Kate’s Review: “The Rust Maidens”

40874196Book: “The Rust Maidens” by Gwendolyn Kiste

Publishing Info: Trepidatio Publishing, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

Review: I honestly couldn’t tell you where I heard about “The Rust Maidens” if you asked me. I THINK that it was on a Goodreads list at one point, but I can’t tell you what the theme of said list would be. Probably horror, but still. All I know is that it came in for me at the library, and when I picked it up I thought to myself ‘oh yeah….’ The reason I say that I only think that it was probably on a horror list but am not certain is because “The Rust Maidens” is one of the most unique horror stories I’ve read in the past year or two, based on the themes that it decides to take on along with some good old fashioned body horror you might see in an early Cronenberg film.

“The Rust Maidens” is a tale of decay, both the decay of the human body and the decay of a once prosperous part of Americana. In Cleveland, Ohio in 1980 Phoebe is a working class teenager living in a working class neighborhood. The community has put on a face of togetherness and wholesome American values, while the livelihood of a number of the men, the mill, has been experiencing more and more uncertainty. Phoebe’s story is told during the summer of 1980, and also almost thirty years later when she has to return to the neighborhood after years of grief and guilt. Spunky and rabble rouser Phoebe of 1980 is a stark contrast to the jaded and affected Phoebe of later life, and the changes over the years, which seemed to catalyze with the Rust Maidens, are now very apparent in her old neighborhood. The fact of the matter is that “The Rust Maidens” is a story of degeneration, not just of the afflicted girls, but of the community around them, and the decay of the American Working Class once the 1980s hit. While the Rust Maidens are slowly wasting away, Denton Street and the blue collar workers who live there are facing yet another potential strike at the mill. Phoebe’s family and neighbors believe that the promise of that job will always be there for them, even as the union gets continuously beaten down and the specter of the upcoming Reagan years lingers. Decay takes on many meanings in this book, and Kiste isn’t afraid to point out that when people are scared, scapegoats are sought out. And the Rust Maidens are the perfect scapegoats. It’s fully intentional that Kiste made the neighborhood turn on a bunch of scared and ‘sick’ teenage girls, given that they had already turned on Phoebe before for daring to not conform. The aggression comes from all sides, from deadbeat boyfriends to angry old men to women who think that girls should be and act a certain way. The metaphors are real, and the feminism in this horror story is angry and apparent.

And on top of the themes, the body horror is VERY real. The descriptions of the Rust Maidens as their bodies start to change and wither away/transform is unsettling at best, and revolting at it’s worst. But on top of that, it’s also very upsetting on an emotional level to see these girls be maligned and feared, and to see how some of them react to the revulsion towards them. Being extra sensitive to such things right now, one of the Rust Maidens is a new mother, and her child whisked away from her because of her condition. She is constantly drawn to the baby, who is placed with the father and his family even though he’s a complete lout. The descriptions of the mother’s pain, even when she was starting to become something else, had me crying pretty handily, so thanks for that, Gwendolyn Kiste!

“The Rust Maidens” is a unique and fascinating horror novel. Those who like their body horror with a little bit of metaphor should check it out post haste!

Rating 7: A bleak and angry examination of decay and the expectations of teenage girls, “The Rust Maidens” serves body horror and feminism in heaping, scathing doses.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Rust Maidens” is included on the Goodreads Lists “Best First Novels: Bram Stoker Award Winners”, and “2018 Indie Horror Book Releases”.

Find “The Rust Maidens” at your library using WorldCat!

Introducing “My Year with Jane Austen” Re-read

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It has been several months since my beloved “Great Animorphs Re-Read” ended, and I have since felt a certain void in my reviews on the blog. I love reviewing the books I am currently reading, but I will admit that sometimes the standard book review format, be the book good or bad, does start to feel a bit rote at times. Over the last several years, my “Animorphs” re-read was a lovely break of format and a pretty straight forward opportunity for self-indulgence (be it nostalgia or ranting).  So, now that we are in a new year, I felt it was time to start up a new re-read series. And what could be more different than a middle-grade sci-fi story that focuses on aliens taking over earth and the shape-shifting teens who fight them off than Jane Austen and her lovely historical romances?

mv5bmdm0mjflogytntg2zc00mmrkltg5otqtm2u5zjuyytgxzthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntayodkwoq4040._v1_I am, and always have been, a reader of multitudes. While I do tend to stay pretty well within certain genres (fantasy, sci-fi, history, mysteries) and avoid others (contemporary, thrillers, etc.), I do usually enjoy the full extent of said genres. This is how, at age 12 or around about there, I was equally immersed in reading all of Jane Austen’s works while also still blazing through my favorite “Animorphs” series.

I was first introduced to Jane Austen through my mother and her (deserved) obsession with the 90s BBC mini series “Pride and Prejudice.” My dad was out of town for the weekend, and my mom, my little sister and I rented all 6 VHS tapes of this mini series from the library. We then proceeded to binge watch it , before binging was even a thing. I’m pretty sure we started it on a Saturday morning and got through the whole thing in one day. With sadness, we watched the credits roll on the last tape. We sat in silence. And then my mom said, “So, should we watch it again?” And we literally stuck the first tape right back in and started all over again. This is where I get it, to my husband’s endless confusion as I re-watch TV shows and movies over and over.

jane_austen_coloured_versionAfter the weekend of watching was over, I immediately began reading “Pride and Prejudice.” And then, like a good little binge reader, I read all the other books, too. Since then, I’ve re-read the entire series in fits and starts, with favorites getting more read-throughs than others (though I love them all). I took a very disappointing college class on Jane Austen (the professor had us take an actual test on plot points from “Pride and Prejudice”…again, this was in college). I wrote a few papers on her books, one focusing on romantic heroes in her books and the heroes in their contemporaries, and what makes Darcy stand out to modern readers. And, as always, I continued to devour every new iteration of the stories, from new movies, to new mini-series, to YouTube versions.

From this long history of disorderly Austen obsession came my idea for this read-through. I obviously can’t review every version of all of her books, as that would take over all of my blog posts for years, probably. But I intend to try and get a decent representation of the most popular (by my own made up metrics, of course) versions.

I will review each book, typically in two parts. The first part of each book review will include a brief history of the book and Jane Austen’s work on it. The second part of each review will include my overall thoughts on the book as a whole. And then I will review a few movies/mini-series/other versions of the story. Each book should end up with around 4-6 posts devoted to it, and I hope to complete my read through in the next year. Posts should come out every other Friday following a similar format to that of the “Animorphs” re-read. It’s a big project, and very different from my “Animorphs” re-read, but I’m excited to dive in! If you’re an Austen fan, I hope you’ll have as much fun as I will revisiting these stories. And if you’re not an Austen fan already, you sure better be by the time I’m done brainwashing you over this next year!

Kate’s Review: “Good Girls Lie”

42771599Book: “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison

Publishing Info: Mira Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.

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

The end of 2019 is upon us and on this New Years Eve we are going to close out the 2019 blog year with one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres: the soapy catty boarding school thriller! Oh how I love the juicy and scandalous tales of kids at boarding school behaving badly, and if you have an interesting mystery to boot it’s just icing on the cake. So how lucky for me that I was approved to check out “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison. Boarding school drama, secret societies, and murder are just a few of the juicy tidbits you’ll find in this novel.

Our main character is Ash, an English orphan who has been accepted to the prestigious Goode school, an all girls academy that is said to produce women who go on to the Ivy League and then find themselves in powerful jobs and totally set lives. Ash isn’t interested in making friends, as she just wants to finish school and move on with her life. It’s told from the first person perspective, and I have to say that Ellison is really good at still maintaining a sense of mystery in spite of the fact we are in Ash’s head for most of the novel (there are some other perspectives, but more on that later). We know that something went down while she was back in England, and that Ash is hiding something. Pretty standard stuff, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining. If anything, the fact that it hit a lot of familiar notes and had a number of red herrings and twists made it feel like a comfortable sweater that fit in every way I wanted it to. Ash as a main character was also a positive of this story, as I thought that she had enough mystery and relatability that I was invested in how things turned out for her, as well as worried about what she may or may not be capable of. I was genuinely questioning if I was dealing with an unreliable narrator or not, and I couldn’t wait to see how it all shook out. I also enjoyed the complicated relationship Ash had with another student at the school, Becca. Becca is a couple years older than Ash and one of the most envied, and perhaps feared, girls at Goode, and her interest in Ash is something that makes other girls jealous and curious. Their friendship is filled with a fair amount of sexual tension, and question as to whether either of them can be trusted makes the tension all the more amped, and therefore satisfying.

There was one aspect of this book that didn’t totally work for me, and that is that along with Ash’s perspective, we also occasionally get some third person perspectives from Dean Ford, the headmistress at Goode. While I think that multiple perspectives can be done well, and that you can construct more ‘ah ha!’ moments if you have the ability to see outside the first person narration, a lot of the moments that we had with Ford were more about showing her weaknesses and personal problems. I like the concept of exploring a woman who has to live up to the reputations of the many other head mistresses that the school has had (in particular, her mother, who was the previous head mistress), and how she may fixate on a new, and potentially damaged student, but the way that it was executed felt like it was fat that could have been trimmed.

“Good Girls Lie” was a boarding school thriller that hit the familiar points. Like I’ve said before, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! If you want a read that you can just enjoy for what it is, and you like boarding school thrillers, this will be a good fit. I hope that you all have a very happy and safe New Year’s Eve, and I’ll see you in 2020!!

Rating 7: A soapy mystery with catty drama, “Good Girls Lie” was a worthy contribution to the ‘thriller at a boarding school’ genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Good Girls Lie” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “Good Girls Lie” at your school using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: December 2019

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

mv5bnmvmmmm5zmitzdg0oc00ntfilwixnzctzjnmyty5otu3zwu3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi40._v1_TV Show: “Suits”

Kate will mention this below as well, but when you’re stuck home with an infant who at best is not up on their conversation skills and at worst….well, let’s not go there, you definitely need a good, fairly mindless show to get you through the long days. And for the last month or so, “Suits” has been my go-to. I started it several years ago but had burned out after the first couple of seasons. I confess: I really hate the character Mike, who is one of the main leads. But now that the show was done, and I knew Mike would be off the show altogether for the last two seasons, it was a great time to go back. Like “West Wing,” I can pretend all day long that I was there “for the story,” but really I was just there for the Donna/Harvey relationship, similar to the Donna/Josh one (what is with the name “Donna” in these very similar relationships??). The show definitely slid into a rather soapy, drama-fest towards the end with very little legal action to be had, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it. But man, Mike, still hate that guy.

mv5bnjk4mzvlm2utzgm0zc00m2m1lthkmwetzjuyn2u2ztc0nmm5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyotazmtc2mja40._v1_sy1000_sx800_al_Netflix Movie: “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”

While I ended up liking “Breaking Bad,” I did struggle through it. There’s no arguing with the quality of that show, but I have a hard time with shows/books where there are very few people to root for. Jesse was the obvious exception, but it was all the more hard to watch terrible things happen to him as the one really good character. Thus, for me, the thing that really stands out about this movie is that it seemed to be almost the exact story that most people probably had in their own head-canon for what happened next for Jesse. He struggles, but due to his own particular skills with people and the relationships he has, he makes it through. I also really liked the greater insight into what his time had been like while a prisoner in “Breaking Bad.” There were some great cameos and it ends on a hopeful note.

mv5bmzu4otc4otgtnwvjmc00njuzlwjhyzetotvkywi2yjq4njqxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Movie Trailer: “Emma”

As you will soon see, this year I have even more of an interest in all things “Austen.” Not that I wouldn’t have been over the moon about any new adaptation at any point. “Emma,” it seems, is the Austen story of choice for re-makes, tending to be re-made far more often than any of the other stories. I think there are two reasons for this: 1.) Other than “Pride and Prejudice,” it’s the best known and has one of the most appealing leading ladies and heroes 2.) “Pride and Prejudice” has almost been doomed by the fact that a perfect version was made in the 90s and no one wants to try to top it (I have strong feelings about the Kiera Knightly version, and I think the fact that it hasn’t been re-made since only supports my point). Watching this trailer, I’m a bit concerned about the seeming lack of age difference between Knightly and Emma. I know this is a hard line to walk with modern audiences, but I think the Johnny Lee Miller version that came out about 10 years ago was a good example to follow. Either way, I’ve already informed my husband that going to this movie is what I want to do for a late Valentine’s Day.

Kate’s Picks

p7896525_b_v8_aaTV Shows: “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”/ “Star Trek: Voyager”

Sometimes when you don’t have much opportunity to leave the house due to an infant, you just have to find something easy to binge. My choices for easy binging were “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager”. While “DS9” deals with the struggles of diplomacy and the mv5bzdg5nzuxztctodliny00mza2lwe1njetmzc0zjc5nda1owfhxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynta4nzy1mzy40._v1_uy268_cr60182268_al_cost of war, “Voyager” is a classic lost in space story. I had watched both series on and off with my parents while they were airing, but going back and doing a rewatch of both seemed to be the perfect choice for long days of baby care. I watched “DS9” until it got too dark, then switched over to “Voyager” for some kinder, gentler hijinks. Both series have compelling characters and interesting plot lines, and while “DS9” is dark and serious at times, “Voyager” is a little soapy and light. Both are fun escapes!

 

wonder-woman-1984-character-posters-1Movie Trailer: “Wonder Woman 1984”

Words cannot express how impatiently I have waited for the new “Wonder Woman” movie! DC films have been pretty hit or miss in the past decade, though I will admit that perhaps they’ve found their stride with fun flicks like “Aquaman”, “Shazam”, and the upcoming “Birds of Prey”. But there is no denying that “Wonder Woman” is absolutely the best of the best, and I have high hopes for “Wonder Woman: 1984”. The trailer looks promising. Bright colors! An 80s aesthetic! The return of Steve Trevor! “Blue Monday” by New Order! Gal Gadot is still absolutely perfect as Diana as far as I can see, and I fully believe that Patty Jenkins is going to bring the fun and girl power to this next movie. This trailer raises questions: How did Steve come back to life? What is Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord up to? Why does Diana have her golden eagle armor? I don’t know how I’ll wait until June to find out!

mv5bzgi3zgnkogitnwu3zs00ndiyltljzjetztk5nzkxmjywmjezxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkxnjuynq4040._v1_Film: “The Report”

I was solidly in late high school and college during the Bush/Cheney years in this country, and I was in a rage about that administration basically all the damn time. I’ve found myself falling into the trap of ‘man those were the days’ when comparing our present administration to then, but boy, “The Report” reminded me that I mustn’t look back with longing. “The Report” is a film about the investigation and compilation of the horrific torture practices that the CIA implemented towards detainees during the ‘War on Terror’, and how the final report almost didn’t come to light because of political shenanigans and CIA intimidation. Adam Driver is stellar as Dan Jones, a Senate Staffer selected to lead an investigation into the highly suspicious destruction of a number of CIA tapes that had hours of prisoner interrogations. What he found was the cruel and despicable treatment that United States allowed against these prisoners, and he fought to make sure the truth was exposed. It’s upsetting, and fantastic, and everyone in the cast, from Driver to Annette Bening as Senator Feinstein to Ted Levine as John Brennan to MANY MORE, deliver powerful performances. This movie will make you rage, but it’s also important to acknowledge the terrible things our country has done in the name of national security.

 

 

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 5 through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

36510722#5: “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Gods of Jade and Shadow” Review

I’ve only read two books by Moreno-Garcia, but both have made my top reads list. And yet, they are completely different stories! It’s truly impressive how versatile of an author she is, combining beautiful imagery, new magical systems, and jumping between cultures and time periods. This fairy-tale like story is set in the Jazz Age and travels from a small village in southern Mexico up through the country. One thing that really stands out about Moreno-Garcia’s work is the page time she devotes to her villains who are just as fun to hate (while also somehow still sympathizing with?) as her protagonists are to love. This book was gorgeously written and so unique and fresh with its setting. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for an original, non-European fairytale fantasy.

40698027#4: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

“A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” Review

This book wins the award for “most recommended” read of 2019. I’ve given it as a gift to numerous people and recommended it to countless more. Not only is it a quality book in its own right, but its the perfect blend of so many genres that I think it appeals in some way to almost any reader. Thus, perfect gift book. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale but focuses much more heavily on the personal journey of the main character in search of a beloved, stolen away dog. Throughout the journey, more comes to light about the world itself, what went wrong, and how people are living now. But at its heart, it’s a very human tale and not so bleak as to be gut-wrenching or hopeless feeling, as many post-apocalyptic stories tend to be. If you have a reader in your family and you’re looking for a great Christmas book gift, this is a good option!

43575115._sy475_#3: “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

“The Starless Sea” Review

I think this is the most recently read book on this list, so it’s also one of the ones that’s still the most on my mind as I write. A couple of weeks past my first read now, I can remember fewer of the details of the exact plot of this story, other than it being a young man’s adventure into whimsy, sparkles, and shadow. More clearly, I remember the overpowering feeling of want that this book imparted. I wanted to be in this world so badly, wanted it to be real, even if I never went there. Beautiful rooms devoted to reading and stories. A magical kitchen that knows your every whim. And cats winding in between your legs as you traverse. Morgenstern’s return to writing was a triumph and this book was a masterclass.

36621586#2: “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden

“The Winter of the Witch” Review

It’s always particularly satisfying when a trilogy or series finishes and you now can rest assured that no, nothing will be irreparably screwed up or simply fall flat on its face there at the end. Even better are those series that seem to only gain steam as the go along, and that’s what I feel happened with this trilogy. “The Winter of the Witch” picks up immediately where the last book left off and yet, somehow, none of the predictions I had then turned out to be right. Maybe some vague ideas, but the paths that were traveled and the ultimate destination were completely unexpected. I love this series so much. I now own the complete set and will likely read them again soon as they are perfect winter reading material, in my opinion. If you’ve been reading this series so far and somehow missed this one (or were a bit gun shy about endings, I understand that!), never fear, this one was completely satisfying!

42201395#1: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

“Sorcery of Thorns” Review

And lastly, this lovely book. For me, “Sorcery of Thorns” was the complete package. In every way, this is the exact type of book I most love. The main character was spunky, a bit foolish, loved books, and followed the call to adventure. The love interest was quippy but flawed, and, most importantly, only slowly developed into even being a love interest. The magic and world were uncomplicated, yet fully realized and detailed. There was adventure around every corner, action, female friendships. And, oh yes, warrior librarians and sentient books. As I was going through some of my top-rated books from this year, I always kept flipping back to this one based purely on the enjoyment I took in reading it. And really, there is no higher praise for a book than that: bringing sheer, unadulterated joy to its reader.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2019?

 

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, and I also realized that sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas” Giveaway! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

43263388Pick Number 5: “Trace of Evil” by Alice Blanchard

“Trace of Evil” Review

This procedural mystery perfectly combined a can do female detective, the baggage that she carries, and the secrets and dark sides of a small town. I loved Natalie Lockhart, the detective who is determined to solve a number of missing persons cases and who is pulled into the murder of her colleague’s wife. Blanchard created a realistic and relatable main character, and created a mystery that is sure to suck in fans of thrillers, especially if said fan also has a love for stories about witches and witchcraft. So, basically me. “Trace of Evil” kept me guessing and kept me interested, and I cannot wait to see where Natalie Lockhart goes next!

35887567._sy475_Pick Number 4: “On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas

Goodreads Info

This is the second book on this list that didn’t make it to the blog, and I’m thinking that I will need to start making exceptions for Angie Thomas. “The Hate U Give” was the book that became an instant YA phenomenon (and made it onto my list the year it came out), and “On the Come Up” was a fantastic follow up. Bri is an aspiring rapper who has dreams of following in her father’s footsteps. He was an up and coming performer when he was murdered. But Bri’s mother would prefer that she focus on her studies. And when her mother loses her job and some very real threats of homelessness and hunger start to loom, Bri becomes more determined to become famous to she can help her family, no matter what. Thomas has once again written a gritty, heartfelt, and emotional story, and it solidifies her as an incredibly talented author.

43263680Pick Number 3: “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

“Ninth House” Review

This book took me by complete surprise this year, as I’ve had an on and off appreciation for Leigh Bardugo’s books over the past few years. I picked up “Ninth House” on a whim, and ended up being completely enthralled by it. Alex Stern is part of the Lethe House, a group at Yale that keeps an eye on the other Secret Societies, as the use of magic and rituals has gotten out of control in the past. Alex is a fish out of water at the prestigious school, but the offer of a free ride in exchange for her talent to see ghosts seems like a good deal. But, obviously it’s not as easy and uncomplicated as all that. Bardugo creates a fun twist to a familiar setting, and weaves in the themes of privilege and entitlement into her supernatural dark fantasy. Definitely the best horror/dark fantasy of the year for me!

29225589._sx318_Pick Number 2: “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta

“Bloom” Review

This is an example of a book that I gained more and more appreciation for as more time passed. When I initially reviewed “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta, I gave it some high praise, but held off on giving it my highest rating of a ten. Looking back, I really don’t know why I did that, because whenever I think of it I burst with joy. The love story between two young men that centers in a bakery is sweet and gentle and it was such an enjoyable graphic novel that I keep thinking about it months later. The anxious and big dreamed Ari meets his match in the low key and loyal Hector, and their slow building relationship has ups, downs, joy, and heartache, and I loved following every moment of it. On top of that, the illustrations by Savanna Ganucheau are done in such away that conveys the overall heart and gentleness of this story that they complement it completely. I loved “Bloom”, and imagine I’ll revisit it again and again.

40538634Pick Number 1: “Highway of Tears” by Jessica McDiarmid

“Highway of Tears” Review

My number one pick book of 2019 was also one of the hardest reads of the year. Albeit necessary. True crime is incredibly popular right now, with numerous books and podcasts and TV shows dedicated to the subject, and one of the worst cases in the history of Canada is the disappearance and murders of dozens upon dozens of Indigenous Women along Highway 16. “Highway of Tears” is a detailed and compassionate examination the disappearances and murders, the society and Government that has enabled racism and prejudice that adds to the unsolved status of the cases, and a heartbreaking story of many of the victims, stories that otherwise have fallen by the wayside. This was an emotional and important read, and I cannot recommend it enough, even if it will leave you feeling devastated.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2019?

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 10 through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

39603796#10: “The Wolf in the Whale” by Jordanna Max Brodsky

“The Wolf in the Whale” Review

This was one of a few books to make this list that were complete surprises for me. It was the debut book for the author and one that had very little buzz when I first received an early copy. But boy, did it blow me away. With its unique setting of early civilization in the North American Arctic region, its compelling and complicated leading character, and the sparse, but fantastic, use of mythology and fantasy elements, this book was firing on all cylinders the entire time. The story definitely had some dark themes, and it handles a love interest with a controversial past in what I thought was a smart manner. There was a lot of crying on my part, but this unique, confident fantasy novel definitely stuck out to me when looking back over the year.

44059557._sy475_-1#9: “The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” by Sherry Thomas

“The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” Review

I love fairytale retellings. This is a mixed blessing, as I see it. On one hand, there are a ton of them, especially recently. On the other hand, because I feel compelled to read them all, I end up being disappointed quite a bit. And “Mulan” has been one of those stories that has served up nothing but disappointment for a while now. And then this book came out and did every. single. thing. I wanted. It takes enough elements from my limited knowledge of the original tale to remain familiar, but also brings in new portions of the story that make it feel refreshing. It’s definitely not Disney’s “Mulan,” but that’s also a good thing in this case. The love story is sweet, the action is exciting, and the story addresses a wide range of themes including bravery, honor, and family. If you’re looking for a good fairytale retelling, or, like me, had been waiting for THE “Mulan” version that would really hit home, definitely check this one out!

35839460#8: “The Kingdom of Copper” by S.A. Chakraborty

“The Kingdom of Copper” Review

This book came out in the early part of this year, way back in January. And I’ve been waiting this whole, long time for the next one! And it’s still not here! But I shall work on patience and maybe just go re-read this one in the mean time. The first book in this trilogy impressed with its complicated world-building and engaging main characters who must tread almost impossible lines of grey. Here, all that was excellent from the first book was simply expanded upon. It was also one of the smartest uses of a time jump between books that I’ve read in a long time. I was truly surprised by the direction the book went and the very real ways our main characters had both changed and stayed the same between one book and another. It also ended on one heck of a cliff-hanger, so, yeah. Back to the fretting until…oof, June.

28876#7: “Temeraire” series by Naomi Novik

“His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade” and “Black Powder War” and “Empire of Ivory” Reviews

It seems like every year I end up with at least one favorite that isn’t just one book but a series of books that I’ve blown through over the year. And this year it was Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series about dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. I’ve been a fan of Novik’s for a while (in fact, I think her most recent novel, “Spinning Silver” was my top pick last year), but I’d always held back on reading this book because of its weird premise. I mean…dragons in the Napoleonic Wars. But silly me! It’s been awesome so far. I’ve been blowing through the series way too fast for my own good, but I find everything about them so engaging that its hard to stop myself! I love the language of the books, reading like great historical fiction. The action is exciting, new, and shockingly, incredibly believable. And on top of all of that, the characters of Temeraire and his captain, William Lawrence, are an incredible duo whom you can’t help but fall in love with. I’ve already read the next in the series, so that review should be up soon! But if you, like me, love Novik’s other books but haven’t checked this series out yet, definitely give it a try!

36524503._sy475_#6: “The Bones Houses” by Emily Lloyd-Jones

“The Bones Houses” Review

I love books like this. Not only this story in particular, but books that come out of complete nowhere and blow me away. I literally knew nothing about this story when I requested In fact, looking at the cover, I was suspicious that this was going to more a “Kate book” than one for me, so if anything, my expectations were on the negative side. Oops! I loved this lovely fairytale story (sort of a retelling of “The Black Cauldron”??). For one thing, it’s a standalone, which automatically shoots it forward in my rankings. But on top of that, it perfectly mixes whimsy and horror, all while exploring topics like loss, grief, and family. The romance is sweet, and the two main characters are each strong and compelling. There’s also a fantastic goat. If you haven’t heard of this one (it seems to be flying below radar, sadly), get thee to the library or bookstore!

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2019?