Serena’s Review: “The Bone Maker”

Book: “The Bone Maker” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Info: Harper Voyager, March 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor—a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived. 

Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice—for each day he lives, she will live one less.

She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned—as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives. But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.  

Five warriors—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should be dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”

Review: Sarah Beth Durst has always been a bit of a hit or miss author for me. When she’s on her game, I really love her books. But there are others of her titles that have really not worked for me. So I never quite know which one I’m going to get when I pick up a new book by her. But this one, with its interesting premise and its focus on an older woman as its heroine, sounded like something that would be right up my alley!

What was a day of triumph to the nation was a day of horror to Kreya. While she and her four companions were successful in the heroic mission they set out upon, to take down the viscous bone maker Eklor, Kreya lost her husband in the process. Now, years later, Kreya is living as a recluse, desperately working forbidden magic to buy just one more day with her lost love. When she seeks out a method to work this magic on a more long-term basis, she discovers horrors that she thought were long ago settled. Now she and the others must grapple with the reality that their story may not actually be finished, and they’re not sure they can win this time.

This book checked two boxes of interest for me. Recently, I’ve really been enjoying stories that look at the “after” of heroic tales. Veronica Roth’s “Chosen” was one of my favorite reads last year and dealt with this very topic. While both that book and this one essentially present the same story, that the first “ending” wasn’t really the end at all but simply a pause on everything, they each tackle the topic of what life is like for these heroes in what they think is the end. While this book is mostly Kreysa’s story, Durst also offeres insights into the other heroes who fought alongside her. Through them all, we see the various methods each is using to handle an entire lifetime after such a momentous start. You save the world in your twenties…then what? Not only is the resulting PTSD and trauma something that must be carried afterwards, but the sense that one’s biggest moment in life is already behind one has to play with the mind. I really like the variety we see between the heroes and how they are all coping, nor not coping, with these challenges.

The second point of interest is its focus on an adult heroine. The book never specifies Kreya’s or her friends’ age, but we know their fight happened 25 years ago and that Kreya was married at the time. It’s like that she’s in her late forties or older. It’s always refreshing to read a book that focuses on older characters. By necessity, their lives look very different than the young adult heroes and heroines we so often see. Instead of new love, it’s often an established relationship or a second love. Instead of the challenges of coming into one’s power for the first time, it’s managing a life that has already contained a multitude of defining moments. Kreya and her friends have lived a quarter of a century’s worth of life since their grand adventure. During that time they’ve built lives and come to terms with the events of their youth. They also have to face these new challenges as the people they are now, not the people they were when they first fought their foe. There are both new strengths and challenges that come with taking up the mantle of heroism again later in life.

I specifically enjoyed the established romance between Kreya and her husband. We see all the strengths that have been built into it over the years of loving the same person. But there are also some unique challenges that come along with this. Specifically, of course, the fact that one member of the marriage has been dead on and off for the last 25 years…but it also speaks to the way that relationships grow and change alongside the individuals in them.

The only ding I have against the book is that the world-building and magic system are kind of simplistic and lack detail and depth. There are some cool monsters that live in a particular forest, some magically-operated cable cars, and a few other things. But none of them are described very fully or really made to feel like they are part of a fully-realized world. However, it was also clear that the focus of the book was meant to be largely about its characters, so while the world wasn’t very complex, I wasn’t necessarily feeling that it was lacking while I was reading. Fans of Durst’s work are sure to enjoy this, and fantasy lovers who prefer a more mature hero and stories focused on the “after” of the heroic journey should definitely check it out!

Rating 9: A very enjoyable, fast read that highlights the fact that no hero’s journey is every really over.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bone Maker” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2021.

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

Kate’s Review: “Good Girl, Bad Blood”

Book: “Good Girl, Bad Blood”(A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #2) by Holly Jackson

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, March 2021

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

Book Description: The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder! More dark secrets are exposed in this addictive, true-crime fueled mystery.

Pip is not a detective anymore. With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her.

But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared, on the very same night the town hosted a memorial for the sixth-year anniversary of the deaths of Andie Bell and Sal Singh. The police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time everyone is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late?

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

Perhaps you remember that last year I greatly enjoyed the YA mystery “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson, and it even made my Top Ten Books of 2020. I also mentioned in that review that I was super stoked for the sequel. Well folks, the time has arrived. “Good Girl, Bad Blood” is here.

My first highly anticipated thriller book of the year! (source)

We pick up not to far after we left off in “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder”. Pip is no longer actively seeking out mysteries to solve, instead working on a podcast about the Andie Bell/Sal Singh case, and attending the trial of serial rapist Max Hastings. Pip, however, is drawn into helping her friend Connor, whose brother has gone missing, and dedicates a new season of her podcast to her investigation. What I liked most about “Good Girl, Bad Blood” is that while Jackson could have set Pip up to be a modern day Nancy Drew who is just going to solve cases and move on to the next, instead we get a front seat at the physical, mental, and emotional labor that she has to endure to help those she cares about. Well, and to give her that purpose that she felt she had in the first book. It’s an angle that may seem obvious, but Jackson does it in a way that makes you really start to wonder how much of this is all worth it as Pip gets sucked into another case, and risks her safety in trying to solve it. I didn’t expect it to go in this direction, and I was happy that it did. Jackson also takes this time to examine the weaknesses in our current law and order systems, as the police in town aren’t really taking Jamie’s missing status seriously, and the rape trial of Max Hastings follows a lot of the same ‘he said, she said’ injustices we see in real life. All of these things combine that leaves Pip in some pretty bleak places as the story goes on, and since there is going to be another book in the series, I want to see how Jackson tackles this for our imperfect heroine.

In terms of the plot itself, “Good Girl, Bad Blood” has a lot of the same strengths as the first book. I still really like Pip, and I loved seeing her relationship with Ravi Singh evolve and flourish (cutest couple ever). I also liked getting to know some of her other friends a little bit better, like Connor. As to the mystery, once again we got a taut and suspenseful thriller, and we get to see everything laid out in a cohesive way through podcast transcripts and Pip’s notes. It’s a much better way to keep everything organized without making any of the characters seem like they’re reciting facts in a robotic way, and I really enjoy it. I will say that there were a couple of trip ups for me, however. The first was that a couple of red herrings tossed out there didn’t really get resolved as red herrings or not. Like, I think that they were? But it felt a little too touched upon in the narrative to just be left behind without explanation. That’s nitpicky. The other issue isn’t as such, in that one of the big puzzle pieces that ties everything together wasn’t even hinted at until well into the last fourth of the book. It felt sort of like a deus ex machine, but for a plot point. But that said, I was pretty much kept guessing until the end. And what an ending it was. It has set us up for the next book in the series. And now, once again, I am waiting anxiously to see where Pip can go next.

“Good Girl, Bad Blood” continues a fun series that is on my must read list going forward. If you haven’t tried these books yet and like a good YA mystery/thriller, you absolutely need to pick them up.

Rating 8: A twisty and suspenseful sequel, “Good Girl, Bad Blood” has a couple of stumbles, but is overall a great follow up to a runaway hit!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Good Girl, Bad Blood” is included on the Goodreads lists “Young Adult Crime/Murder Mysteries”, and “Fiction Books Featuring Podcasts”.

Find “Good Girl, Bad Blood” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder”

Highlights: March 2021

The temperature is finally starting to rise, the snow is starting to slowly melt, and we can sometimes hear a bird or two chirping in our neighborhoods! Does this mean that we can assume that we’re in the clear regarding another snow storm? Not on your life! But as we start to dream of Spring after an arduous pandemic winter, we have some books that we are also looking forward to this month.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Bone Maker” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Durst has always been a bit of a hit or miss author for me. But when I do enjoy her books, I really love them. Conversely, of course, there are a few of her that I really haven’t enjoyed. But a few things about this title stood out to me. First, it’s main character is a middle aged woman. I’ve talked before about how rare it is to find fantasy books that feature with middle aged or older women. Everyone has to have their grand adventure in their twenties, apparently! The story also focuses on what happens to the heroes after they have one. Kreya and her friends defeated their mortal enemy, but at great cost. And now she and they have had to go on living their lives for twenty more years coping with the fallout. Of course, evil lingers in the dark and seems to be rising again. I so hope that this is one of Durst’s hits!

Book: “An Unexpected Peril” by Deanna Raybourn

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Why I’m Interested: “Interested” is definitely the right word here. I can no long unequivocally say that I’m “excited” for the next entries in this series. There have been too many flops, most recently the last one to come out, for me to think of this series as at all reliable in what it delivers. I’ve really loved some of the books, but it’s also begun to all feel a bit tired and stretched too thin. However, this book seems to involve Veronica and Stoker solving the mystery of a mountaineer’s death and sees them tied up in international politics when a princess goes missing. Seems like a fresh enough story, though I’m not to pleased about the line in the description about Veronica’s own ties to the Royal family. I’m so sick of that plot line. We shall see!

Book: “Namesake” by Adrienne Young

Publication Date: March 16, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I really loved “Fable” when I read it last year. I love pirate/sea-faring stories but I also seem to be fairly picky about what I expect those sorts of books to deliver. “Fable” had it all. An appropriately ruthless main character. Adventure on the high seas. A treasure hunt. And a constant guessing game as to who one should trust. In the end, it seemed to wrap up most of the plot lines before jumping to a sudden cliffhanger. The book description seems to be hinting that Fable will begin to uncover more about her mother. This is a really interesting concept, as the first book largely focused on Fable’s dysfunctional relationship with her father. I’m a bit wary about where the romance is headed, though, since it was already well-established at the end of the first book. Please no added drama in some misguided attempt to pique interest!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “She’s Too Pretty to Burn” by Wendy Heard

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Why I’m Interested: This one grabbed my attention as I was perusing NetGalley, and I decided to go out on a limb and ‘Wish For It’. After getting lucky, and reading up on the description, it became VERY clear that I had hit the jackpot. Veronica is a fledgling teen photographer who is looking for inspiration. She then meets Mick, a shy and magnetic girl, at a party, and they immediately hit it off and fall for each other. When Veronica impulsively takes Mick’s picture, even though Mick hates having her picture taken, it starts a chain reaction of desire, obsession, art elevation, and perhaps even murder. We have a teenage Sapphic romance in the art world, AND, not only that, it’s a re-imagining of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. I mean COME ON! It just SCREAMS ‘KATE IS GOING TO LIVE FOR THIS!’

Book: “Good Girl, Bad Blood” by Holly Jackson

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I loved loved LOVED “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” last year, and I told myself that I would absolutely hop into any more stories that concerned teenage detective Pip Fitz-Amobi and her penchant for looking into mysteries in her home town. This time, Pip has sworn off of her detective work and has instead dived deep into a podcast about her previous case and the court cases that come after. But when one of her close friends approaches her to investigate his older brother’s disappearance, Pip thinks that maybe she could solve another crime. But as she starts to investigate, she starts to find weird connections to people in her town, and begins to wonder if there is more danger at hand than she thought. Wherever Pip goes, I will follow, and given this book has been on my list awhile, the excitement is real.

Book: “Later” by Stephen King

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Why I’m Interested: My man Stephen always has a spot on my highlights lists when he has a new book coming out, for one thing. The pulp looking cover is also to die for. But as always, it’s the content that pulls me in, and “Later” is no exception. Jamie is the son of a single mother who has preternatural abilities that he is trying to keep secret. But when a detective catches wind of his talents, she enlists him to help her in a strange case involving a dead murderer who may make good on a promise to keep on killing. It sounds like it’s going to be eerie, and in line with King’s old school stories about coming of age, grey areas of morality, and a good old fashioned supernatural threat. Hopefully my wait on the library hold list won’t be TOO long…

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

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