Kate’s Review: “The Everlasting Rose”

39080472Book: “The Everlasting Rose” by Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: Freeform, March 2019

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

Book Description: In this sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller, Camille, her sister Edel, and her guard and new love Remy must race against time to find Princess Charlotte. Sophia’s Imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep the rebels from returning Charlotte to the castle and her rightful place as queen. With the help of an underground resistance movement called The Iron Ladies-a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely-and the backing of alternative newspaper The Spider’s Web, Camille uses her powers, her connections and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and restore peace to Orleans.

Review: I want to extend a big thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Last year you may remember that Serena and I both reviewed the book “The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton. We both enjoyed it for the most part, it’s fantasy world focused on beauty and opulence a neat new theme to bring to a fantasy story. I was lucky enough to snag a copy an eARC from NetGalley, and while I gave it some time on my Kindle I finally caved and had to read it around the beginning of 2019. Given that it’s kind of rare for me to enjoy fantasy novels, I had really high hopes for “The Everlasting Rose,” the sequel and final installment in this duology. And there will be allusions to plot points of “The Belles” in this review, so tread carefully if you want to remain spoiler free for that book.

When we left off in “The Belles,” Camille, her fellow Belle/sister Amber, and former Imperial Guard Remy had escaped Orleans after the sociopathic Princess Sophia was positioned to take the crown after his mother died. Meeting up with rebellious and escapee Belle Edel, the group now knows that the only way to save Orleans from a cruel and capricious ruler is to find her sister Charlotte, believed dead but possibly only in hiding (and still comatose). So the stakes are high from the get go, with Camille under threat of capture and certain torture, if not death. There is so much action and so many plot points that need to be introduced that there are few moments of quiet and organic exposition. For the most part this wasn’t a bad thing; it made it so the action was fast paced and kept me in its thrall. But I did find it to be too bad that, unlike in “The Belles”, that these points couldn’t slowly unfold at a more ruminative pace. But I did like a good number of these points, from information on what Sophia is doing to The Belles who didn’t escape (sufficiently horrifying!) to how the kingdom is starting to fight back against her upcoming coronation and reign. It just felt a bit stuffed in. On top of that, the ending was a bit rushed, and I ended up wanting more focus and exposition there as well. I know that people are burnt out of YA trilogies, especially in stories of fantasy and dystopic themes, but I think that perhaps this series could have benefited from one more book.

I also was on a higher alert after I read some criticism of “The Belles”, a criticism I feel like I should have seen last time. A number of people were critical that in “The Belles”, the two prominent LGBTQIA+ characters were killed off for plot device and character conflict. The “Bury Your Gays” trope is certainly one that is not only overdone, but can also be damaging and hurtful to LGBTQIA+ readers. It was with that new perspective in my mind that I went into “The Everlasting Rose”. The good news is that there are more LGBTQIA+ characters in this one, and no, not all of them get fridged, but I would warn readers that there may still be some problematic optics regarding these characters. I don’t feel that I can say for sure given that I’m a hetero and cis, but just know that there were still things that I found a bit questionable.

But some of the huge strengths this book does have are the characters and the setting of Orleans. I was once again completely taken in with the descriptions of the world, from the tea cup animals (and YES, there are TEA CUP DRAGONS THIS TIME!!) to the descriptions of the foods and the colors and the beauty treatments. Clayton’s writing makes it so that the reader can really visualize what she sees in her mind’s eye. And I loved seeing more of Edel, my favorite Belle, whose rebellion and questioning personality has made her a formidable member of the Resistance. She and Camille are great foils for each other, as they have both experienced similar things in different ways, which makes them have to see the other’s perspective. Camille herself has changed a lot from the beginning of the first novel, and I still like how developed she is, from her strengths to her flaws. Her relationships all feel real and filled with complexity. Her burgeoning romance with Remy feels very in character with both of them, and while Clayton does tread a bit too much towards love triangle for my tastes, the interactions she does have with Auguste (her initial love interest and now consort of Sophia) aren’t overwrought or too sappy. It, too, felt a little quick to resolve, but ultimately it went in a satisfying way.

It was kind of a bummer that “The Everlasting Rose” was a bit of a disappointment, but I’m glad that we got to go back to Orleans one last time, and that we got to see how Camille’s story ended. If Clayton wanted to revisit this world, I would absolutely go along for the ride.

Rating 6: A bit of a let down from its predecessor, “The Everlasting Rose” was an okay finish to a story filled with beauty and darkness.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Everlasting Rose” is included on the Goodreads lists “#ReadPOC: List of Books by Authors of Color”, and “Most Anticipated 2019 SFF Books”.

Find “The Everlasting Rose” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “#FashionVictim”

39049255Book: “#FashionVictim” by Amina Akhtar

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Fashion editor Anya St. Clair is on the verge of greatness. Her wardrobe is to die for. Her social media is killer. And her career path is littered with the bodies of anyone who got in her way. She’s worked hard to get where she is, but she doesn’t have everything.

Not like Sarah Taft. Anya’s obsession sits one desk away. Beautiful, stylish, and rich, she was born to be a fashion world icon. From her beach-wave blonde hair to her on-trend nail art, she’s a walking editorial spread. And Anya wants to be her friend. Her best friend. Her only friend.

But when Sarah becomes her top competition for a promotion, Anya’s plan to win her friendship goes into overdrive. In order to beat Sarah…she’ll have to become her. Friendly competition may turn fatal, but as they say in fashion: One day you’re in, and the next day you’re dead.

ReviewEven though on any given day you will probably find me lounging around my house in leggings and an oversized Sex Pistols tee shirt, I do have a certain pleasure for various aspects of the fashion industry. I used to watch “Project Runway” fairly religiously, loved the fashion shoots on old school “America’s Next Top Model”, and still enjoy seeing whatever nutty campaigns the likes of Gucci, Chanel, and Versace have going on at any given time. But it’s really an acknowledged fact that the fashion industry as a whole can be incredibly toxic and dehumanizing, so my enjoyment is probably fairly problematic. But toxic and dehumanizing means that it is ripe for the picking when it comes to satire, and that is where Amina Akhtar comes in. Akhtar used to be a fashion writer and editor, having been on the staff of such powerhouses and Vogue and Elle, but has now settled into the life of a novel writer. Her experiences I’m sure inspired her to write the deliciously named “#FashionVictim”. Just hearing about this book made me giggle with pleasure. Fashionistas resorting to murder to get ahead? I can’t get on board fast enough.

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File footage of me as I read the description of this novel. (source)

Our main character is Anya St. Clair, a fashion writer and associate editor who is at a prestigious fashion magazine called La Vie, who starts a killing spree in hopes of making it to the top. She’s obsessive and deranged, and her object of obsession is her colleague Sarah, the entirely unlikable poster child of the privileged fashion darling. Anya isn’t likable by any stretch of the imagination, but then, no one in this book is. After all, if you’re going to do a satire of the fashion industry, everyone needs to live up to the highest of stereotypes, so screeching and vapid bitches, both of the female and male persuasion, is the way to go. Anya is outwardly a perfect fit for this world, but in her mind lies a true maniac who idolizes Sarah yet despises her for the praise and accolades she has heaped upon her. Her inner monologue is frenzied and at times very funny, with delusions and intrusive thoughts intermingling with “Law and Order: SVU” trivia. Her drawn out massacre of those around her and those who get between her and what she wants (be it a promotion or the coveted BFF friendship with Sarah) is violent and jarring, but also has moments of gallows humor that you can’t help but laugh at, even if it feels kind of wrong to do so. “#FashionVictim” achieves the satirical levels that I’ve seen other books attempt, yet falter on. It digs its heels into the mess and violence, but at always feels like a nudge and a wink to the reader because the characters are such caricatures. And really, isn’t the fashion industry itself brutal and unforgiving in its own ways, pitting women against other women to do incredibly destructive things? Perhaps not murder. But destructive nonetheless.

But I think that as much as this is satire and a fun read, it doesn’t quite have the teeth that it could have had to really drive the point home. I think that because “#FashionVictim” is so over the top, you can say ‘oh, this is just a book, this could never happen in real life’. And while though the reader is in on the joke, I think that it could have been FAR more effective had it gone for a little bit of realism to go along with the satire. By being so out there and laughably ridiculous, it made it so that by the end I was less unsettled, and more ‘ha, what a romp’. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but it did make to so that it never quite made it to ‘great’ satire levels, and I think that it really could have gotten there had it not limited itself in such a way. I know that you’re all probably sick of my constant comparisons to “You”, but I think that kind of satire is stupendous BECAUSE you can see it happening in real life. While I don’t always need my satire to be based in realism, I do think that “#FashionVictim” could have had that extra oomph if it had stepped back just a little bit.

“#FashionVictim” was definitely a fun read, and I absolutely want to see what Amina Akhtar comes out with next. Go in expecting some bloody satire, but don’t expect to walk away totally creeped out.

Rating 6: Fun and dripping with satire, “#FashionVictim” was a breezy read, though I wish it had a little more creepy bite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“#FashionVictim” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it is included on “2018 Books by Authors of Color/Native Authors”, and I think that if you want “The Devil Wears Prada” with a little more teeth it would be for you.

Find “#FashionVictim” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Four Dead Queens”

34213319Book: “Four Dead Queens” by Astrid Scholte

Publishing Info: Putnam, February 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Get in quick, get out quicker.

These are the words Keralie Corrington lives by as the preeminent dipper in the Concord, the central area uniting the four quadrants of Quadara. She steals under the guidance of her mentor Mackiel, who runs a black market selling their bounty to buyers desperate for what they can’t get in their own quarter. For in the nation of Quadara, each quarter is strictly divided from the other. Four queens rule together, one from each region:

Toria: the intellectual quarter that values education and ambition
Ludia: the pleasure quarter that values celebration, passion, and entertainment
Archia: the agricultural quarter that values simplicity and nature
Eonia: the futurist quarter that values technology, stoicism and harmonious community

When Keralie intercepts a comm disk coming from the House of Concord, what seems like a standard job goes horribly wrong. Upon watching the comm disks, Keralie sees all four queens murdered in four brutal ways. Hoping that discovering the intended recipient will reveal the culprit – information that is bound to be valuable bartering material with the palace – Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt, the Eonist messenger she stole from, to complete Varin’s original job and see where it takes them.

Review: There are definitely some staple fantasy tropes that are sure to draw me in: dragons, women disguised as men, sisterhood, fairytale elements, etc. etc. Included in these is “thieves as protagonists.” While nothing has ever topped Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series, I’m still always on the lookout for a new favorite take on this theme. Not only does “Four Dead Queens” meet that criteria, but it was given an extra boost in that it’s a stand-alone novel. Rare, indeed, in this YA fantasy climate! But while there were definitely some good elements and legitimate surprises to be had in the story, in the end I was left feeling a bit flat after getting through this book.

Keralie is just your typical thief, happy to continue her life of petty crime and freedom. The politics and greater movements of the complicated city that she calls home, made up of four quadrants each ruled by its own queen, exist largely outside of her life and she’s fine with that. Until, that is, one of her jobs goes side-ways and she finds herself caught up in a murder mystery that is greater than could be imagined. Not one. Not two. Not even three. No, all four queens have been brutally murdered. And now Keralie and the mark she hit that lead her into all of this mess find themselves wrapped up in a conspiracy that goes further than they could have ever imagined.

I really liked the complicated world-building that was constructed for this story. The four quadrants and the various cultures and philosophical approaches they take were well-established and interesting. The world felt “lived in” and fully realized in a way that I think is fairly impressive given the fact that there have been, again, a sort of over-abundance of this type of world-building in YA fantasy in the past (ascribing generic traits to regions/cultures and calling your world good). Given the fast-paced nature of the book and the fact that it was a stand-alone, I was pleased to see a decent avoidance of info-dumping to convey this type of background information. Could more have been done? Yes. But it’s hard to both rant about how there aren’t enough stand-alone novels out there and then ding the ones that do come out too heavily for having a restricted word count within which to do their work. So I’ll give that a pass here.

As I mentioned, the story was fast-paced. The action starts from the very first page and there is very little let-up as the mystery unfolds. I was able to guess at a few things here and there, but there were also a surprising number of twists and turns that I failed to see coming. That said, the fast-paced nature of the story could also work against the plot as well. Time itself didn’t feel very well delineated or established. Some of the action felt like it was all happening at once and then a bit later I would realize that no, several days had actually taken place. Again, kind of a weird complaint, but the fact that I was buzzing through the book as quickly as I was almost worked against it. I couldn’t quite settle in, at times. So while I didn’t guess some of the reveals, I’m not sure whether this was because they were truly surprising or because I was so off-balance by the speed of the book that I didn’t have time to think about it.

I also only felt marginally attached to our main characters. While Keralie had many of the traits that I like to see in my thief protagonists, she also felt a bit like a cardboard cut-out of everything we’ve come to expect from a character like this. The romance, also, was incredibly dull and uninteresting to me.

Like I said, I’m always really excited to come across a stand-alone fantasy novel. But they are, by their nature, very different things than books that are setting up, or continuing, a series. Much needs to be done with fewer words and fewer pages. That being the case, I often find myself wishing that authors would choose to simply leave somethings out when they go the stand-alone route. You simply can’t fit in every standard YA fantasy trope that usually takes place over a trilogy or series into one, single book. Does there have to be a romance at its heart? Does the world-building need to be simplified or the action condensed to a few big scenes? Simply put, this book felt like it was trying to mash every fantasy expectation we have into one book and the word count simply couldn’t support it. Luckily, the fast-moving plot largely distracted from this as I was reading. But looking back, I do find it disappointing. If you’re looking for more of a “beach read” fantasy story, however, the past, hard-hitting action of this book might be just the ticket!

Rating 6: Had a lot of good bones in all the places that mattered, but never felt fully fleshed out in a way that is necessary for me to fully buy-in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Four Dead Queens” is included on these Goodreads lists: “NEW ADULT fantasy & paranormal romance” and “Queen in Title.”

Find “Four Dead Queens” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Deceivers”

39863259Book: “The Deceivers” by Kristen Simmons

Publishing info: Tor Teen, February 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.

Book Description:Pretty Little Liars meets Ocean’s 11 in this intrigue-filled contemporary drama from acclaimed author Kristen Simmons.

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials–because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark–a senator’s son–and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Review: Thank you to Tor Books for sending me an ARC of this novel!

One of my husband’s favorite movies is “The Sting”, the classic grifter feature in which Robert Redford and Paul Newman run an elaborate con job on Robert Shaw. While I am more than happy to indulge the guy on watching an old favorite every once in awhile (lord knows he has to sit through “Purple Rain” every so often), the ‘con artist’ trope isn’t one of my favorites. So when I got an ARC of “The Deceivers” by Kristen Simmons I was a little bit hesitant. But when I saw that it takes place at an ELITE BOARDING SCHOOL for special kids (aka budding con artists), my interest had officially been piqued. Bring on the sudsy drama of boarding school brats compounded with the promise of back stabbing. That’s all in the game when it comes to con artists, right? So while “The Deceivers” was out of my wheelhouse, I was more willing to give it a go.

The first thing that struck a chord with me in this book was our protagonist, Brynn. Brynn is cut from a similar cloth to a number of YA heroines; she’s snarky, she’s scrappy, and she comes from a troubled background that has solidly placed a chip on her shoulder. Her father was murdered while working at his convenience store job, and Brynn’s mother has bounced from lout to lout ever since, leaving Brynn in a precarious, and sometimes outright dangerous, position. But through it all Brynn maintains her composure and never treads into overused plot points of devices. I like that she feels like a realistic teenage girl in a world that isn’t exactly smacking with realism, and her need to escape from this life strikes the right chords. Her motivations are clear, and while she is something of a fish out of water at Vale Academy (aka the boarding school for budding con artists, more on that whole thing in a bit), her character growth is believable and interesting.

And while the plot is based in a theme that isn’t usually my cup of tea, I did find the meat of the plot and the cogs within pretty entertaining. While Vale Academy itself feels little under cooked as of now, this is a series and there is a lot of room to grow and to bring the school history to a closer focus. There were also a good deal of plot twists that did take me by surprise, and I felt like the most important ones worked very well, especially when they changed the game and turned Brynn’s perceptions (as well as the reader’s) on their heads.

But that said, there were a number of moments and devices that didn’t quite come to fruition in satisfactory ways. Brynn went from potentially stumbling into a new educational setting with no guarantee of admission, to having the deal in the bag already without much reasoning beyond ‘because she needs to be here for the story to work’. There were moments and characters who felt like they could have had more focus on them, or at least more exploration and elaboration. On top of that, this book was nearly four hundred pages long, which felt a bit too long for the story in itself. There were repetitive aspects to the plot, mostly regarding whether or not Brynn could trust any given person at any given time, and the ultimate backstabbing that would come of that. I felt like had this been parsed down a bit more and tightened up, the plot wouldn’t have seemed to drag on as much as it did. And as I mentioned above, Vale Academy itself is still a very vague idea by the end of this book. In other books with magical and/or questionable boarding schools that I have enjoyed I’ve gotten a good feel for what the school as an institution stands for, and what the stakes are in regards to that school. But here, Vale Academy feels less like an actual place, but more of an excuse for these teenagers to be trying to trick, con, and manipulate people. Whether or not this will expand in later books, I can’t be sure, but I think that it will have to if it wants to stand out.

Overall, “The Deceivers” had a fun main character and some good twists and turns, but it dragged on a little longer than it could have. People who do like con artist stories may be more receptive to the premise than I was.

Rating 6: With a strong protagonist, “The Deceivers” has a lot of potential, but felt a bit scattered and unfocused, and a little too long.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Deceivers” is new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Popular Caper Heist Books”.

Find “The Deceivers” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Crown of Feathers”

35715518Book: “Crown of Feather” by Nicki Pau Preto

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, February 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss +

Book Description: I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

Review: As I mentioned in the Highlights post for this book, I was pretty excited about this one purely based on the phoenixes. While I love me some dragons, there have been approximately a million and a half books written about them, often including dragon riders as well, over the last several years. Obviously this has always been an appealing topic to writers and readers alike, but I have to think a certain HBO show has also had a hand in the sheer explosion of dragon books we’ve seen. But, all of that said, there are a lot more fantastical beasts out there to feature in books, so I was thrilled when I saw this cover and read the description that features riders not of dragons but of phoenixes! Add in some sister drama, and it sounded like it would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, while there were a lot of good elements included, it fell a bit flat for me.

Veronyka and her older sister have been living a vagrant life almost since Veronyka can remember. And all that has kept them going has been their shared dream of finding phoenix eggs and bringing back the famed Phoenix Riders who have faded almost into myth in the midst of civil war. But when things go wrong, Veronyka finds herself alone with this dream, hiding her identity from those around her. And, of course, there is much more going on than what there seems. What is the truth behind Veronyka and her sister’s strange family history? And what role will they each play in building a new future?

Most of what I liked about this book had to do with the world-building, and, of course, the entire concept of an organization of phoenix riders. Yes, there is a lot of cross-over between this and what we’ve seen from similar dragon rider books, but the unique attributes of phoenixes (notably their regenerative proprieties) adds a new layer of intrigued to how these great birds would operate with their partners. I also liked the complicated relationship laid out between Veronyka and her sister. From the very beginning, we see the tension that lies between them. There is love, but its always tinged with just a bit more. Sometimes jealousy, sometimes anger, sometimes suspicion. As the book plays out, this relationship becomes even more important to the story, and while I was able to guess at the reveal in the end, it was still a pretty interesting concept and a great set-up for the next book.

But beyond those things, I simply had a hard time getting into this book. I was never able to slip fully into the experience and instead the process of reading it began to feel like a chore. I think there were probably a few reasons for this.

One, there is a lot of info-dumping in the first quarter to a third of the book. The story alternates between Veronyka and another character, and between the two of them, they almost end up repeating the exact same historical and cultural lessons back to back. Information provided by one character will be almost directly repeated by the other, but with a few changes in perspectives (but by no means enough to justify the repeated dump). Not only was the repetition annoying, but info-dumping on its own is always a quick way to kick me out of a reading experience. Most of this information could have been sprinkled throughout and come up in more natural ways.

Second, the story drags. There are blips of exciting action only to be followed with long chunks of very slow plot movement. The story probably could have been significantly shorter and be better for it.

Third, the characters on their own weren’t all that interesting. While I did like the complicated sisterly relationship, that aspect of the characters’ relationships would often fall to the side. And when left with Veronyka herself and the other male character, Sev, I was often simply bored. Which is really saying something, given how much I typically enjoy girls-disguised-as-boys stories.  They both simply felt pretty flat. I was also not terribly interested in the romance included in the story.

So, while the book had a lot of good things going for it (world-building, unique fantasy elements, a diverse cast of characters), I have to ding it down a few ratings simply because I didn’t enjoy reading it. And really, at its heart, that’s my main requirement for a book! Readers who have more patience than me and who are looking for a YA fantasy novel that is still pretty awesome with its handling of phoenixes, this may be the book for you! Just wasn’t for me, sadly.

Rating 6: Info-dumping and a floundering plot bogged down this book despite the cool factor that comes with having a story about girls riding around on phoenixes!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Crown of Feathers” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy / Sci-fi Books With POC Leads” and “Fiction: Phoenix (Mythological Bird).”

Find “Crown of Feathers” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Stalking Jack the Ripper”

40727470Book: “Stalking Jack the Ripper” by Kerri Maniscalco

Publishing Info: Jimmy Patterson, September 2016

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

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

Review: I’m always on the lookout for another good historical mystery series. While I have several that I’m currently following, there’s always room for more! I’d seen this title floating around in a few discussions with other fans of historical mysteries and was intrigued by not only the concept (while I’m not at Kate’s level of knowledge of famous serial killers, we all know about Jack the Ripper!), but also by the fact that it was  YA series. So off to the library I went where I was pleased to find a lovely audiobook version ready and waiting!

Ever since her mother’s death, Audrey Rose has turned to science to understand the world. Under the tutelage of her eccentric uncle, she has learned the ins and outs of anatomy and even begun conducting procedures herself. But what began as a pursuit of knowledge turns a deadly angle when a streak of murders of women hit London. Called upon for the forensic knowledge, Audrey Rose, her uncle, and his apprentice, the irritating but handsome, Thomas, are pulled into the dark and disturbing mind of a mad man. And as they begin unraveling the crimes, Audrey Rose begins to suspect that the mysterious “Jack” may be stalking them, in turn.

So, right off the bat, this is going to be a mixed review. On one hand, I genuinely enjoyed reading this book and whizzed through it quite quickly. But on the other side of things, once completed, I found myself looking back on many aspects of the storytelling with some dissatisfaction. But, as always, we shall begin with the strengths!

One of the things that intrigued me most about this book and series was the combination of a historical mystery based on a real-life crime spree and the young adult genre. I’ve mostly read adult historical mysteries in the past, and it’s pretty obvious that fantasy, and now to some extent contemporary fiction, is still dominating the YA genre. Historical mysteries/thrillers are hard to come by! And I do think the author managed to pull off the merging of all of these elements quite well. For fans of historical mysteries, there were familiar elements in the detailed depiction of the time period and the creation of a romantically-tinged buddy cop duo in Audrey Rose and Thomas. The mystery was solid enough, probably enhanced mostly by its connection to the true crimes, and it walked right up to the horror line, if not crossing it a bit towards the end in a surprisingly gruesome manner. And for YA fans, Aubrey Rose and Thomas checked most of the boxes for what readers expect from their teenage protagonists.

This horror aspect and the reveal at the end of the murderer and their motivations was also one of the strongest aspects of the book. While I felt that the identity of the murderer was telegraphed fairly early on, the motivation came as a complete surprise and the manner of its explanation and end game was particularly horrific. There was almost a cross-over with another famous story in a way that I hadn’t been expecting at all.

The writing was also snappy and quick-moving, with the dialogue between Aubrey Rose and Thomas rising to the top as often particularly enjoyable. However, here was also where I began to struggle with the story. There was something verging on anachronistic in the relationship and mode of speaking that was built up between these two. As I said, this type of buddy cop/romantic relationship is fairly standard for historical mystery fare, and often that involves a rather progressive man and woman at its heart. However, here, there were a few elements that pushed this typical pattern over some unseen line in my mind. Part of it could have to do with their age. For example, both Veronica and Amelia were independent, fully grown women when they set off on their adventures. Age, experience, and, importantly, financial and social freedom that was rarely seen in the time, allowed them to interact with others and the world in the way they did. Aubrey Rose is still quite young, not even “out” in society, and still a member of her father’s household. This then ended up rubbing up wrongly against some of her choices and ways of speaking, especially in her interactions with Thomas.

So, too, Thomas’s flirty and sarcastic way of speaking was also hampered by not only his relatively young age, but also the fact that he was supposedly raised to be a gentleman and was interacting with a young, often unchaperoned, girl. This left some of his more suggestive remarks reading not as the fun flirtation that I’m sure they were meant to portray, but instead as rather boorish and unflattering. All together, it was the kind of an odd, unhappy mixture of modern YA romance tropes on top of a historical setting that isn’t equipped to manage those tropes in the same way.

Further, while I generally enjoyed Aubrey Rose as a character, she did have her fair share of really poor decision making and thinking. And while these flaws were often made clear to her, eventually, it was still a frustrating read at times when aspects of the mystery were only too clear to readers, but Aubrey Rose, through plot necessity, was forced to remain and act clueless. In this same way, her interactions with Thomas became equally frustrating as she insisted on “misinterpreting” his flirtations throughout the entire book, even when those same flirtations became almost inappropriately obvious.

In the end, it was a bit of a mixed bag. I really enjoyed what the author was attempting to do, and I think she should be applauded for managing to merge so many genres together. However, this same merging of genres also let the author and the book down at times when tropes from each didn’t play well together. But, as I said, I also whizzed through this book quite quickly, so I still plan on checking out the next in the series. We’ll evaluate again from there! Fans of historical mysteries may want to check this series out, but if you’re not a fan of YA fiction to some extent, you may be frustrated by some of those elements.

Rating 6: A fast-paced, fun read, just try not to think about it too much afterwards though or you may become frustrated.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Stalking Jack the Ripper” isn’t on many Goodreads lists for some reason, but it is on  “YA Fiction set in the 1880s.”

Find “Stalking Jack the Ripper” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Sawkill Girls”

38139409Book: “The Sawkill Girls” by Claire Legrand

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.

He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

Review: YA horror is a genre that I have an affection for, even if I find myself usually wanting more from the books that I read. I keep going back because as a teenager I LOVED the horror genre, and I want today’s teen horror fans to find books that will keep them up at night, or at the very least make them look over their shoulders every once in awhile. When I first heard about “The Sawkill Girls” by Claire Legrand, the premise was one that grabbed my attention. A monster on an island snatches up girls, and the only ones who can stop it are other girls who will not be made victims? Hell to the yes, I am THERE! It became all the more of a priority when I started reading more about it, and that it’s a book that has a lot of queer representation in it. We need more queer books, we need more horror for teens, and lord knows we REALLY need more queer horror for teens. So I went in with high expectations for “The Sawkill Girls”, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say high hopes. Hopes that in some ways were meant, but in other ways not.

Female centered horror that isn’t written through the male gaze is hard to come by, but “The Sawkill Girls” does a really good job of achieving just that. Our main characters Marion, Zoey, and Val are all complex and well rounded girls with flaws and strong points, but they never feel like they’re overwrought in their personalities. The most complex, and therefore my favorite, is Val, the privileged town darling whose family has had a deal with the town monster for generations. Val knows that she has to continue the family alliances to The Collector, as it is called, but also has started questioning her fate. It becomes all the more complicated when she falls for Marion, whose sister Charlotte was recently a victim of the monster Val harbors. Val is unlikable and cruel in some ways, but tortured and conflicted in others, and while we usually see this kind of trope in male characters it’s a breath of fresh air to see it in a female one. It’s all the more satisfying because I LOVE this trope and am nowhere near sick of it, though I do agree that women are rarely put into this mold. I’m thrilled that Legrand took it and let Val embody it.

I also really enjoyed the queer representation and themes within this book. Val and Marion have a tentative and complicated (for obvious reasons) romance, but the way that it builds and evolves felt realistic for the story at hand. There were no easy answers once certain things came to light, and while they both have a lot of baggage to overcome the reader does have reason to root for them. I see that as a testament to Legrand’s characterizations of both of them. Zoey, too, has a not as commonly seen romantic angle to her story, though it’s not as much at the forefront; she has deep affection for her ex boyfriend Grayson, but as an asexual she doesn’t think that they could pursue a romantic relationship that would be satisfying to both of them. It’s only recently that we’ve started to see asexuality represented in YA fiction, and I liked that it wasn’t centered as a huge conflict in this story that Zoey would have to ‘overcome’ or compromise on.

On top of that, the female centered friendships and support systems were very much the center of this book, with Marion and Zoey coming together to try and figure out what is happening to the missing girls on the island. As they come into the various strengths and powers that they have, the message is very clear: these girls won’t be victimized, and they are going to take their fates into their own hands. Sometimes this got to be a little overwrought (we get it, three teenage girls fighting a monster when a bunch of men couldn’t get it done is good), but overall I did enjoy the girl power tenacity that was being held up.

That said, this isn’t a horror novel. I say that because “The Sawkill Girls” never really elevated to actual scary territory. Nothing really got my heart racing, and I didn’t have any moments of unease or fear as I read through. I think that it would far more easily fit into the genre of ‘dark fantasy’. It was more ‘this is scary because I am telling you it is’, when I think that it didn’t really make the full leap to terror or horror. Because of this, I ended up feeling a bit disappointed with “The Sawkill Girls”, and I couldn’t fully enjoy it for what it was. I think that teenagers who like fantasy, dark fantasy especially, will absolutely find something to like about this book. But for those teens who are looking to be scared, they will probably walk away feeling dejected that, yet again, their genre didn’t quite get the story that they wanted.

There are lots of things to like about “The Sawkill Girls”. Big thumbs up for the feminist and queer themes, but the horror aspect didn’t work as well as I had been promised it would.

Rating 6: “The Sawkill Girls” has an intriguing premise and some great feminist and queer themes, but ultimately it didn’t quite wow me the way I hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sawkill Girls” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lesbian/Queer Horror”, and “Asexuals In Fiction”.

Find “The Sawkill Girls” at your library using WorldCat!