Kate’s Review: “Survivor Song”

52581895Book: “Survivor Song” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2020

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

Book Description: “Fresh and surprising. Survivor Song may be one of Tremblay’s best—beautifully detailed, viscerally frightening, and deep with emotional resonance. —Dan Chaon, New York Times bestselling author of Ill Will

A riveting novel of suspense and terror from the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages . . . and shake them to their core.

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

Given that I have greatly enjoyed everything that Paul Tremblay has written, it was a no brainer that I was super interested when I found out that he had a new book coming out called “Survivor Song”. I am pretty sure it was this past winter that I requested it on NetGalley to read an advanced copy, maybe January or February. I tend to like to hold off on reading the ARCs I get from NetGalley until it’s closer to the publication date, just so a review is fresh in my mind. So it wasn’t until we were in the clutches of a pandemic, with PPE shortages, high death rates, a mysterious virus, and quarantine that I picked up a book about an epidemic…. with PPE shortages, high death rates, a mysterious virus, and quarantine….

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For. Fuck’s. Sake. (source)

BUT, we beat on, boats against the current etc, because it’s Paul Tremblay, a favorite author of mine. And I knew that if anyone was going to make the best of it, it is him. And hey, given another significant theme in this story at least I’m not pregnant too! You have to look for the bright side.

“Survivor Song” is a terrifying epidemic story that takes the zombie tale and twists it around into something else. I’d say that the closest comparison I could draw would be to “28 Days Later”, as in this story it isn’t the undead that are wreaking havoc, but people infected with a sped up rabies-like virus. But unlike “28 Days Later”, “Survivor Song” has a whole lot of hopeful heart beating at its center, and that is because of the enduring friendship between our protagonists, Romola and Natalie. These two women are racing against the clock, as very pregnant Natalie was bitten by an infected person and they hope to get her to a hospital where they can administer a vaccination. As one can imagine, it doesn’t go as planned, and both women have to venture forth in hopes of a plan B as the clock ticks away. Tremblay so effortlessly paints their relationship and friendship that you are immediately rooting for them, and the reader can see themself and their best friend in these characters very easily. I loved how realistic their friendship was, from the compassion and support to the sniping and the desperation. They meet a few people along the way, from teenage wise asses to terrifying milia members, and as they journey forth and the stakes rise higher and higher, the tension spikes and will leave you scared for them, and hoping they make it through. Both women feel real, and their motivations are laid out plainly. Even though it is made clear at the beginning that this is no fairy tale, you still have hope. Tremblay always knows how to give the reader hope, even when things are dark and despairing. It’s one of the things I love about his work.

In terms of the horror, oh boy. The timing of this book, as mentioned above, couldn’t have been better or worse depending on how you want to look at it. Tremblay nails every issue that we are currently experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, from PPE shortages to anti-scientific thought to conspiracies run amok to a government that doesn’t act and dooms thousands. As I was reading this book I just shook my head. It’s too real. That would be the only reason that I wouldn’t rate this book as high as I might have otherwise. That isn’t Tremblay’s fault. Hell, if anything he nailed it. But as of now, when I don’t feel safe going into public for extended periods of time, or feel like my parents can hold my kid, or I see more and more deaths as people say that having to wear a mask is tyranny, “Survivor Song” just hits a little too close to home.

Don’t let that stop you from reading this book. It’s really quite good, even if it’s hard to handle. Paul Tremblay is one of my faves for a reason. “Survivor Song” reiterates that.

Rating 8: Definitely a little hard to ‘enjoy’ in this moment, “Survivor Song” is both terrifying and emotional, but showcases the power of lady friendship above all else.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Survivor Song” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction”, and “Books for a Pandemic”.

Find “Survivor Song” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House”

25099Book: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman, Steve Parkhouse (Ill.), Chris Bachalo (Ill.), Michael Zulli (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), & Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A being who has existed since the beginning of the universe, Dream of the Endless rules over the realm of dreams. In The Doll’s House, after a decades-long imprisonment, the Sandman has returned to find that a few dreams and nightmares have escaped to reality. Looking to recapture his lost possessions, Morpheus ventures to the human plane only to learn that a woman named Rose Walker has inadvertently become a dream vortex and threatens to rip apart his world. Now as Morpheus takes on the last escaped nightmare at a serial killers convention, the Lord of Dreams must mercilessly murder Rose or risk the destruction of his entire kingdom.

Collecting issues #9-16, this new edition of The Doll’s House features the improved production values and coloring from the Absolute Edition.

Review: Our revisit of this classic comic series presses on, and now that Morpheus/Dream has reclaimed his power over The Dreaming, he has more work to do! As I continue my re-read I have been struck by how visceral and enchanting “The Sandman” universe is, and while it does still harken to other DC characters and mythos on occasion, we have started to stay firmly within a world of Gaiman’s making. And it is just as engrossing this time as it was the first time.

I don’t know why I waited so long to revisit Dream, The Endless, and the Dreaming, because going back to “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” really hit home how much I love this series. There’s dark humor, there’s lovely fantastical world building as you get more familiar with The Dreaming (Dream’s domain he rules over) and begin to meet other Endless (specifically Desire in this arc), and there’s an undercurrent of horror to go along with the fantasy. Our main drive this time is that of Rose Walker, a woman who is, unknown to her, a Dream Vortex, and therefore something very dangerous for The Dreaming as her very existence could damage it beyond repair. On top of that, a few of Dream’s Nightmares have escaped, and are wreaking havoc in different ways. In this volume Dream is still trying to re-steer his ship after his captivity, and we see just how far the damage of his absence has  gone. Rose has her own mission, and it is to find her little brother, who has gone missing. With the help of a mysterious but kind man named Gilbert, Rose goes looking for her brother, just as Dream starts looking for her. We see a few callbacks to other parts of “Preludes and Nocturnes”, which were done in slow and subtle ways, which made them feel all the more satisfactory as they were peeled back and revealed. The dreamlike atmosphere of this series is still present, as is the darkness. This time that horror aspect is in the form of a ‘Cereal Convention” that Rose and Gilbert stumble upon, which is actually a gathering of serial killers that are hoping to share insight with each other. I had forgotten how twisted this entire thing was, and let me tell you Gaiman doesn’t hold back. To the point that I really feel a need to give a content warning for abuse and sexual assault (and also a note that there is descriptions of violence against trans people in particular. Which felt very problematic but also very of the time that this series was going).

But once again, it’s a standalone story that has a lot of philosophical oomph and a lot of heart that stood out to me in this volume. While the arc of Rose Walker and the ‘cereal’ convention is definitely stellar, it was the story “Men of Good Fortune”, in which Dream and Death decide to give a man named Hob Gadling eternal life after they hear him waxing philosophical about mortality in a pub in 1389. Every hundred years, Hob and Dream meet at this pub, and Hob tells Dream about what he is doing with his eternity. There are highs and lows as Hob experiences the evolution of London, and we get to see how he changes the direction of his life and how it leads to success and devastation. What struck me the most about this story, outside of seeing how one person might shift and evolve with the world they live in were they to have eternity to do so, is that Hob and Dream are an unlikely set of friends whose friendship feels natural and touching. I remembered that Hob pops up here and there throughout the series, but I had forgotten how lovely his introduction was.

The art is still excellent. We’ve started to see more experimentation in design, style, and placement, and while sometimes there is a very traditional art style (like in “Men of Good Fortune”), sometimes it is very abstract. It really just adds to the flavor of the atmosphere that they’re all trying to create, and for the most part it works.

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” opens up the series to more possibilities, and more darkness. You can tell that this is something very special on these pages.

Rating 9: More chills and world building along with introductions to more of the Endless, “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” keeps the horror elements up while also showing moments of true tenderness.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Psychological and Philosophical Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: 

Kate’s Review: “I Killed Zoe Spanos”

50202540Book: “I Killed Zoe Spanos” by Kit Frick

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 2020

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

Book Description: This gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

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

In case you were wondering, I’m still on my bullshit when it comes to True Crime podcasts. I haven’t really strayed into new territory outside of the old reliables, but if you have some recommendations, send them my way! More and more we’re seeing podcast themes making their way into mysteries, perhaps in part due to this true crime boom within the listening world. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, but I’m always game to try that kind of book out. So of COURSE “I Killed Zoe Spanos” by Kit Frick caught my eye! It has elements that I greatly enjoy in my thrillers: a luxurious summer setting, a missing girl, secrets that the privileged and the non-privileged alike keep close to their vests. SO, you throw in a podcast angle and I am gonna be there! “I Killed Zoe Spanos” really hooked me in, and it was just the kind of read I could see myself reading on the beach. You know, if I was going to the beach this summer. Which I’m not.

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Goddamn pandemic. (source)

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” follows two distinct perspectives. The first is of Anna Cicconi, a teenager who has come to the Hamptons town of Herron Mills to be a live in babysitter. Herron Mills has a lot of money, a lot of privilege, and is currently haunted by the fact that local girl Zoe Spanos has gone missing that past New Year’s. Eventually Anna confesses to killing Zoe, even though as far as anyone knows there is no connection between the two. The other perspective is that of Martina Green, a local teen who is best friends with Zoe’s sister Aster, and puts out a podcast about the case. Anna’s perspective is mostly in the past and in the first person, while Martina’s is in the present and in the third. Sometimes I have a hard time when there are two kinds of POV styles in a book unless I feel it’s warranted, and with “I Killed Zoe Spanos” I felt like it worked fairly well. It made it so that we could get both the unreliability of Anna’s perspective, given that we have no idea what her connection to Zoe is, even though there is clearly something going on, and also the outside third person lens that Martina has as she is trying to solve the mystery herself. Throw in the transcripts for Martina’s podcast, which adds a whole other layer of potential unreliability (or at least bias), and you have a lot of potential for looking at Zoe’s disappearance and death from all sides. I thought that these three views all complemented each other pretty well, and had enough potential for red herrings within them all to make the mystery interesting. I enjoyed a few of the twists and turns quite a bit, though I will admit that I think that there was a bit of an overreach that came up right at the end. You don’t have to overdo it is all I’m saying.

As far as the characters go, no one really stood out too much in terms of going beyond their templates. Anna is unreliable and mysterious, perhaps threatening but maybe not. Martina is tenacious and truth seeking. I think that there was some interesting potential in some of the side characters, particularly Zoe’s boyfriend Caden, a transracial adoptee whose skin Others him within a very wealthy, and white, insular community. But we didn’t really go looking too deeply into many of these side characters, no matter how interesting they might be.

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” is definitely the kind of book that will take you in this summer! If you are a thriller fan and do find yourself able to safely go to a beach, or sit by a pool, this would be a great read to accompany that kind of excursion!

Rating 7: A fun mystery with some interesting turns, “I Killed Zoe Spanos” is a reliable summer read for thriller fans and fans of true crime podcasts alike.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Killed Zoe Spanos” is included on the Goodreads lists “What’s My YA Name Again”, and “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, & Thrillers 2020”.

Find “I Killed Zoe Spanos” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Home Before Dark”

50833559._sx318_sy475_Book: “Home Before Dark” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton Books, June 2020

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

Book Description: What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

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

Back when I was a teenager and I was using my Blockbuster privileges to rent horror movies, I took an opportunity to rent “The Amityville Horror”, classic haunted house/’based on a true story’ horror movie. I remember eating take out tacos form a local taqueria and sitting in the basement watching this movie, banished there as no one else in my family likes horror movies and the upstairs VCR was reserved for something else. I remember really enjoying it at the time. It was a few years after that that I came upon the ample evidence that it was all a hoax, a lie to give the Lutz family a nice pay day and to set up a murder defense for Ronny DeFeo, who had murdered his entire family in the house before the Lutzes moved in. I read the book a couple years ago, and taking it as the fiction story that it is I thought it was fun, if not a little cliche. When I found out that Riley Sager’s new book “Home Before Dark” was a haunted house story, and that was basically a homage to the entire “Amityville” saga, let me tell you I was incredibly excited and couldn’t wait to see what kinds of twists and haunts Sager was going to bring to this concept.

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I will admit I was hoping for a ghost pig. Maybe not named Jody. But some kind of ghost pig anyway. (source)

“Home Before Dark” has two stories within its pages: it tells the story of the book ‘House of Horrors’, a narrative of the Holt Family, who moved into the notorious Baneberry Hall, tried to live within its walls, but then ran after being there for a few weeks due to an increasingly violent haunting, never to return. The second is that of Maggie Holt, the daughter and the main target of the ghosts within the book, who had to live with the runaway hit that ‘House of Horrors’ became, even if she has no memory of such horrors happening and believes that it was all lies her father Ewan made up. The juxtaposition of Maggie’s present reality, and the reality that Ewan perhaps made up for his book, mesh very well together, and lend context to each other just when it’s most needed. Both mysteries we follow are interesting and kept me guessing, and as Maggie starts to wonder if perhaps her father wasn’t lying when her stay at Baneberry Hall starts to take strange and disturbing turns, it makes the reader all the more interested in what is coming next in the ‘House of Horrors’ section in the book. Sager puts the pieces in all the right places, and the suspense keeps building and you will keep questioning if maybe, just maybe, there are ghosts after all that are lying in wait for Maggie after all. I didn’t figure any of the twists or surprises out, which gives this extra points to be certain. Sager has always kept me guessing, and “Home Before Dark” was no different.

The scary moments are very well done, creepy and ominous and definitely scary enough to make me giggle with glee and just a little bit of hesitance. Sager sets the atmosphere and gives the house a very dark history, and while it definitely references some of the tropes that you expect in stories like this, it still feels very fresh and interesting. And ‘House of Horrors’ is just the perfect love letter to “The Amityville Horror”, with cheeky references and nods to an iconic haunted house that still lives (on even if it’s all bullshit at the end of the day). It was a great idea to give us that entire narrative as well, because that way you get two great tales for the price of one, and one of those tales is a stellar ghost story.

“Home Before Dark” continues Riley Sager’s streak of great thriller/horror stories. I always go into his new books worried that there will be a stumble, but as of now, he’s four for four. And “Home Before Dark” might be my favorite of the lot.

Rating 9: Another great scary story from one of my favorite scary story authors, “Home Before Dark” will give you the willies even on the warmest summer day.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Home Before Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “Horror To Look Forward To in 2020”. And if you want to experience the book it seems to take inspiration from, pick up “The Amityville Horror”.

Find “Home Before Dark” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Girl from Widow Hills”

52754102Book: “The Girl from Widow Hills” by Megan Miranda

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, June 2020

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

Book Description: Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again, in this propulsive page-turner from suspense master Megan Miranda.

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

There are some authors out there that I really want to like, but I have very hit or miss interactions with their books. I will usually keep going back unless a book is so poorly done that I decide that I don’t have the reading time to continue giving chance after chance. I thought that Megan Miranda was going to be one of those authors, where I liked one book but nothing else worked for me. After her last book, “The Last Houseguest”, I thought that I was done for good. But something told me that I should give her newest novel “The Girl from Widow Hills” a chance. And am I glad I did. Megan Miranda has missed the chopping block for now, because I think that “The Girl from Widow Hills” is my favorite of her books that I’ve read.

“The Girl from Widow Hills” has a compelling mystery that drives it, a complicated and perhaps unreliable narrator, and a little bit of critiqued nostalgia for human interest journalism, which combined to make a very enjoyable read. Our protagonist is Arden, a woman whose claim to fame was being swept up in a flood when she was six years old and miraculously surviving as a community, and then a nation, watched with bated breath to find out her fate. The trauma of that experience, being trapped for a few days until a man passed by and found her, has followed her the rest of her life, as her mother profited off of the story and the public began to think that she was ungrateful of their support as she tried to live her life. Now living under the name Olivia, I thought that Olivia/Arden’s trauma and need to escape her past was very realistic. It also made for an interesting and perhaps unreliable narration device, as she doesn’t remember much about those days where she was missing. It felt different from unreliable narrations we see in this genre in that the gaps in her story aren’t gaps that she has placed on purpose, but rather the result of being so young at the time, and suffering from PTSD after the fact. The mysteries that she’s trying to solve, mostly why did the man who saved her back then end up dead on her property now, given they have had no connection since, are very compelling and kept me guessing for a lot of the story. I liked following Olivia/Arden, and liked seeing the clues come together. And while it’s true that I did figure a couple things out before the end, and while it’s also true that the reveal at the end felt a little farfetched, just getting there was an enjoyable experience, so I didn’t even mind that it was a bit clunky, reveal wise.

But the thing that I liked the most was the way that Miranda shows the entitlement and ownership that the public can get when it comes to these heartwarming human interest stories. The media and the community focused in on this missing little girl, much like the Baby Jessica story, and rejoiced in her being recovered safely. But then the joy and relief slowly turns poisonous as Arden tries to move on with her life, and people think that she should be more grateful of the donations, well wishes, and care that was sent her way. It’s a very pointed criticism of how people expect to be rewarded for doing good things, and that victims can continue to be victimized when they don’t act or behave in a way that others deem ‘worthy’. That was the aspect of this book that I really, really enjoyed. It felt like the ballsiest thing I’ve seen Miranda put in her books.

“The Girl from Widow Hills” was an addictive thriller, and if you haven’t put it on your summer reading list yet you definitely should! I’ll definitely be taking a look at whatever Megan Miranda has in store next!

Rating 8: A fun and suspenseful thriller with some searing social commentary, and definitely a book that revives my faith in Megan Miranda!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl from Widow Hills” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mother and Daughter Thrillers”, and “Family Secrets (mystery/suspense/thriller only)”.

Find “The Girl from Widow Hills” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Know My Name”

50196744._sx318_sy475_Book: “Know My Name: A Memoir” by Chanel Miller

Publishing Info: Viking, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral–viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.

Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways–there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.

Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

Review: Honestly, when I started “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller, I realized that while I wanted to review it, I had a conundrum in front of me. How do you fully review such a deeply personal memoir about a very personal event in someone else’s life? For those who may be unfamiliar with the name Chanel Miller, perhaps you know the name Emily Doe, the woman that Brock Turner raped, and then was only sentenced to six months in jail (he eventually only served three, by the way). His sentence set off a firestorm across the world, and was one of the many focuses on the disparities in our justice system when it comes to class, race, gender, and sexual assault. I really wanted to read and review this book because Miller’s story is so important. But again… how does one review a story such as this?

Chanel Miller has such a powerful and all consuming writing style, and her story focuses on the night she was raped and what followed afterwards, from having to process her trauma, having to go to court, and having to be dragged and scrutinized in the public spotlight, even if she was technically anonymous. She is unflinching and candid about what happened the night that Turner assaulted her and how it was in the days afterwards, and while those moments are especially hard to read in this book Miller does such a great job of really laying everything on the table. She isn’t afraid to put herself completely out there, and her honesty about what her experience was like really hits the reader in the heart. Her writing style is beautiful, and really gets her sadness, anger, incredulity, and fortitude across. You saw glimpses of this in her victim impact statement that went viral shortly after it was made public, but now seeing it with the complete context of her life and experience just shows how very talented she is as a writer.

She also really emphasizes what it is like to be a victim of a high profile sexual assault case, and how trying and awful it can be. From having to see her actions before the assault dissected and laid out in the open, to having people imply that she asked for it because of said actions, to seeing how Brock Turner’s potential was held in higher regard than her experience of being victimized by him, Miller shows how hard it is for victims to come forward. The entitlement of Turner and the way that the judge sentenced him based on his potential as a wealthy white man is infuriating, and Miller gets to address these issues with her own words. And in the process she shows the world the story that a lot of people may not think about when a man with ‘high potential’ or high profile is outed as a predator: the story of a victim who will have to live with a traumatic event for the rest of their life, and how the fallout is going to effect them. Miller emphasizes how society favors protecting men like Turner at the expense of victims like her, and while we may know that, it doesn’t hurt any less to have it reaffirmed.

I highly recommend “Know My Name”. It is going to be a hard read, and it’s going to probably hurt, but it’s an important story, and Chanel Miller deserves to have her truth amplified.

Rating 9: A very personal, powerful, and beautifully written memoir.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Know My Name: A Memoir” is included on the Goodreads lists “Breaking The Silence: Talking About Violence Against Women”, and “ATY 2020 – Books Related to News Stories”.

Find “Know My Name: A Memoir” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Grace Is Gone”

44890088Book: “Grace Is Gone” by Emily Elgar

Publishing Info: Harper Paperbacks, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a paperback copy from Harper.

Book Description: From the bestselling author of If You Knew Her comes this harrowing tale of suspense—a story ripped from today’s headlines—of a tight-knit English community, who’s rocked by the murder of a mother and the mysterious disappearance of her daughter, and the secrets that lie concealed beneath a carefully constructed facade.

A small town’s beloved family.

A shocking, senseless crime—and the dark secret at the heart of it all.

Everyone in Ashford, Cornwall, knows Meg Nichols and her daughter, Grace. Meg has been selflessly caring for Grace for years, and Grace—smiling and optimistic in spite of her many illnesses—adores her mother. So when Meg is found brutally bludgeoned in her bed and her daughter missing, the community is rocked. Meg had lived in terror of her abusive, unstable ex, convinced that he would return to try and kidnap Grace…as he had once before. Now it appears her fear was justified.

Jon Katrin, a local journalist, knows he should avoid getting drawn back into this story. The article he wrote about Meg and Grace caused rifts within his marriage and the town. Perhaps if he can help find Grace, he can atone for previous lapses in judgment. The Nichols’ neighbor, Cara—contending with her own guilt over not being a better friend to Grace—becomes an unexpected ally. But in searching for Grace, Jon and Cara uncover anomalies that lead to more and more questions.

Through multiple viewpoints and diary entries, the truth about Grace emerges, revealing a tragedy more twisted than anyone could have ever imagined… 

Review: Thank you to Harper for sending me a paperback copy of this book!

I always love when I find surprise books, be they ARCs or otherwise, in my mailbox! I never expect it, and it feels like my birthday every time. So when “Grace Is Gone” arrived on my doorstep, I was tickled pink, and threw it on my ARC pile until it was time to take it on. I hadn’t heard of “Grace Is Gone” until that moment, and didn’t know what it was about until I started reading it. Well folks, we have another thriller about Munchausen’s By Proxy on our hands. Perhaps one might think I’d be bored with that by now, but I can assure you that I am absolutely not.

While I had read “Darling Rose Gold” in the past few months and while the parallels are there (given that Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard once again seem to serve inspiration), “Grace Is Gone” not only came out first, but approaches the whole story in a different way. While “Darling Rose Gold” was from the perspectives of the mother and daughter duo, “Grace Is Gone” is from the outsiders who may have missed the signs that something was terribly wrong. The first perspective is Cara, the friend of Grace, the girl who has gone missing after her mother Meg was found murdered. Cara always thought that Grace was an ill and naive teenage girl, and she never questioned Meg’s love for her daughter. But now that Grace has disappeared, and things start coming out about Meg, Cara starts to blame herself for not seeing that her friend was in trouble. Along with Cara we get Jon, a journalist whose marriage is on the rocks and who wrote an unfavorable story about Meg and Grace in the months before the murder and disappearance. This story made him a target for the angry public, and now he’s wondering if his misgivings were worse than he thought. As we see these two people work together to try and find Grace, we get to see how abusers can present a certain face to those around them to hide their true selves. I really liked that we had two outsiders telling this story, as while I right away knew what this was based on, the mystery at the heart has good bones and a different way to explore a theme that we’ve seen before.

As characters, neither Cara nor Jon really break away from tropes that we’ve seen before. Cara is the sullen but curious young woman drawn into something bigger than she imagines, and feels like her unwitting complicity means she needs to do right by Grace. Jon, on the other hand, is the disgraced reporter who has something to prove, though his obsession with one story may cost him more than he imagines. While looking at the overall story through outsiders eyes is new to me, the outsiders themselves are pretty standard, and not as interesting as perhaps a focus on Grace and Meg may have been. But all of that said, the mystery at hand is compelling enough that I think it will keep the reader going just to see how it ends. Hell, even though I kind of knew where it was going to go, I was perfectly alright taking the journey to get to the destination.

“Grace Is Gone” is a decent thriller that kept me interested. If you want to explore a familiar story from another angle, it will suit you just fine.

Rating 7: A solid mystery thriller about small town secrets and uncovering disturbing truths, “Grace Is Gone” is a familiar theme with some interesting angles to explore it, even if the characters are some we’ve seen before.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Grace Is Gone” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Intense Female Relationships”.

Find “Grace Is Gone” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Tigers, Not Daughters”

52776262._sx318_sy475_Book: “Tigers, Not Daughters” by Samantha Mabry

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.
 
In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

Review: Give me a story with a good old fashioned haunting and I’ll probably be on board. Make that haunting a little deeper in meaning and I’ll be even happier. Sure, a random ghost is fine, but the ghosts of your past can be far more scary, given that’s the kind of haunting most people deal with in their day to day lives. I had this theme in mind when I bought “Tigers, Not Daughters” by Samantha Mabry, a story about sisters, loss, and unfinished business in both the spiritual sense and the literal sense.

“Tigers, Not Daughters” examines the life of the Torres sisters, girls who live in a house with their negligent and manipulative father, and who are grieving the loss of this oldest sister Ana, who died after falling out of a window. Jessica is filled with rage and making reckless decisions, while being caught up in an abusive romantic relationship. Iridian has pulled herself into her favorite book and into her own writing. And Rosa is trying to keep herself, and her sisters, together, while looking for a mysterious hyena that may or may not be roaming the neighborhood. All three perspectives of these sisters give us insight into how they’ve been coping with their loss, and how they are trying to move forward in spite of their own feelings of guilt and grief. We also occasionally get the perspectives of outsiders, usually from a chorus of neighbor boys who have been watching the Torres sisters for a long time. I felt that the way that Mabry interspersed all of these perspectives gave us an encompassing understanding of each sister and their emotional and mental states. The different ways each of them grieves are all very different, but they all felt realistic and well explored. And the ghostly presence of Ana adds a lot to their perspectives, seeing their personal interactions with her spirit and how that reflects how they left things before her death was clearly well thought out. I greatly enjoyed the haunting, an the unsettling descriptions of it.

What didn’t work as well for me was how rapid fire some of these perspective shifts could happen, as that tended to make the pacing feel a little rushed and stilted. We would be in Iridian’s perspective, then we’d jump to Jessica’s, then it would be Jessica’s again, then maybe the neighbor boy chorus. I also felt like the perspective that we were really lacking, and that we really could have used, was that of Ana. I definitely understand that by leaving her side of things out really emphasizes her absence, and how each sister feels like they were left not knowing Ana as much as they would have liked in the wake of her death, but the problem I had with that is that it made her feel more like an idea and just there to be a symbol, as opposed to a fully fleshed out person. And while I don’t think that Rafe, their father, needs to have much time spent on him, craven creep that he is, I feel like we could have known more about him. Was he this way before the girls’s mother died? Is his behavior a result of trauma, or mental illness, or sociopathy, or what? Again, we don’t need to focus in on him TOO much, but I think we could have known more.

So while it’s true that “Tigers, Not Daughters” didn’t quite explore as much as it could have for higher emotional impact, I did enjoy the straight forward haunting aspects of it. But something that also intrigues without much answer is that this is listed as the first in a series on Goodreads. Where could the Torres Sisters go from here? I’m kind of interested to find out where that ends up.

Rating 6: A ghost story about trauma, grief, and familial dysfunction, but it felt a little harried as it jumped from perspective to perspective without much time to process.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tigers, Not Daughters” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet (?!), but I think that it would fit in on “Latina Leads in YA and Middle Grade Fiction”, and “Latinx MG/YA Speculative Fiction”.

Find “Tigers, Not Daughters” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes”

23754Book: “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), and Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.

In PRELUDES & NOCTURNES, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.

This book also includes the story “The Sound of Her Wings,” which introduces us to the pragmatic and perky goth girl Death.

Review: After re-reading “Transmetropolitan”, I knew that I wanted to re-read another comic series that I have great affection for. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to tackle, as I have a few that I REALLY love, but then fate interceded and announced that Audible was going to do an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus, “Sandman”. “Sandman” is probably up there with “Watchmen”, “The Dark Knight Returns”, and “Maus” when it comes to influential graphic novels and comics. It is absolutely my favorite of Neil Gaiman’s works, and now the time has come to get reacquainted with Dream, Death, and all the other Endless and dream worlds.

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I don’t know why I waited so long. (source)

When we first meet Morpheus, aka Dream, he’s become a prisoner to those who wanted to try and capture his sister Death for their own devices. “Preludes and Nocturnes” is not only the story of how he escapes, but his quest to gather his three sacred objects: his bag, his helmet, and his ruby. Along the way Morpheus meets familiar faces from the DC Universe, as this is a Vertigo title (RIP you magnificent company) and we’re bound to see other licensed characters. It’s great seeing the likes of Martian Manhunter, Scarecrow, Mr. Miracle, and more, as it gives us a familiar footing to introduce us to a VERY complicated world and mythos that Morpheus is coming from. As of now in the story, Morpheus is rather one track minded, desperate to get his objects back and going to many lengths to do so. His journeys lead him to some very dark places, and the plot and tone is what tells you that this is starting out as dark fantasy that is right in the middle of fantasy and horror. I had forgotten how dark this volume goes until I was in it, and it gave me chills. There are moments of sheer horror, absolutely, but they almost always have a dreamy feel to them, as they should (though I’m excluding all the stuff that happens with John Dee in the diner… You’ll know what I mean when you get to it. It’s just complete nightmare fuel). All the while, Morpheus remains stoic and intimidating, and yet feels ruminative and introspective as well. As of now we don’t know much about him and his backstory, but you still get the feel that he contains multitudes that are just waiting to be explored. It gets you hyped to keep going on.

For me, however, the most effective and greatest tale of this volume, and one of the best of the entire “Sandman” story, is the standalone “The Sound of Her Wings”. It is within this tale that we actually get to meet Dream’s older sister Death, the original target for the capture that Dream got caught up in. It’s a quiet, bittersweet tale of Dream accompanying her as she makes her rounds, releasing mortals from their lives, and seeing the peace for the dead, and the anguish for those left behind. Death is a Top 3 Sandman character for me, and probably most fans, as she is kind, bubbly, and compassionate. She also looks like a fan of the Cure circa 1987, but that just adds to her charm. This is probably the story I remembered best in all of the “Sandman” lore, and reading it again was just as lovely and emotional as it was the first time.

Finally, the artwork is so of it’s time but also very well done. Sam Kieth has been seen on this blog before, probably most notably in the review of the “Alien” comic series. While I didn’t feel that Kieth’s work matched the tone of that endeavor, it is pitch perfect for “Sandman”. The use of shadow and blanched colors is great on it’s own, but it’s the weird little details that are put in to give an extra sense of unreality.

 

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Look at that cape!! Just look at it! (source)

Honestly, if you are a fantasy fan and you haven’t read “Sandman”, I really encourage you to do so. It’s Gaiman’s best work, and “Preludes and Nocturnes” will get you hooked with just a little taste of what is to come.

Rating 9: A dark and dreamy introduction to one of the greatest comic series of all time, “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” builds a world that is wholly unique and almost otherworldly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” is included on the Goodreads lists “500 Essential Graphic Novels”, and “Quality Dark Fiction”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” at your library using Worldcat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Silence of Bones”

44280973Book: “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: I have a mouth, but I mustn’t speak;
Ears, but I mustn’t hear;
Eyes, but I mustn’t see.

1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.

As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder.

But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

June Hur’s elegant and haunting debut The Silence of Bones is a bloody tale perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Renée Ahdieh.

Review: Book buying is my version of retail therapy, so you can imagine that lately I’ve been doing a lot of it. While I mostly decide to get print books I can hold from local booksellers, on occasion I will snag something for my Kindle, to save space on my physical shelf and to get some instant gratification as well. “The Silence of Bones” was that kind of scenario, as I had heard of it on and off various book circles online and was interested to check it out and just have it at the ready. I finally dove in over the weekend as chaos and unrest overtook the Twin Cities, needing moments of escape to a completely different place. 19th Century Korea seemed like the perfect place to visit, so “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur was the right book to pick up.

What struck me most is the time and place of this YA mystery thriller. While you can find oodles of historical mysteries that take place in the U.S., or Europe, or other Western cultures, I’m not as aware of the genre branching out to other parts of the world that often. That very well just may be my own levels of exposure to such things, but because of this “The Silence of Bones” felt incredibly unique to me. I know so little about Korean history that I felt like I was learning a lot as I was following Seol as she tried to solve a series of murders as she works as an indentured servant for the police. The descriptions of the urban settings and rural settings alike were vibrant and detailed, and I felt like I could picture the places in my mind and got a good sense for how the society was structured. June Hur clearly did her research, and it really paid off. I especially liked the way that geopolitics of the time entered into it, with hints and whispers of Western Influences starting to move in no matter how local Governments try to stamp them out, sometimes in extreme and violent ways. The sense of impending threat from Catholicism, and the actions taken towards Catholics and other Western traditions, was a very fascinating angle to throw into this story, as knowing what we know about Imperialism in that part of the world now (and other parts not addressed in this book) there was a lot of nuance to parse through.

I also just really liked Seol as a protagonist and the mystery at hand. Seol definitely felt like a sixteen year old girl, even though she was living in incredibly difficult and different circumstances than one sees for sixteen girls in YA today. Her story addresses indentured servitude, the oppression of lower classes, misogyny, and trauma, and her perseverance (and at times stubbornness) was really satisfying to read. Being taken from her home and losing everything to go serve as an indentured servant is quite the backstory, and I really liked it. She sometimes makes mistakes and jumps to conclusions, which makes her all the more real and complex, but overall you can’t help but really want her to figure out what is going on, especially when she begins to find herself in danger. The mystery of who killed a local noblewoman is very well crafted, and Hur throws in a lot of twists and turns that keep the reader wondering and on their toes. There is also the mystery of what is up with Seol’s boss, Inspector Han, who Seol is drawn to and forms a friendship with before he becomes a suspect in the mystery. Han feels like he is steeped in a lot of greys, and I was genuinely on the edge of my seat wondering if Seol’s faith in him is unfounded. By the time everything comes together, you can trace how it does so and it is done seamlessly.

“The Silence of Bones” is a unique and thrilling mystery, and if you like historical mysteries I cannot recommend it enough!

Rating 7: A unique and fascinating historical mystery in a not as seen setting, “The Silence of Bones” has a lot to offer to fans of YA mysteries!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Silence of Bones” is included on the Goodreads lists “Historical Fiction: Korea”, and “2020 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”.

Find “The Silence of Bones” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!