Kate’s Review: “The Trap”

32813330Book: “The Trap” by Melanie Raabe (Imogen Taylor Translation)

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, 2016 (Translation)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The renowned author Linda Conrads is famous for more than just her bestselling novels. For over eleven years, she has mystified fans by never setting foot outside her home. Far-fetched, sometimes sinister rumors surround the shut-in writer, but they pale in comparison to the chilling truth: Linda is haunted by the unsolved murder of her younger sister, whom she discovered in a pool of blood twelve years ago, and by the face of the man she saw fleeing the scene.

Now plagued by panic attacks, Linda copes with debilitating anxiety by secluding herself in her house, her last safe haven. But the sanctity of this refuge is shattered when her sister’s murderer appears again–this time on her television screen. Empowered with sudden knowledge but hobbled by years of isolation, Linda resolves to use her only means of communication with the outside world–the plot of her next novel–to lay an irresistible trap for the man.

But as the plan is set in motion and the past comes rushing back, Linda’s memories of that traumatic night–and her very sanity–are called into question. Is this man really a heartless killer or merely a helpless victim?

Review: At work one night my friend Paul (and fellow librarian) was subbing with me at the desk. He told me about a book he’d read, and that he thought that I should give it a whirl. It was a German book, recently translated into English, called “The Trap”. I requested it pretty much immediately, because Paul knows my reading tastes pretty well (and movie tastes; we proceeded to have a long conversation about “The Conjuring 2”). I think that I was expecting more horror by his description, and instead found myself with another Messed Up Lady Narrator book. But hey, I was okay with it, because I had yet to read a German Messed Up Lady Narrator book!

Side note: I’VE BEEN MISUSING THE PHRASE GRIT LIT THIS ENTIRE TIME!!! I could have sworn that Grit Lit was the phrase for these female psychological thrillers, but I guess it’s more the hip new slang for Southern Gothic. Huh.

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So ignore that from before. (source)

I have some good news right off the bat. This was a Messed Up Lady Narrator Book (I need to find a good snappy phrase for this genre) that I mostly, basically, enjoyed. While it perhaps doesn’t reach the high highs of “In A Dark, Dark Wood”, it was a gripping read with a tense plot. I did get a little nervous as the book progressed, because you all know how frustrated I get with psychological thriller heroines and their issues. Linda isn’t really any exception, as she is suffering from agoraphobia and PTSD after walking in on her sister Anna’s murder scene. While the trope of ‘damaged heroine’ is firmly in place with Linda, while it is realistically and necessarily dramatic, it never really feels overdramatic. Linda is very up front with her problems, she recognizes that she is, indeed, very messed up, and she isn’t the usual absolute WORST to everyone that you sometimes see in these books. Plus, I feel like she has actually earned her messed up personality, while sometimes the trope can feel forced and cliche. I mean, a mentally ill character usually means that there are going to be moments of ‘is all of this actually happening the way I think it is?’, especially in a book like this. It happened in “The Girl on the Train”, it happened in “The Couple Next Door”, and it definitely happened in this. I don’t want to spoil anything here, because I do think that this is a good read and definitely worth your time, but I think that it would have worked better and been a bit more revelatory if Linda wasn’t so sure about everything from the get go, if maybe we hadn’t jumped in with her mid-revenge plot. Surprises ended up not being too surprising, and while I was ultimately okay with it, the stakes never felt terribly, terribly high, and I didn’t feel like I was really solving anything along with her. I like taking the journey of detection and gumshoe-ing. This book didn’t really have that element to it, or at least not enough for me.

Linda’s relationships were also something that I want to address. I had a problem with a kind of out of nowhere forced romance sub plot that arrived a bit too late for my liking. There were hints about Linda’s simmering relationship with Julian, the detective of her sister’s case, but he didn’t really show up until the last third of the book. And I think that if I was really going to buy it, I needed him to really show up and make an impression well before that, not just as an analog character in the book that she has written (yes, we do get to see excerpts from the book. They were fine. They didn’t really add or detract). But I still liked Linda’s relationship with him as a whole, just as I liked her relationships with those around her, be it her assistant or her publisher. As I said, I think that there is a stereotype in pop culture and literature that people who are mentally ill are going to be completely difficult to deal with at all times and that they are going to put people off because of it. What I liked about Linda is that she has her problems, she has this uphill battle that she is fighting, but she still has relationships and isn’t portrayed as toxic or a pariah. She has friends and people who care about her. That meant a lot to me.

And then there’s the villain character, or whom Linda is convinced is a villain, Lenzen. Linda thinks that Lenzen, an established and well respected journalist, is the man who killed her sister a decade earlier. And since we, of course, know that there is going to be some doubt about him based on the plot description alone, I was very curious as to how Raabe was going to approach him. I liked that she did do a pretty good job of making it hard to tell what his deal was. Many of the things he did in the interactions he had with Linda could be chalked up to calculated sociopathy… Or they could have just as easily been something a regular, innocent man would do. Tricky. Very tricky. I liked that I was constantly questioning him, which shows to me that Raabe made effective use of the device that she set up. And believe me, sometimes a writer can make a real mess of it.

So while it ultimately did end up feeling suspenseful throughout the book, I wasn’t really surprised by much of anything that happened. True, I had my questioning moments, but I never had a “WOW!” moment. But honestly, I prefer a well written if simple plot to one that just has twist after twist after twist. “The Trap” was a fast paced and enjoyable read, and I hope that it takes off here in the U.S. as much as it did in Germany.

Rating 7: While it didn’t necessarily enthrall me and stagger me, “The Trap” was a fun and tense read that I found entertaining and not as overwrought as other books in the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Trap” is new and isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it would be at home on “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”.

Find “The Trap” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Without a Summer”

15793208Book: “Without a Summer” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Books, April 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

Review: I continue on with my reviews of this series! As I commented on in the first reviews, the books’ ties to the Jane Austen novels that the author attempts to mimic has been the difference maker between my enjoyment levels of the first two in the series. The first tried to tie it too closely to “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility,” leaving original characterization and plot to suffer. While the second seemed to step away completely from this format presenting readers with a completely original story and being stronger for it. This third book strikes on the perfect balance of the two with its very loose connections to “Emma” while also building on its original stories and characters.

I was most excited when picking up this book to realize that Melody was again going to play a central role to the story. Her absence was one of the few low points of the second book, in my opinion. And she was featured even more than I originally thought! Jane, back home with her husband Vincent and now recovered from her experiences and trauma dealt in the end of the last book, is realizing how alone and sad her sister is feeling. Country living just doesn’t have enough variety, particularly in the potential husband arena. So, upon receiving a commission for Jane and Vincent’s work on a glamoural for a wealthy family in London, Jane decides the change of scenery would do her sister good. And so we begin to see the set up and ties to “Emma” in this story, with Jane standing in as our poor, struggling matchmaker.

As I said, this book really seemed to hit on the formula for emulating, but not becoming bogged down by, an original Austen work. Only the loosest ties to “Emma” are visible (and three lines from the novel, for those looking closely!). Jane makes many mistakes as a matchmater, but they are of a different variety than Emma’s, both due to differences in their personality and position. Jane is a married woman, so her own romantic confusion is not involved in this. Further, Jane is a very different character than Emma. Emma is lovable for her blissful naivety. Jane is a much more earnest character and one who is used to being on the right side of most conflicts.

I actually found this to be a very interesting take on a matchmaking failure, and one that can speak to a quandary that many people can find themselves in. In many ways, Jane is a very open-minded, justice-oriented character. In the last several books, she is always on the right side of situations that deal with prejudice and injustice. So, in this way, its not surprising that she has become a bit complacent with her own perception of the world, sure that she does not fall into the same traps that other, less wary and more judgemental, people do. But alas, we can guess how this turns out! I really enjoyed this take as it is a pitfall that I think many of us can fall into, becoming falsely secure in our own perception of the world and failing to recognize that we are still susceptible towards opinions and thoughts that are convenient and not as open-minded as we may think. Vincent’s sly hints that she might be a bit off track were also great. It was a nice little wink to the maneuverings of marriage where battles must be picked carefully and opinions offered gently.

The other main storyline of this book was the complete and utter awfulness that is Vincent’s family. We’ve heard about his past some in the previous books, but here we get to meet the whole cast and man, weren’t they all just a bundle of joy. His father in particular reached truly astonishing levels of evil. There were a few scenes where they are all getting together for family gatherings, and just coming of Christmas, which can have familial challenges for some, I think we can all just count ourselves lucky that at least it wasn’t this. The snark was high with these ones.

The pacing of this book was a bit strange, I have to admit. The first half is fairly slow, with a lot of groundwork being laid, but not a lot of action coming of it. But the book did take a big, unexpected turn towards the end that really brought a new life to the story. While the resolution was very convenient, I did enjoy the tension that was brought to the story in this last third.

All in all, I think this book was a great addition to the series. I enjoyed the ties to “Emma,” but was relieved to find that the story was still also very much its own thing. The action towards the end was appreciated, and I’m excited to see where the books will go next and if we’ll see any other Jane Austen storylines! As long as its not “Northanger Abbey”…

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(source)

Rating 7: Series seems to be still going strong!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Without a Summer” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Alternate England” and “Napoleonic Novels.”

Find “Without a Summer” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “Shades of Milk and Honey” and “Glamour in Glass”

Serena’s Review “In the After”

12157407Book: “In the After” by Demitria Lunetta

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2013

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

Book Description: They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you’ve ever seen.
And They won’t stop chasing you…until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more.

Review: This is the kind of book that walks the line between Kate’s preferred genres and mine. There is definitely horror and suspense, but it’s also a post-apocalyptic story, the type which, especially in YA fiction, often falls under the all-encompassing “speculative fiction” category. Either way, it was a nice change from my usual reading, and while I can’t say that it was necessarily a “fun” read, its very lack of “fun” is what lends me to rating it more highly.

This book could easily be split into two separate books. The first is a fairly typical survival story. Strange creatures have invaded the earth and swiftly killed off the majority of the population. Our heroine, Amy, survives purely due to lucky circumstances (a fact that is refreshingly not glossed over), but over the course of years, she grows to become an expert at living in this new “After” world. There were several portions of this first part that I really enjoyed.

First is the inclusion of Baby, a toddler that Amy finds and adopts after the first month of devastation. These two’s relationship is key to the plot and it was so refreshingly new. All too often the primary relationships in these types of YA books are romantic. This, a sisterhood/parental relationship between a teenage girl who raises a toddler for several years alone, is completely unique. Further, I was very impressed with the author’s ability to portray Baby so completely. As a small child, it would have been very easy to simply gloss over her as an actual person while instead simply relying on general child attributes as fill-ins.

Second, the use of a substantial time jump is well executed. Through clever positioning of flashbacks, we see Amy’s journey through this new world and the events at each step that directed her ability to survive the many challenges of this new world, from how to survive the creatures themselves to how she evolved her approach to interacting with other survivors. Amy doesn’t just become a badass survivor out of nowhere. We see her mistakes and understand what lessons she had to learn to become who she is in the present day.

The second half of the book is a complete switch to what living in a community built in this post-apocalyptic world would be like. The horror, too, takes a sharp turn away from the monsters-in-the-night to what monsters humans can be. This part, while maybe slower than the first half, was even more horrifying to me. It was a strange reading experience because I was so frustrated, angry, and uncomfortable on Amy and Baby’s behalf throughout it all that I had a hard time enjoying reading it. In this section, you know that something awful is coming and you’re just watching these beloved characters walk towards their doom. (I wish I had read this book before we did our “Walking Dead Read Alikes” list as this would definitely have been included based purely on its similar exploration of the different ways that communities of people find to live in a world where society has fallen away.)

In the later half, there were a few twists that I felt were a bit expected. It’s definitely not a unique set up, but I don’t think that lessens the overall effect. It’s also a bit jarring to suddenly have many other characters introduced halfway through the story, and while I enjoyed many of them, I was sad to see Baby fading into the background a bit. However, I did enjoy most of these characters. I also appreciated the fact that what little romance is introduced in this part of the book is very light and never overpowers both the action/horror of the story or the primary relationship between Baby and Amy.

I also listened to this as an audiobook and I thought the reader did a very good job. Especially in the second half of the book, she made some clever choices with her general reading style that allows listeners to immediately identify flashback sequences from the other portions.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the final book in the duology. I might need to give myself a break between the two as they are definitely not light reading, but I’ll be getting there soon, I hope. This book does end on a cliffhanger, fo sorts, so for anyone going into it, beware of that.

Rating 7: An intense ride with a unique primary relationship, though it did get a bit predictable towards the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In the After” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Less Known Doulogies/Trilogies I Might Check Out” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

Find “In the After” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The School of Good and Evil”

16248113Book: “The School of Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani

Publication Info: HarperCollins, May 2013

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

Book Description: The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

Review: This book seemed to hit a peak a few years ago with everyone raving about it, and finally now, years later, I’ve finally gotten to it. I don’t read a lot of middle grade fiction, but this one, with its fun premises and, I’ll admit, very catchy cover seemed worth checking out!

This book is a bit tricky to review, now that I’m getting to it. I finished reading the book about a week ago and am only now writing the review. And that one week, I think, has made an impact on my opinion of the book. Either way, ultimately, I did very much enjoy the story. But with the extra time, I feel there are a few things that were a bit clunky and problematic about it.

I breezed through this story, guys. I mean, fast. Its biggest strengths are the exact things that particularly appeal to me: very creative world building, character-based stories, and a strong dash of wit. I loved all the ties to fairytales in this book, both the direct reference to Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast and others, as well the way it poked fun at the generalities of these stories. In the school of Good, princesses must learn how to speak to animals and wait patiently for their princes to save them. In the school of Evil, witches must learn how to curse household items like apples and hairpins and uglify themselves to scare off heroes and heroines. The schools and their history and connection to fairytales were so much fun. Much of it was parody, but parody with heart.

There were also a lot of great characters in this story, other than just Agatha and Sophie, who I’ll get to in a moment. There was Tedros, the most popular prince in school, and son of the famed Arthur and Guenevere who struggles with his mother’s legacy and its impact on his relationship with the women around him. Sophie’s witch roommates, Hester, Dot, and Anadil are each great, particularly Hester whose badassery knows no bounds. The teachers for both school reminded me a lot of the professors from the Harry Potter novels. They are all quirky and teach particular classes. This is one area of the story that I wish there had been more of. The few classroom scenes we had were some of my favorites in the whole story.

And then there are Agatha and Sophie. There was so much I loved about these two. Their friendship is complicated not only by the fact that they are in different schools, but by the very nature of their own beings and their struggles to define themselves. Poor Agatha with her broken down self-esteem. And poor Sophie, trying so hard without realizing the huge mistakes she’s making at almost every step. Neither are simple characters, and I appreciated the time that the author gave to these two and the attention to the difficulties of growing up and recognizing the power we all hold to mold who we want to be.

Packed into this romp of a fairytale are a lot of messages, and some of them are handled better than others. As I said before, there is a lot of parody going on here. This, of course, opens the door for the parody to go unrecognized and for the more harmful aspects of some of these messages to stand as true. The author does a lot of work to speak to the fact that actions speak louder than looks, to the power of goodness and love, and many other very important points. But due to binary set-up of the story and the parallels placed between goodness/beauty and villainy/ugliness, it’s possible for some unwanted aspects to slip through. Ultimately, I feel that if the story is read in the tone that it is meant, much of this comes through very clearly. But this book might not be for everyone, due to this.

While I was able to get on board with many of these points, there was one that was a sticking point, even for me. I love stories about girls’ friendships, and at its core, that it was this is. There is a lot to be said for forgiveness and understanding in friendship, but there were a few too many times where this line was crossed far to completely to be simplified in this way. It is the same as romantic relationships, in this way: at a certain point, if you are being actively hurt by another person, that person is not your friend, even if they truly do have good feelings toward you. So, while I love the message of Agatha saving her friend through sheer will, forgiveness, and kindness, the story also, unfortunately, sets up a bad example of friendships in general. Through large portions of this story, this is not a healthy friendship. And, while we can sympathize for Sophie, it should not stand as an example that just because we (or Agatha) love a friend/boyfriend, that we should tolerate bad treatment with the hope that they will get better.

This last point is what has stuck with me through this last week of building up to this review. I sped through this book and it was wildly entertaining as I was reading. But with distance comes more clarity, and there were problematic aspects of it, as I mentioned. That said, I will definitely continue on with the series. However, I will keep my eyes open for how some parts of it are handled in the future, most notably, this friendship.

Rating 7: Really great world-building and a lot of great lessons about self-worth and self-esteem; unfortunately, lessened by some questionable portrayals of healthy friendships.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The School of Good and Evil” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Books About Special Schools” and “Fairy Tales in All Their Ways.”

Find “The School of Good and Evil” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Bloodbound”

20949421Book: “The Bloodbound” by Erin Lindsey

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2014

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

Book Description: A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.

Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honor made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.

But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…

Review: Another book that landed on my to-read pile quite a while ago that now I have no memory of selecting. But, luckily for me, my past self must have been on top of things, because this lesser known fantasy novel hit just the spot!

I’m going to whip through the basic review portions to devote the rest of this post to two things that I feel make this book noteworthy in the long list of fantasy fiction being published currently.

General worldbuilding: pretty typical European-centric, medieval fantasy world. The bloodbinding magic used to create super weapons is interesting, but isn’t breaking any hugely new ground. I was fairly well into the book when I started questioning whether this even was a fantasy novel given how little these magical elements were mentioned. Later, however, it did play a bigger role, but if you’re interested in complex magical systems, this is not that book.

Characters: Alix is great. She’s a competent, funny, independent character whose abilities and intelligence are never questioned. She makes mistakes and is flawed, but her character arc takes her through these struggles smoothly, never undermining the stronger aspects of her character. The dialogue, both her own and those around her, was witty and I caught myself laughing out loud several times.

So, all of that aside there were two things that I found notable about this story. First, I was dismayed to find a love triangle smack dab in the middle of my adult fantasy novel.

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What? No! (source)

As we all know, I do not appreciate most love triangles. I find them unrealistic, and they often seem to bring out the worst in all characters involved (selfish heroines, ridiculous-verging-on-abusive love interests). Now, I won’t say that I loved the inclusion of a love triangle even here. I’ve just never really been too entertained by the drama of multiple love interests. Seems like it would be stressful and, for me, it is the exact opposite of wish fulfillment. That said, this one righted many of the wrongs I’m used to seeing with love triangles. Perhaps the simple fact that the author is writing about adults and for adults makes the difference here. There are real consequences to the choices that are made. Hearts are broken. Confusion is unpleasant, not thrilling. And the relationships between all characters involved are real and priorities are rightly placed beyond the romance of it all. I still struggled with some of Alix’s internal musings about the situation, as it still seems unrealistic to me to be equally drawn to two different people. However, the author provided a decent explanation for this, if one that I still somewhat questioned in reality. Further, the reaction of the two men involved was a highlight. No silly posturing. No abusive possessiveness. Actual hurt and confusion. They are people who have real feelings involved. Further, they have lives, relationships, friendships, duties, and families outside of Alix that they rightly keep in perspective throughout all of this. I was particularly pleased with the way this love triangle resolved itself. So, all of that said, while I still don’t find love triangles particularly entertaining, this book proves that they can be told from a more realistic and appealing angle.

My second notable aspect of the story was its treatment of women. I am continually frustrated by stories that justify the maltreatment of its women characters (or, frankly, the glorification of very objectionable material) and the creation of generally very traditionally sexist societies by hand-waving it all under the claim that this is somehow “more realistic.” You’re writing a damn fantasy novel with magic, unicorns, and zombies for heaven’s sake. You’ve left “realistic” far behind, so why is this one aspect somehow imperative to the “reality” of your story? This book highlights how to create a fairly typical medieval fantasy world while leaving that all behind. It’s not preaching “woman power.” It’s not bashing anyone over the head with A MESSAGE. It’s just telling a story in a world where women simply are there in the army, are there in politics, are there representing the head of their family. No big deal. Sure, it’s mentioned that as women are not as physically strong, they’re often found as archers in the military. But this is by no means a rule, with the doors to others roles left wide open. And no one blinks an eye at any of this. This book is a perfect example and response to the aforementioned narrative that it is somehow impossible to balance this type of typical fantasy world with a more inclusive approach to women’s roles.

All said, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s not breaking any walls as far as plot, following a pretty simple plot structure. But the strong characters, entertaining dialogue, and well-represented world recommend it to anyone who enjoys traditional fantasy fare with a dash of romance.

Rating 7: A fun fantasy story, notable for a not-gag-worthy love triangle and a strong representation of a more inclusive fantasy world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodbound” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Bodyguards” and “High Fantasy” with Female Leads / protoganists.”

Find “The Bloodbound” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Shades of Milk and Honey”

8697507Book: “Shades of Milk and Honey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Book, August 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Shades of Milk and Honey” is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: “Pride and Prejudice” meets “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Review: As a fan of Jane Austen, I routinely find myself picking up books that have any hint of similarities. And as the description with this one promised a mix of Jane Austen PLUS fantasy, I knew I would have to read it immediately.

In many ways,  Jane lives in typical Regency England. Manners, gentlemen and ladies, balls, and lots of sitting in breakfast rooms gossiping about one’s neighbors. Except, to be a proper, accomplished lady, alongside skills in embroidery, painting, and music, one must also master the art of glamour. Described as folding and weaving light, a glamourist is able to create magical scenes and movement, often for the purposes of impressing one’s neighbors at dinner parties. It seems equivalent with hiring a master painter to create unique portraits for one’s family, essentially. And while Jane’s sister Melody received the looks and charm of the family, Jane is the sister skilled in this specific art.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of this glamour magic. It is such a unique idea and seems to have endless applications. It’s curious seeing it primarily as an art form, as I would imagine there would have to be many other more practical uses for something like this, other than just decorating rich people’s houses. But, like many historical “manners” stories, we are mostly focused on the very privileged lives of our gentry main characters, so I guess seeing it mainly as a form of art makes sense. The whole idea is fascinating and the descriptions of the process of weaving light and the end results were engaging.

As for characters, they were fairly typical fare for a book that is purporting itself as a “Jane Austen read-alike.” It was an interesting mix of storylines and character types from both “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” For fans of Jane Austen’s work and those two books specifically, it was fun spotting the tie-ins. Jane, herself, was a likeable heroine, if perhaps lacking some of Elizabeth Bennet’s spunk. Vincent, too, plays the role of the broody leading man effectively. His backstory was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about his character and motivations.

There were a few problems with the writing itself. For the most part, the language is descriptive and elegant. However, there were times where it seemed that the author couldn’t decide how fully to commit to the language of the time. Words would go back and forth from being spelled in the traditional manner to the modern. And there were even a few words of the time that it seemed the author didn’t fully understand. She used the word “droll” in place of the word “dour” it seemed, several times using “droll” to describe a character who was behaving in a gloomy and stern manner. This was frustrating to see in what was otherwise a very competent novel.

All in all, language quibbles aside, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the next one. As all of Jane Austen’s stories were one-offs, it will be interesting to see what the author does with this story, now that we are beyond the point that any of those books cover.

Rating 7: A very unique magic system, if only marked down for some peculiar language mistakes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shades of Milk and Honey” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy of Manners” and ““Sister” Novels.”

Find “Shades of Milk and Honey” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

Kate’s Review: “How To Hang a Witch”

27405351Book: “How To Hang a Witch” by Adriana Mather

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It’s the Salem Witch Trials meets Mean Girls in a debut novel from one of the descendants of Cotton Mather, where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.

Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren’t enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it’s Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

Review: I need you, readers, to go back and read that description. I will wait…

Okay, did you read it again? Does it not sound absolutely BANANAS?!?! If you said anything other than ‘yeah totally’, I want to know what your life is, because to me this is totally bonkers. Which is why I put it on my list, of course. Because you have a YA novel about teenage witches in Salem, Massachusetts, and the teenage girl descendent of Cotton Mather, written by an ACTUAL descendant of Cotton Mather, that has magic, bitchy teen girls, a Puritan era curse, and a ghost who is a partner in detection.

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(s0urce)

Look, I’m going to be honest. There are many thing that I would criticize: The writing is clunky, Sam is very much a stereotypical ‘I’m so edgy and no one understands me!’ protagonist, the dialog borders on unbelievable, the metaphor of witch hunts as modern day bullying is kind of ham fisted, and there were so many cliches that I lost track of them. But guess what? I DID NOT CARE!!!  All these things aside, it pretty much met all the needs that I needed it to meet! “How To Hang A Witch” by Adriana Mather is a sanitized version of “The Craft” and “American Horror Story: Coven” and yes, it’s over the top and silly, but I’m not mad because I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it.

Why, you ask? Well, lots of reasons. I like witch stories. I liked that Mather has clearly done a lot of actual research about the Salem Witch Trials and the history of the town, and her family. I like that she does manage to incorporate a lot of that history into the narrative, even if it’s forced in at times. And I was kind of left guessing about who the perpetrator of the curse was, as Mather does put in some good red herrings that did distract me here and there. What could have easily just been a gimmicky book written by a descendant of someone who was there turned out better than it could have. I also did ultimately like our main character, Sam Mather, even if she is close to falling into many a trope in YA literature. As a descendant of Cotton Mather, of COURSE she’s a target for bullying by The Descendants, who are descendants of accused witches. So I was able to forgive Sam’s dark sulking, because unlike other sulking protagonists in YA stories that shall go unnamed, her father is in a coma, her mother is dead, all of her friends have had terrible things happen to them, and now she’s being tormented by most everyone around her. EVEN THE TEACHERS, I kid you not. Because of all this I get her defensiveness and I’m more willing to forgive it, even if it all seemed a bit heaped on. True, when in the first paragraph she warned the reader that she’s super sarcastic I was skeptical, and her constant spats with most everyone in town were also worrisome and repetitive. But as the book went on that forced edginess eventually tapered off, and Sam became more natural in her interactions with those around her, so it didn’t feel as ridiculous. It would have been easy to make it her against the world and that’s it, but she grew and developed, and therein found more common ground with others, which made her more sympathetic and easy to swallow.

But we do need to talk about the love triangle. Because boy, is it a doozy in this one. First you have Jaxon, the nice boy next door type who believes in Sam and is kind and nice to her, if not a little flat and boring. He’s fine. He’s a pretty clear ‘best friend I don’t have feelings for or do I?’ contender. But then…. Then there’s Elijah. Elijah, the thoughtful, brooding, sarcastic, GHOST. A GHOST, GUYS.

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What even is this and why do I kind of love it? (source)

So yeah, that happened. Man, I really do hate love triangles, especially when there is seriously no reason for them. But I did like Elijah, because there was enough sarcastic and snarky personality to him that he wasn’t just an ‘awwwww, woe is meeeeee’ stereotype of the supernatural love interest. He and Sam always felt like they were on equal footing in their investigation of the mystery of the curse, and while he may not have totally adhered to a lot of Puritanical values for sake of storytelling, it was a pretty okay representation of parties equally giving and taking. His motivation was his own as well, with his backstory tied up in the curse and the tragedies of the Salem Witch Trials, so it didn’t feel like he was just thrown in for the love angle alone. He was at least justified in being there. Him being a ghost was a bit silly, sure, but it did add a tragic spin to his romance with Sam. I think that the friendship and intimacy between the two also emphasized that Sam has a harder time fitting in with her living peers (which is dangerous because she teeters towards ‘I’m not like the other girls’-dom). But Jaxon just felt unnecessary to me, and shoe horned in because there needed to be some extra drama in the romance department for whatever reason. True, he starts by serving as the one person who trusts and supports Sam, but then that is rendered unnecessary as time goes on. I’m wondering if he was just there to potentially set up more drama down the line, because looking at Goodreads it looks like this is considered the first in a series. Given how it ended, in kind of an ‘end of “District 9″‘ sort of way…. well, I’d probably read the next one if it does come to fruition.

So to recap: this book is cheesy, silly, and painted with a broad brush, but I found myself deeply entertained while reading it. Is it going to be something I’d point to if you are genuinely interested in reading about the Salem Witch Trials? Hell no. Is it something I’d point you to if you wanted a spot of fun and a quick read about teen witches? Hell yes. “How To Hang A Witch” was a doozy, and I just decided to buckle up and enjoy the ride, which worked in my favor. No regrets!

Rating 7: At times cheesy and predictable, but also very fun and a nice fluffy read, “How To Hang A Witch” was an entertaining book with characters I cared about and a sappy romance I enjoyed. It’s bananas and I loved that about it.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“How To Hang A Witch” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade: The Salem Witch Trials”, and “Horror Extravaganza: 31 Days of Halloween”.

Find “How To Hang a Witch” at your library using WorldCat!