Serena’s Review: “Silver in the Blood”

22929540Book: “Silver in the Blood” by Jessica Day George

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, July 2015

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

Book Description: Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate… or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.

Review: I’ve read a few of Jessica Day George’s books, mostly her fairytale retellings. I’ve enjoyed them for the most part, even if the middle grade tone read as a bit simplistic for my taste. But when I stumbled upon this original fairytale type story featuring some of my favorite things (sisters/cousins! shapeshifters! Romania!), I knew I’d need to dive right in.

The story alternates perspectives between two American-born heiresses, Dacia and Lou. Their mothers both emigrated to New York from Romania, and now it is time for the girls to travel back to this homeland and meet their maternal family, a family that is old and has many secrets. The chapters are broken up with short interludes, either letters written between the two characters when they are separated, journal entries, or news entries.

While not everything worked for me in this book, Dacia and Lou as characters were a definite highlight. Both girls have distinct story arcs, and I appreciated the fact that neither was allowed to wallow in the stereotypes of the characters type they are originally introduced as. Dacia starts the story as a confident, independent young woman, constantly testing the boundaries that are set upon her and fearless in the face of others’ disapproval. Lou, however, is more thoughtful, reserved, and cautious with the route she takes through life. Through the story Dacia’s confidence, or over confidence, is shaken and she must confront who she believes she is and make serious adjustments. Lou, on the other hand, comes into her own, discovery her own inner strength.

And, importantly, each girl takes turns supporting or being supported by the other. In the beginning I worried that this was going to follow a typical path where Lou would be “brought out of her shell” by her brilliant, shining cousin. But I was pleased to see their roles swapped, and by the end, each girl has learned more about herself and come to see the value in the others’ original approach to life.

I also very much enjoyed the setting. While we don’t get a lot of detail about the city and countryside of Romania, there was enough to highlight its cultural differences to Paris and New York, the girls’ other points of reference. The family history, hierarchy, and creativity of the actual shapeshifter types was also a pleasant surprise. We don’t only have wolf shifters, but bats and another mysterious type that we discover halfway through. It was refreshing to find a shapeshifter story that expanded upon many of teh tropes we are used to seeing. George introduces a complicated history for the Florescus family, one that is intimately connected with another ancient family, the Draculs. And before you guess, I will say that this second part doesn’t necessarily play out the way you would expect!

For all of these pros, there were a few points of this story I found myself struggling with. One was, again, the writing style. While Dacia and Lou are interesting, their narrating voices often read as younger than they were presented to be. The general tone of the book, again, read as very middle grade. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that in other ways the story is very adult. There are some very serious scenes dealing with sexual violence, battles, and straight up murder. This gruesomeness and darker tone jarred with the light and rather simplistic style of writing that surrounded it and often through me off balance as I was reading.

I also struggled with the villain of the story. He was just evil. And crazy. And while yes, this is what we expect from villains, his sheer and utter madness often left me unable to take him seriously. Many of his plans dealt with inflicting harm or reigning in the power of people who were much stronger than him. Some of his threats didn’t make any logical sense if you thought about it. So, yes, he was meant to be a crazy character. But the fact that everyone around him reacted to his madness seriously at times read as very strange. His threats were so completely empty and the solution to the whole problem so easy that it very much undercut any actual urgency for the final act.

The ending was also a bit unclear. There seemed to be several loose ends that were left hanging, and I can’t find anywhere that this was ever meant to read as more than just a standalone. The storylines that we did get wrapped up were closed all too quickly and easily. And I felt that there were many important scenes that were only referenced but left off the page, which was very disappointing.

So, while I did enjoy the main characters and the unique take on shapeshifter mythology, I was left a bit disappointed  by this read. At this point, I think it is probably best to just admit that George’s writing style is not to my taste and leave it at that. However, if you enjoy light (for the most part??) historical fantasy that is set in a unique locale and features two awesome ladies, this still might be the book for you!

Rating 6: Two strong characters and an interesting magic system weren’t enough for me to get past some of the strange plot choices in the end and an off-putting writing style.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silver in the Blood” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Shapeshifter/Werewolf books” and “Victorian Paranormal YAs.”

Find “Silver in the Blood” at your library using WorldCat

 

Book Club Review: “Eliza and Her Monsters”

31931941We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Eliza and Her Monsters” by Francesca Zappia

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, May 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 800s (Literature, Writing)

Book Description: Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. 

Kate’s Thoughts

My high school years were during the time before social media really became a huge thing. My parents had Internet, but it was a dial up connection that we could only use if we weren’t expecting or planning to make any pertinent phone calls. And honestly, I’m so relieved that the Internet wasn’t the big social zone that it is now, for regular people as well as celebrities. I think that teenage Kate would have both loved living a lot of her life online, but I also think that it would have been isolating in its own way (and given that I was bullied a fair amount, it probably would have opened up a huge target on my back from my peers). And that is where “Eliza and Her Monsters” comes in. As a teenager who suffered from social anxiety and depression, I saw a bit of me in Eliza, our main character who has found the online world to be more comforting than the real world. And as someone who has written some fanfiction in her life (and was a vaguely well known author in a niche fandom at one point, though I’m not telling which), the ups and downs of online artistry also spoke to me. But the core of Eliza herself, and how she interacted with those around her, didn’t do as much for me as one might think that it would.

But I want to start with what I liked here. I thought that Eliza’s social anxieties were pretty spot on in terms of characterization. Without really outwardly saying that she was suffering from it, you get a slow and well painted picture of what Eliza’s insecurities are like, how they hinder her, and how she tries to cope with them. It was refreshing to see this character portrayed in a realistic and honest way, and that while it was understandable that she would act in various ways, she wasn’t totally let off the hook when she was being a jerk to those around her. I also really liked that this book brings up the philosophical question of ‘what do artists owe their fans?’. Sure, this is something that has been going on for a long time, but with the advent of social media, now fans can not only interact with each other, but they now have the opportunity to address and interact with their favorite creators in a more direct way. And while this is great in lots of ways, in other ways, sometimes lines are crossed and fan entitlement gets a bit out of hand. From the “Song of Ice and Fire” fandom to the “Harry Potter” fandom to the wonderful world of comics across the board, sometimes healthy and relevant critiques of topics turn into “YOU OWE US THIS.” This book allows us to see that from the creator’s POV through Eliza and one of her favorite authors, and it’s a great way to raise these questions and get the reader to think about them.

But there were other things about this book that frustrated me. Mainly, I didn’t really care for Eliza, as relatable and realistic as she was. I think that seeing it from the perspective of an adult who had to tramp through that swamp of teen angst and came out on the other side, a lot of me was saying “goddammit, suck it up.” Teen Kate would have TOTALLY loved Eliza though, and given that this is, ultimately, written with teens in mind, I think that she probably works well. I also was a bit frustrated with her relationship with Wallace, if only because I felt like there were some things that she did that were SO manipulative and she never really was taken to task for it. I didn’t really like what it said about acceptable things in teen relationships.

Overall, I liked how “Eliza and Her Monsters” approached fandom, artistry, and teenage mental illness. I wish that I had liked the protagonist more, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Serena’s Thoughts

As Kate has lain out so nicely, my evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this book is pretty similar. I don’t have the personal experience of existing as a creator on an online platform, but I follow various fandoms online fairly avidly and have witnessed first hand the strength in community that these groups can bring, as well as the viscous cycle of entitlement and possession that can also be on display at times. In these ways, I think this book is very much speaking to an ongoing struggle in today’s teens’ lives that I, like Kate, never had to deal with.

Like Kate, I was never part of the popular crowd in highschool. I wasn’t the most bullied either, and instead existed somewhere in the probably lucky “no one cares” zone of being unnoticed. I also had no other “version” of life or a representation of my life that I had to maintain, like today’s teens who must carefully navigate and manage not only their day-to-day activities, but also the version of themselves that exists online. Eliza, uncomfortable and shy in real life, has found a niche for herself online. But no social sphere comes without its own strings.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of creativity on an online platform. Eliza is both safely at a distance from those who interact with her online (one of the appeals of her online persona), but is also exposed and at the mercy of those same fans. No longer do fans need to write a letter and mail it in to an author who may or may not even look at their fan mail. Creators online are exposed across so many formats to the visceral reactions of the same fans whose admiration and appreciation they are hoping to garner. I think one of the best representations of the push/pull relationship of this kind is Bo Burnham’s raw, and almost tragic, song “Can’t Handle This.”

But, in general, I read books for the characters, so as much as I loved the themes that were tackled in this story, I had a similar hang up with Eliza as Kate did. I think Kate hit it on the nose when she mentioned the fact that she and I are reading this having come out on the other side of that hellish tunnel called “highschool.” Many years (yikes!) distanced from these same struggles, they begin to lose their edge. This is good, but it also presents a reality check when reading books like these. I don’t want to dismiss these problems as “just highschool stuff, get ready for REAL life, kids!” But…I’m still a 30 something woman reading this and that’s what I felt. So with that perspective, maybe there’s nothing wrong with this character for highschoolers themselves, and it’s probably touching on many relatable challenges. But there are many YA stories out there that present the challenges of their young protagonists in ways that are more approachable and sympathetic to their adult readers as well than this one did, which is a legitimate mark against it.

Kate’s Rating 7: This book brings up a lot of good questions about artistry and creativity, the relationship artists have with their fans, and mental illness, but I was put off by Eliza, as relatable as she could be at times.

Serena’s Rating 6: Many great themes are discussed, but the protagonist wasn’t as widely relatable as she could be to readers beyond highschool themselves. And as a reader who goes in mostly for characters, this put a pretty big dent in my enjoyment of the book.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of Eliza as a main character? Did you find her to be relatable and/or likable?
  2. Have you ever had a friend you met online, or know solely from online interaction? What do you think about the claim that online friends aren’t ‘real’ friends?
  3. Eliza has a complex relationship with the fans of her work. What do you think an artist owes their fans when it comes to content production, or characterization? Do they owe their fans anything?
  4. Eliza has a contentious relationship with her parents. What did you think of how they all interacted with each other? What could they have done differently?
  5. Have you ever followed an online work that is posted occasionally like “Monstrous Sea”? What was it? Is it still going on? If not, how did it end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Eliza and Her Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Fiction Featuring Fangirls, Fanboys, or General Fandom”, and “YA Nerd/Geek Books”.

Find “Eliza and Her Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Kate’s Review: “There’s Someone Inside Your House”

15797848Book: “There’s Someone Inside Your House” by Stephanie Perkins

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC of it from the publisher at ALA.

Book Description: Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

Review: We’re nearing the end of September, guys, which means that October is just around the corner! For me, that means HORRORPALOOZA is on the way, in which my reading tastes gravitate towards all horror, all the time. I had to get a little taste of that before the calendar turned over, though, as I just couldn’t wait to pick up “There’s Someone Inside Your House” any longer. So I don’t know if it was the waiting and the hype that I built up in my head for it, but I’m wondering if waiting was a mistake. because while there were definitely things I enjoyed about this book, it was something of a let down.

I’ll start with what I did like, though. “There’s Someone Inside Your House” has had comparisons to “Scream”, one of my favorite slasher movies of all time because of how it cheekily deconstructs the tropes and tricks of the slasher genre. While I was reading this book, I one hundred percent could see it in my mind’s eye as a film. It has the right amount of characters, it has the right dynamic for the group that we follow, and it has so many visual moments in it that would translate very well to a movie screen. I also enjoyed Makani, our protagonist and surmised ‘final girl’, as of course this book would need one to play to genre type. She is a fish out of water, but not in the ways we may be used to seeing. Not only has she moved to small town Nebraska from freakin’ Hawai’i (I can totally get her bitterness), she is also a biracial girl living in a town with a majority of white people. Being half black and half native Hawaiian means she gets a lot of ‘but where are you from really?’ questions, and this book deals with that openly and frankly, which is very important. She does, of course, have a dark secret in her past that she fears getting out, and while I was rolling my eyes at this cliche when it was revealed what had happened, I was actually at peace with it, as it wasn’t too melodramatic, yet she also did have legitimate things to be sorry for while having reason to be hurting and traumatized. From characters who are POC to LGBTQIA to socioeconomically different, I feel like Perkins was committed to exploring diversity for this story when other authors may have not bothered.

The slasher killer plot line (so, the main plot line) had some issues that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. I give props in that while Perkins starts out making us wonder who the killer is (mainly is it Ollie, Makani’s brooding but sensitive love interest), once it is revealed who they are, there are no more questions or twists, or suppositions of coming twists. It was who it was, and that was that. But once it was revealed WHY the killer was doing what they were doing, this book kind of lost me. It’s one thing if you are doing it because you’re a supernatural being that is taking revenge for your deserved but untimely murder (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), or because camp counselors weren’t paying attention and you drowned (“Friday the 13th), or because you’re just one big metaphor for Evil (“Halloween”). Even in “Scream” the trauma of parental abandonment mixed with the need to be famous/notorious worked out as a solid motive. But in this one it’s just so…. not that, and without more background to the killer I couldn’t and wouldn’t swallow it so easily. On top of that, each teenager killed by this person has something cut off and taken away, and it seemed like it was going to build up to one big gross reveal of just what was happening with these absconded body parts…… But then nah, the pomp and dramatics were all for naught, it was maybe just because reasons (note, I will admit that perhaps I’m wrong on this, as when I start getting near the end of a tense book I sometimes inadvertently skim in my anxiety).

While there were a few hang ups I had with “There’s Someone Inside Your House”, I do think that it’s a quick, simple, and totally appropriate book for the upcoming Halloween season. Teens that are craving horror but maybe aren’t feeling something a but denser and darker will probably find a lot to like here, and anything that nurtures kids and teens loves of horror gets props from me.

Rating 6: The characters were fine and I liked the diversity. While the identity of the killer wasn’t drawn out or too twisty turny, the motivation and MO felt flimsy at best.

Reader’s Advisory:

“There’s Someone Inside Your House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Teen Screams”, and “2017 YA Books With LGBT Themes”.

Find “There’s Someone Inside Your House” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “River of Teeth”

31445891Book: “River of Teeth” by Sarah Gailey

Publishing Info: Tom Doherty Associates, May 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Review: The fact that this novella is based on a true consideration undertaken by the U.S government, importing hippos to the U.S. to be used alongside cows in meat production, was all it took to land it on my TBR list. The fact that the cover features several characters riding hippos moved it quickly to the top.

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And if the finished result wasn’t all I had hoped it could be, there’s still no denying the pure fun that is delivered with such a unique concept as hippo-riding outlaws!

First for the parts I did enjoy. As I said, the pure genius of this concept is spot on. I mean, who knew about the late, great hippo plan? If anything, this proves that the U.S. government was just as capable of thinking up ridiculous plans back in our earlier days as country as it seems to be now! But Gailey doesn’t just rest the historical wackiness of this plan, she brilliantly conceptulizes what this plan would have looked like if implemented.

The Louisiana territory is largely converted to extensive marshland, as hippos can only travel so far out of water. Various breeds of hippos have emerged, beyond the ones simply raised for meat. Some are faster than others, some larger, some more capable of managing longer distances on dry land. They are imagined to be a combination of a horse and a cow: close traveling companion in some cases, purely a form of meat production in another.

But, let’s not forget, hippos are very much NOT cows. They are strong, faster than they look, and fully capable of enacting their tempers on poor, unaware people who may get in their way. And, like all good plans, the great hippo importation quickly got out of control in this case, leaving wide range of the Mississippi river chocked up by an out-of-control feral hippo population, one that the notorious riverboat crime lord, Mr. Travers, has fully made use of to create his own scary, little kingdom.

Enter our heroes, tasked with a government funded mission to clear out the feral hippo population, once again opening up the river to commercial traffic. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Travers is not on board with this plan.

As I’ve said, the setting and creative use of the hippos was spot on in this story. So, too, the pacing is strong, reading like a charming classic Western adventure story, but with hippos. It’s easy to see these influences play out in many scenes, and in many ways the writing reads like a screenplay for what would surely be a super cool TV mini series.

But this strength is also a weakness. It almost reads too much like a screen play with a few beats hitting just slightly off target. There are moments when the dialogue veers a tad too close to the cheesy, and the descriptions could also seem pedestrian at times, lacking the detail and cohesion.

Which leaves us with our cast of characters. And there are many. We have the leader of our little troop, a man with a dark past tied up with Mr. Travers. A con woman. An assassin. A poisoner/munitions expert. And a man who knows the Mississippi region like the back of his hand. This is a lot of characters, all with big personalities, to be jammed into a short novella that also has a lot of story to tell. Characters would come and go so quickly that the fates that awaited them never really struck any chord. See you later, I barely knew you, I guess?

Further, Bailey attempts to right in a romantic story line, as well. And while I applaud her for her representation of this couple, their romance feels rushed to the point of unbelievability. And, in many ways, this relationship is used as a driving force for the decision-making of several of our characters, which just plays all the weaker for being given so little time to develop.

So, while I loved the conceptualization and adventure of this story, I was left wanting in a few areas. The writing style seemed to slip at points, and the numerous characters often overwhelmed any attachment I could develop for any single one, leaving some of the more important story beats to land flat. However, being a novell, this is a low stakes read, time-wise, so if you’re looking for a fun, quick adventure story unlike any other you’ve probably come across, I’d still recommend checking out “River of Teeth.”

Rating 6: An overwhelmingly large cast and some writing slips prevented me from fully committing to the Western adventure romp.

Reader’s Advisory:

“River of Teeth” is still relatively new and is on only one relevant Goodreads list “Alternate History in 2017.”

Find “River of Teeth” at your library using WorldCat

 

Kate’s Review: “Every Last Lie”

32735394Book: “Every Last Lie” by Mary Kubica

Publishing Info: Park Row Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL, Mary Kubica is back with another exhilarating thriller as a widow’s pursuit of the truth leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche. 

“The bad man, Daddy. The bad man is after us.” 

Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon. 

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit. 

Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara’s investigation and Nick’s last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.

Review: I have many anxieties in my life, some that are realistic, others that are unrealistic. Or at the very least not worth worrying about. One of those anxieties is becoming unexpectedly widowed. I’m the person who can’t sleep too well at night if her husband isn’t home, especially if I’m expecting him home and he is late to return. Because OBVIOUSLY it isn’t that he’s just running late or finding that time has run away from him. Obviously he’s dead.

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Yes I am, Gene Wilder. (source)

So reading “Every Last Lie” kind of made me confront my anxieties on that at least a little bit, so it has that going for it. Mary Kubica is one of those authors that I really, really want to like, mainly because I really enjoyed her book “Pretty Baby” and the subversion of expectations that we were given. I wasn’t as thrilled by “Don’t You Cry” (if you remember) just because it was less a subversion of expectations and more a tangle of unnecessary twists and turns. But I was willing to give “Every Last Lie” a chance because overall, I like the author. Unfortunately, this was less of a “Pretty Baby” experience and more of a “Don’t You Cry” experience.

Note: I am going to try avoiding spoilers here, but I can’t really critique it without saying at least a little bit of how scenarios kind of play out. So even though I’m avoiding specifics, you may want to skip this review if you want to read it.

“Every Little Lie” is told through alternating perspectives. The first is Clara’s perspective as she’s trying to piece together what happened to Nick, finding potential clues to suggest that maybe her husband didn’t die by accident and that perhaps he was murdered. The other is Nick’s perspective in the weeks leading up to that fateful car ride that sets the plot in motion. I will give this book credit where it is due, I really enjoyed this structure. It allowed for the reader to be able to see the clues that were presented in ways that Nick and Clara couldn’t see them, and I liked picking up on truths that one or the other weren’t privy to. It’s good when these books find fun and interesting ways to reveal the solution to the reader, and I definitely felt like Kubica did a bang up job in terms of pacing and reveal. It also made it for a fast read, and a pretty entertaining one in the moment.

But plotting aside, I didn’t really care for either Clara or Nick. I didn’t feel like I knew that much about Clara as a person outside of the trauma that she was experiencing and what it was doing to her mental state. Sure, that makes sense that we are only going to see that side of her in her chapters, but even in the chapters that Nick had before the car accident we only got a partial view, and it wasn’t a very telling one. Nick was a bit more interesting, seeing Clara’s views of him alongside the truths about him was a very good way to get to know him as a character. But ultimately, he wasn’t terribly interesting, and just fell into pretty familiar tropes of a desperate man with a lot of secrets. And then you add into that a lot of really odd red herrings that never felt satisfying, as they never led anywhere. I know that red herrings usually don’t, but there were so many things in this book that I wanted to have SOME sort of resolution, only to find that there is no resolution in sight for a good deal of them as we turn the last page. And some of them, I felt, really needed resolution for me to be satisfied with the story. I was left saying “Well what about ______?” too much to be happy or at least okay with how things ended up.

I still fully intend to keep giving Mary Kubica a shot, because there is a lot of potential there. And “Pretty Baby” was proof that I do like stuff that she has done, and can like it again. It’s just too bad that this one fell flat. I keep hope alive that the next will be better.

Rating 6: A quick and entertaining enough read, but none of the characters really grabbed me and I wasn’t terribly invested in how it all turned out. Especially when many problems were left unresolved.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Every Last Lie” is fairly new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it is on “2017 Suspense and Thrillers”, and I think it would fit in on “Female Psychological Thrillers and Suspense”.

Find “Every Last Lie” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review and Giveaway: “Genuine Fraud”

33843362Book: “Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC from the publisher at ALA.

Book Description: The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. 
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. 
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. 
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Review: I mentioned a book on this blog this summer called “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. It’s a deeply unsettling thriller about a man named Tom Ripley who befriends a wealthy playboy, only to kill him and take on his identity. It’s super messed up and a very fun read, and I think that many of the more recent psychopaths as protagonists characters owe a lot to Patricia Highsmith, who created the character. So when I started to read “Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart, it didn’t take long for me to pick up on the fact that this book is a genderbent version of that story. Throw in a little bit of timeline tweaking that starts at the end for good measure, and you have the newest novel from the author of “We Were Liars”, with more coastal scenes and protagonists that you aren’t sure that you can really trust.

I do like it when YA authors experiment with structure and plotting, so to see that it started at the end was a great way to start this book. We start with Jule, who has taken on the identity of her best friend Imogen, a flighty heiress who was as aimless as she was charming. We don’t know what happened to Imogen, only that she is dead, and Jule is pretending to be her. Just as it seems she’s about to be arrested for some sort of crime (fraud? something worse?), we go backwards in time. And then we go further backwards. As we go back more and more, the pieces start to come into place, not only about who Jule is, who Imogen was, how they found each other, and how everything went wrong… plus the collateral damage along the way. We kind of get a sense for Jule and who she is, but she is definitely the definition of unreliable. Things that are said about her may not be the truth, and certainly things she tells other people probably aren’t. The backwards structure was a really neat way to get some of the facts, foreshadowing to events that happened before the moment that you are reading about. You forge thoughts and attitudes towards characters, but then as you shift backwards through the story your attitude changes and you see them in completely new ways. The more I see this device, the more I come to appreciate it, to be sure. It also made it so that I had a hard time putting this book down, needing to take any down time to keep going to find out what happened. It was such a fast and engrossing read that I consumed most of it in one sitting, and then stayed up probably far too late, battling sleep, just to see how it all turned out. There is no denying that the pacing and the little smattering of clues throughout the pages made this a very fun read.

But the problem that I had with it is that it is most certainly borrowing a lot from “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. I’m sure that it’s meant to be an homage to this classic story of obsessive friendship, identity theft, and murder, but there were a number of parallels that felt more like lifting plot points instead of honoring them. The close friend who has always been suspicious of the interloper. The lover who is being played like a harp. The parent who reaches out because their child has ditched responsibility in favor of carelessness. An incident in a boat with an OAR (my God, this basically played out the same way in “Ripley” as it did here). The list goes on. For the target audience, that isn’t going to really make much of a difference. For them Imogen won’t be Dickie Greenleaf and Jule won’t be Tom Ripley, but in my mind I couldn’t separate the characters in this book from the ones that they appear to be modeled after. I think that perhaps if it had been made a bit more clear that this was, in fact, a genderbent retelling with a different structure I would have been more thrilled by it, but instead it was frustrating because I would always be thinking ‘well that was just what Highsmith did’.

All that said, it’s undeniable that “Genuine Fraud” was an entertaining read. Definitely the kind of book that will keep you guessing and keep you completely obsessed with it. I would be curious to see if Lockhart will be following it up with other stories about Jule. After all, since this is an homage to Tom Ripley, it’s important to note that he had a whole series dedicated to him and his exploits. I’d probably read more about Jule, just as I’ve always meant to with regards to Tom Ripley.

Rating 6: An addictive thriller that I ate up quickly. However, it feels less like an homage to “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and more like a copy in some ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Genuine Fraud” is brand new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet. But I think it would fit in on “Mistress of Disguise”, and “Dark Obsession and Stalker Books”.

Find “Genuine Fraud” at your library using WorldCat!

But you can have a chance at owning this book as well!! Because I’m giving this ARC away for free!!

Enter The Giveaway Here! 

Kate’s Reviews: “Monstress (Vol.1): Awakening”

29396738Book: “Monstress (Vol.1): Awakening” by Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

Review: When I first heard of “Monstress” by Marjorie Liu, I was pretty compelled by the description. Hell, I even put it on one of our Highlights lists last year around the time it came out. The premise definitely sounds like it would be right up my alley: a girl is part of a group of creatures called Arcanics that are oppressed and hunted down after a war, and she is possessed by an ancient monster. And while it was fantasy, a genre that I am very picky about and have very specific preferences in for it to appeal to me, I thought that it sounded enough like ‘dark fantasy’ that it would suit my tastes. Monsters, wars, dark magic and lots and lots of violence, all of these things piqued my interests, and I can say that “Monstress: Awakening” delivers all that and much much more.

Maika Halfwolf is our protagonist, and we meet her just as she is being sold off for experimentation. As a member of the Arcanics, but as someone who can pass for human, she is a hot commodity for her buyer, a woman who is a Cumea. Cumea are sorceresses who absorb the life energy from Arcanics to keep their own power levels up. So right away we are shown the brutal world that Maika and others like her live in, and how it is to be in a society where they are constantly beaten down and treated as less than, so far as to be slaughtered so that others may gain from it. Intricate themes to be certain, and some that I was very pleased to see in this story. It was also really neat to see a group of female protagonists, and very nuanced and complex women at that. Maika, of course, has a lot of sides to herself. She’s violent and driven by a need to avenge her dead mother, Moriko Halfwolf, but she also has moments of compassion and empathy, as well as glimpses into a time period where she wasn’t as jaded and cynical about the world she lives in. We also get to see the power of female friendships in a time of trauma and war, as she forges bonds with a couple of female characters, some part of her new life, others part of her old one. But inside of her is a monster that is hinted at being one of the greatest evils in the history of the world that she lives in. However, it isn’t quite clear just what this being wants yet.

We also get a compelling group of villains within this world that Liu has created. I like the idea of female sorceresses being seen as nun-like, their entire lives devoted to their powers. The hierarchy of power was cool to see, and I liked the very intimidating Inquisitrixes, those sent out to find Maika and her group after she escapes. You also get a sense of the corruption that the Cumea have inside their system. Nothing says feminism to me like having fascinating female villains, and the Cumea are definitely a well rounded set of villains. But the most charming group in this are the cats. Yes, there are cats in this series that have many roles, from sidekicks to warriors to professors, and I really, really enjoyed that.

The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous. It has influences from manga, steampunk, and art deco styles, and they all meld together to make a sumptuous feast for the eyes of the reader.  I was blown away multiple times by the details that went into it, and how there were so many intricate things inside of the art, from the details on the clothing to the etchings of the backgrounds.

monstress1_previewpage3
(source)

But, sadly, at the end of the day, I can only give this six stars. And that is because this is definitely a bit too high fantasy for me. But I want to really emphasize that the rating I am giving it is one that I have for it, personally, just because this isn’t really my kind of story. That said, people who really like high fantasy and intrigue to go with their monsters and mayhem would probably like this a lot. In fact, looking at how a few of my friends have rated it, I can safely say that my rating is my own, and that it should NOT deter anyone from reading this if you think that all of these things sound great. Hell, I’m probably even going to keep on going in the series, because I like Maika so much and want to see what is going on with this monster inside of her. And the themes, too, are going to bring me back for more, since feminism, racism, and colonialism can be found in their own ways in this world and are explored very well. Again, fantasy fans, take note of this one. It’s dark and it’s violent, but it’s also gorgeous and will probably completely suck you in.

Rating 6: A little high fantasy for my tastes, but the characters are great and the art is beautiful. The themes that Liu explore are dark and complex, and I think that they really give this story a little more than other series like it may.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Monstress (Vol.1): Awakening” is included on the Gooreads lists “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”, and “Comics and Graphic Novels by Women”.

Find “Monstress (Vol.1): Awakening” at your library using WorldCat!