Kate’s Review: “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft”

36426163Book: “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft” by Tess Sharpe (Ed.), and Jessica Spotswood (Ed.)

Publishing Info: Harlequin Teen, August 2018

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

Book Description: A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

Review: I want to thank NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

As I’ve made abundantly clear on this blog numerous times, I am a huge fan of witches and witchcraft in my stories. Basically, if there is a witch, I want to read it. So imagine how genuinely thrilled I was when I heard about “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft”, a short stories collection edited by Tess Sharpe. Not only is it a collection of witch stories, it has a feminist centered theme of witchcraft. On top of THAT, there are also DIVERSE stories involving these witches, from authors like Zoraida Córdova, Robin Talley, Brandy Colbert, and more! My goodness did the description of this book get me in a witchy mood, and make me want to break out “The Craft”/relive my 8th grade Wicca phase.

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Hail to the guardians of the watchtowers of YA feminist witch fiction…. (source)

There are some really great stories in here, and I want to give them credit where credit is due. I will talk about my favorites and what it is about them that made them stand out.

(NOTE: Yes, this book originally had 16 stories in it, but after Tristina Wright was accused of sexual harassment her story was removed from the final product. My ARC had her story, but knowing that it wasn’t going to be in the final work I skipped it completely.)

“Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia

A young witch named Luna has garnered a social media following because of her posts about star charts, fate, and magic. One evening she starts a conversation with a science minded girl who is very much a skeptic. As they start to chat over messages, Luna realizes that she’s starting to fall for her spirited intellectual nemesis. In terms of just sweet and calm stories, “Starsong” fit the bill. The first reason is that it feels very relatable with the social media bent that it had as it’s base. I liked the idea of a teen witch giving guidance to her followers and coming into herself in a medium she is comfortable with. And while I’m not so much into the romance genre in general, this one was super charming and didn’t feel overwrought or melodramatic as these two girls get to know each other and start to feel the first pangs of attraction. It’s just super cute, and since it’s the first story in the collection you get to ease into it with an upbeat first course.

“The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley

This one felt the most like the kind of witch story that I wanted from this collection, and it’s probably my favorite of the lot. A town has been long haunted by the urban legend of Stone Mary, a witch who was murdered a couple centuries prior and has supposedly put a curse on the town. Now there are legends and myths surrounding the gravesite of Stone Mary, a popular spot for teens to goof off at. Wendy is a descendent of Mary, and her family has long had an unspoken stigma about them because of the family line she is a part of. When she starts to start a romance with a new girl in town, she just wants to be seen as normal, but her lineage may have more of an effect on her relationship than she could have imagined. From the ghostly legend of Stone Mary to the actual real life consequences of small town small mindedness, Talley delivers a strong, somewhat bittersweet, story about what it’s like to be an outsider. The Mary legend is tragic and upsetting, and Wendy’s present day obstacles feel real and very much placed in Othering, be it because of her lineage, or because of her sexuality. There is also something of a twist that took me by surprise, and I think that it gave the story a little more depth. As someone who has memories of urban legends regarding graveyards (specifically the Black Angel in my aunt’s home of Iowa City), “The Legend of Stone Mary” was a treat in all regards.

“The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma

This is one of the darkest and saddest stories in the book (though just wait, we’ll be getting to the other one), but I didn’t expect any less from Nova Ren Suma. A coven of witches, brought together by trauma and pain, are preparing to bring in another member to their group as the same trauma is about to befall her. Suma is one of those authors who knows how to make the darkness in humanity twisted and blistering, but still present it in a bittersweet way. This story definitely has some strong implications in regards to sexual assault, so I have to give it a trigger warning, but the eeriness and the sadness is written in a flowing and haunting prose that I greatly enjoyed. While a large number of these books had very feminist roots, this one felt like a riot act towards those who do women wrong, and how victims can find their own voices and power by finding each other and coming together to support one another. This is also one of the shorter stories in the collection, though it packs a huge emotional punch that had me enthralled the entire time reading it.

“Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May

This is the last story in the collection, and boy oh boy is it a strong note to end it on. Women accused of witchcraft are taken to a forest work camp and are made to ‘repent’ for their actions, though they are not witches, but victims of society. Shamed and silenced, abused and mistreated, a group of women come together to support, endure, and find their voices again. This story absolutely weaves together the idea of witch hunts and trials and applies it to modern social mores such as rape culture and misogyny, and it brings forth a powerful read that struck hard and hit home. Especially given the current social climate, where sexual abusers in the highest offices of Government get off without consequence and someone can be sentenced to THREE MONTHS for rape (AND STILL FEEL LIKE THE CONVICTION WAS TOO HARSH), “Why They Watch Us Burn” strikes a chord. It’s angry, it’s raw, but it’s also hopeful.

Another positive is this book is chock full of Own Voices authors and a lot of great diversity in it’s characters. Not only are a number of the witches in these stories LGBTQIA+, there is also a wide range of racial representation, with varying cultures having a huge influence on the types of witches that these characters are. The witches in our stories need not be wholly influenced by Anglo-Saxon mythology alone, and “Toil and Trouble” takes cues from all around the world.

And yet, if you take the collection’s stories as a whole, a large number of them didn’t really stand out to me. None of them were BAD, per se, but they were either a bit muddled, or a little too bland for my tastes. Some of the stories felt stilted and dragging, and with others I found my eyes glazing over (and I’ll admit it’s probably because of the high emphases on romance in those ones). So because of that, “Toil and Trouble” wasn’t the consistently satisfying collection that I expected it to be. The stories that were good were VERY good, but I wanted more of them to be as appealing to me as the four that I mentioned.

But in terms of important, diverse, and feminist anthologies, “Toil and Trouble” is absolutely noteworthy. The stories I mentioned are worth a look by themselves, and you may find more value in the ones I struggled with. And hey, Halloween isn’t too far away. This is the perfect read for the upcoming Season of the Witch.

Rating 6: While the strong stories in this collection are very strong and the representation is top notch, “Toil and Trouble” didn’t have the consistent strength across all of its tales of witches and witchery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Anthologies”, and “2018 Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy”.

Find “Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “#Murdertrending”

34521785Book: “#Murdertrending” by Gretchen McNeil

Publishing Info: Freeform, August 2018

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

Book Description: WELCOME TO THE NEAR FUTURE, where good and honest 8/18 citizens can enjoy watching the executions of society’s most infamous convicted felons, streaming live on The Postman app from the suburbanized prison island Alcatraz 2.0.

When eighteen-year-old Dee Guerrera wakes up in a haze, lying on the ground of a dimly lit warehouse, she realizes she’s about to be the next victim of the app. Knowing hardened criminals are getting a taste of their own medicine in this place is one thing, but Dee refuses to roll over and die for a heinous crime she didn’t commit. Can Dee and her newly formed posse, the Death Row Breakfast Club, prove she’s innocent before she ends up wrongfully murdered for the world to see? Or will The Postman’s cast of executioners kill them off one by one?

Review: Special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

One of my cinematic weaknesses is Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from the 1980s. The best way to give me a great day is a glass of champagne and a marathon of movies like “The Terminator”, “Predator”, and “Commando” (and maybe toss in “Kindergarten Cop” just to lighten things up a bit). But if I had to pick the one that I like the most just based on cheese factor, it’s going to be “The Running Man”. For the uninitiated, the plot is that Arnold is a fugitive who gets roped into a reality show in which convicts are hunted down and killed by flamboyant ‘stalkers’, all in the name of entertainment. Richard “Family Feud” Dawson plays the nefarious TV show host Killian, and Minnesota’s own former Governor Jesse Ventura plays retired stalker turned Aerobics Coach Captain Freedom.

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Minnesota, hail to thee. (source)

“#Murdertrending” wants to be “The Running Man” with sprinkles of “The Breakfast Club” thrown in, and while it had the ambition to combine the two, it falls a little short.

But first I will start with the good. Given that I am a huge sucker for these deadly dystopian stories involving death as entertainment, “#Murdertrending” was going to always have the advantage right out of the gate. Honestly, if you have a story where people are being killed on a reality show and it stands in as a critique of society, I am going to be here for it. And McNeil has created a world that feels familiar enough so the reader can relate to it, but removed enough that it can definitely be considered future dystopia. Dee Guerrera is thrust into Alcatraz 2.0 at the beginning of the book, and it’s the perfect way to slowly reveal the world building in an organic way. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the social media bookends to each chapter, with viewers and ‘fans’ of the show chatting on message boards and Twitter-like sites. It was a good way to show how the world reacts to and perceives the show they are watching, and also shows how their perceptions start to change as Dee and her allies on Alcatraz 2.0 try to survive the island. The tech on the island was fun too, with cameras and drones being used in creepy and interesting ways. The stakes did feel fairly high, as McNeil did a good job of showing consequences and how deadly they could be if you made a wrong move on the island. In terms of plot and world building, “#Murdertrending” was an addictive and fun book.

But when it comes to the characters in this book, aka the Death Row Breakfast Club, I was left a bit underwhelmed overall. Dee was fine for the most part, but a lot of the time (given that it’s first person) she slips into the ‘I’m snarky and sarcastic, isn’t that cool?’ attitude that we see far too often in YA thrillers and horror. I wasn’t all that invested in her story, be it surviving the island or clearing her name in the murder of her stepsister, and while I liked how she interacted with some of her fellow prisoners (specifically Nyles, a British teen who is geeky as heck) I wasn’t worried about her well being. I also felt that some of her backstory involving a kidnapping didn’t quite mesh well with other parts of her character, and I wish that it had been integrated a bit better. The group mostly fit a bunch of familiar tropes: the jock, the bad girl, the nerdy boy, the weirdo, etc, and none of them felt like they were much more beyond their tropes. If I was pressed to pick a favorite character, I’d probably go for Griselda, the snarky and mean bad girl who is clearly the Bender of this Breakfast Club. But even that was more because I LOVE that character trope of ‘damaged bad boy/girl who is actually hurting’ and less because of who she was as a full person. Even when a big reveal came near the end of the book, while I didn’t necessarily see it coming I didn’t really have an “OH MY GOSH WHAT?!” moment from it either. And oh man, the ending. I hate endings like this one. I won’t spoil it, but just know that it was frustrating to get to the last page and have that tossed out there.

“#Murdertrending” had a lot of positives going for it and a couple negatives as well, but I did find it to be an entertaining read that kept me going. If you aren’t so worried about characterization and are just here for straight up thrills, it’s a good book to end the summer with!

Rating 6: An entertaining thriller that doesn’t rock any boats, “#Murdertrending” is a solid story that feels part “Running Man”, part “Breakfast Club”. I just wish that the characters had been a little more well rounded outside the usual tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“#Murdertrending” is new and isn’t on many specific Goodreads lists, but it is included on “Should Be Made Into a TV Show” , and would fit in on “Let the (Deadly) Games Begin!”

Find “#Murdertrending” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Deathless”

8694389We 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: “Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2011

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

A-Side Book: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”

Book Description: Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

Serena’s Thoughts

This was my bookclub book choice. After reading and loving the entire “Fairyland” series, I was eager to see what Valente had to offered with a new fantasy setting and topic. How would her lyrical writing style and witty twists of nonsense translate to the seemingly much more dark and serious tone of a Russian fairytale?

As a young girl growing up, Marya sees more than most. She sees the bird-forms that her sisters’ husbands wore before changing into men and asking for their hands. She’s visited the small beings who run her house via committee. She knows there is magic in the world, and she is ready and waiting for her turn. But what she gets is Koschei, a dark being who has served as the nightmare in Russina folklore. However, Marya is no wilting flower herself, and over the years proves to be the challenging equal of even a being so great as Koschei.

This is the story of Marya, but it is also the story of Russia. And with that dual focus and the time period during which this is set, there is a darkness that permeates the story. There are some incredibly rough scenes that draw from historical events and Valente doesn’t back down from the tragedy of it all. It was quite the change from the up-beat and fuzzy tone of her other books, but not a change for the worse. I don’t have a strong foundation in Russian history, so there were various points where I had to put the book down out of curiosity about the real-life events that were being referred to. However, the book and fairytale aspects are also strong enough on their own that this type of extra research was by no means necessary.

I very much enjoyed Marya herself and the way she moved through her own fairytale. I also wasn’t familiar with the original folktale, so I read up on that as I went along, too. The story was slow to start, but once it gets into the truly fantastical elements and onto Marya’s own adventures and quests, I was able to zip along.

I did struggle a bit more with Valente’s flowery way of writing in this story. While she still had several very beautiful lines and highly quoatable sections, there were also portions that felt like they just dragged on just for the sake of lyrical lines. But those lines were actually adding anything to the story. It felt like an editor could have been used to really pair these sections down. This would have not only helped the pacing, which, like I said, could be slow at times, especially in the beginning. But it also would have left the remaining beautiful bits as stronger for being more rare.

Kate’s Thoughts

I was the person in book club who didn’t really care for “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, but when I heard the plot of “Deathless” I was game to give Valente another try. I don’t know much about Russian folklore outside of Baba Yaga, and my knowledge of Russian history is admittedly limited, but I thought that this could be a fun break from the usual fairy tale retellings that usually have a huge focus on Western European stories. And these aspects were the things that I liked best about this book.

I had never heard of the Marya and Koschei story, but found myself completely taken in by their admittedly problematic relationship. Yes, he kidnapped her as a child and there was certainly a fair amount of manipulation to begin with (very “V for Vendetta”, as we agreed in book club). But ultimately, like in “V for Vendetta”, Marya became more than Koschei, became an incredibly tough and strong protagonist who takes back her agency, and has a new kind of connection to Koschei. Sure, in real life this isn’t a good thing, but HEY GUESS WHAT I DON’T EVEN CARE!! I was one hundred percent invested in them and was rooting for them, even when Ivan showed up (as he does in the original story), because Ivan can’t POSSIBLY get Marya like Koschei does. I went back and looked up the original Marya and Koschei the Deathless fairy tale, and I liked how Valente subverted it to fit along with important, and sometimes dark as night, moments in Russian history.

But ultimately, I still have a very hard time with Valente’s writing style. While I liked the plot, I found myself slogging through this book because of how detailed and flowery her writing is, and also found myself having to skip back and re-read sections just to figure out what was going on. I don’t like having to do that repeatedly in a book, and I was doing that a fair amount in “Deathless”. I think that her writing style and the way that she likes to make her fantasy worlds (another thing I am not keen on) are just not conducive to how I like my stories.

I’m glad that we read “Deathless” if only because we stretched our reading muscles a bit and covered unknown folk tales from a not as familiar culture and history.

Serena’s Rating 7: I enjoyed this book, especially the darker fairytale aspects and the tie-ins to Russian history, however I felt that Valente’s writing style too often distracted from the story itself or needlessly dragged out sections of the plot.

Kate’s Rating 6: I’m still not really into fantasy and think that Valente’s style is a bit too flowery for me, but I liked the Russian fairy tale aspect, and I was deeply invested in the messed up romance between Marya and Koshchei.

Book Club Questions:

  1. This is a fairytale re-telling. How does it compare to other fairytales you’ve read? Were you familiar with the original fairytale this was based on? Or Russian fairytales in general?
  2. The story blends fairytales with historical fiction. How did this work for you? Were there parts you particularly intriguing or you felt could have been expanded upon more?
  3. There was also some subtle or not too subtle commentaries on politics and the Communist regime, like the committees of house imps and references to Party slogans. How did these work for you?
  4. Mixed with the topics of war and fear, the story explores love and marriage. Marya and Koschei have a tumultuous (to say the least) relationship. What did you think of the arc of their story? How did you feel about the character Ivan and his role in the story?
  5. Valente has a very unique writing style. Did this add or detract from the story in your opinion?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deathless” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark, Lyrical Fairytales”, and “Russian Motifs in Fantasy”.

Find “Deathless” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “These Rebel Waves”

294220911Book: “These Rebel Waves” by Sara Raasch

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss!

Book Description: Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.

Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.

Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.

As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.

Review: After devouring “Song of the Current” and “Whisper on the Tide,” I felt a deep hankering for more fantasy/pirate good times. And, luckily for me, the topic seems to be a popular one right now in the YA fantasy world, as not only this book, but another “Seafire” (to be reviewed soon) were up and available on Edelweiss. I didn’t hesitate to request it. However, while the story was enjoyable enough, I think the unabashed joy and adventure that came from the “Song of the Current” series kind of left me feeling a bit cold about this more serious, political story.

The story is told from three perspectives: Adeluna, a young woman who grew up as the solider daughter of two revolutionary parents, fighting for the freedom of her island nation. She now finds herself transitioning into a role of politics, but is finding her fighting instincts harder to dismiss than she had thought. Deverux is the pirate of this story and is seemingly only for himself and his crew, collecting and selling the island’s magical plants. But all too soon, he finds himself caught up in intrigues that are way above his pay level. Benat is on the other side of things, quite literally growing up in another country and the one that fought on the other side of Adeluna’s revolution. The son of the king, Benat struggles to reconcile his own interest in magic with the teachings of his faith that draw any connection to magic as heresy.

Even in that brief description, you can see that this book is biting off a pretty big plot to chew upon. Not only do each of these three characters have very different histories, but they each represent a complicated group of individuals who are all operating against each other (openly and not so openly) in a nation-level tug of war over the future of the island and its valuable plant magic. I did like the complicated weave that the author put together here. None can say that she dumbed this story down for younger readers. However, I don’t necessarily think that she fully committed to the complexities of her world either, or, at the very least, explained them fully enough. I never really understood the religion that drove Benat’s nation, and as a major player in the series, this was a constant annoyance.

Further, the story was much more political than I had expected. This is one of those hard criticisms to diagnose. Is it really a fault with the story that readers went in expecting something else? Or is this simply a failure of marketing? Either way, I started this book hoping for more rollicking adventures on the high sea. What I got instead was a lot more political shenanigans. And I’m not against political stories as a whole, but I also don’t feel that this book pulled that aspect of the story off very well.

For example, we are told that Adeluna’s parents were both brilliant revolutionaries, able to successfully lead a group of guerilla soldiers against a much stronger nation and ultimately win freedom for their island. They came up with and planned intricate strikes. But in the very first few chapters, we see a political council meeting where both of Adeluna’s parents are apparently perplexed by the political maneuverings of a few of the other council members. But Adeluna, of course, sees right through this. And yes, I know this is a YA novel and that Adeluna needs to be the one to drive her portions of the story. But weird moments like this just make me roll my eyes. There are ways to make your teenage protagonist drive your story and come up with unique insights without directly undercutting the adults that you just spent some much time building up. I would recommend “The Tethered Mage” and “The Defiant Heir” as excellent examples of how to have powerful parental figures while not damaging the competence and leading force of your younger main character. This is only one example, but it was present throughout the book and I started having a hard time taking it seriously.

As for the main three characters, I did like them for the most part. The romance was completely predictable, however, and again, I didn’t feel like this book was really introducing anything new with either of these characters. I did appreciate the fact that it presented a gay main character and gave him a decent story. There have been some complaints that his wasn’t the main romance of the story, but I feel like, again, this was a disconnect between the way this book was marketed and what it turned out to be ultimately. I think a lot of readers were expecting “gay pirates” and that’s not this. I didn’t know much about this aspect of the story, so I didn’t have those expectations going in. So, from my perspective, it was still a good example of including diversity in your main cast. But, in the end, I still didn’t feel overly invested in any one of the three of these characters. They all felt familiar, but in a “been there, read that” type of way.

Ultimately, I didn’t love “These Rebel Waves.” There’s nothing objectively “bad” about the book, but it also wasn’t introducing anything truly new. Even the magic system, which on face value should have been points in the “new” column, turned out fairly bland. We never got any real look into how this work or any details: plants were just magic. Ok. I also feel like this book struggles against reader expectations. The story was much slower-moving and politically focused than I had expected. But even had I know this going in, I don’t think this is the strongest example of that type of story either. In the end, there have just been better books telling very similar stories.

Rating 6: Nothing terrible or anything, but pretty forgettable in my opinion.

Reader’s Advisory:

“These Rebel Waves” is newer, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Queer SFF Releases.”

Find “These Rebel Waves” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Serena’s Review: “The Ones Who Got Away”

34569847Book: “The Ones Who Got Away” by Roni Loren

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the publisher

Book Description: It’s been twelve years since tragedy struck the senior class of Long Acre High School. Only a few students survived that fateful night—a group the media dubbed The Ones Who Got Away.

Liv Arias thought she’d never return to Long Acre—until a documentary brings her and the other survivors back home. Suddenly her old flame, Finn Dorsey, is closer than ever, and their attraction is still white-hot. When a searing kiss reignites their passion, Liv realizes this rough-around-the-edges cop might be exactly what she needs…

Review: Yes, you’re reading that right: this is a romance book review here on The Library Ladies. I think it’s probably the first strictly romance book we’ve featured! Neither Kate and I are avid romance readers, but I will admit that I’ve picked up one or two over the years. When I do read them, typically, I gravitate more towards the historical romances ala Julia Quinn and such. I think I’ve maybe read one or two Nora Roberts here and there, and that’s probably about it for contemporary romance. But when I was sent this e-ARC, I thought why the heck not?

After surviving a school shooting, Liv and her classmates have went on to live very different lives than the ones they had planned for themselves. Plagued with lingering PTSD and in a job that consumes her life and time, Liv barely recognizes the budding photographer that was her younger self. What’s more, when re-united at a documentary covering the aftermath of the shooting, she barely recognizes Finn, her secret high school fling whom she lost contact with after the tragedy. Together again, Liv and Finn find that some things haven’t changed, like their attraction for one another. But will they be able to find a balance between their old selves and their new, much more broken, current lives?

All romance novels have a “hook,” especially ones that are set up as a series where multiple women may be connected some how and each will go on to lead their own story and happily ever after. With this series, that hook is the shared trauma from a school shooting at the characters’ high school prom. I think a lot of romances live and die around the strength of any given series’ hook. Most historical romance novels use family ties, but I’ve read other contemporary romances where the ties are shared businesses and such. This one is perhaps particularly effective as it is a shared tragedy that would affect all of the main characters differently, leaving a plethora of avenues for the author to explore.

With Liv, it is her ongoing PTSD and her feelings of betrayal and abandonment by Finn, who left her in the closet they had been making out in when the shooting started. He went on to save another girl, Rebecca (whom I’m sure will get her own book) and be heralded a town hero. Finn, too, has his own fallout from this choice, going on to pursue a life as an FBI agent working to prevent killers from hurting more innocents. Both characters had a legitimate arc to build upon as the story progressed, and I appreciated the exploration of shared tragedy and the various coping (or lack of coping) methods that can be utilized by survivors of such events. Further, neither character is completely defined by this event, even though it changed the directions of their lives. The story highlights paths of healing and reclaiming ownership over the direction of life.

Of course, it’s a romance novel, so much of the story was based around the re-kindling romance between Finn and Liv. They had fairly solid chemistry, though I didn’t prefer their particular stereotype: reunited ex-lovers. I always enjoy romances where new characters are coming together for the first time versus stories like these where half of their conversations are relating back to moments during their highschool days. Sure, those were cute scenes, but it’s more interesting to me to see what’s going on now.

There’s also probably a reason I prefer historical romances if I’m going to read one. I don’t think of myself as prudish by any means, but there are some limits on just what I want to read about, particularly when we get into the man’s mind in some of these books. There’s nothing offensive or anything like that, but, more like, I have a hard time taking the man seriously when some of his train of thought is so juvenile sounding. I think the restraints on language and word choice help the historical fiction heroes sound a bit less like pubescent teenagers in a locker room. This isn’t to say that I disliked Finn, particularly. It’s just a general dislike that I often run into with contemporary romance.

As far as characters go, I did like both Finn and Liv. I liked that Finn, too, was still clearly dealing with things. It wasn’t just him protecting and comforting Liv, which I would have found tiresome very quickly. But he, too, needs the support of Liv to deal with the ongoing emotional fallout of his job as an FBI agent and the grueling requirements of his role there.

Without much knowledge of the genre or a good baseline for contemporary romance, I thought that this book was perfectly good for what it was trying to do. It’s “hook” was decent, and the supporting characters who are being set up for their own stories also seemed interesting. Finn and Liv were also solid. I didn’t love this book, by any means, but that could largely be due to the fact that this just isn’t my preferred genre. If you, though, like romance fiction, particularly of the contemporary type, I recommend checking out “The Ones Who Got Away.”

Rating 6: Perfectly solid for what it was, just never going to be a favorite of mine due to simple genre preferences.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ones Who Got Away” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best friends/childhood best friend falling in love” and “Best Second Chance Romance.”

Find “The Ones Who Got Away” at your library using WorldCat.

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!