Serena’s Review: “A Song of Flight”

Book: “A Song of Flight” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Random House, September 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Bard and fighter Liobhan is always ready for a challenge. So when news arrives at Swan Island that the prince of Dalriada has gone missing after an assault by both masked men and the sinister Crow Folk, she’s eager to act.

While Liobhan and her fellow Swan Island warriors seek answers to the prince’s disappearance, the bard Brocc, Liobhan’s brother, finds himself in dire trouble. His attempts to communicate with the Crow Folk have led him down a perilous path. When Liobhan and her comrades are sent to the rescue, it becomes clear the two missions are connected–and a great mystery unfolds.

What brought the Crow Folk to Erin? And who seeks to use them in an unscrupulous bid for power? As Liobhan and Brocc investigate, it will take all their strength and will to continue pursuing the truth. With the safety of their loved ones in the balance, the risks they must take may cost them everything.

Previously Reviewed: “The Harp of Kings” and “A Dance with Fate”

Review: This was another of my highly anticipated reads for this fall. Overall, I haven’t loved this trilogy as much as I did the “Blackthorn and Grim” trilogy that preceded it. But that’s kind of been my experience with Marillier’s work recently. I tend to really like one trilogy and then be less thrilled with the next. For example, I didn’t love the “Shadowfall” trilogy that came before “Blackthorn and Grim” as much as I did that one, either. So, on and off it goes! That said, I’ve always enjoyed Marillier’s work in general (I’m doing an entire series of reviews of all of her books, for heaven’s sake!), so I was excited to see how she concluded this trilogy.

About a year has passed since the events of the last book, and everyone is more or less where we left them. Liobhan is training a new recruit to become a Swan Island warrior, balancing her relationship with Dau who is now located on the mainland from the island. The two’s untraditional arrangement is only allowed due to this distance and the fact that they are not allowed to go out on missions together. But when a prince of the realm goes missing, and Dau is sent out to locate him, Liobhan finds this distance challenging. All the more so when they begin to suspect the involvement of the Fae, an area of expertise much more for Liobhan than Dau. Brocc, for his part, is living in the Fae realm with his young daughter and Fae wife. But his secret work with the Crow Folk draws tensions in this small family, and soon enough Brocc finds himself walking a lonely path.

I really liked this conclusion. There were a few things about it that really stood out. For one, Brocc’s story became more compelling. He was the character I struggled to connect to the most in the previous books, but here, his storyline becomes much more important. I was also relieved to see the direction the story went with his relationship with Eirne, his Fae wife. In my review of the second book, I was fairly scathing towards this relationship, and I was relieved to find here that that dislike on my part was justified and clearly part of Marillier’s overall plan.

The Crow Folk have played a big role in the series so far, but it’s also been very unclear what they are and why they do what they do. Brocc has slowly uncovered pieces of their story up to this point, but here he really dove into it. There was some really interesting magic and backstory involved, and I really liked the direction it went.

We also saw the return of my beloved Blackthorn and Grim. Naturally, the two play only very small roles, but I’ll take any crumbs I can get as far as those two go! It was fun to see some familiar locations and to get a closer look at what their lives look like now, so many years after the end of their trilogy. The one downside here was the fact that it did only remind me how much I preferred these two to these main three characters. Blackthorn, especially, was an excellent character and far out shown Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc.

I was also pleased with Dau’s story. There were some loose ends that seemed a bit strange in the second book but were solidly tied up here. There were a few instances in Dau’s story that felt a bit to contrived, with people and clues showing up right when they needed to, but I still enjoyed his arc and the resolutions of his ongoing family drama.

Liobhan probably fell the most into the background, which did make me rather sad. Her story was still good, but this was definitely more the Brocc/Dau show. Luckily, I think she’s the strongest character of the three, so her storyline was best able to take a hit in the plot department and still be compelling based solely on her characterization. I thought that the romance between her and Dau was done pretty well, though I do wish these two hadn’t be separated for quite so much of the story.

Everything else was kind of what we’ve come to expect from Marillier: very atmospheric writing, a strong reliance on stories with stories and folklore, and a solid, heartfelt conclusion. If you’re a fan of this trilogy and Marillier’s work, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one.

Rating 8: Overall, this wasn’t my favorite set of books by Marillier, but this was a strong conclusion to the hole and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Song of Flight” is a new book, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. Funnily enough, it’s on this one: Julie, Julie, Julie.

Find “A Song of Flight” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Fear Street Part 3: 1666”

Given that I did a re-read of R.L. Stine’s original “Fear Street” series, as well as a few “Super Chillers” and a couple special Trilogies within the Universe, when I saw that Netflix was going to make some “Fear Street” movies I knew I was game. And because that re-read series was chronicled on this blog, I figured that I ought to give my thoughts on these new movies as well, as nostalgia bombs and a new way for people to connect with a classic series in YA horror literature! So let’s see what the Netflix “Fear Street” Trilogy does for the series when introducing it to a new generation!

Film: “Fear Street Part Three: 1666”

We have come to the final installment of Netflix’s “Fear Street” Trilogy, and that means that everything is coming to a head. When we left off at the end of “1978”, Deena had tried to reunite Sara Fier’s hand with her body to save Sam and Shadyside (as the curse is interpreted as being done once they’ve been reunited), but then found herself transported back to the town of Unity in 1666, and experiencing Sara Fier’s final days before she was hanged as a witch. I figured we had to get the backstory to Sara and the curse somehow, and this was how we were going to do it.

I found this choice to be a bit risky, but only because period pieces can be difficult to pull off. But I felt that everyone involved (as cast members from previous movies came back to play members of the town of Unity, before it was split into Shadyside and Sunnyvale) did a pretty okay job, accents notwithstanding. We get a little bit of a historical thriller here a la “The Crucible” or “The Witch”, as once things start going bad in the town Sara and her friend/potential lover Hannah are seen as the obvious culprits due to their rebellious (and Sapphic) ways. You know I was steaming the whole time, as Puritanical bullshit really steams me, and it was interesting watching Sara Fier go from strong willed but generally affable townsperson to reviled by her community, and then consumed by her rage at the injustice of it all, willing to do anything to save Hannah and herself, even if that means making a deal with the Devil. That said, things aren’t always as they seem, and I feel a bit sheepish to admit that I wasn’t always totally in tune to what the movie was doing. Which was nice, actually. I fully appreciated the tried and true themes of ‘women being oppressed because they won’t tow the line’ within this flick, as well as ‘injustice can lead to very bad things that repeat over the years’. Throw in some really gruesome moments in the flashback (ugh, a couple actively made me gasp in disgust) and you have an effective historical horror section.

We also get the wrap up of the entire trilogy as a whole as Deena and Josh, with the help of familiar faces from the previous movies, try and stop the curse upon Shadyside once and for all. This felt less like a historical thriller and more like the slasher genre that the previous two movies had, which made it fit a little bit better within the trilogy. And like in the other two movies, the various Shadyside slashers get to show off their creepiness for one more big fight scene. I would love it if we could get backgrounds for all the slashers we haven’t seen origins of (especially that of Ruby Lane, the teenage girl who went on a murder spree the night of the Prom in the 1950s. Ruby was my girl!), as the tastes in these movies were fun and creepy, but definitely making me want more. I think that my only qualm is that in some ways it felt like it wrapped up a little neater than the other two movies. I’m not saying that I wanted more blood and guts, necessarily, but the balls to the wall stakes didn’t feel as high when all was said and done. Not to say it wasn’t fun and satisfying! It just didn’t go as far as previous installments when it came to emotional dread and fallout.

Overall, “Fear Street Part Three: 1666” was a satisfying end to a really fun trilogy. I think that “1978” is still my favorite, but they are all quite enjoyable in their own ways. As a whole, “Fear Street” is nostalgic slasher goodness, and if they wanted to continue exploring R.L. Stine’s stories I would definitely be on board!

Serena’s Review: “The Last Graduate”

Book: “The Last Graduate” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, September 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

Previously Reviewed: “A Deadly Education”

Review: Yep, definitely couldn’t wait until September to read this one! But I also wanted to time my review in a better manner than just randomly throwing up here three months before anyone can get their hands on it. I’m not a monster to torture you all like that! Sadly, there is still several weeks left before it’s available even posting it now. But I wanted to give everyone plenty of time to get their pre-orders in early, because, yes, it is that good.

El, Orion, and their friends have successfully helped the previous class graduate with (hopefully) few casualties. This year it will be there turn. But as they prepare, a grueling ordeal of classes and a killer (literally) obstacle course, it becomes clear that their actions last graduation are having a ripple effect on the school itself. Things are not behaving as they should, and El is frantic to find a way to save this small group of people who have, shockingly, become her friends. As her relationship with Orion grows as well, despite the warning from her mother, El begins to realize she will need to chart her own course, even if it’s one totally unexpected.

So, obviously, I loved this book. I was a bit nervous (really only the tiniest bit, since Naomi Novik has never let me down yet!) when I heard that this series had been conceptualized as a duology but then was extended into a trilogy. For further insight into my thoughts on this strategy, see my scathing review of “Blood & Honey.” Luckily, this series had a few things going for it that made this type of extension not only possible, but supremely enjoyable.

First, I’d probably be happy enough to just read a non-fiction style textbook about the world that Novik has created here, especially the Scholomance itself. The first book had some massive infodumps (I remember being several chapters in and coming up for air only to realize that practically no action had taken place), but this book proves that Novik was only scratching the surface of her imagination. Here, we get even more details about how the school was created, how it runs, and how it functions as an individual entity with “intentions” and “will” of its own. We also looked closer at the divided society that makes up those with magical abilities in this world. The “haves” and “have nots” are starkly divided, and we see how this happened, how it continues, and how it’s not really good for anyone.

The other thing that makes this “extender” book work is the characters. They’re all so very real and compelling. El, of course, is a masterpiece of a main character. She’s very human in her flaws, her only partial understanding of herself, and her will to keep moving forward and adapting even when the world, quite literally, is against her. As a narrator, she’s also hilarious, with witty observations of the world and those in it that had me cackling out loud more often than not.

The supporting characters are equally good, especially Orion himself. In the first book, he was very much portrayed as a “Harry Potter on steroids” type savior character. Here, we still have that. But we also get a closer look into how this image of himself has shaped Orion’s worldview and value of himself. There were a few reveals here that really fleshed him out. If I had any criticisms of the first book, it might have been the fact that we seemed to only scrape the surface on what makes Orion tick. But that was fully rectified here and in some truly interesting ways.

I also love the romance that continues to develop between El and Orion. It was very believable in its slow crawl of progress. Even better, it was clear that while it was important to each of them, their romance didn’t consume their attention or lives. Indeed, it’s very much a secondary consideration at almost every moment. I can’t say how much I appreciated this presentation of a teenage love story, or any love story, really. Yes, love makes the world go round and all of that. But other things, people, and important decisions exist as well, and filtering everything through the narrow lens of one’s current love affair is by no means healthy (or realistic.)

This book is again heavy on the descriptions of the world/magic and lighter on the action. But that said, there was more action in this book than the first. It builds steadily towards a very tension-filled climax. Major warning here: there is a serious cliffhanger at the end of this book. Much more so than the first. So if you’re the type of reader who can’t stand that sort of thing, you might want to hold off until the third and final book comes out. Heaven knows, I couldn’t hold out even two days, but there are stronger people than me out there! Fans of the first book are sure to love this one and now I’m back, once again, anxiously waiting for the next installment.

Rating 10: I loved it so, so much. My pre-order has been in place for months now.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Graduate” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Trilogies and Fantasy Books Releasing in 2021.

Find “The Last Graduate” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Nice Girls”

Book: “Nice Girls” by Catherine Dang

Publishing Info: William Morrow, September 2021

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

Book Description: A pulse-pounding and deviously dark debut, written with the psychological acuity and emotional punch of Luckiest Girl Alive and All the Missing Girls, that explores the hungry, angry, dark side of girlhood and dares to ask what is most dangerous to a woman: showing the world what it wants to see, or who she really is?

What did you do?

Growing up in Liberty Lake, Minnesota, Mary was chubby, awkward, and smart. Earning a scholarship to an Ivy League school was her ticket out; she was going to do great things and never look back. Three years later, “Ivy League Mary” is back—a thinner, cynical, and restless failure. Kicked out of Cornell at the beginning of senior year, she won’t tell anyone why. Working at the local grocery store, she sees familiar faces from high school and tries to make sense of the past and her life.

When beautiful, magnetic Olivia Willand, a rising social media star, goes missing, Mary—like the rest of Liberty Lake—becomes obsessed. Best friends in childhood, Mary and Olivia haven’t spoken in years. Everyone admired Olivia, but Mary knows better than anyone that behind the Instagram persona hid a willful, manipulative girl with sharp edges. As the world worries for perfect, lovely Olivia, Mary can’t help but hate her. She also believes that her disappearance is tied to another missing person—a nineteen-year-old girl named DeMaria Jackson whose disappearance has gone under the radar.  

Who was the true Olivia Willand, and where did she go? What happened to DeMaria? As Mary delves deeper into the lives of the two missing girls, old wounds bleed fresh and painful secrets threaten to destroy everything. Maybe no one is really a nice girl, after all.

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

Though I know that my home state does have a fair amount of problems in some ways, ultimately I love being a Minnesota girl. I am always tickled when I’m reading a book that takes place here, and if that book falls into my preferred genres then it will almost assuredly get some priority on my reading list. Enter “Nice Girls” by Catherine Dang, a suburban (maybe exurban?) thriller written by a local woman. I can honestly say that I was drawn in because of 1) setting, 2) general plot, and 3) the title lettering on the cover of the book. I’m not usually one who takes cover into account (I know Serena loves a good cover!), but the hot pink glowy neon of the book title made me go ‘now THIS is a design!’ Okay, I’m done gushing about the cover. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of “Nice Girls”, a thriller that oozes potential but never quite reaches it.

But I’m going to start with what did work for me, as is tradition. Dang captures the place and setting of Liberty Lake, Minnesota (a made up city/exurb), a community that’s a bit out state and small town-esque with a commanding lake and an insulated population. As I read it I was thinking about the lake town I found myself driving out to to get my COVID shots back when that shit was in demand (p.s., PLEASE get vaccinated if you can, folks). Liberty Lake feels fleshed out in terms of the community itself and how the people view each other, with the expected underbelly of not spoken of racism, misogyny, and stifling community repression. Our main character, Mary, wanted to get out of Liberty Lake, and exceeded the town’s expectations when she was accepted to Cornell. But the usual theme of pride mingling with resentment is there, as when she returns to town after being expelled there is a certain sense of ‘though you were better than us, but look at you now’ that she has to face. Though a fair amount of that may also be her own resentments about being unable to escape a community that she never quite fit into. Along with that, Dang compares and contrasts our two missing women through the lens of the missing white woman syndrome, a theme that is always important to note when it comes to whose stories get picked up and paid attention to when they are potential victims of violent crimes. The victim we hear of first is Olivia, a town darling who is white, blonde, and a social media influencer whose lifelong popularity makes her disappearance front page news. Search parties are going out day after day, the headlines are dominated by her disappearance, and everyone is praying for her safe return. But before Olivia disappeared, DeMaria disappeared, with far less fanfare, even as her body parts are found in the lake. DeMaria is a lower income, Black, single mother, and no one seems to be interested in what happened to her. It’s a comment on systemic and ingrained racism that we’ve started to see more of in fictional stories, but I still welcome the topic because it’s still a huge problem.

But here is where things don’t work as well in “Nice Girls”. Mary as a character is something we have seen before in a thriller like this: she’s damaged, she returns home with a dark secret, and she starts to spiral more and more when she gets embroiled in the local secrets. This kind of thing can work if the main character is compelling in other ways, but Mary is fairly two dimensional who is defined by her dourness, and her deep seated insecurities make her a very unlikable person and hard to root for. She doesn’t really have any growth during this book, and she makes huge missteps that feel convenient to the plot while feeling a bit haphazard even for her slightly unhinged personality. And Mary isn’t the only unlikable character, as there are very few people in this book that I actually liked and wanted to know more about, and those who I did like were relegated to the sidelines for the most part. These kinds of things could be easier to overlook if the mystery itself was addictive, but overall it was pretty standard, with a reveal that felt shaky in the laid out groundwork that held it up. There were a few moments that were genuinely surprising, but the pay off was rushed.

I have no doubt in my mind that I will be picking up the next book by Catherine Dang, as her ability to write and create a setting filled with rich descriptions was definitely there. “Nice Girls” is probably worth the read for casual thriller fans, but if you’ve been steeped in the genre for awhile it may not have the pay off you want.

Rating 6: I saw a lot of potential here and there were some good themes, but the characters were two dimensional and the mystery itself was fairly average.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Nice Girls” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery and Thriller 2021”.

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

Highlights: September 2021

Summer is starting to wind down, and we can start dreaming about fall. The time to be overwhelmed with all things pumpkin. But there are still some warm days ahead, good excuses to sit outside and read some books. Here are a few titles that we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks:

Book: “The Last Graduate” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Date: September 28, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Confession: I received an ARC for this book back in the spring and, yeah, I couldn’t wait to read it. So I’m not so much looking forward to reading it at this point, but I am looking forward to sharing my review with you! After the dramatic events of the first book, El, Orion, and their friends have one more year in the dangerous Scholomance school before their own treacherous graduation ceremony. But it soon becomes clear that the school is not operating as usual, and El will quickly need to come up with a new approach if she and her friends have any chance of surviving. I’ll give you a super hot preview of my review: I loved the heck out of this book!

Book: “A Song of Flight” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Date: September 21, 2021

Why I’m Interested: September is a real banger of a month, as not only does the second “Scholomance” book come out, but also the third and final book in Juliet Marillier’s “Warrior Bards” trilogy. About a year has passed since the end of the previous book, and Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc are more or less where you’d expect them. Liobhan and Dau attempt to balance their burgeoning relationship with the challenges posed as Swan Island warriors. Brocc continues to live in the Fae realm, attempting to puzzle out the secrets of the strange and dangerous Crow Folk. After a prince goes missing, the three all see their lives become upended, and mysteries both new and old begin to demand answers. I’m excited to see how this trilogy is going to wrap up!

Book: “The Bronzed Beasts” by Roshani Chokshi

Publishing Date: September 21, 2021

Why I’m Interested: This is probably one of the more buzz-y books of the month. I’ve been a bit tepid on this series overall, but I’ve still enjoyed parts of both of the first books. I definitely have favorite characters, and I’m curious to see how their stories will play out. At the end of the previous book, the crew believe Severin has betrayed and abandoned them. Instead, Severin has a long-game plan that will not only fulfill his promises to his friends, but hopefully save the life of his beloved Laila. The second book introduced a lot of bigger magical components, so I’m excited to see how they come into play here. I really have no idea how this one will wrap up, but I’m optimistic for a good ending.

Kate’s Picks:

Book: “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” by Brom

Publication Date: September 21, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I love a “Beauty and the Beast” (romantic or not) tale, and if you have it take place during Puritanical times and involving some kind of devil-y creature and a woman who is out of place I am almost assuredly going to trip all over myself to read it. “Slewfoot: A Tale of Bewitchery” by Brom sounds like it’s going to be just that. Abitha is a young wife, sent to the colonies two years ago to marry a man she didn’t know, who now lives in a small Puritan community she doesn’t like. When he dies suddenly and unexpectedly her only ally is gone, and she is left to fend for herself in a community she doesn’t fit into. Slewfoot is an ancient entity that has only recently revived from a long sleep, and he isn’t sure what his place is in this new world. As both try to find their places in a new and strange world, they also find themselves targeted by the people in the community. On top of all this, there are beautiful illustrations to boot. It seems like the perfect read to gear up for the upcoming Halloween season!

Book: “White Smoke” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publication Date: September 14, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Tiffany D. Jackson is one of my must read authors, whose thrillers have kept me on the edge of my seat and knocked me down, emotionally. So when I read that she was going into full on horror mode with “White Smoke”, I was absolutely on board and not only requested it from NetGalley, but also put a preorder in at my local bookstore. I’m just that excited. Marigold and her newly blended family have moved to a new house, which has been provided by them through her mother’s new job. Sure, it’s a little run down, and sure, the contractual agreement to stay for three years seems odd. But Marigold has her own problems, like high anxiety and bratty stepsister Piper, that concern her more. Until strange things start happening in the house. Objects start moving around. The sound of footsteps can be heard late at night. And a rancid smell pops up, though Mari is the only one who can smell it. As things get more dire, Mari has to try and figure out what is going on. But the problem is that it may not just be the house, but the whole community that is the problem. I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile, and am ready for Jackson to scare me!

Book: “As Good As Dead” by Holly Jackson

Publication Date: September 28, 2021

Why I’m Interested: We have finally come to the end of Holly Jackson’s “Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” series, and while I figured it would just be a trilogy I am not sure I am ready for it to end. Enter “As Good As Dead”, the third and final book. When we left off, our teen detective Pippa was on a bit of a downhill spiral. A trial she had connections to ended up going poorly, and an acquaintance was murdered right in front of her eyes, with her feeling a bit responsible. And now, as she’s getting ready to head off for college, she starts getting threats online, where someone is implying that SHE is going to be the next person to disappear. Will she be able to figure out who is after her? And will she be able to reconcile her guilt? I look forward to seeing how things work out for Pip, and I can’t wait to see how “As Good As Dead” wraps everything up.

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

Monthly Marillier: “Wolfskin”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Wolfskin” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Eyvind can think of no more glorious future than becoming a Wolfskin, a warrior devoted to the service of the mighty war god Thor. His closest friend, Somerled, a strange and lonely boy, has his own very different ambitions – yet a childhood oath, sworn in blood, binds these two in lifelong loyalty. Meanwhile, far away across the water, on the Light Isles, the king’s niece Nessa is beginning to learn the ways of the mysteries – though neither the young priestess nor her people can realize what lies ahead for them.

Eyvind and Somerled seem set to follow very different paths: one becoming a fearless servant of the Warfather, the other a scholarly courtier. Then a voyage of discovery, led by Somerled’s brother Ulf, brings the two friends together again in accompanying a group of settlers to some beautiful islands rumoured to lie across the western sea. However, their good spirits are dampened by a tragedy on board, which Eyvind begins to suspect may not have been an accident.

Ulf’s new settlement begins in harmony with the native islanders, led by King Engus. But one day, on a trip to a holy place of the Folk, a brutal murder occurs and that peace is shattered. It is now that Eyvind begins to feel the restraining ties of his boyhood oath…and to realize what sort of future Somerled had in mind for himself all those years ago.

Review: There really is no rhyme or reason to the order in which I’m picking the books I read for this series. The “Sevenwaters” series was an obvious starting point, but I’ve been jumping around ever since. However, I do remember that this book was the first of her books that I encountered where she used multiple POVs. All of the “Sevenwaters” books, her “Wildwood” YA duology, and a few of the other stand-alone she has are all told from a single, female perspective. So it was kind of a shock to start this one and find more than one narrator. More so that we were ultimately getting both the man and woman’s perspective from the eventual romantic pairing.

Eyvind and Nessa grow up in very different worlds with very different futures. Eyvind trains to be one of the legendary Wolfskin warriors who go out into the world and fight great battles. His reserved friend Somerland also has plans for his future, but they begin to look less and less familiar to Eyvind as they grow. For her part, Nessa leads a quiet life learning the ways of a wise woman, hoping to continue forward on the bright path set before her small community. But the seasons turn suddenly, and both Eyvind and Nessa soon learn that both of the futures they had set before themselves perhaps were not the ones they were meant to find. Soon, each must learn for themselves the great truths to be found in love, loyalty, and friendship.

First off, I really like the cover for this book. It’s sequel, “Foxmask,” has an equally beautiful cover. Both perfectly fit the overall tone and mythic quality of the stories held within. Marillier is also known as a huge dog lover, so it’s only fitting that few canines also great the cover.

Like I said before, this was the first of Marillier’s books that I encountered that featured dual narrators. And, for the most part, I enjoyed it here. Perhaps due to my expectations going in, that it would again be a single, female POV, I did find myself connecting a bit more to Nessa’s character. However, I will also add that in the long, long list of Marillier’s heroines, Nessa is not one of my favorites. Instead, she falls in similar company with Sibeal and Paula, heroines who were fine for the most part, but not particularly unique or likely to stand out in my memory.

I did like the magic that accompanied Nessa’s storyline. While we’ve seen seers plenty before, Nessa’s magic had some unique aspects to it. I enjoyed the connection to the selkie and the legends that surround magical water creatures. The tools she goes on to use as the story begins to wind down were interesting in their history and implementation.

Eyvind was of a bit more interest, perhaps simply because of the novelty of a male POV. But his story also involved a lot more change and a more established arc that covered the entirety of the book. Yes, some parts of it were highly predictable. And yes, those predictable twists and turns did make the early Eyvind a bit hard to tolerate in his naivety and trusting nature. But in some ways this same trusting nature helped draw a stark contrast between him and his friend Somerled. In some ways, I enjoyed the exploration and downfall of this friendship than I did the romantic relationship between Nessa and Eyvind.

Overall, while this isn’t on my list of favorite Marillier works, it does stand well enough on its own. I enjoy the setting, featuring Vikings and northern European myths and legends. Readers who enjoy multiple POV stories might even appreciate this one more than others. I’ve simply always preferred one narrator, so I’m a tough sell on this type of story. That said, it’s still a worthy entry and a solid recommendation for readers who enjoy mythic fantasy stories.

Rating 7: Not a favorite of mine, but a nice change of pace from the Irish setting and magic system.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wolfskin” is on these Goodreads lists: The Best of Mythic Fiction and Vikings.

Find “Wolfskin” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Never Saw Me Coming”

Book: “Never Saw Me Coming” by Vera Kurian

Publishing Info: Park Row, September 2021

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

Book Description: Meet Chloe Sevre. She’s a freshman honor student, a leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her.

Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smart watches that track their moods and movements.

When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

Never Saw Me Coming is a compulsive, voice-driven thriller by an exciting new voice in fiction, that will keep you pinned to the page and rooting for a would-be killer.

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

I’ve made it very well known that I enjoy thriller novels that will spotlight creepy or unsettling characters, and if they are doing bad things, well, hey, I’m still in. I also have mentioned before that I got my B.A. in Psychology with a focus on Abnormal Psych, with another focus on Psychopathy. If a person writes a book from a psychopath’s POV, and they do it well, AND they make it amusing from time to time, sign me right up please! And that brings us to “Never Saw Me Coming” by Vera Kurian. Not only do we have one psychopath character, we have multiple! And not only that, they have to band together to figure out who is trying to kill them! All of this sounded like a hoot, and I was eager to dive in.

The mystery of who is killing off these psychopaths one by one sets up for an interesting dilemma that our characters find themselves in. After all, psychopaths tend to have little loyalties outside of themselves, and therefore in this context that means that it could be any one of them, so they can’t trust each other, even though they HAVE to trust each other. I liked that concept to be sure, and seeing Chloe, Charles, and Andre try and calculate how they could get information from each other, manipulate each other, AND confide in each other without being worried about being stabbed in the back by each other. The mystery itself had some pretty well done twists and details (and a VERY creative death involving an MRI machine), though in the end I kind of saw the solution coming from aways away. That didn’t make the journey to the solution less fun, per se, but I think that had it blown me away it would have been better. But another big plus is that we get to see psychopaths (for the most part) as not necessarily pop culture serial killers, but as people who can be nonviolent and successful… as well as manipulative, fearless, and lacking empathy. We don’t really think of that side of psychopaths as much, which is far more common.

But it’s the characters that this story gets its best strengths, as Kurian has a fun cast, most of whom are deeply, deeply unsettling. We follow three for most of the narrative. The first is Charles, a wealthy and somewhat spoiled frat boy who is doing his best to keep up appearances and to appear normal, with a lovely girlfriend, a group of friends, and a solid academic record. The second in Andre (and we’re going to come back to him), who has a full scholarship to the school because of his participation in the study, but who isn’t ACTUALLY a psychopath. And the third and most prominent is Chloe, who gets third AND first person perspectives, because not only is she trying not to be killed by a mystery killer, she is ALSO planning a bloody revenge on a student named Will. Chloe knew Will when they were younger, and after he assaulted her she has been planning to take her revenge, and now being a target herself could screw all that up. Chloe is definitely the star of the show, and she has some creepy and enjoyable moments. But it’s Andre that I wanted to know the most about, as his story is one that connects to institutional racism. Andre is Black, and when he was a kid his older sister died unexpectedly and tragically. Andre, unable to process this trauma, began acting out, and a counselor just wrote him off as having Conduct Disorder because of his race, and Andre decided to roll with it as a joke… Until he was offered a full scholarship that would change his life. NOW he has to try and keep up appearances, AND he has to try and stay alive. I thought that this was the best storyline, personally, and I wish we had more of him. That said, all of the characters were entertaining, as was the book itself in a gallows humor kind of way.

“Never Saw Me Coming” joins the ranks of other unreliable or psychopathic narrators, but gives us a bit more of a look into how many psychopaths function when you strip away the idea of a serial killer (mystery killer and Chloe notwithstanding). Thriller fans with a wicked streak should definitely pick it up!

Rating 8: A dark, unsettling, and wickedly fun thriller that gets you rooting for a few psychopaths, “Never Saw Me Coming” has some creepy but intriguing characters that will suck you in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Never Saw Me Coming” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark Academia”, and “I Like Serial Killers”.

Find “Never Saw Me Coming” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Into the Dying Light”

Book: “Into the Dying Light” by Katy Rose Pool

Publishing Info: Henry Holt and Co., September 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Following the destruction of the City of Mercy, an ancient god has been resurrected and sealed inside Beru’s body. Both are at the mercy of the Prophet Pallas, who wields the god’s powers to subjugate the Six Prophetic Cities. But every day, the god grows stronger, threatening to break free and sow untold destruction.

Meanwhile, far away from Pallas Athos, Anton learns to harness his full powers as a Prophet. Armed with the truth about how the original Prophets killed the god, Anton leads Jude, Hassan, and Ephyra on a desperate quest to the edge of the world. With time running out, the group’s tenuous alliance is beset by mounting danger, tumultuous romance, and most of all by a secret that Anton is hiding: a way to destroy the god at the price of an unbearable sacrifice. But the cost of keeping that secret might be their lives—and the lives of everyone in the Six Prophetic Cities.

Previously Reviewed: “There Will Come a Darkness” and “As the Shadow Rise”

Review: This has been a hugely popular series over the last year or so. While I didn’t actively dislike either of the books, I also could never quite figure out what the big deal was. Mostly, my inability to strongly connect to the characters is what held me back, an extremely subjective experience if there ever was one. But I did enjoy the second book more than the first, so I was happy enough to go into this, the final book in the trilogy.

Things are coming to a head. With a powerful god contained within her, Beru’s future is tenuous and fraught with danger, as she and the god can be wielded to terrible effect. For their part, the others are on a quest of their own, eager to find a way to hold their fraying world together. Anton, alone, knows what this same hard-fought success might cost them. But trials await in every form, both the physical challenges set before them and the emotional bonds that build, fray, and tighten between them all.

So, very like the second book, I did end up enjoying this book more than the first. I think most of it comes down to the characters I found myself most drawn to in the first book. For me, Hassan’s story was always fairly dull, and I didn’t connect very strongly to his storyline or character. So the first book, which featured him heavily, worked less well for me. But in these last two, he largely drifted into the background. Perhaps even more so in this book than in the second.

For the second part, there were characters who were barely introduced in the first book that I found in reading the second, and now the third, were a few of my favorites. Beru, for one, had very few chapters in that first book, but she’s always been a favorite of mine, so I enjoyed these last two books more for seeing more from her. Here, her story very much comes to the front. Containing a powerful god will do that for a character arc! I found her entire storyline over the three books to be very satisfying, and the resolution to her story was appropriately profound.

I also liked the romances that developed. Jude and Anton have been fairly precious since they were first hinted at as a pair in the end of the first book. But I admit, I’ve been more invested in the enemies-to-lover romance that develops between Ephyra and Illya. As Illya is only really introduced in book two and quickly joined Ephyra as one of my favorite characters, it only goes to show that these last two books had more of what I was looking for. I liked how both of these characters truly operate in shades of grey (sometimes outright black!). Many authors talk a decent game about writing morally grey characters or anti-heroes, but then when it comes down to it, any/all bad stuff is either off page or completely justified (like self defense, etc.) I appreciated that true darkness that was explored in both of these characters.

Overall, the trilogy definitely ended on a higher note than it started, and I’m glad I stuck it through until the end. Fans of the trilogy will surely be pleased, and if anyone’s been lukewarm on it so far, I still think this is a satisfying conclusion.

Rating 8: A trilogy that got better as it went along, I was happy to finish this one off on a high note.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Into the Dying Light” is on this Goodreads list: 2021 YA Books with LGBT Themes.

Find “Into the Dying Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “My Heart Is a Chainsaw”

Book: “My Heart Is a Chainsaw” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info: Gallery/Saga Press, August 2021

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

Book Description: “Some girls just don’t know how to die…”

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

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

I’m going to be repeating myself a bit here, given that back in July I reviewed “The Final Girl Support Group” by Grady Hendrix, and I waxed poetic about my deep deep love for slasher movies. I don’t know why it was that a super anxious teenager like me was so enthralled by horror, especially horror that involved slicing and dicing teenagers, but I’m sure it’s the ability to explore such anxieties in a safe way. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that Stephen Graham Jones, one of my favorite horror writers writing today, was writing a book that was an ode to the slasher genre. “My Heart Is a Chainsaw” is that ode, and I was excited to see what a well known slasher lover like he would do with it, especially since he’s also SO good at weaving in social issues and metaphors into his horror stories that make them all the more brilliant. And holy moly, did “My Heart Is a Chainsaw” NOT disappoint. I assure you, this book is FANTASTIC.

Would I steer you wrong? (source)

There are so many things I want to talk about in regards to this book, but let’s start with the obvious: the slasher stuff. Jones is, as I mentioned, a well known fan of the slasher genre (as seen on his social media but also in her previous ‘Final Girl’ novel “The Last Final Girl”, which I reviewed on this blog as well). In “My Heart Is a Chainsaw”, our main character, Jade, is a slasher movie fanatic of epic proportions. And since she is the one that we are mostly seeing the story through, we, too, get to bathe in all the slasher movie knowledge and lore as she is convinced that her small town of Proofrock, Idaho is falling victim to the start of a slasher massacre. Jade is working out theories based on all kinds of movies and franchises, and we are hard hit with references to so many movies that it was tricky (but super fun) to keep up. From the well known lore of the likes of “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween”, to lesser known treasures like “Trick or Treat” (not “Trick R Treat’, “Trick or Treat” a movie about a heavy metal musician whose ghost comes back to wreak havoc through a record, IT IS THE BEST) and the like, this book hits so many movies with love and affection. We even get history lessons and thematic breakdowns via essays that Jade has written to her favorite teacher, Mr. Holmes, which then tie into the plot line as it is progressing in real time. It’s meticulous and incredibly well done, and Jones balances all of it without it ever feeling overdone or hokey.

But the thing that really, really made this stand out for me and brings it to a whole other level is the layered and heartbreaking portrayal of Jade, and her circumstances. One of the big issues is that of the town itself, as Proofrock is seeing an influx of outsider cash and influence as a gentrified community called Terra Nova is starting to move in (and it is this group of people that seems to be dropping like flies). It’s not the first time a community has had this kind of development, while the new people move in and their influence of money and value start to make things harder for the less fortunate. There are also references to the Indigenous community there, of which Jade is a part, as her father is Native, and the way that they are perceived and in a number of ways left behind or forgotten about. This also plays into the overall horror arc, as, without giving too much away, the violence of Colonialism against the Indigenous groups who lived there is still being felt in this community, and there are repercussions that are starting to bubble up.

And this leads into the brightest part of this story, and that is the character of Jade herself. When we first meet her, Jade is very easy to fit in the box of weirdo teenage girl who loves horror movies, who humorously could find herself living a horror movie and her know how will surely make her plucky and easy to root for. And yes, that is true, but Jones slowly unfolds layer after layer of Jade, and what we get is an incredibly complex girl who has experienced numerous traumas and heartbreaks over the years. She has an abusive father, an absent mother, no friends, and cannot see any escape out of her life except through slasher films, which she clings to because they are a better alternative to the horrors that she has seen and experienced. So when she thinks that an actual horror movie is unfolding in her town, now is her time to shine. BUT THAT SAID, there is also this heartbreaking aspect that comes forth, as while Jade has all of the components of a slasher in her mind that are unfolding, and while she is definitely piecing things together, she has such a struggle with how she views herself that she cannot see the value or part that she could be playing when all is said and done. And that is why not only is “My Heart Is a Chainsaw” a super fun slasher homage, it’s also an incredibly emotional story about a girl who is dealing with a lot of terrible shit.

I loved “My Heart Is a Chainsaw”. If you have been sleeping on the genius that is Stephen Graham Jones, I implore you, STOP IT. Go get this book! ESPECIALLY if you love slasher movies! But even if you don’t! There is so much to love about this story! JUST READ IT!

Rating 10: Intense, heartfelt, and filled with slasher goodies, “My Heart Is a Chainsaw” is my favorite Stephen Graham Jones book yet.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Heart Is a Chainsaw” is included on the Goodreads lists “2021 Horror Releases”, and “Horror To Look Forward to in 2021”.

Find “My Heart Is a Chainsaw” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Not Just Books: August 2021

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks:

TV Show: “Alone” Season 8

Obviously, my husband and I immediately started watching this show when it started up this summer! I think it’s probably both of our current favorite reality series (honestly, probably his only reality series. I’m not classy and enjoy several). This time, participants are set down in a remote section of Canada that also happens to be the home of the most concentrated grizzly populations, so now all we have to do is wait for the first person to realize, oh, yeah, grizzlies really are that big! Also can’t wait to see who the first person is to leave for ridiculous pretenses and to award the prize for “most cool shelter.” Fun times!

Movie: “12th Man”

I watched this movie on a pretty big whim. I didn’t even know it was a foreign language film when I selected it, but that in no way hindered my enjoyment of the story. It’s based on a true story (oh, you know I went down a big rabbit hole about all the details after finishing!) of a Norwegian resistance fighter who survives a harrowing escape after being chased by Nazis for weeks. Very much like “Alone,” much of his story involves survival in terrible conditions with very little food. Unlike “Alone,” it features Nazis rather than grizzlies. But really, they’re both bad, so we’ll allow it. I really enjoyed this film. It’s both uplifting and also incredibly tense. It’s so amazing the things people can survive.

Computer Game: “Sims 4: Cottage Living”

When I get a chance, I do enjoy play a few computer games. “The Sims” has been a long-time favorite but I hadn’t returned to it in a while since the packs I have I’d pretty much wrung the enjoyment from. But then they released a new expansion, and I’m back in it! Longtime fans of “The Sims” have been clamoring for a farming pack for ages, and it’s finally here! There is so much cute stuff in this expansion, from the new building options, to the new clothes, to, of course, all of the great farm animals. I, of course, immediately formed very negative relationships with the chickens, so that was very true to life for me. It’s a super fun expansion, so if you’re a fan of this game, I’d definitely recommend it!

Kate’s Picks:

Film: “The Suicide Squad”

I, of course, love superhero stories, but honestly it’s the villains and the anti-heroes that truly hold the keys to my heart. While I didn’t see the first “Suicide Squad” movie (as I heard it was terrible), I did see “Birds of Prey” and enjoyed it. Because of that, I was very interested in seeing “The Suicide Squad”, James Gunn’s reboot of the supervillain turned kinda hero franchise. This time, the Squad, including Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Rat Catcher 2, and King Shark (one of my faves) have been thrown into the middle of a military coup in a South American nation, as the new government is hostile towards America. Oh, and there is also a potential scientific weapon that the government may be getting its hands on. So send in a bunch of hapless, kinda psychopathic, yet exceedingly charming criminals to take care of it. Margot Robbie is always a treat as Harley, but newcomers Idris Elba (Bloodsport), John Cena (Peacemaker) and Sylvester Stallone (King Shark, I KID YOU NOT) really sold it for me. It’s a really fun, over the top, hilarious and gory as FUCK movie, and I am SO happy that they got James Gunn to do this because he nails the tone.

TV Show: “Wellington Paranormal”

I love the vampire comedy “What We Do In the Shadows”, a faux documentary about a household of vampires living their undead lives in Wellington, New Zealand. One memorable scene involves Wellington police officers ending up at the house on a complaint call, and now those police officers (and a few more) have their own documentary comedy show, “Wellington Paranormal”. Officers Minogue and O’Leary have been selected by their superior Sergeant Maaka to be the members of the Wellington Paranormal unit, a division that investigates supernatural phenomena. They are competent but a little bit perplexed by what they see. Part “The X-Files”, part “Reno-911!”, this show has the dry and quirky humor of the movie it has spun off from, and I loved practically everything about it. Much like “What We Do in the Shadows” there are some great moments of meta horror and trope deconstruction, and it’s charming as all get out. If you love the movie (augh I still haven’t watched the show!), give this a try!

TV Show: “Reservation Dogs”

If Taika Waititi is attached to something I’m almost assuredly going to be interested, but I also saw a lot of hype for “Reservation Dogs” on Twitter by some pop culture and movie people I really like. Like, some people saying that it was the funniest show on TV hype. I decided to give it a try, and yep, it’s pretty damn funny. “Reservation Dogs” follows a group of Indigenous youth in rural Oklahoma. Bear, Elora Danan, Cheese, and Willie Jack are a group of friends that are hoping to escape their poverty ridden area for California, and commit petty crimes to make the money to do so. Hilarious misadventures ensue. “Reservation Dogs” is also a show that can tout the fact that it is a mostly Indigenous cast, and has a mostly Indigenous creative team working on it. Oh, and as if that isn’t awesome enough on its own, Zahn Tokiya-ku McClarnon is on the show as the police officer who is trying to bust the teens to no avail, and he is a hottie. Anyway, I’m really digging “Reservation Dogs”.