Serena’s Review: “Flamebringer”

40401975Book: “Flamebringer” by Elle Katharine White

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, November 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: Monsters, manners, and magic combine in this exciting final volume in the Heartstone Trilogy—an exhilarating blend of epic fantasy and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—in which a fearless healer and her dragon-riding husband must stop a reawakened evil from destroying their world.

It starts with the inconceivable: Wydrick, sworn enemy of the Daireds, is back from the dead, possessed by a ghast that grants him immortality and inhuman strength. From the isolated northern mountains, Aliza, Alastair, and Akarra chase him into the dangerous Old Wilds, realizing too late that he’s led them into a blizzard. Before he vanishes, Wydrick utters a warning: A terrible, ancient evil has awoken, hungry for blood, and is headed their way.

The danger is closer than they know. The Tekari—sworn enemies of humans—are openly roaming the kingdom and are headed towards the capital, Edonarle. Then unexpected news arrives: riding like a dark dragon on the winds from the south, an ambassador from the Silent King of Els, has left the shores of the distant desert kingdom for the first time in centuries.

Unknown enemy? Or unexpected ally? Plunged into a dangerous world of royal intrigue and ancient grudges, Aliza and Alastair soon realize it will take more than steel and dragonfire to save their kingdom. For the silence of Els hides a secret that could shake House Daired to its foundations, and the time has come to settle accounts.

Silence, it seems, is about to be broken.

Previously Reviewed: “Heartstone” and “Dragonshadow”

Review: As I mentioned in the post for the giveaway for “Flamebringer,” this series kind of came out of nowhere in many unexpected ways. Not only did it manage the difficult task of adapting “Pride and Prejudice” into an original fantasy story without losing the foundations of the former or sacrificing the freshness of the latter, but it produced an equally compelling sequel that was completely new. The second book went further to explore some challenging topics while also expanding on the original concepts set up in the first book. It also set up this third book. So, first chance I got, obviously I read it!

After the dire warning/threat from Wydrick, Aliza and Alistair attempt to make their way home and gather a council of war. On the way, they encounter various other mysterious parties, all with their own whispers of an evil stirring. History, it appears, holds secrets. Some on the grand scale, and some much more close to home. Will Aliza, Alistair and Akarra be able to piece together the puzzle in time? Or is the ancient evil that is coming beyond even the scope of House Daired?

While about average in length for a fantasy novel, this one sure packed a lot in. From my perspective, this was both a good and bad thing. It was definitely not lacking in story, plot, or action. But at times it also felt as if the author had crammed two books into this one. Both books were interesting, but at times the story felt disjointed and overwhelming.

For one thing, the story picks up immediately where the previous one left off. I’ve read both of the first books right when they came out, so there hasn’t been any delay in my read of this series other than the one that came with its own publication schedule. And yet I still found myself having to re-read sections to re-orient myself with this story. Part of this is due to the fact that the world is so fully formed and unique. There’s a lot going on with different places, peoples, histories, and religions. This is definitely a good thing, but it did make the story a bit challenging to focus in on.

This struggled isn’t helped by the fact that the first half of the book sees our main trio off on a few mini adventures. On their own, these events are exciting, a bit creepy, and give even more depth to the world that we’re in. They also sprinkle in more clues as to what the greater conflict may be. But they also add more things to keep track of. And throughout these action pieces, we also have the emotional repercussions of the last book still playing out for Aliza and Alistair, as well as some new, shocking information for them both. Again, great character development, but even more story points.

By the middle of the book, the main story does feel as if it is getting started, and once the final conflict begins, the story is off and running. The second book definitely introduced a darker theme to this series, and this one is quick to take that torch and run even further with it. As I mentioned, several sections were pretty spooky and the threat presented deals real damage to our characters. I whizzed through this last section of the book, intrigued and yet dreading every page turn.

As a final book, I do feel that this one perhaps bit off more than it could chew. There was just so much! The mystery of what is going on isn’t revealed until quite near the end of the book and it wasn’t a simple explanation by any means. Between trying to wrap my mind around that, while also getting through the emotional character arcs of our characters, I felt a bit overwhelmed. After the book was finished, I found myself looking back on it and still not feeling as certain portions of it were fully resolved or that I fully understood how it all fit together.

It was almost an excess of good things, in the end. I enjoyed it all, but felt that it might have all worked a bit better had it been given two books. The second book in the series was a neat little mystery of its own that laid some ground work for the larger conflict of the series. This, too, could have been a nice third book that contained its own smaller story (the first half of the book has several portions that could have been expanded out further, I feel) while laying even more groundwork. This would have left a final book with more room to really breathe and fully dive into the complicated history and conflict of the threat looming on the horizon. So, too, it would have given a bit more resolution to our main characters.

The strengths of the first two books are definitely still here, however. I still loved Aliza as our main character and the ways she finds to contribute to a battle that she is not well-equipped to fight (not being raised a warrior). I also liked that we saw a return of several characters from the first book who were absent in the second.

Overall, I did very much enjoy this book. My main complaint seems like a weird one, that there was almost too many good things here. I do think, perhaps, the book would read better if being picked up immediately after the second. Had I not needed to spend as much time re-orienting myself in the beginning, some of these feelings of being overwhelmed may not have lingered as long. Mostly, I think the trilogy as a whole is a great success and that this book is best viewed as a segment of that. If you haven’t already, make sure to enter our giveaway to win your copy!

Rating 8: Best appreciated as part of a larger whole, but still a thrilling conclusion to the series!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flamebringer” is on this Goodreads list: “Jane Austen variations published in 2019.”

Check out “Flamebringer” from your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Anything For You”

43263434Book: “Anything for You (Valerie Hart #3)” by Saul Black

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, November 2019

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

Book Description: Critically acclaimed author Saul Black returns with a heart-racing thriller in which a brutal murder forces one woman to reckon with her own past–and her future.

On a hot summer night, a watchful neighbor locks eyes with an intruder and unwittingly alerts the police to a vicious crime scene next door: a lavish master bedroom where a man lies dead. His wife is bleeding out onto the hardwood floor, clinging to life.

The victim, Adam Grant, was a well-known San Francisco prosecutor–a man whose connection to Homicide detective Valerie Hart brings her face-to-face with a life she’s long since left behind. Adam’s career made him an easy target, and forensic evidence points towards an ex-con he put behind bars years ago. But while Adam’s wife and daughter grapple with their tragic loss, Valerie uncovers devastating clues that point in a more ominous direction. Lurking in the shadows of the Grants’ pristine life is a mysterious blonde who holds the key to a dangerous past.

As Valerie struggles to forge a new path for herself, the investigation forces her to confront the question: can we ever really leave our pasts behind?

Sophisticated and stunning, Anything for You is an unforgettable thriller that will grip readers long after turning the last page.

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

We had to wait a little while, but finally, FINALLY the gritty and complex detective Valerie Hart is back for another mystery! Saul Black continues the adventures of the San Francisco sleuth in “Anything For You”, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. I don’t have many mystery series I follow, but when a new one comes out I’m game to dig in. I had some mostly positive, but also a bit mixed, feelings about the previous Valerie Hart books after revisiting them (as seen in my previous review), but had high hopes that I’d come out of “Anything For You” still feeling good. And I did. Mostly.

I’ll talk about the mystery first, as that really in the central plot point and Hart is just living in it. A well known lawyer is found murdered in his home, leaving behind a wife and daughter. Hart is on the case, though she should probably step aside given that she almost slept with the man a few years ago (because of course she did). It initially looks open and shut, but as Hart continues to investigate we get to see the slow reveal of a more complex (and sinister) plan and past that the victim might have been hiding. Along with Hart’s investigation and her slow clue building, we also get the perspective of a mysterious woman whose connection isn’t apparent at first, but slowly becomes more and more clear. To me this was the most interesting aspect of this story, and possibly the most interesting slow reveal of all of Black’s Valerie Hart books. I was actually more interested in seeing what this mysterious woman’s story was going to bring next than I was in the official investigation, and then once the tethers did intersect and wrap everything together I was all the more satisfied with how Black build up a cohesive and complex mystery.

As for Hart, I still really like Valerie and I like seeing how she progresses in each book. When we see her in this one, she is now married to her lover Nick, and they are considering starting a family. The questions of parenthood and whether she’s cut out for her are obviously weighing on her mind, and it means that, once again, she starts to drift towards her usual self destructive tendencies. And as much as I love Valerie and I like that it’s being acknowledged that family planning can be filled with complex emotions, I do feel like Valerie’s constant slip up potential is a little old at this point. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any growth whatsoever with her character, as she certainly isn’t static in her behavior or personality. But I do think that it’s an easy out to revert to questions of ‘will she or won’t she’ make bad decisions just for the sake of inner conflict and turmoil. I’m also becoming more and more sensitive to the ‘men write women’ pattern that can be seen sometimes, especially when it comes to ‘strong female characters’. When it comes to Hart, she sometimes falls into all too common tropes about what that means, like sacrificing any aspect of femininity, pointing out the flaws of other women to make her look better, or simply putting more ‘masculine’ traits (that is traits commonly associated with masculinity in our culture) into her bag of tricks to show how tough she is. That isn’t to say that all men or all women exist in a monolith when it comes to behavior and emotional coping skills, as that would also be a foolish thing to insist upon. The problem with Valerie is that more and more she falls into the ‘not like other girls’ box, and it’s one that I have less and less patience for. And honestly, every time that Valerie referred to her genitalia as ‘her c*nt’, I cringed. And I know that Black is British and the associations with that word are very different there, but still. It just felt like another ‘not like other girls’ moment, and it was laid on pretty thick.

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(source)

Overall there was a lot for me to like about “Anything for You”, and I am still interested in seeing what lies in store for Valerie Hart and any future endeavors she may undertake. But I’m hoping that her character gets to grow a little more in the future.

Rating 7: Valerie Hart is still a compelling protagonist and the mystery was good, but I’m starting to worry that we’re edging into all too common ‘tough but messed up girl’ tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Anything For You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Who Solve Crimes”.

Find “Anything For You” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder”

 

Giveaway: “Flamebringer”

40401975Book: “Flamebringer” by Elle Katharine White

Publication Info: Harper Voyager, November 12, 2019

Book Description: Monsters, manners, and magic combine in this exciting final volume in the Heartstone Trilogy—an exhilarating blend of epic fantasy and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—in which a fearless healer and her dragon-riding husband must stop a reawakened evil from destroying their world.

It starts with the inconceivable: Wydrick, sworn enemy of the Daireds, is back from the dead, possessed by a ghast that grants him immortality and inhuman strength. From the isolated northern mountains, Aliza, Alastair, and Akarra chase him into the dangerous Old Wilds, realizing too late that he’s led them into a blizzard. Before he vanishes, Wydrick utters a warning: A terrible, ancient evil has awoken, hungry for blood, and is headed their way.

The danger is closer than they know. The Tekari—sworn enemies of humans—are openly roaming the kingdom and are headed towards the capital, Edonarle. Then unexpected news arrives: riding like a dark dragon on the winds from the south, an ambassador from the Silent King of Els, has left the shores of the distant desert kingdom for the first time in centuries.

Unknown enemy? Or unexpected ally? Plunged into a dangerous world of royal intrigue and ancient grudges, Aliza and Alastair soon realize it will take more than steel and dragonfire to save their kingdom. For the silence of Els hides a secret that could shake House Daired to its foundations, and the time has come to settle accounts.

Silence, it seems, is about to be broken.

Previously Reviewed: “Heartstone” and “Dragonshadow”

Giveaway Details: I’m super excited to read this book! It’s pretty fantastic to see a what started out as a stand-alone fantasy novel turn into such an excellent series. I remember when I first heart about “Heartstone” I was pretty skeptical about the entire concept. I’ve been burned a few too many times on “‘Pride and Prejudice’ but with BLANK!!!” book pitches way too many times. And this one sounded like one of the more bizarre takes? Mr. Darcy rides a…a…dragon?? And Mr. Bingley also rides a magical beast? Something about a giant evil worm? And somehow it’s still “Pride and Prejudice??” Sounded super weird. But never say I’m not happy to be surprised! I loved the heck out of the first book; it was familiar enough to its source material to be recognizable but was in no means beholden to the same story and versions of the characters that came with it

And then there was a second! And here we really got to see the strength of the original world-buiding and= characterization that White had started in the first one. Freed of the trappings of retelling the classic tale, Aliza and Alistair were free to begin adventures of their own as a married couple. All of the wonderful fantasy elements were back and somehow the stakes seemed even higher. In many ways, this book was much darker than its predecessor. But what I appreciated the most about this second book was how it dealt with Aliza’s transition into the Rider way of life, one much more full of danger and uncertainty than her previous life. It also explored a pretty challenging and emotional topic in an incredibly thoughtful manner.

The story did end with some hints about what was to come here in the third story. But so far I’ve been so off-base with expectations of these books that I’m hesitant to even make any guesses as to where the story will ultimately go. I’m excited to find out though!

My review of “Flamebringer” will go up this Friday, and in anticipation, we’re offering a giveaway for the book starting today. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends November 13.

Click here to enter!

Kate’s Rev Up Series Review: The Valerie Hart Series

 

Books: “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder” by Saul Black

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, September 2015; Orion, November 2016

Where Did I Get These Books: The library!

Book Descriptions: When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper’s isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it’s the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it’s just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of victims–women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them–has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she’s losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens.

But the murders at the Cooper farmhouse didn’t quite go according to plan. There was a survivor, Rowena’s ten-year-old daughter Nell, who now holds the key to the killings. Injured, half-frozen, terrified, Nell has only one place to go. And that place could be even more dangerous than what she’s running from.

In this extraordinary, pulse-pounding debut, Saul Black takes us deep into the mind of a psychopath, and into the troubled heart of the woman determined to stop him.


The second spine-chilling serial-killer thriller featuring homicide detective Valerie Hart from the author of the critically-acclaimed THE KILLING LESSONS.

Troubled San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart is planning a rare weekend away from the job when she gets the call. A body has been found. A woman, brutally murdered. And the cryptic note left by the body is addressed to Valerie.

The victim is unknown to her, but as Valerie analyses the scene, the clues begin to point in a deeply disturbing direction: to a maximum security prison where a woman called Katherine Glass is awaiting execution for a series of gruesome killings. And Valerie was the cop who put her there.

The last thing Valerie wants to do is re-enter Katherine’s twisted world, but when a second body is discovered, with another puzzling clue, she realises she has no choice. Katherine Glass holds the key to the killings, and Valerie needs to find out what she knows before the murders come even closer to home.

Even if it means playing a deadly game where once again, the psychopathic killer holds all the cards.

Review: A few years ago, I took a chance on a book called “The Killing Lessons” by Saul Black. I went in more interested in the overall story and plot, expecting it to be a one off with horrific travelling murderers and a run of the mill hard boiled detective on their tail. But what I found instead was Valerie Hart, a damaged, complex, and fascinating protagonist whose demons and past eclipsed the already compelling and disturbing main plotline. A year later, “Lovemurder” came out, and I was thrilled to see that Valerie Hart was, once again, the hero of the tale. And now, a few years after that, the third in the Valerie Hart series “Anything For You” is about to come out. In anticipation of this new novel, I decided to go back and revisit “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder”, and get myself super hyped for the return of Valerie. So before I review that book, let’s look at the books that came before it, as they are very different stories, and yet are connected by a protagonist that I’ve come to really enjoy.

When we first meet Valerie in “The Killing Lessons”, she is a detective in San Francisco who is haunted by a couple of different things. The first is that she has had a couple of unsolved cases that she can’t shake, cases that have rocked her to her core and have become a dark obsession. The other is a failed relationship with another detective named Nick Blaskovich. She and Nick had a real shot at happily ever after, but after her frustrations about her unsolved cases made her spiral, she pushed him away in the most destructive ways possible. Little does she know that out east in Colorado, the men she has been trying to find are about to strike again, and this time they mess up and leave a witness alive, a little girl named Nell who ran when her mother and brother were brutally murdered. Black seamlessly connects the stories of Valerie, Nell, and the two murderers, and shows them on a collision course. Black gives a lot of attention to all of the players, the chapters trading off between what Xander and Paulie, the murderers, are up to, what Nell is doing as she hides from them, and how Valerie is slowly but surely piecing their tracks together and closing in on them. The story treads more towards the literary than what you may expect from a detective story, and the brutality is striking, and at times a little much to handle. When I read it initially it didn’t seem to bother me, but during my revisit the violence, which is mostly directed towards women, was very difficult to swallow. I think that had Valerie not been given as much attention, depth, and complexity, I would have been more critical. But as it was, Valerie’s storyline shows not only the tenacity and spunk of a truly gifted detective, but also what being a good detective can sometimes do to your psychological state. 

In “Lovemurder”, we turn from overblown sadistic violence, and gravitate more towards a psychological cat and mouse game. In this story, Valerie has to confront Katherine Glass, a serial killer that she put away years ago, but whose mystery partner has started killing again, and claims they won’t stop unless Glass is set free. Like Hart, Glass is a hyper-intelligent woman who knows how to read people, and when she and Valerie start to face off again, the mind games start up again between the two women. Glass claims that she wants to help Valerie since her partner, whom she never knew the identity of, left her high and dry to rot in jail, but Valerie isn’t certain that she can fully trust this woman, insights aside. In this story, there is still a case that is haunting her, but Valerie has grown from the complete mess that she is in “The Killing Lessons”, and exudes a new strength and confidence that really suits her. I like seeing her character grow between novels, as had she just remained static between the two it would have been exhausting. I also liked that Black didn’t feel a need to up the ante on the violence, and that while there is STILL violence in this book, it doesn’t feel nearly as exploitative or misogynistic as it did in “The Killing Lessons”. On top of that, Katherine Glass is another fascinating, complex character, and I really liked seeing her and Valerie go head to head in a battle of the wits. Another aspect I liked is that Valerie’s personal life with Nick is still there, but it doesn’t take the forefront, nor does Black put Valerie in any situation where she is the ‘bad guy’ because she takes her job so seriously and will put it over romance when she deems it fit to do so. 

That isn’t to say that there aren’t pitfalls with Hart and her characterization. I do think that from time to time Black does fall into the ‘men writing women’ trap. Every once in awhile Valerie may do something that would make me pause and say ‘okay, that reads more like a guy’s idea of what a woman would do as opposed to how a woman author would write and read the same situation’. And it’s hard to deny that, as mentioned above, there are definitely misogynistic undertones towards some of the women characters, be it as victims, or just other characters that aren’t Valerie (this is especially evident with a character named Carla in “The Killing Lessons”; her hatred for Valerie is petty and comes back to a man). Plus, there were some strange moments, especially in “The Killing Lessons”, where objectification and violence ruled, and sexuality popped up in places it probably shouldn’t. While it makes some sense when it’s from Xander and Paulie’s point of view (they are sexual sadists after all), there was one moment involving Nell, a prepubescent girl, and the odd note that she hasn’t hit puberty yet as denoted by a, shall we say, lack of certain secondary sexual characteristics. Why did THAT need to be noted? What did it add to the plot as a whole, ESPECIALLY when the observation is coming from a character who is supposed to be benevolent and someone she is safe with? 

But that said, as a whole I am always interested in finding out more about Valerie, and to see where she goes next. So go on I shall, problematic aspects aside (but also kept track of, in case it becomes too much). Suffice to say, when I saw that Black had a new book about her, I was THRILLED and requested it from NetGalley almost immediately. Valerie herself is such a compelling character, as of now I am eager to come back for more. On Thursday, I’ll review her newest adventure, “Anything For You”.

Rating 7 and 8: Black has brutal, dark, and propulsive thrillers, but the true strength is the protagonist Valerie Hart. These books aren’t for the faint of heart and sometimes come off as sexist in some ways, but overall Hart is a complex and interesting character to follow.

Reader’s Advisory:

The Valerie Hart Series is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Female Lead Characters”, and “Best Modern Thrillers”.

Find “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: November 2019

It’s the month of thanksgiving, and you know what that means! We are ready to give thanks for all the new books coming our way! If between all the turkey and the babies we are able to keep our eyes open enough to read them that is. What are we talking about…OF COURSE we’ll make time for more reading! Priorities, am I right? Here are the book we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Pick:

32605126._sy475_Book: “Song of the Crimson Flower” by Julie C. Dao

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: I’ve been meaning to read one of Dao’s books for a while now and just have never gotten around to it. So when I was given the opportunity to join in a blog tour for her latest title, I jumped on the chance to find out what all the fuss was about! The story follows Lan, a young woman who cruelly rejects the love of a poor village boy, Dao. From there, the story sounds like a version of “The Princess and the Frog” only this time the frog is a flute and the story is drawing from the author’s Vietnamese roots as inspiration for this fantasy world. YA fantasy romance can be very hit and miss for me, so I’m guessing a lot of my enjoyment of this book will come down to just how cruel we’re talking with regards to Lan’s rejection. On the other hand, a good redemption story for a heroine can also be pretty great, so here’s to hoping!

9781250208408_8e486Book: “Sister of Shadow and Light” by Sara B. Larson

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: This is another author who I’ve been meaning to check out. But as nice as it is to start a series that you know is concluded, it’s also a bit intimidating to start out, which has held me back from her “Defy” books for a bit. But no more excuses! She’s starting up a new series with this book, and we we all know I’m a sucker for sister stories, so now seems like the time. On top of that, the story seems to be a sort of fairytale fantasy, combining elements from both “Rapunzel” and “Sleeping Beauty” which sounds right up my alley. Trapped away in a tower, their lives have been filled with solitude and fear, until one day (of course) someone makes their way in. The longer description sounds a lot like Laini Taylor’s “Strange the Dreamer” story as well, so that adds an extra layer of intrigue!

40401975Book: “Flamebringer” by Elle Katharine White

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

Why I’m Interested: So we have a new standalone, the first in a new series, and now it’s time for the last in a series! Enter: “Flamebringer.” What started out as a standalone fantasy interpretation of “Pride and Prejudice” has turned into an enthralling fantasy series that has focused on some tough issues while presenting a fully fleshed out fantasy world all of its own. In the last book, Aliza and her husband seemed to discover the hints of a world-ending danger lurking in the shadows, so I’m sure that here that conflict will finally come to a head. But at its heart, this has always been a story about Aliza and the challenge of living in a world much bigger than the one in which she was born into. I’m sure she will rise to the occasion once again!

Kate’s Picks:

40538634Book: “Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” by Jessica McDiarmid

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

Why I’m Interested: True crime is a weakness of mine, but I will absolutely admit that a lot of the cases that get a lot of attention involve a predominantly white focus. An ongoing true crime mystery/tragedy is going on in Canada along Highway 16, in which dozens and dozens of Indigenous women and girls have gone missing, and a number have been found murdered. Many of the cases have gone unsolved, and the victims have been forgotten, an all too familiar outcome for victims who are POC. In “Highway of Tears”, Jessica McDiarmid seeks to give voices and stories to a number of the women who are remembered less as people, and more as nameless statistics, and to explore the societal factors such as racism, misogyny, and poverty that contribute to their victimization.

43263434Book: “Anything For You” by Saul Black

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: The Valerie Hart series is a gritty and dark crime procedural with a tough as nails female detective. I don’t follow too many mystery series, but Saul Black’s Valerie gives me a reason to keep coming back. It’s been a bit since we’ve seen a new book about her, but “Anything For You” is now here and we get to go back to Valerie and her complicated life, as well as a new mystery. This time Valerie is investigating the death of a prominent attorney (whom she had a history with), whose time as a prosecutor has garnered a long list of suspects who would want him dead. But as Valerie starts to dig into his life, including his wife and daughter, she comes upon a mysterious blonde woman who may have her own score to settle. It will no doubt be bleak and upsetting, but I wouldn’t expect any less from Saul Black.

42201962Book: “The Deep” by Rivers Solomon

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Why I’m Interested: This is a bit more of a fantasy or magical realism pick, but the premise was far too intriguing to pass up. A society of merpeople have learned to live in the sea, the descendants of pregnant African slave women who were thrown overboard during the Triangle Trade. The society has learned to forget of the traumas of the past, except for one single historian. The current historian, Yetu, has to bear the painful and horrific memories of the past, and the burden drives her to run away to the surface. While there she learns of the past and present of the people that she and others could have become, as well as her own. I imagine this is going to be a very powerful and emotional story, and cannot wait to read it.

What new books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Serena’s Review: “Newt’s Emerald”

24737347Book: “Newt’s Emerald” by Garth Nix

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, October 2015

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

Book Description: On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt,” will inherit her family’s treasure: the Newington Emerald. A dazzling heart-shaped gem, the Emerald also bestows its wearer with magical powers.

When the Emerald disappears one stormy night, Newt sets off to recover it. Her plan entails dressing up as a man, mustache included, as no well-bred young lady should be seen out and about on her own. While in disguise, Newt encounters the handsome but shrewd Major Harnett, who volunteers to help find the missing Emerald under the assumption that she is a man. Once she and her unsuspecting ally are caught up in a dangerous adventure that includes an evil sorceress, Newt realizes that something else is afoot: the beating of her heart.

Review: After reading “Angel Mage,” I found myself on a bit of a Garth Nix kick, as I had been clearly reminded just how much I enjoyed his writing. Not wanting to bite off the large task of re-immersing myself in the “Sabriel” world and series, I was happy to come across this short-and-sweet, standalone fantasy!

Lady Truthful, or “Newt,” is due a large inheritance, but more important than the money is a priceless, magical heirloom, an emerald with unknown but great powers. When the emerald is stolen from beneath her nose, Newt sets out on an adventure to recover it. Disguised as a man, she finds herself wandering dark alleyways at night and aboard ships raging through storms. And as a woman, she is caught up in an even more dangerous endeavor: a young woman debuting for her first season in London! By her side she finds the mysterious Major Harnett who also might be hiding his own secrets.

This was a strange little book. And really, I think that’s where many of its strengths and weaknesses lie, with how little it is. From my research, it seems that this was originally written as a novella and then expanded out into a full-length, albeit still short, book. Reading it, it is easy to see these backbones through what we are presented here. Everything that is given is excellent: a solid main character, a firm touch on both the genres its straddling (fantasy and historical romance), and a succinct, but clear, storyline. And I enjoyed it all. However, I do wish there had been a bit…more of everything.

In some ways, it feels that this was a novel born from a writing exercise on Nix’s part. That he went into the story wanting to dabble in historical romance, but, being a fantasy author, wanted to include his own trademark worldbuilding and fantastical elements to the standard elements. Perhaps readers not familiar with his other works would be less surprised by this book, but for those of us who have read those, this book feels remarkably light on the fantasy. There is the titular emerald, of course, and it seems that characters in this world are prone to having some level of magical abilities themselves. The ins and outs of these abilities, their range, scope, or power, is never really explored and the few times we see people use them, there isn’t much there other than a flash and bang. From an author that I know is capable of writing complex and thorough magic systems, it ended up reading a bit bland.

The characters themselves fared better, though even here it seemed we were getting only modestly adjusted variations on the stock historical romance characters one often sees. Newt’s time spend dressed as a man is a saving grace for her character, raising her above the tropes that often befall historical romance heroines. I particularly enjoyed the time spent between her and the love interest when she was still thought to be a man and their friendship began to develop.  Once the secret was outed, the story fell quickly back into the more expected beats of a romance.

There was a strange moment, however, when the reader is allowed to see behind the curtain on the Major’s side of things. I’m not quite sure what the goal of this inclusion was, but from my perspective it took the bite out of a few of the mysteries at the heart of the story. Newt has her own secrets, but so does the Major. Being privy to the truth before our main character quickly defangs many of the conflicts and makes Newt’s own agonizing and confusion read as more of a bore, knowing the truth and likely outcomes ourselves already.

Again, this isn’t meant to be all critical. I did enjoy the romance, it was sweet and funny. The action and adventure was probably the strongest portion of the story, with several good chase scenes and fights. And the writing was perfectly matched to the Recency romance style that Nix was clearly attempting to reference, most especially noticeable in the dialogue, which was witty and fun. Most of this seems due to the length of the story; it’s simply too short to fully flesh out all of its characters or expand on the magical system and world to the extent that I might have wished. It was a quick read, however, and a fun story. Readers who are looking for a light, beach-read-like story will likely enjoy this. Just don’t go into it expecting to see the full power of Nix’s abilities on display.

Rating 7: Reads a bit more like a primer of Nix’s work than as a fully completed work of its own.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Newt’s Emerald” is on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy of Manners” and “Girls Disguised as Boys.”

Find “Newt’s Emerald” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Doctor Sleep”

16130549._sy475_-1Book: “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2013

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special 12-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky 12-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

Review: Around the time the trailer for Mike Flanagan’s film “Doctor Sleep” dropped, I was texting back and forth with the aforementioned Blake. He told me that he had never actually picked up “Doctor Sleep”, as he’d heard it was middling at best, but wanted to know what I thought. I told him how much I loved it, but admitted that I hadn’t read it for a long time. So when he later told me that he’d picked it up and was, so far, really liking it, I decided that I needed to go back and re-read it. One, so he and I could potentially have a mini-book club over the sequel to the book that started our friendship, and two because the movie was coming out and I wanted to have the novel fresh in my memory. So I picked up “Doctor Sleep”, figuring I’d meander through it at a lazy pace… But then I ended up binging the entire thing in a couple of days. The continuing story of Danny Torrance post-Overlook once again sucked me in. 

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Poor Danny can’t escape the past. (source)

What you need to know about “Doctor Sleep” is that while it’s a sequel to “The Shining”, the tone, feel, and approach are very different. While they both take a look at addiction (though in different ways, as King was in the middle of his during “The Shining” and in recovery during “Doctor Sleep”), “The Shining” is about ghosts, an evil place, and the slow violent spiral of a husband and father because of the influence of the two. “Doctor Sleep”, however, goes in a different direction. Instead of relying mostly on the ghosts and ghouls, at its heart is a story about trauma and coming to terms with your past while finding a hopeful future. And, of course, still dealing with supernatural themes like psychic abilities and monsters. Dan Torrance is now an adult, who has tried to escape his memories of The Overlook and his abilities by falling into a bottle. Seeing Danny all grown up is a very bleak, but realistic, look at what trauma can do to a person, and how sometimes people cope in ways that are incredibly destructive to others and to themselves. You are already invested in Dan because you know he was that little boy at the Overlook, and some of the best moments of dread in this book have less to do with the visions he still has, and more to do with whether or not he is going to fall off the wagon. It just so happens that around the time he decides to fully commit to recovery, he makes a psychic connection with a newborn girl named Abra, whose Shining abilities are above and beyond his own. Abra is a fantastic new character to bring into the story, as her childhood is a reversed mirror image of what Danny went through as a child. She comes from a loving family, she easily makes friends, and her powers are accepted (albeit hush hush and not totally understood) by her parents, while Danny’s powers were cultivated and nurtured in a dark, abusive setting and a lonely childhood. You definitely get the sense that their connection isn’t pure happenstance, but that doesn’t really matter; what matters is that they are both vital to each other’s survival. Abra needs someone who understands her and understands the dangers of her powers, and Dan needs a reason to keep going and to keep his addictions at bay. King captures an authentic and very likable, yet complex, voice in Abra, and her kindness and joy radiates off of the page, just as her own inner darkness rears in relatable and believable ways. Her friendship with Dan brings out the best in both of them, and as they learn from each other and protect each other from impending dangers, you get super invested in their connection, even if you aren’t completely sure as to why it’s happening.

And let’s talk about those dangers, too. King creates a malevolent and wholly original villain group as only he can with the True Knot, a nomadic group of vampirelike beings that feed on psychic energy. They target children with The Shining, as the True Knot can achieve eternal life by extracting their abilities in ‘steam’ form. The leader of the group is Rose the Hat, a charismatic and vicious woman who kills without remorse for the good of her group. Rose the Hat is a top three King villain for me, as she is intimidating, mysterious, and alluring in every sense of the word. You see this group stalk and murder other children, and once their sights set on Abra a slow burn game of cat and mouse begins, with some unexpected surprises for all parties thrown in along the way that up the ante even more. King doesn’t rush this prolonged confrontation, and he sets the pieces into place in very intentional ways that come together seamlessly. But I think that one of the best achievements that King does, at least for me, is that he makes you kind of care about The True Knot as well, at least in some ways. You get a deep dive into who they are and how they function, and by the time things start to go down you find yourself invested, even if you know that they are monstrous and terrible. He gives them, especially Rose, complexity and nuance, and I ended up loving her when all was said and done, even if it was because of what a horrible and terrifying villain she is. 

I think that a lot of people believed that there was no way that King could write a sequel to “The Shining”. And, in some ways, I think they are right. Because “Doctor Sleep” is its own story, its own identity, and while it may be the continuing story of Danny Torrance, it doesn’t feel like a direct sequel. It feels like King achieved a lot more than that, and has expanded a world and a story in ways that only time and experience could have aided. It’s not a perfect book; there are some hiccups, and moments of cloying coincidence or sappiness, but honestly, I love this story so much that I can easily forgive these stumbles. I have high hopes going into the movie, but even if I don’t care for the adaptation, I know that I can revisit this book and find deep, deep enjoyment. “Doctor Sleep” is probably my favorite of the recent King novels. You don’t have to be a fan of “The Shining” to enjoy it.

And with that, we end Horrorpalooza 2019! I hope that everyone has a Happy Halloween and that you get all the scares. And if you don’t want the scares, all the candy!

Rating 10: A deep, emotionally wrenching, and quite creepy follow up to a classic horror story, “Doctor Sleep” examines familiar characters and themes with an eye for trauma, redemption, and hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Doctor Sleep” is included on the Goodreads lists “Adult Books That Feature Powerful or Magic Children”, and “Creepy Halloween Reads”.

Find “Doctor Sleep” at your library using WorldCat!