Serena’s Review: “Sherwood”

38734256Book: “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Robin of Locksley is dead.

Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé.

Who is there to stop them?

Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

Review: As I mentioned in my brief description of this book in our “Highlights” post for March, I was a big fan of Spooner’s wholly unique take on “Beauty in the Beast” in her YA novel “Hunted.” Now, obviously these two stories aren’t connected, but it is clear by the stylization of the cover art that we’re meant to make associations between the two: both feature a strong, independent female main character and both are reinterpreting a story in which that character had varying levels of agency. I’m definitely not one of those readers who subscribes to the whole “Stockholm syndrome” group fret about Belle/Beauty’s role in her story, but there’s no denying that “Hunted” gave this character a bunch more to do. And here, we have a legitimate side character in Marian being firmly placed in the lead role of the classic Robin Hood tale. It was great to see this book live up to the expectations I had placed on it given my feelings for “Hunted.”

Marian has made the best out of a bad situation: she loves her bow, fighting, and generally running wild and has very little interest or skill in the more “womanly” arts. Luckily for her, her childhood friend Robin has always been her partner in crime in these pursuits, and their engagement seems an obvious route to making the  best of out of an inevitable situation. That is, until he rides off to the Crusades and news reaches her of his death. Devastated by the loss, Marian still sees herself as responsible for the livelihood of the people living on both her own and Robin’s land and when the Sheriff’s taxes rise beyond reason, she finds herself donning not only male garb, but the persona of her deceased fiance, Robin of Locksley. Now, pursued by the Sheriff’s right hand man, a man whose desire to catch “Robin” is only matched in his wish to marry Marian, Marian must lead a double life, and one that can only have a catastrophic end.

I really enjoyed this version of Robin Hood. While I’ve read a fair share of stories that insert a female character as a stand-in for Robin, typically Robin himself is still present in the story, often the love interest. That being the case so much of the time, I truly didn’t trust the book description or the first chapter that laid out the concept that Robin died while at the Crusades. It was probably up until about half way through the book before I really let myself trust that he wasn’t going to just pop up. Not that I have a problem with the Robin character typically, but even by a quarter into the story, Marian herself and the way her story was unfolding was already so intriguing that any addition of the more famous Robin could have only detracted from her. Plus, as I said, in those past versions, even a Robin relegated to a love interest role often rubbed up wrong against what the author was trying to do with the actual main character who was supposedly supposed to be taking on the primary role in the action.

Marian was an excellent lead. Her grief for Robin’s death is real, and I appreciate that this wasn’t glossed over. Instead, we see how his loss affects throughout the entire story, first as a hindrance and further on as a motivation. Over time, she also has to re-assess what she knew about the man she was to marry. We, the readers, get a few extra glimpses into past moments between the two, and it is here, too, that we see small, but very important, differences being laid out between who this Marian and this Robin are compared to what we expect from the typical versions of the story. We also see the foundation for how Marian came to possess the skills necessary to take on the role she does here.

Wisely, Spooner leans in heavily to Marian’s skill with a bow, a talent that, while unusual, wouldn’t fall completely out of the realm of something a lady might have learned. Marian is also described as being exceptionally tall. But that aside, it could still have read as unbelievable for her disguise as a man to be fully bought by those around her had the author not carefully crafted every interaction that “Robin” goes into in a way that plays to hiding Marian’s identity. Indeed, Marian herself is written to understand the limitations of her disguise and to use every advantage she has to work within it, instead of breaking past it in ways that could have read as unbelievable and strange.

I also really enjoyed how many of the secondary characters came into play. Several familiar faces show up throughout the story, and each was given a few extra flares to make them stand out from the usual versions of the characters we’ve seen in other books. But I also really enjoyed the addition of unique characters (or at least vastly expanded upon versions of them). Marian’s father, maid, and horse master all were expanded upon quite a bit and I loved them all.

The most notable new addition, of course, is Guy of Gisbourne who is presented as both the villain and the love interest of the story. Again, because I was expecting Robin to pop back up at any moment, it took me a while to really figure out his role in the story. Thinking back, I tend to attribute this to an intentional decision on the author’s part as well, and not only my own skepticism of how the story was originally presented. Marian herself takes a long time to understand Gisbourne, what motivates him, where his moral compass points, and how he truly feels about her. Her own confusion translates perfectly to the reader. This is both a good and a bad thing. I love slow burn romances, and this is definitely that. But at times I think the book was almost too successful at selling me on Marian’s dislike of Gisbourne and his own coldness as a character. There are a few moments that are meant to show their gradual warming to each other, and they do work, for the most part, but I’m not sure it was ultimately enough. At a certain point, it did feel a bit like some type of authorial-driven light switch was just flicked in Marian’s head because it needed to be, rather than because it was earned.

So, too, her past relationship with Robin was also a bit strained. We only see a few glimpses here and there of their childhood and teenage friendship, but the scenes are all so strongly written and their connection so well established that it almost worked against the burgeoning romance with Gisbourne in a way that I don’t think was intended. I liked the idea of what we’re being told with regards to Robin/Marian/Gisbourne: that people are not always who we initially think they are and that love can present itself in very different ways with different people, and that these ebbs and flows don’t undermine one relationship or the other. But I’m just not sure the reader can actually see this message play out, so much as just be on the receiving end of being told.

Ultimately, I almost think it says even more positive things about the story that the downside I can mention has to do with romance and yet that downside in no way tanks the entire story for me. We all know that if you don’t get the romance right for me, often that can lead to my very much not enjoying a story. And here, it’s not that the romance was wrong, necessarily, just that I felt it was the weakest part of the story. But Marian herself, the reimagining of how the Robin Hood story would play out with her at its heart, the action, and the new characters all provided enough of a counter balance to my questions about the romance to lead me to viewing it with still a very positive light. Fans of Robin Hood re-tellings should definitely check this one out!

Rating 8: A bit muddled in the romance department, but an awesome female Robin Hood saves the day in the end!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sherwood” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Robin Hood” and “YA Modern Retellings.”

Find “Sherwood” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Internment”

38167114Book: “Internment” by Samira Ahmed

Publishing Info: Little, Brown. March 2019

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

Book Description: Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Review: I want to extend a thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

One of the vivid horrible memories I have in the wake of the Trump election (and there are many, believe me) is that one of Trump’s PAC supporters, Carl Higbie, said that Trump’s idea to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries had a ‘precedent’ because of Japanese American citizen registries during WWII. Given that those registries led to the unconstitutional and horrific internment of American Citizens, this statement was quite frightening (and given the detention of families at the border and how horrific that practice is, in some ways internment is already present on our soil). Fast forward to a couple years later, when a controversy surrounded the upcoming release of a novel called “American Heart”. The author, Laura Moriarty, had wanted to write a ‘what if’ book that was about Muslim Internment camps in America during a Trump-esque executive administration. But it was from the perspective of a white teenage girl who basically has to be taught why it’s wrong to imprison people for their beliefs and culture, and to be shown the humanity and worth of their lives. It’s a story structure that is pretty problematic in that it dehumanizes a marginalized group so that a non-marginalized group an learn a lesson. And that is where “Internment” by Samira Ahmed comes in. The premise is similar: it is a what if scenario in which Muslim Americans have been put on lists and had laws passed to limit their rights in the wake of a far right administration taking power. But this one is from the perspective of a teenage Muslim American girl named Layla, whose life is uprooted when she and her family are taken to an internment camp.

The power and resonance within “Internment” is the timeliness of it all. From the Muslim Travel Ban in this country to the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, the future that Ahmed is painting doesn’t necessarily feel farfetched. While Ahmed doesn’t use specific names, it is very clear that this takes place a couple years after the 2016 election, and she paints a picture of how these policies could easily turn into the policies that we seen within this story. The escalation that is set up, both before Mobius Camp itself comes into play and during the time spent there, is chilling and real, and Ahmed does a good job of drawing comparisons to different internment policies of the past. Not only is the escalation seem based in a probable truth, the power structure of the camp itself also feels very true to life. The camp director abuses his power and uses power plays to harass, intimidate, and commit violence against the inmates. There are Muslim families who have been appointed as leaders of blocks, whose compliance wtih the policy gives them benefits at the expense of other prisoners. And the actions and conditions of the camp has been suppressed from the outside world, so the public doesn’t know just what is going on inside the walls. This all felt VERY real and familiar.

Layla herself is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part I really liked her as our main character. She feels like a very typical teenage girl in a lot of ways; she is trying to assert her independence from her parents, she is very committed to her Jewish boyfriend David, and is interested in geek culture. Her rebelliousness feels very true to her character, and I completely believe her as a young person who wants to fight back against her oppression while her parents are more investing in using silence and compliance in hopes of keeping her safe. My frustrations of her more had to do with her motivations sometimes feeling like they shifted depending on what they needed to be for the plot at the moment. She would rail against her parents for their complacency one moment, then seem to understand their point of view another moment, only to rail against them again. Her tentative trust of one of the guards, Jake, felt like it grew too quickly for her character as we’d seen her up until that point. To me her motivations were muddled. It very well could be that this is trying to show how a traumatic period can affect a person’s psyche and the way they think, so I can’t completely tear Layla down for seeming inconsistent within her characterization.

And as we sometimes tend to see in YA fiction that hopes to make pertinent points within a broader social and political context, sometimes the messages felt a little too spoon fed to the audience. Be it a speech awkwardly plunked down in a conversational setting, or an offhand remark that doesn’t quite fit the greater conversation at hand but has a point to make, we occasionally see these moments within the narrative. I realize that this book is for a young adult audience, and that sometimes people tend to think that teens need to have things spelled out for them. But I wish that authors would trust their audiences more, in that they are able to read between the lines and parse out the lessons in more ‘show rather than tell’ fashions. Trust teens to get nuance!

All in all, I thought “Internment” was an effective and charged read. It paints a grim picture of where our current political climate could possibly lead, and what could happen if we don’t speak out and rise up against it.

Rating 7: With relevant and pertinent themes but a sometimes clunky execution, “Internment” is a frightening read that asks ‘what if’ when it comes to our current political climate.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Internment” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lady Lit-Female Authors”, and “2019 Books by Authors of Color”.

Find “Internment” at your library using WorldCat!

St. Patrick’s Day/Irish Themed Books!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The day everyone wears green and likes to claim some loose, loose connection to Ireland to justify a night out on the town. We here at The Library Ladies like to use any/all holidays for a completely different purpose: as a loose, loose excuse to create random, themed booklists. So here are a few books that have some (remember “loose”) connection to Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day!

13928Book: “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tom Doherty Associates, February 2002

Juliet Marillier is one of my (Serena’s) favorite authors. Her writing flows off the page in a beautiful, lyrical style, often combined with a fairytale-like feel. She often has a whole host of books that are set in a historical, fantasy-based version of Ireland. I could make an entire list on this theme all written by her. But my favorite of her works is still her first story, “Daughter of the Forest” that is a re-telling of the “Seven Swans” fairytale. I consider it the definitive version of this fairytale, even, that’s how good it is. Throughout the story, we see how important Sorcha’s homeland is to her identity and the beautiful descriptions of its deep forests and quiet lakes is simply one more reason to check out this fantastic tale.

249747Book: “Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, April 2003

Just in time for the growing hype about the movie version of this beloved middle grade book, “Artemis Fowl” is also a perfect fit for this list given the location of Fowl Manor on the outskirts of Dublin. Not to mention the host of fairies who live below ground and work for the LEPrecon Unit. Artemis Fowl himself is a 12-year old genius who gets on the wrong side of said fairies when he takes one of them hostage in a ploy to regain his family’s lost wealth. He’s the kind of precocious protagonist who manages to be both frustrating and root-for-worthy at the same time. If you somehow missed this one, best check it out now before the movie hits screens! There are also a bunch more in the series, so you could potentially have quite a reading list on your hands.

300932Book: “Lion of Ireland” by Morgan Llywelyn

Publishing Info: Forge, March 2002

This is a historical fiction novel that attempts to novelize the story of Brian Boru, a 12th son who grew up to be one of the greatest king’s of Ireland. In many ways, his is also thought to be a story that lay behind the legend of King Arthur. Set in the 19th century and drawing from the scant information that is known about the man himself, Llywelyn attempts to novelize the life Brian, documenting his rise to power and his ability to gain the loyalty and love of a people. The story is long, but full of action and romance. Readers in the mood for a historical story that is at least partially based on a real-life person, look no further than “Lion of Ireland.”

873783Book: “The Hounds of The Morrigan” by Pat O’Shea

Publishing Info: Oxford University Press, 1985

When you take two siblings, a Goddess of Death, and some hell hounds with a tenacious streak, you get the fantasy book “The Hounds of The Morrigan”. This YA adventure is set in Galway, and takes Irish and Celtic mythology and brings it to the 1980s. When ten year old Pidge finds an old manuscript, he unwittingly releases the vicious serpent Olc-Glas. Now that Olc-Glas is free, he gains the attention of The Morrigan, the Irish goddess of death and destruction, and she wants to join forces with the snake to cause mass chaos. Pidge and his sister Brigit are the only ones who can find a magic stone that can destroy Olc-Glas and hopefully save the world, but The Morrigan has sent her Hell Hounds to hunt the siblings down. Taking classic mythology and giving it a 20th Century twist, “The Hounds of The Morrigan” is a fun adventure with an Irish twist!

7093952Book Series: “The Dublin Murder Squad Books” by Tana French (“In The Woods”, “The Likeness”, “Faithful Place”, “Broken Harbor”, “The Secret Place”, “The Trespasser”)

Publishing Info: Penguin Books, 2007-2016

Tana French is a name you probably know if you are a big mystery/crime procedural fan, and her most popular books are those in “The Dublin Murder Squad” Series. The first in the series, “In The Woods”, concerns a detective who suffered a childhood trauma that he hasn’t quite let go. When a new case involving a murdered girl happens in the same woods of his trauma, he has to try to keep his past at bay. The next book in the series follows another member of the Murder Squad, and the book after that follows another one, etcetera etcetera. The books have a devoted following, and the peripheral connections are fun to see within high tension and sometimes very upsetting mysteries.

15926229Book: “Making Sense of The Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland” by David McKittrick and David McVea

Publishing Info: Penguin, October 2001

During the latter part of the 20th Century, Northern Ireland was caught in a struggle between those who wanted Northern Ireland to stay with the U.K. and those who wanted Northern Ireland to join The Republic of Ireland, and while it wasn’t technically religious in nature it tended to split along Protestant and Catholic lines. The conflicts had many instances of violence, with bombings, kidnappings, riots, and targeted violence coming from both sides. It’s a complex and dark time in Irish history, and “Making Sense of The Troubles” is considered to be a comprehensive and even handed account of the decades long conflict. It’s a dark book to finish the list with, but given how The Troubles are still in living memory, it’s an important read nonetheless.

Do you have any favorite stories set in Ireland? Share yours with us in the comments below!

Serena’s Review: “The Bird King”

40642333Book: “The Bird King” by G. Willow Wilson

Publishing Info: Grove Press, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Bookish First!

Book Description: Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

Review: I read an excerpt of this on Bookish First and found myself immediately connecting to the beautiful writing that was popping on the page. I placed my request was thrilled when I received a copy. While it was a slower read, ultimately, than I had been expecting, that same strength in writing and the unexpected depth of thought given to the historical events, religious interactions, and cultures of the time period ultimately drew me in.

Fatima and her friend Hassan have built a quiet life for themselves in the circumstances they have found themselves in: she a concubine to the sultan and he a mapmaker. But Hassan is much more than your ordinary mapmaker and possess the incredible gift of not only drawing up intricate maps of the places he’s never been, but also, through these maps, interrupting the weave of reality itself. But when Hassan suddenly falls under the eyes of those who would see his gift as more of a threat than a blessing, he and Fatima must go on the run, seeking out a mystical island as their one port of harbor for a safe life going forward.

I haven’t read too many books set in this time period or within these combinations of cultures. The book is tackling a lot: the persecution under the Spanish Inquisition, the clashes between religious forces taking place in that time, plus a healthy dose of magic realism to differentiate it from a purely historical fiction work. But I think it is this last portion, the interweaving of the fantastical elements that really made this book sing for me. There are a lot of big ideas being tossed around throughout the story, but many of these are explored from a bit of an angle, with the author approaching them almost from the side, using fairytale-like elements to draw readers into a deceptively complicated, real-world issue. Metaphor and stylized writing are also used to great effect to, again, almost backwards-walk readers into topics that can get pretty dicey pretty quickly. Of course, I’m always going to love anything that reads like a fairytale, but I appreciate it all the more when an author is able to use this writing style to get at deeper topics that can often be challenging to get across.

I also very much liked the two main characters in Fatima and Hassan. At first, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to feel about Fatima, but as the story progressed, I found myself becoming more and more invested in their platonic friendship and love. It’s a rare read to find a story that focuses on this type of strong relationship, one that isn’t based on romantic love (Hassan is gay, another factor that leads to his persecution), but that still highlights the extent to which each party will go for the other. The fact that they aren’t romantically involved never feels like it detracts from what they would do for each other, and, instead, in some ways it feels that their bond is even stronger by being freed from that element. It’s a unique relationship to see explored so thoroughly in this type of book.

I will say, however, that the story is pretty slow going. It takes quite a bit for them to even get started on their journey, and then once they do, it doesn’t speed up much. There’s a lot of travel, camping, small moments of action, and then more travel and camping. The writing was still captivating, which was enough to get me through these slower elements, but I can see how this could be off-putting to many readers, especially ones who may not be as interested in the greater themes being explored at the heart of the story. I do think more could have been done to tighten up this middle portion of the book, as the fact that it ultimately worked for me seems to speak more to my own preference than to the general quality of the story structure.

Overall, “The Bird King” was a surprisingly deep and satisfying read for me. There were, however, some stumbling blocks with the pacing and writing speed, which is what knocks it back a few points for me. It’s a lengthy story, and while it is trying to cover a lot of different things, I do think it could have been tightened up to increase its general appeal. If you like historical fiction blended with magical realism, especially dealing with a unique set of characters and a time period that isn’t often explored in this way, definitely give “The Bird King” a try. Just know that you might need to push through in the beginning before really getting to the good stuff.

Rating 7: A beautifully written story that covers a complicated time with two wonderful characters at its heart. Only lowered by being a bit too slow for my taste.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bird King” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Historical Fiction – Spain / Portugal” and “Muslim/Islamic Fiction.”

Find “The Bird King” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Will Haunt You”

42175979Book: “Will Haunt You” by Brian Kirk

Publishing Info: Flame Tree Press, March 2019

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

Book Description: You don’t read the book. It reads you.

Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the dark corners of the deep web. A disturbing tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror. Jesse Wheeler–former guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Dead–was quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book. It takes more than some urban legend to frighten him. Hell, reality is scary enough. Seven years ago his greatest responsibility was the nightly guitar solo. Then one night when Jesse was blackout drunk, he accidentally injured his son, leaving him permanently disabled. Dreams of being a rock star died when he destroyed his son’s future. Now he cuts radio jingles and fights to stay clean. But Jesse is wrong.

The legend is real–and tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on his fears and resurrect the ghosts from his past. Jesse is not the only one in danger, however.

By reading the book, you have volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing you closer to your own personalized nightmare.

The real horror doesn’t begin until you reach the end. That’s when the evil comes for you.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

“Weird” horror is a genre that, when done right, I find completely engrossing and effective. The best example of this that comes to mind is, of course, the classic “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski, in which a haunted house story is told through multiple layers of narration and formats. Weird horror ought to unsettle the reader in the same way the situation should be unsettling the protagonist, but it’s a fine line to walk. If you go too weird it can be confusing and frustrating. If you don’t go weird enough you may not have the intended impact. When I read about “Will Haunt You” by Brian Kirk, I was especially intrigued by the idea of a cursed Internet book that brings pain and suffering to those who read it. Frankly it sounds like a mix of “The Ring” and the amazing Creepypasta “Ben Drowned”, and with that amalgamation solidly in my mind I was every excited to read “Will Haunt You”. I wasn’t thinking about the trappings that can come with Weird horror, and perhaps I should have been.

The premise and ideas are absolutely solid. Jesse Wheeler is our main character, and his backstory and present are ripe for the picking when it comes to conflict. Once a metal musician on the rise, he is now married and has a son who is disabled. It was Jesse’s actions that led to the accident that caused the disability, and so Jesse’s guilt, mixed with the longing for his younger years, has turned him into a tormented former shell of himself. He is the perfect person to become victim to a devious book; he’s struggling to keep it together and has nothing to lose, so of course he isn’t daunted by internet folklore. That in and of itself is a solid premise to a novel, and Jesse’s flaws and strengths are on full display throughout the story to be explored and picked apart. As a character study, “Will Haunt You” is well done and interesting. If this was a book that was solely about an aging man who has to face his guilt and his culpability towards his family’s various struggles, I would be down.

But, as this is, it is a horror novel, and for me “Will Haunt You” fell squarely in the first of the two problems Weird horror can run into: It was very confusing for me and hard to follow. We are thrown into various scenarios and situations with very visceral and graphic moments, and we are introduced to characters who may or may not be reliable, but instead of feeling tight and on point it always felt like it never quite came together. I do wonder if this disorienting narrative was meant to make the reader feel the disorientation that Jesse felt, and therein made the reading experience all the more three dimensional, but instead of feeling scared in my confusion I just felt frustrated. Eventually I think I was able to get my mind wrapped around all of the pieces of the puzzle, but it took so long that it felt like it was too little, too late. I am considering going back and reading the tie in ‘haunted book’, “Obsidio”, because I feel like part of the fun of these ‘cursed media’ stories is the cursed media itself, and we didn’t really get that here, just the fallout from it. And yes, you can find it online. Given that I haven’t read it yet, I can’t say as to whether or not it’s inclusion would have made “Will Haunt You” more satisfying, but I can’t imagine that it would hurt.

All in all, “Will Haunt You” had some very well done moments when it came to character study, but the horror aspects didn’t do anything for me. As Weird fiction it didn’t work the way I wanted it to.

Rating 5: While the characterization was spot on and the protagonist was complex and interesting, the horror aspect of “Will Haunt You” didn’t work for me and left me confused and frustrated.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Will Haunt You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think it would have a place on “Surreal Horror”.

Find “Will Haunt You” at your library using WorldCat (but as of now it appears limited).

Serena’s Review: “A Dangerous Collaboration”

30518319Book: “A Dangerous Collaboration” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: a copy from the publisher!

Book Description: Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée–much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…

Previously reviewed: “A Curious Beginning,” “A Perilous Undertaking,” and “A Treacherous Curse”

Review: It was a long wait for this book. This is always the challenge when I find a new series to love! On one hand, yay, a reliable series that I can depend on to deliver both excellent characters and a fun story. But on the other hand, the dreadful count-down of days and months until the next one in the series finally arrives. But this count-down was blessedly cut a bit shorter than I had expected when I received a review copy from the publisher, and I was able to begin reveling in it a few weeks early!

Veronica is unsure, for the first time in her life. At the end of the last book, she and Stoker were on the brink of…something. And that “something” is more terrifying to her than any of the murderers and mysteries she’s come across over the last few years. Throwing herself into her work, she begins a campaign of denial and avoidance, before, upon finally returning to London, she ultimately finds herself caught up in yet another mystery. This one taking place on a remote island inhabited by a small village and its possibly haunted castle. Now, in the midst of this emotional turmoil, Veronica and Stoker are once again on the case to unravel the disappearance of a bride on her wedding day several years ago. Where did she go and why? And did she even make it off the island alive?

I really loved this book. It’s not a surprise given my feelings over the first three, but by the end of the last book, I was starting to have a few questions about where the series was ultimately headed. This book not only answered those concerns, but also flipped the scrip on a few aspects of the characters that was surprisingly refreshing. Yes, the basic equation at the heart of these stories has always been strong, but it was such a thrill to find in this book that the story could push past that and offer up even more.

For one, we see a new side of Veronica herself. She’s still her usual supremely self-assured and confident self, willing to take her own life in her hands, make decisions and follow through on them, regardless of the opinion of others. But we also get to see how these same traits can be failings. Her own self-assuredness works against her here, and she’s forced to confront some harsh realities about the very real fears that still exist within her. Her justifications and modes of operation suddenly take on a new light under these reflections and we see her have to confront and grow through some of these before-unknown personal hindrances.

In this same area, we see Stoker come more into his own, becoming more self-assured about what he wants and how to best interact with those around him. Up to this point, Veronica has been the more self-aware character, so it was refreshing to see that turned on its head here, where of the two, Stoker is the one with a firmer grasp on himself and the choices before him.

I also greatly enjoyed the mystery at the heart of this story. There’s a very “Jane Eyre-esque” feel to the whole thing, with a healthy dose of the Victorian obsession with the supernatural and gothic noir. The setting of the story could, at times, be legitimately creepy, something that also felt new to the series. Up to this point, the books have been fun, but comfortably so. This book was also a blast, but there were definitely a few spooks around corners, here. And not all of the secrets and potentially supernatural events are fully resolved at the end, leaving a nice hint of mysticism and mystery left behind, shrouded on the desolate island.

I was so satisfied with this book. It perfectly hit upon any of the possible burgeoning concerns I had been developing after the last book, and upped its game as far as the mystery went, leaving me with some legitimate chills at times. In some ways, it feels like the series could have been wrapped up entirely with this one, but I see that another one is slated for publication in the next year or so. So, alas, I return to my torment of a wait.

Rating 9: Even better than the last one!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Dangerous Collaboration” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Best Victorian Historical Fiction Set In Britain.”

Find “A Dangerous Collaboration” at your library using WorldCat.

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”

325564Book: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” (Fear Hall #2/Fear Street #47) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Having fled her dorm room, college freshman Hope hides out in an abandoned sorority house on campus where she discovers that the evil she is trying to escape has become a part of her.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: When we last saw Hope, resident of Fear Hall and purveyor of multiple personalities, she was sitting on the fire escape outside her dorm, hiding from the police. And that is basically where we jump back in, with Hope and her two roommates/delusions “Angel” and “Jasmine” hiding out and listening to Melanie, Margie, and Mary (aka the 3 M’s) telling the police about Hope and how she may have committed the two previous murders in Book 1 (though Hope thinks that it’s “Darryl” that did it). We’re reminded that Hope loves Darryl SO MUCH even though he’s a violent looney toon, as she still doesn’t realize that Darryl, Jasmine, and Angel are figments of her imagination. The police then spot Hope on the fire escape, and one of the policemen grab her and yank her back through the window. Then Darryl suddenly appears and chokes the cop enough for Hope to get away. She jumps off the fire escape and lands funny, but still manages to take off into the night. She runs for aways until “Jasmine” and “Angel” tell her they need to stop, and once they do they ask Hope why she ran and didn’t tell the police about Darryl. Hope says that they HAD to run because the police think she’s crazy and believe the 3 M’s over her! She decides that they have to hide out. They walk around fraternity/sorority row, and eventually find an abandoned sorority house to hide out in. They make their way inside, and find a stray black cat the Hope names Lucky. She is also still pissed at the 3 M’s, thinking that everything that’s happened in their fault. Then Darryl shows up and says that he’s going to live there too, but Hope says no can do, buckaroo. Darryl, a dominant personality if there ever was one, tells her that he has a better idea: he’s going to kill the 3 M’s because Melanie has ruined Hope’s life! Hope tells him to get out and never come back, and man, can you imagine what Lucky the Cat must be seeing right now? Darryl gets very mad and kicks poor Lucky, and before storming out he says that she won’t be able to get rid of him that easily.

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Barely two scenes in and I’m already so tired. (source)

Hope plunks down in a chair and stares up at two portrait paintings on the wall. The woman reminds her of her terrible mother who called her Buttertubs, and we get some new anecdotes about her abusive nature. The first one takes place at a summer camp Hope attended. Her mother would address her camp mail as “Buttertubs’. The second is how in front of Hope’s crush Mark her mother said ‘let’s play the game of counting Hope’s chins!’ The third is when she found out that Hope was going to sneak out, so she handcuffed herself to Hope and wouldn’t let her leave, and then locked her in her room for two more weeks. This is the moment that Angel, Jasmine, and Eden showed up, by the way. Hope jumps up in the present and claws at the portrait on the wall.

Flash forward a week or two to Melanie’s dorm room. Melanie is studying for a French test while Mary’s getting ready for swim practice. Normally Melanie would be getting ready for that too but she has to miss to take this make up test. She had to see a therapist three times that past week because of the whole thing with Hope, who still hasn’t been caught. The two girls talk about how scary it all is and how nuts that they could hear Hope talking to herself. Melanie offers to talk Mary to swim practice, but Mary says that she’s fine. Of course, then we cut to “Darryl” and his POV, as he’s stalking the locker rooms after swim practice, waiting for Mary. And honestly, I don’t want to dwell too much on his inner monologue because it’s a whole lot of repetitive nonsense about violence towards women and how nothing is his fault and that kinda garbage. So let’s just cut to the chase. While the swimmers are practicing he finds all the chlorine, dumps gallons upon gallons of it into the therapy Jacuzzi, and then lies in wait. NEVER MIND that it’s a public therapy pool and that ANYONE could use it, but whatever. So yes, poor Mary lingers behind her teammates and gets into the Jacuzzi, and the pH levels are so basic that she gets horrible chemical burns all over her body. She screams bloody murder and staggers out of the pool, and the swim coach runs to her aid but doesn’t know what to do. And then said swim coach sees “Darryl”.

Cut to Hope in her squatter’s shack, waking up to a pounding on the door. She goes to it and it’s Darryl outside. She lets him in and he tells her with glee that he killed Mary, for Hope. Oh, and he shoved the swim coach into the Jacuzzi too because OOPS, she saw him! When Hope asks if she was dead too he says ‘who knows?’ Hope is horrified but he says he did this because the 3 M’s ruined Hope’s life and he’s doing this to show how much he cares.

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You know, at least when J.D. pulls this shit he has a moral philosophy regarding the banal evil of society and his unhingedness has purpose and reason. (source)

Hope tells him that he has to stop killing and he tells her that she doesn’t actually want him to stop. She says goodbye and closes the door behind him, and stomps back into the main room. She then finds a note addressed to her, that says ‘I’m coming for you, Hope. You can’t run away from me.’ The handwriting is familiar, but Hope doesn’t know how they could have gotten in without her noticing.

Now the perspective is from Chris! Wait, Chris? Who the hell is CHRIS? Well, Chris is a boy who has to move into Fear Hall because his apartment building burnt down and the school opened up the second floor to guys for supplemental student housing. Chris is kind of shy and not very athletic, and gee, I wonder what purpose HE is going to serve? He had talked with his former roommate Big Al, who asked him about the fact that a murderous co-ed used to live in Fear Hall, and Chris laughed it off. So now he’s moving in, and his new roommates Will and Matt greet him and help him move his stuff into their room. Chris reiterates his shyness to the reader for some reason, and then once he’s unpacked Will and Matt ask him what he knows about Fear Hall’s reputation. Chris admits not much, and they proceed to tell him about howls at night, missing students, blood in a bathtub, and a girl who keeps seeing a ghostly reflection in her dorm room mirror. Frankly, I’d read the HELL out of ANY of those stories over this lame excuse for a “Fear Street” novel! Chris tells them that he doesn’t believe in that stuff, and goes to take a shower. Of course, once he’s in the shower the water starts to turn red! Into BLOOD!! He starts to scream his head off, and then Matt and Will burst into the room, laughing at him. They put Jello in the shower head! Chris is horribly embarrassed, and you’d think he just lived the opening scene of “Carrie” he’s so humiliated.

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Come talk to me when this happens to you, buddy. (source)

Chris goes to a dorm mixer, which I imagine is a way for the new dude residents to meet the ladies they COULD be banging. He’s shy and afraid of going there alone, but has no choice. He then meets Melanie and Margie, and is immediately struck by how pretty Melanie is. They introduce themselves, and try to make small talk, but inevitably Melanie and Margie bring up the fact that their roommate Mary was murdered. Chris, having heard about it, sticks his foot in his mouth when he says he saw the footage of her body on TV (the FUCK does local news have THAT footage for?!), and Margie and Melanie get very upset. They say that with three murders and a grievously injured swim coach on their minds, they shouldn’t have come to the party, and graciously part ways from Chris. He hangs out at the party a little longer, but then leaves, opting to go get a coffee at Java Jim’s. And while he’s at Java Jim’s eating his cookie and drinking is 9pm coffee, he meets another girl! They start to talk, and he tells her that he lives in Fear Hall. She looks surprised, and he compliments her straight dark hair. She says that he probably shouldn’t talk to her because she just broke up with a jealous boyfriend. He asks if maybe he could call her sometime, and she says no and gets up to leave. But before she does, she says that she could meet him the day after the next at Java Jim’s, and he says sure! He says his name is Chris, and she introduces herself as Karen. Yeah. Sure. ‘Karen’.

Hope runs home, and tells Angel and Jasmine that she has awesome news. And yes, she has changed her hair so as not to be recognized. She tells them that she met a boy named Chris and that he’s the boy of her DREAMS! Based on the five minute conversation they had she knows that he’s perfect and she really likes him and she never expected to love again, not with the bad luck they’ve been having. Angel asks her about Darryl, and Hope says that he still wants to kill Melanie and Margie. Jasmine says that Hope isn’t ever going to be safe with Chris if Darryl is around. Before she can protest, there are suddenly voices outside the house. Turns out this house is for sale because she hears a couple say that this is the house for them and they totally want to buy it. Oh yeah, because you two random people want to buy an abandoned house, sight unseen, that is in the middle of a college campus?! They then leave, and I guess that was just there to show that Hope can’t stay forever. Then the phone rings (and by the phone rings I mean Hope’s delusions ratchet up a bit because no, there’s no phone in this house), and when Hope answers it’s Darryl. He tells her not to worry, he’s still going to kill Margie and Melanie!

So now we’re  back in Darryl’s head, so once again I’m going to skim this because I really, really hate his POVs. He stalks Margie to where she works, a dry cleaner shop, and then kills her by putting her in the steam press. Creative? Absolutely. But I hate this. The “Fear Street” books that have an actual mystery and whodunnit are far more interesting than the ones where we know who the killer is for a majority of the novel, and I have to say I’m having a VERY hard time with following this stupid prick around as much as we are as he picks people off. It’s repetitive and stupid, and it feels more gratuitous to have to see the actual deaths over and over instead of just a goofy aftermath. I don’t know. I’m getting burnt out, I think.

Hope and Chris meet at Java Jim’s for coffee the next day and Chris is upset about Margie’s death. Hope tries to play it cool even though she knows ‘Darryl’ did it. They have a nice date, and after they do a little kissing her offers to walk her home so she feels safe. She declines, as she doesn’t want him to become suspicious of the fact she’s squatting in an abandoned sorority house (whyever not, Hope?), but he gives her his number and she promises to call him. She practically skips back to her hideout, but who is on the front lawn. DARRYL. She tells him to stop killing people and he says ‘nah, I’m good’, and then says that he saw her with Chris and that he can’t ‘allow’ that. And in a moment of actual spine, Hope tells him that he has no right to ‘allow’ her to do ANYTHING, channelling her inner Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn or some shit! He tells her that Chris will only hurt her, and she tells him to go away and leave Chris alone. Darryl then reminds her about MARK and what he did to her, and we get a new flashback! Seems that Mark had asked Hope out and she was quite smitten with him. But then she found out that the only reason Mark asked her out was because he lost a bet, and it was all a joke. Hope was so humiliated, but that was around the time that Darryl showed up and swept her off her feet…. oh, and ran Mark over with a car, over and over and over again. After the memory fades, Hope realizes that Darryl has disappeared, and laments that she can’t control him.

Cut to Chris and Will playing pool at the student union. They run into Big Al, who makes a tasteless joke about the kids in their dorm dropping like flies. Chris and Will part ways with him, and while they’re walking back towards their dorm Will asks Chris about Karen and what Chris knows about her. Chris admits not much, that she doesn’t want him to know where she lives nor does she want to give him her phone number, but Will says that maybe she just wants some action. And that’s a legitimate theory. As they’re walking, though, a car suddenly revs up and speeds towards them!! THey jump out of the way just in time. Is it Darryl? Psych! It’s actually Matt! This was his idea of a joke, and to that I say YIKES. He offers to give them a ride back to the dorm, and they agree, with Chris telling the reader that he had no idea who scary the next few days were going to be.

And now it’s Darryl again. So we’re skimming again. He sneaks into Fear Hall, planning to finish off Melanie and solve all of Hope’s problems. So he creeps into the dorm she lived in with Margie and Mary, and in the dark puts a pillow over her face… But oops, she groans and rolls over… and it’s not Melanie! It’s some random other girl!!! She screams, and wakes up the other girls in the room!! YOU FUCKED UP, DARRYL!!! Darryl makes a break for it, and while the girls try to grab him he is able to get away. He’s also VERY confused that they keep referring to him as a ‘her’! He runs and runs, and then eventually fades away…. into Hope! Hope finds herself running in the middle of campus and has no idea how she got there, and no memories of leaving her squatter shack that she is still squatting in even though those two people were going to make a bid on it? Maybe they went inside and saw that it was a disgusting hovel and balked, who knows. She gets back to the sorority house, but finds the door open. And when she looks inside the place has been trashed, and there’s a note that says ‘You cannot escape from me’.

The next day Hope wanders aimlessly around campus trying to think of a plan. Then she sees Chris and Melanie talking, and jealous mode kicks in. Why is he talking with Melanie? Is she telling him about her? Are they together now? Why aren’t she and Chris together? She goes to Java Jim’s to wallow and stew, but her paranoid thoughts start to be too much and she bolts. When she gets back to the sorority house, she is shocked to see Chris leaving the property. When she confronts him, he says that he was looking for her. She points out that she never told him where she lived, and he admits that he followed her home one night after a date because he was curious where she lived. This is framed as sweet, but frankly, it’s not. Even if she is a murderer, there are boundaries! He asks her why she lives in an abandoned house, and then, wouldn’t ya know it, Darryl takes over and starts to strangle Chris. Hope begs Darryl to stop, and Chris is able to pull away. He asks Karen what the HELL that was, and she says that she can tell Darryl to go away. Chris, realizing that he’s in WAAAAY over his head, says

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(source)

and peaces the hell out. Hope, devastated that he’s skedaddled, rushes into the house looking for Darryl, but finds another note instead. But then she realizes that the handwriting is HERS!

Hope sits for hours, angsting about the note, and when Darryl finally shows up she confronts  him about it. This leads to a Yalta-esque summit of ALL of Hope’s personalities, and Angle and Jasmine agree that he needs to turn himself in. He says that if they cared about him they wouldn’t ask him to do that, and that he’s going to kill Chris tonight! And in a case of terrible timing but obvious exposition, Chris is suddenly at the door, asking to be let in. Darryl says that this is perfect, and lets him in. Chris is there, but he isn’t alone! He has MELANIE with him! And not only Melanie, but FOUR POLICE OFFICERS! Chris and Melanie NARCED HER OUT! Melanie confirms that Hope is Karen, and Chris says that he had hoped it wasn’t true, but when Melanie described Hope to him he knew it was. Hope and her personalities run up the steps, determined to get away from the police. The police follow saying that they want to help, but Hope, Jasmine, Angel, and Darryl are not to be stopped, and they gather on the balcony, say their goodbyes, and all hug each other. WHen the cops do enter the tiny porch, the railing breaks, and Hope falls to her death. Chris and Melanie see the whole thing, and she buries her face in his chest and cries. The police go check on Hope, and confirm that she’s dead. They tell Chris and Melanie that they don’t have to stick around, and that they can follow up with them at a later date. They tell the cops they live in Fear Hall, and the cops say don’t seem surprised by this. As Chris and Melanie leave, he finds a piece of paper. It’s a note that Hope wrote, that says ‘There is no escape, Hope. No escape from yourself.’ THE END.

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It’s finally done. (source)

Body Count: 4 if we count Mark in the past.

Romance Rating: 2. And that’s only a two because I feel like Chris and Melanie could have some potential. Everything else was decidedly not romantic.

Bonkers Rating: 5. It didn’t really do anything too nuts, though a couple of the deaths were wacky.

Fear Street Relevance: 6 this time, as a lot of the action was in Fear Hall again AND we find out that Hope was from Shadyside the whole time.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“I fell for a lifetime. Or a second or two. And I died before I hit the ground.”

… But no she didn’t. She was fine.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Honestly, nothing really stuck out! Stine didn’t put anything in that dates this thing, which was surprising and just another layer of disappointment to this reading experience.

Best Quote:

” ‘You don’t own me!’ I cried. ‘You can’t say what you’ll allow and what you won’t allow! Do you really think you can control my life? Do you really think you can control who I seen and who I don’t see?'”

This is EXACTLY right when it comes to relationships!

Conclusion: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” was a lame end to a lame start, and it also just isn’t how dissociative identity disorder works. Definitely a hard pass and a clear sign that “Fear Street” had started to run out of steam as it neared the end of the original run. Next up is “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?”