Kate’s Review: “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel”

37638211Book: “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow” by Alyssa Palombo

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase.

Review: I’ve had a deep affection for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” ever since I was a little girl. My first exposure to it was the Bing Crosby Disney vehicle, with it’s jaunty music and admittedly all too terrifying Headless Horseman. My favorite adaptation is the utterly faithless but still WAY fun and interesting Tim Burton film “Sleepy Hollow”, as while Johnny Depp is a creep his portrayal of Ichabod Crane as an earnest and logical detective is a preferable contrast to the original superstitious gold digger Washington Irving imagined. But something that cannot be denied in either version, from the fairly true to the quirky retelling, is that the female love interest, Katrina Van Tassel, really isn’t given much to do outside of being an object of affection. While it’s certainly true that Christina Ricci’s version of Katrina is perfectly adequate (hell, she gets to be a witch, which is pretty neat), it is mostly Ichabod’s story. So when I read about “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” by Alyssa Palombo, I knew that I had to read it, as it is a retelling of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” but from a female centered perspective.

This isn’t so much a ghost story this time around as it is a romance and mystery, and it’s certainly presented through a feminist lens. Like in the original tale, Katrina is the daughter of wealthy farmer Baltus Van Tassel, but instead of being merely a point in a love triangle she is a sharp and independent woman who sees life beyond Sleepy Hollow and the path that is planned out for her. While her father does encourage her studies and her interests, ultimately he sees her marrying her childhood friend Brom Van Brunt, aka Brom Bones, who remains the WORST. Katrina has other ideas, as she has come to despise him because of his treatment of her best friend Charlotte, the daughter of the town midwife. Brom is very much the macho and of the time ideal of a man, popular and the son of another successful (and therefore land owning) farmer, though his misogyny and bigotry turns Katrina off. It’s a solid portrayal of a timeless villain, and while he remains antagonistic, Palombo does a good job of making him a little more complex than merely the town brute. But don’t get me wrong, he’s still awful.

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It has to be done. (source)

Katrina’s loyalties are to Charlotte because Charlotte is one of two profoundly meaningful female relationships she has in this book, the other being Nancy, her former nursemaid. I loved that not only do we get Katrina to steer the ship of feminist interpretations, but that Charlotte and Nancy provide examples of positive and supportive female friendship that could otherwise have been completely waylaid. It also is a good way to address horrific realities of the time in organic ways. It brings up the distrust people had towards women like Charlotte and her mother, who are midwives and herbalists who are seen as potential witches, and the evil that was chattel slavery, as Nancy is a former slave who is now employed by the Van Tassels. While it is made clear that she is  given a wage and has her freedom, her past as property is not ignored, and it is addressed in a way that shows the privileges that women like Katrina and Charlotte DID have during this time because of their skin that were not afforded to Nancy. These three women band together and support each other, and it felt fairly even handed, as neither Charlotte nor Nancy felt like props there merely to hold Katrina up.

The romance between Katrina and Ichabod was very satisfying as well. Since it is through Katrina’s eyes, her agency and intent are always present, as Ichabod is portrayed as a man of intellect who sees Katrina as an equal in all ways. Her self worth and independence are only bolstered by him, and their love affair is not only on even footing, it’s also VERY romantic. And smutty. My GOODNESS is this book heavy on the love scenes during the first part. Palombo manages to make these love scenes feel fairly real for the time and place, and the romance is a slow burn that really makes you root for Katrina and Ichabod, even if the original story has mapped out a very clear, and tragic, path for it to take. Unlike “Sleepy Hollow”, “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” doesn’t completely throw the source material out the window, and while I knew that going in there would absolutely be bittersweetness, I wasn’t prepared for how emotional Katrina and Ichabod’s romance, and his ultimate disappearance, was going to be. Palombo constructs a love that feels timeless and complex, and makes Ichabod far more than a gold digging schemer, as well as more than a deep thinking hero. Yet ultimately, this IS Katrina’s story, and while her love for Ichabod sets it in motion she is the one fully in control beyond her relationship with him. She has to make some tough choices in the wake of his disappearance, choices that she doesn’t want to make and yet must because of the time period, and her drive to find out what did happen to the love of her life, be it him running off or Headless Horseman taking him, make her an all the more intriguing heroine. Because while love is a huge theme, there is also a lot of grief, and what grief can do to a person.

But given the ambiguity of the original source material (was it a Horseman who was responsible for Ichabod’s disappearance, or a very mortal man?), “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” would be missing something if the supernatural aspect wasn’t there. Luckily, Palombo does have eerie elements. Katrina is haunted by visions of the Headless Horseman her entire life, her gift for Sight being a main theme in this book. She and Charlotte both have seemingly otherworldly powers, though they are never overdone or overshot. Given that I LOVE The Headless Horseman as a ghost and antagonist, I was worried that he was going to be more of an afterthought in this story. But while he does play a smaller role, and a more opaque one at that, there was enough of him and the idea of him that still gave him a presence throughout the narrative. Palombo brings in other folklore from the original tale and region (and provides handy author’s notes at the end about it), as Katrina collects and tells the stories of ghosts and spectres through the area. After all, she too is haunted by things, though they are perhaps more of this Earth. By the end of this book I really liked how the ghostly tales were woven into the overall story arc, and how they could serve as metaphors for the things that Katrina was going through. And yes, The Headless Horseman does have one pretty damn satisfying moment, as ambiguous as it may be. After all, he himself is an ambiguous character in the original tale, so this time around it feels extra sweet to see the big moment that is given to him.

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#teamhorseman (source)

Overall, I really liked “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel”. It retold a story that I love in a unique and female centered way. I’m setting this book on the shelf next to my copy of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” so they can coexist in the way the two tales really ought to.

Rating 9: A lovely romance with a bittersweet mystery “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” re-tells an old classic with a female focused lens, and brings it satisfying new characterizations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “The Best Fairytales and Retellings”.

Find “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review (and Mini Brief History): “Aliens: The Original Comics Series”

33161041Book: “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” by Mark Verdheim, Den Beauvais (Ill.), Sam Kieth (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Dark Horse Books, April 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In 1986, James Cameron’s “Aliens” brought to theaters the horrors of a new kind of war against a terrifying enemy. Long before Alien3 was even a glint in director David Fincher’s eye, Dark Horse Comics was already crafting a terrifying post-Aliens continuity for Ripley, Hicks, and Newt. 

Earth is overrun by xenomorphs with no hope of saving it for humanity. But that doesn’t mean just leaving it to the Aliens. Ripley has a plan to capture, from what they believe is the Alien homeworld, a “Queen Mother”–a super queen that rules multiple nests–and bring it back to Earth. There the Queen Mother will command the xenomorphs to gather where they can all be destroyed by nuclear bombs.

Collects Aliens: Nightmare Asylum #1-#4 and Aliens: Earth War #1-#4. Includes cover art for all issues.

Review: Even though Science Fiction isn’t really my preferred genre, if there is an excellent horror theme to it I’m assuredly going to be game. So it most likely isn’t shocking that I love both the movies “Alien” and “Aliens”. Not only does it have a solidly excellent female protagonist (Ellen Ripley for LIFE!), it also has a very scary adversary in the Xenomorph, a creature that is essentially a giant parasitic space bug that you COULD fight, but you have significantly better odds if you just run away. The first two movies in the “Alien” franchise are awesome, and while I love them both my heart probably belongs to “Aliens” the most. Not only does Ripley get to kick more butt, but she picks up a rag tag group of friends along the way, specifically the Colonial Marine Corporal Hicks, the android Bishop, and the orphan Newt, a girl saved from an overrun colony. “Aliens” ends with the Alien Queen vanquished, and Ripley looking forward to taking her life back with her new found family in the wake of the one she lost while drifting in space post “Alien”.

…. And then “Alien 3” happened, and it completely trashed that perfect ending by crashing the ship, killing off Hicks, Newt, and Bishop, and throwing Ripley into a new clusterfuck of a PRISON COLONY SETTING because apparently she doesn’t get ANY breaks whatsoever.

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How I feel about the “Alien” franchise post “Aliens”, if I’m being honest. (source)

What does this have to do with “Aliens: Nightmare Asylum and Earth War” you may ask? More than you’d think. SO, after “Aliens” came out, Dark Horse created two mini series set within the “Alien” universe, focusing on Hicks, Newt, and Ripley a few years after the action in “Aliens”. But when David Fincher’s dark for the sake of dark “Alien 3” came out, Dark Horse decided that it had to be retconned because HEAVEN FOR FUCKING BID THAT HICKS AND NEWT REMAIN ALIVE IN COMIC FORM. So Dark Horse went back and changed the names of Hicks and Newt to Wilkes and Billie, and they were SOMEHOW not Hicks and Newt in spite of the fact they were CLEARLY Hicks and Newt, and re-released the two series with a brand new ‘now agreeing with film continuity!’ seal of approval. Given how “Alien 3” ended and what happened to Ripley, what with her DYING, I don’t understand why the comics decided to change Hicks and Newt to fit THEIR deaths, but let Ripley come back unaffected. But whatever, what do I know? Happily, in 2017 Dark Horse went back and righted this wrong, and both “Nightmare Asylum” and “Earth War” were re-released in a hard cover collection with Hicks and Newt back in tact. And now that this “Short Brief History” has concluded, let’s get to the review.

I’ll start with “Nightmare Asylum”. Ripley wasn’t seen much in this story, but I was surprisingly okay with this because it gave Hicks and Newt some time to shine. Set a fewish years down the line from “Aliens”, Newt is now a young woman, and has been living as a surrogate daughter/sister/friend to Hicks. They have been floating in space, as Earth has been taken over by the Xenomorphs and they escaped by the skin of their teeth (along with an android named Butler with whom Newt has been in a relationship). But unfortunately they run afoul a crazed General named Spears, who has gone full General Kurtz and thinks that he can make an army of Xenomorphs to fight against the Xenomorphs on Earth, namely by torturing and trying to condition an Alien Queen to make her control her brood lest he destroy her eggs. And while Ripley is nowhere to be seen for the most part, I REALLY enjoyed “Nightmare Asylum”, if only because Hicks and Newt (her in particular) had some fantastic story lines and moments of riveting action. Given that I have ALL the love for both Hicks and Newt, I am a-okay with the focus being on the two of them. For Newt it’s because she has taken on the role of the determined and scrappy Ripley character, and it shows how she has gone from scared orphan girl to be saved to an adult who is out to save the world. For Hicks it’s his continued journey of being a tough and competent soldier who is more than happy to let the tough ladies around him take the reins. He had the utmost respect for Ripley and trusted her, and  he has the same respect for Newt. And also, Hicks was played by Michael Biehn, who was foxy as HELL in the role, so yes, my libido has SOME influence over my affinity.

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AM I WRONG?! (source)

But I also REALLY liked the main plot with the crazed General trying to use the Xenomorphs to his own ends. Any “Alien” fan worth their salt is going to know that this is a TERRIBLE idea, but it feels original enough that it could totally fit within the hubris that we see so often in this universe. And with new but familiar protagonists coming in to deal with it it doesn’t feel like just another instance of  ‘Ripley is right AGAIN and why doesn’t anyone listen to her?’. Ripley can be right til the cows come home, but admittedly it would get a bit old. And yes, Ripley DOES show up, right at the end, so it doesn’t feel like she’s been forgotten or thrown to the side. One note I do have, though: I didn’t like that there were so many sexualized drawings of Newt. Sure, she’s an adult in this story arc, but was it REALLY necessary to have multiple shots of her in skimpy underwear and spread legs?

“Earth War” was next, and that one brings Ripley more into the fold. As she, Hicks, and Newt (along with other brave fighters) gather together to try and take Earth back, Ripley also has to contend with her leaving Newt and Hicks behind after “Aliens”. I liked the device that was used in this case, as it doesn’t feel too cheap (like “Alien 3” did, and no I will NOT shut up about how much I hate that movie) and also feels wrenching. To Ripley Newt was sort of seen as a stand in for her daughter, who died while Ripley was in hypersleep out in space, and so it was important to give a GOOD explanation as to why Ripley would have disappeared after “Aliens”. “Earth War” absolutely achieves that. But I think that the reason I found it to be the weaker of the two, in SPITE of Ripley’s presence, is that it feels very rushed. While the smaller story of “Nightmare Asylum” works in four issues, trying to cram a reunion for Ripley and her friends, information as to where she was that whole time, AND a battle to take Earth back from the Xenomorphs in the same number feels VERY rushed. Plus, I think that for me there was a HUGE disconnect from the artwork between the two, and I much preferred Den Beauvais:

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(source)

Versus that of Sam Kieth:

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(source)

I generally like Kieth (I REALLY like his work on “Sandman”), but I didn’t feel like it fit in as well with the content at hand. Which means I was taken out of it a bit more than I would have liked.

All that said. this collection is FINALLY back the way it is supposed to be, and I am SO happy that I finally got to read it. “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” gives “Alien” fans the stories that we’ve always deserved, and it gives Ripley, Hicks, and Newt a lot to do without getting dour or unnecessarily bleak. I greatly enjoyed this series as a whole.

Rating 9: The “Alien” continuation that we deserve to have, “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” is action packed, powerful, and a shining light on favorite characters from the first two movies.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Aliens: The Original Comics Series” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Supernatural (Not Superhero) Comics”.

Find “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Leave No Trace”

38355245Book: “Leave No Trace” by Mindy Mejia

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: A friend lent me a copy!

Book Description: From the author of the “compelling” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis) and critically acclaimed Everything You Want Me to Be, a riveting and suspenseful thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a boy and his stunning return ten years later.

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

Review: As a Minnesota girl straight down to my bones, I am always a bit tickled to see a book take place in my home state. I think that that was part of the appeal of Mindy Mejia’s “Everything You Want Me To Be”, because along with the stellar mystery and twists and turns it had a familiarity to it that I greatly appreciated. Mejia is also a Minnesota Native, and seeing local authors make good is always gratifying. Her newest book, “Leave No Trace”, is another book set in Minnesota, this time in the northern part of the state as opposed to the farm belt. But it, too, serves us a mystery with lies, deceptions, and people with secrets from their pasts they’d rather keep buried.

The setting itself is one of the most powerful aspects of this book, and I don’t think that I say that solely as a Minnesota girl. Mejia does a great job of conveying the very setting and culture of Northern Minnesota, from the harbor town Duluth, where Lake Superior is an ever intimidating and daunting presence, to Ely, where the wilderness is just on the cusp of a small town, to the Boundary Waters, where the wilderness is vast and isolating. These various settings felt like characters in and of themselves, and I loved the imagery that Mejia put on the page. I lived in Duluth for almost a year, and she really captures that town and what it’s like to be on a Great Lake, especially one as temperamental as Superior. No matter where the characters were, the setting was well described, and the players interacted with their surroundings or made reference to their surroundings in realistic ways. The mystery itself kept me going, as I pretty much sat down one morning and read well into the afternoon until I had turned the last page. It really did suck me in, and there were things that I didn’t see coming and red herrings that had me fooled. Place and plot were, for the most part, strong.

But it was the characters that I had a harder time with, be it in terms of their conception and characterization, or the choices that they made. Maya didn’t work as well for me as a protagonist, as while we got background on her and why she might do the things that she did I found some of her choices (and the consequences of said choices) far fetched. I also didn’t think that we really got enough of her through showing rather than telling, and she made a shift in character once one piece of her backstory was revealed that didn’t feel believable. I also found it very hard to believe that some of her, shall we say, poorer choices didn’t have the consequences that they really should have. I don’t want to spoil anything here just because it is a fun read, but there were a couple of things she does that would have had far greater reaching issues than the ones that panned out. Lucas, too, had some problems, and that was really just that he didn’t really flesh out beyond the two dimensional hermit he was introduced as. I didn’t really believe his character progression with Maya either, and I didn’t buy their instant connection because of parental loss issues. ALSO, the heat between them was SO unethical that I was quite uncomfortable by all of it. He’s a patient who is going through a huge trauma (in this case being separated from his father AND having to acclimate to a new life outside of the Boundary Waters), so for this romance to be presented in a complicated skewing towards positive light was not settling well for me. And finally, the end itself felt a little too neat and tidy, and it went very fast in the wrap up, with a time jump and everything. I wish that things had gone a bit longer, or that we’d been able to see some of the difficult things that got swept away because of the time jump epilogue.

So while “Leave No Trace” didn’t live up to “Everything You Want Me To Be”, the Minnesota origins and settings of Mindy Mejia are still going to pull me back to whatever it is she writes next.

Rating 6: Though it’s fun to see a Minnesota setting was well portrayed, “Leave No Trace” had characters that I didn’t care for and didn’t have as many thrills as I wanted from it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Leave No Trace” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “A Walk in the Woods”, and “Trees, Woods, Forests”.

Find “Leave No Trace” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit To Fear Street: “All Night Party”

842654Book: “All Night Party” (Fear Street #43) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: It’s Cindy’s birthday, and her friends are throwing her a surprise party on Fire Island. It’s a private party — no parents, no cops…in fact, no one around for miles. 

Except there’s a madman loose on the island. A murderer who quietly crashes the party. And he wants to dance with the birthday girl…

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: New girl Gretchen is driving her minivan with her newly acquired friends Patrick, Gil, Hannah, and Jackson. Gretchen moved to Shadyside about few months back, but this group of friends really welcomed her into the fold. Now they’re driving to their friend Cindy’s house, who is having a birthday that week. Since her parents have left town on a business trip, this group of friends has decided to kidnap her for the night and take her to Fear Island for an all night party. Gretchen is a little distracted because she’s been getting weird hang up calls, and she wonders if it’s been Jackson, the one person in the group she doesn’t know too well, and who therein gives her ‘the creeps’. They arrive at Cindy’s house, find the spare key, and let themselves in (with Gretchen catching Jackson staring at her). They barge into Cindy’s room, and she protests as they tie a blindfold around her eyes, but she should thank her lucky stars that they didn’t gag her with a giant jawbreaker lest that become a problem later. But there is a problem, because Patrick pulls out a gun and presses it into Cindy’s side. When Gretchen and Hannah start yelling at him, he tells them that it isn’t loaded or anything, he thought it would make the kidnapping look ‘more realistic’. After he puts the gun away, they tell Cindy they’re taking her to an all night birthday party, and she seems to forget about the gun that was until a few seconds ago jammed in her side. We’re in for a doozy here, folks.

Once they’re in the minivan Cindy asks if she can take the blindfold off but the others say no. She whines a bit, and Hannah seems annoyed. Gretchen hasn’t quite mapped out the complicated landscape that is Hannah and Cindy’s friendship, as they seem to be more like bitter enemies than friends, but hey, sometimes that’s how high school is. What makes matters more complex is that Gil is Hannah’s boyfriend, but up until recently he’d been going out with Cindy until Cindy dumped his ass. Hannah, there are so many issues with this. Gretchen asks Patrick why he brought the gun, and he is hesitant to tell them lest is ruin their fun night’, but after prodding he tells them his motivation. His father is a police officer living in Waynesbridge, and while he was visiting Patrick that day he told him that a convicted killer escaped from prison and had been spotted in the Fear Street Woods. His Dad gave him the gun for protection in case they run into the killer on Fear Island. Gretchen is more concerned about the fact he ruined the surprise than the potential killer on the loose. Cindy asks what this guy did, and Patrick tells them that he murdered three teenage girls. They all argue about whether they should change their plans, but Cindy says that the guy probably wants to get out of dodge so why would he go to Fear Island. Most of the others agree, though Hannah and Gretchen are reticent, for pretty okay reasons, but they arrive at the dock and all jump in a boat to row out to the island. Cindy complains about being cold since she left her coat in the car, and Gil gives her his and says that he could ‘warm her up’ in other ways, and poor Hannah is angry about this, of course. Patrick then jokes that he sees a shark because I guess he thinks they’re on Lake Zambezi or some shit. Cindy asks if Gretchen’s boyfriend Marco is coming, and Gretchen gets tense. Marco is your typical bad boy with long hair and a motorcycle, but Gretchen has realized that bad boys generally don’t give a shit about the ladies who want to save them and thinks she may need to break up with him. Suffice to say, she didn’t invite him to the party.

They land on the island and Gretchen runs ahead to light the candles on the cake. Jackson offers to walk with her and she is SO CREEPED OUT by the offer (after all it’s not like there’s the potential for a crazy person who kills women to be on the island or anything) she says no. She walks into the cabin, but the lights won’t turn on. She starts into the cabin to try and find a candle, but then someone grabs her in the darkness! She screams, convinced the killer has her, but no, it’s something that in some ways is worse: it’s Marco. She yells at him for scaring her since there’s a killer on the loose, but given that Patrick’s Dad told him to keep it quiet Marco couldn’t have known that. And I guess it was Gretchen’s Mom who narced on her and told him where she was, and he thought it would be fun to surprise her so he hid his boat and waited at the cabin. The others arrive and Cindy is so excited to see Marco. Gretchen sets up candles all around the room and they get the cake all lit, ready to celebrate her birthday. Cindy says that she’ll remember it as long as she lives, and it’s heavily implied that that may not be as long as she thinks….

Gretchen still is creeped out by Jackson who isn’t saying much but is watching the others. She thinks he’s studying them, and he says he’s going to build a fire for the hotdogs. Gretchen and Hannah go into the kitchen to prepare the dinner, and Hannah asks her why Marco is there. Gretchen tells her about her narc Mom, and they agree that hopefully Gretchen can just avoid him. They bring the food out and start roasting. Cindy and Gil continue to flirt, and when Hannah tries to exert her authority as girlfriend Cindy reminds her that she and Gil dated for SIX months while Hannah has only been with him for one. Hannah rushes to the kitchen, and Gretchen follows her. She asks Hannah if she’s upset that Gil is flirting with Cindy (as she would have every RIGHT to!), but Hannah says that Cindy is an even bigger dick than that. Apparently Hannah tried to win a scholarship that would have made it possible for her to go to college, but when Cindy heard that Hannah wanted it SHE applied, and SHE won. The kicker is that Cindy’s family already has more than enough money to send her to college, and Cindy didn’t need the scholarship. Hannah says that sometimes she wishes that Cindy was dead, and when Gretchen says that she doesn’t mean that, Hannah replies with ‘don’t I?’

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Like most overshadowed besties, Hannah is feeling the swells of rebellion within her. (source)

They go back into the main room just in time for Cindy to open her gifts and be a totally ungrateful bitch about all of them, making snarky commentary about all of them. The earrings from Gretchen are ‘great’, but the perfume from Hannah ‘makes her break out’. The rock concert tickets from Gil and Jackson are met with neutrality (ROCK CONCERT TICKETS ARE NOT CHEAP, GIRL), and she doesn’t care that Patrick didn’t wrap his gift so he will give it to her later. Marco’s box of slasher movies (LOL) is met with derision. They put on the music and Gretchen tries to get out of dancing with Marco but he won’t take no for an answer. As they dance she watches Gil and Hannah dance, and sees Cindy glaring at them. She dumped Gil because he and his friends stole a car and Cindy’s parents were livid, so Cindy broke it off. Now it seems she’s having second thoughts. Gretchen notices Jackson looking at her, and she gets freaked out again. She says that she’s going to gather fire wood, and Hannah and Gil say that they will join her on their way to look at the stars at the dock (though Gil and Cindy continue to openly flirt). After they part ways, Gretchen gathers some wood and starts to return, but under the kitchen window she hears arguing. It’s definitely Cindy, and Gretchen is convinced that the male voice is Jackson. She then hears a slap, and wonders if she should go intervene, but remembers that Patrick and Marco are inside and they can do so. She decides to take more time alone in the woods, and is scared by Marco again. She is pissed, because he now knows about the prisoner, but he tells her to lighten up. She then dumps his ass, and he takes out his switchblade and starts stabbing a tree with it. He then walks back towards the cabin, and she for whatever reason tries to talk to him, but he isn’t interested.

They get back to the cabin and find it basically empty. Marco suggests that everyone else went for a walk and sits and sulks by the fire place. Gretchen goes to set up the dessert, but when she enters the kitchen she finds CINDY DEAD ON THE FLOOR, STABBED TO DEATH AND SPRAWLED IN FLOUR. She pukes, and then runs into the main room, where Marco holds her as she screams. Patrick comes upstairs asking what happened, and then Gretchen notices the blood on his shirt! She asks him how he got it, and he says he cut his palm trying to open an upstairs window, and shows her his bandaged hand. Marco goes to investigate, and Patrick stays with Gretchen in the main room. He says that it must be the escaped prisoner. Gil and Hannah come back, and Gretchen tells them what happened. Gretchen says that they have to call the police, but Patrick says that they can’t. When Gretchen asks why he hugs her and says that there are no phones on Fear Island. Gretchen says they can row back to shore, but a rain storm has started and Patrick says that the killer is outside and it’s not safe. He reminds them that they have the gun, as he did bring bullets. Then Jackson comes back with more firewood, and when they tell him what happened he doesn’t react in the histrionic way everyone else has, so Gretchen is IMMEDIATELY suspicious. Patrick says that they have to wait until tomorrow, and when they don’t come back their parents will wonder where they are and send the police after them. This is stupid as hell, but the others agree. They search the house to make sure the killer isn’t inside, and decide to wait it out.

But Gretchen thinks that she sees something outside, and HAS to investigate. She goes outside, and then Jackson is next to her, scolding her for going out on her own when there is a potential killer in the woods. They go back inside, and Gretchen thinks about the fight he had with Cindy that she overheard. After the others come back into the room, Marco says that he has questions for Patrick, because he didn’t see any blood on the window sill. Patrick says he cleaned it all up. Gretchen starts to fall into a paranoid spiral, thinking of all the motives those around her could have had for killing Cindy. After all, Hannah lost the scholarship and Gil was still interested in Cindy, and then there’s Jackson, who is just CREEPY. She decides to focus on him, and brings up the argument she heard. Jackson that he didn’t argue with Cindy, and Gretchen is adamant that she heard him. He says it wasn’t him, and is she calling him a liar? Patrick says that he was outside so it couldn’t have been him, and everyone else has alibis. Hannah keeps crying and Gil tells her to shut up because she and Cindy were fighting so how is she so sad? Hannah says that Cindy never cared about him and was only flirting with him to get back at Hannah, and GIL says that he doesn’t even like her and he liked Cindy, he was going to dump her, and he hopes the killer gets her next.

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Me as I read this book. (source)

They all eventually agree that sticking together is the best plan. Jackson wants to check the body one more time, and they all trudge into the kitchen. Gretchen then notices a baseball can in Cindy’s hand, and Cindy wasn’t wearing a cap before. It may belong to the killer! Patrick owns up to it belonging to him, and they all think that he must be the killer. He says he has no idea how Cindy got his hat, as he put it on the hook in the front room. Gretchen notices that Cindy is also wearing a jacket that isn’t hers, so maybe she grabbed it and the hat to step outside in the rain. But Marco says that there’s no reason for her to have it after unless she was trying to give a clue to who the killer is, so it has to be Patrick because of that AND the blood on his shirt. He reminds them that he has a gun, so why would he stab her with a bread knife? They ask him how he knew what she was stabbed with, and he says he saw the knife missing! They back off, saying that they’re sorry and all on edge. But then they notice a boot print in the flour on the floor. Whose boot has flour on it? Gretchen goes to check his boots. And indeed, there is flour on the sole. And guess whose does? PATRICK’S! He still claims that he didn’t do it, but the others tie him to a chair a la “The Thing”. The decide to go through his stuff, and as Gretchen is going through his backpack she finds a note! It’s from Cindy, and it says that she can’t keep their secret anymore and is going to tell her parents. Was Patrick seeing Cindy secretly? They then find a bloody break knife in his sleeping bag!!! They confront him with the evidence, but he says that there wasn’t anything going on between him and Cindy so the note has to be fake. And on top of that, WHY would he leave all this damning evidence around? He begs Gretchen to untie him because if he was the killer he wouldn’t be so careless. The others aren’t convinced, but he’s making sense to Gretchen. She lets him look at the note, and he points out that the i in her name in the note isn’t dotted with hearts, which was Cindy’s trademark (GAG ME). The compare the note to some history notes in Cindy’s bag, and while the writing looks very close, it isn’t the same. The y’s are wrong too. So someone must be framing him. They show that to Patrick, and they untie him. Also, Hannah has disappeared. Gil freaks out, worried that the killer is going to get her, and they find a note from her that says she’s too scared to stay and is bolting.

As they’re getting ready to go find Hannah, Gretchen wonders if maybe Hannah is the killer and left because she felt guilty. Then she sees Jackson staring at her. She starts to freak out, and he says that she ‘must suspect…’, but before he can finish she runs out hte door and into the night. She realizes that he’s following her, and she trips and falls down a hill (goddamn it this is so stupid). Jackson is soon on top of her, but it’s because he also fell and not because he’s attacking her. He asks why she ran and she tells him she was scared of him because he’s always staring at her, and he admits that he does that because he’s had a crush on her ever since she moved there. He was about to tell her in the cabin when she bolted. He’d planned on telling her that night because he heard her talking to Hannah and Cindy about how she wanted to dump Marco. So when Marco ended up there he got upset, and then, you know, CINDY DIED. Gretchen lets him know that she did dump Marco, but they should probably focus on not dying before they do anything about that. They start back for the cabin, and then hear Hannah screaming. Gretchen grabs a rock to use as a weapon, but when they run back inside the cabin they find the others pulling another “The Thing” kinda deal and are trying to tie Hannah up! Gil says that while they were at the dock she left him to go get a sweater, and that could have been plenty of time to kill Cindy and plant all that evidence to frame Patrick! But Hannah says that when she got back to the dock with her sweater, GIL was gone, so HE could have done it! And the accusation wheel in the sky keeps on turning. Gretchen goes to her purse to get some chapstick, but then finds a note. She reads it, and then turns to Patrick, asking him why he killed Cindy. He says that they settled this, but she holds up the note. It’s one he left her saying he’d bring stuff for the party, and it’s the same handwriting as the note they found earlier. He framed himself. And he says that maybe he did, and pulls the gun on them!

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You should have locked him in a shed like poor Wilford Brimley. (source)

So apparently Cindy found out something about his past, and she also pretended to like him but went out with Gil instead. She’d also continuously tease him and remind him about whatever he’d done. He’d planned to kill her once they made plans for the party. He almost changed his mind and tried to kiss her in the kitchen, but she laughed at him and told him that she’d never kiss him. When he tried to stop her from leaving, she slapped him. So it was PATRICK that Gretchen heard. He then stabbed her. And now he’s going to have to kill ALL OF THEM!! But before he can shoot, two deus ex machinas police officers enter the cabin! Patrick turns the gun on them but Gretchen knocks him down. The police wrestle the gun out of his hands. When asked if they are there because of the killer in the woods, the police say that they haven’t heard of such a thing. Yes, Patrick made it up. The cops are actually there because Patrick stole his Dad’s gun and he reported it. And apparently the big secret was that Patrick set a fire in Waynesbridge and he thought that Cindy knew about it. But Hannah says that Cindy didn’t know jack about Patrick, she teased him because she liked him. So the book ends with the remaining friends all together, contemplating the existentialism of life. “Party’s Over”, says Gretchen. The End.

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This was abysmal. (source)

Guys… Okay, this is just… The sheer laziness and rubber stamp plotting of this book was just flabbergasting to me. And then, THEN, to not have any kind of twist or supernatural element, to just have it be Patrick…. I can’t. I did not like this. So let’s just get this break down over with.

Body Count: 1.

Romance Rating: 3, only because Jackson and Gretchen seem to be on track for an okay relationship assuming the shared trauma of the party doesn’t ruin it.

Bonkers Rating: 2. Nothing bonkers here, just the stupidity of everyone involved. There wasn’t a supernatural element OR a huge twist!

Fear Street Relevance: 7 given that the action takes place on Fear Island and there was talk of the not real killer hiding in Fear Woods.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Cindy ripped off the red bow and lifted the lid of the box. She peeked inside- and her mouth dropped open in disgust.

‘Ohhhh. Gross!’ she moaned.”

…. And it was just a bunch of slasher movies, and listen Cindy, if YOU don’t want them, I will take them!

That’s So Dated! Moments: Sadly, this was one of those “Fear Street” books that was so bland and sparse that there really were no details outside the plot at hand. Maybe the fact that the slasher movies were video tapes?

Best Quote: This is going to sound super harsh, but nothing about this book was good, so it goes without saying that there weren’t any ‘best’ quotes.

Conclusion: “All Night Party” was haphazard and lazy, definitely up there with the worst of the worst “Fear Street” novels. Skip it. Up next, in honor of the season, is the Fear Street Super Chiller “Silent Night”!

Kate’s Review: “Limetown”

30363835Book: “Limetown” by Cote Smith, Zack Akers, and Skip Bronkie

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: From the creators of the #1 podcast Limetown, an explosive prequel about a teenager who learns of a mysterious research facility where over three hundred people have disappeared—including her uncle—with clues that become the key to discovering the secrets of this strange town.

On a seemingly ordinary day, seventeen-year-old Lia Haddock hears news that will change her life forever: three hundred men, women, and children living at a research facility in Limetown, Tennessee, have disappeared without a trace. Among the missing is Emile Haddock, Lia’s uncle. 

What happened to the people of Limetown? It’s all anyone can talk about. Except Lia’s parents, who refuse to discuss what might have happened there. They refuse, even, to discuss anything to do with Emile.

As a student journalist, Lia begins an investigation that will take her far from her home, discovering clues about Emile’s past that lead to a shocking secret—one with unimaginable implications not only for the people of Limetown, but for Lia and her family. The only problem is…she’s not the only one looking for answers. 

Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie are first-rate storytellers, in every medium. Critics called their podcast Limetown “creepy and otherworldly” (The New York Times) and “endlessly fun” (Vox), and their novel goes back to where it all began. Working with Cote Smith, a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Finalist, they’ve crafted an exhilarating mystery that asks big questions about what we owe to our families and what we owe to ourselves, about loss, discovery, and growth. Threaded throughout is Emile’s story—told in these pages for the first time ever.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for sending me an eARC of this book!

As the resident podcast junkie on this blog, it may be a bit surprising that until recently I hadn’t set aside time to listen to “Limetown”. For those unfamiliar, “Limetown” is a fictional thriller/supernatural podcast that is written in a “Serial”-esque format, following journalist Lia Haddock as she investigates the mysterious disappearance of an entire town population. Given that it’s totally up my alley, I don’t really know why I didn’t put it in the constant rotation of podcasts I listen to. But when I was given an invitation to read “Limetown”, the prequel novel, by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley, I decided that it was time to listen. I devoured the podcast in a couple days time, totally taken in by the mystery and the creepiness as Lia gets closer and closer to the solution, and the conspiracy, involving the town, the research it was doing, and the connection it had to her missing uncle Emile. And once I was done with that, I felt that it was time to finally read the prequel novel, hoping that it would expand upon the universe and give us some insight into the brand new Season 2.

I didn’t quite get that from “Limetown”, and I’m starting to wonder if the ever expanding media connections to podcasts is really necessary.

I’ll start with the good first, as I am wont to do. Given that the podcast “Limetown” is laid out in an investigative format, all we are seeing is what Lia Haddock, the host of the show, would have access to. Given that that narrative structure is only going to give us so much, I did like that we got to see a LOT more about Limetown within the novel. A lot of this comes from the storyline concerning Emile, Lia’s uncle who disappeared when the town population did. While the podcast does let us in on the true purpose of Limetown (spoilers: it’s a place that was being used as a research facility for psychic abilities in humans), getting to see Emile make his journey from outsider teenager to Limetown resident definitely shed some insight that we didn’t get to see otherwise. I liked Emile’s perspective and his somewhat tragic story, a person with abilities and feels on the outside of those around him. His connection to his brother Jacob (Lia’s father) is expanded upon, as is his relationship to Lia’s mother Alison. I definitely enjoyed his parts of the story. I had bigger problems with Lia’s parts. I like Lia as a character both in book and on the podcast, but within this prequel I feel like they retconned quite a bit about her character because of things she finds out in the book as opposed to what we THINK she knows in the podcast. There are certain moments and revelations within the narrative of the book that I would have THOUGHT that she would have addressed in the podcast just based on her character and her drive to find the truth, but as it is, in spite of the fact the book is definitely BEFORE the podcast, it seems that these truths either a) aren’t what they seem and the podcast is more unreliable than we thought, or b) don’t match up because of an unplanned prequel book. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

This isn’t a BAD book, and I think that fans of the podcast would definitely find things within it to like. But, much like “Welcome to Night Vale”, I’m not certain that it would stand on it’s own two feet to non-fans to intrigue them enough to bring them into the fold. Does it have to? No. But I do think that if the show wants to perhaps reach out to non-fans to build their fandom, their non-podcast media should be able to stand alone.

It’s not an unfamiliar story for a podcast to get expansions via other means of consumable content. “Welcome to Night Vale” has two books now. “Dirty John” is getting a TV adaptation with Connie Britton and Eric Bana. Julia Roberts is starring in an Amazon Prime Adaptation of “Homecoming”. And hell, even “Limetown” is getting a Facebook Watch adaptation starring Jessica Biel along with this book. It will be interesting to see how these various adaptations fare. But if they aren’t bringing in many reasons to expand, it may end up feeling a bit pointless. “Limetown” the book was fine, but I don’t see it as being essential reading.

Rating 6: While I enjoyed learning some new things about the mysterious Emile, “Limetown” didn’t feel like it expanded much on the universe at hand, and it didn’t feel like it could bring an unfamiliar person in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Limetown” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books Based on Podcasts”, and “Podcast Books”.

Find “Limetown” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica”

38369243Book: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” by Paul Dini, Marc Andreyko, and Laura Braga (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The bad girls of Gotham meet the good girls of Riverdale!

Hiram Lodge (Veronica’s father) wants to invest in the future by building a university with free tuition for Riverdale’s residents. His site is a protected swamp on the outskirts of town, and once news of the plan reaches Gotham City, a certain eco-warrior (a.k.a. Poison Ivy) is determined to prevent the dream from becoming reality.

However, once Poison Ivy and her bestie Harley Quinn arrive, they get mixed up in the sort of hijinks that can only happen in Riverdale. At a superhero-themed costume party, the night’s entertainment–Zatanna– manages to place the personas of the Gotham City Sirens into the bodies of the town’s notorious frenemies: Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. While Ivy (in Ronnie’s body) seeks to derail Lodge’s agenda from within, more than a few nefarious forces–from Jason and Cheryl Blossom to the Clown Prince of Crime himself–have their own foul plans.

This groundbreaking miniseries teams up two of fandom’s best-known duos, bringing the ladies of Gotham and Riverdale together for the first time! This madcap mayhem comes courtesy of Paul Dini (Harley Quinn) and Marc Andreyko (Wonder Woman ’77), with art by Laura Braga (DC Comics: Bombshells)! Collects Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica #1-6.

Review: I’ve been a long time fan of “Batman”, as you all are well aware. I also have a very special place in my heart for “Archie” comics, and not just the horror comics that have been so genius as of late. When I was a little girl I loved old school Archie adventures, and really liked following stories involving Betty and Veronica. When I saw that Paul Dini, a writer for “Batman: The Animated Series” AND one of the creators of Harley Quinn, had written a new Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story with Marc Andreyko, I was already pretty on board. But when I saw that it was a crossover with Archie Comics, and it was ALSO going to star Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge?

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Two of my fandoms hi fiving each other in glee! (source)

Far be it from me to disparage goofy crossovers. As a former fan fiction author I have indulged in a number of crossover stories, some of which make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and I think that amusing and fun is one of the most important elements to do it successfully. But what makes the idea of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy meeting up with Betty and Veronica so excellent is that they are all the epitome of gal pals, in positive and negative ways. While Harley and Ivy are definitely supportive and caring friends to each other, they are morally ambiguous if we are being generous (and if we aren’t they’re straight up criminals). And while Betty and Veronica are pretty normal and functional people, they are best known for their portrayal of being frenemies all because of a boy (who is a total DUD, I might add). So to give these two sets of friends a little wiggle room to explore the depths of where their personalities can go, and therein critique their base portrayals they are pigeonholed into, is kind of genius.

Deriving a plot that is part buddy crime comedy and part “Freaky Friday”, “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” is really just a comedy of errors and some fun fan service for people like me. I don’t know what a Venn Diagram of people who love Harley and Ivy vs people who love Betty and Veronica would look like, but I know that as someone in the overlap I found this to be an entertaining romp. Once the full body switch happened and we got to see Betty and Veronica dealing with the hot mess that is Gotham, and Harley and Ivy letting loose at Riverdale High, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride for what it is. I liked seeing Betty and Veronica completely aghast at Gotham and the ridiculous crime it harbors, just as I liked seeing Ivy and Harley have to contend with Cheryl and Jason Blossom, a whole different kind of enemy than they are used to. There is also something incredibly satisfying about seeing Ivy and Harley have NO interest in Archie WHAT. SO. EVER. The banter and situational comedy the two sets of gal pals get into while in the body swap is entertaining to be certain, and they bring a new zest to some of the tried and true tropes of both fandoms. There are also other fun little shout outs and meet ups for members of the “Batman” and “Archie” fan bases: Sabrina Spellman getting to hang out with Zatanna was a delight, and the idea of Smithers and Alfred Pennyworth being old friends was super sweet.

The art is fun and a nice mix of both worlds. Laura Braga of “Bombshells” art fame is at the helm this time, and she has a style that kind of suits both universes. It’s chic and stylistic, but it also lends itself to superhero situations, or perhaps supervillain situations is a better description.

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(source)

But I think that one of the weaker things about this collection was that it really does read like fan fiction. That isn’t to say that this is inherently a bad thing; like I said, I used to write that stuff and still dabble even if I don’t publish it anymore, and I do like a fun nutty crossover. What I mean by that is that sometimes I felt like plot points happened less because of the plot at hand, and more because Dini and Andreyko thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…?’. And that tended to make for a weaker story. I’m thinking mostly about this whole strange subplot with Reggie dressing up as Joker for a party, losing his memory, and then believing that he WAS Joker. I didn’t really understand what this did outside of ‘look, it’s like The Joker is here but he isn’t actually, isn’t that FUNNY?!’ As far as I’m concerned, Joker is a little played out these days, Mark Hamill excluded. Plus, why is it that we feel like whenever there is a Harley Quinn story Joker should show up in some capacity? I am willing to give Dini a little slack here since he is Harley’s creator, but honestly, it’s not necessary and I’m starting to get sick of it. ESPECIALLY since Harley and Ivy are pretty solidly a couple in the DC verse now, and that wasn’t very clear in this, now that I think about it, which ruffles my feathers a bit. Again, Dini can get a LITTLE leeway since he’s the creator, but COME ON.

So while “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” was definitely a bit of fluff and fun, I had hoped that it would be more than that. It gave me joy in the moment, but I wish that it had a little more substance.

Rating 6: A cute and fun mash up of two of my favorites, but it definitely could have gone further than it did.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” isn’t on many Goodreads lists but I think it would fit in on “Crossover Fiction”.

Find “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Jar of Hearts”

36315374Book: “Jar of Hearts” by Jennifer Hillier

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he’s something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo’s first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?

Review: Sometimes I get carried away in my request lists for library books. On my personal Instagram I have repeatedly posted pictures of book piles that are overflowing and busting at the seams, fifteen books high and not showing the books on my kindle OR the pile of ARCs in my home office library. And when this happens, I occasionally have to make sacrifices and send books back into the library pool. I did this with “Jar of Hearts” by Jennifer Hellier, thinking that it was probably going to be a book I liked, but one that could wait, like so many middle of the road thrillers ultimately can. But when I did eventually pick it up again (after sleeping on it AGAIN; I didn’t pick it up until a week before it was due), I was angry with myself for letting it go that first time. Especially since Caroline Kepnes, ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS, wrote the blurb on the cover, and I didn’t even notice! “Jar of Hearts” is one of the best thrillers I’ve read this year, and one of the reasons for that is that it is so dark in some ways it treads towards horror.

The story is laid out through a few different perspectives. The first is from Geo’s perspective, the woman who went to prison for helping her boyfriend Calvin James cover up the murder of Angela Wong, her best friend. We get to see Geo’s present day timeline, from her arrest to her trial to her stint in prison to her time out of prison, as well as moments from her high school days, when Angela was still alive and Geo was just getting involved with Calvin. Seeing how Geo changes over time because of the various experiences she’s had really gives the reader a feel for the character, and it allows her to become multidimensional in an organic way. To go from awkward and shy high schooler to world weary felon is heartbreaking to see, and you really see how much of a monster Calvin James is while also seeing why Geo would have fallen under his spell. Hillier does a very good job of showing the reader why Geo is the way that she is, and simultaneously doesn’t excuse her mistakes, but helps you understand them, and her. I really liked Geo, and while she had EVERY opportunity to fall into the tried and true ‘hot mess’ stereotype for this kind of thriller, I feel like she never did.

Geo and Angela’s high school friend Kaiser is our second perspective, and his is set firmly in the present. Kaiser was the sweet best friend who held a torch for Geo, who then ended up being the detective who solved the murder and then arrested Geo. While is isn’t as compelling as Geo is, I did like seeing this man with his own haunted past have to come to terms with his feelings for his old friend as he investigates a new spate of crimes that she may have a tie in, be it directly or not. While he DID fall into familiar traps of the genre (the cynical detective who is responsible on the clock but makes reckless decisions in his personal life), I really did like Kaiser and liked following him. He was also our main connection to the mystery at hand, while Geo was the connection to what happened to Angela.

And let’s talk about that mystery. Because “Jar of Hearts” is dark as hell. Kaiser is trying to figure out if Calvin James is back to killing women after years of being off the grid, as bodies start showing up that are similar to Angela’s murder scene. But along with the dead women, there are also dead children. This doesn’t match James’s original M.O., and as Kaiser digs deeper and does more investigating, things do start to fall into place because of the various perspectives we are getting. And not only is it suspenseful, there were moments in this book that I was completely unsettled. Hellier did a great job of slowly giving the reader the clues just when she deemed it necessary, and while I had an inkling as to where some things were going, I never got there too soon before Hellier wanted me to. The content was bleak and very upsetting at times, and while I greatly enjoyed this book, it is not for the faint of heart. It feels like it treads more towards “The Silence of the Lambs” than “The Girl on the Train”. Which is a SUPER positive in my book.

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If only the villain was as polite as Hannibal, though. (source)

But before I wrap things up completely, I do need to give a serious, SERIOUS content warning. This book has multiple depictions of rape in it, and while it doesn’t feel titillating or exploitative in how it’s done or portrayed, it absolutely could be triggering for those who are going into it. So just be aware that it is there.

“Jar of Hearts” is a fantastic thriller and an incredibly impressive debut novel. I truly cannot wait to see what Jennifer Hillier comes out with next. Do not let this one go, thriller fans! Don’t make the same mistake I did!

Rating 9: Suspenseful and disturbing, “Jar of Hearts” was a fantastic thriller that hit every bingo box for my dark thriller needs!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jar of Hearts” is included on the Goodreads lists “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance” (I imagine this fits in horror?), and “Best Suspense Novels”.

Find “Jar of Hearts” at your library using WorldCat!