Giveaway: “The Love Interest”

31145148Book: “The Love Interest” by Cale Dietrich

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, May 2017

Book Description: A thrilling YA debut about teen spies disguised as “love interests”–whoever gets the girl lives; but the one she rejects, dies.

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection.
Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome.

The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

From debut author Cale Dietrich comes a fast-paced adventure that is full of both action and romance and subverts common tropes.

Giveaway Details: I don’t know about you guys, but given how much garbage is going on in the world right now, escapist reads are really calming. You can pick up a book, get lost in it, and not think about pandemics, political corruption, systemic racism and racial violence, and a kneecapped Post Office… etc etc etc. I was looking at my shelves the other day, trying to do another culling, as the libraries being a little more difficult to maneuver these days has meant that I’ve turned to eBooks, NetGalley, and buying from indie bookstores when I’ve wanted to read. The last of those options has meant that my shelf has become a bit cramped. So that means that you guys get to benefit from it, with a fun, flirty, and action filled escapist read called “The Love Interest”!

“The Love Interest” takes tropes from spy books, romance books, rivalry books, and more, and has a fun time subverting them. Caden and Dylan are on the surface the perfect examples of the tropes of a YA love triagle. Caden is the sensitive nice one, Dylan is the bad boy with deeper layers than he lets on. They have to pursue the same girl, and whichever one she chooses gets to live. Dietrich, however, decides to have some fun with the tried and true love triangle storyline, and what we get is fun, action packed, and fluffy. This isn’t high literature, but it doesn’t have to be to be enjoyable and something that some of us need right now.

If you are looking for and easy read that has fun by not taking itself terribly seriously, this is the giveaway for you! This is a hardcover ‘Book of the Month Club’ Edition of this book, though I’m pretty sure that just means there is a BOTMC stamp on it and not really anything else? This giveaway is open to U.S. Residents only and ends on August 24th.

Enter To Win HERE!

 

My Year with Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park” Part I

45032Book: “Mansfield Park”

Publication Year: 1814

Book Description: Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new, post-colonial light), Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

History – “I read it a little as duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.”

As her first book conceived and written as an adult, “Mansfield Park” reads tonally very different than her prior two works. Lacking the wit and sparkle of “Pride and Prejudice” and memorable characters of “Sense and Sensibility,” it was received with mixed reviews from its critics. That didn’t stop it from selling out its first run within six months.

The story takes a much more serious approach and spends time exploring themes that were important to Austen, now in her upper 30s. The Bertram families connection to plantations in Antigua and slavery are heavily touched on. The book also explores themes of infidelity, loyalty, and the exploration of the role that the clergy and faith play in the lives of the upper class.

This more serious approach appeals to some readers, both the modern ones and the book’s contemporaries. But others struggled with this tonal change and were perplexed by its heroine, Fanny Price, a young woman much out of line with the previous strong women to grace Austen’s pages. Though Fanny is of a more quiet sort, her strengths of perception, duty, and propriety never fail her, making her more alike to Eleanor Dashwood than any other character. However, the amount of page time dedicated to her actual speeches is much reduced than other heroines, leaving readers to pick up on the smaller, more subtle clues into Fanny’s true worth.  (source)

“I have something in hand—which I hope on the credit of P. & P. will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining.”– Jane Austen

Part I – Chapters 1 – 25

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

Of three sisters, one marries well, becoming Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park. One marries in a middling way, becoming Mrs. Norris. And one marries for passion, but poorly, and becomes Mrs. Price. As the years pass, Mrs. Price feels the weight of many children and increasing poverty. Always looking to be useful (but to avoid expense), Mrs. Norris convinces her sister and brother-in-law, Sir Thomas, to take on one of Mrs. Price’s children as a ward. And so Fanny Price comes to live with them in Mansfield Park.

There, she finds an intimidatingly proper and uptight uncle, a lazy and selfish aunt, and another aunt, Mrs. Norris, who makes it her life’s work to remind Fanny how lucky she is to be living among her betters and how she must never forget how unimportant she herself is. Her cousins, Maria and Julia, though taught well, think much of themselves and care little for Fanny. Her oldest cousin, Tom, is too old to even notice her. And her only ally becomes her staunch friend and defender, the second oldest, Edmund. Over the years, it is only he who remembers to look out for Fanny and put her interests forward. Being reserved and polite to the point of silence, Fanny never does so herself.

Over the years, Fanny grows up and very little changes in her life. Her only connection to her family of origin is in letter writing with her brother William whom her uncle, Sir Thomas, helps into starting a career in the Navy. When Fanny is in her upper teens, it becomes necessary for Sir Thomas to travel to Antigua where the family’s sugar plantations are suffering. Though loving of his family, his removal lightens the mood greatly at Mansfield. It is lightened even further when a new set of neighbors move in bringing two young people, a Miss Crawford and her brother, Mr. Crawford. Both are elegant and entertaining, bringing much liveliness to Mansfield Park. The two Bertram sisters are particularly intrigued by the charming Mr. Crawfod. This is fine for the younger, Julia. But the elder, Maria, has been recently engaged to a rich, but not smart, gentleman, Mr. Rushworth.

At first, Edmund joins Fanny in being hesitant about the extent of Miss Crawford’s liveliness, feeling that too often her quick wits lead her astray and into moments of disrespect people and institutions that she should value more highly. But over time, Edmund becomes more and more enamored of Miss Crawford and begins to see only good in her. Fanny cannot follow him in this opinion, thinking cautiously of Miss Crawford and quite poorly of Mr. Crawford who she sees as toying with her two cousins. Edmund even verges on becoming neglectful of Fanny, borrowing out her riding horse to Miss Crawford for lessons. He realizes his error, but it still hurts Fanny, who has begun to feel more and more for her beloved cousin.

On a trip to Mr. Rushworth’s estate, Fanny’s fears for her cousin Maria come to a head as she sees her become more and more neglectful of her own fiance. At one point, while walking, Mr. Crawford and Maria send Mr. Rushworth off in search of a key to a locked gate, then shortly after he leaves, jump the fence and continue on their way without him. Fanny is distressed, even more so for being abandoned by Edmund and Miss Crawford who also make their way forward when Fanny is tired and seem to forget about her for an hour while she waits patiently. On this same trip, Miss Crawford is dismayed to learn that Edmund plans to become a clergyman in a few short months. Being neither a rich profession or a distinguished one, she is quite alarmed for she, too, has begun to imagine a future with Edmund. Fanny is dismayed to hear her speak so poorly of the profession and is astonished that Edmund tolerates even as much as he does; but he is clearly falling more and more in love with her. Mrs. Norris, who accompanies them, of course reminds Fanny just how privileged and lucky she is to experience joys like this.

That fall, Tom and his friend, Mr. Yates, join the group at Mansfield Park. Mr. Yates has the inspiring idea that they should put on a home theatrical. Everyone is all for it, except for Edmund and Fanny who protest that it is not only inappropriate but disrespectful  of Sir Thomas’s wishes, as everyone knows he would disapprove of this plan. Eventually, however, Edmund caves and takes on a role alongside Miss Crawford. Edmund justifies his change in heart as due to his wish to avoid adding stranger to their party to complete the cast, but Fanny hurts to see him become inconsistent and weak in this way.

Having managed to string both sisters along quite successfully for several months, things come to a head between Mr. Crawford, Maria, and Julia when it comes to assigning parts to the play. With only one major role for a woman left to fill, and a part that plays the love interest for Mr. Crawford’s character, Mr. Crawford shows his hand when he advocates for Maria to play the part. Crushed, Julia refuses to be in the play any longer. Maria is exultant in her triumph and pays less and less attention to her betrothed. Fanny tries to bring up her concerns to Edmund, but he doesn’t see it.

A few days before the play is to be put on, Sir Thomas arrives back home unexpectedly. With his arrival comes a swift conclusion to everything having to do with the play. He is disappointed in Edmund for allowing to happen, as well as Mrs. Norris, whom he depended upon to argue his point in situations like this while he was gone. Mr. Yates, whom Sir Thomas strongly disapproves of, makes a quick exit. So, too, follows Mr. Crawford who make very few excuses or goodbyes before leaving abruptly. Maria’s hopes are dashed, and instead she becomes even more dedicated to her marriage to Mr. Rushworth which will afford her wealth and independence. After the marriage, she and Julia depart to Brighton.

Now, as the only young lady in the house, Fanny’s position is brought further forward. Miss Crawford seeks her out as a companion, and Fanny, to Mrs. Norris’s horror, is asked to spend time with her and even attend a dinner party. Fanny sees this more as an obligation than as a joy as she is continually pained by brief moments of Miss Crawford’s inappropriateness as well as the growing attachment she sees forming between Miss Crawford and Edmund.

At her first dinner party, Mr. Crawford suddenly reappears. He means only to stay for a few weeks, but seeing an intriguing and new conquest in Fanny, he decides to stay on later. Her complete disinterest and coldness towards him only inspires him further. Miss Crawford laughs at his exploits and tells him not to toy with her too much. Luckily Fanny is warded by more than just a dislike for Mr. Crawford, but with a previous attachment to Edmund. She begins to appreciate some of Mr. Crawford’s charms, but can never forget his cruel treatment of her two cousins.

A true joy comes to Fanny in the arrival of her brother William who is currently on shore from his duties in the Navy. Sir Thomas is pleased to see him coming along well, and Fanny is in raptures having a beloved sibling by her side, someone whom she doesn’t fear, or feel inferior of, or feel obligated to. Mr. Crawford finds more opportunities to gain points in Fanny’s book by lending William his hunter for the majority of William’s stay.

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

Fanny is definitely a very different heroine to the types we’ve met before. She’s probably most like Eleanor, but with much less confidence in her own judgement. Like Eleanor, readers can fairly quickly identify Fanny’s views as the ones to hold as correct. But Fanny herself rarely voices them, and those around her, excepting Edmund, rarely know that what she is thinking. Even Edmund dismisses Fanny’s concerns about Miss Crawford in general, and the play specifically. He seems to agree with her overall, but in actions, chooses to ignore her warnings. Fanny sees what Mr. Crawford is about, warns Edmund as much as she is able, and he still does nothing. When even her most staunch supporter is not truly valuing the wisdom she has, and when the rest of her life is full of either being ignored or openly scolded, it’s no wonder that Fanny would be as reserved as she is. She is given not practical evidence that her opinions are being held of any value, and it’s to her best credit that she still stands firm behind them. And even if she doesn’t voice them often, she never wavers in her evaluation of those around her.

At some points in the story, it almost seems as if Fanny is suffering from a sort of Stockholm syndrome. Particularly where her Aunt Norris is concerned. She seems to understand, on one hand, how horrid Aunt Norris is in general, but she also has moments where she believes her all to well and is even thankful for her pointing out how lucky she, Fanny, is.

I think it is this sort of excess humility and gratitude for common decency that leaves many readers turned off by Fanny. That combined with the fact that she rarely ever speaks. We’re privy to what’s in her mind, but the book is definitely lacking the strong speeches from its heroine that books that came before had. When Fanny does speak, it often feels like she’s only saying half of what she should or indulging in a poetical moment of whimsy over nature or the clergy or some such subject. Which, while interesting enough, doesn’t really hold up to the witty speeches of Elizabeth Bennett or the strong sense of Eleanor Dashwood. And for modern readers, these lengthy speeches devoted to topics such as these can be a bit dull, especially if that’s most of what you have from your main character.

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

Edmund is a strange sort of hero and an even stranger romantic hero. Indeed, most of his heroic deeds are mostly limited to acts of kindness given from a beloved brother. It is clear that this is how Edmund himself views the relationship, even if Fanny begins to see him differently.

He’s also an odd hero in that we see a lot of his flaws almost from the very beginning. He falls for Miss Crawford very quickly, despite correctly identifying several of her faults right from the start. But, like all fools in love, he quickly begins to dismiss these, even when they are directly targeted towards things he holds dear, like his future profession as a clergyman. We also see her influence lead him astray. His only moments of true neglect of Fanny all come in service of following Miss Crawford’s whims and desires. Miss Crawford wants to learn to ride, so Fanny is deprived of a horse for several days before he finally notices her declining health. Miss Crawford wants to explore further at Mr. Rushworth’s estate, so Fanny is left behind on a bench for much longer than is polite or considerate. And, worst of all, he rightly expresses disapproval of the acting scheme they all take up, but is soon drawn in under only the barest of excuses.

Further, he is an odd hero to modern audiences as many of his kindnesses towards Fanny are phrased around his improving her mind and directing her interests. To those not familiar with the language of the time or unable to firmly root themselves in the specific place and time, this type of language can sound demeaning at best, and at worst, a bit like grooming. Obviously, fans of Austen’s work don’t read it this way, but it does probably add to why Edmund is one of the more forgotten of Austen’s heroes, especially on contemporary lists.

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

As I’ll get into a bit later, there aren’t a lot of comedy characters in this book. But to make up for that lack, there are a bunch of villains or quasi-villains. To some degree or another, other than Edmund, every member of the Bertram family treats Fanny  pretty poorly. The sisters and older brother ignore her. Mrs. Bertramm only really values Fanny for what she offers herself. Sir Thomas, though generally well-meaning, is intimidating and doesn’t attempt to form a truly caring relationship with his young niece. And, of course, Aunt Norris is the worst of them all.

I think Mrs. Norris truly has to be one of the most despicable characters in all of Austen’s repoirtoire, especially considering her role. Most other villains are typically caught up in the misdeeds of the romances at the heart of the story (we see two, to varying degrees, examples of that here). But Aunt Norris is just a mean, spiteful, small person all around. One has to imagine that it is her constant nagging and heartlessness towards Fanny that largely instills in Fanny the low value she places on her own wants, needs, and opinions. With a constant negative source such as an Aunt Norris influencing her from an early age, it would only be the most stout of characters who could withstand it without some sort of psychological damage. Really, Fanny comes out of it with more self-esteem than many in position would expect to have.

And, of course, we have the Crawfords. We see the flaws in both of these characters almost immediately. Being privy to private conversations, we see that Miss Crawford not only sees her brother playing with the feelings of Maria and Julia, but seems to think the entire thing is a funny joke, showing little to no empathy for her fellow women being toyed with purely for Mr. Crawford’s amusement. And Mr. Crawford, obviously, is about nothing good with his toying with both Maria and Julia. Like Fanny, we see that he attempts to string them both along as long as possible, doing just enough to keep Julia’s attention and hopes focused his way while also devoting most of his attention to the already-engaged Maria.

And both of these two are even worse when they turn their attention to Fanny. To some extent, we can be lead to believe that Mr. Crawford does end up with some true feelings for Fanny. But it is blatantly clear that he does not start out that way. She’s a challenge and nothing else. And like before, Miss Crawford just teases him and tells him not to hurt poor little Fanny too much. This is all the worse for Miss Crawford being astute enough to recognize Fanny’s inherent good qualities, qualities that both older Bertram girls didn’t have. Plus, she knows of Edmund’s love for Fanny, something that one would think would factor into her concern for Fanny’s welfare. But no.

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

There is pretty much zero romance in this first half of the book for our main character. It is well-established that Fanny has feelings for Edmund, but most of her time is spent slowly reconciling herself to the fact that Edmund is falling for Mary Crawford. Given her extreme humility, she doesn’t see a future for herself with Edmund, seeing herself as not deserving of him. But she rightly also knows that Mary really doesn’t deserve him, and that Edmund is willfully blinding himself to her faults.

We’ll get to how the romance resolves at the end of the book in the second part of my review, but overall, “Mansfield Park” spends a lot more time looking at the unpleasant aspects of marriage and love and how very wrong so many people get it. How even the most reasonable people, those who seem to be the most clear-sighted, can fool themselves when infatuated with charm and beauty.

Beyond Edmund and Mary, we have the original story of Fanny’s mother marrying for love, only to be quickly disappointed by a life of poverty, excessive children, and a drunkard husband. We also have the second-hand story of Mary and Mr. Crawford’s aunt and uncle who have an unhappy marriage and, through growing up under their influence, shape these two young people’s attitudes about marriage and love. We also see Maria Bertram make a choice, not once but twice, of marriage for money. The second time, after being spurned in her love for Mr. Crawford, she’s even more willful in the choice she’s making to enter an unhappy marriage. Indeed, there are very few positives takes on love and matrimony in this entire book. It’s almost as if Austen wanted to temper her other works with their rosy pictures of love and matrimony and almost seems to go overboard here.

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

There are so many villains in this book that it’s hard to find characters who play much of a comedy role. Indeed, like the romance, the comedy of the story is quite restrained in comparison to the books that came before it. In that way, it’s refreshing to think of “Emma” coming after this one, what with its plethora of hilarious characters, most of whom don’t have a villainous bone in their body.

The best examples are probably Lady Bertram and Mr. Rushworth. Lady Bertram fades into the background through much of the story and plays her own part in taking advantage of her kind niece. But it’s also clear that she really does care for Fanny, even if she doesn’t know how to express it well or prioritize her feelings or care. I think one of the funniest lines in the book is when Lady Bertram falls asleep during the discussion of the play, is woken up, claims to never have been asleep, and this is mocked by her oldest son that no one would have suspected it, what with her lolling head and deep breathing.

Mr. Rushworth, of course, is good for several laughs. But he’s also so pitiable that it’s hard to not often be distracted by that. But his repeated discussion of his many speeches and wardrobe changes for the play are definitely chuckle-worthy.

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

Good early quote to set the appropriate tone for Mrs. Norris throughout:

Nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends.

Even early on, we see that Fanny has the right of it over Edmund, but is too unsure of herself to really put forward her opinion. Here she has a much clearer image of Mrs. Norris’s character than Edmund does, even though Edmund has grown up with her and is older than Fanny:

“I cannot see things as you do; but I ought to believe you to be right rather than myself, and I am very much obliged to you for trying to reconcile me to what must be.”

And a classic favorite, but a good one none the less:

Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country”

25100Book: “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” by Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones (Ill.), Charles Vell (Ill.), Colleen Doran (Ill.), and Malcolm Jones (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1991

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The third volume of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. In each of these otherwise unrelated stories, Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus’s son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The latter won a World Fantasy Award for best short story, the first time a comic book was given that honor. collecting The Sandman #17–20.

Review: One of the things that I need to get used to when going back and re-reading “Sandman” is that Gaiman sometimes like to meander and experiment with stories in their tone and mythologies. So while “Sandman” does have an overarching plot line, on occasion you will find tales that don’t fit in. Sometimes I really love this, as in both of our previous collections I’ve highlighted these standalone stories. So theoretically I should have been totally game with “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country”, as it has four stand alone tales that don’t really focus on Dream and his journey. I’m all for experimentation, just like on my first read through, “Dream Country” didn’t live up to the books before.

Our first standalone story, “Calliope”, is one of the ones that most fascinates me, but also has some really problematic elements to it. In concerns the Muse Calliope, Morpheus’s former lover and mother of their late son Orpheus, who has been imprisoned by an author so that her influence will make him write amazing works. While in captivity Calliope is isolated and raped repeatedly, and she calls upon Morpheus for help in escaping. I greatly enjoy the concept of a person using the means of a Muse for ill will, and I liked the harkening back to the Greek Mythology that Morpheus has some part in, but I really had a hard time with the way that Calliope is abused by one man, and is basically damsel in distressed until another man saves her. The concept was my favorite of the four, but the execution was very upsetting and felt a bit tone deaf by today’s standards.

The second is “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, a fun and kind of sad story about house cats and how they went from ruling the wild to being subjugated by human kind. Given my love for cats, the idea of cats wanting to rise up and free themselves from their human ‘captors’ is very fun, if only because it has been said that if house cats were much larger they would absolutely try to kill their owners. Morpheus is here (in the form of a cat, no less!), but it really could have been anyone waylaying this information to our feline protagonists. This probably could have worked as a short story out of the “Sandman” universe, and I wonder if Gaiman had the idea for this kind of story outside of this narrative, as it felt a bit forced into the box of the Sandman world.

The third story is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, a World Fantasy Award winning tale (the first comic to win this award even!) in which Morpheus brings people of the faerie realm to come watch Shakespeare’s traveling troupe put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Basically Morpheus and Shakespeare cut a deal and this is the first of two plays that Shakespeare has written for him. We get a lighthearted version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and get to see their ‘real world’ counter parts react to the way that they are portrayed within the play. Cute to be sure. I think that were I a bigger fan of the play itself I’d have enjoyed this more, but “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” isn’t a fave of mine, Shakespeare wise.

It’s the fourth story that I really, really liked, and kind of saved this whole collection for me. “Facade” is the saddest tale within this collection, and it doesn’t even have Morpheus in it! Instead we get to see my girl Death shine, though she, too, plays a smaller role in lieu of a new original character. Raine is a woman who, when on an archaeological dig in Egypt, was cursed with immortality. Though she is going to live possibly forever, her body is slowly deteriorating, rendering her isolated and scared and desperate to die. She puts on fake faces to go into public, but it’s by no means a long term solution, and after a particularly bad day Death hears her begging, and decides to talk to her. Looking at the consequences of what immortality would actually be is always sobering, and Raine is such a sad character that you ache for as the story goes on. And while it was kind of surprising to see that Morpheus wasn’t in this one, I think that Death was really the character to use given her empathetic nature (unlike Dream, who is prickly at best), and it was really nice seeing her getting a little more spotlight. She is such an intriguing character on her own, after all. I also really liked the artwork for this one. It’s a lovely design for Death.

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(source)

“The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” is a fine detour from the main storyline, but I’m eager to get back to see what Morpheus is up to. I definitely encourage you to read these if you are taking on the series, but if you have to go to Volume 4 before this one, that’s probably going to be fine.

Rating 7: These standalone stories are enjoyable for the most part, but they don’t really progress the plot, and feel a bit dated in some of their themes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books About Faery”, and “Mythic Fiction Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: 

 

Serena’s Review: “Serpent & Dove”

40024139Book: “Serpent & Dove” by Shelby Mahurin

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, September 2019

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

Book Description: Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Review: Have to get all of these books that were so popular last fall in before their sequels drop this summer/fall! But one more down! I didn’t know much about this book when I placed my audiobook request other than the fact that a few of my YA librarian friends had said it was super popular last fall when it came out. So like a good little YA fan, I placed my request without much more thought. So I really had no idea what to expect when I actually got the book, so the whole thing was an interesting surprise (I never even looked at the book description until after the fact). While it didn’t blow me away, I can see why it was so popular and I’m definitely interested to see what the sequel has to offer this September!

Living undercover as a witch in hiding means Lou’s life is one of constantly looking over her shoulder and being suspicious of everyone. In a world where all women are under constant scrutiny, under threat of death by fire for being a witch, Lou must be particularly careful. But in a comedy or tragedy of errors and crossed paths, Lou suddenly finds herself in the viper’s nest itself: making her home among her enemies and married to a Chasseur, a witch hunter. Now both she, and Reid who was raised to strictly believe the evil at the heart of all of witches, must confront what they really know about the opposite side. And as their feelings for each other grow, will these differences prove detrimental?

You don’t really see too many “forced marriage” plots outside of fanfiction and romance novels, so it was definitely interesting seeing this book’s attempt to use this trope in a more mainstream YA fantasy novel. And overall, I think it was very successful. The set-up for their marriage was believable, and because the book is told through alternating perspectives, readers are able to watch the slow change and progression of feelings on both sides. Of course, it’s still all told over one book’s length, and not an uncommonly long one at that, so I do feel that the romance itself came on a bit quickly. But I also felt like the author did just enough to lay the groundwork for these changes and given her characters the room and opportunity to believably begin changing their minds about one another.

As with all stories that feature multiple POVs, I had a preference for one over the other. But in this case it wasn’t because I felt that one was more strongly written than the other; both perspectives felt grounded and believable. But Reid was definitely a bit harder to empathize with. Over the course of the book, we begin to see more of what shapes his belief system, but it’s always going to be a hard sell to be in the head of a male character who thinks burning women at the stake is a good idea. He obviously comes around, but there are some definite moments where I just wanted to smack him.

Lou, on the other hand, is your kind of standard YA heroine: strong, feisty, and independent. She didn’t blow me away as anything incredibly original, but her dialogue, both in her POV sections and in Reid’s, was always great and had some really funny bits to it. She disappears a bit towards the end of the book, and this did make that section a bit more challenging to get through. But luckily by that time Reid is coming around again and is able to take over for the most part.

There were quite a few twists and surprises throughout the book. As a reader of a lot of YA fantasy, I was able to see almost all of these coming, but that didn’t make them less enjoyable, really. And, of course, this is the kind of thing that will hit different readers in different ways. Combined with the French-focused world-building and an interesting magic system, I felt like the story itself felt fairly fresh and new.

This is the first book in what I believe is a trilogy, so the end of the book is by no means a proper “ending.” But given the fact that the next book is coming out in September, if you, like me, haven’t gotten around to this one yet, you won’t have a long wait fo

Rating 8: A solid start to a new series that will hopefully grow into something even better.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Serpent & Dove” is on these Goodreads lists: “Characters Hate Each Other Then Fall In Love” and “Epic High Fantasy/Romance/Mythology by 2020.”

Find “Serpent & Dove” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Hell in the Heartland”

52218496Book: “Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls” by Jax Miller

Publishing Info: Berkley, July 2020

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

Book Description: The stranger-than-fiction cold case from rural Oklahoma that has stumped authorities for two decades, concerning the disappearance of two teenage girls and the much larger mystery of murder, police cover-up, and an unimaginable truth…

On December 30, 1999, in rural Oklahoma, sixteen-year-old Ashley Freeman and her best friend, Lauria Bible, were having a sleepover. The next morning, the Freeman family trailer was in flames and both girls were missing.

While rumors of drug debts, revenge, and police collusion abounded in the years that followed, the case remained unsolved and the girls were never found.

In 2015, crime writer Jax Miller–who had been haunted by the case–decided to travel to Oklahoma to find out what really happened on that winter night in 1999, and why the story was still simmering more than fifteen years later. What she found was more than she could have ever bargained for: jaw-dropping levels of police negligence and corruption, entire communities ravaged by methamphetamine addiction, and a series of interconnected murders with an ominously familiar pattern.

These forgotten towns were wild, lawless, and home to some very dark secrets.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

For someone who enjoys a good true crime podcast and likes to spend time on the Reddit sub “Unresolved Mysteries”, I am always taken in by the story of a cold case, murder, or strange mystery that I have never heard of before. So when I was browsing NetGalley’s list of upcoming true crime books, “Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Cse of Two Missing Girls” by Jax Miller caught my attention. The case has all the components of an “Unsolved Mysteries” episode. You have two missing teenagers in rural Oklahoma, Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible. Lauria was sleeping over at Ashley’s trailer home, but early the next morning it was found burning. First responders and police found the body of Ashley’s mother, and later her father’s body was also found. But there was no sign of Ashley or Lauria, and they haven’t been seen ever since. I thought that it would be a tantalizing and strange story, and it certainly is. But Miller takes it even further, and decides to paint a broader picture than just a tale about two missing teens. We also get a study of police negligence, small town criminality, and the way that a community like this has fallen on hard times, and how that has broad repercussions.

“Hell in the Heartland” is for the most part a true crime mystery, and the case is a head scratcher to be sure. There are two prevailing theories about what may have happened to Ashley and Lauria, and it seems to be split along family lines as to whom those theories appeal to. Miller gives due diligence to both theories, and while I think that probability falls far more on the side of one, I liked that in this book we got pretty strong arguments for both. The first, subscribed to by Ashley’s surviving family members, is that the local enforcement officials were trying to cover up some wrong doing. After all, Ashley’s brother Shane had been shot and killed by an officer not too long before Ashley disappeared and her parents were murdered. The officer claimed that he had drawn a gun, but the Freemans never believed it. The circumstances were suspicious, and the way that the police bungled a few things about the investigation into the Freeman murders and missing girls was absolutely reckless at best, and damning at worst. I have no problem believing that a department feeling sore about unwanted attention because of a grieving family wanting justice would mishandle a case regarding said family, so it’s not really a stretch to think that maybe the police could be capable of something so terrible. The other theory is that local meth kingpins were the ones that committed this crime, as their proximity and potential involvement with the Freeman family would give motive, means, and opportunity. As the book goes on this seems to be a more likely scenario, especially given recent arrests and evidence that ties them to the girls. But all that said, Miller still wants to present all of the evidence and to give a very clear picture of both possibilities, as at the end of the day we still don’t know where Ashley and Lauria are, even if we think we know what happened to them. While there may be an official ‘end’ in terms of how our legal system is seeing it, Miller makes it very clear to the reader that there is no closure and there is no real justice, because Ashley and Lauria never came home in one way or another. And for Lauria’s parents especially, that isn’t justice.

But beyond the case itself, “Hell in the Heartland” paints a very grim and sad picture about the rural community that Ashley and Lauria were living in when they disappeared. From Ashley’s brother Shane dying at the hands of a police officer with no repercussions, to Ashely’s grandparents very clear mental health issues that aren’t being addressed, to poverty in general and how the meth trade takes root within it, we see that Ashley and Lauria’s kidnapping, and the murder of the Freemans, wasn’t within a vacuum. Hell, the fact that one of the big drug lords was a known violent lunatic, with assault, domestic violence, and other horrible things being is M.O., and no one could do anything but stay out of his way, says volumes. Violence and secrets are more common than we may think in small towns like this, and to me that was one of the harder things to swallow about this story.

“Hell in the Heartland” is a story that you may not know about even if you’re a true crime aficionado, but after reading this book you’ll want to know more. Jax Miller has really shined a light on a case that hasn’t really left Oklahoma, and hopefully it will have a wide enough reach that one day Ashley and Lauria will be brought home.

Rating 7: A sad and strange cold case that has no official end, “Hell in the Heartland” takes a look at the story of two missing girls, and some very sad facts and dangers about the community they lived in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hell in the Heartland” is new and not included on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “Poverty in the USA”, and “Corruption in High Places”.

Find “Hell in the Heartland” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Book Club Review: “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings”

35430013._sx318_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Around the World”, in which we each picked a continent and had to match a book that takes place there and/or is written by an author from that continent or of that continent’s descent.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (Eds.)

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Continent: Asia

Book Description: Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings: these are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Sixteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman—who both contributed stories to this edition, as well—the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place.

From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

Kate’s Thoughts

I read the short story collections “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” back when it first came out in 2018, and for being a short story collection I greatly enjoyed it! I felt like there was a hearty mix of genres and perspectives in its pages, and was more satisfied than not with the tales that were derived from various Asian folklores and mythologies. When our Book Club picked it, I was eager to re-read the stories, but didn’t expect to feel any differently. But what I discovered as I re-read the book was that my own perspectives changed, and my old favorites either had new depth, or completely shifted out in favor of new ones.

The two stories that remained favorites for me were “Olivia’s Table” by Alyssa Wong and “The Land of the Morning Calm” by E.C. Myers. “Olivia’s Table” is about a young woman who has inherited her mother’s job of ‘exorcist’ for a small ghosttown in the Southwest, in which actual ghosts of the area congregate during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Olivia makes them a feast that helps them cross over. “The Land of the Morning Calm” is about a teen whose mother’s ghost is seemingly trapped inside an MMORPG based upon Korean folklore. I mean, of course stories about ghosts are always going to float my boat, so it’s probably no surprise that those were still near and dear. But both of them had some very touching themes about mother/daughter relationships, grief, and moving on which were incredibly touching and emotional. But as mentioned above, this time around I had stories move up in my rankings upon a second read. The best example of this was Julie Kagawa’s “Eyes Like Candlelight”, which takes the Japanese fox spirit mythology and puts it into a short story about love, loss, and vengeance. A fox spirit falls for a man whose village is being taken advantage of by tax collectors, and after tragedy strikes she takes her revenge on those who wronged her and her lover. I don’t even know why this one didn’t catch my eye the first time around, because this time I REALLY liked the tone and storytelling.

And the best thing about all of the stories in this book is that at the end of each of them, there is an author’s note about the original mythology or folktale that gives it context and allows the reader to see how the stories have been adapted for this collection. I love me an authors note with historical factoids, and having that at the end really enhanced the experience for me. As someone who hadn’t been familiar with a lot of the story origins on my first read, I found this to be super helpful. This time around it was nice just having the reminder, as I hadn’t retained all of the information after two years. It’s just a great idea to have this kind of thing in general. On top of context, this is such a varied collection of all different type of genres, I feel like it has something for everyone. There’s mild horror, modern teen hijinks, romance, Sci-Fi, “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” shows the vast creativity of these authors, and it has encouraged me to read more of a few of their works.

“A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” is engaging and varied, and if you are looking for a short story collection with a vast range of tastes, this is a great choice.

Kate’s Rating 8: A varied and well rounded selection of stories with influences from the Asian Diaspora, “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” is a well done collection with something for everyone.

Book Club Questions

  1. Did you have a favorite story in this collection, or any that particularly stood out to you? What was it about this story that caught your attention? How about a least favorite?
  2. How familiar were you with the folklore in this book?
  3. What did you think of the interpretations of some of these myths and folktales and how they were re-told within their new stories or genres? Were any of the genre choices surprising to you?
  4. Had to read any of the authors whose works were in this collection? If not, did this collection inspire you to pick up their other works?
  5. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” is included on the Goodreads lists “Modern Mythologies”, and “Alternative Summer Reading List”.

Find “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “The BreakBeat Poets Vol.4: LatiNext” by Felicia Rose Chavez, José Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo (Eds.).

 

Serena’s Review: “The Lost Sun”

27230933Book: “The Lost Sun” by Tessa Gratton

Publishing Info: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, October 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from library!

Book Description: Fans of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” and Holly Black’s “The Curse Workers” will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard. Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood–the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd’s Academy. But that’s hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That’s not all Astrid dreams of–the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities.

When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they’ve been told they have to be.

Review: This is another one of those mystery books that has been hanging out on my audiobook “to read” list at the library. I have no memory of where I heard of it originally or why I requested it specifically. I mean, looking at the description, it definitely seemed interesting, but there are also a million and one fantasy books out there, so why this one? Maybe I was going through a Thor/Loki moment when I stumbled on it and put it on here? Either way, it was available the other day when I was looking for my next book, so I checked it out! It was definitely an interesting read, but also not quite all I had hoped for.

Soren’s days have been largely devoted to training, both physically in the skills of a warrior, and mentally in the self-control needed to keep the beserking rage he inherited from his father in check. Often this means missing out on social activities with friends and keeping to himself. But when Astrid, the daughter of a famed seer, joins the school, she seeks him and begins to pry into his solitary existence. After a beloved god goes missing, Soren now finds himself on a roadtrip mission with Astrid in the hopes of finding this lost deity and returning him to where he belongs. But that’s only the beginning of a journey that will take them far and uncover much about themselves, their pasts, and their future.

What stood out the most in this book was the creative world-building. What we have here is an alternate version of the United States in which the Norse gods are very real and have a very real influence on every aspect of society: government structure, education, career paths, you name it. I really enjoyed how creative the author was with such a bizarre idea, and how seamless was the end result, considering how strange it is, overall.

This is Soren’s story, so much of the history and current state of the world is told through his point of view. Soren is a good narrator, in this respect, as all of these needed details to flesh out this type of world were delivered in a believable, non-exposition manner, something that is definitely a challenge for a book written in first person. Soren’s own history, that of having a father who gave in to the beserker madness and killed innocent people, is never far from his mind, and from the very beginning we see the limited future Soren sees for himself. He is constantly battling an inner war, and his fear of himself and his abilities stains almost every choice he makes.

The  main problem for me arrived in the form of the other main character, Astrid. Right from the start she struck me as very “manic pixie dream girl” in her behaviors and descriptions. I think the character had potential, but it was really hard to get behind her part of the story when that impression was so strong right off the bat. As the story started moving more, it was easier to be distracted from it. But it was still the sort of thing that popped up throughout and left me having a hard time feeling really too compelled or interested in her part of the story. And then, since so much of Soren’s story becomes tied up with hers, I also lost some interest in him.

Overall, I thought this was a really creative, fun book. My problem most centered around some of the characterization choices that made it hard for me to feel truly invested in the story’s main characters. But if you’re into Norse mythology and want to read a new take on the subject, this might be one worth checking out!

Rating 7: A fun, unique fantasy story set in a re-imagined United States, though the characters left something to be desired.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Lost Sun” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Alternate History Novels and Stories” and “Books with Lost or Found in the Title.”

Find “The Lost Sun” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Some Kind of Animal”

41016362Book: “Some Kind of Animal” by Maria Romasco Moore

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, August 2020

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

Book Description: A story about two girls guarding a secret no one would ever believe and the desperate lengths they will go to in order to protect each other from the outside world.

Jo lives in the same town where her mother disappeared fifteen years ago. Everyone knows what happened to Jo’s mom. Now people are starting to talk about Jo. She’s barely passing her classes and falls asleep at her desk every day. She’s following in her mom’s footsteps. Jo has a secret — she has a twin sister. Her sister is not like most people. She lives in the woods, wild and free. Night after night, as often as she can manage, Jo slips out of her bedroom window and meets her sister in the woods, where together they run, fearlessly.

When Jo’s twin attacks a boy from town, the people in town assume it must have been Jo. Now Jo has to decide whether to tell the world about her sister or to run. SOME KIND OF ANIMAL is an accessible, feminist thriller that digs into themes of sisterhood, family, and friendship.

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

My bachelor’s degree is in Psychology, and one of the most interesting topics from one of my classes was the story of Victor of Aveyron, aka the Wild Boy of Aveyron. In the late 1700s in France a feral twelve year old boy was found roaming the countryside. He was eventually taken into society and studied, and various people attempted to acclimate him to the human world. While he never fully acclimated, there was some progress while he was in the care of a medical student named Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. Feral children have been seen in history and in literature, and “Some Kind of Animal” by Maria Romasco Moore brings that theme to a YA thriller. The feral child plot point is what drew me in initially, I think, though I had theories that this story couldn’t possibly actually be dealing with a feral child, because it seemed like it would be difficult to pull off in the setting that it was functioning in. And yet.

I went into “Some Kind of Monster” believing that our main character Jo didn’t actually have a twin sister named Lee who was living in the wilderness outside her small town. Given Jo’s traumatic childhood, after her mother disappeared and was possibly murdered, and growing up with a harried aunt and a toxic grandmother, as well as being unable to shake the reputation her mother had, I thought it would be a manifestation of her trauma. But I can tell you right now that no, there is absolutely a feral twin living in the woods, and reader, I just don’t think that I quite believed it. Don’t get me wrong, the groundwork is kind of laid to show how Lee ended up there, and how she stayed and survived out there without anyone knowing about her existence outside of Jo. Explanations are given, but I’m still not totally certain that I buy them. I also don’t quite buy Jo not telling anyone who MIGHT listen to her about her twin. Grandma Margaret, sure, that woman is awful and her reaction to what she perceives as a lie definitely tracks, therein making Jo’s reluctance to insist upon Lee’s existence completely believable. But not telling her Aunt Aggie? Not telling her best friend Savannah? I can’t suspend my disbelief that hard. On top of that, there are a lot of twists and reveals that happen once the action in this book gets going, but once they are revealed a fair number of them don’t have much pay off. There is a rather big one regarding a character’s paternity that I thought would have a lot of reverberations, but it’s barely touched upon for the rest of the book, at least in a way that might bring some insight into both characters. It just felt rushed. And the ending? VERY rushed.

Along with a hard to believe and hasty plot, most of the characters weren’t very interesting or multifaceted. Again, I thought that this book was going to be an exploration of Jo’s traumatic childhood, but while it’s acknowledged it was a hard time and that she has trouble trusting people, it’s a whole lot of telling and not much showing. Lee, too, is relegated to feral girl role, and she just isn’t terribly interesting outside of ‘so is she going to attack someone again?’ I will say, however, that there was one character who didn’t feel two dimensional or incomplete, and that is the character of Jo’s Aunt Aggie. There was a very quiet sadness about Aggie, who has been raising Jo as best she can while also mourning the loss of her little sister, and trying to keep Jo away from Aggie’s toxic mother Margaret. I thought that Aggie was the most compelling character because she is very obviously in over her head when it comes to being the guardian to her neice, and doesn’t make the wisest decisions when it comes to her own life and choices (shacking up with the new pastor in town when she herself has turned her back on God seems like maybe not the BEST idea, especially since the pastor is clearly trying to save himself by saving others). She really reminded me of Parker Posey’s character Libby Mae in “Waiting for Guffman”, if Libby Mae was a bit more beaten down by life.

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(source)

I was quite disappointed that “Some Kind of Animal” didn’t gel for me. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t gel for you! I could definitely see myself recommending it to the right person. After all…

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Rating 4: A promising idea falls short. Improbable plot points and two dimensional characters really dragged this story down.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Some Kind of Animal” is included on the Goodreads list “2020 YA Mysteries and Thrillers”.

Find “Some Kind of Animal” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “The Gilded Wolves”

39863498Book: “The Gilded Wolves” by Roshani Chokshi

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, January 2019

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

Book Description: It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

Review: I was a bit hesitant to pick this book for a few reasons. First, as readers of this blog know, the last year or so has been made up of a lot of middling reviews from me for books that I feel are WAY too similar to “Six of Crows” to be called much more than blatant cash grabs on the part of authors and publishers who want in on the lingering popularity of that duology. And secondly, I’ve tried to read Roshani Chokshi’s books in the past because she’s a fairly beloved YA author and…haven’t loved her work. But, I thought I’d give it one more go. And, in an improvement on my opinions on her other books, this one was…ok.

Severin had been on the cusp of entering into an inheritance that would establish him into one of the most exclusive and privileged circles in the nation, if not the world. But, in the eleventh hour, he is rejected and outcast. Ever since, Severin has worked to gather up a crew of other outcasts in an attempt to regain his birthright. Each with their own speckled past and hopes for the future, this ragtag group will now find themselves caught up in conspiracies grander than they could ever had expected. But with the potential riches, comes the equally dangerous perils.

So, to start with the pros of this book. One of my major complaints about Chokshi’s work in the past was my distaste for her overly flowery writing. It was of the type too often found in YA where it seems like the authors are just playing word spaghetti and hoping to string together sentences that sound pretty. Who cares if they don’t make any actual sense or the metaphors are pure nonsense if looked at for more than half a second? But luckily, here, there was less of it, especially of the flowery type. I still think the writing left something to be desired, however. No one can fault the author for her dialogue writing, as that was witty and fast. But the actual description of how the magic system worked or some of the actions scenes were confusing, and even after re-reading, I didn’t have a solid image in my mind for what exactly she was trying to describe.

I also enjoyed most of the characters, though this two is both a positive of the book and a negative. The author does a great job of peopling her story with a diverse cast of characters. They come from different cultures, religions, orientations, you name it. However, when you’re actually reading the chapters, many of their voices sound very similar, which seems to detract from the actual celebration of differences that she seems to be setting out to accomplish. Given the author’s note at the back and the author’s own story, I don’t believe she was just trying to check boxes, but I do think that, again, her writing itself let her down where these characters were concerned. And, of course, I can’t end a section on characters and not acknowledge the giant elephant/”Six of Crows” shadow in the room: several of these characters were disturbing similar to characters in that book. The story itself was very different, but the characters….the two “main” characters and their romances were especially disconcertingly similar to that of Kaz and Ines.

I was intrigued by the world-building and the history of the magic in this world and how it worked. There were a lot of creative ideas thrown around, and some of them were definitely unique and whimsical, fitting in perfectly with the author’s style and the story she was laying out with its tone and characters. There were times, however, where I felt like there was always some magical “out” or McGuffin that the team could use to solve almost every problem. It didn’t really seem like you had to be all that clever or skilled to pull of the things they were doing, and more just needed to have the right magical tools that did the job for them. And at the same time, the existence of all these magical get-arounds seemed to undermine the dangers or protections that the crew was setting out to get around. What good are all of these magical wards if they are so easily bypassed by some other magical tool or what not? I wish the story had been a bit more clever in these areas.

So, as you can see, I had a fairly middling experience with this book. It was a fast read, and the adventure and snappy dialogue kept things moving to the point that I never felt the need to put the book down (as I have with other books by this author in the past). But on deeper reflection, once I’d finished the book, a lot of the elements involved seemed to be wanting in some way. The story definitely ends with a set-up for the next, and I’m intrigued enough to continue. I’m hopeful that as this book seemed an improvement on some of the author’s works of the past, that things will continue in that direction and the second book will feel a bit more solid. If you’re not totally burned out on “Six of Crows” read-alikes, this one might be worth checking out. If you’re a fan of this author, than definitely.

Rating 7: Most of the pros had corresponding cons, but I’m in it enough to want to continue on to the next, which is a bigger compliment than I’ve paid the author’s books in the past.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Gilded Wolves” is on these Goodreads lists: “Speculative Fiction Heist/Caper Stories” and “YA Fantasy by WOC.”

Find “The Gilded Wolves” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Night Swim”

51169341Book: “The Night Swim” by Megan Goldin

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, August 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a print ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: After the first season of her true crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall is now a household name―and the last hope for thousands of people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The small town of Neapolis is being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. The town’s golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping a high school student, the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season Three a success, Rachel throws herself into interviewing and investigating―but the mysterious letters keep showing up in unexpected places. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insists she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody seems to want to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

Electrifying and propulsive, The Night Swim asks: What is the price of a reputation? Can a small town ever right the wrongs of its past? And what really happened to Jenny?

Review: Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a print ARC of this novel!

We’re seeing more and more podcast themed books, and as of now I, for one, am still very pleased with this theme in thrillers. If an author does it well, it adds a whole other layer to a story that combines my favorite kinds of books with one of my other favorite forms of entertainment. When St. Martin’s Press sent me “The Night Swim” by Megan Goldin I was elated, as this book had already kind of been on my radar because of the podcast theme. When I did jump on into the narrative, it sucked me right in. And it also made me very, very uncomfortable.

“The Night Swim” has two crimes that our protagonist, Rachel, is following. One is for her podcast, ‘Guilty or Not Guilty’, and it follows a high profile rape case in the small town of Neapolis. A popular and charismatic young man with Olympic dreams is accused of raping a sixteen year old girl, and the town (as well as people all over the world) are split on whether or not he’s guilty. While Rachel is in town, she keeps getting mysterious correspondence from Hannah, a woman who wants Rachel to investigate the death of her older sister Jenny, who was found drowned twenty years before, also in Neapolis. We have multiple narrative styles to tie these two seemingly unrelated cases together. We have Hannah’s letters to Rachel, Rachel’s podcast, and a third person narrative following Rachel’s podcast research and eventual investigation into Jenny’s death. It’s a lot, but Goldin makes it work, blending them all together and carefully revealing how some things, like rape culture and small town politics, never really change even as decades pass. This thriller is really part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, and Goldin balances both aspects meticulously. I was held in suspense regarding what the outcome of the rape trial was going to be, but also as to whether or not Rachel was going to find out what really happened to Jenny. The reveals were all well done and some were genuinely surprising, and while I did piece together a few clues probably earlier than I was supposed to, all of the big reveals were still surprising and enjoyable.

But what made this book stand out from other thrillers I’ve read as of late, and what made it a very difficult read at times, was how frank and unflinching Goldin is when it comes to the themes of rape in this book. While I feel that sometimes other thrillers will have rape as a plot point or as a crime in their pages, going into details or seeing the traumatic fallout aren’t as focused on, rather focusing on the investigation to bring the perpetrator to justice. In “The Night Swim”, Goldin opts to show what it is like for a victim to have to relive her attack while on the stand, and in the spotlight of a high profile trial. After reading Chanel Miller’s “Know My Name”, the memoir of the woman raped by Brock Turner (and whose case is clearly inspiration for this storyline), it was especially jarring and upsetting to read these parts as the victim, Kelly, is forced to tell her story in graphic detail in front of a courtroom full of strangers. But while it was hard, I thought that it was important to show that rape isn’t just a plot point, that it has a horrific fallout, and that the fact that victims have to basically be re-traumatized to get justice, justice that isn’t even guaranteed, is abominable. The descriptions of Kelly’s rape (as well as the assault of Jenny) will definitely be hard to read for many people, so content warnings abound in this book. And while we don’t really get to know much about Kelly outside of her victim status, we DO get to know Jenny very well.

It’s a hard one, but I did really like “The Night Swim”. Steel your heart and get ready for righteous indignation to rush through you, but I think that if you are a thriller reader you should probably pick it up.

Rating 8: A compelling mystery is accompanied by an unflinching look at rape culture and trauma. “The Night Swim” is difficult at times but also feels like it takes on difficult themes that other thrillers may gloss over.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Swim” is included on the Goodreads lists“Books for Serial Podcast Lovers”, and “Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”.

Find “The Night Swim” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!