Booksgiving: Books We’re Thankful For

There are many things to be thankful for, family, friends, experiences in life and challenges faced. But here at the Library Ladies we do tend to focus on one thing: books. So going into this season of thanksgiving, here is a list of some of the books that played an important part in our lives and for which we are thankful.

Serena’s Picks:

Book(s): “Song of the Lioness” quartet by Tamora Pierce

Why I’m Thankful: There are a lot of reasons why I’m thankful for reading this series as a middle school girl. There’s the obvious strong heroine who is making her way in a man’s world, proving her metal and taking names, of course. But there are also quite a few books that tackle this subject. What made this series stand out is how it also drew in other important aspects of Alanna’s life as a woman into the story. Always good at the fighting part, Alanna has more to learn about valuing her feminine side, learning the powerful magic of weaving and working with string. She also learns the crucial lesson that first love, while powerful, is not always the be-all, end-all of romance, and not to allow herself to be blinded by this first sweep of emotion. She goes on to have several romantic relationships before finally finding the one man who is right for her. As a young woman going through the angst of teenage years, this was a crucial lesson for me and one that is often missed in YA books today which often present the very trope-y, very silly “one true love” story as beginning and ending with the first guy the protagonist thinks is cute at age 16.

Book: “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

Why I’m Thankful: Between the book and the movie, I feel like “The Princess Bride” is the story that just keeps giving. It’s the ultimate comfort read book for me and was one of the first books I read that really showed what good comedy writing looks like. I have yet to find a fantasy comedy that even comes close (though I have read some other good ones). Goldman set a pretty high bar! Of course, it’s not just funny. It’s a high adventure fantasy where the action seems non-stop. Add on top of that the clever meta commentary of Goldman writing the book as if he is editing a dry, historical tome written by another author. Whenever times are tough, this is a book I’m thankful to have in my arsenal for re-reads.

Book(s): “Oz” series by L. Frank Baum

Why I’m Thankful: My family always read books together before bedtime. I think a lot of families do this, but my parents were super dedicated, and we were still doing it in junior high, I’m pretty sure. It was a really nice time, and we all enjoyed it. Of course, reading every night for so long, we had to have a bunch of books to get through. The “Oz” books were probably one of the first long series that we made it through with 14 books in total. Only a few of them stand out in my memory, but I do remember enjoying them all as we read them. I have a long list of books that I’m planning on reading to Will, and this series is right up there near the top! Not only do I hope that he enjoys them too, but I’m excited to revisit so many of the stories that I don’t remember as well.

Kate’s Picks:

Book: “Carrie” by Stephen King

Why I’m Thankful: It too me awhile in my younger elementary and high school years to find my people. As someone who went to the same institution from Kindergarten through senior year who was a misfit (and surrounded by a class of people who were notoriously awful), I was fairly bullied and lonely for a long time. So reading “Carrie” in middle school was INCREDIBLY cathartic for me. The story of a bullied teenage girl who finds out she has supernatural powers that empower her was something to strive for, and while I definitely knew the whole ‘and then she kills everyone at the Prom’ plot point, that was merely incidental (aaaand the cathartic part). But it was Stephen King’s rather authentic and wholly relatable teenage girl characters, Carrie and nice girl Sue Snell, that really spoke to me in the text. Plus, this was the second King book I’d ever read, and it solidified my love for the man.

Book: “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and David Gibbons (Ill.)

Why I’m Thankful: When I was a kid, I dabbled in comics on and off, but was more inclined to watch the movie or TV versions of my favorite DC superheroes and superheroines. Once I got to college, I did pick up graphic novels like “Maus”, “The Crow”, and “Bone”, but it wasn’t really my wheelhouse. And then I read “Watchmen” and everything changed. I was blown away by the intricate and dark storyline, the compelling and sometimes unsettling characters impressed,(Rorschach is a fave, even though he is a MONSTER in a lot of ways), and the inversion of superhero tropes and themes blew me away. I mean, when the big reveal about Ozymandias’s plan happened, I literally gasped in the middle of the library I was taking a work break in. It’s one of my very favorite books, and I credit “Watchmen” with my current love of graphic novels.

Book(s): “The Baby-Sitters Club” by Ann M. Martin

Why I’m Thankful: Soooo along with the scares of “Fear Street”, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, and “Goosebumps”, the other big series that I loved as a kid was “The Baby-Sitters Club”. And I think that it was this series that made me a compulsive reader, as I was always wanting to get my hands on the next in the series (unlike “Fear Street” or “Goosebumps”, where I skipped around based on plot). The stories of a group of middle school girls running a business, navigating friendships, and growing up were aspirational for me, as at the time I didn’t really have the ideal group of girl friends that the books presented. Mary-Anne was my favorite, but I wished I was as cool as Stacey, and all of them made me want to be a good babysitter (and I was, during the few babysitting jobs I had as time went on). “The Baby-Sitters Club” will always have a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to shape and change as time goes on (and for when my own daughter gets to be the age where she could read them)!

What books are you most thankful for? Let us know in the comments!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Persuasion” Part II

Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen

Publication Year: 1818

Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Part II – Chapters 15 – End

Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

In Bath, Anne is reunited with her father, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell. She is dismayed to see that Mrs. Clay remains with them and appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. She’s also clearly risen in the estimation of Sir Walter who comments much less on her freckled face. In other developments, she hears that Mr. Elliot is also in Bath and has completely reconciled with the family who are all delighted with him. Anne is confused by his sudden interest in being on good terms with people he’s ignored for years, but, upon meeting with him again, can’t help but acknowledge that he is quite charming. He also is delighted to discover that Anne is the very woman he was so interested in when in Lyme, and he quickly becomes a frequent visitor of hers. Lady Russell begins to hope for an eventual union between the two.

While in Bath, Anne reconnects with an old school friend who has fallen on hard times. Widowed and ill with very little money, Mrs. Smith is practically bed-ridden but still presents a optimistic face to the world and is a breath of fresh air to Anne in her reasonableness. Mrs. Smith is also a good source of information, as her nurse seems to know the goings-on of everyone in the city.

Eventually, Anne hears news of the Musgroves. Louisa is mostly recovered, and in a shocking turn of events, has become engaged to Benwick. Anne can’t imagine a bigger mismatch, but is also extremely relieved and happy to know that Captain Wentworth is still single, even if it means nothing to her, practically speaking. One by one, various parties begin making their way to Bath as well. First the Crofts come, followed shortly by Captain Wentworth himself.

Anne runs into him unexpectedly in a shop where she is waiting for Mr. Elliot to escort her home through the rain. She immediately notices that Captain Wentworth seems much more self-conscious and uncomfortable. They have a brief discussion about Louisa and Benwick in which Captain Wentworth makes some surprising (and pleasing) speeches about how first loves to superior women can never be gotten over, that Louisa is sweet, but nothing to Benwick’s first fiancé. Anne is confused but pleased, seeing hints that he may be talking about more than Benwick and Louisa and more of himself and her. Mr. Elliot arrives, however, and whisks her away.

They meet again at a music concert where Anne goes out of her way to approach Captain Wentworth. Her family publicly shuns him however, not acknowledging that they know him. He seems more stilted than he had in the shop, though Anne makes efforts throughout the night to make herself approachable. She isn’t helped by Mr. Elliot who continues to try to dominate her time and attention.

Soon after, she is called to visit Mrs. Smith. At first, Mrs. Smith is eager praise Mr. Elliot, hinting that she has a favor she’d ask Anne to speak to him about. Anne is bewildered to learn that it is generally understood that she will soon become engaged to Mr. Elliot. She insists to Mrs. Smith that it isn’t so. Mrs. Smith then lays out her true feelings about Mr. Elliot. Not only did he lead Mrs. Smith’s late husband into ruin, but he wrote and spoke horribly of the Elliots the entire time. Mrs. Smith believes that he is only now making an effort because he has suddenly learned to value the rank that will be bestowed on him with Sir Walter’s death and fears any upsets in the form of Mrs. Clay getting her claws in Sir Walter and providing an alternative heir. For her part, Mrs. Smith’s own finances are largely in ruin because a piece of property her husband owned is not accessible to her without the executor of her husband’s will, Mr. Elliot, who so far has refused to even speak to Mrs. Smith about it. Anne is horrified to learn all of this, but also not completely surprised as she never fully trusted Mr. Elliot’s strange motives to reconcile with her family.

The Musgroves also come to Bath to buy wedding clothes for Henrietta. This causes concern for Sir Walter and Elizabeth, as they aren’t very proud of Mary’s lower connections. One morning, Anne goes to visit the Crofts where she finds Captain Wentworth as well as Captain Harville. Captain Wentworth sits down to write a letter while Anne and Captain Harville stand nearby. The two get into a debate about lost love and men and women. Anne insists that women love longest, when all other hope is lost. Captain Harville points to poetry and books as proof of women’s fickleness but Anne argues that those are all written by men. Throughout this discussion, she gets the sense that Captain Wentworth is eagerly listening. Eventually, the party begins to break up and everyone leaves the room while Anne waits behind. Captain Wentworth rushes back in and quickly passes off a letter to Anne.

The letter is a proclamation of love, love that has lasted this entire time. He confesses to being angry and proud, and that he confused this anger for no longer being attached. But that he came to see that she was the most superior woman he has ever known, and can’t go on any longer, especially not hearing her discuss how men’s feelings fade faster. He goes on to say that he will come to a dinner at her family’s house to which he’s been invited and there, all it will take is a look from her to have his answer one way or another.

Mr. Musgrove returns to walk Anne back home. On the way, they meet with Captain Wentworth. Mr. Musgrove asks if Wentworth can take her the rest of the way as he has business elsewhere. The two walk together and confess their feelings for each other. Over the next few days, the news is broken to the family and to Lady Russell. Anne’s family now sees more value in Captain Wentworth since he’s made is fortune and has become popular in society. Lady Russell also is more determined to like him. He also intercedes on Mrs. Smith’s behalf and sees her land restored to her and her financial situation made right. For his part, Mr. Elliot runs of to London with Mrs. Clay: his best bet of preventing a marriage between her and Sir Walter is to take her on himself, though Anne suspects she may have the right of him and become mistress of Sir Walter’s home and fortune one way or another, through the father or the nephew heir.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Anne really comes into her own in this second half. She stands up to everyone around her to some degree or another and makes an effort to put herself forward to Captain Wentworth in a way that likely encouraged him to act more quickly than he would have on his own. She’s also the only one to continuously suspect Mr. Elliot’s sudden interest in her family.

To her family, she refuses to give up her acquaintance with Mrs. Smith, standing her ground in the face of her father’s anger. She also doesn’t worry about their disapproval when she approaches Captain Wentworth at the concert. For Lady Russell’s part, Anne is briefly tempted by her paintings of a life with Mr. Elliott, but she also points out her concerns with him and is not swayed by her overly much.

As for Captain Wentworth, though it’s not stated in the text explicitly, one has to imagine the near miss with Louisa inspired Anne somewhat to put herself more forward. The fact that, when they first meet when waiting out the rain, he is so clearly more discomposed than he was before, of course helps. And then makes that interesting speech about past loves. But Anne doesn’t let it rest there and goes out of her way to speak to him at the concert and to maneuver her seating arrangement to be more available to be approached (I think most of women can sympathize with tactics like this!)

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I really like that we get so much information on Captain Wentworth’s thoughts and feelings here in the end. Throughout the book, not only does he not speak to Anne directly often at all, we really hear very little from him. We hear a lot about him, but not directly from him. Like Anne, we’re left trying to piece together what his actions reflect about his inner emotions.

But here at the end, not only do we get his entire letter detailing his emotions throughout, but Austen goes into even more detail later about what he’s been up to while Anne has been in Bath. Captain Wentworth admits that his pride almost got the better of him in the end. He let himself be too free with Louisa Musgrove in an attempt to prove (mostly to himself, one has to think) that he was over Anne. Not only did this leave Anne open to being poached by the likes of Mr. Elliot (as he began to see and worry about at Lyme), but he comes to realize that his actions almost spoke for him, with an engagement being expected to the point of it being dishonorable if he didn’t. We hear about how he took himself away in the hopes to weaken the connection and then set off for Bath once it was clear he as free.

But all of that, still, and he was almost set back again by the such a small thing as a meeting or two’s worth of jealousy over Mr. Elliot. Captain Wentworth is clearly an honorable, good man, but I think it’s pretty clear that Anne will be the more steady, sure-footed of the two. Wentworth is, to some extent at least, ruled by the emotion of the moment. Not only did he not spend the time to work out Anne’s true motives at 19 (something that was definitely possible if he hadn’t been brooding and resentful), but he continued to let his emotions get the better of him even after he had the fortune her family wanted. One has to assume that when she turned him down she gave some explanation. He admits, here at the end, that he did them both a disservice by giving in to resentment all of these years and losing them both much happiness in the meantime.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Mr. Elliot is revealed to be the true villain of this story. It’s not such a shock as Anne, like Fanny, is firmly established at this point as the best judge of character in the book, and she’s always skeptical of Mr. Elliot’s motives. But, in a strange twist, his true villainy is really directed at any of our main characters. Instead, poor Mrs. Smith seems to be the one who suffers the most. Sure, Sir Walter gets some insults thrown at him in a letter and Elizabeth didn’t come off super well in that initial flirtation, but really, neither of them have it too bad. Sir Walter largely deserves criticism and isn’t ever made aware of the letter, and Elizabeth’s ego seems fine too. But poor Mrs. Smith! Not only to have her husband lead astray throughout the marriage, but then to be fooled by Mr. Elliot into thinking he was their friend altogether and have him abandon her in her time of need after her husband’s death!

As for the current circumstances, Mr. Elliot seems to be genuinely interested in Anne to some degree (as much as he is capable of at least). And his abandonment of the family once again is probably not any bigger of a shock the second go-around. Indeed, one would think that Sir Walter and Elizabeth would be more hurt by Mrs. Clay’s defection than anyone’s! And, in the end, it kind of seems like these two deserve each other and no real harm is done to anyone, especially after Captain Wentworth and Anne can help restore Mrs. Smith.

For her part, we see Lady Russell and Anne’s family come around on Captain Wentworth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth will probably always be a trial, but it seems like there is hope that with a concentrated effort on both Lady Russell’s and Captain Wentworth’s part, that they will get along well enough in the end. They both love Anne, which is what they have going for them.

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

This second half of the book is much more romantic than the first. It’s clear to the reader (and even Anne pretty quickly) that Wentworth has finally come to his senses and gotten over himself and is interested in re-connecting. He, himself, attributes it to noticing Mr. Elliot stare at Anne at Lyme and realizing that he could still lose her if he continues playing games. That, and the fact that he realizes that he is seen as half-engaged to Louisa already and only narrowly misses that bullet by the lucky chance of Benwick interceding.

His speech about Harville’s sister, Louisa, and Benwick’s change in attachment is pretty revealing, and it’s a credit to Anne that she understands him fully. None of this silly drama of miscommunication. She’s picking up what he’s laying down. Instead, any remaining drama comes from him when he gets jealous of Mr. Elliot and becomes cold again at the musical concert. Anne has to make a lot of effort there to engage him and then it still doesn’t seem like he was going to take any action soon until he overheard her conversation with Captain Harville while writing the letter. I think the general understanding is that they would have gotten there eventually, though, either way. But it’s nice to see Anne putting out this much effort to encourage him, proving to him that she is just as capable as pursuing what she wants as others, even if she is still very humble and willing to put others before herself.

We again don’t see the actual proposal or exchange of declarations of love between the two, a staple move of Austen’s at this point. But I think that Captain Wentworth’s letter probably goes down as the most romantic “speech” we have in all of Austen’s works. Darcy has his moments, yes, but the letter wins over by sheer length. It’s the longest and most extensive declaration of feelings that we see from any of our heroes. And, not only does Anne deserve this level of romance, but us readers do, too! If you look at the book as a whole, we probably have the least dialogue between our hero and heroine as we’ve seen in all the books. And probably by a lot, at that! So it’s nice to finally have this nice, long love letter at the end to shore up all those romantic pinings.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Again, not a lot of comedy in this second half. Most of the humor probably comes from how obsequious Sir Walter and Elizabeth are towards the Dalrymples when they come to town. Anne looks on with pity at their antics, and in a shared moment, she and Mr. Elliot discuss the lack of true interest these high and mighty relatives deserve based on their own merit. There are some good lines about the definition of “good company,” but here we also see the first ideas of Mr. Elliot caring more for rank than Anne does or than he had previously in life.

Really, other than that I can’t think of any comedy bits. The Musgroves show up and Mary has a few funny lines here and there, mostly at Anne’s expense (that see, Benwick is marrying Louisa, of course he was never interested in Anne!) We also see Sir Walter and Elizabeth having to properly balance their obsession with keeping up a good face for the Dalrymples but still include these lesser relatives they have through Mary’s marriage to the Musgroves. No need to acknowledge the fact that the Musgroves are much nicer, more entertaining people on the whole!

Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”

This good one from Anne in the discussion about loving longest between men or women:

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

And, of course, the classic romantic line from this book. I’m pretty sure this line would still work today. If some man said “you piece my soul” to you…c’mon, we’d all fall for that.

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”

Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”

“Persuasion” is probably the book that’s went through the biggest change in my estimation as a reader from the first time I read to my re-reads as an adult. “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” were always favorites. “Mansfield Park” was always a bit more of a struggle and “Sense and Sensibility” and “Northanger Abbey” were always solidly in the middle. “Persuasion” originally was lower down. The lack of interaction between the romantic characters was a detriment, and, on the face of things, Anne had similarities to Fanny as being a bit too reserved and shrinking to immediately appeal to my teenage self. But as an adult, it’s risen to be one of my favorites, pretty much equal with with “Pride and Prejudice” and maybe even above “Emma.”

I don’t think this change is even all that surprising. Anne is an older, more mature heroine, and much of her story surrounds the changes in her perspective on life and love that has come through a decade of adult life. Without having gone through my 20s myself when I originally read it, I didn’t really connect to this arc in the same way I do now. Beyond that, the story of lasting love over a decade of separation now appears as the most romantic of all the romances we’ve seen in the books. Having gone through the ups and downs of romantic pitfalls, false starts, etc., this sure, steady love appeals in a way I couldn’t understand when first reading it.

It’s also probably the most serious of Austen’s books other than “Mansfield Park.” But I think, overall, this one feels much more settled in its overall tone. “Mansfield Park” had odd breaks in the “action,” for lack of a better word, to hear long speeches from various characters on topics that weren’t directly tied to anything outwards of themselves.

For another thing, this book is shorter which I think works better for this type of more serious story. Anne is also a more engaging heroine than Fanny is, which helps carry the story. Not to mention that Captain Wentworth is a more romantic hero than Edmund. Unlike Edmund, his flirtation with Louisa is pretty obviously a shallow, reactionary thing from the very start. We don’t get any silly proclamations of “not imagining any other woman as his wife” either. Instead, much better, we have grand romantic statements of Wentworth’s having loved “none but her.” Much more appealing.

Overall, this was a great book to end this re-read on. I was particularly looking forward to re-visiting it, and it didn’t let me down. Now for reviews of two movie adaptations and, I think, a last “bonus” review of a few other Austen adaptations/spin-offs that didn’t directly fit into the review series as I had it originally planned.

In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Persuasion” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.5): A Game of You”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol.5): A Game of You” by Neil Gaiman, Shawn McManus (Ill.), Colleen Doran (Ill.), Bryan Talbot (Ill.), George Pratt (Ill.), Stan Woch (Ill.), & Dick Giordano (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1992

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Volume Five of New York Times best selling author Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed creation THE SANDMAN collects one of the series’ most beloved storylines.Take an apartment house, add in a drag queen, a lesbian couple, some talking animals, a talking severed head, a confused heroine and the deadly Cuckoo. Stir vigorously with a hurricane and Morpheus himself and you get this fifth installment of the SANDMAN series. This story stars Barbie, who first makes an appearance in THE DOLL’S HOUSE and now finds herself a princess in a vivid dreamworld.

Review: Since “The Sandman” series has now slipped mostly into full fantasy, we got a small break from it during Horrorpalooza. But now we’re back in, and I have revisited “A Game of You”, a collection that has been both lauded as a fan favorite, and also been criticized in more recent years. I honestly had NO memory of this collection on this re-read, which didn’t really bode well for how well I connected to it the first time around. But I was happy to go back in, as it’s always kind of fun to see Gaiman tinker with other characters and build upon past stories and plot points that didn’t seem relevant in the moment. And oof. Going back was uncomfortable.

I will start with what I did like about “A Game of You”. In this story, instead of having a focus on Morpheus or any of the Endless, we focus on the character of Barbie, one of the side characters in “The Doll’s House”. She and Ken were other residents in the house that Rose Walker lived in, and functioned as a cheeky nod to Barbie dolls. By the end of that arc things weren’t going so well for them. Now Barbie is living in New York City in an apartment complex with a number of quirky neighbors, including a lesbian couple and a trans woman named Wanda (the description says ‘drag queen’, but that’s not accurate. Wanda is trans and we are going to talk about her a LOT in a bit). Barbie finds herself going into a dreamscape in which she is a princess of a kingdom that is being threatened by a malevolent entity known as The Cuckoo, and while she is unconscious, her neighbors want to help bring her back. Gaiman builds a whole new fantasy world, and even within the limited scope of this arc I felt like I got a sense of what kind of place this was. I liked seeing Barbie get a bit of her own agency in this tale, though I do admit that the severe lack of Morpheus outside of a couple moments was a little disappointing. I liked that Gaiman wanted to give other characters within his massive world some spotlight. But I thought that Morpheus really should have bad a bigger part to play. This could have been its own story very easily if you took Morpheus out.

The bigger issue is one of those moments where “The Sandman” hasn’t aged as well as time has gone on, and that is with the character of Wanda. It is clear that Gaiman wrote Wanda with the very best of intentions. For the early 90s, even having a trans character who has her own side plot, a multi faceted personality, and a sympathetic and very relatable characterization was HUGE for trans representation. Like, I can’t imagine that any other author, comics or not, with a big name project would have given Wanda the kind of story that Gaiman gives her. In 1993, Wanda is an important character. But in 2020, Wanda’s characterization is incredibly dated, with tropes, stereotypes, and harmful thematics galore. There was a lot of misgendering, there were many moments of ‘are you a boy or a girl’, and there was a fixation on her genitalia that really didn’t sit well with me. What was hardest to stomach was a moment regarding magic that undercut her identity (essentially there was moon magic that Wanda couldn’t participate in because, at the end of the day, she isn’t seen as a TRUE woman). Throw in some ‘bury your LGBTQIA’ things, and it just felt harmful and tone deaf for 2020. Again, I don’t believe that Gaiman’s intentions were anything other than good, given that just recently he signed his name to an open letter by authors in support of trans and non binary people. But as time has gone on, the portrayal is problematic at best, bordering on offensive.

I think that when I eventually re-read “The Sandman” in the future (as I’m sure I will), I probably will skip “A Game of You”. As of now, it doesn’t seem like later plot points will build upon it (that said I could be wrong; I just don’t remember), and the stereotypes were just too much.

Rating 5: With a complete side track of the story and some well intentioned representation feeling cringe in the decades after it was first written, “A Game of You” didn’t live up to the past collections.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.5): A Game of You” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mythic Fiction Comics”, and “Best Books Concerning Dreams”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.5): A Game of You” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “Deadly Curious”

Book: “Deadly Curious” by Cindy Anstey

Publishing Info: Swoon Reads, June 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: 1834. Sophia Thompson wants nothing more than to be one of the famed Bow Street Runners, London’s most elite corps of detectives. Never mind that a woman has never before joined their ranks–and certainly never mind that her reclusive family has forbidden her from pursuing such an unladylike goal.

She gets the chance to prove her capabilities when an urgent letter arrives from her frantic cousin Daphne, begging Sophia to come look into the suspicious death of Daphne’s brother.

As Sophia begins to unravel the tangled threads of the case–with the help of a charming young policeman–she soon realizes that the murderer may be even closer to her family than she ever suspected.

Review: I’m fairly predictable in the types of books I’ll select when I have no previous knowledge of a series or author. If it has a pretty cover, is a historical fiction mystery novel, and features an intrepid female detective, there’s a fairly decent chance I’ll pick it up. This method has lead me to some of my favorite series, sure, but it’s also not a very surefire way of finding quality books. Alas, here is proof of the failures of this particular approach to book selection.

With no marriage prospects on the horizon, Sophia Thompson has set her mind on an alternative path, namely becoming a Bow Street Runner and investigator herself. Of course, she’ll need to solve some actual mysteries for this plan to move forward. Luckily (?) a mystery finds her in the murder of her cousin, a case she’s begged to solve by her frantic, beloved cousin Daphne. But she won’t be alone. A down and out current Bow Street Runner, Jeremy, has also been sent to the solve the case with the warning that if he can’t manage it, he need not return. Between these three, will they be able to solve this deadly curious case?

I really struggled with this book. Honestly, it was half a page away from being a DNF for me. Not because it was overtly offensive in any way, but because it was just so…nothing. It had all the pieces of being a YA historical mystery, but they were the most flat, cardboard versions of these tropes that I’ve come across in a long while. I’m really struggling to come up with many pros to really point to before diving into my complaints. I guess the cover is still pretty. But now I just view that as yet another negative as it draws in unsuspecting readers who are looking for a quality story and are likely going to be disappointed by the shallow work on display.

The characters were all supremely disappointing. We immediately learn that Sophia’s supposed interest in being a detective has come about after reading one, that’s right, one!, book on the topic. Based on this, she feels her self perfectly capable of not only solving this murder but joining an entire organization dedicated to this career. The naivete is astounding to the point of being comical. It would be more comical, in fact, if it wasn’t quite so sad that the story expects us to take this, and Sophia herself, seriously. It doesn’t help matter that the mystery itself is incredibly simplistic. When the reader can figure out the murder long before the supposed detective, it’s never a good sign. Even less for for a wanna-be as sad as Sophia. In the end, it felt like the answer came through sheer luck than any deductive abilities on her part, providing the last nail in the coffin of my interest in her story.

Jeremy isn’t any better. Did he even have a character arc or personality to speak of? Not that I remember. Mostly his good looks and fine eyes were elaborated upon by Sophia, solidifying his role as “generic love interest” right from the start. Here, too, the book had very little new to offer and the characters trotted obediently through the standard set pieces expected of a romance such as this.

The writing was also weak in my opinion. There were anachronisms all over the place (something that I can look past if the characters and story are strong). And there were numerous jumps in time, scene, and logic that left me confused. Simple elements like the timeline of the murder itself were often garbled, and I felt like I had missed something. The style of writing was also fairly generic, and I struggled to feel truly invested in anything that was going on. It felt utilitarian and bland.

This book wasn’t for me. It felt like the author simply cobbled together basic plots and characters from other popular works in the genre and spun out a book as quickly as possible. There was such a lack of passion to the story that it’s hard to feel like anyone really cared overly much about this book. There are numerous better examples of this type of story out there, so I suggest reading those instead of spending any time on this.

Rating 5: Mediocre to the extreme.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deadly Curious” is on these Goodreads lists: Georgian Era in YA & Middle Grade Fiction and Profiles in Silhouette.

Find “Deadly Curious” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Those Who Prey”

Book: “Those Who Prey” by Jennifer Moffett

Publishing Info: Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, November 2020

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

Book Description: Sadie meets The Girls in this riveting debut psychological thriller about a lonely college freshman seduced into joining a cult—and her desperate attempt to escape before it’s too late.

College life isn’t what Emily expected. She expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people so far away from home. But then the Kingdom finds her.

The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer in Italy on a mission trip. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. The Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous.

And someone ends up dead.

At times unsettling and always riveting, Those Who Prey looks at the allure of cult life, while questioning just how far we’re willing to go to find where we belong.

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

Back when I was at the University of Minnesota for my undergrad, between classes I’d spend time in the student union, usually getting a bagel for lunch in the food area where a number of student groups had set up tables trying to find new members. The table that always made me uncomfortable was a far right Evangelical Christian group whose name I can’t remember, as they always had the same rotation of about five people who had interesting signs and information on display. Around Halloween it was about devil worship. At Christmas it was how Santa=Satan. Sometimes it would be pamphlets on the sins of homosexuality or sex. I never saw them talking to anyone, but I did think about how they could probably influence a lonely student or two who hadn’t adjusted to college life yet, who just wanted a connection as they sought out a bagel. As I read “Those Who Prey” by Jennifer Moffett, I kept having flashbacks to that table, and one specific girl with whom I made eye contact on more than one occasion, and how my disgust at the time didn’t see the blatant predatory behavior of the group I was constantly passing as I went for my lunch.

So creepy as I looked back. (source)

“Those Who Prey” is part coming of age story, part thriller, and Moffett is able to pull out the best of both genres to make a genuinely disturbing tale about identity and manipulation. Our protagonist, Emily, reads like a very realistic college freshman who has found herself in a new environment, and who hasn’t quite found her place. Moffett slowly reveals aspects of her background and personality that make her ripe for the picking when it comes to Kingdom, an on campus Christian group that brings her into their organization with promise of friendhip and salvation (and love, as it is the charming Josh who first compels her). I thought that Moffett really did her due diligence to show how the average student who may be isolated and lonely could be so easily taken in with a group like this, and really demonstrated the frog in the boiling water aspect of how Kingdom, and real life campus cult groups, depend upon.

By the time Emily gets to Italy on her ‘mission’, and things really take a turn, the groundwork has been laid out seamlessly. Moffett clearly did her homework about these groups and what they do to get their members, and what they then put them through. While most of the other characters weren’t really given deep dives, as it’s through Emily’s perspective, you still got a sense as to how many of them, especially the ones you wouldn’t expect, would be trapped in this situation. It felt real, and therefore VERY unsettling. We also start to see a mystery unfold involving Kara, the member who has been assigned to Emily, who doesn’t seem as invested in the program as other people are. Kara’s plot line is what gave this story a mystery element to throw in with the creepy cult vibe, and while I kind of guessed what her deal was pretty early on, there were still plenty of puzzle pieces that I wasn’t working out until Moffett was ready for me to do so. I needed to know what Kara’s deal was, I needed to know what Kingdom had in store for their members, and I NEEDED to know if Emily was going to get out. All of this kept me totally ensnared, which was great.

“Those Who Prey” is creepy and all too realistic. I heard that some of these groups have rebranded a bit in hopes of still bringing in members. Hopefully some people who read this book will see the similarities and steer clear, no matter how lonely they may feel while living on campus.

Rating 8: A suspenseful coming of age thriller, “Those Who Prey” kept me on the edge of my seat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Those Who Prey” is included on the Goodreads lists “Cults and Communes in Fiction”, and “Going to College”.

Find “Those Who Prey” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Whoa Baby!: Favorite Books for Babies

Given that the two of us are such heavy readers, it’s probably no surprise that our kiddos also really enjoy books (even if they’re still a little young to read themselves). So we thought it would be fun to give some recommendations of books that our babies have enjoyed, given that the holidays are coming upon us fast and you may have kiddos in your life that could use some fun books to read.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Kitten’s First Full Moon” by Kevin Henkes

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, March 2004

Why Will and I Like It: I obviously like it for the kitten aspect. And as I want to forcibly instill a love of cats into my son, this was a favorite to read to him right from the get-go. Luckily, he also seems to really like it. The black and white pictures provide a lot of contrast, making it a book that even very young babies can appreciate. The story is simple and sweet with just enough repeated words that, as he’s gotten older, he can follow long and repeat some of them back. This is a Caldecott winner, so obviously it’s a big favorite with a lot of people, and there’s a reason why!

Book: “Little Blue Truck” by Alice Schertle, Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, May 2008

Why Will and I Like It: This has been a more recent favorite. I picked this book up on a whim before a long car trip this summer, and much to my surprise it became a quick favorite. The illustrations are lush and beautiful. And the bouncy, fun rhyme that makes up the story is fun for Will. He’s also recently begun to really like matching animal noises with the animal, and this book has been a perfect match for that neat, little trick. There are a bunch more “Little Blue Truck” books in this series, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be getting more for Christmas.

Book: “‘More, More, More!’ Said the Baby” by Vera Williams

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, 1990

Why Will and I Like this Book: This is an oldie, but a goodie. Another Caldecott nominated book, it’s been a favorite for many years. My mom got this book for Will this summer, and he had tons of fun reading it with her during our long visit. It features three short stories of babies running around being chased and loved on by their caregivers. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the rhythm and meter of the story are unique and beautiful. Will particularly appreciates having his nose, toes, and tummy tickled along with the babies in the book!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Baby Goes to Market” by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Candlewick Press, September 2017

Why Winnie and I Like It: My daughter has books that she obsesses over, and she has gotten to the point where she recognizes the spines on her shelf and grabs them with intent and vigor. “Baby Goes to Market” by Atinuke is a favorite of both of us, though probably for different reasons. For me, it’s the gorgeous artwork, the fun way of incorporating counting into a cute story, and a setting of an African marketplace with lots of different people and imagery. I think for Winnie it’s more about the colors and the repetition of the words as a baby keeps adding items to his mother’s basket. Regardless, “Baby Goes to Market” is one that we revisit over and over again.

Book: “Look, Look!” by Peter Linenthal

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 1998

Why Winnie and I Like It: This was the first book that my husband and I read to Winnie, as the black and white pictures with splashes of red is great for infant eyesight. When we incorporated reading into her bedtime routine at about three months, “Look, Look!” was the book, and it’s still a nightly read. Winnie likes the pictures, the sun and the cat especially get big smiles each night. I like the unique drawing style that probably is designed specifically for infant optics in mind. It’s a simple and generally plotless read, but we haven’t gotten sick of it yet.

Book: “Rocky Mountain Babies” by Wendy Shattil

Publishing Info: Farcountry Press, 2009

Why Winnie and I Like It: This was an impulse buy while my husband and I were visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Who knew that it would become one of Winnie’s favorite books (one she loves so much that she once burst into tears because we weren’t getting to it fast enough)? “Rocky Mountain Babies” introduces the reader to various animals that you can find in the Rockies, all in baby form. If you like baby animals, which Winnie certainly does, this will be a hit. I, too, like cute baby animals, and the rhyming scheme is easy to memorize, so if your child is holding the book up across the room in hopes you’ll read the page they’ve selected, all you have to do is tap into the ol’ memory bank and voila. Everyone’s happy. The photos really are adorable.

Serena’s Review: “My Calamity Jane”

Book: “My Calamity Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description:

Welcome ​to 1876 and a rootin’-tootin’ America bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou.

JANE (a genuine hero-eene)

Calamity’s her name, and garou hunting’s her game—when she’s not starring in Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, that is. She reckons that if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.

FRANK (*wolf whistle*)
Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler is the Wild West’s #1 bachelor. He’s also the best sharpshooter on both sides of the Mississippi, but he’s about to meet his match. . . .

ANNIE (get your gun!)
Annie Oakley (yep, that Annie) is lookin’ for a job, not a romance, but she can’t deny there’s something about Frank she likes. Really likes. Still, she’s pretty sure that anything he can do, she can do better.

A HAIRY SITUATION
After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s been talk of a garou cure. But things ain’t always what they seem—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

Previously Reviewed: “My Lady Jane” and “My Plain Jane”

Review: I’ve really been enjoying these strange little tales. The authors take familiar characters or historical figures named “Jane” and then just go to town with wild imaginings of alternatives to their stories. We’ve had shape-shifters, ghosts, supernatural detectives, you name it! So, really, other than knowing that this story is tackling the Wild West and some of the familiar figures we associate with it, I had really no idea what I was getting into. It was a rip-roaring good time, of course, but I did find that I was less enthralled with this story than the two others.

In this version of the story, our famous trio work for a Wild West show that is only half show business. The other side of their profession includes hunting garou, or werewolves. All that sharp-shooting has to be good for something, after all! But on a hunt for the Alpha, things go wrong for our titular character and she ends up with a suspicious bite and on the run herself. Her friends, Annie and Frank, won’t let her go so fast, and soon enough the three find themselves on their own wild adventure!

So, while this book did have some of the classic elements I’ve come to expect from this series and these authors (good characters, romance, wack-a-doodle comedy), I did struggle with it a bit more. To start with the good things, the characters, like always, were all super strong. I liked that we got POV chapters for all three of the main characters, Jane, Annie, and Frank. They each had some interesting arcs and perspectives on the goings-on around them. I think I probably liked Annie the best, though Frank was a close second. Strangely, for all that she is the title character, of the three, Jane seemed to fade the most into the background of the story. I think this was somewhat similar to my feelings about the Jane character in the second book, where she, too, was secondary to the other main character.

The comedy was just ok in this one. For some reason, it all seemed to be trying a bit too hard and came across as more forced and unnatural than it did in the first two books. It might just be a combination of genres. “My Lady Jane” is trying to adapt a tragic bit of history and “My Plain Jane” is re-telling a gothic romance. Each of those stories are working from a more serious foundation and layering comedy and nonsense on top of it. Westerns, however, especially Wild West stories, already have an inherent performative sense to them. So between the over-the-top nature of the original tall tales, the comedy just heaped on more of the same, leaving the entire thing feeling a bit over-worked.

There were also some strange moments of social commentary that seemed to be sporadically dropped in. I have no problem with fantasy books tackling social issues. In fact, I think sometimes the nature of fantasy allows authors to get at thoughts and ideas in a way that really elaborates on the bigger issues without getting too caught up in a modern, political statement. But they sat oddly in this book. A bit too preachy. A bit too on the nose. A bit too out of place.

Part of my struggle may just be that I don’t typically care for westerns. Sure, I know the tall tales and characters that are used in this book, but the genre as a whole doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me. Overall, it just felt like a bit of a let down when compared to the two books that came before, which I really enjoyed. If you’re a fan of the series so far, and especially if you enjoy westerns, this is probably worth checking out. But for me it was the weakest of the three.

Rating 6: The shine has worn off just a little on this particular formula.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Calamity Jane” is on these Goodreads lists: 2020 YA Historical Fiction and Jane Titles.

Find “My Calamity Jane” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “I Hope You’re Listening”

Book: “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan

Publishing Info: Aw Teen, October 2020

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

Book Description: In her small town, seventeen year-old Delia “Dee” Skinner is known as the girl who wasn’t taken. Ten years ago, she witnessed the abduction of her best friend, Sibby. And though she told the police everything she remembered, it wasn’t enough. Sibby was never seen again. At night, Dee deals with her guilt by becoming someone else: the Seeker, the voice behind the popular true crime podcast Radio Silent, which features missing persons cases and works with online sleuths to solve them. Nobody knows Dee’s the Seeker, and she plans to keep it that way.When another little girl goes missing, and the case is linked to Sibby’s disappearance, Dee has a chance to get answers, with the help of her virtual detectives and the intriguing new girl at school. But how much is she willing to reveal about herself in order to uncover the truth? Dee’s about to find out what’s really at stake in unraveling the mystery of the little girls who vanished. 

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

In the early stages of quarantine, I fell off listening to some of the true crime podcasts that I loved to listen to before. I don’t know why it was, but outside of “Last Podcast on the Left”, I just wasn’t feeling up for anything else. But one day I decided to try and pick up “My Favorite Murder” again, and started on the unsolved case of the Delphi Murders, in which two teenage girls were found dead after being on a daytime hike. While I liked getting back into the groove of podcasts as I went for a walk with my kid, that particular case is, like the other cases like it, very sad because we don’t know what happened. It just so happened that I was listening to this as I was reading “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan, and the chaotic synergy of the universe kind of fell into place. And it made me appreciate “I Hope You’re Listening” all the more.

There are a couple of mysteries running around in the narrative of “I Hope You’re Listening”. The first is what happened to Dee’s best friend Sybil, who was taken when they were children and right in front of Dee’s eyes. Dee is the kind of protagonist that you see a fair amount in thrillers these days; she’s traumatized, she’s not very personable, and she has unpacked baggage regarding her trauma that affects her in many ways. But Ryan does a great job of making her feel realistic in her trauma without feeling like she has to be unlikable or ‘broken’. She has started running an anonymous podcast that tackles missing person cases, in hopes of solving mysteries to help cope with the mystery in her life that was never solved, and I think this device works perfectly for her plot line. I liked that Ryan doesn’t try to make her into a completely self destructive individual, but does show how her experiences has made her more ‘rough around the edges’ when it comes to dealing with other people.

The other mystery is a new child disappearance, this time of a girl named Layla, whose potential kidnapping brings a media frenzy to town and threatens to expose Dee to more reminders of her connection to Sybil, as well as expose her as the anonymous host of her popular podcast. As Dee tries to help solve Layla’s disappearance, she is pulled back into Sybil’s, and her obsession starts up again. Both mysteries are compelling as all get out, and seeing Dee try her hand at actual hands on detective work leads to many suspenseful moments of high stakes action.

There were a couple of things that kind of took me out of the story a bit. The first is merely a pacing issue, and I’m going to get a little spoiler here, so here is your warning:

So one of the biggest strengths of this book is Dee’s bourgeoning romance with new neighbor Sarah. I liked Dee and Sarah together, I thought that they had great chemistry and I was deeply invested in them as a couple. But the timeline on this book isn’t very long, and Sarah figures out that Dee is ‘The Seeker’, aka the host for the podcast. When she confronts Dee, Dee basically confirms it right away, and then they are suddenly passionately making out. It’s not so much them hooking up that I had a problem with, but Dee revealing her secret identity that only ONE other person knows (her best friend Burke) when she has kept it so secret and has been so paranoid about it for so long. It’s especially hard to swallow because a Nancy Grace-esque tabloid crime reporter is in town on the Layla case and wants to expose The Seeker, so for Dee to let her guard down on a girl she has just started to get to know when this dangerous woman is so close just felt unrealistic to Dee’s character. But hey, if that’s the worst thing I can find about this, that’s pretty good.

Overall, “I Hope You’re Listening” is a really engrossing mystery thriller, and I am thinking of gong back to read more of Ryan’s stuff. Pick this one up if you like thrillers AND true crime podcasts!

Rating 8: A page turner of a mystery that pulls you in, “I Hope You’re Listening” is sure to entertain fans of thrillers and true crime podcasts alike!

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Hope You’re Listening” is included on the Goodreads lists “

Find “I Hope You’re Listening” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Navigator”

Book: “The Navigator” by Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown

Publishing Info:  Trash Dogs Media, LLC, October 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Wendy’s troubles are far from over. Hook wants her in irons, the crew wants to throw her overboard, and Pan’s magical compass is the only thing standing in their way. But Pan himself is nowhere to be found.

When a new everlost captain appears on the horizon, it will take everything Wendy has to survive.

Previously Reviewed: “The Wendy”

Review: This is definitely an “under the radar” little fantasy series. I pretty much only strayed upon it after scrolling way, way into the backfiles on NetGalley. But man, I’m glad I did! I, obviously, love re-tellings, and “Peter Pan” is definitely one of the more rare ones, mostly because of how hard it is to get right, I think. But the first book definitely proved that the authors had a new take on the story, so I was really excited to pick up this sequel and see where things went from there!

Wendy has finally made it: she’s the navigator of a ship. Of course, no one but herself is very pleased about this fact and without the magical compass that only she can read, she’s fairly certain they would all toss her overboard at their first chance. But still. Challenges are still ahead, however. Not only must she continue to try to prove herself to this new crew, but loss and uncertainty await on the horizon as a war brews around her.

So, overall, most everything that I enjoyed from the first book continued on here. I love the twists and turns that the authors are bringing to a well-known story. There were several that took me quite by surprise. I was also pleased to see variations on other familiar characters make an appearance, like Tigerlija. It’s always fun to see new takes on characters like this, especially ones that had fairly minor roles in the original story (not to mention…um…questionable ones at that).

I also still really enjoy Wendy herself. Her story tackles a lot of emotional legwork with her struggles to gain the respect of her male crew. But she also doesn’t fall into all of the trope-y “strong woman” moments that can be seen everywhere. Instead, we see her have to become more vulnerable when confronted with unexpected losses that strike her where it hurts. She’s dealing with a war, after all, so I’m glad the authors didn’t shy away from the dangers and realities that that would present.

Hook and Pan, of course, are also still great characters. Hook’s POV chapters were especially interesting. It’s definitely a challenge to write chapters from the perspective of the villain of the story, but if done right, it can add many additional layers to the story and the interactions between characters. It’s hard not to like Hook, frankly.

Overall, I really liked this book. If you’ve read the first one, this is pretty much more of the same. Which, in this case, is not a criticism but a bonus! And if you haven’t read this series yet, but like “Peter Pan,” then I definitely recommend checking out these books. They deserve more attention than they’re getting!

Rating 8: Still a rollicking good time to be had here!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Navigator” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on this strange, little list Clean Peter Pan Retellings.

Find “The Navigator” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “We Keep The Dead Close”

200

Book: “We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence” by Becky Cooper

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, November 2020

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

Book Description: You have to remember, he reminded me, that Harvard is older than the U.S. government. You have to remember because Harvard doesn’t let you forget.

1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious 23-year-old graduate student in Harvard’s Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.

Forty years later, Becky Cooper, a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she’d threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a “cowboy culture” among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims.

We Keep the Dead Close is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman’s past onto another’s present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.

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

During my college years at the U of MN I didn’t live on campus, so I wasn’t as in tune with the campus myths and rumors of the dorms and the community. I know that there were rumors that one of the dorms was haunted, and that the bridge that connects the campus across the Mississippi River was supposedly haunted as well (clearly I was into the ghost rumors). But nothing struck me as a college campus or community urban legend based in truth. “We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence” by Becky Cooper examines a Harvard story that sounds like generalized campus lore, but is in fact a true, and until recently, unsolved murder.

“We Keep the Dead Close” is very much a true crime story, involving the murder of Jane Britton, a Harvard student who was found murdered in her apartment in the late 1960s. Over the years this unsolved tale spun into its own campus mythology, with details tweaked and added and the main facts blurred to serve as a cautionary tale for women students. I had never heard of this murder, and I felt that Cooper was very respectful in how she both examined her personal investigation, as well as the investigation and fallout during the time, and the life that Jane led up until her death. Cooper made it so Jane was centered, all sides of her, the student, the woman, the friend, the lover, the difficult but funny person. Cooper ties all of these threads together in a way that made for a compelling narrative that keeps you reading, wanting to know who could have possibly done this as more suspects, scenarios, and possibilities are given. There are former lovers, jealous colleagues, and the main antagonist in the campus lore, the flamboyant professor she supposedly had an affair with. Cooper does her due diligence to explore all angles, and to try and find answers. Cooper also never centers herself, as some of these true crime/memoir books can stumble in. While it also concerns her curiosity and her own insecurities and fears as a woman student in a revered, but still male dominated, institution, this never feels like a ‘this could have been ME’ screed.

But what most fascinated me about “We Keep the Dead Close” was how Cooper so effortlessly examined the toxic undertones of academia, with oppressive forces and misogyny run amok in the 1960s when Britton attended. Not to mention how some of these themes are still quite present in academia today, being exposed by women who have had to live with it. You really get to see how Harvard was such a boys club at the time, and it truly paints a picture of how a professor, whose rumored involvement in the death of a female student, could still not only retain his position at the school, but become a big wig therein. While it’s true that not all is as it seems when it comes to the lore of the case and the actual facts of it, the fact that a potential murderer retains his job in this story and you think ‘oh, yeah, maybe’ instead of ‘preposterous!’ says a lot about the culture there at the time, and into today.

On top of that, Cooper has very insightful gleams into how lore can change and evolve as time goes on, and how Britton’s story has turned into a cautionary tale for students, particularly the women. While it’s true it definitely has a victim blamey feel at its core (don’t sleep with your professor or he will kill you and you just may deserve it! Keep your legs closed, ladies), it feels like the old fairy tales and monster stories that have been used over time to try and keep kids safe. It’s deeply fascinating to me as a true crime enthusiast and someone who loves a good horror story cum morality tale to see that kind of thing happening in the 20th century and into the 21st.

“We Keep the Dead Close” is a must read for true crime fans and those who are interested in the origins of modern myths and lore. I greatly enjoyed it, and it exceeded my expectations.

Rating 9: A well researched, poignant, and disturbing true crime novel about myth, misogyny, and the dark sides of Academia, “We Keep the Dead Close” is a must for true crime fans.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We Keep the Dead Close” is included on the Goodreads lists “Non-Fiction Family Secrets”, and I think it would fit in on “Campus Days”.

Find “We Keep the Dead Close” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!