Serena’s Review: “Olivia Twist”

34817232Book: “Olivia Twist” by Lorie Langdon

Publishing Info: Blink/HarperCollins, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

Review: I’ve only read the original “Oliver Twist” once and it was quite a while ago, so I was intrigued when I ran across this gender-swapped retelling of the classic tale. However, in the end, I felt a bit misled by the book description and had a few problems with the characterization of our leading lady.

Olivia grew up on the streets and it is only through a chance of luck that she now finds herself leading the life of a society lady. But even here, amidst the gossip and sparkle, she can’t escape her past. Especially when said pasts presents itself polished up in a dashing suit and shooting her wicked grins. Jack MacCarron is more than he seems, and his history with a younger “Oliver” is only the start of what will tie these two’s future together.

What I did enjoy about this book was the writing style and historical setting. I’m particularly prone to enjoying books featuring lords and ladies circulating around ball rooms and snarking wittily at each other. The story was also quite fast paced, jumping into the action mere pages into the story. Olivia and Jack are introduced to each other very quickly, and through some well-placed flashbacks, readers are able to begin putting together their history. What also makes this fun is Olivia’s extra knowledge of their shared past, as she was only known to Jack then as a young boy named Oliver. From what I can remember from the original book, the author also does a good job at tying together the two stories in creative and sometimes unexpected ways.

However, I had a lot of trouble with a few aspects of the book. My biggest problem was not being able to suspend my disbelief about the situation that our two main lead characters find themselves in. Somehow, magically almost, both are raised on the streets but then easily slip into lives as gentry after only a few years. What’s more, they are welcomed in with very little struggle or gossip. Part of my problem with this could be the same fast-paced-ness that I praised above. In the very first chapters we’re introduced to Olivia, a lady now living the life of a society woman. But then in some quick flashbacks, we see the abject poverty and limits of the world she grew up in until she was a pre-teen. And yet, there was no evidence of this in her current manner as a lady.

I don’t want to go all “My Fair Lady” on this, but…really? Not only would I have found Olivia’s story that much more compelling had her arc included more about the ongoing struggles she had to face living this life full of politics and rules, but it was frankly unbelievable to see her navigate the ins and outs of a society that was notorious for confusing and strict rules of conduct. Many other historical fiction works set in this time narrate on and on the challenges that even women who grew up to this life encountered when living life in public society. To simply buy that Olivia, a woman who grew up without an education, without parents, and, what’s more, as a boy, would be able to simply fall into this role was just too much to swallow. The same goes for Jack, to a certain extent, but as the rules are less strict for men of the time, I was able to let this go a bit more.

My second major criticism comes with the first line of the book description and the reality we are given. Right there, in the very first sentence of the summary, we’re told that we’ll be getting a character who is not a damsel in distress. The reality is exactly the opposite. In the first few pages, we get a very unfortunate reference to the “beauty leads to rape” myth when a man instructs a midwife to raise Olivia as a boy since if she turns out to have the looks of her mother, her life will be more rough. That alone is pretty bad. But as the story goes on, Olivia repeatedly makes terrible decisions, finds herself threatened with attack and assault, only to be saved by Jack. This happened repeatedly. Not only do I never appreciate repeated threats of sexual assault as a driving force in any story, but to combine that with the first chapter’s reference to it being at all affected by a woman’s beauty and the fact that we were promised the exact opposite of a damsel in distress in the book summary, makes the whole thing very upsetting.

This all added up to a fairly disappointing read for me. The romance and chemistry between the two leads was charming, and I still enjoyed many aspects of the historical setting. But I couldn’t get past the suspension of disbelief issue or my increasing dismay with regards to the use of assault as a plot point and Olivia’s role as a repeated victim in need of rescue. I do think this book will still appeal to many other readers, perhaps those looking for a bit more of a fluffy romance read, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me.

Rating 5:  The intriguing concept and strong romantic chemistry weren’t enough to distract me from an unbelievable leading damsel who too often found herself in distress.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Olivia Twist” is a new title and so isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “Olivia Twist” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batman: Nightwalker”

29749090Book: “Batman: Nightwalker” (DC Icons #2) by Marie Lu

Publishing Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Before he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.

The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.

One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.

Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.

In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.

Review: Now it is very true that both Serena and I are big Superman fans here, willing to stand for him and stand up to anyone who would wish him ill or call him anything less than great. And we were solidly Team Superman in the most recent DC movies that involved him. But I do have to admit that even though I want to smack Batman upside the head a lot of the time, especially in his most recent iterations and interpretations, there is a very special place in my heart for him. I will openly concede that I love him, darkness and all. What can I say? I am a true, true sucker for the emotionally unstable messed up problematic loner guy in my fiction. Bruce, take your place alongside J.D. from “Heathers”, Kylo Ren, and Bobby Briggs.

Oh and who could forget this fella? (source)

So you KNOW that I was all about reading “Batman: Nightwalker” by Marie Lu, the second book in the “DC Icons” young adult series. These books tend to take the teenage selves of these superheroes/heroines and give them something of an origin story, or at the very least an early foray into their ultimate heroic destines. I read “Wonder Woman: Warbringer” by Leigh Bardugo last fall, and was very excited to see what the next in the series had to offer. Marie Lu herself has become a bigger and bigger name in YA, with her previous book “Warcross” getting a lot of buzz for its sci-fi and techno thriller premise. So giving her Batman was a natural choice, with his love for tech.

The Bruce Wayne that we meet in “Nightwalker” is not Batman yet. He’s still a teenager, recently turned eighteen and trying to keep going in spite of the loss of his parents, a trauma that still haunts him. Lu’s Wayne feels more like the teenage self of Michael Keaton’s version of Wayne. He is damaged and sad, but he still wants to see the best in those he cares about and wants them to be safe. There isn’t any disproportional arrogance here; he’s reflective and cautious, and has genuine connections and affections for the important people in his life. He also is fully aware of his own privilege in this world, and Lu takes many opportunities to address that his wealth and skin color has given him all the advantages that other people in similar situations just would not have (more on that later).  It’s a characterization that I found refreshing, and one that has been sorely missed ever since Bale took the cowl over and Affleck went from there. Lu does a very good job with Bruce, and with most of the other characters she writes, both familiar and original ones.  Alfred is a properly dry but loving guardian to Bruce (and yes, he’s still a bit too permissive, but then Alfred would kind of have to be for Bruce to turn into Batman later in life). Lucius Fox is a gadget fanatic but has some other background and abilities, mentoring Bruce in his love for all things tech. And my favorite was the appearance of Harvey Dent, who is one of Bruce’s best friends. I don’t know what it is about so many newer stories framing Harvey as a good person who’s turn to villainy as Two Face is steeped in tragedy (probably because of “The Long Halloween”), but I am HERE for it and I have to say that Lu has written the best one yet. There is no hint of what’s coming for him in the future, there is only a moral person and a wonderful friend who cares deeply for Bruce. Whenever Harvey was a perfect cinnamon roll of an individual (so pretty much ALL THE TIME) I just whimpered and clutched the book to my chest.

WHY, MARIE, WHY?! (source)

The original characters, however, did not fare as well for me. Okay, let me rephrase that. Most of them did. I liked Detective Draccon, who puts Bruce on the Arkham community service beat, though she wasn’t really doing much beyond being Gordon before Gordon was around. I REALLY liked Bruce and Harvey’s bestie Dianne, a smart and empathetic brain who is fiercely loyal to her two main dudes. I had a harder time believing Madeline, the antagonistic (or IS SHE?) criminal genius who may or may not be connected to The Nightwalkers, who are targeting and killing the rich in Gotham. While I liked that she was super intelligent and super morally ambiguous, I felt that the forced star crossed lovers sort of vibe that she and Bruce gave off was unnecessary. I didn’t really need their empathy and understanding towards each other to turn into a romance that couldn’t be, I think that it would have been just fine if it was left platonic. I felt that by making her pine for Bruce undermined her own agency and self-actualization. Also, their constant “do I trust you or should I not because there’s this sexy charge between us but you are on the other side of this big long conflict” dynamic was WAY TOO Batman/Catwoman, and that just will not do. There can be only one Selina Kyle. The Nightwalker concept itself did feel very Batman villain-y, and also brought in some interesting questions about capitalism and wealth distribution in this country. I greatly enjoyed that entire aspect and how Bruce approaches it, and explores it just beyond the black and white morality and fully into the greys of capitalism’s winners and losers.

Overall, I found “Batman: Nightwalker” to be a pretty fun book. I would absolutely recommend it to any fan of Batman, especially those who may need Batman with a little more hope.

Rating 7: A fun early Batman adventure with some familiar faces and a likable Bruce Wayne. I didn’t approve of the need for a love interest, but it was a fast and fun read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batman: Nightwalker” is included on the Goodreads lists “Super Hero Books (Not Graphic Novels”, and “2018 Retelling Releases”.

Find “Batman: Nightwalker” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: February 2018

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmwrmyjvjm2ytndawmi00zgzmltgzmjqtyjy4mtnjmtljnjhjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjexmjk0odk-_v1_sy1000_cr007081000_al_TV Show: “Broadchurch”

So clearly I’m on a bit of a kick with the whole British murder mystery TV shows. I highlighted “Wallander” last month, and now I’ve moved straight on to “Broadchurch” which I’m loving even more. The season long mystery is excellent with a bunch of red herrings and various suspects (for someone who kind of prides myself on being able to call the killer early in shows, I didn’t manage to get this one until a few episodes from the end. A definite plus!). But beyond this, there’s no getting away from the fact that the show lives and dies on the power of the two leads: David Tennant and Olivia Colman. These two are known powerhouses, so it’s not a surprise that they are excellent here. The combination of them together though? Just magic. Their characters have excellent chemistry. If there was a criticism I had for “Wallander” it was that its lead character was too broody/ansty without an appropriate foil. “Broadchurch” does better at striking this balance, relying on Tennant to provide the broodiness (but even he brings a bit more comedy than Branaugh’s Wallander had) and Colman to bounce off him with exasperation and humor. Supposedly there are two more seasons, but I’m not sure how they can recreate the magic that this one was, so we’ll see!

The+Boy+Who+Hasn't+LivedPodcast: “The Boy Who Hasn’t Lived”

This is a new podcast that I’ve discovered and have systematically binged. It features one host, dedicated and rightly obsessed Harry Potter fan, Arlie doing a first-time read through with his friend CJ who has never been exposed to the series before. My love of Harry Potter definitely expands to the point of loving watching other people experience it for the first time. I mean, really, if I could have any series to read for the first time ever, it would be this one, so it’s great fun hearing about someone else’s first time experience. Both hosts are hilarious and bring the perfect amount of geeky knowledge (Arlie) and new found wonder (CJ) to the experience of reading this series. If I had the time, I’d be doing a re-read with them, but, alas, I hear my next Animorphs book calling.

11669536Comic Collection: “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes”

Ok, yes, this one is kind of cheat-y because it’s more reading, but…but…they aren’t books! So it’s ok?? I’ve always loved Calvin and Hobbes and have a bunch of the smaller paperback collections, but also splurged on this lovely hardback full collection a few years ago. This last month I’ve been pretty stressed by some things that I don’t have much control over, and these comics have been a great resource for my tired mind. I mean, when reading an actual novel seems like too much work, you know it’s bad! But this collection provided the perfect amount of humor and whimsy that I needed, and all in a format that didn’t have a requirement for “finishing the book.” Some of the references are also hilariously dated, and really, that just makes it all the better!

Kate’s Picks

assassination-of-gianni-versace-teaser-and-key-art-1-600x600TV Show: “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace”

I remember riding home from school when the news broke over the radio that Gianni Versace had been shot and killed outside of his mansion in Miami. I remember when it was announced that Andrew Cunanan, a serial killer who started his spree in Minnesota, was the culprit. It was the first time I was following a serial killer in real time, and I was freaked out and horrified. So when Ryan Murphy announced that the second season of his anthology series would focus on Cunanan and Versace, I was very excited to watch it and get a new look at it all. Not only does this show have great performances (Darren Criss as Cunanan! Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace!), it is also a fascinating examination of obsession with fame and celebrity, and gay culture in the 90s and how the lingering stigma was not only unfair, it was downright deadly for some. I love this show, and it’s SO well done even my true-crime disinterested mother is watching it with me.

91zyrtg1vl-_ri_TV Show: “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars 3”

That’s right, gang, not only are we getting a new season of drag queen shenanigans, it’s once again the Quarter Quell The All Stars Season! Former contenders come back to try and get the crown they missed out on the first time round, and the stakes are upped as the challenges are made more challenging and pressing. Some of my favorites (Chi Chi Devayne, Trixie Mattel, BenDelaCreme) from past seasons are here this time, making it VERY difficult to pick whom I want to win. But it’s always excellent seeing these ladies come back to perform, throw shade, and crack wise all while looking absolutely devastatingly fabulous. I also like that they kind of shake elimination procedure up during All Stars, as the queens lip sync for the weekly win, AND the opportunity to eliminate a fellow contestant. CUTTHROAT! DRAMATIC! ENTERTAINING! RuPaul’s back on our screens and I’m pleased as can be.

mv5bmtg1mty2mjyznv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtc4ntmwndi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Movie: “Black Panther”

So perhaps you’re thinking ‘another Marvel movie? I thought Kate was a DC girl!!!’ And yeah, okay, so maybe this is ‘uncharacteristic’ of my usual allegiances. But guys, “Black Panther” is pretty badass. For one, the cast is fabulous, from Chadwick Boseman to Lupita N’yongo to Angela Basset to FOREST FRIGGIN WHITAKER (who is NOT wasted in his role, unlike in “Rogue One”). For another, this movie brings some excellent social commentary to a universe that could easily coast on superhero bust ups. Not only do we get the return of T’Challa, one of the more compelling parts of “Captain America: Civil War”, we also get a SLEW of kickass ladies who get shit done. I had a very fun time while watching this movie, and it brings MUCH NEEDED representation to a traditionally super white universe. All hail T’Challa, to be totally certain.

Serena’s Review: “The Cruel Prince”

26032825Book: “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Warning: This review contains a lot of ranting, and because it’s so popular on Goodreads and other places, I know this will be an unpopular opinion. But it’s mine. It doesn’t have to be yours and, while I think that even those who like this book deserve better, especially as far as the romantic interests go, everyone’s tastes run differently! And that’s ok! That’s why we have libraries packed full of options for everyone! But if it’s hard for you to read negative opinions on things you love (which I totally understand), it’s probably best to just pass on this review now.

Review: This was one of the few books that I broke down and bought without having read it before. Sadly, it is also further reinforcement for why I have that general policy to begin with. But I was beguiled by the beautiful cover and a book description that was right up my alley. Perhaps also the hype, which really should have been my warning sign, as I’ve found that very few books that are super hyped in the fantasy YA community these last couple of years actually turn out to be my cup of tea. Alas.

As I said, there is a lot to love in this book description. I’ve always loved stories about Faerie courts. I also love stories about sisterhood. And, of course, political intrigue. What should have been my warning was the concept of the cruel prince himself, Cardan. My bookclub comrade, Alicia, was also reading this book when I was and asked what I thought about this book when I was only 50 pages in or so. At the time, I said that I was enjoying it but that the main character had better not get together with the titular “cruel prince.” And Alicia just looked at me and laughed. Well…yeah…touche, I guess!

I like to try and say positive things about all books I review on here, and this book in particular seems to be getting a lot of raving reviews, so I know there must be things here that many people are liking. But honestly, I just don’t see it. The writing was technically good, I guess, and the Faerie court was appropriately capricious and beautiful, but that’s about all I have.

Though even with these aspects, Black wasn’t introducing anything we haven’t seen a million times before with fantasy like this! Yeah, yeah, beautiful food that is actually rotten. Faerie folk who have animal aspects like hooves and wings. Dancing. Mermaids. And this speaks to one of my first problems: the world-building and storytelling. If an author is going to write a Faerie court book, the fact that there a million others out there should serve as a motivation to put extra effort into plotting and characters. You already know you’re playing in a very full sandbox as far as the world itself, so you need to challenge norms in other areas. Unfortunately, Black does not. Instead we get a long checklist of YA tropes being ticked off one by one.

This book is a case study in “telling, not showing” writing. We are simply informed of most of the plot points with very little build up, no clear arc, and characters who behave and say things simply because they must, but without any written character support for their choices. We’re told that Jude wants to be a Fae Knight, and there is some hand service to her wanting to gain power, but none of this is set in any concrete character position that we are consistently shown throughout the story. At one point early in the book, we get to this grand tournament, an event she’s been training for her entire life and where she can exhibit her skills…and I’m pretty sure we get this exact line: “I fought harder than I ever had before.” End scene. Great. She’s a fighter whose been telling us for pages how important this all is and how much she’s trained (again, we’ve seen none of that) and then the moment comes! And we’re just told she fought hard.  How intriguing! I’m definitely invested now! It’s sheer laziness of writing and the kind of things that drives me crazy.

And this bland writing is paralleled in bland characterization. Throughout the entire book, I never understood Jude. What’s really important to her? Why did she do one thing here and another there? How is she growing, learning, and reacting to pretty big events happening around her? There was just nothing consistent going on with her character that readers could latch on to.

What’s more, most of her story is directly contrary to the message that I thought this book was going for, and the one thing that could have really given Jude depth as a character. She saw her parents murdered before her eyes and then was raised by the man who killed them and in a land where she and her sister are systematically abused and terrorized by those around them. This is the set up for a strong story of resilience and of reclaiming one’s own power. At its most basic level, you could get a pretty good revenge story out of this.

But no. Jude is every YA heroine we’ve ever read. We’re told she’s bad ass, despite never seeing it.  She makes horrible decisions with apparently no sense of self-preservation, and worse, no sense of the fact that her choices also result in harm to others. We’re told she’s terrified by those around her, but she still wants to be one of them. She’s thoughtless and impulsive, with no foundation to speak of that would explain why she does what she does when she does it.  Her thoughts on Faerie and its people are completely dependent on what the story needs her to do, or feel, next.

With all of this, Jude’s own Stockholm-syndrome-esque behavior and her sister’s passive victim hood, I thought the book was building up towards some sort of commentary on the effects of bullying, terror, and abuse. But nope. There’s nothing there: like the Faerie food, it looks beautiful and complex, but at its core, it’s nothing. It’s honestly confusing. Was this just a coincidence, that the author set up all of these factors around abuse and victim hood? Did she do it on accident while trying to write a fairly typical YA fantasy story? Because, as it stands, its as if she honestly didn’t realize that that’s what she had written for all of the attention its given.

And, worst of all, we have yet another YA love interest who is the epitome of abuse and bullying. And I am absolutely sick of this persistent and pernicious trope of authors creating a character who does despicable things, giving him “a past,” and then hand-waving away his own behavior (especially if he’s done it because secretly he’s kind of into the heroine). This is not a message we should be sending to young women. Yes, people can survive terrible things, and often those who commit them had darkness in their past. But they are still responsible for the terrible things they do, and while you can pity the circumstances that brought them to that point, they ARE NOT love interest material. They need help. Professional, practical, and ongoing help.

I’m completely fed up with this, and it is disheartening to see it continue in YA fantasy books and have those books receive rave reviews. In a year full of #metoo and terrible stories about women being subjected to horrendous behavior by men in power, the fact that we are still reading about YA heroes who outright abuse the heroine but are then presented as potential love interests just makes me sick. This is not ok. Even the final twist of the book doesn’t save this from what’s been set-up: multiple love triangles between victims and their bullies.

Ultimately, this goes down as my first major disappointment of the year. I’m not sure why this book is as hyped as it is or how it is receiving all of the positive reviews it is. At best, it’s presenting a pretty familiar story with all the elements we’ve come to expect: a story that is told to us, not shown; a heroine who has no clear characterization and whose decisions are nonsensical at best and outright stupid at worst; and a love interest who has no right being a love interest at all. I don’t recommend this book. Instead, if you want to read an amazing Faerie court book that’s come out recently, check out “An Enchantment of Ravens.”

Rating 2: A major disappointment. I expect more of YA fantasy. And, at this point, we have a responsibility to those who suffer from real life abuse and bullying to put away this notion that cruelty in any form, for any reason, can be “sexy” or “charming.”

Reader’s Advisory:

I’m not going to include the lists it is on, but if you’re looking for good Faerie court books, check out “An Enchantment of Ravens” and “Wildwood Dancing.”

Find “The Cruel Prince” at your library using WorldCat!


Kate’s Review: “13 Minutes”

32768519Book: “13 Minutes” by Sarah Pinborough

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Natasha’s sure that her friends love her. But does that mean they didn’t try to kill her?

Natasha is the most popular girl in school. So why was she pulled out of a freezing river after being dead for thirteen minutes? She doesn’t remember how she ended up in the icy water that night, but she does know this—it wasn’t an accident, and she wasn’t suicidal.

Now Natasha’s two closest friends, who are usually her loyal sidekicks, are acting strangely. Natasha turns to Becca, the best friend she dumped years before, to help her figure out the mystery.

At first Becca isn’t sure that she even wants to help Natasha. But as she is drawn back into Natasha’s orbit, Becca starts putting the pieces together. As an outsider, Becca believes she may be the only one who can uncover the truth…which is far more twisted than she ever imagined.

Review: One of last year’s runaway thriller hits in this country was “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough. Yes, it’s on my pile, I’ll get to it eventually. Even though the U.S. didn’t get their sights set on Pinborough too much until this book came out, she has many, MANY books under her belt. One of those books is “13 Minutes”. So of course once “Behind Her Eyes” got the attention it did in the U.S., the same publisher brought “13 Minutes” on over too. So THAT is how I read that one before the megahit. And I must say, even though I went in without any expectations (I didn’t realize they were written by the same author until I had already started it), I can see why people are kind of obsessed with Pinborough’s thriller writing right now. Because “13 Minutes” really sucked me in.

“13 Minutes” pretty much takes “Mean Girls” and throws it into a British crime procedural, a mix that is of course super tantalizing to the likes of me. There’s something about a Queen Bee ending up in a freezing river and then having to solve the mystery of how and why she got there. This story is told in a few different ways. We get straight up third person narrative, some first person POV, and then texts, diary entries, psychiatric notes, and news reports. These are all pretty standard these days when it comes to thriller fiction, but I liked how Pinborough carefully crafted it all together and took you down a path with lots of twists and surprises. I will happily report that a few of them actually caught me off guard. I even got that moment of ‘okay, this seems wrapped up, but there’s so much story left, so what’s going on OHBOYOHBOY’, something that I just delight in when reading a thriller novel. I feel a bit sheepish that I was so easily tricked, but Pinborough combines meticulous clue hiding and just enough unreliable narration on ALL sides that I’m not even mad that I was so totally thrown off the trail, especially since the stakes became quite high quite quickly once I realized I’d been duped.

The characters themselves, however, kind of fall into tropes that are all too familiar these days. Tasha is the mean girl who may have more depth than we expect of her. Becca is a brooding loner who tries to be aloof, but is still desperate for the affection and acceptance of her former best friend. Hayley and Jenny are both nasty and poisonous, but are also victims of Tasha’s scorn and their own insecurities. I didn’t really feel like the wheel was being reinvented with any of them, and while I was attached to Becca at least and wanted everything to be okay for her, I knew that I wouldn’t be horribly upset if it wasn’t. I wasn’t really in it for the characters as much as I was the plot and the mystery. That said, I do think that Pinborough did a pretty good job within those characterizations. I was especially taken with her writing of Tasha, who did feel like the most of complex of them all. I did also like that the book addresses that for many people the need to be accepted can make you do things that you aren’t proud of, and that being a teenager as well can make things especially messy.

But if you are in it to be taken on a fun and wild ride, “13 Minutes” will probably be a good match for you. I read it in about two marathon sittings, and I probably could have done it in one if I had the chance and time to do it. Now that I’ve found out what the big deal is about Pinborough’s thriller writing, I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for any future works that she may be bringing to the table.

Kate’s Rating 7: Though the characters were fairly standard and trope ridden for the most part, the plot and mystery itself kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“13 Minutes” is included on the Goodreads list “Young Adult Contemporary Thrillers 2016”, and would fit in on “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’, You Might Also Like…”.

Find “13 Minutes” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Bone Witch”

30095464Book: “The Bone Witch” by Rin Chupego

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: copy from the publisher

Book Description: Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Review: First off, thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review! It now has a loving spot on my bookshelf, so that should give readers a clue about my thoughts on this book!

A young Tea has just learned she is a Bone Witch, a rare Asha who can raise and control the dead. Her kind are especially needed for their abilities to raise and banish daeva, fearsome beasts who will escape their graves on given intervals and rampage the countryside if they are not put back to rest. But an older Tea is the one telling us this tale, and through her we see that life has not been what she had expected when she first was trained. The elder Tea is banished, living on a forlorn beach surrounded by monstrous beasts, and she has her own plans. With these dueling perspectives, Chupeco weaves together a world full of magic, mystery, and darkness, and one girl’s story that has already happened and is also about to begin.

My first point of praise goes to the narrative set-up of this book. I love stories that are told from a past/present point of view. Through the elder Tea, we get a sense that things have gone wrong, but we don’t know why, how, or what her plans are now in response to those events. The younger Tea, whose story takes up the majority of the book, is as new to much of this world as the reader and through her we see innocence, wonder, and fear of what her growing abilities really mean. Both narratives draw from the other, dropping little clues here and there that tie neatly between the two, but also raise more and more questions. The elder Tea is definitely not rushed in her story-telling, or willing to simply give the end away. There were excellent surprises planted throughout both storylines, and it was exciting seeing how they interconnected.

The world-building was probably the strongest point in this book’s favor. It’s been compared to a fantasy version of “Memories of a Geisha” and this is spot on. It did walk a very fine line of being almost a little too close to that book for my taste at times. Some of the characters involved, the miserly older woman who runs the house, the successful and beautiful older Asha who is in the prime of her abilities, and Tea’s own slow rise from servitude towards a spectacular debut. However, the magical elements and complicated history and politics of this world did enough to pull the story away and into its own place. I absolutely loved the magical system of this world, especially the way proficiency in these magical arts combined in a variety of ways. Asha are not only excellent performers who serve as entertainers (here’s where the geisha-like comparisons come into play), but they are also warriors, healers, and politicians.

Tea, as a Dark Asha, or Bone Witch, walks a slightly different path. Dark Asha are rare, and, while their abilities are the most necessary of them all, it is not surprising that the common people fear them. Through Tea’s experiences, and that of her mentor Mykaela, we see the fears and superstitions that they must deal with, all while performing the challenging and necessary work of the land.

So far we have a complicated past/present narration style, a magical system that has intricate workings and specific challenges for our main character, and a geisha-like system that incorporates entertaining, fighting, and politicking. On top of all this, there is also the world itself, made up of many different kingdoms each with their own cultures, ethnicities, and views on Asha and the ongoing fight with the daeva and the Faceless who control them. One of my biggest criticisms comes in this part. If ever a book needed a map, it was this one. There is simply too much to keep track of in this book to expect readers to navigate the terrain as well. Even by the end of the book, I was still confused about the layout of the world and how these various different kingdoms worked together.

With all of these details, this book is definitely heavy on descriptions and works with a slower pace. I love immersive writing like this, but I do think the book will have varied responses based on this fact. There is action, but in small bursts slotted between pages of the average day for Tea learning to be a Dark Asha. It’s not until the very last part of the book that the action really picks up, but when it does, man is it exciting!

And, since the second book is coming out shortly, you’ll have a safer time reading this one now than earlier, as the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. By no means are all of the mysteries resolved; if anything, I had even more questions at the end than I did at the beginning, and it felt like the story was cut off right when things were really starting to get moving. I’m fine with that, since I can pick up the second one right away, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re scheduling your reads (doesn’t everyone schedule their reading order??)

So, while all of the complicated elements of the world and story did leave me confused at times, the strong central character and the huge set up for book two were more than enough for me to thoroughly enjoy and recommend this book. If you’re a fan of fantasy with a darker twist, definitely check this one out.

Rating 8: Immersive and detailed, there is no loss for world-building in this book. If anything, it’s overwhelming!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bone Witch” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Rag and bones – and skellies and skulls” and “Fairytales for wild girls.”

Find “The Bone Witch” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Wrong Number 2”

19900200Book: “Wrong Number 2” (Fear Street #27) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1995

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

Book Description: Don’t answer that phone!

“You’re not safe anywhere. I’ll get my revenge!”

Can it really be Mr. Farberson on the line? He has to still be locked up after trying to kill Jade and Deena last year. Maybe the calls are just someone’s idea of a sick joke. But who else could possibly know the things the caller knows?

Then they realize that someone is nearby, watching them, close enough to know their every move. Someone who desperately wants revenge. Someone who wants to reach out…and kill them.

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: So given that R.L. Stine had taken Deena Martinson, his main gal in “Wrong Number”, and put her in a number of other “Fear Street” cameos, I shouldn’t have been surprised that his first sequel book was going to be “Wrong Number 2”. I don’t think that Deena is a particularly compelling heroine, but the dude sure seems to fixate on her, and that’s why we are here now. We start with Deena having a flashback to the night that Mr. Farberson, the man she crank called and therein she found out killed his wife, tried to kill her and her best friend Jade with a chainsaw. All because her rotten half brother Chuck (fucking Chuck) who did the prank call in the first place. But Deena reminds herself that Mr. Farberson is in prison and won’t be getting out. The next night in her friend Jade’s bedroom, the two girls catch us up on what’s been happening since book 1. Rob and Deena broke up, she’s thinking of asking out the hot Australian exchange student Steve, and Jade is dating a guy named Teddy who’s on the basketball team. Deena finds a letter from Chuck to Jade, as they had been going out before he went off to college. Apparently he’s staying out of trouble, but we’re reminded that he’s a ‘hothead’. I recall him being a total cock, but whatever. Jade says she’s been seeing other guys because Chuck is off at school, and I say good for her. Deena worries Chuck may lose his temper over it (asshole), and Jade shrugs is off and leaves the room to find some chips. Then her bedroom phone rings. Deena answers and it’s someone saying that ‘this is your wrong number, and I’m coming to get you REAL soon’. Deena is convinced it’s Mr. Farberson, but Jade reminds her that he’s in prison. That night when Deena goes home, she also gets a similar call.

The next day at school Deena is having a hard time focusing. Even when she bumps into Steve (who literally says ‘g’day’ to her), and she makes a bad joke and immediately regrets it. When she and Jade are walking home she tells her about the phone call, and Jade thinks that it has to be someone else since Farberson is in prison and probably isn’t calling them at all hours. They notice a strange car following them, and when it speeds up to match their pace they make a break for it towards Jade’s house. They lose the car, but are certain it wasn’t following them just to ask directions. The next day at school Deena sees Steve walking with Bree Wade from “Double Date” (you know one of those badass twins who humiliated a misogynist), and decides that she couldn’t possibly compete with her. She and Jade go to the basketball game that night, and Deena notices a strange guy in an orange hunting cap who appears to be watching them. Because orange hunting caps are super incognito. Teddy throws the winning shot, and the Shadyside Tigers are victorious!!! Later that night Teddy drops them off at Jade’s house and he and Jade make out while poor Deena just kind of stands there. They eventually go inside the empty house (as Jade’s sister is at a friend’s and her mom is at a ‘hairdressers party’, whatever that is). Jade confides that Teddy is a fun distraction while Chuck is away. Then there is a tapping on the window, and since they’re on the second floor they both freak out. They open the curtain, expecting I don’t know what, but it’s even worse. It’s Chuck.

I mean, I knew he’d be back. But I don’t have to be happy about it. (source)

He was the one in the ugly baseball cap at the game. They let him in the window and he and Jade fall right back into their old romantic interactions, and I’m missing the basketball player. Deena asks why he’s home a week before winter break, and he tells them that he dropped out of school because a couple of professors were ‘giving him a hard time’. He tells them that he’s decided to move to L.A. and break into show business. He just needs to get some money, and NO, DEENA, he isn’t going to tell their Dad and Deena’s Mom! He then tells Jade that he saw her kissing Teddy at the basketball game, and Jade basically tells him that she is always going to go out and have fun with boys but will always wait for him. Deena sends him on home with her key, telling him that Mom and Dad are gone on a trip so he can rest easy for now, and she stays the night at Jade’s. The phone rings in the middle of the night, and Deena answers. It’s the mysterious caller, and he asks them if he remembers the closet they hid in.

The next day Deena gets home to find her parents yelling at Chuck. They argue about him dropping out, and he runs off, saying that he’s going to L.A. at the end of the week. Deena finds him at Jade’s house that afternoon, where they are watching a movie and he’s trying to convince Jade to come to L.A. with him. Jade says that she’s still in HIGH SCHOOL, dummy, and Deena points out he has no money. Chuck says he’ll get it, and tells Jade that she’d be safer if she came with him, as she told him about the calls. The doorbell rings and Jade goes to answer it. Outside she finds an envelope, and when she opens it has a letter that says “YOUR TURN NEXT”, as well as a crudely drawn bloody chainsaw. Deena points out that prison mail is censored, so it couldn’t possibly be Farberson, and Chuck suggests that they go drive past Farberson’s house to see if someone is there, in case he got out somehow. So that means we’re driving to Fear Street.

They drive to the ol’ Farberson house, and it looks ramshackle and abandoned.. Except for the FLICKERING LIGHT IN THE UPSTAIRS WINDOW. Chuck, being a total fucktruck, decides that he’s going to check it out and hops out of the car! I personally say they should let him die. As he heads up the porch, the light moves to the downstairs! Jade jumps out to warn him, and then the sound of an engine comes from behind the house. Chuck goes to check that out (goddamn I hate him), but Jade pulls him back to the car. She manages to slip in the snow and hurt her ankle, and Chuck guides her back, just as a car comes out of the Farberson driveway and takes aim at Chuck and Jade. They manage to get into the car, and a car chase begins. It’s a dicey one, but they manage to get away as the other car crashes into another one. When they get back to Jade’s house, Deena says that it was a WOMAN driving the car coming after them. Deena and Jade think they should tell the cops, but Chuck balks, saying that the cops will accuse them of ‘looking for trouble’. Deena says they should tell their parents at least, but Chuck says that they will be grounded. Yeah, these are definitely just as bad outcomes as being horrifically murdered. Jade says that the woman following them and calling them MUST have been Farberson’s girlfriend from the first book! Deena reminds her that the caller is a man and Jade tells her that she has ‘read about a little electronic gadget that can make a man sound like a woman or a woman sound like a man’. And this is even before “Scream” used this to it’s full effect!!!

Someday I will tell you all about my deep, deep, DEEP love for this movie. (source)

They remember her name is Linda Morrison and Jade finds her address in the phone book. She suggests they pay her a visit the next day to show her they aren’t afraid of her.

The next day Deena wakes up to the sounds of Chuck and her Dad fighting again. Chuck runs off and while I do feel that their father completely failed him in life by leaving his mother and starting a new family right away, I can’t really blame Mr. Martinson for his ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ approach at the moment because Chuck is THE WORRRRRRRST. Jade shows up in super adulty business clothes, telling Deena’s parents that she and Deena are helping out at a ‘business’ party her mom is throwing, and they fall for it. Upstairs Jade tells Deena she has a plan to confront Morrison without being familiar: she saw a ‘for sale’ sign on Morrison’s house, and so they are going to pretend to be real estate agents who can help her find a buyer. Her aunt, you see, is a realtor so Jade knows how it works. She also got some wigs and some make up to disguise them. So they go off on this Lucy and Ethel-esque scheme, all dolled up and totally unrecognizable. They go to Morrison’s house, and Linda lets them in. When she insists on seeing a business card, Jade has one she took from her Aunt. Always thinking, that Jade. When Linda leaves them to ‘take measurements’, Jade and Deena snoop. They find a key to Farberson’s house (with a keychain that says ‘Farberson’, how convenient) and a drawn diagram of the Farberson house. But then Linda confronts them, saying she called the real estate firm and that they aren’t who they say they are, and she remembers them from the unpleasantness from the year before. She asks what they want, and Jade asks why she has been calling them. Linda says she hasn’t been calling them, and admits to following them the night before but only because THEY had scared HER. Because she’s been told that Farberson may be getting out of prison on a technicality! She was at Farberson’s house because he’d stolen a bunch of money from his restaurant and was convinced that Linda had taken it, even though she didn’t. She was searching the house because he said he’d hidden it there, and was scared he’d kill her if she didn’t produce it. She then accuses Jade and Deena of taking it, but Jade shuts that shit down right away. She tells them that they should be careful in case Farberson gets out.

They reconvene with Chuck and get him all caught up, and he says he thinks that Linda has the money and was lying. And then he thinks that the money is rightfully theirs!!!! After all, they went through so much the year before, they’ve EARNED it, obviously. Jade seems to agree with this assessment.

God I hate him. (source)

Chuck says that he’s going to find that money, and goes out the door, but then is attacked by a strange man dressed in black! Turns out it’s Teddy, who has mistaken Jade yelling at Chuck for something criminal. They fight, and when Chuck tries to attack him he miscalculates his attack, falls, and cracks his head on the ground. An ambulance comes for stupid head, and Jade tells Teddy that she’s seeing Chuck and she’s breaking up with you. You chose poorly, Jade.

They visit Chuck in his hospital room, and he confesses to them that HE WAS THE ONE WHO MADE THE PHONE CALLS TO THEM. And he’s been doing this because he literally wanted to scare Jade into dumping Teddy and follow him to L.A. so they could live happily ever after. He was also the one who scared them to death by following them home from school in a weird car the other day. But it’s just because he doesn’t want to lose Jade, guys.

Fuck this guy. Seriously. (source)

AND THEY ARE COMPLETELY OKAY WITH IT. THEY ARE COMPLETELY OKAY WITH IT, GUYS. This is how I am feeling about all of this. But at least Farberson isn’t out.

Things start looking up and Steve asks Deena out, and just as she’s feeling better about everything, a news report comes on the TV a few days later. Turns out, FARBERSON HAS BEEN LET OUT AFTER ALL. And the Jade calls and tells Deena that Chuck checked himself out of the hospital, and he left a message for JAde telling her that he was going to go back to the Farberson house to look for the money. Deena tells Jade that Farberson is out, and they realize that he could find Chuck there, and I say LET HIM DIE, GODDAMMIT. But no, they decide to bus over to Farberson’s house (no cars tonight apparently). Jade says that Linda’s phone number has been disconnected and they figure she’s blown this pop stand. They get to the house and find the backdoor open. They go inside, and search for Chuck. They search all the rooms but don’t find him anywhere, but they find his hospital ID bracelet on the floor. They also find blood. THEN they find him in a closet, a wound on the side of his head. He tells them that he found the money, but then someone hit him on the head and took it. Deena thinks it must have been Farberson. They try to leave, but they hear someone opening the door to the kitchen. They dive out of the light, but see Mr. Farberson there. They rush to the basement looking for an escape, but Farberson finds them.

He ushers them back down to the basement and pulls a gun on Deena. He then demands that they hand over the money. Chuck says they don’t have it. Farberson doesn’t believe him, and he makes Deena tie Chuck and Jade up. He then ties  her up, asks where his money is, and grabs his good ol’ chainsaw!!!!! He says he’ll cut them up if they don’t tell him where the money is. He starts to move in on Deena, but before he can do anything of the sort Chuck says he’ll talk. He admits he took it, but that someone else took it from him. Farberson isn’t convinced, but before he can cut Deena up, SURPRISE!! Linda Morrison is at the top of the steps with a gun!!! Linda says she’ll shoot him if he doesn’t put the gun down, and they start a showdown. He lunches at Linda with the saw, but he trips over some garbage, drops the saw, and FALLS ON IT, dying. Wow!!! Deena, Jade, and Chuck think they’re safe now…. But nope. Because Linda had planned from the start to kill Farberson, and she has the money!!! And she’s going to burn this place to the ground while they’re tied up. And let me tell you, she does it in the most Cersei Lannister kind of way, as she dumps a bunch of gasoline covered rags all around them on the floor, and lights a FRIGGIN’ CANDLE to burn down and set it all alight. She leaves the basement, and the teens have to figure out how to get out. Jade throws herself on the floor, shoves Farberson’s body off the chainsaw, and FUCKING CUTS HER ROPES ON THE BLOODY BLADE because she is a BADASS. The fire lights and Jade is able to untie Chuck and Deena. They rush up the steps but the door is locked! They break the door down and escape.

As an epilogue Deena, Steve, Jade, and Chuck are watching an old Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s six months later, Chuck’s back in school, and since they helped catch Linda they got a monetary reward. Chuck jokes that they should do another prank call for old time’s sake, and Deena doesn’t know if he’s joking. The End.

Get this away from me. (source)

Body Count: 1, and again, I want to point out that he FELL ON A CHAINSAW.

Romance Rating: 2. I cannot BELIEVE that Chuck and Jade are back together, and I miss Deena’s old boyfriend Rob, but she’s dating an Aussie so to her I say GET IT.

Bonkers Rating: 3. Not too crazy, in all honesty, chainsaw death aside.

Fear Street Relevance: 7, as we go back to the good ol’ Farberson house on Fear Street.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“A deafening squeal. A long skid. The crunch of metal. The high tinkle of shattering glass. Then everything went dark.”

… And they weren’t actually in a car accident after all, just the two cars behind them.

That’s So Dated! Moments: The most glaring was that Jade makes mention that if she dyed her hair blonde, she would look like Sharon Stone. This is peak 1990s, y’all.

Best Quote:

“I know you kids think this is some kind of Nancy Drew adventure story, but it’s not. It’s all real. And if I don’t get my money, I’m really going to hurt you.”

Linda Morrison speaking to every “Fear Street” reader out there, saying they better not make the same dumbshit decisions that Chuck, Deena, and Jade make.

Conclusion: As a sequel, “Wrong Number 2” is much of the same, except Chuck is even LESS likable this time around. You probably don’t have to read the first one to get caught up, but just know that they’re both equally lame. Up next I’m going to divert from the original “Fear Street” series and start the “Cheerleader” Trilogy!!!!