Serena’s Review: “Deeds of the Disturber”

32139Book: “Deeds of the Disturber” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Atheneum Press, 1988

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Can fear kill? There are those who believe so but Amelia Peabody is skeptical. A respected Egyptologist and amateur sleuth, Amelia has foiled felonious schemes from Victoria’s England to the Middle East. And she doubts that it was a Nineteenth-Dynasty mummy’s curse that caused the death of a night watchman in the British Museum. The corpse was found sprawled in the mummy’s shadow, a look of terror frozen on the guard’s face. What or who killed the unfortunate man is a mystery that seems too intriguingly delicious for Amelia to pass up, especially now that she, her dashing archaeologist husband, Emerson, and their precocious son, Ramses, are back on Britain’s shores. But a contemporary curse can be as lethal as one centuries old and the foggy London thoroughfares can be as treacherous as the narrow, twisting alleyways of Cairo after dark when a perpetrator of evil deeds sets his murderous sights on his relentless pursuer… Amelia Peabody!

Review: In this, the fifth book in the series, we step away from our tried and true formula and experience a few completely new settings and approaches, to varying levels of success. Obviously, there’s no way for any book in this series to get a failing grade when you have Amelia Peabody as your narrator, but there were also a few storylines that weren’t favorites of mine.

First off, it’s clear that this is going to be a completely different type of mystery when the book opens with Amelia, Emerson, and Ramses returning to London after their most recent adventure. I was both excited to have a change-up in setting, but also a bit worried about how well some aspects of the series would hold up under the stifling conventionalities of British society. I guess I shouldn’t have worried too much as Amelia has never been one to let trifling little things like “propriety” or “niceties” hold her back from doing what she wants!

So, of course, we start off with a murder, a mystery, and a general unwillingness by Emerson and eagerness by Amelia to become involved. I feel like there is a bit of a pattern to one of the challenges of this series. Of course, to be a mystery, you must have a good number of suspects, which means introducing a whole new cast of character into each book. And, for some reason, this is now the second book in the series where I just couldn’t keep some of the suspects straight. It was just a lot of British noblemen with different relationships to each other, to the museum, and to the Amelia/Emerson family. I actually had to flip back and forth a few times to try and remind myself. There’s a failing somewhere in here, but I’m not sure if it’s just on me or whether more could have been done to really fix each character in the minds of readers and serve as reminders when they show up the next time. All in all, however, I did really enjoy the primary mystery in this novel, and by the end (once I had the cast mostly figured out) the story came together in a very unexpected, but fun/wacky way that is typical to the series as a whole. I also very much enjoyed Amelia’s exploits in dress-up in this book and her ventures out and about in London sans Emerson.

However, there were a few plot lines that I wasn’t a huge fan of. First off, Ramses needed something to do for large portions of this book, and sadly, that something came in the form of two cousins. While there were humorous bits with these two (particularly the girl and her obsession with sweets and theatrics), I wasn’t enthralled overall. I’ve bought in on the one child character, but these two were clearly just foils for Ramses, and I wasn’t very interested in the resolution of his conflict with them (or surprised by the real story behind their antics).

The second plot line…I have really mixed feelings about. I do appreciate the fact that Peters decided to throw a bit of a wrench into Emerson’s and Amelia’s relationship, as it can come of as too perfect at times, especially in this, the fifth book. However, it was hard to read about it when the reader knows that there has to be misunderstandings and some explanation behind everything and things could just be resolved in characters would just sit down and talk about it. So, while I guess it is realistic that they might behave the way they did, it was frustrating to read about, particularly with regards to Emerson. There were a few points where I feel like he was even a bit out of character with how mum he was on his involvement in the situation. He’s been presented as a very frank character, and I wasn’t completely sold on the way he chose to handle things. Or, maybe, I just bought in too fully to Amelia’s perspective on the whole thing!

Those two qualms aside, I did very much enjoy this next book in the series. Turns out that you can still have a fun Egypt-related mystery taking place in the heart of London! I wouldn’t want this to be too much of a trend, however, since I do miss the culture class and history that comes with the usual setting. But as the next book is titled “The Last Camel Died at Noon,” I feel fairly confident that we’ll be back on track soon!

Rating 7: Still highly enjoyable, though featuring two plot points that weren’t my favorite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deeds of the Disturber” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries”, and “Mysterious London.”

Find “Deeds of the Disturber” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley”

Kate’s Review: “Labyrinth Lost”

27969081Book: “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

“Beautiful Creatures” meets “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

Review: So I am kind of switching it up for my second Horrorpalooza review! While I know that Serena is usually the user to do fantasy novels, when I got “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova, I thought that it was going to be more horror based. I mean, the main character is a bruja, which is a kind of witch for this story and it’s purposes, and I did say that witches are going to count in this Horrorpalooza. So while this is less horror and more a remix of “Alice in Wonderland”, I am going to count it as a win because this is the kind of Witch-esque Mythology that I really enjoy: powerful, matriarchal bonds that sustain a family with just as much love as magic. Also, scary demons. Plus, it’s always a plus to see YA books with a POC protagonist, as books for kids and teens (and really all people) should be telling the stories of many different experiences.

So we will start with the good. “Labyrinth’s Lost” takes a concept we’ve seen before (teenage witches) and makes it it’s own unique tale. Alex is a bruja, the most powerful bruja of her generation, and the magical systems that Córdova created for this story are always interesting and taking from Latin American traditions. There are some pretty good source notes at the end of this book where Córdova explains what parts come from tradition, and what parts were invented for the story, and I think that it is valuable to learn about this background. Too often to do you see people using Latin American imagery of spirits and the dead, especially around Halloween, and this book shows the importance of some of this imagery and why it isn’t just spooky makeup. I also loved the magical world of Los Lagos, as it does harken to Wonderland but still maintains its own character and ambiance. The magical system of cantos as opposed to spells also gives a new spin on traditionally Western ideas of witchcraft, and I liked that every chapter started out with a passage from the family Book of Cantos. These Bruja communities are portrayed as incredibly tight knit, and the camaraderie and love was very apparent. I also like that the distinction is made that all brujas are witches, but not all witches are brujas. They are not necessarily interchangeable and one cannot make assumptions about brujas just because they are a kind of witch.

Alex is a fairly realistic protagonist, and while she does teeter towards the trope of ‘chosen one who rejects her power’, I think that there is enough reason given that she may not want to have this power in the first place so as not to be twee or stereotypical. To be an Ecantrix means to have a dangerous power that is hard to control, and given that Alex partially blames herself for the loss of her father, her petulance is excusable. I also greatly appreciated that not only is our main character a Latina girl, she is also bisexual, and her love interest is her best friend Rishi. Rishi gets to come along on this adventure with Alex and the mysterious brujo Nova, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how natural Alex and Rishi got on. Her bisexuality was always treated as just a fact of her being, not as a novelty that needed to be pointed out and doted on.

But with these positives do come a few negatives. One of those is really just out of my own personal preferences: I have a really hard time with fantasy fiction. Sometimes it really grabs me, and other times it’s harder to keep me interested. While I liked a lot about “Labyrinth Lost”, I did find the stuff inside Los Lagos to be far less interesting to me than her life in the real world. I think that had the magic stayed in an urban or real world setting it would have held my interest. but once new lands come into play, I’m really not all that invested unless that world is called Middle Earth or Fantastica. So when we got to Los Lagos, I found it easier to put down. I did like the villain, The Devourer, as she was menacing and seductive all at once, a being that has started to take over Los Lagos and in doing so has made it start to crumble under her oppressive force. She was good, but I wanted more of her.

And then….. the dreaded love triangle.

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Will this madness never cease? (source)

“Labyrinth Lost” is book one in a series (what is it with YA Fantasy books seemingly always packaged as a series?), and even though Alex is very much devoted to Rishi, by the end of this book you just get the feeling that Nova is going to be a threat to this relationship in the near future. After all, even though he does things in this book that should be pretty hard to forgive, he’s being set up as the tragic antihero that is hopelessly devoted to Alex. I really don’t like love triangles, and I had hoped that we were getting away from that, but apparently not. Plus, this book ends on a blatant cliffhanger, making it totally unable to stand alone, and I hate it when books end like that. It just galls me.

All of those complaints aside, I really do think that “Labyrinth Lost” is a really fun read about magic and brujas. I will probably keep going in the series, though I don’t know how long the wait is going to be. I’m not really in any hurry, which is both good, and bad.

Rating 7: A very unique twist on witches and Wonderland with diverse characters, though some of the plot progression left me colder than I would have wanted.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Labyrinth Lost” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great YA Novels About Latinas!”, and “LGBT Sci-Fi/Fantasy YA”.

Find “Labyrinth Lost” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Poisoned Blade”

31226229Book: “Poisoned Blade” by Kate Elliott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Now a Challenger, Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons alike. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…. She must become a warrior.

Review: After finishing, and loving, “Court of Fives,” I immediately requested “Poisoned Blade” from the library, and last week it arrived! Full disclosure, I may have set aside other reading projects for the sole purpose of bringing this book with me on a trip to the cabin last weekend. It seemed like the perfect “mini break” read, and it didn’t let me down!

“Poisoned Blade” picks up immediately after “Court of Fives.” And when I say “immediately,” I mean that it starts the very night after the final scene in the previous book with Jes sneaking into the royal grounds to find and apologize to Kal. Needless to say, he doesn’t take this well. Luckily, both characters are written in a very relatable and believable manner. Jes feels bad for her decision, but doesn’t regret it and wouldn’t do things differently. Yes, it costs her her relationship with Kal, but she saved her family in the process. It’s refreshing to see a character in a young adult series who is so realistically portrayed with regards to the relationships in her life. Obviously, as saddening as it would be for her to lose the trust of a boy she was beginning to love but had only know for a few weeks, her priorities would remain with her beloved mother and sisters.

While “Court of Fives” wasn’t primarily focused on the romance between Jes and Kal, with their immediate falling out at the beginning of this book, Elliott opened up a lot of space for herself to dive more fully into the political intrigue and action of the world she has created. We are more fully exposed to characters who only existed on the periphery of things in the other book, like Menoe (the sister of Kal and new wife of Jes’s father), the royal couple, and their ailing son, Prince Temnos. I thoroughly enjoyed the expansion of the cast and the deeper currents that were exposed through Jes’s interactions with these groups. In every way, the choices that she is faced with both expand and narrow at the same time as she is made aware of the complicated web (Ha! Get it? “Web” because her nickname is “Spider?” I’m super clever…) of relationships, schemes, and history that exist.

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You don’t need to fake it, guys, I know I’m hilarious…(source)

The world-building is also expanded when Jes takes part in a traveling party that tours the outer reaches beyond the city. This opened up a lot of doors for further action and new challenges for our main character. Really, the action was upped big time in this sequel, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of it. Particularly, the spider scouts and their magical/mechanical spiders were more fully explored in this book, which I really liked, as they made such a brief appearance in the first story and left a lot of questions unanswered. Jes also spends a lot more time fully realizing the role she has to play and is much more deliberate with her choices, many of which are not easy and force her to behave in a way that she would have thought impossible in the previous book. I love it when the main character must slide into moral shades of grey!

This book embraced the strengths that were set up in the first, and then went wild with the world-building and the addition of multiple plot layers. I very much enjoyed the whole thing and strongly recommend it for fans of young adult fantasy series. This has been one of the more enjoyable ones of the last few years so far, and I’m excited to see how Elliott wraps the whole thing up! Sadly, I have to wait until NEXT JULY!

Rating 9: A strong sequel, probably even better than the first!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Poisoned Blade” is a new title and thus not on many Goodreads lists. However, it should be on this one “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance.”

Find “Poisoned Blade” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Court of Fives”

Kate’s Review: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible”

23308488Book: “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Robert Hack (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Archie Comics, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book?: The library!

Book Description: On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda. Archie Comics’ latest horror sensation starts here! For TEEN+ readers.

Compiles the first six issues of the ongoing comic book series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Review: Okay readers, listen up! It is my first post in the month of October, and I have a certain thing I do every year during my favorite month: It’s called Horrorpalooza and I will be reading all horror, all the time. Well, at least things that have to do with horror, be it the genre itself or stories about ghosts, ghouls, witches, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night. So we are starting this horror festival off right with “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible”. I had a couple of associations for Archie Comics’ magical heroine Sabrina “The Teenage Witch” Spellman from my youth. When I was in elementary school it was the plucky spin off character from Archie Comics. When I was a tween and early teen it was Melissa Joan Hart’s TV character who showed up on my TV every Friday night (until she went to college and the cast went through a huge overhaul. Forget that!). So when I heard about the newest version from Archie comics, and heard that it was supposed to be scary and horror based, I didn’t have big expectations. I figured it would be marginally creepy, maybe like “Scream Queens” level creepy, and that it would be kind of fun.

Oh my God. I was so, so very wrong. Because in the very first scene, Diana Spellman is running through the woods with her baby daughter Sabrina, hoping to save her from the family of witches she had unwittingly married into…. Only to have Edward, her husband, stick her in a mental institution after wiping her sanity from her.

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This is not the Sabrina of my youth. (source)

Friends, in this story arc, Sabrina is a teenage witch living in the 1960s and her aunts are brides of Satan. As she is approaching her sixteenth birthday she has to choose between devoting her life to Satan and witchcraft, or to pick a mortal life to live with her high school sweetheart Harvey Kinkle. But there is also the threat of Madam Satan, a powerful witch from the Spellman family’s past who is hell bent on revenge. This is some Anne Rice “Witching Hour” stuff here, guys, and let me tell you, it is done VERY well. It also caught me completely off guard, as I did not expect this dark, twisted story to come from ARCHIE COMICS of all places! Between Aunts Hilda and Zelda partaking in cannibalism and Sabrina herself casting spells that take away people’s free will, and Madam FREAKING Satan peeling people’s faces off (off page, thankfully) to place across her own mutilated face, I felt like I was reading an old school folk tale about witches in all their evil, nasty glory, and I was LIVING FOR EVERY MOMENT OF IT. Because “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is a damn good horror comic, and I would even go so far as to say that it’s the best horror comic out there right now.

The twisting of the old Sabrina story is incredible, really. I love the new fun and funky witch stories that have cropped up in the 20th and 21st centuries, like “Bewitched” and the original “Sabrina” stories, but there is something to be said for some of the scary portrayals like “The Blair Witch Project” (and its recent sequel) and “The Witch.” By taking Sabrina Spellman, one of the tamest of witch stories, and making it into a Puritanical nightmare, Aguirre-Sacasa has made a new horror narrative that also, somehow, has its tongue planted firmly in cheek. There is something both upsetting and hilarious about seeing Sabrina Spellman ride a big black goat through the air as part of her “christening,” just as it’s unsettling seeing Betty and Veronica in Riverdale trying to raise a succubus to finally settle their feud over Archie once and for all. I was laughing and also freaking out about how royally screwed up this all was. We are following incredibly wicked characters, characters who commit heinous acts and commit themselves to what we are to believe is the worst kind of evil in this world, and yet they are so familiar and kind of devilishly fun in how they’ve gotten so twisted up. The only two characters that seem to have their original, fairly benign and caring hearts, are Sabrina herself, and her dutiful cat Salem. And my God was it just nostagia-filled loveliness to see that Salem is still there for his witch.

The artwork, too, is a sight to see. It was what really tipped me off right as I opened it that this was going to be something far greater than I anticipated. It looks like watercolor sketches, which gives the book an eerie and dreamy feel. Robert Hack has also been known for his other comic work, such as “Afterlife with Archie” and a few runs at “Doctor Who”, and his style really adds to the aesthetic of the story.

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(source)

I love the faded quality to it, with the splashes of realism when it comes to a book that Sabrina may be reading, or a very important moment or character. I find it gorgeous and I hope that Hack stays with the series in its entirety. I can’t imagine it with any other style.

So if you are looking for some serious hardcore witch stories this lovely October, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” needs to be put on your list. The tribute to old time witch mythos combined with a familiar, if not very inverted, cast of characters is an act of genius. Sabrina Spellman, I am so happy that this is what you’ve become.

Rating 10: A fun and incredibly disturbing horror comic for fans of old school witch and witchcraft mythology. The best horror comic being written right now, hands down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is fairly new and has not found its way on many lists yet. But check out “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Witches and Other Sundry Spirits”.

Find “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol.1): The Crucible” at your library using WorldCat!

October 2016 Highlights

Fall is here. We have to admit it. While Serena dreads it, Kate lives for it! This month is Kate’s month, where she’ll be reading nothing but horror in her annual Horrorpalooza! (Serena will stick with her less traumatic genres, but might get a few spooks in here and there). But with the new month comes our list of Highlights of books that are coming out! Let’s see what we’re most looking forward to.

Serena’s Picks

23302838Book: “Goldenhand” by Garth Nix

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Why I’m Interested: This is the most recent book in Nix’s “Abhorsen” series that started back in 1995 with the first book “Sabriel,” which was, and remains, one of my favorite fantasy books from my childhood. It’s always thrilling (and terrifying) when authors continue a series that has a lot of nostalgia attached to it. I read the second and third book in the series and was a bit less enamored, but as this features the same characters, I may need to do a re-read for this blog in preparation for this!

28321033Book: “One Was Lost” by Natalie D. Richards

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Ok, so this is verging into the “creep zone” for me, calling up memories of “The Blair Witch Project.” Several teens go on a hiking/camping trip into the wilderness, only to wake up one morning dazed and confused with their supplies, chaperone, and half their group missing and mysterious words scrawled on their wrists. What’s worse? Creepy dolls! Creepy dolls! This sounds like a bizarre hodgepodge, but I’m a sucker for stories set in the woods, so give me a cozy blanket and a cat, and I’ll attempt it!

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Book: “Yesternight” by Cat Winters

Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Why I’m Interested: This book is billed as a mystery, but I can also see why it is set to be published in October with some decidedly creepy elements. Set in 1925, the main character is a psychologist who travels to Oregon to work with school children. All does not goes as planned when she runs into a genius child who claims to be living a second life after dying decades earlier. I love books that cross-genres, as this one seems to be doing. History? Good. Mystery? Good. Creepy children?…um, good?

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Last Seen Leaving” by Caleb Roehrig 25036310

Publication Date: October 4th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Teen mysteries and thrillers can be a dangerous game to play. While I have loved some of them, like “We Were Liars”, there have been real clunkers as well. But “Last Seen Leaving” sounds like it has some promise. Caleb’s girlfriend January has disappeared, and everyone thinks that he did it. He’s determined to prove his innocence, but is also hiding a big secret from everyone, possibly including himself. Okay, I’m sold. It sounds intriguing, and if it’s good it could be very very good.

29102955Book: “The Secret History of Twin Peaks” by Mark Frost

Publication Date: October 18th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Well, for starters, “Twin Peaks” just happens to be my FAVORITE TV SHOW IN THE HISTORY OF EVER!! I was stoked enough when it was announced that it was coming back to TV, but when I found out there was going to be a book to get everyone caught up with what was going on in town in the past 20 years, I could have died. I love the show and I hope that Mark Frost (one of the producers) has some good fates for my favorite characters (Audrey Horne in particular).

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Book: “Feedback” by Mira Grant

Publication Date: October 4th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Grant’s “Newflesh Trilogy”, about two blogging siblings who find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy in a post zombie-apocalypse society, is a very original and fun zombie series. While I was happy with how it all wrapped up for Georgia and Shaun Mason, when I heard that another series set in the same universe and on the same timeline was coming out, well, I was very interested. This series is apparently going to follow some of their competition, other reporters who may be finding other secrets of their own. I’m totally willing to dive back into this high tech zombie universe.

What books are you guys excited for that are coming out this month? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “Lion in the Valley”

40495Book: “Lion in the Valley

Publishing Info: Atheneum, 1986

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: The 1895-96 season promises to be an exceptional one for Amelia Peabody, her dashing Egyptologist husband Emerson, and their wild and precocious eight-year-old son Ramses. The much-coveted burial chamber of the Black Pyramid in Dahshoor is theirs for the digging. But there is a great evil in the wind that roils the hot sands sweeping through the bustling streets and marketplace of Cairo. The brazen moonlight abduction of Ramses–and an expedition subsequently cursed by misfortune and death–have alerted Amelia to the likly presence of her arch nemesis the Master Criminal, notorious looter of the living and the dead. But it is far more than ill-gotten riches that motivates the evil genius this time around. For now the most valuable and elusive prized of all is nearly in his grasp: the meddling lady archaeologist who has sworn to deliver him to justice . . . Amelia Peabody!

Review: I’ve come to another conclusion for why I love this series so much (yes, these reviews are steadily devolving into “Amelia Peabody lovefests,” but who cares, I do what I want!) And that reason is that, much to my younger sister’s chagrin, as a kid I absolutely loved the 1999 “The Mummy” and insisted we watch it at least monthly for years. And much of my love revolved around the character Evelyn. I mean, I went on to become a librarian and dressed up as her for Halloween only two years ago, so…yeah, it’s kind of a thing. Anyways, as I read these books, I can’t help put picture Amelia as a kindred spirit for Evelyn and interchange their looks in my imaginary version of the character.

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Change out the name for “Emerson” and this is Amelia to a T! (source)

Another archeological season is upon the Peabody/Emerson family, and this year they have snagged the good stuff, receiving a permit to work on the much-desired and mysterious Black Pyramid site that they had been denied the year before. But, of course, much to Emerson’s continual despair, a dig is not a dig with Amelia without much mystery, drama, and a good murder or two.

But Emerson’s own passions are immediately involved with the attempted abduction of their young son, Ramses. However, much as this enrages him, he remains skeptical of Amelia’s “Master Criminal” theories regarding an unknown man who has set himself up as her personal nemesis. And in this case, I hear ya, Emerson! I, too, was a bit skeptical about the leaps of logic that are required to create Amelia’s “Master Criminal” plot, but, of course, Amelia is always right and I should trust! From a plausibility viewpoint as a reader, however, there might have been a few hoops too many that I was asked to jump through in order to buy-in to this concept.

In many ways, this story contained a lot more action than we’ve seen in previous books. Right away with the attempted kidnapping, things are now happening directly to the members of the main family itself, not hapless bystanders that we pick up for one novel’s worth of attention. The increased stakes here immediately make the story that much more thrilling. And, like I said in my previous review, Ramses has grown on me quite a bit, and his response to this particular incident was quite good.

As these stories are all told from Amelia’s perspective, we always view the story through her eyes and perspective. However, the mysteries themselves are often a few steps away from her own actions (though she, of course, always involves herself immediately). With this case, the mystery itself is largely focused on her; SHE is the action of the story. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Without spoilers, I did enjoy the ending quite a lot, however I had a few qualms with bits of it. The “Master Criminal” himself was sufficiently creepy and I appreciated Amelia’s handling of herself during this section of the book. I wasn’t quite sold on the ultimate resolution of things. Amelia clearly doesn’t sit aside while things happen to and around her, but I feel that the story, and character, could have been better served if a few tropes had been avoided near the end. This is sufficiently vague as to be an annoying commentary, I know, but alas, it’s hard to discuss ending without getting into spoilers!

All told, I very much enjoyed this fourth book in the series. While I particularly enjoyed the direct focus of the mystery being on Amelia and her family, there were a few questionable points in the logic leaps required for Amelia/Emerson to put together the clues, and the ending maybe could have used a few more tweaks. But, if you’re reading this series and enjoying it, pick up this one immediately!

Rating 8: Yada yada, of course I loved it, yada yada!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lion in the Valley” is included on these Goodreads lists: “I shot the Pharaoh – Novels on Egyptian Myths and Mysteries”, and “The Funniest Books Ever Written (Any Genre).”

Find “Lion in the Valley” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case”

Kate’s Review: “The Couple Next Door”

28815474Book: “The Couple Next Door” by Shari Lapena

Publishing Info: Pamela Dorman Books, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: How well do you know the couple next door? Or your husband? Or even—yourself?  

People are capable of almost anything. . . 
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco  soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years. 

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

Review: Whenever I pick up a grit-lit thriller novel, I like to try and guess what the big messy twist is going to be. If I go off of logistics of the story and my previous knowledge of the genre, I can sometimes guess some of the twists and turns that are coming up. Barring, of course, that the author either does a really good job of concealing their twists, or brings twists out of nowhere that make little to no sense whatsoever. I can tell you that “The Couple Next Door” has a little bit of both, which flip flopped between the frustrating and the satisfying.

So even though the description is vague, I’m sure that you can guess that the terrible crime that is committed is that baby Cora disappears from her crib while Anne and Marco are at the dinner party in the adjoining home of the duplex. So the question becomes who is behind it? The police, specifically Detective Rasbach, is convinced that it has to be either Anne or Marco. I had made my own predictions about thirty pages in (as Serena can attest to, as she was there when I was spouting off my theories). I’m pretty happy to say that my predictions were pretty wrong, but that isn’t to say that this book wasn’t devoid of issues. Neither Marco nor Anne had a lot of shining moments, and I had issues with both of these characters and how they were portrayed. I’m glad that there weren’t any reckless depictions of post-partum depression, but Anne as a whole wasn’t very interesting, being an incredibly passive player in this entire thing. It’s not that I wanted her to go out and kick people’s teeth in until she found her baby, but I wanted more than her being in a constant state of victimization and having things happen to her instead of making things happen (except late, late, LATE in the game. But a bit more on that later). And then there’s Marco, who manages to make every single terrible decision a person could make in his situation, so while I know that we are probably supposed to feel a teeny bit of sympathy for him, boy I sure didn’t. One of the twists involving him was a surprise, but it made sense, and it just accentuated his stupidity even more. As for the side characters, they were fine, but they did feel like they were just the same old characters that we get in these stories: the slutty neighbor who doesn’t care who she hurts, the cold and judgmental in laws, and the hardened but nonetheless affected detective. They served their purpose, but they weren’t exactly reinventing the wheel, and when the protagonists weren’t really endearing themselves to me it was all the more glaring.

I also need to take a moment to lambast the ending. I am going to avoid giving spoilers here because I do think that this book is worth reading if you like thrillers and grit lit. But be warned, the ending is incredibly, INCREDIBLY tacked on and unnecessary. Especially given the implications that it has about other mental illnesses, as while Lapena was pretty good in her portrayal of post-partum depression she was not as great at other depictions of other disorders. When the big ‘final’ twist as referenced in the description came up, I was pretty miffed and turned off. It was out of place and aggravating. We didn’t need that one last twist. And it derailed the entire story for me.

Ridiculous twist aside, as I mentioned before other reveals and surprises made a lot of sense and did keep me on my toes. I thought that I would be able to predict a lot of it, but I found myself unable to put it down because of the need to now what was going to happen. Lapena does a very good job of parsing out her story, putting the pieces into place in a meticulous and well thought out way. I think that ultimately what I look for in a story like this is whether or not the plot keeps me guessing, and “The Couple Next Door” achieved that. If you are just looking for an entertaining thriller, and can look past the less fleshed out characterizations and ridiculous ending, “The Couple Next Door” is probably a good choice. I don’t regret reading it, I just wish that it had been a bit more.

Rating 6: The plot itself was pretty solid, but the main characters were lacking. Add in a ridiculous ending and it wasn’t what it could have been.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Couple Next Door” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Psychological Thriller/Suspense”, and “2016: What Women Born in the 1970s Have Read So Far This Year”.

Find “The Couple Next Door” at your library using WorldCat!