Kate’s Review: “The Invasion”

35292343Book: “The Invasion” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: David Pickling Books, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: After so much danger, Nessa and Anto can finally dream of a happy life. But the terrible attack on their school has created a witch-hunt for traitors — boys and girls who survived the Call only by making deals with the enemy. To the authorities, Nessa’s guilt is obvious. Her punishment is to be sent back to the nightmare of the Grey Land for the rest of her life. The Sídhe are waiting, and they have a very special fate planned for her.
 
Meanwhile, with the help of a real traitor, the enemy come pouring into Ireland at the head of a terrifying army. Every human they capture becomes a weapon. Anto and the last students of his old school must find a way to strike a blow at the invaders before they lose their lives, or even worse, their minds. But with every moment Anto is confronted with more evidence of Nessa’s guilt.

For Nessa, the thought of seeing Anto again is the only thing keeping her alive. But if she escapes, and if she can find him, surely he is duty-bound to kill her…

Review: I was so very pleasantly surprised by Peadar Ó Guilín’s novel “The Call” that when I found out that it was getting a sequel I was on pins and needles for it to be released. His take on a malevolent and violent faerie world was something that I hadn’t seen before in such brutal and disturbing fashions, and it definitely took the concept of faerie worlds and put it in a dark reality, all while making their rage somewhat understandable. I also loved our protagonists Nessa and Anto, friends and would be boyfriend and girlfriend who beat the odds when they were ‘called’, Anto being a pacifist and Nessa having a disability because of childhood polio. Plus, the concept of humans being the actual monsters at the heart of that book (in the form of violent misogynist Conor) is a theme that I always enjoy. It combined into one of my favorite reads of that year. So when “The Invasion” showed up in my holds, I waited a little bit to savor the anticipation of revisiting Nessa, Anto, and the Sídhe of the Grey World.

Perhaps I put too much anticipation into it, because ultimately, I was kinda disappointed with “The Invasion”.

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Why have your forsaken me? (source)

I do want to give “The Invasion” credit where credit is due. Ó Guilín is relentless in his portrayal of war and violence, and the price of war for those who are part of it. While Nessa and Anto think that perhaps they can live their lives out together and have a happy ending, the Irish Government has other ideas for both of them. Anto is recruited to fight against the invading Sídhe (against his will), even though he has survived the Call with a disfigured, giant arm and is a pacifist at his heart. And Nessa is assumed to be a traitor, because they don’t believe that a girl whose legs were weakened because of childhood polio could have POSSIBLY survived The Call without making a deal with the enemy, and so she is carted off to a life in prison, and then to be sent to the Grey Land as punishment. While it was a super bummer to see that these two are probably not going to get their happy ending together, I appreciated that Ó Guilín doesn’t try to sugarcoat how a reality these two are living in would actually be. He still keeps the violence and disturbing imagery and themes up to a solid eleven, and there were many times that I pretty much squirmed in my seat while reading this book. I also liked seeing Aoife have more of a role in this book. In “The Call” she is merely the mourning girlfriend to Nessa’s best friend Emma. In “The Invasion”, she is with Anto and other classmates of their old school, and she is becoming a warrior out of necessity, even though she is questioning so much. Her character arc was very satisfying to see. We also get to see more of the flora and fauna of The Grey Land itself, beyond the evil faeries. I liked Ó Guilín’s world building here and found it to be as creative as it was messed up.

But there were so many things about this book that didn’t make it feel as satisfying as I wanted it to be. As much as I appreciate that realistically Nessa and Anto are going to have obstacles, I wanted to see them together. I wanted to see them adjusting to life after The Call, but they really didn’t have much interaction outside of the two of them pining for each other. And I found myself frustrated with Anto’s storyline, Aoife aside. Yes, I appreciate Ó Guilín portraying war the way that it should be portrayed, I just didn’t care about Anto and his compatriots fighting on the front lines. ESPECIALLY since some things happen with Liz Sweeney, the mean girl from the first book who is still pretty much awful. And Nessa herself didn’t get as much credit this time around. She got some cool accolades and I did like her new adventure in The Grey Land, but I felt like she didn’t really get much to do. And she deserved so much more than she got.

Overall, “The Invasion” probably ended Nessa’s and Anto’s story realistically, wrapping it up and pretty much tying all the loose ends up as well. But it felt abrupt, and I wanted more, and not in a good way. I appreciate choosing the end that he did, but wish it had felt more like a worthy successor to “The Call”. I’ll definitely give another book by Peadar Ó Guilín a try, but I had wanted more from this.

Rating 6: A sequel that focuses on the price of war and how it tears people apart, “The Invasion” is a not as satisfying conclusion to “The Call”. While it didn’t live up to the first of the two, it was a realistic follow up.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Invasion” isn’t VERY new but isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason. But I think it would fit in on “Books About Faery”, and “Best YA Fantasy Series About The Fae”.

Find “The Invasion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “The Call”

Kate’s Review: “Give Me Your Hand”

29569206Book: “Give Me Your Hand” by Megan Abbott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown, and Company, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book:  I received an ARC from NetGalley

Book Description: A mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever…or tear them apart. 

Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane’s academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them. 

More than a decade later, Kit thinks she’s put Diane behind her forever and she’s begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol. Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.

Review: I want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of the book!

Megan Abbott is one of those authors that I want to call a sure thing, but can’t quite do so as of yet. While I loved her book “The Fever”, I wasn’t into “Dare Me” at all in spite of the fact that there were a number of bitchy mean cheerleaders at the center of it. Then I read “You Will Know Me” (reviewed HERE),and I was once again into her soapy and thrilling narrations of bad people making worse choices. I do love books like that, after all. So when I requested an ARC of “Give Me Your Hand”, her newest book, I was hoping that “Dare Me” would officially become a fluke and that I could hands down count her as someone I will always read no matter what. Unfortunately, we still aren’t quite there, as “Give Me Your Hand” just didn’t quite get there for me.

I will first start with what I did like about “Give Me Your Hand”. I liked that we had two separate narratives going on in this story, with a “Then” narrative (taking place when Kit and Diane were in high school), and a “Now” narrative (taking place when they are adults). Megan Abbott uses this structure to her advantage, as we slowly get clues presented to us in their time and in their place and at a pace that I found to be manageable. Abbott also did a good job of making the teenagers feel like teenagers, as sometimes thriller authors don’t really grasp teendom in an authentic way. Abbott would be a good crossover author to a YA audience because of this, as while the time spent with Kit and Diane as adults might not be as relatable, the time as teens certainly feels like it would be. I also liked that Abbott comments on how hard it can feel for a female working in a STEM environment, and how this inherent sexist and misogynistic culture can make women feel desperate and potentially drive them to do not so good things in order to get ahead out of feelings of necessity. Kit and Diane are both ambitious and driven, and wanting to impress their idol Dr. Severin and end up on her research team, but because they are the only women in the running in a field where male presences are seen as the norm and women are there to fill a quota, the competition is there, and boy is it deadly.

But these things aside, overall this book left me a bit underwhelmed. While I did like it more than “Dare Me” (therein assuring that I will definitely pick up the next Meg Abbott book, albeit not as desperately), I didn’t find much to root for in any of the characters. I appreciated that Kit was ambitious and beaten down by her knowledge of Diane’s secret, and that those anxieties weighed on her in realistic ways, but she was grating to follow. Diane was your run of the mill antagonist in this book, and while there were moments of trying to round her out they didn’t really come until it was too late. In fact, there weren’t really that many likable characters at all, outside of Serge, one of Kit’s colleagues who is a huge animal lover and takes no nonsense. I also was bummed that basically once Diane’s secret was out in the teenage timeline, we didn’t really spend much more time there and were left to deal with something of an unbelievable catalyst event that brought the drama to present day. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say that when it happened it didn’t have much emotional oomph behind it. I didn’t feel high stakes or fear for the fallout when it came to Kit and Diane, and was more just thinking ‘okay, so that happened…. Now what?’ If I’m not invested, it’s not really going to be suspenseful, and I think that had I not been on an airplane as I read this (and therefore a captive audience of sorts) I may have put it down a lot more often.

“Give Me Your Hand” wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t really doing anything to stand out from novels of similar themes and thoughts. I like Megan Abbott, and I’m going to keep reading her, but I will go in with my hopes more evenly tempered the next time I read something by her.

Rating 6: While it had it’s merits and some good build up, ultimately “Give Me Your Hand” left me wanting more, and not in the way I like.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Give Me Your Hand” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Page Turners of Summer 2018”, and “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”.

Find “Give Me Your Hand” at your local library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Into the Bright Unknown”

18054074Book: “Into the Bright Unknown” by Rae Carson

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, October 2017

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

Book Description: Leah Westfall, her fiancé Jefferson, and her friends have become rich in the California Territory, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense precious gold. But their fortune has made them a target, and when a dangerous billionaire sets out to destroy them, Lee and her friends decide they’ve had enough—they will fight back with all their power and talents. 

Lee’s magic is continuing to strengthen and grow, but someone is on to her—someone who might have a bit of magic herself. The stakes are higher than ever as Lee and her friends hatch a daring scheme that could alter the California landscape forever. 

Previously reviewed: “Walk on Earth a Stranger” and “Like a River Glorious”

Review: This is the last in the “Gold Seer” trilogy and after the previous book which seemed to wrap up much of the story and do-away with its main villain, I wasn’t sure where this book would go from there. I was also still smarting from the pretty graphic and hard-to-read scenes that made up a good chunk of that book, so I went into this one hopeful that we’d have a return to the “Oregon Trail” adventures of the first book. What we got was probably something in-between.

Life is moving along in Glory, California. Lee and her friends have on their hands what looks to be a growing and bustling town. Except for the fact that the town charter they had paid for from the wealthy Henry Hardwick in the last book has yet to arrive. With this problem before them, a large chunk of our main characters head off to San Fransisco. What they find is a man much more villainous than they had suspected and before long, Lee and her friends have much more to deal with than just a small town charter.

With this as the last book in the trilogy, looking back, it’s hard to get a real sense for this series as a whole. The first one was a fairly straight-forward travelogue with fun call-outs to the tropes of Oregon Trail games and stories. The second took a nose dive into the worst parts of humanity and left Lee as a bit of a passive character. And this one gets the gang back together, adds a new villain, and pretty much turns into a heist story. It’s all a little strange, from that angle.

But to judge this book on its own, there were definite areas of improvement from the last book but it still didn’t manage to reclaim the highs of the first. I very much enjoyed the return of many of our familiar characters who were largely absent in the second book. In particular, Becky, who had snuck up on me in the first book as a favorite and then disappeared in the second installment. As a heist story, it makes sense to have this large cast and the book already had many of these people on hand, so it was fun seeing them all interact and plan together in a way that was intentional, rather than the hap-hazard manner in which they had been forced by circumstances on the trail to work together before.

Lee and Jefferson’s relationship was also good. I was glad to see them working together for much of this book after being separated for so much of it during the previous one. The lack of relationship drama was also a welcome relief given that all too often it seems as if authors feel the need to throw a wrench in their romances in the last book from a misguided attempt to “build tension.”

One of the strongest portions of this book, for me, was the increased focus on Lee’s abilities. There was a big shift in the end of the last book with how her gold sense operated, and it was interesting watching Lee continue to practice and explore the possible new uses of her powers. There were several moments in this book where she came up with clever ways to put this power to use, and after being mostly useless in the second book, the success of their plans ultimately did fall to Lee’s own abilities, both with her powers and her planning. I was also surprised when an arc was introduced that dealt more fully with where these abilities might have come from and what other forms of magic might exist in the world. It was a nice addition as, up to this point, it felt a little strange to have Lee be the only exception to a world that otherwise seemed magic-less and true to history.

Those were the stronger aspects of the book. However, I did still struggle with the main plot itself and the villains. It’s a weird complaint, but like the second book, the villains were almost TOO villainous. In that they all seemed evil simply…because. And while I know that money and influence could go a long way then (and still can today), it also bordered on unrealistic that some of the villains’ actions could have been overlooked for so long. A man is killed in a crowd of people at one point, and no one bats an eye. Even with prejudices in mind, I have to think that this would have lead to something more.

The heist itself was interesting enough. But it was also a bit too complicated, for my thoughts. Or, barring that, not easy enough to put together on ones own without a massive infodump at the end explaining it all. A good heist story keeps some cards hidden, but still leaves room for the reader to put things together for themselves. Here, while there were parts that I could guess, the infodump where “all was told” was still long and confusing. This could partly be due to the simple fact that no finesse was used for said infodump: characters just spilled it out in long chunks of dialogue. At the best, it was just boring. At the worst, it left me still confused but not wanting to expose myself to the boredom again in an attempt to try to understand with a second read-through.

In the end, the series never quite regained the high that was the first book and seemed to flounder around for purchase and focus in the last two books, each presenting wildly different stories both in tone and topic. If I was to recommend this series, I’d almost say to just stop with the first. The second two are not worthless, but they’re also the kind of books that I will quickly forget. But if you are still enjoying these characters and the unique combination of realistic history with small doses of magic, this book was still an improvement on the second and might be worth checking out.

Rating 6: A serviceable story with a few highs relating to Lee’s magic, but a heist that was too confusing to be truly enjoyable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Into the Bright Unknown” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “California Gold Rush in YA & Middle Grade Fiction” and “Young Adult Books Without Insta-Love.”

Find “Into the Bright Unknown” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Six of Crows”

23006119We 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 “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.

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

Book: “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo

Publishing Info: Henry Holt and Company, September 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library

A-Side Book: “Shadow and Bone”

Book Description: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Serena’s Thoughts

This book is probably one of the perfect diverging points for Kate and my own differing book tastes. I’m pretty sure that everything I love about these genres are the same things that turn off Kate, so be ready for some whiplash in our opinions!

It’s no secret that I love fantasy. Pretty much any fantasy, but high fantasy (rather than, say, urban fantasy) is definitely my preferred type. After all, that’s the primary genre that I cover on this blog. But I also love heist stories. I don’t read many heist books, because frankly most of the ones I’ve tried fall into the worst category of “beach reads” where the writing and plotting is so simplistic that I just can’t acknowledge it as worth my time to read. But I do love heist movies (though even I have my doubts about this new “Oceans 11” reboot…). So reading this book description, I was all over this!

I did have a few points of hesitancy, however, going in. I don’t typically prefer books with multiple narrators, let alone five. And I’ve been burned by Bardugo in the past. While I liked the first book in her “Grisha” series, my rage boiled over in the second and I don’t think I even finished the third. So, I was excited, but hesitant.

All for nothing! I had a blast with this book! Set in the same world and a few years (?) after the events in the last book of the “Grisha” trilogy, our team is made up of a ragtag group of individuals all with complicated pasts and motivations that lead them to be involved in what everyone says is an impossible mission.

I very much enjoyed the world building in this story. It’s been a few years since I read the other two books, but for the most part this world and history is presented in such a way that prior knowledge of it was not necessary. If anything, I think my half reading of the first trilogy almost made it worse, as I could sort of remember things here and there and was never quite sure whether something new was being introduced or whether I should be remembering it from before. In that respect, it might even be easier to read this book with zero knowledge of the original trilogy. All of that said, this story takes place in two new and distinct locations: the gang-riddled streets of Ketterdam and the Ice Court where the people of the north capture and exterminate Grisha, as they see their magic as contrary to the natural world. Bardugo does an excellent job in painting clear and brilliant scenes on which to work her stories. I particularly liked the Ice Court itself, and the complex inner workings that the team had to overcome to break in and out.

As for the characters, Bardugo masterfully juggled a very full cast, somehow managing to weave together a very action-packed story while also slowly revealing the complicated and often dark histories of each individual character on this journey. I had a few favorites, but I ultimately enjoyed them all. I would say that Jesper was probably my least favorite, due to the fact that he had the least developed back story of the group and, for plot reasons, had to be kept in the dark about certain events. I enjoyed Inej the most, as her character type (silent, deadly, masterfully proficient at what she does best) is one of my favorites. But I think that Nina and Matthias, as a pair, had the most compelling journey in this story. Raised in very different cultures and with very different views on the world, they both have to confront prejudices and the darker side of their own beings.

I had a few quibbles of plausibility here and there, as far as the heist itself goes. But for the most part, I was having such a blast that I didn’t have time to pause and really think about the viability of some of their more outrageous plans. Bardugo is particularly effective with her dialogue, and with a cast of 6+ characters, there were ample opportunities for this strength to shine and overcast any weaker plot points. Over all, I greatly enjoyed this book and have the second one sitting on my shelf ready to read!

Kate’s Thoughts

Say it with me folks: I don’t like heist stories, I don’t like high fantasy, and while I read “Shadow and Bone” in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, I didn’t particularly care for it and never went back to that trilogy. So yeah, going into “Six of Crows” I wasn’t terribly stoked. But I like to think that I’m a good sport and something of a trooper, and given that I really liked other works by Bardugo (specifically “Wonder Woman: Warbringer”, and the short story “Verse Chorus Verse”), I had a little bit of hope that I would enjoy at least parts of it.

Turns out I was right on both counts. So, yay?

For not liking heists or high fantasy, there were plenty of things that I did find likable in this book. As Serena mentioned, Bardugo has a knack for world building, and while I remember very little from her Grishaverse I greatly enjoyed seeing aspects of it popping up in this book, even if it was in a different time and place. The Dutch influence in Ketterdam is a fun thing to watch as well, with references to various familiar landmark types and certain words clearly being derived from the Dutch language. Bardugo has a clear world idea, and in some ways she expands upon it in this book (as far as I know) with how Grishas (or witches) are viewed, and how this society functions in a more poverty stricken and corrupt society.

Bardugo also has a talent for characterization and dialog, and I ended up really enjoying a number of the characters. While in book club the solid consensus seemed to list Inej as a favorite, I myself greatly, GREATLY enjoyed Nina and her morally grey, duplicitous yet empathetic ways. Like Serena I was quite intrigued by her relationship with Matthias, and how they both have a deep connection but deep resentment and mistrust because of past actions. Whenever the story was focused on her, it had my rapt attention.

But, at the end of the day, Serena knows me very well: “Six of Crows” manages to run with a number of story themes that I don’t care for, mostly heists and high fantasy. And because of that, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, and as much as others have. I am not a good judge for how good this story is because this is not a book that was written with me in mind, and it’s not quite strong enough (outside of a few aspects I did like) to rise above my preferences and prove me wrong. It’s no one’s fault. It just didn’t do it for me as a whole.

Serena’s Rating 9: Strong dialogue and a great cast of characters added to what was already a thrilling heist story.

Kate’s Rating 6: While the characters compelled me and the dialog was snappy, the story line and themes didn’t interest me.

Book Club Questions:

  1. This story is set in the same world as Bardugo’s original “Grisha” trilogy. How did reading that trilogy before (or not reading it) affect your experience with this book?
  2. This book is made up of a large cast of characters. Which ones stood out to you as particularly interesting? Were there any that you felt less connected to?
  3. Through Nina and Matthias’s story arc, this book confronts some challenging themes regarding prejudice and persecution. What moments stood out to you in this area? Do you think this could have been explored even further?
  4. The heist itself is made up of several moving pieces and changed throughout the story. Did any parts of it strike you as particularly surprising or fun to read about? Did you have questions about any parts of it?
  5. There are a lot of surprises revealed throughout the story. Which ones took you by surprise and which ones could you predict?
  6. The story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Where do you think it will go from here?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Six of Crows” is on these Goodreads lists: “Villain Protagonist” and “Speculative Fiction Heist/Caper Stories.”

Find “Six of Crows” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Pick: “Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

 

Serena’s Review: “Like a River Glorious”

18054071Book: “Like a River Glorious” by Rae Carson

Publishing Info: Greenwillow, September 2016

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

Book Description: After a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.

Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom.

Previously reviewed: “Walk on Earth a Stranger”

Review: As I said in my review of the first book in this series, “Walk on Earth a Stranger” was pretty much what you’d get if you turned the old Oregon Trail game into a full length novel. Add in a small dash of fantasy with Lee’s gold sense, a few more references to the prejudices and wrongs of the time, and there ya go! As a travelogue, I very much enjoyed the story. But in the end, they arrived at California. Without the travel/Oregon Trail part of the story, would this series continue to hold up. And the answer is…kind of?

Lee and her friends have finally arrived in California, found a claim spot ripe with gold, relying on Lee’s gold sense, and begun to set up their own little town. But when a string of misfortune’s start befalling the growing township and its residents, Lee’s the only one to suspect the truth: her uncle Hiram is back after her and these little “accidents” are his way of warning her. Determined to set things straight once and for all, Lee and Jefferson set out to confront her uncle and gain Lee’s freedom. But it all goes wrong, and Lee is about to find out just how awful her uncle truly is.

So I have very mixed feelings on this book. But I’ll start with the things that I know I enjoyed. I still very much liked the mixture of a historical setting and Lee’s magical abilities. If nothing else, the author makes you feel like you’re in this time period. There are no missteps, and I always felt fully immersed in this world. The challenges of living during this period are clear: weather, nature, sickness/injury, they must overcome it all and the day to day life is so distinct and well-described that I never questioned the authenticity of this world. The real skill was then in merging Lee’s magical abilities into this world without disturbing the balance of realism. Her gold sense played a background role in the first book, serving primarily as a motivation for the villain and coming into play here and there when needed. Here, even with Lee’s growing understanding of her own powers, her gold sense still remains mostly in the background. It is the crux of the conflict, but it isn’t really used much beyond that, besides in the final conflict. This balance allowed the historical elements and characters themselves to serve instead as the main point of interest for the book.

I also still enjoyed Lee as a character.  Here, she is forced to confront the role that she plays in the way that history is unfolding. Yes, she is sympathetic and “ahead of her time” for a character living in this period of history, but she is not excused from responsibility. She’s still claimed land that belonged to others and through her and the others mining for gold, irrecoverably changed the very landscape upon which they’re living. I liked that she wasn’t let off the hook for these actions and, while she recognizes the harm, she doesn’t have, or is given, any quick and easy solutions. What’s more, she doesn’t always come to these conclusions on her own, but must be informed of her own ignorance and remaining prejudices by those around her.

However, Lee wasn’t given much to do in this book, frankly. In the last, we saw how she contributed to the wagon train which she was a part of. She took action on her own and used her own skills, not just her gold sense, to solve problems. Given the nature of this story, Lee is sidelined for much of this book. It is up to others to plan and plot, and while she’s not strictly speaking a damsel in distress, she’s probably only one step away. And, because the story is told from her point of view, the reader is left with a lot of inaction and waiting, just as Lee is herself.

And in that time, the book becomes very hard to read. As I said, the author doesn’t flinch away from portraying some very ugly realities for what this time period could be like for many people, especially at the hands of the worst of the white settlers (though, as I said, even the “best” are not let off the hook for their own compliance and ultimate self-interest). While I admire this dedication to revealing the ugliness that existed, it also began to be almost too much as the story progressed. Because of Lee’s own captivity, the reader also feels like a captive audience to pages and pages of depravity and various horrors.

It is this combination of reduced action for Lee herself and this laser focus on some very tough scenes that made the story lag quite a bit in the middle. “Lag” is even a strange word for it, since boredom was definitely not the emotion most sparked by the harsh images presented. But plot-wise, the story did feel adrift and wallowing. The action picked up again in the end, and I liked that even in the resolution, things do not end in any type of perfect, utopia-like fashion. This specific horror might have been ended, but the world that they all are living in is unchanged.

Again, this story also resolves in a way that leaves me questioning where the third book will go from here, similarly to the first. While I did struggle with this book a bit, I’m still curious to see where things will ultimately end up and I’m sure I’ll pick up the next one soon!

Rating 6: A reduced role for our heroine combined with some really tough scenes seemed to negatively affect the pacing of this book. But the historical aspects are still excellent.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Like a River Glorious” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade California Gold Rush Fiction” and “YA Historical Fiction of 2016.”

Find “Like a River Glorious” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The French Girl”

35235624Book: “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliot

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway–until they met Severine, the girl next door.

For Kate Channing, Severine was an unwelcome presence, her inscrutable beauty undermining the close-knit group’s loyalties amid the already simmering tensions. And after a huge altercation on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. There are some things you can’t forgive, and there are some people you can’t forget, like Severine, who was never seen again.

Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine’s body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. Questioned along with her friends, Kate stands to lose everything she’s worked so hard to achieve as suspicion mounts around her. Desperate to resolve her own shifting memories and fearful she will be forever bound to the woman whose presence still haunts her, Kate finds herself buried under layers of deception with no one to set her free.

Review: Country weekends with friends are always so fun! The isolation, the quiet, the bonding time! It’s really just the perfect way to pass the time with people you like.

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Okay okay, so they can’t all be relaxing… (source)

I will admit that I like the potential for drama that this kind of story brings. Usually a weekend away, especially in thrillers, means that secrets will come out, betrayals will happen, and someone will usually end up getting hurt, be it emotionally or even physically. Given my love for this kind of tale, my interest was piqued by “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliott. Especially since a drama filled weekend seems to have resulted in a body stuffed down a well, and a cast of players who are automatic suspects! That’s a recipe for a book that I REALLY want to read. But unfortunately, given my high hopes for “The French Girl”, when it kind of fell flat it hurt a bit more than it would have had my expectations not been as high as they were.

But first let’s talk about what I did like. Kate Chambers, our main character and therefore resident complex and flawed female presence, was a pretty good person to follow within this story. Yes, she has her flaws and her complexities and her moments where I wanted to shake her, but she was likable enough and relatable enough that I did care about how things were going to turn out for her. She’s trying to forget about the mess of a weekend that she and her university friends spent in France, in which her toxic boyfriend Sebastian cheated on her with Severine, the French girl who lived next door to the estate. To make matters a bit more complex, Severine ended up disappearing that weekend, shortly after Kate and her friends left, which has left a sense of mystery and anxiety to Kate and her life as it moved forward. So you can imagine how she felt after a body was found in the well on the property. As she is reunited with her old friends, specifically Tom, one of her best friends whom she fell away from after he got married, she starts to think that they are all suspects, and is worried that scrutiny will fall on her. Watching her make pretty realistic mistakes and choices was kind of a breath of fresh air, since a lot of the time you get protagonists who act completely nutty just to move the plot along and completely outside of the character that has been previously established. Kate never gets there, and I liked her all the more for it. Her interactions with those around her, especially Tom and her friend Lara, were fun for me as well.

But the problem I had with this book was within the plot and the mystery. Specifically, the fact that none of it (or at least very VERY little of it) takes place during that fateful weekend, and only within the period that the body has been found and during the subsequent investigation. True, we get mentions of things that went on, but it’s all through the characters in the present, and it also manages to knock a few suspects out of the way right off the bat. I had hoped that there would be in the moment insights into what happened that weekend, and that it would shed some light into the victim herself (whose presence is haunting Kate as the book goes on). But because we don’t get to see her in action, and only through the eyes of the others, we get no sense of her as a person, and she ends up feeling incredibly objectified. What’s more, we didn’t get any solid red herrings about potential motives and potential suspects, as moments of doubt felt quashed soon after they were introduced. I had no problem discerning what happened to Severine and who was responsible, as Elliott presented that character a certain way from the beginning that, to me, made it obvious as to whodunnit. And that’s not really fun for the reader, especially when the story is supposed to be about whodunnit. Because of this, I wasn’t really gripped at the edge of my seat as I read it, and my concern for Kate was the only thing that kept me going. Had she been any less appealing or interesting, I probably would have been very bored and disinterested. Characters are great, but a thriller/mystery needs to keep me interested with the action as well as the players.

“The French Girl” wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, and while I think that others would probably enjoy it more than I did, it could have been stronger. There was a lot of potential there that didn’t quite get reached. But it is refreshing to see a main character that I felt fully invested in.

Rating 6: Though the mystery did keep me wondering what was true and what wasn’t, I wish we’d seen more of the actual crime time line instead of the investigation after the fact.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The French Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girl”, and  “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared From The Train” (I guffawed at both of these list titles).

Find “The French Girl” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Favorite Sister”

36967019Book: “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, May 2018

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

Book Description: When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…

Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.

Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.

Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.

Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.

And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for giving me an eARC of this book!

As you’ve seen on my various “Not Just Books” lists on this blog, I do have a soft spot for a couple reality TV shows. I tell myself that my enjoyment of “ANTM” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is rooted within the inherent creativity that is at the heart of the premises; be it fashion modeling and the skills that go into it or the many facets of doing drag as performance and style, I love seeing these contestants do what I know I never could. But I’ll also be honest here: I do enjoy the petty catfights and drama that almost always arises when you put these people into high stress situations. So “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll was SUPER intriguing to me within it’s premise. I quite enjoyed her previous book “Luckiest Girl Alive” because of the issues that she tackled under guise of soapy snideness, so I had hopes that her next story would do the same. Along with juicy, sudsy characters tearing each other to shreds, of course.

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The Vixen is the queen of bringing  up social issues and bringing the drama and I love her for all of it. (source)

So the good news is that this is a book that has a plot and mystery that will completely suck you in and not let you go until it’s good and ready to. I was reading this book on one of our late Spring snow storm days and it was the best way to pass the time because it kept me interested and wanting more. The plot concerns a reality show called “Goal Diggers” and the women who make up the cast of the show and all the problems that they have as they strive to maintain their status and fame. Mostly, it details the lead up to and fallout from the murder of the fan favorite Brett, a spinning studio owner who is proud of her curvy body and is an out and proud lesbian. It’s told between three perspectives and jumping through time: there’s Brett’s perspective, of course, but then there are also the perspectives of Kelly, Brett’s sister (mainly told after the fact), and Stephanie, Brett’s former best friend. They all have their own levels of unreliability, as they all have reasons to lie and distort the facts, and as the story slowly came out the rug got pulled out from under me a number of times. Knoll continues to be adept at creating twists and turns that you don’t see coming, even as she intricately lays the groundwork for them so they feel natural and believable. There were a number of moments where I said ‘whoa’ as a new surprise was sprung, and I definitely felt the need to keep reading to see what was going to happen next.

But ultimately, I think that the biggest drawback of “The Favorite Sister” is that all of the characters are completely reprehensible, and so unlikable that I didn’t find myself connecting to really any of them. While I had a fun time reading about how they were all behaving badly, and how they would all justify their behavior in ways that were totally laughable, I ultimately found myself hating almost all of them. The sole exception to this was Layla, Kelly’s twelve year old daughter, but you don’t get much sense of her outside of being a kind and creative (and driven) kid. I appreciate what Knoll was trying to convey, that even within a show that is supposed to be about lifting women up and encouraging them to think outside of what society wants them to be, they are still going to be judged by each other and by themselves because society is so damn ingrained in them. I get that. I appreciate that. It’s not a bad take at all. But when none of them really move beyond being laughably shallow (Lauren), ridiculously cruel (Jen), horrendously deluded by self grandeur (Brett), or just kind of there (Kelly), who do you root for? I had hoped that I could root for Stephanie, as she is probably the one who comes closest to having complexity. She is the only black woman on the show, she’s edging near the age where cast members generally get the ax, and she’s trying to prove herself beyond being a token and model minority. But ultimately she too was just terrible, and the various things that she was going through never QUITE justified the awful shit that she pulled. This was unfortunate because this derailed the commentary that I think that Knoll was trying to achieve. And it’s not like Knoll doesn’t know how to write unlikable characters who have depth and complexity; Ani in “Luckiest Girl Alive” is INCREDIBLY unlikable, but as you learn more about her past and her experiences you understand why she is the way she is. Stephanie, and the other characters, get some glimpses, but you never get the feeling that their behavior is justified with the limited exposure we do get.

I think that if what you’re looking for is purely guilty pleasure mean girl drama, “The Favorite Sister” will probably scratch that itch and give you everything you need. On a purely entertainment, watching bad people get what they deserve level it was very satisfying. But don’t go in expecting to have characters that you can relate to and root for, because you will not find that here.

Rating 6: While the story itself was engrossing and left me guessing until the very end, “The Favorite Sister” didn’t have the complexities to the characters that I was hoping for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Favorite Sister” is a new book so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Reality Show Themed Novels”. 

Find “The Favorite Sister” at your library using WorldCat!