has six books in the entire run. But I think that the reason it didn’t really work for me was because so much was crammed in and only touched upon, and there were so many characters to address that a lot of them didn’t get a lot of attention or development. True, there are more books to flesh all of these things out, but, at the same time, there are MORE BOOKS TO FLESH THIS ALL OUT. In other words, I wish that Grant had saved some of the details and developments for later books, just because this story did feel bloated and there were multiple characters that I didn’t feel like we really got to know. Luckily, it was the villains who were the most interesting, which is what I like to see in books like this.

This is also a very 2008 book in terms of how it approaches a number of themes, and it didn’t age well in that regard. From an autistic character to the very clear gender roles of some of the girl characters, I totally see how these things wouldn’t have been seen as problematic back then, but are definitely a bit hard to read now. I’m not going to write this book off completely because of this, as it is very of the time and that’s just the reality of it. But I wanted to note it.

I don’t think that I will keep going in this series, but I was pleasantly surprised that “Gone” trusts its YA readers to be able to take on some bleak, bleak themes.

Serena’s Thoughts

The timing of reading this book couldn’t really be better. I had just finished up my re-read of “Animorphs,” a middle grade science fiction series that Grant collaborated on with his partner, K.A. Applegate, and our bookclub theme (books on our TBR pile) gave me the perfect excuse to inflict it upon the entire group! “Inflict” being purely a dramatic term, as, while it was darker than some of our group preferred, it was still a quick, action-packed read. But oof, talk about dark.

From a non-“Animorphs” perspective, I agree with almost everything Kate said, especially about just how much is packed into this book. It didn’t really hit me until I was starting to write up questions for our bookclub discussion, but this book really through everything in at once. You have the post-apocalyptic setting with the adults suddenly gone, kids with powers, family drama, a mysterious nuclear power plant, mutated animals, some dark force potentially behind it all. There are a lot of cards on the table, and for a book that is quite obviously the beginning of the series, I do wonder if it would have been better served to introduce some of these mysteries in the next books. As it is, there is a lot to get done and I think some of the issues Kate highlighted with the characters could have been better served had they been given more time, no longer needing to fight for page time against the numerous mysteries being set up.’

The character stuff is what really struck me in this book, however, both in a good and bad way. Having read “Animorphs,” it is very easy to see bits and pieces of those characters here, and I think in some ways, these are almost better in that they are not, in fact, better people. Our main character, for example, is essentially the Jake of this story. Except that Jake accepted the call to action as a leader almost from the get go and fairly seamlessly fit into that role. There were some bumps along the way and he struggled with this role throughout, but he took up the mantle quite quickly and with little real conflict. Here, Sam is much more reluctant, and with his reluctance come real consequences. I mean, REAL. As in kids die because he backs off originally. And he knows it. This makes Sam in some ways a much more believable character than Jake. He messes up big time right off the bat because of a the very real reaction of any kid in that situation, not wanting to be the one responsible.

So that’s a good example of characters. Kate mentioned some of the negatives. To be honest, I have a hard time separating this book from Grant’s collaboration with Applegate on the “Animorphs” in this regard. Having read that series, which came first, it’s hard not to read this book through the lens of faith that some of the problematic character issues, most especially the women, will be resolved some how. If this book is of its time for handling some things poorly, “Animorphs” was way ahead of it by offering up a very diverse team and making its most badass character a girl. This makes it hard for me to reconcile the two together. I think I can objectively say that while a few things stuck out to me (there’s an unfortunate line about the autistic character, for sure), I still felt that there was enough groundwork laid in other areas to excuse some of the more gendered roles some female characters were given. For one thing, I think Diana, an enigmatic character on the bad side, was set up as one of the more complicated characters in the entire book. Does this make up for the fact that a girl is running the daycare and another the hospital while the boys duke it out for leadership? I’m not sure. But I feel like enough was done to make me want to read more and find out how everything plays out.

Where the book was definitely ahead of its time, however, was the way it treated its readers as capable of handling darker elements of the story. It almost made me wonder if YA has regressed a bit in this regard, as the stakes felt much higher and more real in this book than they have in other YA stories I’ve read recently where YA protagonists are leading armies and the fate of the world!!! yada yada. As hard as some of it was to read, this commitment to the harsh realities of what this situation would look like is probably one of the biggest reasons I want to keep reading. The next books is called “Hunger,” for heaven’s sake!

Kate’s Rating 7: A darker than I expected YA novel with lots of components, “Gone” is entertaining, a little much, and a good fit for YA readers who want more thrills than juvie fiction but aren’t necessarily ready for adult end of world sagas.

Serena’s Rating 8: This book takes it premise and goes full throttle, but its wackiness is quickly squashed beneath a serious, “Lord of the Flies”-like exploration of human nature. Also talking coyotes.

Book Club Questions

  1. This book explore similar themes to “Lord of the Flies.” If you’ve read that, how does it compare? In what ways does this book tackle themes of power and civilization?
  2. There are a lot of characters who perspectives are covered in this book. Which ones stood out to you and why?
  3. If there was an element of the story that could have been explored more in this book, which one was it? Which element would you leave out (perhaps for the second book) to make room for this?
  4. Some of the roles in this burgeoning civilization seem to be falling along traditionally gendered lines. Are there examples of the book challenging this? Particular failures that you struggled with and wish were changed?
  5. We have several explanations offered up as to what caused this situation. Which one are you leaning towards?
  6. What predictions do you have for book two?

Reader’s Advisory

“Gone” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Best Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” and “Original Stories . . . a Breath of Fresh Air.”

Find “Gone” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir

Serena’s Review: “Flamebringer”

40401975Book: “Flamebringer” by Elle Katharine White

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, November 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: Monsters, manners, and magic combine in this exciting final volume in the Heartstone Trilogy—an exhilarating blend of epic fantasy and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—in which a fearless healer and her dragon-riding husband must stop a reawakened evil from destroying their world.

It starts with the inconceivable: Wydrick, sworn enemy of the Daireds, is back from the dead, possessed by a ghast that grants him immortality and inhuman strength. From the isolated northern mountains, Aliza, Alastair, and Akarra chase him into the dangerous Old Wilds, realizing too late that he’s led them into a blizzard. Before he vanishes, Wydrick utters a warning: A terrible, ancient evil has awoken, hungry for blood, and is headed their way.

The danger is closer than they know. The Tekari—sworn enemies of humans—are openly roaming the kingdom and are headed towards the capital, Edonarle. Then unexpected news arrives: riding like a dark dragon on the winds from the south, an ambassador from the Silent King of Els, has left the shores of the distant desert kingdom for the first time in centuries.

Unknown enemy? Or unexpected ally? Plunged into a dangerous world of royal intrigue and ancient grudges, Aliza and Alastair soon realize it will take more than steel and dragonfire to save their kingdom. For the silence of Els hides a secret that could shake House Daired to its foundations, and the time has come to settle accounts.

Silence, it seems, is about to be broken.

Previously Reviewed: “Heartstone” and “Dragonshadow”

Review: As I mentioned in the post for the giveaway for “Flamebringer,” this series kind of came out of nowhere in many unexpected ways. Not only did it manage the difficult task of adapting “Pride and Prejudice” into an original fantasy story without losing the foundations of the former or sacrificing the freshness of the latter, but it produced an equally compelling sequel that was completely new. The second book went further to explore some challenging topics while also expanding on the original concepts set up in the first book. It also set up this third book. So, first chance I got, obviously I read it!

After the dire warning/threat from Wydrick, Aliza and Alistair attempt to make their way home and gather a council of war. On the way, they encounter various other mysterious parties, all with their own whispers of an evil stirring. History, it appears, holds secrets. Some on the grand scale, and some much more close to home. Will Aliza, Alistair and Akarra be able to piece together the puzzle in time? Or is the ancient evil that is coming beyond even the scope of House Daired?

While about average in length for a fantasy novel, this one sure packed a lot in. From my perspective, this was both a good and bad thing. It was definitely not lacking in story, plot, or action. But at times it also felt as if the author had crammed two books into this one. Both books were interesting, but at times the story felt disjointed and overwhelming.

For one thing, the story picks up immediately where the previous one left off. I’ve read both of the first books right when they came out, so there hasn’t been any delay in my read of this series other than the one that came with its own publication schedule. And yet I still found myself having to re-read sections to re-orient myself with this story. Part of this is due to the fact that the world is so fully formed and unique. There’s a lot going on with different places, peoples, histories, and religions. This is definitely a good thing, but it did make the story a bit challenging to focus in on.

This struggled isn’t helped by the fact that the first half of the book sees our main trio off on a few mini adventures. On their own, these events are exciting, a bit creepy, and give even more depth to the world that we’re in. They also sprinkle in more clues as to what the greater conflict may be. But they also add more things to keep track of. And throughout these action pieces, we also have the emotional repercussions of the last book still playing out for Aliza and Alistair, as well as some new, shocking information for them both. Again, great character development, but even more story points.

By the middle of the book, the main story does feel as if it is getting started, and once the final conflict begins, the story is off and running. The second book definitely introduced a darker theme to this series, and this one is quick to take that torch and run even further with it. As I mentioned, several sections were pretty spooky and the threat presented deals real damage to our characters. I whizzed through this last section of the book, intrigued and yet dreading every page turn.

As a final book, I do feel that this one perhaps bit off more than it could chew. There was just so much! The mystery of what is going on isn’t revealed until quite near the end of the book and it wasn’t a simple explanation by any means. Between trying to wrap my mind around that, while also getting through the emotional character arcs of our characters, I felt a bit overwhelmed. After the book was finished, I found myself looking back on it and still not feeling as certain portions of it were fully resolved or that I fully understood how it all fit together.

It was almost an excess of good things, in the end. I enjoyed it all, but felt that it might have all worked a bit better had it been given two books. The second book in the series was a neat little mystery of its own that laid some ground work for the larger conflict of the series. This, too, could have been a nice third book that contained its own smaller story (the first half of the book has several portions that could have been expanded out further, I feel) while laying even more groundwork. This would have left a final book with more room to really breathe and fully dive into the complicated history and conflict of the threat looming on the horizon. So, too, it would have given a bit more resolution to our main characters.

The strengths of the first two books are definitely still here, however. I still loved Aliza as our main character and the ways she finds to contribute to a battle that she is not well-equipped to fight (not being raised a warrior). I also liked that we saw a return of several characters from the first book who were absent in the second.

Overall, I did very much enjoy this book. My main complaint seems like a weird one, that there was almost too many good things here. I do think, perhaps, the book would read better if being picked up immediately after the second. Had I not needed to spend as much time re-orienting myself in the beginning, some of these feelings of being overwhelmed may not have lingered as long. Mostly, I think the trilogy as a whole is a great success and that this book is best viewed as a segment of that. If you haven’t already, make sure to enter our giveaway to win your copy!

Rating 8: Best appreciated as part of a larger whole, but still a thrilling conclusion to the series!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flamebringer” is on this Goodreads list: “Jane Austen variations published in 2019.”

Check out “Flamebringer” from your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Anything For You”

43263434Book: “Anything for You (Valerie Hart #3)” by Saul Black

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley!

Book Description: Critically acclaimed author Saul Black returns with a heart-racing thriller in which a brutal murder forces one woman to reckon with her own past–and her future.

On a hot summer night, a watchful neighbor locks eyes with an intruder and unwittingly alerts the police to a vicious crime scene next door: a lavish master bedroom where a man lies dead. His wife is bleeding out onto the hardwood floor, clinging to life.

The victim, Adam Grant, was a well-known San Francisco prosecutor–a man whose connection to Homicide detective Valerie Hart brings her face-to-face with a life she’s long since left behind. Adam’s career made him an easy target, and forensic evidence points towards an ex-con he put behind bars years ago. But while Adam’s wife and daughter grapple with their tragic loss, Valerie uncovers devastating clues that point in a more ominous direction. Lurking in the shadows of the Grants’ pristine life is a mysterious blonde who holds the key to a dangerous past.

As Valerie struggles to forge a new path for herself, the investigation forces her to confront the question: can we ever really leave our pasts behind?

Sophisticated and stunning, Anything for You is an unforgettable thriller that will grip readers long after turning the last page.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

We had to wait a little while, but finally, FINALLY the gritty and complex detective Valerie Hart is back for another mystery! Saul Black continues the adventures of the San Francisco sleuth in “Anything For You”, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. I don’t have many mystery series I follow, but when a new one comes out I’m game to dig in. I had some mostly positive, but also a bit mixed, feelings about the previous Valerie Hart books after revisiting them (as seen in my previous review), but had high hopes that I’d come out of “Anything For You” still feeling good. And I did. Mostly.

I’ll talk about the mystery first, as that really in the central plot point and Hart is just living in it. A well known lawyer is found murdered in his home, leaving behind a wife and daughter. Hart is on the case, though she should probably step aside given that she almost slept with the man a few years ago (because of course she did). It initially looks open and shut, but as Hart continues to investigate we get to see the slow reveal of a more complex (and sinister) plan and past that the victim might have been hiding. Along with Hart’s investigation and her slow clue building, we also get the perspective of a mysterious woman whose connection isn’t apparent at first, but slowly becomes more and more clear. To me this was the most interesting aspect of this story, and possibly the most interesting slow reveal of all of Black’s Valerie Hart books. I was actually more interested in seeing what this mysterious woman’s story was going to bring next than I was in the official investigation, and then once the tethers did intersect and wrap everything together I was all the more satisfied with how Black build up a cohesive and complex mystery.

As for Hart, I still really like Valerie and I like seeing how she progresses in each book. When we see her in this one, she is now married to her lover Nick, and they are considering starting a family. The questions of parenthood and whether she’s cut out for her are obviously weighing on her mind, and it means that, once again, she starts to drift towards her usual self destructive tendencies. And as much as I love Valerie and I like that it’s being acknowledged that family planning can be filled with complex emotions, I do feel like Valerie’s constant slip up potential is a little old at this point. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any growth whatsoever with her character, as she certainly isn’t static in her behavior or personality. But I do think that it’s an easy out to revert to questions of ‘will she or won’t she’ make bad decisions just for the sake of inner conflict and turmoil. I’m also becoming more and more sensitive to the ‘men write women’ pattern that can be seen sometimes, especially when it comes to ‘strong female characters’. When it comes to Hart, she sometimes falls into all too common tropes about what that means, like sacrificing any aspect of femininity, pointing out the flaws of other women to make her look better, or simply putting more ‘masculine’ traits (that is traits commonly associated with masculinity in our culture) into her bag of tricks to show how tough she is. That isn’t to say that all men or all women exist in a monolith when it comes to behavior and emotional coping skills, as that would also be a foolish thing to insist upon. The problem with Valerie is that more and more she falls into the ‘not like other girls’ box, and it’s one that I have less and less patience for. And honestly, every time that Valerie referred to her genitalia as ‘her c*nt’, I cringed. And I know that Black is British and the associations with that word are very different there, but still. It just felt like another ‘not like other girls’ moment, and it was laid on pretty thick.

giphy-4
(source)

Overall there was a lot for me to like about “Anything for You”, and I am still interested in seeing what lies in store for Valerie Hart and any future endeavors she may undertake. But I’m hoping that her character gets to grow a little more in the future.

Rating 7: Valerie Hart is still a compelling protagonist and the mystery was good, but I’m starting to worry that we’re edging into all too common ‘tough but messed up girl’ tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Anything For You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Who Solve Crimes”.

Find “Anything For You” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder”

 

Giveaway: “Flamebringer”

40401975Book: “Flamebringer” by Elle Katharine White

Publication Info: Harper Voyager, November 12, 2019

Book Description: Monsters, manners, and magic combine in this exciting final volume in the Heartstone Trilogy—an exhilarating blend of epic fantasy and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—in which a fearless healer and her dragon-riding husband must stop a reawakened evil from destroying their world.

It starts with the inconceivable: Wydrick, sworn enemy of the Daireds, is back from the dead, possessed by a ghast that grants him immortality and inhuman strength. From the isolated northern mountains, Aliza, Alastair, and Akarra chase him into the dangerous Old Wilds, realizing too late that he’s led them into a blizzard. Before he vanishes, Wydrick utters a warning: A terrible, ancient evil has awoken, hungry for blood, and is headed their way.

The danger is closer than they know. The Tekari—sworn enemies of humans—are openly roaming the kingdom and are headed towards the capital, Edonarle. Then unexpected news arrives: riding like a dark dragon on the winds from the south, an ambassador from the Silent King of Els, has left the shores of the distant desert kingdom for the first time in centuries.

Unknown enemy? Or unexpected ally? Plunged into a dangerous world of royal intrigue and ancient grudges, Aliza and Alastair soon realize it will take more than steel and dragonfire to save their kingdom. For the silence of Els hides a secret that could shake House Daired to its foundations, and the time has come to settle accounts.

Silence, it seems, is about to be broken.

Previously Reviewed: “Heartstone” and “Dragonshadow”

Giveaway Details: I’m super excited to read this book! It’s pretty fantastic to see a what started out as a stand-alone fantasy novel turn into such an excellent series. I remember when I first heart about “Heartstone” I was pretty skeptical about the entire concept. I’ve been burned a few too many times on “‘Pride and Prejudice’ but with BLANK!!!” book pitches way too many times. And this one sounded like one of the more bizarre takes? Mr. Darcy rides a…a…dragon?? And Mr. Bingley also rides a magical beast? Something about a giant evil worm? And somehow it’s still “Pride and Prejudice??” Sounded super weird. But never say I’m not happy to be surprised! I loved the heck out of the first book; it was familiar enough to its source material to be recognizable but was in no means beholden to the same story and versions of the characters that came with it

And then there was a second! And here we really got to see the strength of the original world-buiding and= characterization that White had started in the first one. Freed of the trappings of retelling the classic tale, Aliza and Alistair were free to begin adventures of their own as a married couple. All of the wonderful fantasy elements were back and somehow the stakes seemed even higher. In many ways, this book was much darker than its predecessor. But what I appreciated the most about this second book was how it dealt with Aliza’s transition into the Rider way of life, one much more full of danger and uncertainty than her previous life. It also explored a pretty challenging and emotional topic in an incredibly thoughtful manner.

The story did end with some hints about what was to come here in the third story. But so far I’ve been so off-base with expectations of these books that I’m hesitant to even make any guesses as to where the story will ultimately go. I’m excited to find out though!

My review of “Flamebringer” will go up this Friday, and in anticipation, we’re offering a giveaway for the book starting today. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends November 13.

Click here to enter!

Kate’s Rev Up Series Review: The Valerie Hart Series

 

Books: “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder” by Saul Black

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, September 2015; Orion, November 2016

Where Did I Get These Books: The library!

Book Descriptions: When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper’s isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it’s the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it’s just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of victims–women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them–has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she’s losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens.

But the murders at the Cooper farmhouse didn’t quite go according to plan. There was a survivor, Rowena’s ten-year-old daughter Nell, who now holds the key to the killings. Injured, half-frozen, terrified, Nell has only one place to go. And that place could be even more dangerous than what she’s running from.

In this extraordinary, pulse-pounding debut, Saul Black takes us deep into the mind of a psychopath, and into the troubled heart of the woman determined to stop him.


The second spine-chilling serial-killer thriller featuring homicide detective Valerie Hart from the author of the critically-acclaimed THE KILLING LESSONS.

Troubled San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart is planning a rare weekend away from the job when she gets the call. A body has been found. A woman, brutally murdered. And the cryptic note left by the body is addressed to Valerie.

The victim is unknown to her, but as Valerie analyses the scene, the clues begin to point in a deeply disturbing direction: to a maximum security prison where a woman called Katherine Glass is awaiting execution for a series of gruesome killings. And Valerie was the cop who put her there.

The last thing Valerie wants to do is re-enter Katherine’s twisted world, but when a second body is discovered, with another puzzling clue, she realises she has no choice. Katherine Glass holds the key to the killings, and Valerie needs to find out what she knows before the murders come even closer to home.

Even if it means playing a deadly game where once again, the psychopathic killer holds all the cards.

Review: A few years ago, I took a chance on a book called “The Killing Lessons” by Saul Black. I went in more interested in the overall story and plot, expecting it to be a one off with horrific travelling murderers and a run of the mill hard boiled detective on their tail. But what I found instead was Valerie Hart, a damaged, complex, and fascinating protagonist whose demons and past eclipsed the already compelling and disturbing main plotline. A year later, “Lovemurder” came out, and I was thrilled to see that Valerie Hart was, once again, the hero of the tale. And now, a few years after that, the third in the Valerie Hart series “Anything For You” is about to come out. In anticipation of this new novel, I decided to go back and revisit “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder”, and get myself super hyped for the return of Valerie. So before I review that book, let’s look at the books that came before it, as they are very different stories, and yet are connected by a protagonist that I’ve come to really enjoy.

When we first meet Valerie in “The Killing Lessons”, she is a detective in San Francisco who is haunted by a couple of different things. The first is that she has had a couple of unsolved cases that she can’t shake, cases that have rocked her to her core and have become a dark obsession. The other is a failed relationship with another detective named Nick Blaskovich. She and Nick had a real shot at happily ever after, but after her frustrations about her unsolved cases made her spiral, she pushed him away in the most destructive ways possible. Little does she know that out east in Colorado, the men she has been trying to find are about to strike again, and this time they mess up and leave a witness alive, a little girl named Nell who ran when her mother and brother were brutally murdered. Black seamlessly connects the stories of Valerie, Nell, and the two murderers, and shows them on a collision course. Black gives a lot of attention to all of the players, the chapters trading off between what Xander and Paulie, the murderers, are up to, what Nell is doing as she hides from them, and how Valerie is slowly but surely piecing their tracks together and closing in on them. The story treads more towards the literary than what you may expect from a detective story, and the brutality is striking, and at times a little much to handle. When I read it initially it didn’t seem to bother me, but during my revisit the violence, which is mostly directed towards women, was very difficult to swallow. I think that had Valerie not been given as much attention, depth, and complexity, I would have been more critical. But as it was, Valerie’s storyline shows not only the tenacity and spunk of a truly gifted detective, but also what being a good detective can sometimes do to your psychological state. 

In “Lovemurder”, we turn from overblown sadistic violence, and gravitate more towards a psychological cat and mouse game. In this story, Valerie has to confront Katherine Glass, a serial killer that she put away years ago, but whose mystery partner has started killing again, and claims they won’t stop unless Glass is set free. Like Hart, Glass is a hyper-intelligent woman who knows how to read people, and when she and Valerie start to face off again, the mind games start up again between the two women. Glass claims that she wants to help Valerie since her partner, whom she never knew the identity of, left her high and dry to rot in jail, but Valerie isn’t certain that she can fully trust this woman, insights aside. In this story, there is still a case that is haunting her, but Valerie has grown from the complete mess that she is in “The Killing Lessons”, and exudes a new strength and confidence that really suits her. I like seeing her character grow between novels, as had she just remained static between the two it would have been exhausting. I also liked that Black didn’t feel a need to up the ante on the violence, and that while there is STILL violence in this book, it doesn’t feel nearly as exploitative or misogynistic as it did in “The Killing Lessons”. On top of that, Katherine Glass is another fascinating, complex character, and I really liked seeing her and Valerie go head to head in a battle of the wits. Another aspect I liked is that Valerie’s personal life with Nick is still there, but it doesn’t take the forefront, nor does Black put Valerie in any situation where she is the ‘bad guy’ because she takes her job so seriously and will put it over romance when she deems it fit to do so. 

That isn’t to say that there aren’t pitfalls with Hart and her characterization. I do think that from time to time Black does fall into the ‘men writing women’ trap. Every once in awhile Valerie may do something that would make me pause and say ‘okay, that reads more like a guy’s idea of what a woman would do as opposed to how a woman author would write and read the same situation’. And it’s hard to deny that, as mentioned above, there are definitely misogynistic undertones towards some of the women characters, be it as victims, or just other characters that aren’t Valerie (this is especially evident with a character named Carla in “The Killing Lessons”; her hatred for Valerie is petty and comes back to a man). Plus, there were some strange moments, especially in “The Killing Lessons”, where objectification and violence ruled, and sexuality popped up in places it probably shouldn’t. While it makes some sense when it’s from Xander and Paulie’s point of view (they are sexual sadists after all), there was one moment involving Nell, a prepubescent girl, and the odd note that she hasn’t hit puberty yet as denoted by a, shall we say, lack of certain secondary sexual characteristics. Why did THAT need to be noted? What did it add to the plot as a whole, ESPECIALLY when the observation is coming from a character who is supposed to be benevolent and someone she is safe with? 

But that said, as a whole I am always interested in finding out more about Valerie, and to see where she goes next. So go on I shall, problematic aspects aside (but also kept track of, in case it becomes too much). Suffice to say, when I saw that Black had a new book about her, I was THRILLED and requested it from NetGalley almost immediately. Valerie herself is such a compelling character, as of now I am eager to come back for more. On Thursday, I’ll review her newest adventure, “Anything For You”.

Rating 7 and 8: Black has brutal, dark, and propulsive thrillers, but the true strength is the protagonist Valerie Hart. These books aren’t for the faint of heart and sometimes come off as sexist in some ways, but overall Hart is a complex and interesting character to follow.

Reader’s Advisory:

The Valerie Hart Series is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Female Lead Characters”, and “Best Modern Thrillers”.

Find “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: November 2019

It’s the month of thanksgiving, and you know what that means! We are ready to give thanks for all the new books coming our way! If between all the turkey and the babies we are able to keep our eyes open enough to read them that is. What are we talking about…OF COURSE we’ll make time for more reading! Priorities, am I right? Here are the book we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Pick:

32605126._sy475_Book: “Song of the Crimson Flower” by Julie C. Dao

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: I’ve been meaning to read one of Dao’s books for a while now and just have never gotten around to it. So when I was given the opportunity to join in a blog tour for her latest title, I jumped on the chance to find out what all the fuss was about! The story follows Lan, a young woman who cruelly rejects the love of a poor village boy, Dao. From there, the story sounds like a version of “The Princess and the Frog” only this time the frog is a flute and the story is drawing from the author’s Vietnamese roots as inspiration for this fantasy world. YA fantasy romance can be very hit and miss for me, so I’m guessing a lot of my enjoyment of this book will come down to just how cruel we’re talking with regards to Lan’s rejection. On the other hand, a good redemption story for a heroine can also be pretty great, so here’s to hoping!

9781250208408_8e486Book: “Sister of Shadow and Light” by Sara B. Larson

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: This is another author who I’ve been meaning to check out. But as nice as it is to start a series that you know is concluded, it’s also a bit intimidating to start out, which has held me back from her “Defy” books for a bit. But no more excuses! She’s starting up a new series with this book, and we we all know I’m a sucker for sister stories, so now seems like the time. On top of that, the story seems to be a sort of fairytale fantasy, combining elements from both “Rapunzel” and “Sleeping Beauty” which sounds right up my alley. Trapped away in a tower, their lives have been filled with solitude and fear, until one day (of course) someone makes their way in. The longer description sounds a lot like Laini Taylor’s “Strange the Dreamer” story as well, so that adds an extra layer of intrigue!

40401975Book: “Flamebringer” by Elle Katharine White

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

Why I’m Interested: So we have a new standalone, the first in a new series, and now it’s time for the last in a series! Enter: “Flamebringer.” What started out as a standalone fantasy interpretation of “Pride and Prejudice” has turned into an enthralling fantasy series that has focused on some tough issues while presenting a fully fleshed out fantasy world all of its own. In the last book, Aliza and her husband seemed to discover the hints of a world-ending danger lurking in the shadows, so I’m sure that here that conflict will finally come to a head. But at its heart, this has always been a story about Aliza and the challenge of living in a world much bigger than the one in which she was born into. I’m sure she will rise to the occasion once again!

Kate’s Picks:

40538634Book: “Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” by Jessica McDiarmid

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

Why I’m Interested: True crime is a weakness of mine, but I will absolutely admit that a lot of the cases that get a lot of attention involve a predominantly white focus. An ongoing true crime mystery/tragedy is going on in Canada along Highway 16, in which dozens and dozens of Indigenous women and girls have gone missing, and a number have been found murdered. Many of the cases have gone unsolved, and the victims have been forgotten, an all too familiar outcome for victims who are POC. In “Highway of Tears”, Jessica McDiarmid seeks to give voices and stories to a number of the women who are remembered less as people, and more as nameless statistics, and to explore the societal factors such as racism, misogyny, and poverty that contribute to their victimization.

43263434Book: “Anything For You” by Saul Black

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: The Valerie Hart series is a gritty and dark crime procedural with a tough as nails female detective. I don’t follow too many mystery series, but Saul Black’s Valerie gives me a reason to keep coming back. It’s been a bit since we’ve seen a new book about her, but “Anything For You” is now here and we get to go back to Valerie and her complicated life, as well as a new mystery. This time Valerie is investigating the death of a prominent attorney (whom she had a history with), whose time as a prosecutor has garnered a long list of suspects who would want him dead. But as Valerie starts to dig into his life, including his wife and daughter, she comes upon a mysterious blonde woman who may have her own score to settle. It will no doubt be bleak and upsetting, but I wouldn’t expect any less from Saul Black.

42201962Book: “The Deep” by Rivers Solomon

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: This is a bit more of a fantasy or magical realism pick, but the premise was far too intriguing to pass up. A society of merpeople have learned to live in the sea, the descendants of pregnant African slave women who were thrown overboard during the Triangle Trade. The society has learned to forget of the traumas of the past, except for one single historian. The current historian, Yetu, has to bear the painful and horrific memories of the past, and the burden drives her to run away to the surface. While there she learns of the past and present of the people that she and others could have become, as well as her own. I imagine this is going to be a very powerful and emotional story, and cannot wait to read it.

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