Serena’s Review: “A Curious Beginning”

28186322Book: “A Curious Beginning” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, September 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: audibook from the library!

Book Description: London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

Review: Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve been going along all of this time with no awareness of Deanna Raybourn. After the first twenty or so pages of this book, in which I was in shock by how much I was absolutely adoring it pretty much immediately, I did some research and found that Raybourn has been around for a while, long enough to have another hugely popular series already finished! How have I missed this? As a huge fan of lady sleuth historical mysteries, especially if said lady at all resembles Amelia Peabody as far as giving a damn what others think, it’s almost like Christmas whenever I discover another series that can scratch this particular itch.

Veronica Speedwell knows she should be sad at the death of her aunt, but instead, she only sees the glorious future ahead of her, full of independence and the freedom to fully devote her life to her passion for science and butterfly hunting. Of course, her history isn’t one of being cooped up anyways, with many trips abroad full of exploration, adventure, and yes, a few liaisons, if you will. But things do not go as planned when she finds herself caught up in a murder and pursued by villains unknown. What’s more, she finds herself in the company of the mysterious and rather grumpy Stoker, a man whose past is equally curious.

Veronica Speedwell is a delight. Truly, a book like this lives and dies on the voice of its lead character, and she was absolutely wonderful. Witty, confident, and employing all of those great snooty, very British-y turns of phrase that make me super jealous of their vocabulary and diction. (I also listened to this as an audiobook, and the reader was spot on. So good in fact that I think I’m going to hold out for the audiobook versions of the next two as well).

I also really enjoyed the backstory that is given to Veronica, particularly the fact that this isn’t her first time out and about in the world. She has the actual experience to back up her confidence and claims of capability. Not only is she and established scientist, having published a few articles under an assumed name and sold rare specimens gathered from her adventures to wealthy collectors, but she has taken a firm hold on her life and choices. Men are nothing new to her, and she has established a neat system for dealing with them and her reputation: liaisons are ok abroad, damn the whispers, but once on home ground, she is willing to play by the rules. For all of these strengths, she’s also appropriately vulnerable when the plot strikes close to home. The tendency with characters like this can be an almost unrealistic level of competences and assuredness that leaves the character feeling not quite human. Veronica reacts in a believable manner to big revelations, but nothing keeps her off her stride for long!

As a secondary character, I also very much loved Stoker. And yes, he also kind of reminded me of Emerson. (But for all of these similarities between our leads, I never felt like the book strayed too close to the Amelia Peabody series). His was the perfect level of brusqueness and emotional outbursts to balance Veronica’s more cool demeanor. For all that his walls begin to come down throughout the story, by the end of the book, we still do not know his entire history, which I really liked. His character still has much room to grow, but what we do know already sets him up as an excellent, rather comedic, romantic hero.

The story itself is full of action, jumping from one adventure to another. We have a traveling circus, an eccentric collector and his family, the Tower of London, and more. And throughout it all, the mystery is solid, leaving readers equally in the dark about the motives, and even the identity, of those pursuing our main characters. While a few of these mini adventures could feel a bit tacked on, especially the traveling circus bit, I was having such fun watching our main characters play on these sets, that I didn’t even care.

My one real criticism of this book comes with the end. The way the mystery is resolved felt a bit rushed and almost too neat. Things fell into place in a very convenient manner and we have yet another example of a villain pretty much killing himself off, so that our leads’ hands won’t be bloodies. While I get that all of this kind of goes hand in hand with the type of light and fun mystery story that this is, I always wish there could be a bit more “oomph” put behind resolutions such as this. If anything, letting the story get a bit more dark when it needs to can be a nice balance to the rest of the more light plotline. It just read a bit too “PG” for me.

But this is a minor quibble, and one that has built up over time after reading endings like this again and again in mysteries such as this. On its own, “A Curious Beginning” is an absolutely delightful introduction to a new leading lady and new mystery series. Definitely check this one out if you’re a fan of lady sleuth mysteries ala Amelia Peabody!

Rating 8: An absolute romp of a story. Veronica Speedwell, welcome to the ranks of excellent lady sleuths!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Curious Beginning” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Victorian/Regency Female Sleuths/Mysteries” and “Books with Witty Banter/Dialogue.”

Find “A Curious Beginning” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Emma in the Night”

33574211Book: “Emma in the Night” by Wendy Walker

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back…

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

Review: As you all know, I’m a huge sucker for missing person stories, fiction and non fiction alike. As someone who lurks on the Unresolved Mysteries subreddit, I am fully taken in by disappearances that remain unsolved, but will gladly admit that it’s a bit safer and less exploitative when it’s within fiction. So when I heard about “Emma in the Night”, the story of two sisters who go missing and one of them being found, I knew that I would need to read it ASAP. But little did I know that another unsettling reality/thriller trope managed to rear it’s head into this book as well: the narcissistic parent. As someone who also lurks on the subreddit that tells survival tales of escaping narcissistic family members, this was just an added bit of icing onto an already tantalizing cake. But Wendy Walker presented something far more complex and attention grabbing than I thought it was going to be, and does a good job of giving victims and survivors a voice instead of objectifying them for the sake of a good story.

The two different narratives are both steeped in unreliable perspectives. The first is that of Cass, the daughter who came back who clearly has a separate agenda from what she’s presenting to those around her. Through her we start to see that perhaps there are other villains in this world outside of the strangers that lurk behind every turn, and see that she has a deep vendetta against her mother Judy. Judy is a classic narcissistic personality, with a golden child (Emma) and a scapegoat (Cass), and the hatred that Cass feels towards her in palpable. I will admit that as I was going into this I was trying to find all the clues and hints towards what the end game was, but Walker hid them in such a way that I pretty much didn’t find them. Like, at all. I don’t know if my game was off, but the reading experience for me was disorienting in a good way because I KNEW that there was more to the story, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I liked how much I questioned Cass as well, as while I pretty much believed her and her revulsion for her mother, I still wondered if she too didn’t have problems and ulterior motives because she was raised by a narcissist, and was therefore messed up herself because of it.

Abby, too, was an interesting character, with complexities and flaws that made her unreliable, but also completely sympathetic. She was also raised by a narcissistic mother, and therefore goes into this case with experience and the ability to recognize behaviors when it comes to Judy, Cass, and the missing Emma. She was used in a way for Walker to really put narcissism out there and to really dive into it, as Abby has her own past experiences with it because of her mother. I think that a lot of the time we see narcissistic parents in over the top ways (“Mother, Mother” by Koren Zailckas comes to mind) where they are scary monsters with deliberately violent or abusive tendencies. But in “Emma in the Night” we see a lot more of the less definable traits, like Judy manipulating her children into warfare against each other, or turning on a facade that wins her custody when she is actually a terrible parent. But then, there is the fact that Abby is completely biased, so we end up questioning her too. Because of these various red herrings and inconsistencies between the characters and their motivations, Walker’s sleight of hand distracted me enough throughout the narration that I didn’t see the ultimate prestige coming. Which I greatly appreciated by the time I finished out the book.

I will say that there were a couple of things that I did find a bit too convenient to be really believable. I don’t really want to spoil anything for anyone who might be interested in reading this, because I do think that it’s ultimately worth the read and a solid thriller, but just know that a couple of things within the ultimate solution to the whole thing just kind of felt too coincidental for me to take it terribly seriously. Yes, life is random, and yes, technically anything is possible, but when it comes to probability that’s where certain plot points in this book start to get a little iffy. It’s not enough to put me off, just know that it knocked a couple of points off if we’re keeping score. I think that sometimes authors can get carried away with the red herrings, but Walker actually got carried away with trying to eliminate as many red herrings as possible and to make unreliability more reliable.

Overall I think that “Emma in the Night” did a good job of keeping this reader on her toes. I am definitely going to look into whatever Walker comes out with next (I would actually love to see more of Abby Winter as well), and definitely think that thriller fans ought to give her a go.

Rating 7: An engrossing and twisty thriller, “Emma in the Night” not only kept me guessing, it brings a unique take to the thriller genre by bringing in narcissism to add more questions to the plot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Emma in the Night” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and “There’s Something Dangerous About The Boredom of Teenage Girls”.

Find “Emma in the Night” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Owl Eyes: A Fairy Tale”

38739033Book: “Owl Eyes: A Fairy Tale” by Molly Larzer

Publishing Info: Fire and Ice YA, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Nora knows three things: she is a servant, her parents are dead, and she lives in the kitchen house with her adoptive family. But her world is torn apart when she discovers that her birth father has always been right there, living in the house she serves.

This discovery leads Nora to more questions. Why was she thrown in an ash-covered room for asking about her father? Why is a silver-bladed knife the only inheritance from her birth mother? Why is magic forbidden in her household—and throughout the province of the Runes? The answers may not be the ones Nora hoped for, as they threaten a possible romance and her relationship with the adoptive family she loves.

With the announcement of a royal ball, Nora must decide what she is willing to give up in order to claim her stolen birthright, and whether this new life is worth losing her family—and herself.

Review: What? Another fairy tale retelling book review by me? Shocking, I know! It’s like I have some personal mission to read every single one that is ever published! (I don’t, but at this point, does it really make a difference?) As I have a particular fondness for fairy tales that lean in on the darkness that was inherent to many of the originals, I jumped all over this title when I saw it pop up on NetGalley. But, while the darkness and world building did deliver, I was overall left underwhelmed with this new entry to the vast world of Cinderella stories.

For the good: the story delivers on the essentials of what is laid out in the book description above. This is indeed a Cinderella story, but nicely twisted on its head so as to not simply be another rehashing of a very often rehashed story. I enjoyed the tension that was built throughout the story between Nora’s desire to uncover the truth about her family and herself alongside her realizations of the good things that have made up her life as is. As it’s mentioned in the description, the scene early in the book when she is thrown in the ash covered room plays for particularly good effect throughout, and her ongoing struggles with the fallout of this event are repeatedly hit home. She was, after all, a very young girl when it took place.

I also enjoyed much of the world-building, but here also is where my criticisms begin to come to play. The world of Colandaria sounds like an intriguing place, with an interesting magic system and a history of wars between it and its neighbors. However, none of this is fleshed out or explored in any meaningful way. Instead, details are sprinkled here and there on the periphery of Nora’s tale, but never quite enough to give me a solid sense of place or investment in the world’s effect on the plot line that was unfolding.

The plot was another stumbling block. While things do pick up towards the last third of the book, the action itself felt very stilted. It’s hard to really put my finger on what exactly the problem was. The writing is solid enough, but things seemed to simply progress from one event to another and I was just kind of…there. Every once in a while a few pages would grab me, like the aforementioned scene in the ash room, but then the book would fall back to mundane details for pages on end.

Most of my problem probably lies at the feet of Nora herself. She was simply not an engaging protagonist to follow through this story. Her arc is laid before her, but as she moved through it, her character itself wasn’t one whom I became invested in. She felt very flat, and I had a hard time pinning down any attributes to her as a person. Was she feisty? Reflective? Shy? Ambitious? I couldn’t tell you. Instead, she simply moves through the book, and we move with her. But, as we are seeing this story through her eyes, I was never sure how I felt about it because it was never clear what lens Nora was using herself.

This, in turn, colored my perceptions of the other characters. While some of them seemed to have interesting parts to them (Jack, in particular), because Nora read so flat herself, her views of these others also read as fairly flat. A story like this really lives and dies on the strength of its lead, and my lack of investment in Nora spread easily to those around her.

While I did like the twists and turns the story took, particularly the ball itself, I also wasn’t a huge fan of the romance in this. Simply put, there just wasn’t enough of it. This is a very subjective point of view, however, as I can also see how the lack of romance could be a plus for other readers. I, however, always like a solid romance plot line in my fantasy, particularly in my fairy tale retellings that are, often, inherently romantic tales on their own.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed with this read. There wasn’t anything bad about it, per se, but I just couldn’t seem to care. I found myself often putting the book down and having to force myself to pick it up again. If you absolutely love Cinderella stories, particularly ones with less of a romantic subplot, this may be the book for you. But, all in all, my recommendation is a solid “meh.”

Rating 5: A dull main character ultimately polluted what might have been an interesting retelling of “Cinderella.”

Reader’s Advisory:

“Owl Eyes: A Fairy Tale” is a newer title so isn’t on any Goodreads lists. It should be on “Cinderella Retellings.”

Find “Owl Eyes: A Fairy Tale” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Truth or Dare”

176401Book: “Truth or Dare” (Fear Street #28) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1995

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: The truth hurts.

What else is there to do, with all seven of them stuck in Dara Harker’s luxury ski condo? There are three guys and four girls—some of them friends, some nearly strangers—all of them trapped. A blinding blizzard has stilled the lifts, blocked the roads, and killed the phones.

A game, they think, will help them break the ice. Who will tell the truth? Who will take a dare? And how far will each of them go?

But then the game turns deadly. One of them, it seems, would rather kill than tell the truth.

And kill again.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: We once again depart from not only Fear Street but Shadyside itself for a winter based tale of terror, and given that we here in Minnesota are digging ourselves out of a monster, historical blizzard that clobbered us a couple days ago it feels all too appropriate and snide for a setting. We join our group of protagonists as they are riding in a limo up into the snowy mountains. There’s April, our first person main character, her best friend Jenny, Jenny’s boyfriend of years and years Ken, and Josh, a boy who isn’t from Shadyside but is friends with their excessively rich host Dara. Dara is coming up separately in her Jeep (there is debate if it’s a Grand Cherokee or a Renegade). As Jenny and Ken make out, April tries to make small talk with Josh, who isn’t really into conversing. She does notice is lighting bolt earring though. They arrive at the mountain lodge just as it starts to lightly snow, and Dara pulls up as well. She confirms that her parents aren’t going to be around that weekend, and then says some snide stuff to Josh before gushing over April’s blue parka. After the limo driver unloads the bags he’s driving back home to Shadyside, so that means it’s going to be a weekend of teens doing God knows what. But when they get inside, they hear footsteps and coughing. They aren’t alone!! They go to investigate and find a boy named Tony and his girlfriend Carly Rae! Seems that Dara’s parents and Tony’s parents both own the lodge, and Tony thought that it was his family’s weekend, so he brought Carly Rae up for some heavy petting, pretty much making Dara and her crew a bunch of cock blockers. Dara temper tantrums, but Tony suggests that they just share the cabin for the weekend. Dara grudgingly agrees, and the guys and girls split off to unpack in their very separate rooms (with guys bunkbedding and girls getting their own spaces).

After unpacking and noticing that the snow is starting in earnest, the group reconvenes in the main room. While Tony and Carly Rae are content making out, the Shadyside Crew (+ Josh) decide that they should play a game to break the ice since they don’t all know each other very well, Dara being a new kid and Josh being a lump who’s inexplicably there. Ken suggests Truth or Dare, and Josh doesn’t want to play, which seems to make Dara want to play even more. Once the rules are explained no doubt for the reader’s benefit, they start. It starts pretty tame, with a confession of picking up a ten dollar bill that wasn’t his (Ken) and a kissing session that ended with gum ending up in the other person’s mouth (April). But then Dara is asked who the worst kisser she’s ever had is, and she makes it pretty clear without being totally forthcoming that it’s Josh. Josh, realizing she’s about to name him, suddenly flips and runs at her with a fireplace poker! But he drops it right before beating her with it and runs towards the door. What the FUCK. Dara runs after him and drags him back, apologizing, and I have opinions on that choice. Dara then turns to April, and asks if she has a secret about someone that she wishes she didn’t know. April proceeds to say ‘I wish I didn’t know about the girl on Sumner Island’…. and then plays totally coy, regretting that she even said anything.

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Then WHY did you say it?! (source)

Apparently that past summer April saw Ken do something but isn’t ready to reveal it to the reader, yet, and lucky for her Tony decides in that moment to bring the attention back to him by scaring April and then hitting on her in front of his ladyfriend. Dara ropes him into the game and he takes a dare from Dara because privilege no doubt makes him feel invincible. It’s starting to snow hard now and Dara tells them all to go outside for this dare. Dara dares Tony to climb on the roof and get the Frisbee that he got stuck up there God knows when. Tony says no problem despite the protests of Carly Rae and April. But Dara tells them to shove it because she likes to revel in other peoples’ potential demises. Tony grabs a ladder from the garage and climbs up on the slippery roof, but before he can get it he does, indeed, slip and skid down to the gutters. He manages to grab on and gently drop, but he’s pissed at Dara even though HE was the one who took the dare eagerly. April thinks about her previous answer, and apparently she saw Ken making out with some mystery girl who was decidedly NOT Jenny and has kept it a secret ever since. They all go back to the cabin and decide to turn in. April sees Dara in the main room and Dara says she’s going to the woodshed to get wood for the next morning, and April goes to bed.

April wakes up the next morning and enters the kitchen for breakfast. The radio says that the snow is going to get to be eight to ten inches but the wind means that the ski lifts won’t be running, which means they won’t be able to ski. They all pitch in to make breakfast, but notice that Dara hasn’t come down yet. April goes to her room to wake her, but she isn’t there and her bed is made and her bag is still packed. And Josh is missing too! Since he was the top bunk none of the guys noticed if he was there or not. There’s also no firewood, so Dara never came back, and when they look in the driveway the Jeep is gone! Tony thinks that they left together to go to one of the ski resorts, but April isn’t convinced and thinks they should call the police. Tony balks, and he and Carly Rae admit that their parents don’t know that they are up here, and if the police get involved they’ll get in trouble. Carly Rae asks if they can just wait a bit, and then something slides off the roof and thuds to the ground. April freaks out, but Jenny confirms that it was just a huge snow blob falling to the ground.

Lunch rolls around and the snow keeps piling up and Josh and Dara are still nowhere to be seen, and when April asks what they should do Ken says ‘NOT TRUTH OR DARE’, which makes April think that he caught her little ‘accidental’ slip up. There’s a sudden thudding noise, and they think that maybe it’s someone at the door, perhaps Dara or Josh? But it’s not knocking, it’s the door to the ski locker thudding in the wind. Ken and April venture out to close it so the noise will stop, and what should fall out of the locker??? DARA’S FROZEN CORPSE WITH A HATCHET BURIED IN HER BACK!!! April and Ken run back inside and insist that now is the time to call the cops, but Tony STILL says NO!… But this time it’s because the line is dead due to the storm, and they can’t leave because it would be too dangerous because of the snow and the cold. April thinks that they are all in danger, but Tony thinks that the killer was Josh, who then took the Jeep and made a getaway. He says that all they can do is lock the doors, keep the fire going, and wait for the weather to clear, and then they can call for help. Wow, a character with actual survival instincts! April says they should search the boy’s room to see if Josh left is stuff, because if he DID maybe he was killed too. They go searching and do find his bag, but when they go back to Dara’s room to look for more clues they also find a note written in red ink. It’s from Josh to Dara, asking her to meet him at midnight and that she’s humiliated him for the last time! So maybe he did do it! Jenny starts to freak out, thinking he’ll come back to finish the job if he remembers the note he left. Tony seems to recall that Dara’s Dad had a gun in this house at one point, and April is suspicious of him, and the others say they don’t feel totally good with that idea so they should just leave it and try to wait it out.

That night April can’t sleep and to make matters worse, she hears footsteps in the main room. Convinced that it’s Josh coming back to finish the job, she grabs a ski pole and goes into the darkness to confront him… when she’s tackled!! But it’s just Tony, who also thought that she was Josh coming back to kill everyone. She asks why he’s awake, and he says that he heard noises and came to investigate, and April is SUPER suspicious  because WHY would anyone do that…. even though she just did that. He confides in her that he and Dara used to go out at one time, but that it was JOSH that Dara really hurt. They go into the kitchen to get some water, but then Tony starts to freak out. When April turns towards the window, she sees Josh!!! And he looks like he’s frozen to death! April screams, which brings the other out of their rooms, but Josh isn’t dead, he’s knocking on the window… But yeah, probably on the verge of death because he’s been outside who knows how long. They let him in, but then tell him that they know what he did!!! They let him have some hot water as he thaws out, and he says that he’s been wandering in the snow all day, and he has no idea what they are talking about, and what do you MEAN Dara is dead!? They show him the letter, and he says that it isn’t his handwriting. Sure, he was unreasonably murderous LAST night because she teased him and his fragile ego couldn’t take it, but all he wanted to do was STRAND all of them there, so he committed grand theft auto and drove off to teach them all a lesson because man, Dara is such a BITCH, right? But then he drove off the road and got stuck, and had to come back because no one was coming for him. April thinks that he’s sincere; he’s not a murderer, just a ‘Nice Guy’ wronged by a girl and bound for the Incel Movement. Which isn’t much better, frankly. But if Josh didn’t kill her, who did? Because it has to be someone in that room.

The next morning April wakes up early hoping the phones are back, but they aren’t. Ken asks if they can talk about what she saw on Sumner Island, but April brushes it off and jeeze, how is he so fixated on THAT of all things in this moment, she wonders. She goes back to her room to find Josh rifling through her things (fucking creep!), and when she demands to know what he’s doing he says that he’s looking for the red pen that wrote that note, as whoever has it must be the one who framed him for Dara’s murder. She tells him to get out and starts to put her stuff away, but realizes that her blue parka is missing…. And then she realizes something pretty upsetting: Dara was wearing her blue parka when they found her body. She goes to look at the body again to confirm it, and then realizes that if Dara had been wearing the parka in the dark, the killer must have thought that it was April, not her… And therefore the killer actually wants to kill her! She decides that she needs to take her chances, and grabs the first coat she can find inside. It’s big and red, and it must be Ken’s because of the size. She doesn’t grab any other winter essentials such as a hat, scarf, or gloves, and ventures into the literal blizzard in an ill fitting coat.

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Probably her thoughts for the first few yards. (source)

But as she shoves her hands into the pockets (because you know, no gloves), she realizes that there’s something inside one of them. She pulls it out and realizes that she’s holding a red pen!!!! So that means that Ken MUST have written the note that framed Josh! New theory: Josh thought that Dara was her, and was hoping to kill her because he was worried that April was going to tell Jenny about his kissing session with the random girl on Sumner Island. That sure seems like a CRAZY reaction, but hey, Josh proved himself to be a complete maniac so why not Ken as well? April tries to keep moving, but then hears grunting and huffing behind her… It’s Ken!! And he tackles her to the ground!! When she tells him to get off he tells her that he’s taking her back to the cabin because she is going to die out here and needs to stay indoors. He seems to realize just in the moment that she is wearing his coat, and tells her that Jenny is the one who sent him after her and noticed that she was gone. April doesn’t believe him, but also knows that she is going to die out here, and maybe she can take her chances inside with him if she plays it cool. They start to walk back, and he brings up the Truth or Dare game again. April, in a seemingly ‘ah FUCK IT’ gambit, blurts out that she knows about him and the girl on Sumner Island but she hasn’t told Jenny. She then runs ahead of him all the way back to the cabin. He still insists on talking about it but she breaks away to go find Jenny. I guess the gamble is that if she tells Jenny then Ken won’t kill her? She then says to Jenny that she has deep dark secrets to tell her and that they need to get out of there ASAP, suggesting that they ski their way out to find help! Jenny agrees to go with her.

They ski through the woods and end up at the ski lift. It’s running again now that the snow has calmed down. They ask an old man who’s running it where they can get help, and he says there is a phone at the top. So they get on the lift, and start the slow slow climb up. So clearly they’re going to be okay! Clearly they’re going to be safe!…. But then, Jenny suddenly turns to April, says ‘sorry’, and shoves April off the bench!! April grabs onto the side, and they start to fight in the lift! Jenny says that April must die because she knows about the Girl on Sumner Island! April is rightfully confused. April says that she caught the clue during the Truth or Dare game, that April knew that Jenny had killed her for trying to steal Ken away! Apparently Ken had met this Barbara girl and didn’t want to stop seeing her, and Jenny went to confront her and accidentally killed her. The police never figured out who killed Barbara, but Jenny has been living in fear ever since. And when April mentioned Sumner Island, Jenny decided to kill her too, but killed Dara by accident instead, and left the note to frame Josh, leaving the pen in Ken’s coat because he wouldn’t tell on her. April says that she NEVER knew any of this, but Jenny still shoves her out of the lift. Luckily, they’re basically at the top so April only falls a few feet. But of course, Jenny is still there and attacks her with a ski pole. Before she can do too much damage, Jenny gets hit in the back of the head with one of the lift chairs, and then Ken shows up right behind it in the next one. He says that he did find the pen and recognized Jenny’s handwriting, but didn’t want to believe it was her. Jenny weeps about her secret just as two ski patrol men come up to see what the ruckus is about, and April tells Ken that the game of Truth or Dare told more than anyone thought it would. And she says that next time they should just stick with Trivial Pursuit. The End.

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Oh good, I see we’re back to the completely inappropriate reactions in the face of senseless death and destruction. (source)

Body Count: 1 on page. But it was a solidly badass way to go! A hatchet in the back is pretty wicked.

Romance Rating: 2, just because Jenny turned out to be nuts, Ken is a cheater, and Tony and Carly Rae were just gross in their constant making out. But it was kind of refreshing that April didn’t have a love interest and didn’t seem to mind that!

Bonkers Rating: 4. A hatchet to the back is a good start but ultimately it was all about petty jealousy and lousy weather.

Fear Street Relevance: 1. Once again, we find ourselves off site for the plot.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“He let go of Carly and took a step towards Dara. His expression hardened. He balled both hands into fists. He’s deliberately trying to scare us, I realized. ‘I know how to settle it,’ Tony said, coldly.”

….. And he graciously says that they can all share the space for the weekend.

That’s So Dated! Moments: There wasn’t much that really stood out this time outside of a reference to cassette tapes. Though the fashion styles certain reference very, uh, FLASHY colors (like the bright orange coat on the cover) you saw all over the 1990s.

Best Quote:

” ‘Hmmm. Lawyer dudes!’ Tony exclaimed.”

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As a daughter of lawyers, sister of a lawyer, and wife of a lawyer, I am VERY familiar with ‘lawyer dudes’ (AND dudettes). (source)

Conclusion: “Truth or Dare” was another one of those books that could have been a standalone and shouldn’t have piggybacked on the “Fear Street” series, but I will admit that the final twist surprised me, so hey, good for you, Stine! Up next is “Dead End”!

“Get It Out There, Get It Reviewed, Get It in Libraries”: Self-publishing and Libraries

We here at The Library Ladies are occasionally approached by readers with questions and suggestions about things that we could write about on this blog. While it’s true that reviews and reader’s advisory are some of the main points that we like to make here, we also try to keep up with current trends in the library world. Something that is becoming more and more prevalent within literary circles and realities is the concept of self publishing. Some authors decide to take the route of publishing and promoting their work on their own, and with more and more services cropping up it is becoming more and more common. One question raised is how do libraries factor into this newish trend? How can self-published authors get their books into libraries?

Okay, honesty time! I am neither a cataloger or a selector at the library that I work for, so this is not a field in which I am terribly familiar. But that said, I have a couple of thoughts that I picked up through osmosis by the library system. I think that libraries should strive to include as many perspectives as possible within their collections, and that by providing as much information as possible they can serve more people and more communities. But that said, public libraries have budgets, and budgets can only go so far. There is just no way that every single library can purchase every single title. There are, however, some things that self-published authors can try to do to that might make their chances of getting their books into libraries higher than average.

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Disclaimer: I can only speak to potentially getting the books there, not if you will get paid for them. The Jack way vs the Miles way, which is, as you can see on Miles’ face, not always helpful. (source)

For one, consider contacting your local library and asking about their policy of donations and whether they might consider adding your book to the collection. I’ve seen instances where local authors would approach the librarian at my branch, and that librarian would get them in contact with the selectors at the library. Local interest is usually a plus, but even just having ties to the community may work in your favor. Along with that, sometimes libraries will be eager to host events where authors can come and talk about their works, as a way to not only make connections in the community but to also promote their writing in a public space. (But it’s also important to note that libraries, at least in my experience, are not down with hosting for profit events, so selling one’s book during the event will potentially be a no-no).

But something that is being done more and more is a library system teaming up with a publishing platform that enables the books inside that platform to be circulated within the library catalog. One of the best examples I have found is Smashwords teaming up with the Los Gatos Public Library in Los Gatos, California. That library made it so authors could publish their books to Smashwords, and then the library would carry copies of those books within their ebook collection through the partnership. Smashwords itself seems to be committed to this collaborative opportunity, so perhaps see if your library ebook platforms carry Smashbooks titles and authors. A local example of this (local being Minnesota) is the MELSA library system (a conglomerate of 100+ metro area libraries) providing a link to MN Writes, MN Reads organization. Essentially, local writers can write and upload their ebooks to MN Writes, MN Reads, and the libraries within MELSA will provide access to these books for their patrons. Try to ask your librarians if there are any similar resources at their library.

And as Serena tweeted last week, this organization is teaming up with the Minnesota Author Project to throw a writing contest for local, independent, self published authors (with support from the Minnesota Library Foundation). Winners will not only receive a monetary prize, they will also have their works promoted via write-ups in various library magazines and their story will be added to the catalogs of a number of Minnesota public libraries. It’s true that this is more of a pie in the sky scenario and not a solution that would work for everyone (outside of the winners), but if more and more organizations could get behind this kind of thing, I think more opportunities would be created for self published authors to get their work recognized.

Again, I’m not an expert and I don’t have as much experience in this realm as selectors may. But I do believe that as more and more authors turn to self-publishing, the more libraries will want to provide access to their works because of the foundational values of librarians as a whole. Hopefully more opportunities will arise as the demand does. Until then, I know that I’m going to be looking out for ways for independent self-published authors to showcase their work, and try to find ways that I can help promote it

– Kate

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #28: “The Experiment”

286582Animorphs #28: “The Experiment” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are ready to control humans where it counts — in their DNA. They’re working on a drug that saps humans of their free will. But the Animorphs show them that human free will runs deeper than any drug can reach.

Narrator: Ax

Plot: I have clear memories of the cow portions of this book, but as I discovered reading this again, that’s only, like, that last third of the whole thing! So let’s get started on all the rest of the book that I had somehow completely forgotten!

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“Supernatural” totally stole this plot line with the whole “poison the burgers to make them susceptible” idea. (source)

Ax has built himself a scoop and also managed to get a TV. He and Tobias now have an afternoon ritual of watching some good, old quality “The Young and the Restless.” One afternoon, Marco shows up, bored, looking for mall trip buddies. On the way, they run in to Erek who has a possible mission. Apparently the Yeerks have been involved in some animal testing facility. The Chee don’t know what they’re doing, but with the Yeerks, it’s always safe to say it’s bad.

The group meets up in the barn and decide that yes, of course they must check it out. They all fly over to scout the place out. The building is highly fortified behind an invisible force shield that has been frying any animal that gets too close. But as they scout, they see a van pull up full of chimpanzees. There’s their in. The next day, Ax and Tobias scout out the route that the van with the chimps takes and note that it goes through a very long tunnel. And thus a very insane plan is sprung!

Together, all of the Animorphs in bird morph dive bomb the truck just as it heads into the tunnel. There, they all demorph and form a human chain, lowering Cassie down to open the back of the truck. They all jump in and quickly acquire the chimps. At a stop light, they release the other chimps (this doesn’t go well for some passing cars), and lock themselves in instead. At the facility, they are all carted into another room that is full of other caged chimps. Cassie demorphs to let them out, but just then they hear none other than Visser Three approaching down the hall. She races back to her cage and begins remorphing. To distract Visser Three and the others, they, of course, throw poo at him. Enraged, he leaves and they overhear him saying to release the Taxxons on the chimps, as that stage of testing is finished anyways. In chimp morph, the Animorphs release the others and fight off the Taxxons, making their way out of the facility. However, the mission is a success and they learn that the “next stage” of whatever is going on is taking place a meat packing plant.

Again, the next day Tobias and Ax scout out the plant. Later, in the barn, they report on what they found. While not covered with a force field, the plant is using the same Gleet BioFilters that now guard the entrances to the Yeerk pool, making it impossible to get in as anything but the poor, doomed cattle. The steer, however, are kept in a field some distance away. Cassie, however, comes up with a solution. Two of them morph steer, and the rest hide up in the steer’s nostrils as flies: organisms within other living creatures don’t trigger the BioFilters. Jake decides that Ax and Tobias will morph the steer, as they can demorph without revealing that they’re all humans if things go south.

That night, Marco, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax head out to acquire the morphs. While there, they have a close run-in with a few drunken cow tippers. Ax tries to disguise himself as a cow, but they spot him, and it’s only with some quick tail blade action that he able to knock them out.

The next day, they all head back to the field. Tobias and Ax aren’t concerned about the morph, as, obviously, cows are pretty docile. That is until they actually do the morph and realize that while they acquired steer, the DNA was that of bulls, so that’s what they become. Cassie is barely able to stop them from charging each other or her. But they now have a problem: any transport unit will definitely notice the fact that their cargo are bulls, and will call in about it. Jake has another brilliant plan: Marco driving, take two! Gorilla!Marco knocks out the two men when they arrive with the truck. Jake, being fairly tall, puts on the uniform of the passenger with the clipboard to confirm their cargo at the checkpoint. And gorilla!Marco, puts on what clothes he can manage (he’s too short to reach the truck petals in his human form).

What follows is yet another example of Marco’s terrible driving. The truck almost goes over on its side at least once, and several fences are damaged in the process of getting to the plant. Once there, the guards are convinced the driver is drunk, but pass off on letting them in. After they park, they morph flies and join Cassie and Rachel in bull!Ax and bull!Tobias’s noses and are able to successfully get through the Gleet Biofilters.

Once in, the others bail to begin scouting and create a diversion. Ax and Tobias are left in the line, slowly making their way towards execution. Ax is in front. They wait as long as they can, but Ax reaches the front of the line. He tries to avoid the man with the gun, but he gets tasered several times. Just before he’s shot, grizzly!Rachel shows up to rescue them. Controllers and Hork Bajir pour into the room, and Tobias and Ax frantically demorph.

The three of them charge off to find the others, who are not doing well, backed into a corner with a locked door. Visser Three shows up and begins his usual threats. Grizzly!Rachel can’t force the door, but Ax manages to quickly hard wire the key pad, and they flee into the next room. Ax rips out the wires behind him, effectively barricading it.

In the room, there are several cages with humans who look to be in some sort of bio-stasis. A computer screen is open and on it they discover what is going on. The computer, with lots of sucking up to Visser Three included, informs them that this is Project Obedience, a biochemical component that can be injected into the food supply and remove the free will of anyone who eats it. The others are horrified and feel defeated, but Cassie scoffs, saying that it is impossible to remove free will. Even Controllers have free will beneath the Yeerk who is forcing them to do things.

They then notice a lab worker who has been hiding in the corner. He quickly breaks down, saying that they might as well kill him since Visser Three soon will anyways, once he learns that the lab worker lied. He confirms what Cassie said, that the whole project was impossible from the start, but that Visser Three wouldn’t accept failure, so the lab worker has been faking it. Just then, the door begins to give behind them.

They quickly wake up the sleeping humans and get them out of their cages. The lab worker would rather make a run for it than confront Visser Three, so he leads the Animorphs and confused humans out of the plant.

The next day they meet back up at the mall. Cassie is feeling smug that she called it on the free will thing, but Marco says that she’s the only one who could look at the last few days as anything other than a giant waste of time: at least they saved some animals! Other than that, the whole project had been a bust from the start, so all of their work was for nothing. But at least they can enjoy some tasty burgers free of concern! Cassie is horrified, but the others all chow down.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For an Ax book, he doesn’t really have a whole lot as far as character moments in this book. There’s the running gag about various TV shows he’s watching, and his general narrating voice is as great as always. We again get to see his morning rituals, and it’s nice to see that he’s finally built himself a scoop.

Towards the middle of the book, he does reflect on the different challenges that humans face living on a world that still has predators that could kill them and by being omnivores. He reflects on the easy balance on the Andalite homeworld, that they have no natural predators and that they are vegetarian. It’s a nice exploration of the balance that has to be struck between being a human capable of moralizing, but also being a type of being that evolved to supplement its diet by eating meat.

More clearly, he is horrified by the treatment of chimpanzees, especially after they all morph them and he realizes how closely related they are to humans. Cassie, of course, has many strong opinions on this, and Ax becomes equally perturbed by whether they crossed a line morphing them. Towards the end of the book, he asks the scientist whether the free will injections worked on chimpanzees, in an attempt to finally answer the question about their sentience. The scientist says it didn’t work on them either, but wasn’t sure whether that’s because they had free will and it was affected, or whether they didn’t have free will to begin with.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake doesn’t have a lot in this book, other than the HIGHLY questionable decision of putting gorilla!Marco behind the wheel again. He also quickly picks Ax and Tobias to morph the steer, because they can demorph more easily without giving away their secret. I feel like this same reasoning would come into play more often than it seems to, but it’s a solid choice here as well.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel also doesn’t have much in this book. She comes to the rescue as a grizzly just in time at the meat packing plant. Tobias is fairly sarcastic about this, but she handles it well (aren’t they cute??). She also tells Marco to shut up quite a lot, but nothing new there!

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias gets a lot of action and page time in this book. Ax spends a good amount of time discussing his close friendship with Tobias, and the fact that, by earth standards, he is Tobias’s uncle as well. It’s nice to read their little friendship moments. Tobias trying to explain TV and that maybe Ax shouldn’t remove power lines to enhance his TV as it caused a power outage in Jake’s neighborhood. Tobias saying that he sometimes wishes he had a ritual similar to Ax’s that could help him prepare on days where they have dangerous missions. He’s also, notably, the other one to go in with the bull morph.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, of course, has a lot of thoughts about the morality of animal testing, as well as the Animorphs’ own code of not morphing sentient species. Aside from these opinions, she also has a good amount of action in this book. She’s the one who is lowered down to open the door on the moving truck. She stands between two bulls (Ax and Tobias) and manages to get them calmed down. And she also immediately call the bluff on Project Obedience’s supposed success.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, has a decent amount in this book. He’s pretty harsh on Cassie as far as some of her double standards go, and she doesn’t really even deny it. He notes that Cassie seems fine with morphing chimps since their mission will also save animals, but had they been doing it for any other reason (to save humans), she would have been very against it. She doesn’t really defend this point, which is kind of unfortunate for her. There’s also the highly entertaining driving sequence.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Ax first morphs human in the very beginning of the book, there are some overly graphic descriptions of his mouth forming first, but without lips to speak of. Also, when they’re all flies up the nose. As we know with some upcoming Marco book, I think, this “in the body” stuff gets much worse before it gets better!

Couples Watch!: Really, nothing at all. Fly!Rachel hangs out in bull!Tobias’s nostril? Super romantic, that. I guess, also, Ax is very confused by the whole process and point of kissing as he’s seen it on his favorite soap opera. Tobias assures him it has a purpose, but awkwardly evades any further questions on the subject.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I’m still never a fan of times when these books fall back on the body humor, like the poo throwing at Visser Three. But it did lead to him cutting off some poor Controller’s hand, and Ax commenting that Visser Three was not the type of leader who thinks it’s important to be popular with his subordinates. Also, when Visser Three shows up at the meat packing plant, he makes some pretty great, campy orders to the Controllers to “butcher” the Andalite bandits. Very clever, Visser Three. The best part was probably the sycophantic manner in which the computer program spoke about the Visser’s role in Project Obedience.

“Project Obedience is the brilliant insight of our great and glorious leader, Visser Three, hero of the Taxxon rebellion, Scourge of the Andalite fleet, Conqueror of Earth.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This was definitely one of the more comedic books, so there wasn’t that much sadness to go around. As they are running out of the animal testing facility, Ax doesn’t describe what he sees, but that’s because he says it’s too terrible to discuss, likening it to torture. He also mentions that though they all tried, they didn’t have much success leading the freed chimps out, as they were still chimps, and not capable of really understanding what was happening.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:

<How come Marco drives?> Rachel demanded.
<He has experience.>
“Oh man, don’t even mention that,” Cassie said. “My dad cried over the twisted remains of that truck.”

Um, Jake? You do remember Marco’s last experience at “driving”? I mean, technically this plan works, but there is definite damage done. It’s a fun scene and call back to that book though!

Favorite Quote:

Good Rachel snark after they get to the meat packing plant:

<These cows are going to be looking forward to a nice, easy death after this ride,> Rachel said.

And, of course, just Ax’s general way of narrating the story:

[Human humor] is inexplicable, and Andalite readers should simply resign themselves to never understanding.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change! Marco says it best (though it was still a fun ride from the reader’s perspective!):

“In the annals of stupid, screwed-up, pointless missions that was the stupidest, most pointless of them all,” Marco said.

Rating: For all that this story does nothing to progress the plot, it’s just a fun ride! Ax is always a great narrator, and his thoughts on TV (and his preference for the show “These Messages”) was a fun running gag throughout the story. There’s also some good action scenes, like the caper getting into the truck through the tunnel, and their various escapes from the facilities. I also enjoyed the trifecta that was Marco, Cassie, and Ax as far as the moral aspects of this story. The three provided a good spectrum of perspectives, and it was particularly interesting seeing much of it through Ax’s point of view, an alien who comes from a world where these challenges don’t exist. So, a pretty solid entry, all told!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “The Wife Between Us”

34189556Book: “The Wife Between Us” by Greer Hendrix and Sarah Pekkanen

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

Discover the next blockbuster novel of suspense, and get ready for the read of your life.

Review: The super hyped heavy hitter thrillers are the ones that scare me the most. Not in terms of content, mind you; in terms of my fears to even give them a try. I’ve been burned by a number of them in the past. I was marginally impressed by “Girl on the Train”. Mary Kubica’s recent works have left me a bit cold. I flat out hated “Gone Girl” and “Behind Her Eyes”. So when “The Wife Between Us” was available at work, I felt a tug to check it out, but also the nagging ‘what if you don’t like it?’ apprehension. But I did take a chance on this one, steeling myself for potential, sullen disappointment, so much so that I kind of let it sit for a bit, knowing I could renew it and just delay the potential inevitable disappointment. But I can safely say that when I did pick it up, I had a very, very hard time putting it down. Praise be, “The Wife Between Us” lived up to the hype that made me very hesitant!

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TAKE THAT, HORRIBLE STREAK OF ANNOYING THRILLER BLOCKBUSTERS! (source)

The dual narrative device isn’t really new to the thriller genre. Many books use it, including a number that I’ve reviewed on this blog. But given that this book was written by two women, the voices that each character, Nellie and Vanessa, have are incredibly unique and feel totally separate. Nellie’s story is told in the third person, as the new younger woman that this man Richard is about to marry, while Vanessa is in the first person, the ex wife who hears about this new marriage and is intent on stopping it. I tend to feel that when a book promises that ‘this book isn’t what you think it’s going to be’, I’m going to go in looking for hints and clues as to why that is. But with Nellie and Vanessa and the perspectives they each give to the overall story, while I was looking for clues I wasn’t distracted by my personal search. In fact, when we get to the first big reveal, I actually said ‘wait, WHAT?!’, and had to go back and look for clues because I was so totally caught off guard. The thriller genre seems to be stepping it’s game up, as this isn’t the only book that has done that lately (but more on that another time). I also liked that neither Nellie nor Vanessa were very stereotypical, even if they appeared to be at first. As the stories progressed, you saw a whole lot of growth in both these narratives, and I ended up really liking and feeling for both of them.

While Nellie and Vanessa were refreshing and kind of new for the genre, there were some familiar traps that the plot itself fell into. I’m not going to spoil it, as this is a fun book and shouldn’t be spoiled for those who want to read it. But while I didn’t call one of the super big twists, the other one was fairly obvious from the get go. It’s a device and a twist theme that I’m honestly losing my patience with, as we’ve seen it so often now that it’s long past stale and definitely overused and overdone. And then (and I can’t tell you how ridiculous this moment was), in the last few pages, yet ANOTHER twist was thrown in for good measure that harkened back to a long lost plot point. And the biggest grievance I had with this one was that not only did it fall right in the last few pages, it was revealed in a way that didn’t actually have ANY bearing on how anything turned out!! So I don’t know what I find more frustrating, that it was a quick ‘gotcha!’ reveal a la “Into the Water”, or that it didn’t even go anywhere or change anything. It just felt tacked on, and tacked on in a way that was incredibly superfluous and unimportant to anything.

But given that I picked “The Wife Between Us” up and didn’t put it down, reading it in one sitting, it clearly had a serious hold on me, which is what a good thriller ultimately needs to do to be effective. This is one that, in my opinion, deserves the hype that it’s getting.

Rating 8: A thriller that kept me entranced with a couple of unique and interesting narratives, “The Wife Between Us” had few pitfalls and lots of really good curve balls.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Wife Between Us” is included on the Goodreads lists “Chilling New York Novels”, and “Unique Narrators”.

Find “The Wife Between Us” at your library using WorldCat!