Kate’s Review: “When We Go Missing”

33382556Book: “When We Go Missing” by Kristen Twardowski

Publishing Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, December 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: Once, Alex Gardinier was a successful physical therapist and a happy wife. Now she is trapped in a crumbling hospital room. Seven years ago Alex’s ex-husband, Nathan, was convicted of murdering five girls, and he has been rotting in prison ever since. Except the doctors say that Nathan isn’t in prison. In fact, they don’t believe that he is a criminal at all. According to them, Nathan is a devoted husband who visits her every week. But Alex can’t recall ever seeing him at the hospital, and the last time they met he was holding her hostage on a boat.

Maybe the doctors are right – maybe these memories of his crimes are her own personal delusions – but if they are wrong, then Nathan somehow escaped from prison. If they are wrong, he has trapped Alex in a psychiatric ward.

If they are wrong, he is hunting her sister.

Review: During my time studying psychology in my high school and college careers, there were a number of case studies that freaked me out. Be it because of ethical problems (The Milgram Experiment), animal cruelty (Harlow Monkey Experiment), or just flat out human terribleness (The Stanford Prison Experiment), many studies have told us a lot, but have ridiculous messed up connotations. But one that seems perfect for a horror story is the Rosenhan Experiment, where non-mentally ill people faked symptoms to get inside mental institutions… and then found it pretty near impossible to get out, even when they stopped reporting symptoms. So when “When We Go Missing” ended up in the blog email box, and seemed to touch on exactly that, I thought “Oh yes. This could work.” And on top of that, it was written by fellow book and literature blogger Kristen Twardowski! So of course I gotta give a shout out of solidarity to her!

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(source)

And there may be mild spoilers here, but I promise that I won’t give too much away, nor will I give away anything that I don’t think isn’t established pretty early on, and therefore fair game.

Though the description makes it sound like it’s going to be mostly from Alex’s point of view, “When We Go Missing” actually follows the experiences and points of view of a number of women, all of whom are connected to Alex in one way or another. All of them have their own unique perspectives and experiences, and I appreciated the pieces of the larger, overarching puzzle that they provided. I do think that the description may be a little misleading in some ways, as I feel that through these multiple perspectives we find out quite early that Alex is not necessarily crazy, and that Nathan has somehow gotten away with sticking her into a Portuguese mental institution after he escaped from prison. But this still works, because now the mystery is how did he do this, how is Alex going to escape when she has been diagnosed as insane, and is Nathan going to get away with it. I am far more interested in figuring this out as opposed to ‘is Alex an unreliable narrator?’, a trope that I am pretty much well and over at this point.

Besides Alex’s story, be it before her time in the asylum or during it, we get the stories of Carolyn, Sandra, and Lucia. Carolyn is Alex’s sister, a woman who has never felt comfortable or trusting around Nathan, but doesn’t know how to say so. I really appreciated how her character progressed, and I totally believed her choices when it came to her sister and her sister’s marriage. While some may wonder how Carolyn couldn’t tell Alex her reservations, I found it to be pretty realistic that she may not feel it her place, or that she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. I’m someone who isn’t terribly close to her sister, and while the girl has a great head on her shoulders and has yet to make a terrible decision in regards to her personal life, I wonder if I’d have the courage to say if she had. So that resonated with me. Another character, Sandra, is actually the character I was most intrigued by, and found to be the most tragic. Sandra’s daughter disappeared, and she is trying to make sense of what happened to her. This journey takes her to the realization that a lot of women, many whom society may not miss, have gone missing, and that they may be connected. Her story was the one that I most looked forward to in terms of plotting, as it was definitely the saddest and the one that made me feel the most of all of the threads. And finally there was Lucia, a nurse at the asylum that Alex was being held in. She was another very interesting device for the story, acting as detective for the reader as we followed the hospital storyline through her eyes as well as Alex’s. I liked seeing Lucia try to figure out if the woman being detained in room 203 is insane, or if there is a larger conspiracy going on around her, and just how high up it goes. Because really, while the Rosenhan Experiment was upsetting in how it exposed the ineptitude of psychiatric hospitals diagnostic practices, wouldn’t it have been so much worse if it had all been one big conspiracy to keep the ‘patients’ in? And THAT is the thing about this book that freaked me out the most.

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No drinking fountains in sight to throw through a window either. (source)

There was a fair amount of jumping around in this book, timeline wise, which was a little confusing at first. Once I got the hang out it, however, it went a lot smoother, and I didn’t feel as lost as when I started. I think that it’s just a matter of getting used to the pacing and the jumping, which took a little bit of patience from me, a girl with ADD and a need for instant gratification.

“When We Go Missing” was an entertaining read that kept me guessing in a number of ways up through the last pages. It definitely hits a number of original themes and plot points, and I think that it would appeal to those of us who want something fresh from our psychological thrillers.

And be sure to come back here on Monday, January 23rd! Because the author of this book, Kristen Twardowski, is publishing a guest post here about writing, inspiration, and the creative process!

Rating 8: An entertaining and suspenseful book with a lot of well fleshed out characters, “When We Go Missing” was a very unsettling and tense novel with twist, turns, and a solid mystery!

Reader’s Advisory:

“When We Go Missing” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Fancy a Debut Psychological Thriller Author?”, and “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”.

“When We Go Missing” is not available on WorldCat yet, but it can be found in paperback and ebook form at amazon.com.

Lift Every Voice And Sing: Books About The Civil Rights Movement

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everyone! Given that today is a celebration and remembrance of one of the most important voices in American History, we thought that we would share with you all some books about the Civil Rights Movement. Some may be familiar, others may not be as well known, but all of them give a voice to this movement, the people within it, and the importance of the ideals at it’s heart.

29844341Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Productions, August 2013 (Book 1), January 2015 (Book 2), and August 2016 (Book 3).

Kate has talked about this book before on this blog, and it has a clear place on this list. John Lewis, one of the key people in the Civil Rights Movement, decided that he wanted to tell his story, and he did it in graphic novel form. These books talk about his early days as an activist, the Sit Ins, The March on Washington, Freedom Summer, and Selma, amongst many other key moments in the movement. Lewis is honest and candid about his time during this movement, and this book shows the horror, the sadness, the determination, and the hope.

5201814Book: “Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice” by Phillip M. Hoose

Publishing Info: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, January 2009

Though many people have heard of Rosa Parks, they may not have heard of Claudette Colvin. Colvin also refused to give up her spot on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, months before Rosa Parks did the same thing and became a Civil Rights Icon. Colvin, unlike Parks, was not only largely forgotten by history, she also was shunned for her actions and mostly ignored by community leaders. But she then became an figure in the Browder v. Gayle case, a court case that challenged Jim Crow laws in Montgomery. This book tells her story within the context of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Montgomery itself.

92057Book: “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X, Alex Haley

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, 1965

Both a celebrated and controversial figure, Malcolm X was an important force and speaker within the Civil Rights Movement. This book is his story, as told to Alex Haley (the author of “Roots”), and it covers his early time as a hustler and goes all the way through his conversion to Islam, his position during the Civil Rights movement, and his stances on how to gain freedom within a racist society. Haley eventually added a section to the book after X’s assassination. Malcolm X is still considered a polarizing figure to this day, but to have his story in his own words is invaluable, and continues to serve as inspiration and education about the fight for Civil Rights.

824499Book: “A Wreath For Emmett Till” by Marilyn Nelson, Phillip Lardy (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, January 2005

Though Emmett Till’s murder happened in 1955, it is considered to be one of the moments in history that helped set off the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was a fourteen year old boy who was murdered for whistling at a white woman, and his death and the aftermath his told in poem form in this award winning picture book. The poetry is beautiful, told in a crown of sonnets, and it both captures the horrific nature of the crime, the injustice of the court ruling, and the despair and sadness of a child who was murdered with no consequence.

How are you guys celebrating and remembering Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday? Let us know in the comments!

Brief History and Introduction of the Great Animorphs Re-Read

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2016 was the year I entered my 30th year of life. And with this milestone comes the right to now wax nostalgic about my own childhood. (Don’t ask who made up the rules! *coughmecough*). For me, book nostalgia cannot be discussed with out talking about K. A. Applegate’s series “The Animorphs.” It is also fitting that 2016 was the 20th anniversary of the first book’s publication in 1996. So with these justifications backing me up, I introduce the Great Animorphs Re-Read where, every other Friday, I will review each book in this long, long series. Be ready, people.

A little background about this series: “The Animorphs” was a middle grade science fiction series that was released monthly between the years 1996 and 2001. You do the math on that one! Needless to say, there are a lot of these books, including several branch-off books that serve as back stories and accompaniments to the regular run of books. To keep with this schedule, Applegate co-wrote the series with her husband Michael Grant (a young adult author in his own right), and, later in the series’ run, many of the books were ghost written (to their detriment, as I remember).

Each book is told from first person perspective from one of the Animorphs, 6 teens whose age we never really discover, though I’m guessing they start off at around 13. The series is cleverly set up in  a way that allows kid readers to imagine the story taking place in their own hometown, USA, with no direct references to town names or even the full names of the kids themselves. The five kids, and later their teen alien buddy, are given the power to change into any animal for 2 hours. With this ability, they are tasked with saving the world from a group of evil, alien parasites called Yeerks who take over the body of other lifeforms in their ongoing campaign to, essentially, conquer the universe. And Earth is next! Dun dun dun.

The series was released in what I would call the “pre Harry Potter” era of children’s publishing when it was thought that young readers would not be willing to read longer novels. Like its contemporaries, (“Goosebumps,” “Baby Sitters Club,” “Fear Street,” etc.), each book was only given around 150 pages with which to work. Unlike many of these series, however, “The Animorphs” did contain many serialized elements that encouraged, if not required, readers to read the books in order.

“The Animorphs” reached a peak in popularity in 1998 when it was picked up by Nickelodeon for a short-lived television series. It was pretty awful, if my memory serves. We will see how engrossed I become in this re-read to determine whether I want to subject myself to experiencing those episodes again!

As each book is so short, I won’t be doing a traditional review for each book. Instead, I’ll include a brief plot synopsis and then break up my review into sections based on some of the re-occurring themes of the books or just whatever amuses me! (Think section titles like “Couples Watch” where I will focus on all the tween romance found in these books! Or “Body Horror” where I come to realize how truly disgusting some of these descriptions are that I didn’t remember at all!)

These books were my all-time favorite series up until the release of Harry Potter, and I loyally saved up my allowance every month to purchase the $5 copy at my local bookstore. So, yes, I do still own all of them, though they now live in a box in storage rather than taking up so, so many shelves on my book shelf at home. But now it seems it is time to pull them out, dust them off, and see how these books hold up in the harsh light of 2017 and supposed adulthood! Look for my first post where I review #1 “The Invasion” next Friday, and then the remaining books on alternating Fridays going forward!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Moonshot (Vol.1): The Indigenous Comics Collection”

25823323Book: “Moonshot (Vol.1): The Indigenous Comics Collection” by Hope Nicholson (Editor)

Publishing Info: Alternate History Comics, 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Produced by AH Comics Inc. (Titan: An Alternate History, Delta, Hobson’s Gate, Jewish Comix Anthology) and edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes, Nelvana of the Northern Lights), MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling.

From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection that is sure to amaze, intrigue and entertain!

Review: I had another impulsive moment at work recently, where I went to our New Books Wall and took a look at what there was to offer. Since these books don’t go to the usual request list, sometimes you can get really lucky and find something that’s in demand or brand new. I was immediately taken in by the gorgeous cover on a new graphic novel collection. I mean, DAMN, look at the cover for “Moonshot (Vol.1)”! Is it not staggering and beautiful!?

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Absolutely blown away, no lie (source)

I gave it some time on the wall, because I had a big stack at home and wanted to give the patrons a chance to snatch it up. But after waiting awhile I just had to have it. And I am so glad that I was entranced by the cover, because “Moonshot” as a whole was an entrancing collection!

The first thing to know about “Moonshot” is that it is a collection of one shot stories that are written by people from Indigenous Nations across North America, as are the artists. The second thing to know is that it is a collection filled with stunning variety because of all of these differing perspectives. I wasn’t sure of what to expect from this collection, but whatever my expectations may have been they were blown out of the water by what I found. While there are a number of stories in this book, a few of them really stood out to me, so I will focus my attention on them. That isn’t to say that the others aren’t as good, however. These are the ones that left the biggest impression because of story or artwork.

“The Qallupiluk: Forgiven” by Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, and menton3 (Ill.).

This story is from the Arctic regions, and concerns themes of death and forgiveness. This was also the one story in the collection that had minimal artwork, as it was mostly text with a few large pieces that stood out for the most important parts of the story. I liked a couple of things about this story. The first was that it was creepy as all get out, as the Qallupiluk is a creature that hides beneath the ice and takes unsuspecting victims under the water and kill them. This story is about a Qallupiluk that takes on the form of one of it’s victims in hopes of stealing away a child, until a dog calls it out. I liked the personal journey that the Qallupiluk took, as odd as that sounds, and has to confront the concept of forgiveness. The art, as I said, was scattered, but the images that were there were absolutely breathtaking and visceral. As someone who loves creepy imagery, this one was a true treat.

“Siku” by Tony Romito, and Jeremy D. Mohler (Ill.)

Another story from the Arctic region, and another one that involves malevolent forces and scary imagery. This one is about a hunter who witnesses a conflict between two otherworldly beings, one of which is a demon. Boy do I love the demon stories. This book definitely was more set up like a comic, with panels, bubbles, the works. It felt like an old school horror comic, and like something that I would pick up at the comic book shop when looking for something twisted. And the end, WAHH, so unsettling. The art didn’t stand out as much in this one, but that didn’t matter because the story really kept me interested. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t go into much detail, but it kind of cut to the quick in that it definitely touched on one of my bigger freak out factors in horror.

“Coyote and the Pebbles” by Dayton Edmonds, and Micah Farritor (Ill.)

I’ve grown up hearing many iterations of the Coyote myth, as Coyote is a very prominent character in many Indigenous narratives and mythologies. This one sounded familiar, but Edwards really made it his own. I’ve always liked Coyote, be he a troublemaker or sympathetic, and in this story I really liked how he was portrayed as somewhere in the middle (but being me, I still felt for him). It concerns the nocturnal animals of the world hoping to see more at night when the sun is down, and thinking that they should draw portraits of themselves to light the way. And Coyote thinks that he is the best artist of them all. This story is a straight up ‘how this came to be’ myth, but I really liked it. This was also my favorite art style in the collection, with animals shifting between animal form and human form, but even in human form still evoking their animal identity. Farritor has a real skill for pulling animal characteristics from his drawings, be they animals or not.

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Coyote and Raven discuss his artistic prowess (source).

This story was lovely and melancholy, and I really, really enjoyed it.

“Moonshot (Vol.1)” is a collection that was so fun, and breathtaking in a lot of ways, and I seriously cannot wait for Volume 2 to come out (YES, there is going to be a Volume 2, isn’t that great?!). I think that it’s also a very important work, especially since Indigenous representation is one of the lowest in Children’s and YA Literature. I cannot recommend this book enough to comics enthusiasts, and I think that everyone should consider picking it up. If the cover alone doesn’t get you, the stories inside certainly will.

Rating 8: With gorgeous and varied artwork and sweeping stories, “Moonshot (Vol.1)” is an important collection with talented writers and artists at the helm.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Moonshot (Vol.1)” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels & Comics by the Aboriginal, Indigenous, and Native People’s of the World”,  and “Canadian Graphic Novels & Comic Books”.

Find “Moonshot (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Scarlet”

11983940Book: “Scarlet” by A. C. Caughen

Publishing Info: Walker Childrens, February 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it from the library’s weeding cart!

Book Description: Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets – skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood’s band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet’s biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know…that she is posing as a thief; that the slip of a boy who is fast with sharp knives is really a girl.

The terrible events in her past that led Scarlet to hide her real identity are in danger of being exposed when the thief taker Lord Gisbourne arrives in town to rid Nottingham of the Hood and his men once and for all. As Gisbourne closes in a put innocent lives at risk, Scarlet must decide how much the people of Nottingham mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. There is real honor among these thieves and so much more – making this a fight worth dying for.

Review: I found this one on the weeded cart at my local library and snatched it up right quick! I love Robin Hood re-tellings, and this one has gotten quite a bit of positive attention in the last few years. (I only discovered after finishing it that it is the first in a trilogy. *Sigh* Sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to find a nice, simple stand-alone novel in YA fiction!) The book description gives a good summary for the book and didn’t lead me astray, both with the positive aspects of the book (a female Will Scarlet!) and the negative aspects (a love triangle!).

In the positive arena, Scarlet is a strong protagonist for the story. The book is written from her perspective and the author made an interesting choice to word Scarlet’s narrative using the unique dialect in which Scarlet talks. I can’t speak to how historically accurate it may be, but it did align with what we traditionally think of as a “British commoner” dialect, substituting “were” for “was” and other, similar changes. At first I was put off by this, even quickly skimming further in the book to see if ever changed, but after discovering that it did not and reading on for a few more chapters, I found that I actually appreciated the added layer this writing style gave the story. Readers’ mileage may vary on this point, as it still was a bit jarring to get used to.

Further, towards the back half of the book, I did have a few questions about the authenticity of this choice given Scarlet’s own history. Some of this history was fairly easy to guess and I’m sure many readers will be looking for this outcome from the start, but there were a few added elements to the tale that added some unexpected twists to what was, largely, an expected reveal.

From the get go, I appreciated Scarlet’s spunk and often brass approach to life as an outlaw. She doesn’t let herself be pushed around by the men in her life, and from the very beginning, we are shown that she has the skills to backup her talk. Further, Scarlet discusses the challenges she went through to gain those skills as well, referencing her scarred hands that came from learning to wield her knives. Too often in YA lit readers are simply told that the heroine is a badass, but given very little evidence to back up this claim. Further, any attributes that they do have seem to just appear from nowhere ala “maybe she was born with it!” Not so with Scarlet.

Alas, there were also negatives to this story, both a few that were expected and a few unexpected. Firstly, yes, there is a love triangle between Scalet, John Little, and Rob and it is just as unfortunate as it sounds. As with many love triangles, the “true pairing” is projected from the beginning of the story, there is some event that pushes the heroine to fall into the arms of the second best option during a moment of weakness, “true pairing” dude finds out, much angst ensues, but in the end, in a complete and utter shocker to all, heroine ends up with “true pairing” guy anyways. There was absolutely nothing new in this set up.

The more unexpected negatives had to do with Rob himself. For the first half or so of the book, I really liked Rob, the author’s take on his history, and the relationship he had with his men and Scarlet. Then the love-triangle-angst-moment happened, he discovered Scarlet’s hidden past, and he went crazy saying horrible things and calling her a “whore” at one point. The whole scene and his reaction is so completely blown out of proportion that I had a hard time every getting back on board with him as a character. Love triangle confusion aside, Scarlet’s decision to keep her past a secret was completely her own to make and one that has been keeping her alive for years. She didn’t owe those around her anything more than she felt comfortable giving. His reaction to this choice is deplorable, as is the use of the word “whore.” Later in the book, he attempts to explain his maltreatment of Scarlet in these moments by saying something along the lines of “Don’t you understand? Hurting you was the best way to hurt myself!” Unpacking all the craziness in that statement is not worth my time. But all of this did add up to a very weak reaction on my part to Scarlet and Rob’s inevitable pairing at the end.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I loved Scarlet herself, and the added twists at the end of the story makes me curious to read more. However, I’m very much not on board with the current direction of her relationship with Rob, and, call me crazy, but not loving the Robin Hood character in a Robin Hood re-telling series seems like a recipe for disappointment as a reader.

Rating 5: A strong leading lady, but a predictable love triangle and rather horrid Robin Hood character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarlet” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fictional Robin Hood” and “Kingdoms and heroines.”

Find “Scarlet” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “The Trap”

32813330Book: “The Trap” by Melanie Raabe (Imogen Taylor Translation)

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, 2016 (Translation)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The renowned author Linda Conrads is famous for more than just her bestselling novels. For over eleven years, she has mystified fans by never setting foot outside her home. Far-fetched, sometimes sinister rumors surround the shut-in writer, but they pale in comparison to the chilling truth: Linda is haunted by the unsolved murder of her younger sister, whom she discovered in a pool of blood twelve years ago, and by the face of the man she saw fleeing the scene.

Now plagued by panic attacks, Linda copes with debilitating anxiety by secluding herself in her house, her last safe haven. But the sanctity of this refuge is shattered when her sister’s murderer appears again–this time on her television screen. Empowered with sudden knowledge but hobbled by years of isolation, Linda resolves to use her only means of communication with the outside world–the plot of her next novel–to lay an irresistible trap for the man.

But as the plan is set in motion and the past comes rushing back, Linda’s memories of that traumatic night–and her very sanity–are called into question. Is this man really a heartless killer or merely a helpless victim?

Review: At work one night my friend Paul (and fellow librarian) was subbing with me at the desk. He told me about a book he’d read, and that he thought that I should give it a whirl. It was a German book, recently translated into English, called “The Trap”. I requested it pretty much immediately, because Paul knows my reading tastes pretty well (and movie tastes; we proceeded to have a long conversation about “The Conjuring 2”). I think that I was expecting more horror by his description, and instead found myself with another Messed Up Lady Narrator book. But hey, I was okay with it, because I had yet to read a German Messed Up Lady Narrator book!

Side note: I’VE BEEN MISUSING THE PHRASE GRIT LIT THIS ENTIRE TIME!!! I could have sworn that Grit Lit was the phrase for these female psychological thrillers, but I guess it’s more the hip new slang for Southern Gothic. Huh.

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So ignore that from before. (source)

I have some good news right off the bat. This was a Messed Up Lady Narrator Book (I need to find a good snappy phrase for this genre) that I mostly, basically, enjoyed. While it perhaps doesn’t reach the high highs of “In A Dark, Dark Wood”, it was a gripping read with a tense plot. I did get a little nervous as the book progressed, because you all know how frustrated I get with psychological thriller heroines and their issues. Linda isn’t really any exception, as she is suffering from agoraphobia and PTSD after walking in on her sister Anna’s murder scene. While the trope of ‘damaged heroine’ is firmly in place with Linda, while it is realistically and necessarily dramatic, it never really feels overdramatic. Linda is very up front with her problems, she recognizes that she is, indeed, very messed up, and she isn’t the usual absolute WORST to everyone that you sometimes see in these books. Plus, I feel like she has actually earned her messed up personality, while sometimes the trope can feel forced and cliche. I mean, a mentally ill character usually means that there are going to be moments of ‘is all of this actually happening the way I think it is?’, especially in a book like this. It happened in “The Girl on the Train”, it happened in “The Couple Next Door”, and it definitely happened in this. I don’t want to spoil anything here, because I do think that this is a good read and definitely worth your time, but I think that it would have worked better and been a bit more revelatory if Linda wasn’t so sure about everything from the get go, if maybe we hadn’t jumped in with her mid-revenge plot. Surprises ended up not being too surprising, and while I was ultimately okay with it, the stakes never felt terribly, terribly high, and I didn’t feel like I was really solving anything along with her. I like taking the journey of detection and gumshoe-ing. This book didn’t really have that element to it, or at least not enough for me.

Linda’s relationships were also something that I want to address. I had a problem with a kind of out of nowhere forced romance sub plot that arrived a bit too late for my liking. There were hints about Linda’s simmering relationship with Julian, the detective of her sister’s case, but he didn’t really show up until the last third of the book. And I think that if I was really going to buy it, I needed him to really show up and make an impression well before that, not just as an analog character in the book that she has written (yes, we do get to see excerpts from the book. They were fine. They didn’t really add or detract). But I still liked Linda’s relationship with him as a whole, just as I liked her relationships with those around her, be it her assistant or her publisher. As I said, I think that there is a stereotype in pop culture and literature that people who are mentally ill are going to be completely difficult to deal with at all times and that they are going to put people off because of it. What I liked about Linda is that she has her problems, she has this uphill battle that she is fighting, but she still has relationships and isn’t portrayed as toxic or a pariah. She has friends and people who care about her. That meant a lot to me.

And then there’s the villain character, or whom Linda is convinced is a villain, Lenzen. Linda thinks that Lenzen, an established and well respected journalist, is the man who killed her sister a decade earlier. And since we, of course, know that there is going to be some doubt about him based on the plot description alone, I was very curious as to how Raabe was going to approach him. I liked that she did do a pretty good job of making it hard to tell what his deal was. Many of the things he did in the interactions he had with Linda could be chalked up to calculated sociopathy… Or they could have just as easily been something a regular, innocent man would do. Tricky. Very tricky. I liked that I was constantly questioning him, which shows to me that Raabe made effective use of the device that she set up. And believe me, sometimes a writer can make a real mess of it.

So while it ultimately did end up feeling suspenseful throughout the book, I wasn’t really surprised by much of anything that happened. True, I had my questioning moments, but I never had a “WOW!” moment. But honestly, I prefer a well written if simple plot to one that just has twist after twist after twist. “The Trap” was a fast paced and enjoyable read, and I hope that it takes off here in the U.S. as much as it did in Germany.

Rating 7: While it didn’t necessarily enthrall me and stagger me, “The Trap” was a fun and tense read that I found entertaining and not as overwrought as other books in the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Trap” is new and isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it would be at home on “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”.

Find “The Trap” at your library using WorldCat!

 

That Takes Me Back: Some Favorite Reads from Childhood

So we were feeling a bit nostalgic this week, thinking about how we’ve loved reading our whole lives, and how books can leave lasting impressions. Both of us have our favorite books now, but we also had our favorite books when we were kids. So we thought that we would share with you some of the standouts from our childhoods, and what it was that made them so magical.

Kate’s Picks

39988Book: “Matilda” by Roald Dahl

Publishing Info: October, 1988

Why I Loved It: While I really liked a number of Roald Dahl’s books when I was a kid (particularly “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), the one that stood out for me most was “Matilda”. It appealed to me in a number of ways, most particularly that she was a little girl who liked to read, and was pretty lonely (as I had few friends in childhood, though my family wasn’t the absolute worst like Matilda’s is). So “Matilda” served as pure escapist fantasy for me, as the lonely, bookish girl also had magical telekinetic powers. It remains as my favorite book by Dahl, as Matilda is spunky and smart and a true role model for girls everywhere.

176690Series: “Fear Street” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: First book published 1989

Why I Loved It: My love of horror goes all the way back to my childhood. And since I’ve already gushed about my other favorite, “Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark”, I will talk about my other big horror influence: “Fear Street”. I started with “Goosebumps” when I was in third grade, but quickly graduated to the “Fear Street” series because they were more challenging and a lot scarier. I loved the scandal, the murder, the intrigue, and the WONDERFULLY tacky and now dated covers. R.L. Stine published a number of regular “Fear Street” books, and a few off shoot series like “Ghosts of Fear Street”, “Fear Street Super Chillers”, and “Fear Street Nights” (reminds me of “Baywatch Nights”). They were formulaic and repetitive, but man did I love them to pieces.

3729060Series: “The Baby-Sitter’s Club” by Ann M. Martin

Publishing Info: First book published August 1986

Why I Loved It: And on the exact opposite side of the spectrum, my other big series of my childhood was “The Baby-Sitter’s Club” by Ann M. Martin. I think that what I liked about it was that it was about a bunch of tween girls who had responsibilities and deep and lasting friendships. I would go to Barnes and Noble and usually leave with the newest in the series, and boy did I have my strong opinions about all the girls (Mary-Anne was the best, Stacey was the worst). And I also liked the inevitable soapy storylines that came up every few issues, involving boys, drama, and family. I also loved the spin off series “Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries”, which usually had some kind of potential danger or supernatural element. It always goes back to the creepy for me.

Serena’s Picks

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Series: “The Mandie Mysteries” by Lois Gladys Leppard

Publishing Info: First book published May 1983

Why I Loved It: This series was pretty much my entrance drug into the world of long-running mystery series featuring spunky heroines. And man, there are even more of them than I remember (I’m sure I didn’t read them all, but I loved the first 12 or so that I did get through!). There are like 40 of these suckers, it turns out. They’re fairly simplistic mysteries, of course, but I found very fun as a young reader. Especially the inclusion of the troubles her cat Snowball always gets into, and my early shipping heart’s love of Mandi and Joe’s interactions.

118754

Book: “The Raging Quiet” by Sherryl Jordan

Publishing Info: April 1999

Why I Loved It: And this, my introduction to the joys of historical fiction! This book falls into the young adult category more than children’s fiction as it deals with some challenging themes. But oh I loved it! I still re-read it once every year or so. The story focuses on Marnie, a young girl who comes to live in a new area due to a forced marriage. After she is suddenly widowed, she is viewed with fear and skepticism by the local villagers, but finds friendship with another outcast of society, Raven, who she learns is deaf. It’s a powerful story of the challenges of being different in a time when that was often looked upon with fear and hatred. It’s a lovely story, but also a tough read at times.

444332Series: “Song of the Lioness” quartet by Tamora Pierce

Publishing Info: September 1983

Why I Loved It: And finally, my first fantasy love. It’s pretty impossible to talk about 80s/90s popular young adult fantasy without the Alanna books coming up. And for good reason! I absolutely loved these books as a kid. Alanna is a spunky, heroine who constantly defies the expectations and limitations that are placed on her as a young girl, and eventually woman, who dreams of being a knight and having her own adventures. I’ve re-read this series a few times as an adult, and I’m even more impressed by the topics it covers that are so great especially for young women readers (it covers the importance of birth control even!) all while never losing its sense of fun, fantasy, and adventure.

What about you? What were some of your favorites from your childhood? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “Without a Summer”

15793208Book: “Without a Summer” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Books, April 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

Review: I continue on with my reviews of this series! As I commented on in the first reviews, the books’ ties to the Jane Austen novels that the author attempts to mimic has been the difference maker between my enjoyment levels of the first two in the series. The first tried to tie it too closely to “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility,” leaving original characterization and plot to suffer. While the second seemed to step away completely from this format presenting readers with a completely original story and being stronger for it. This third book strikes on the perfect balance of the two with its very loose connections to “Emma” while also building on its original stories and characters.

I was most excited when picking up this book to realize that Melody was again going to play a central role to the story. Her absence was one of the few low points of the second book, in my opinion. And she was featured even more than I originally thought! Jane, back home with her husband Vincent and now recovered from her experiences and trauma dealt in the end of the last book, is realizing how alone and sad her sister is feeling. Country living just doesn’t have enough variety, particularly in the potential husband arena. So, upon receiving a commission for Jane and Vincent’s work on a glamoural for a wealthy family in London, Jane decides the change of scenery would do her sister good. And so we begin to see the set up and ties to “Emma” in this story, with Jane standing in as our poor, struggling matchmaker.

As I said, this book really seemed to hit on the formula for emulating, but not becoming bogged down by, an original Austen work. Only the loosest ties to “Emma” are visible (and three lines from the novel, for those looking closely!). Jane makes many mistakes as a matchmater, but they are of a different variety than Emma’s, both due to differences in their personality and position. Jane is a married woman, so her own romantic confusion is not involved in this. Further, Jane is a very different character than Emma. Emma is lovable for her blissful naivety. Jane is a much more earnest character and one who is used to being on the right side of most conflicts.

I actually found this to be a very interesting take on a matchmaking failure, and one that can speak to a quandary that many people can find themselves in. In many ways, Jane is a very open-minded, justice-oriented character. In the last several books, she is always on the right side of situations that deal with prejudice and injustice. So, in this way, its not surprising that she has become a bit complacent with her own perception of the world, sure that she does not fall into the same traps that other, less wary and more judgemental, people do. But alas, we can guess how this turns out! I really enjoyed this take as it is a pitfall that I think many of us can fall into, becoming falsely secure in our own perception of the world and failing to recognize that we are still susceptible towards opinions and thoughts that are convenient and not as open-minded as we may think. Vincent’s sly hints that she might be a bit off track were also great. It was a nice little wink to the maneuverings of marriage where battles must be picked carefully and opinions offered gently.

The other main storyline of this book was the complete and utter awfulness that is Vincent’s family. We’ve heard about his past some in the previous books, but here we get to meet the whole cast and man, weren’t they all just a bundle of joy. His father in particular reached truly astonishing levels of evil. There were a few scenes where they are all getting together for family gatherings, and just coming of Christmas, which can have familial challenges for some, I think we can all just count ourselves lucky that at least it wasn’t this. The snark was high with these ones.

The pacing of this book was a bit strange, I have to admit. The first half is fairly slow, with a lot of groundwork being laid, but not a lot of action coming of it. But the book did take a big, unexpected turn towards the end that really brought a new life to the story. While the resolution was very convenient, I did enjoy the tension that was brought to the story in this last third.

All in all, I think this book was a great addition to the series. I enjoyed the ties to “Emma,” but was relieved to find that the story was still also very much its own thing. The action towards the end was appreciated, and I’m excited to see where the books will go next and if we’ll see any other Jane Austen storylines! As long as its not “Northanger Abbey”…

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(source)

Rating 7: Series seems to be still going strong!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Without a Summer” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Alternate England” and “Napoleonic Novels.”

Find “Without a Summer” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “Shades of Milk and Honey” and “Glamour in Glass”

Kate’s Review: “The Call”

30292413Book: “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: Scholastic Inc, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Hunger Games meets horror in this unforgettable thriller where only one thing is certain . . . you will be Called.

Thousands of years ago, humans banished the Sidhe fairy race to another dimension. The beautiful, terrible Sidhe have stewed in a land of horrors ever since, plotting their revenge . . . and now their day has come.

Fourteen-year-old Nessa lives in a world where every teen will be “Called.” It could come in the middle of the day, it could come deep in the night. But one instant she will be here, and the next she will wake up naked and alone in the Sidhe land. She will be spotted, hunted down, and brutally murdered. And she will be sent back in pieces by the Sidhe to the human world . . . unless she joins the rare few who survive for twenty-four hours and escape unscathed.

Nessa trains with her friends at an academy designed to maximize her chances at survival. But as the days tick by and her classmates go one by one, the threat of her Call lurks ever closer . . . and with it the threat of an even more insidious danger closer to home.

Review: I think that a lot of people have started associating YA science fiction with the idea of the dystopian society, and that the plot is a group of teenagers who have decided to fight back against it. With books like “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent”, “The Testing”, and “Matched” all being hits in their own rights, I think that if a plot has any smatterings of their themes, it will automatically be lumped in with them. I know that I almost made the mistake of doing this with “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín. After all, it takes place at a school where teenagers are being trained for the fight of their life, a test that will in all likelihood leave them dead and mangled. “Oh how ‘Hunger Games'” I thought to myself. But man, was I wrong. And I’m ashamed that I was willing to be even slightly dismissive of it.

On paper, sure, it sounds like a familiar trope. But “The Call” is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read in a long time, for a number of reasons. The first is that our main character, Nessa, is a polio survivor, and has to walk with the aid of crutches as one of her legs has been permanently damaged by it. Diversity in YA literature is important, and that includes people with disabilities. From what I know about Polio (having read about it and knowing someone who is a Polio survivor), Ó Guilín did a really good job of portraying Nessa and her strengths and limitations, and while he never used her disability in a ‘let’s all feel sorry for her’ kind of way, he also was honest with how hard it would be, especially in a situation where you have to be able to run and fight. Nessa is a very well rounded character beyond that as well, as she is headstrong and stubborn, but has insecurities that could apply to not just her and her situation, but many teenage girls from lots of backgrounds. She has her problems with her friends, she has her problems with love and relationships, and she has her problems with her family (though they are pretty removed from this story in general). She is a seriously great female protagonist for a YA fantasy novel, always rooted in realism and never treading towards some superhuman and unrealistic ideal. I especially loved her friendship with her best friend Megan, a sarcastic and snide girl who is the perfect foil to her, but very clearly and fiercely has her back. And huzzah and hurray, there is no love triangle to be found here, as Nessa only has eyes for one guy, the pacifist and quiet Anto. Anto as a character isn’t as interesting as Nessa or even Megan, but the arc that he does go on is a pretty good one, and luckily he isn’t there just to be the ‘boy who sees her for what she’s worth isn’t it sweet’ kind of gig. Given that this is supposedly the start of a series, I would be very curious to see where Anto goes, both for himself and with Nessa.

The world itself is also very, very original. While I can understand that the militarized training for teens smacks of “Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, this world is far more creative than that. For one, this isn’t a totalitarian regime that is oppressing these kids by using violence and isolation to control them. This is another outside force, in this case the Sidhé, or fairies. And these fairies are not the kind of fairies we think of in sanitized fairy tales. These fairies were banished from Ireland to another world, and they are taking their revenge by sucking up Ireland’s teenagers and trying to kill them. And succeeding most of the time. These are the kinds of violent fairies that original folklore spoke of, the kind that would put a death curse on a baby just because they weren’t invited to said baby’s Christening.

source
And I mean the REAL Maleficent, not that Angelina Jolie bullshit. (source)

I think that modern fantasy needs more evil and menacing fairies, and “The Call” really delivered on that. Not only are the Sidhé mysterious and vengeful, they are very, VERY violent. Like, to the point where I was getting pretty disturbed by the kind of stuff that they would inflict upon the teens who were taken by The Call. From skinning them, to mutilating them, to transforming them into hideous creatures out of Giger-esque nightmares, these Sidhé were not screwing around, and it made the stakes feel very, very high. Which in turn made me terrified to see what happened next, but also unable to put the book down whenever a poor, hapless teen was taken by The Call.  I also appreciated how Ó Guilín has changed Ireland in subtle ways to reflect how this situation would affect society, with the people knowing English, Old Irish, and Sidhé out of tradition, pride, and necessity, just as I liked how he made it clear that the Sidhé are not the only villains in this story, and in some ways are understandably upset. The best example of this is that by far the scariest villain is not the evil fairies, but a human teenager named Conor. His misogyny and violent obsession with Nessa was just as off putting as the sadistic fairies that chase down teenagers, and the fact that Conor is a very realistic villain in his sociopathy and entitlement made him the most skin crawling of all the antagonists in this book.

I really, really enjoyed “The Call” and I am actually pretty pumped that it sounds like Ó Guilín is going to write more stories in it’s world. Definitely give this a try if you like books like “The Hunger Games”, but know that it stands quite well on it’s own.

Rating 9: A very intense and original fantasy, “The Call” is a refreshing new take on YA survival thrillers, with a fabulous protagonist and deliciously evil fairies.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Call” is not on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that fans of “The Hunger Games” would find a lot to like, and I would put it on “Best YA Fairy Books”.

Find “The Call” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review “In the After”

12157407Book: “In the After” by Demitria Lunetta

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2013

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

Book Description: They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you’ve ever seen.
And They won’t stop chasing you…until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more.

Review: This is the kind of book that walks the line between Kate’s preferred genres and mine. There is definitely horror and suspense, but it’s also a post-apocalyptic story, the type which, especially in YA fiction, often falls under the all-encompassing “speculative fiction” category. Either way, it was a nice change from my usual reading, and while I can’t say that it was necessarily a “fun” read, its very lack of “fun” is what lends me to rating it more highly.

This book could easily be split into two separate books. The first is a fairly typical survival story. Strange creatures have invaded the earth and swiftly killed off the majority of the population. Our heroine, Amy, survives purely due to lucky circumstances (a fact that is refreshingly not glossed over), but over the course of years, she grows to become an expert at living in this new “After” world. There were several portions of this first part that I really enjoyed.

First is the inclusion of Baby, a toddler that Amy finds and adopts after the first month of devastation. These two’s relationship is key to the plot and it was so refreshingly new. All too often the primary relationships in these types of YA books are romantic. This, a sisterhood/parental relationship between a teenage girl who raises a toddler for several years alone, is completely unique. Further, I was very impressed with the author’s ability to portray Baby so completely. As a small child, it would have been very easy to simply gloss over her as an actual person while instead simply relying on general child attributes as fill-ins.

Second, the use of a substantial time jump is well executed. Through clever positioning of flashbacks, we see Amy’s journey through this new world and the events at each step that directed her ability to survive the many challenges of this new world, from how to survive the creatures themselves to how she evolved her approach to interacting with other survivors. Amy doesn’t just become a badass survivor out of nowhere. We see her mistakes and understand what lessons she had to learn to become who she is in the present day.

The second half of the book is a complete switch to what living in a community built in this post-apocalyptic world would be like. The horror, too, takes a sharp turn away from the monsters-in-the-night to what monsters humans can be. This part, while maybe slower than the first half, was even more horrifying to me. It was a strange reading experience because I was so frustrated, angry, and uncomfortable on Amy and Baby’s behalf throughout it all that I had a hard time enjoying reading it. In this section, you know that something awful is coming and you’re just watching these beloved characters walk towards their doom. (I wish I had read this book before we did our “Walking Dead Read Alikes” list as this would definitely have been included based purely on its similar exploration of the different ways that communities of people find to live in a world where society has fallen away.)

In the later half, there were a few twists that I felt were a bit expected. It’s definitely not a unique set up, but I don’t think that lessens the overall effect. It’s also a bit jarring to suddenly have many other characters introduced halfway through the story, and while I enjoyed many of them, I was sad to see Baby fading into the background a bit. However, I did enjoy most of these characters. I also appreciated the fact that what little romance is introduced in this part of the book is very light and never overpowers both the action/horror of the story or the primary relationship between Baby and Amy.

I also listened to this as an audiobook and I thought the reader did a very good job. Especially in the second half of the book, she made some clever choices with her general reading style that allows listeners to immediately identify flashback sequences from the other portions.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the final book in the duology. I might need to give myself a break between the two as they are definitely not light reading, but I’ll be getting there soon, I hope. This book does end on a cliffhanger, fo sorts, so for anyone going into it, beware of that.

Rating 7: An intense ride with a unique primary relationship, though it did get a bit predictable towards the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In the After” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Less Known Doulogies/Trilogies I Might Check Out” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

Find “In the After” at your library using Worldcat!