Kate’s Review: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”

34499251Book: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Scarlett Hart, orphaned daughter of two legendary monster hunters, is determined to carry on in her parents’ footsteps—even if the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities says she’s too young to fight perilous horrors. But whether it’s creepy mummies or a horrid hound, Scarlett won’t back down, and with the help of her loyal butler and a lot of monster-mashing gadgets, she’s on the case.

With her parent’s archrival, Count Stankovic, ratting her out to T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. and taking all the monster-catching rewards for himself, it’s getting hard for Scarlett to do what she was born to do. And when more monsters start mysteriously manifesting than ever before, Scarlett knows she has to get to the bottom of it and save the city… whatever the danger!

In his first adventure for middle-grade readers, acclaimed YA author Marcus Sedgwick teams up with Thomas Taylor (illustrator of the original edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to create a rip-roaring romp full of hairy horrors, villainous villains, and introducing the world’s toughest monster hunter—Scarlett Hart!

Review: Rarely can you find an author who can jump from genre to genre with ease. A lot stick within their strengths, which may  be limited to one or two genres. It’s true that sometimes you get some who can shift between them and be strong in all of them (Stephen King and J.K. Rowling come to mind for me), but I wouldn’t necessarily expect it of an author, great ones included. So Marcus Sedgwick just keeps completely surprising me. He has written dark fantasy (“Midwinterblood”), straight up horror (“White Crow”), speculative Science Fiction (“The Ghosts of Heaven”), and realistic crime fiction with a literary zest (“Saint Death”). And he does a good job in all of them. Now we can add children’s graphic fantasy to his already impressive list of genre jumping, with “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”. Given that the last book I read by him was the brutal and violent and depressing “Saint Death”, I thought that he couldn’t POSSIBLY make a realistic shift to a fun fantasy for children.

And yet “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is exactly that. Scarlett is a mix of Anne Shirley and Buffy Summers, as she’s a plucky monster hunter with a lot of heart but also a bit of sad baggage. She is determined to follow in the footsteps of her parents, both renowned monster hunters in their own right who died in the line of duty, but is too young according to The Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (T.R.A.P.E.Z.E.). With the help of her guardian/former servant Napoleon White she breaks the rules, wanting to make her parents proud. I loved Scarlett, for her tenacity and her recklessness, and I loved how she and Napoleon banter and work together in their monster hunting. Napoleon himself is a fun stereotype/send up of the stuffy Gilded Age British  butler, with his worry about the state of his car and restrained frustration with Scarlett’s antics. Their interactions are both funny and sweet, and you get a good sense of both their motivations and devotions to her late parents as well as his devotion to her because of a sort of surrogate parental instinct. It’s very Buffy and Giles.

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With all the father/daughter-esque joy and none of the angst. (source)

The monsters themselves are pretty standard villains, but they have some fun tweaks and twists added to them. We’ve all heard of the Hound of the Baskervilles Church Grims, and mummys and gargoyles. But while they are presented as menacing and definitely scary, the tone is lighthearted enough that kids who may not like scary things will probably be able to enjoy the monster hunts themselves. The true villains of this story are Count Stankovic, who was the arch rival of Scarlett’s parents and hates her just as much, and, in some ways, society. T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. is a very strict group, seeming to  be mirrored off of old Victorian secret societies that you might see in other books like this, and one of the rules is that Scarlett is too young to officially hunt, under threat of punishment if she is caught. But given that is her main source of income now that she has been orphaned, she has little choice, especially since women during this time period (Victorian? Edwardian? I’m not totally certain) really didn’t have many options if they were on their own. Seeing her fight against norms of the society she lives in is fun and encouraging, and I think that a lot of people, kids and teens alike, will find a lot to relate to with her.

I also really enjoyed the artwork for this book. It’s cartoony enough to be entertaining to the audience it’s written for, but there is a lot of depth to it as well. I’m not too surprised, given that Thomas Taylor was the original artist for the cover of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in the U.K. He’s made a career for himself beyond that, but he was the first. And his talents are definitely on display in this book.

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(source)

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is a comic that I think will be perfect for end of summer reading for kids and teens alike. Heck, if stories about spunky orphans getting into some daring do is your thing, you’ll probably like it too! Marcus Sedgwick has now branched his writing talents into the middle grade community, and I think that he is going to fit in just swimmingly!

Rating 8: A fun and sweet romp with good characters and a solid premise, “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is just another example of Marcus Sedgwick’s talent as a writer.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is fairly new and not on many Goodreads lists. But it is included on “Great Graphic Novels for Girls”, and I think it would fit in on “Women Leads: Kids Books and Comics”.

Find “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Ones Who Got Away”

34569847Book: “The Ones Who Got Away” by Roni Loren

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the publisher

Book Description: It’s been twelve years since tragedy struck the senior class of Long Acre High School. Only a few students survived that fateful night—a group the media dubbed The Ones Who Got Away.

Liv Arias thought she’d never return to Long Acre—until a documentary brings her and the other survivors back home. Suddenly her old flame, Finn Dorsey, is closer than ever, and their attraction is still white-hot. When a searing kiss reignites their passion, Liv realizes this rough-around-the-edges cop might be exactly what she needs…

Review: Yes, you’re reading that right: this is a romance book review here on The Library Ladies. I think it’s probably the first strictly romance book we’ve featured! Neither Kate and I are avid romance readers, but I will admit that I’ve picked up one or two over the years. When I do read them, typically, I gravitate more towards the historical romances ala Julia Quinn and such. I think I’ve maybe read one or two Nora Roberts here and there, and that’s probably about it for contemporary romance. But when I was sent this e-ARC, I thought why the heck not?

After surviving a school shooting, Liv and her classmates have went on to live very different lives than the ones they had planned for themselves. Plagued with lingering PTSD and in a job that consumes her life and time, Liv barely recognizes the budding photographer that was her younger self. What’s more, when re-united at a documentary covering the aftermath of the shooting, she barely recognizes Finn, her secret high school fling whom she lost contact with after the tragedy. Together again, Liv and Finn find that some things haven’t changed, like their attraction for one another. But will they be able to find a balance between their old selves and their new, much more broken, current lives?

All romance novels have a “hook,” especially ones that are set up as a series where multiple women may be connected some how and each will go on to lead their own story and happily ever after. With this series, that hook is the shared trauma from a school shooting at the characters’ high school prom. I think a lot of romances live and die around the strength of any given series’ hook. Most historical romance novels use family ties, but I’ve read other contemporary romances where the ties are shared businesses and such. This one is perhaps particularly effective as it is a shared tragedy that would affect all of the main characters differently, leaving a plethora of avenues for the author to explore.

With Liv, it is her ongoing PTSD and her feelings of betrayal and abandonment by Finn, who left her in the closet they had been making out in when the shooting started. He went on to save another girl, Rebecca (whom I’m sure will get her own book) and be heralded a town hero. Finn, too, has his own fallout from this choice, going on to pursue a life as an FBI agent working to prevent killers from hurting more innocents. Both characters had a legitimate arc to build upon as the story progressed, and I appreciated the exploration of shared tragedy and the various coping (or lack of coping) methods that can be utilized by survivors of such events. Further, neither character is completely defined by this event, even though it changed the directions of their lives. The story highlights paths of healing and reclaiming ownership over the direction of life.

Of course, it’s a romance novel, so much of the story was based around the re-kindling romance between Finn and Liv. They had fairly solid chemistry, though I didn’t prefer their particular stereotype: reunited ex-lovers. I always enjoy romances where new characters are coming together for the first time versus stories like these where half of their conversations are relating back to moments during their highschool days. Sure, those were cute scenes, but it’s more interesting to me to see what’s going on now.

There’s also probably a reason I prefer historical romances if I’m going to read one. I don’t think of myself as prudish by any means, but there are some limits on just what I want to read about, particularly when we get into the man’s mind in some of these books. There’s nothing offensive or anything like that, but, more like, I have a hard time taking the man seriously when some of his train of thought is so juvenile sounding. I think the restraints on language and word choice help the historical fiction heroes sound a bit less like pubescent teenagers in a locker room. This isn’t to say that I disliked Finn, particularly. It’s just a general dislike that I often run into with contemporary romance.

As far as characters go, I did like both Finn and Liv. I liked that Finn, too, was still clearly dealing with things. It wasn’t just him protecting and comforting Liv, which I would have found tiresome very quickly. But he, too, needs the support of Liv to deal with the ongoing emotional fallout of his job as an FBI agent and the grueling requirements of his role there.

Without much knowledge of the genre or a good baseline for contemporary romance, I thought that this book was perfectly good for what it was trying to do. It’s “hook” was decent, and the supporting characters who are being set up for their own stories also seemed interesting. Finn and Liv were also solid. I didn’t love this book, by any means, but that could largely be due to the fact that this just isn’t my preferred genre. If you, though, like romance fiction, particularly of the contemporary type, I recommend checking out “The Ones Who Got Away.”

Rating 6: Perfectly solid for what it was, just never going to be a favorite of mine due to simple genre preferences.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ones Who Got Away” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best friends/childhood best friend falling in love” and “Best Second Chance Romance.”

Find “The Ones Who Got Away” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “The Cheerleaders”

30969755Book: “The Cheerleaders” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, July 2018

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

Book Description: There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.

That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all.

There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book.

I am so, so pleased that the YA Thriller community has someone like Kara Thomas repping it these days. As you all know I’ve had a harder time with YA thrillers in the past, if only because they either aren’t gritty enough, don’t have enough interesting characters, or have predictable and spoon fed mysteries for their audience. While I understand that sometimes straight forward narratives are considered to be more ‘teen friendly’, I also think that it’s refreshing when authors don’t talk down to their teen readers and give them some serious narratives to chew on. And Kara Thomas trusts her readers enough that there is NO talking down to them. After reading her previous books “The Darkest Corners” and “Little Monsters”, I was practically chomping at the bit to read “The Cheerleaders”, her newest thriller mystery. When I finally sat down and began to read it, I pretty much devoured it all in two sittings. Thomas has done it again.

The first thing that really stood out to me about this book was our protagonist, Monica. Monica could at first glance be written off as your typical thriller heroine in novels like this: when we meet her she is in the middle of a medication induced abortion after a fling with an older man who happens to be the new soccer coach at her high school (side note: I super super appreciate the fact that Thomas has an abortion in this book and doesn’t use it as a melodramatic moment or a moment to proselytize to either side: it’s just a fact that Monica has one and that she made that choice without any hesitation). She has been having trouble coping for the past five years ever since her older sister Jen committed suicide, the fifth cheerleader in the five cheerleader deaths that have shaken the town, and has been distancing herself from everyone and succumbing to numbness. I appreciate the fact that while it’s never outwardly stated that Monica is suffering from a deep depression, Thomas makes it clear through her actions. Monica is flawed and Monica has moments where you just want to shake her, but she feels so freaking real that I just longed to hug her. I loved how intrepid she was, and think that she is one of the strongest protagonists I’ve seen in a YA thriller, or ANY thriller, in the past few years.

The mystery, too, was solid and intricate, and kept me guessing up until the end. It’s laid out in two different narratives: there’s Monica’s first person POV, and then a third person POV that follows Jen five years before in the months leading up to her death. Monica is starting to wonder if Jen actually committed suicide, and if all of the cheerleader deaths were as cut and dry as they seemed at the time. This leads her on a noire-like mystery with her own sidekick in Ginny, a neighbor that Monica has never really gotten to know in spite of the fact Ginny has always been around. The mystery surrounding the cheerleaders deaths is well paced and ever suspenseful, and Thomas doesn’t show her hand until she is good and ready to. I was once again left guessing until the end, and even though I had some small inklings of where things were going, I was mostly left surprised by the main mystery, and TOTALLY surprised by another that flits about off to the side, almost unnoticed but always present. The flashbacks to Jen’s story also give us clues that we can piece together while Monica is doing the same, and I really liked seeing Monica pick up on something that we picked up on previously, and vice versa.

And it’s gritty and bleak to be certain. Thomas doesn’t hold back in bringing up hard issues like abortion, statutory rape, violence in schools, and suicide, but they never feel like they’re exploitative, titillating, or over the top. At the same time, they they don’t feel like moments in an after school special either. Again, she trusts her readers to see nuance and darkness and be able to sort it out for themselves without any hand holding or deeper explanation. I think that it’s because of this trust that she knows how to strike the right balance in tone, and to make this book feel realistic and thrilling without having to go to any kind of extremes to send the point all the way home.

“The Cheerleaders” is another great mystery from Kara Thomas. Thriller fans, if you are reluctant to give YA thrillers a try, know that she is not going to let you down.

Rating 9: A suspenseful and well crafted mystery with realistic characters and a responsible handle on important issues, “The Cheerleaders” was a fulfilling read that kept me guessing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cheerleaders” is included on the Goodreads lists “Cheerleading”, and “Best Mystery & Thriller 2018”.

Find “The Cheerleaders” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: July 2018

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmjqxnziznzi1mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtuzndk2ntm-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Netflix Show: “Anne with an E” Season 2

While the first season of “Anne with an E” was met with varied responses, I was one of those who really enjoyed this new version of Anne’s story. I, of course, love the older version as well and the books themselves, but I don’t have the same nostalgic attachment to it as others do that would tinge my appreciation of another series going in a completely new direction. In fact, I very much liked not knowing exactly the way the story was going to go. Here, in season two, the creators and writers have doubled down on this “new version” of Anne and we see a good number of new story lines introduced. Not only did I love the increased action they brought to the story, but through these new avenues, the show was able to explore a variety of topics like racism and homophobia that weren’t addressed in the books. So yes, this isn’t the “Anne” you grew up with, but I, for one, enjoy now having both options at hand! Plus, Gilbert is as cute as ever.

mv5bnzixmjywndewn15bml5banbnxkftztgwmzk5mdi3ntm-_v1_Movie: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

Of course I went to see this movie!! Was that ever even a question? And I, for one, don’t think it deserves the critical panning that is is receiving! Is it as good as the original? Absolutely not! Is it better than some of the other sequels? Definitely! Is it as good as its own direct prequel? Yep, I think it’s even better! Honestly, I think that “Jurassic World” got a big ole pass from the movie critics simply for being a Jurassic Park sequel that came after a long drought, and it threw in quite a few references and familiar musical themes to pluck the nostalgia threads. But other than that? It was kind of just ok. But where it struggled, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” improved upon. It got rid of the annoying nephews that no one cared about. The woman lead was given a bunch more to do and was generally made less intolerable. They allowed Chris Pratt to make more jokes. Plus, there was a lot more action in this one to keep you distracted when you brain started to wake up and question the somewhat suspect script. Plus, there was a scene towards the middle that legit made me cry. Not that that’s saying much…

mv5bn2eyyjrhzjqtyznhni00mdbjlwfhodqtztrlotkyytfkmjq1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjexmjk0odk-_v1_sy1000_cr007071000_al_Netflix Show: “The Frankenstein Chronicles”

This probably more likely falls under Kate’s usual genres, but I’m a sucker for Sean Bean and period pieces, so I thought I’d give this horror/thriller show a go. And I’m glad I did! Yes, it’s scaring the crap out of me, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of it. The story walks a thin line between science fiction/horror and mystery. What’s more, it often feels similar to many other detective stories, with the narrative following the investigation of Sean Bean’s character into a mysterious death of a child who washed up in the river and was made up of several children’s bodies sewn together. So, yeah…it’s fairly gruesome. But I do like playing the game “spot the British actor” and the beautiful cinematography and talented cast make up for some of its more icky bits. And no, I won’t reveal whether Sean Bean dies in this show.

Kate’s Picks

dg51ingu0aeyrqfNetflix Show: “GLOW Season 2”

My favorite Netflix show is back, and with it comes amazing ladies, some badass wrestling, and all the 80s nostalgia I could ask for! This season the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have to contend with newfound fame, changing power dynamics, and the ugly and inevitable challenges of sexism and misogyny in the pro-wrestling world. While it’s hard for me to pick my favorite performance this season, Betty Gilpin’s turn as Debbie is particularly strong as she is dealing with the fallout from her divorce and her lingering resentment towards her ex friend turned wrestling partner Ruth. But then there’s Chris Lowell as Bash, the enthusiastic but spoiled fanboy turned producer who goes through some serious character growth. And I am of COURSE rooting for Ruth (Alison Brie) and Sam (Marc Maron) to JUST GET TOGETHER ALREADY. It’s such a good show. I need Season 3 yesterday.

mv5bzgvmmmixngetmtk1yy00ngiwlwe4mgmtytq5m2q1zte0ytqyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjqzotm1ntc-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_Netflix Show: “Aggretsuko”

Back at the beginning of July my pal Laura and I were waiting to head out to a Sci-Fi Fantasy convention and were looking for a way to spend the time. She suggested that we watch an anime on Netflix about a red panda who combats the ills of work life with death metal. Does that sound surreal? It is. But it’s also SUPER CUTE AND FUNNY AND EXCELLENT. “Aggretsuko” takes Sanrio characters (you know, the Hello Kitty people) and makes a comedy about the drudgery of office life. Retsuko is a frustrated office drone who feels trapped in her job, her only solace being death metal karaoke. But when she starts to be mentored by two other women at the company who are higher up on the food chain, she starts to realize her own worth and find her self esteem. This show is adorable and all kinds of relatable when it comes to frustrating jobs, sexism in the work place, and the ups and downs of adult social lives. Did I mention a Sanrio red panda who does death metal karaoke?

the-sinner-poster-183bbTV Show: “The Sinner”

When I was visiting my old library to pick up some books, I saw the DVDs of “The Sinner” on the new wall. I had heard of it in passing, mostly that it was a mystery involving a murder, and so I grabbed it thinking that I’d maybe give it a whirl. Boy, once I picked it up I couldn’t stop watching. Jessica Biel plays Cora, a young wife and mother who, for no apparent reason, gruesomely murders a stranger in broad daylight on a very crowded beach. Bill Pullman plays Harry Ambrose, a detective who is assigned to the case. But what he thinks is an open and shut matter turns out to be far more complicated than he could have imagined, as Cora has a dark past with a lot of secrets, some of which she herself doesn’t even remember. I binged this entire series in about 24 hours time, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you like thriller novels (this is, indeed, based on a novel), “The Sinner” is going to be right up your alley.

 

Serena’s Review: “Seeing a Large Cat”

66526Book: “Seeing a Large Cat” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, 1997

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

Book Description: No villain is safe in 1903 Egypt as feisty archaeologist Amelia Peabody embarks on her ninth adventure.

According to an ancient Egyptian papyrus, dreaming of a large cat means good luck. And that’s just what Amelia Peabody could use, as her growing family matures in the new century. What’s more, Amelia’s dashing husband Emerson has received a mysterious warning not to enter the Valley of the Kings. To Emerson’s annoyance, Amelia’s meddling distracts her attention as she exposes a fraudulent spiritualist, saves a marriage, and plays matchmaker. But diabolical forces are at work when an unknown tomb reveals a shocking murder — and the Peabody family dodges bullets from an assassin determined to put an end to their discoveries.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.” and “The Hippopotamus Pool”

Review: I know, right?! Finally, we’re back with another Amelia Peabody book! I mean, yes, the Veronica Speedwell books have been a nice stand-in, but I can’t write a single review of those without referencing the OG female sleuth, Amelia. Plus, as much as I like the slow-burn romance in that book, I was also hankering for a nice, established relationship where I could just lounge in all of the lovely romance.

This book takes another pretty big leap in time between it and its predecessor. For the most part, the books before went year to year. But when we start this one, we see Amelia and Emerson waiting for the return of their son Ramses, who, now a young man, has spent the summer with the tribes and is only just not rejoining his family. I believe he is around 16 in this book? With Neferet being around 19? I was doing a lot of mental math throughout the book, and at a certain point, it was just distracting, so we’ll go with that.

Anyways! Reunited, the Emersons find themselves once gain caught up in a mystery. With dire warnings coming their way (which Amelia ignores, of course!) and old friends reemerging with romantic entanglements of their own, Amelia never wavers in her confidence that she is prepared to handle it all. This book also marks a change in that we get several chapters that are written in third person, detailing the goings-on of the younger generation. Here, we finally see behind the curtain and realize that while yes, Amelia does have a good understanding of much that is happening, her rapscallion child and wards also get up to a good amount of mischief that does fly beneath her ever-watchful radar.

It took a bit for me to get used to having to share my narrative time with these third-person chapters. Part of the reason I love these books so much is the brilliance of Amelia’s narrating voice, so it felt like a loss to give that up, even briefly. It was also unclear who actually wrote these other chapters. The rest of the books have clearly stated that Amelia is writing them for posterity. Who, then, is writing these? Especially since it is written in third person? It seems as if it has to be either Ramses or Neferet. But as the story progressed, I did begin to appreciate more and more this inner look into the “childrens'” eyes. One has to assume that as the series progresses, their own story lines will also begin to take more precedence (especially the thwarted love that Ramses feels for Neferet), and this device is a clever way of balancing both.

The mystery itself was also quite complicated and good. I also love the fact that Amelia’s penchant for match-making often seems to play a role in these stories. And here, that thread takes on a very different role with the return of two characters whom she had previously matched and who are now struggling quite a bit. From my view of things, I think the man in question never redeems himself and I was pleased to see Amelia think equally poorly of him for his failings. But, because these are happy books, things are resolved eventually.

Amelia and Emerson were as great as ever. Their banter and bond remain one of the biggest draws for the series. I also liked the action of this story, particularly the final scene. Of course the family ends up in quite a scrap, but the way things resolved was surprising and took on an unexpected, but appreciated, serious tone. I’m curious to see what the fall-out of this experience will be for the entire family.

All told, this was another solid entry into the series. I feel that it is ushering in a new age for the series with the introduction of the Manuscript H sections that feature the younger generation. But I was pleased to see that these sections never over-shadowed the real draw: Amelia herself!

Rating 8: An excellent return to a favorite series! This book brought forward new views on this familiar and beloved family.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Seeing a Large Cat” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Brainy/Genius Romantic Heroes” and “Sleuths in Silks.”

Find “Seeing a Large Cat” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “The Elizas”

35297385Book: “The Elizas” by Sara Shepard

Publishing Info: Atria Books, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

Review: This may come as a surprise to you guys given my predilection for soapy and thrilling mysteries, but I never actually read the “Pretty Little Liars” series by Sara Shepard.

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Shocking, I know! (source)

I DID read the first book in her series “The Lying Game”, but didn’t feel a need to go on for five more books and instead opted to spoil myself thanks to wikis and Internet sleuthing. I think that knowing that there were LOTS of books in each series didn’t bode well, as in my experience having a thriller series with a long drawn out mystery sprinkled with OTHER mysteries isn’t as sustainable as I usually like to see. But since I DO like soap in my mysteries, I was interested in her new adult standalone “The Elizas”. I figured that maybe I could get some fun suds but not have to worry about going on and on and on long past the point of believability and my waning interest. Nor harm in trying, right?

Meh. Wrong, kind of. “The Elizas” on the whole failed to really suck me in, mostly because it falls into too many traps and tropes that we have seen all too many times before in the genre. My first big quibble was with Eliza Fontaine herself, our hot mess of a protagonist. Hot mess protagonists are kind of par for the course with this kind of book, as them being messes and screwed up lends to the unreliability that is needed for this kind of mystery. But as you all know, I have LONG lost my patience with this kind of protagonist, and Eliza checks all the boxes that turn me off. She’s struggles with addiction issues. She has fraught relationships with her family and her friends. She’s managed to be successful with her writing, but as fame and fortune try to fall into her lap she starts to unravel, and may self sabotage her success and happiness. She is an incredibly unreliable narrator because of these things combined with other things. And on. And on. I am willing to give these hot mess protagonists a pass if there is something about them that is relatable or likable, but Eliza is pretty blah, her only redeeming features based in her odd relationship with Desmond, the man who rescued her from her fall in the pool. But even that relationship didn’t quite work because they were thrown together, but you don’t know WHY they are together. Sure, there are some cute quirks that Shepard added in, like their fondness of donning Halloween masks and sitting on the apartment balcony, but even THAT is treading into ridiculously quirky territory. Desmond himself is a bit too quirky too, but at least this time it’s a guy who is fitting the manic pixie dream girl role, so I was more okay with it than I might have been.

The mystery itself was okay in theory. The big questions of the book are 1) who pushed Eliza into the pool (or did she do it herself?), and 2) why is Eliza having these memory lapses. I’m one hundred percent on board with both of those questions, as they add some fun layers to plot points that may have been seen before.  The narrative is told through Eliza’s POV and through excerpts from her novel, “The Dots”, which makes this an epistolary thriller, a thriller genre that I generally like. “The Dots” is about a girl named Dot and her aunt Dorothy, and Dot’s childhood illness (which mirrors Eliza’s own medical history). I actually enjoyed those sections because I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Dot and Dorothy as it went from “Auntie Mame” to disturbing and sour, and found myself excited when we got to another “Dots” section. But the problem with this is that the proof is in the pudding because of the plot summary: “The Dots” gives away a whole lot of the mysteries surrounding Eliza! Whenever a question came up in Eliza’s life, we’d get a plot point in “The Dots” that would at least partly give away the solution. And even though Shepard tries to parse these moments out slowly and evenly between the two, by the time we got to some of the big reveals in Eliza’s story, they were already spoiled because of “The Dots”! Because of this, I didn’t feel terribly invested in finding out confirmation in Eliza’s side of things. And in turn, this book ended up being more of a slog than I wanted it to be. Eliza herself wasn’t likable enough for me to invest, so if the mystery can’t even give me what I need, what is the point?

So outside of an enjoyable side story and a kind of cute relationship, “The Elizas” was a disappointment, showing its cards too early. I will probably give Shepard another chance if she writes another adult standalone mystery, but I’ll have more managed expectations if I do. And they probably won’t be too high.

Rating 5: While there were some elements that worked, overall “The Elizas” didn’t impress me the way I had hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Elizas” is fairly new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Borderline Personality Disorder, Insanity, and Related Issues”.

Find “The Elizas” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Keeping the Castle”

12871232Book: “Keeping the Castle” by Patrice Kindl

Publishing Info: Viking Childrens Books, 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors–or suitors of any kind–in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There’s only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans . . .

Review: This book has been hanging around on my Goodreads TBR pile for quite a while. Like, years. Between all the new releases and series that I’ve been reading so far, it’s never made its way to the top. Until last month when I was heading out on vacation and realized I had nothing on my Kindle that was particularly calling to me. Not to mention, I’ve been reading a heavy dose of fantasy/sci fi books recently, it was about time I got back to good, old historical fiction. So without further ado, I checked it out and raced through it.

The castle that Althea, her mother, her brother and her two snobby (but rich!) step-sisters live in is falling apart around them. Literally. Pieces of the ceiling pose a danger at any moment and the family must carefully arrange chairs when they have guests over to limit the risk of said chairs caving in from sheer age and decrepitude. Althea knows her duty: to save the castle by marrying well. Luckily, while fortune is not on her side, she does have a good amount of looks. Armed with this and a healthy dose of determination, Althea sets her eyes on their new neighbor, Lord Boring. But can she even get at him when the ever present, ever annoying Mr. Fredericks is always by his side?

From that description alone, you can probably guess the majority of the story. That, or having read/been exposed to any Jane Austen in your lifetime. I’m not leading with this as a criticism of the book (though it did have its downsides, which I’ll get into later), but as a general description of what this book sets itself up to be from the very beginning. There are no illusions of creating a completely distinct work. Instead, the story walks a line between parodying other classic works while also trying to work in a few surprises of its own. Some pieces of this were more successful than others.

Many of the characters had similarities to other stereotypical characters one usually finds in historical romance. Althea was an entertaining blend of Emma from “Emma” and Elizabeth from “Pride and Prejudice.” At her core, she’s a good-willed, smart woman. But she also has a healthy dose of foolishness that leads to all of the some-what expected shenanigans one could hope for from a light-hearted story like this. The two step-sisters were, of course, terrible, each exhibiting comical combinations of idiocy, selfishness, and petty cruelty.

The characters I was a bit more surprised with were Althea’s mother and the two gentlemen who are introduced. The mother was neither foolish nor absent! That alone is kind of shocker for stories like this. Instead, Althea’s mother is a very compassionate character and had her own mini arc throughout the book. As for the men, it’s not a spoiler to reveal that OF COURSE Althea has it all wrong about both of them. But their backgrounds and motivations where different than one might expect. This played to varying success. I liked the evaluation of Lord Boring and the choices he makes, revealing that in some ways, men and women in this time are not all that different.

But, while I liked Mr. Fredericks for the most part, I still struggled a bit with his “change” and the romance between him and Althea. Her frustrations with him are, largely, completely valid. And while he does make up for some his errors, I wasn’t quite convinced that I saw a discernible change in their relationship as the book progressed. Althea just kind of suddenly realizes that she has feelings. But it several of the better traits about Mr. Fredericks haven’t even been revealed! It isn’t a huge complaint, as I still enjoyed their scenes and dialogue together. But I also never really felt the chemistry between them either, which is a problem for a book like this where the romance is key.

As for the plot, like I said earlier, there are a lot of references to plot points from Jane Austen novels and the like in this book. While I enjoyed these for the most part, there were also moments when the book simply felt predictable because of how closely it was following the storyboard of those types of books. There were very few real surprises in here.

But, again, this is a book that one reads for the light, fluffy romance and for the writing style itself. There, the author very much succeeded. She did manage to neatly grasp the way of talking and writing that is common to stories set in this time period, and there were several turns of phrase that had me laughing out loud and highlighting bits.

All in all, it was a very pleasing book. It didn’t push any boundaries or surprise me, but it was just what it claimed to be: a light historical romance with some witty banter.

Rating 7: A fun, easy read, but don’t expect to be surprised or challenged in any way.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Keeping the Castle” is on these Goodreads lists: “Teen novels related to Jane Austen” and “Clean Regency (or around then) Romance Novels.”

Find “Keeping the Castle” at your library using WorldCat!