Kate’s Review: “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess”

Book: “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” by Andy Marino

Publishing Info: Redhook, September 2021

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

Book Description: From an electrifying voice in horror comes the haunting tale of a woman whose life begins to unravel after a home invasion.

Possession is an addiction.

Sydney’s spent years burying her past and building a better life for herself and her young son. A respectable marketing job, a house with reclaimed and sustainable furniture, and a boyfriend who loves her son and accepts her, flaws and all.

But when she opens her front door, and a masked intruder knocks her briefly unconscious, everything begins to unravel. She wakes in the hospital and tells a harrowing story of escape. Of dashing out a broken window. Of running into her neighbors’ yard and calling the police.

The cops tell her a different story. Because the intruder is now lying dead in her guest room—murdered in a way that looks intimately personal. Sydney can’t remember killing the man. No one believes her.

Back home, as horrific memories surface, an unnatural darkness begins whispering in her ear. Urging her back to old addictions and a past she’s buried to build a better life for herself and her son. As Sydney searches for truth among the wreckage of a past that won’t stay buried for long, the unquiet darkness begins to grow. To change into something unimaginable. To reveal terrible cravings of its own.

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

It isn’t super often that you find a demonic possession story in my book pile when it comes to horror. I’m not against it, really, as I have certainly enjoyed a few stories that involve such things. But there is always an undercurrent of religious fervor that goes hand in hand with possession tales, and I have no problem with that as a concept. It just doesn’t really connect with me. But something about “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” by Andy Marino caught my eye when it read the description, and I felt compelled to pick it up. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book with possession at its heart, and one that looks at it through the lens of addiction seemed like a take that I hadn’t encountered before in the subgenre.

I will say that in terms of the possession angle of this story it goes to unpredictable places. In general that is usually a good thing for me, because as a rule I am not as able to connect to traditional possession tales due to a serious lack of belief in demons and devils. If you take that and go to more interesting places, however, be it by examining a priest’s loss of faith a la “The Exorcist”, or a professional skeptic’s slow descent into turmoil a la “The Last Days of Jack Sparks”, I will be more on board. And in this book we go in unexpected and unique territory regarding Sidney’s ‘swimmer’, as she refers to whatever it is that is making her black out and is always lurking at the edges of her consciousness. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that the reveal as to what is going on is definitely unexpected, but didn’t quite work for me. Nor did the rapid time jumping and choppy structure. My guess is that it was supposed to add to the confusion and disorientation that Sidney is feeling as she is losing time and memories and then pulling them back out of the ether, but I found it disruptive more than effective.

What did work was how Marino brings the theme of addiction into the story. Sidney has been sober for nine years when we meet her, and as this ‘swimmer’ starts to slowly encroach upon her consciousness, it tempts her to fall back into old and destructive habits. As Sidney starts to lose her grip on what is up and what is down, she starts to lose the will to remain sober. Marino has a lot of dark and uncomfortable moments when it comes to Sidney’s fight against addiction, both in her past and in her present, and it feels raw and relentless in how he portrays the slow slipping back into an addiction spiral. While the theme of ‘addiction as possession’ is kind of obvious (and ultimately, not the biggest issue when it comes to Sidney’s personal possession problems), Marino makes it feel very powerful and emotional. Part of the dread is wondering how badly Sidney is going to fall. There are also some really gnarly moments of body horror in this book. You probably need a bit of that in a possession story, to be honest, and this book has it in spades.

“The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” went to places I wasn’t anticipating. While it didn’t quite break free from my general apathy towards possession stories, the human and very real world emotional notes are great and will leave the reader unsettled.

Rating 7: Intense, strange, and unique on how it looks at ‘possession’ stories, “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” is a gory slow burn of a horror novel that has some powerful insights on addiction, but a structure problem and some out there revelations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” is not included on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Demonic Possession”.

Find “The Seven Visitations of Sidney Burgess” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Book Club Review: “Furia”

We 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 “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

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: “Furia” by Yamile Saed Méndez

Publishing Info: Algonquin for Young Readers, September 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Award: Pura Belpré

Book Description: In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life. At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am not really a sporty person, though accompanying friends and loved ones to games of most any sport can be fun. I probably go to more soccer games than other sports since my husband loves soccer, so when I saw that “Furia”, this month’s book club book, had a soccer theme I figured I would at least have a vague working knowledge of it. But lucky for me, “Furia”, while having a lot to do with soccer, also tackles other issues, like love, ambition, and misogyny. I thought that it was interesting seeing Camile, aka “Furia”, have to navigate the very narrow and defined expectations that Argentine society (and her mother) heap upon her. I enjoyed seeing the parts that had to do with Camile pushing against these norms, be it when she was trying to interact with her very conservative parents (on top of that her father, a former soccer star who is placing all of his lost dreams onto Camile’s soccer playing brother, is incredibly abusive), or when she is trying to determine if she can have a romance with her old flame Diego (ANOTHER rising soccer star), who has returned to town for a bit before he goes back on the road. I also really liked seeing how Méndez would weave in various realities of living in modern day Argentina, from the way the machismo could both bolster male soccer players and create really loyal ties between players and communities, to how the misogyny could lead to violence towards women (and a lot of society would think that these women deserved it one way or another). All of this worked.

There were some problems with the narrative for me as well. One, I go to soccer games on occasion, but I’m not super interested in it in general, and on the written page that isn’t much different. So the soccer moments I found myself speeding through pretty quickly. And on top of that, I didn’t feel like many of the characters were terribly complex. Camile was able to have depths and layers to her, given that she is the main character and we mostly get into her mind, but I do like seeing other supporting roles have a little more exploration and depth, and we didn’t really get that in this book.

Overall, I enjoyed “Furia” as a contemporary YA novel. It gave me a glimpse into a setting that I don’t see as much in YA books, and it had some emotional beats involving her family.

Serena’s Thoughts

I agree with everything Kate said. Her husband and mine share a love for soccer and have been splitting season tickets for as long as I can remember. What’s more, I probably do enjoy sports more than Kate, in general. But I’ll also say that I probably had a stronger negative reaction to this book’s sports elements than she did. So take from that what you will! While I really like watching sports live and even on TV sometimes, I really have a hard time caring about the “action” when it’s the description of movements of a ball and the players kicking it. It’s not even that I can’t picture it, I can! I just…couldn’t care. So that was a pretty big hinderance to my enjoyment of that aspect of the book.

That said, I agree with what Kate said that, lucky for both of us, there was much more to this book than the sports story. I mostly enjoyed the setting and description of every-day-life in Argentina. I don’t know a lot about this part of the world, and what I do know is mostly based in historical accounts rather than a contemporary look. All of the street-level windows into this culture and part of the world were fascinating. Even more so when we witness the uphill battle Furia faces in the face of the misogyny that still limits so much of what is expected for women. The story also touches on the tragedy of how easily women and young girls can go missing or have other violence inflicted upon them and it will be casually swept under the “she probably deserved it” rug.

Like Kate said, the characters themselves were fairly flat feeling. Even Furia herself, while more nuanced than any of the side characters, felt a bit one-note at times. However, I did like the romance that came into play. The challenges they faced felt natural and the ending was satisfying and heart-warming.

Overall, this wasn’t really the book for me. I think it’s so important, though, to have books that represent different parts of the world AND to have sports books for girls. Just cuz I’m not into them, doesn’t mean that I don’t think this is a wide open hole in YA literature. There’s a bunch of YA sports books for young men (perhaps at the detriment of other genres for them), but young women, on the other hand, don’t see tons of sports books directed towards them.

Kate’s Rating 7: While the soccer parts didn’t speak to me and some characters were flat, I liked the family drama as well as the look into Argentine life and what it’s like for women.

Serena’s Rating 7: I, too, enjoyed the Argentinian setting and the look into the culture, but sports books are never going to be my jam.

Book Club Questions

  1. Was there a character that you most identified with in this story? Was there a plot point that really stood out to you?
  2. What did you think about the themes of the Patriarchy in Camile’s life?
  3. What did you think of Camile’s nickname, La Furia? How does it apply to the story that she is living?
  4. How did you like the soccer parts in this book?
  5. The book sets up two paths for Camile: follow her soccer dreams, or follow the potential for romance. Do you think it has to be one or the other for her?
  6. What were your thoughts on the depictions of day to day life in Argentina?
  7. Did you feel like the ending was realistic? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory

“Furia” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA/Children’s Books in Latin America”, and “YA Girls Take On the Patriarchy”.

Find “Furia” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang

Kate’s Review: “The Last House on Needless Street”

Book: “The Last House on Needless Street” by Catriona Ward

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, September 2021

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

Book Description: Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three. A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time. A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory. And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Welcome to HorrorPalooza 2021!!! I cannot wait to showcase and review all horror, all the time for the month of October, as is tradition, and right off the bat we have one of the most hyped horror novels of the Fall: “The Last House on Needless Street” by Catriona Ward! I had been thinking about this one as a solid HorrorPalooza choice for so long that I completely forgot that it actually came out in September (hence I missed it on my highlights that month), but by no means does that mean I wasn’t eager for it. And I’m here to report that while it was much anticipated by me, it wasn’t as compelling of a story as I expected. But who doesn’t love the idea of a cat being a character with perspective chapters?

“The Last House on Needless Street” follows a man named Ted, who lives a fairly solitary life outside of his cat Olivia and his daughter Lauren. They all live on Needless Street, and Ted is dealing with an angry teenager, as well as an unreliable memory that is causing him some problems. His cat Olivia is constantly watching over him, her devotion true but starting to wane as she starts to see changes in his behavior. And then there is Dee, a new neighbor who has moved to Needless Street with one motivation: she believes that Ted was responsible for her sister Lulu’s disappearance a number of years ago, and wants to find out what he did with her. As Dee tries to untangle what is going on with Ted, Ted seems to be shifting into a more and more unstable emotional state as daughter Lauren comes in and out of his life and Olivia observes. Ted’s chapters are haphazard and have a disjointed and unreliable feel to them, which made for a character that I desperately wanted to know more about, for the good or the bad. Olivia’s are VERY funny and feel super cat-like, with both loyalty to her owner/friend Ted as well as an aloof above it all snark. Dee’s are probably the most linear which kind of tie one of the mysteries into the larger story, which then plays into the rest of the story too. I liked all of the voices and found them varied, especially Olivia’s. I mean, a cat being a narrator of a scary story is just so fun. Ward really gives them their own personalities and they all feel pretty realistic for what they are and what their arcs are like.

The plot itself had some bumps, however. Not the tension or the suspense, that was all on point! Ward really knows how to build up atmosphere and wring out every ounce of creepiness and discomfort, no question. There were multiple scenes that just had me on the edge of my seat. However, one of the things that I was seeing about “The Last House on Needless Street” was that it had really surprising twists and turns. I will certainly agree that it does have a couple of those! One even totally took me by surprise, even though looking back there were hints here and there as to the truth of the matter at hand, and I love finding the hints after the fact. But as for the others, I think that there were some desperately laid red herrings that just screamed out that they were red herrings. And I really don’t want to give anything away in regards to some of the reveals, but to really address one of the twists I feel like I have to get into at least a little of the nitty gritty. So here is your SPOILER ALERT! Skip down past the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled.

So what I will say is that one of our characters has Dissociative Identity Disorder, aka DID, aka Multiple Personality Disorder (though this name is out of favor). Generally those who have DID suffered a horrific trauma and in an effort to cope the mind creates ‘alters’, or other personalities. While I thought that Ward did this in a way that didn’t feel shaming or stigmatizing in a ‘all mentally ill people are dangerous’ kind of way (and even listed a number of sources into the research she did about DID, which was good to see), it’s still a bit of a trope in thriller and horror stories these days, having seen it in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, “Fight Club”, “Psycho”, and others. And the problem with turning a mental condition into a ‘twist’ is that, even with the best intentions (and I do think that Ward has them here!), it can come off as gimmicky at best and dehumanizing at worst. I myself don’t think that Ward treads into dehumanizing territory, BUT I also don’t have DID, so I’d bet I’m not the best judge of that.

Overall, “The Last House on Needless Street” has its ups and downs! I didn’t find it to be as excitingly twisty as others have, but I did overall enjoy a fair amount about it. Especially Olivia the Cat!

Rating 7: A creepy and somewhat bittersweet story about a man, his cat, and coming to terms with guilt and trauma. But one that relies on a trope that is a bit overdone and becoming more and more controversial.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last House on Needless Street” is included on the Goodreads lists “Brilliant Dark Fiction”, and “Books To Get You in the Halloween Mood”.

Find “The Last House on Needless Street” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Under the Whispering Door”

Book: “Under the Whispering Door” by TJ Klune

Publishing Info: Tor Books, September 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Review: First off, props to the publisher for another awesome cover for one of Klune’s books. Does it subtly imply that it’s a sequel to the massively successful “House on the Cerulean Sea” with its similarities? Yes. Is it in fact that? No. However, as it’s still a neat cover in its own right, I’ll give it a pass. The fact that there are so few good standalone adult fantasy novels also supports that pass. Let’s dive in!

Young and successful, Wallace never dreamed the end could be so close. But when a reaper shows up for him, he realizes it must be so. Angry and confused, he meets Hugo, a magical being who helps ferry souls to the beyond. Soon Wallace begins to discover that the life he had thought was fulfilling had been an empty thing, bereft of all that makes life well-lived in the end. With only a few precious days remaining to him, Hugo and Wallace set out to give Wallace that last chance at discovering a true life and his true self.

There was a lot to like about this book, but it also wasn’t the high I had been expecting after enjoying Klune’s previous book so much. To begin with what did work, however, Klune’s flair for comedic moments was on point. In particular, the beginning of the story and the flames thrown towards corporate drones were hilarious and apt. As the book progressed, there were several other laugh-out-loud moments. However, as the story continued, even these sometimes began to feel a bit repetitive.

The characters were also quirky and compelling. This is largely a story of Wallace’s transformation from said corporate drone into an emotionally-realized individual, so nailing his character was key to the book working. And for the most part, this works. His interplay with Hugo is well done, and the two characters and their relationship is heartwarming.

However, as I went along, I kept wanting more. The characters were ok, but really just ok. The romance was sweet, but lacked the true heart that I was looking for. And most disappointingly, the message of the book, that of living one’s best life, felt at times trite and repetitive. There were a few times even when the moralizing fell completely flat, with Klune trotting out platitudes that have been overused many times before. Given the general set-up of the book, I knew what I was getting into. But I had hope that Klune would shine a new light on the topic. Or at least offer up some unique ways of looking at a common topic. Alas, not so.

Overall, the book was by no means bad. It just wasn’t what I had hoped to find. It’s perfectly acceptable in what it sets out to do, but knowing Klune’s previous work, I can’t help thinking he could have done better. There were parts of this book that almost felt phoned in, and the story started to drag towards the middling, struggling to keep up its pacing and momentum. Fans of Klune’s work will be pleased to see his trademark humor and strong characters, but he’s also had stronger outings in the past.

Rating 7: A bit disappointing, relying too heavily on tried and true platitudes instead of carving its own space.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Under the Whispering Door” is on these Goodreads lists: 2021 Queer SFF and 2021 Contemporary/Romance Releases.

Find “Under the Whispering Door” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Wildwood Whispers”

Book: “Wildwood Whispers” by Willa Reece

Publishing Info: Redhook, August 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: At the age of eleven, Mel Smith’s life found its purpose when she met Sarah Ross. Ten years later, Sarah’s sudden death threatens to break her. To fulfill a final promise to her best friend, Mel travels to an idyllic small town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet Morgan’s Gap is more than a land of morning mists and deep forest shadows.

There are secrets that call to Mel, in the gaze of the gnarled and knowing woman everyone calls Granny, in a salvaged remedy book filled with the magic of simple mountain traditions, and in the connection, she feels to the Ross homestead and the wilderness around it.

With every taste of sweet honey and tart blackberries, the wildwood twines further into Mel’s broken heart. But a threat lingers in the woods—one that may have something to do with Sarah’s untimely death and that has now set its sight on Mel.

Review: I don’t often much magic realism fiction (or women’s fiction…not sure how I feel about that even being a subgenre category…), but the book description for this book was giving me major “Practical Magic” vibes, so I thought it was worth checking out. The cover art was also beautiful, and my mood fit well for a more quiet, reflective read. This one wasn’t a perfect fit for me, but I think it’s a solid entry for fans of these genres.

Growing up bouncing around in the system, Mel could never find her home. That is until she met Sarah, a young girl who had recently been orphaned. Together, the two made a home for one another in their enduring bond. Years later, Mel once again feels the sand shifting beneath her feet when Sarah dies. To fulfill a promise, she travels to Sarah’s childhood home. There, she discovers there was much more to Sarah than she had understood. And as the dark woods whispers and family secrets swirl through the town’s quiet streets, Mel begins to see a new place for herself.

I liked the idea of this book more than the book itself, in the end. Those familiar with the blog will know that I love a sisters book, which this is. I also really liked the imagery of a small, quiet town in the mountains, having grown up in one myself. There’s something compelling about the quirks and histories that come out in places like this, strange to all but those who have grown up with them. Mel’s exploration of the two, people, and woods was particularly poignant for me in this way.

I also liked Mel herself, especially the brief flash we see of her as a child when she first meets and bonds with Sarah. She was definitely started out on a strong note here, a defiant loner who discovers kinship with a younger girl. But the adult Mel was more difficult for me to handle. The flashes of defiance and strength seemed muted, and there were many early moments between characters that left me scratching my head. Mel comes to the town, a complete stranger, and then strikes up some really bizarre conversations with various locals. I couldn’t figure out what was going on here. Was it poor writing that made these portions of dialogue read as odd? Was it on purpose? Either way, it hurt Mel’s characterization as I couldn’t understand her lack of human reaction to these weird happenings.

I also struggled to identify with several other plot elements. The antagonist was easily spotted from the beginning of the story (even if the motives were left murky for a bit longer). And the romance felt tacked on and, again, unnatural. I didn’t feel any real chemistry between these characters other than the fact that the author simply designed them to be together, so they were. r

I liked the magical elements that were interspersed throughout the book, but was left wanting more. This is a point that is particular to my taste, however, as a lot of magical realism stories are light on the magic. The exploration of grief, family, and home had moments of depth, but, again, never struck any real chords for me. Ultimately, it was a bit too sentimental for me.

Readers who enjoy quiet, thoughtful books and magic realism will likely enjoy this story. If you’re looking for a fast plot, strong romance, or strong characterization, this might be more of a disappointment. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s enough to prove that a little goes a long way for me with this kind of stuff.

Rating 7: Decent for what it is, a sentimental story of a woman processing her grief and discovering a new sense of self and roots.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wildwood Whispers” is on these Goodreads lists: Fantastic Women’s Fiction with Magical Elements and August 2021 Book Releases.

Find “Wildwood Whispers” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Monthly Marillier: “Wolfskin”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Wolfskin” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Eyvind can think of no more glorious future than becoming a Wolfskin, a warrior devoted to the service of the mighty war god Thor. His closest friend, Somerled, a strange and lonely boy, has his own very different ambitions – yet a childhood oath, sworn in blood, binds these two in lifelong loyalty. Meanwhile, far away across the water, on the Light Isles, the king’s niece Nessa is beginning to learn the ways of the mysteries – though neither the young priestess nor her people can realize what lies ahead for them.

Eyvind and Somerled seem set to follow very different paths: one becoming a fearless servant of the Warfather, the other a scholarly courtier. Then a voyage of discovery, led by Somerled’s brother Ulf, brings the two friends together again in accompanying a group of settlers to some beautiful islands rumoured to lie across the western sea. However, their good spirits are dampened by a tragedy on board, which Eyvind begins to suspect may not have been an accident.

Ulf’s new settlement begins in harmony with the native islanders, led by King Engus. But one day, on a trip to a holy place of the Folk, a brutal murder occurs and that peace is shattered. It is now that Eyvind begins to feel the restraining ties of his boyhood oath…and to realize what sort of future Somerled had in mind for himself all those years ago.

Review: There really is no rhyme or reason to the order in which I’m picking the books I read for this series. The “Sevenwaters” series was an obvious starting point, but I’ve been jumping around ever since. However, I do remember that this book was the first of her books that I encountered where she used multiple POVs. All of the “Sevenwaters” books, her “Wildwood” YA duology, and a few of the other stand-alone she has are all told from a single, female perspective. So it was kind of a shock to start this one and find more than one narrator. More so that we were ultimately getting both the man and woman’s perspective from the eventual romantic pairing.

Eyvind and Nessa grow up in very different worlds with very different futures. Eyvind trains to be one of the legendary Wolfskin warriors who go out into the world and fight great battles. His reserved friend Somerland also has plans for his future, but they begin to look less and less familiar to Eyvind as they grow. For her part, Nessa leads a quiet life learning the ways of a wise woman, hoping to continue forward on the bright path set before her small community. But the seasons turn suddenly, and both Eyvind and Nessa soon learn that both of the futures they had set before themselves perhaps were not the ones they were meant to find. Soon, each must learn for themselves the great truths to be found in love, loyalty, and friendship.

First off, I really like the cover for this book. It’s sequel, “Foxmask,” has an equally beautiful cover. Both perfectly fit the overall tone and mythic quality of the stories held within. Marillier is also known as a huge dog lover, so it’s only fitting that few canines also great the cover.

Like I said before, this was the first of Marillier’s books that I encountered that featured dual narrators. And, for the most part, I enjoyed it here. Perhaps due to my expectations going in, that it would again be a single, female POV, I did find myself connecting a bit more to Nessa’s character. However, I will also add that in the long, long list of Marillier’s heroines, Nessa is not one of my favorites. Instead, she falls in similar company with Sibeal and Paula, heroines who were fine for the most part, but not particularly unique or likely to stand out in my memory.

I did like the magic that accompanied Nessa’s storyline. While we’ve seen seers plenty before, Nessa’s magic had some unique aspects to it. I enjoyed the connection to the selkie and the legends that surround magical water creatures. The tools she goes on to use as the story begins to wind down were interesting in their history and implementation.

Eyvind was of a bit more interest, perhaps simply because of the novelty of a male POV. But his story also involved a lot more change and a more established arc that covered the entirety of the book. Yes, some parts of it were highly predictable. And yes, those predictable twists and turns did make the early Eyvind a bit hard to tolerate in his naivety and trusting nature. But in some ways this same trusting nature helped draw a stark contrast between him and his friend Somerled. In some ways, I enjoyed the exploration and downfall of this friendship than I did the romantic relationship between Nessa and Eyvind.

Overall, while this isn’t on my list of favorite Marillier works, it does stand well enough on its own. I enjoy the setting, featuring Vikings and northern European myths and legends. Readers who enjoy multiple POV stories might even appreciate this one more than others. I’ve simply always preferred one narrator, so I’m a tough sell on this type of story. That said, it’s still a worthy entry and a solid recommendation for readers who enjoy mythic fantasy stories.

Rating 7: Not a favorite of mine, but a nice change of pace from the Irish setting and magic system.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wolfskin” is on these Goodreads lists: The Best of Mythic Fiction and Vikings.

Find “Wolfskin” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Unholy Murder”

Book: “Unholy Murder” by Lynda La Plante

Publishing Info: Zaffre, August 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst!

Book Description: ‘Help me turn the coffin lid over.’ Jane Tennison said, grabbing one end.

‘What you looking for?’ Doctor Pullen asked.

‘I want to see the condition of the interior lining.’

‘The right hand on the body has a broken fingernails, some are worn down to the fingertips.’ Doctor Pullen informed them as they gently turned the lid over. The mouldy white satin lining was torn and hanging loose at the head end. Jane gently brushed it to one side revealing deep fingernail scratch marks on the interior metal.

‘Oh my God,’ Tennison exclaimed. ‘She was buried alive.

In Unholy Murder, Tennison must lift the lid on the most chilling murder case of her career to date . . .

Review: I won this book in a giveaway not really knowing that it was number seven in a series, but, here we are! I was mostly intrigued by the fact that it was a series featuring the character Tennison best known from the TV show. I also like a good crime novel every once in a while (Kate and I both read the “Temperance Brennan” series on and off though we haven’t reviewed them here). So I was excited to find another book in that vein, all the better since I can likely find audiobook versions read by people with lovely British accents, given the location! Let’s dive in.

Jane Tennison is back on the case. This time she arrives to find a recently-discovered coffin at the site of an old convent. Inside, the remains of a nun. But what should be unsurprising is suddenly awful when it becomes clear the nun was buried alive. Now Tennison must work to uncover the truth, attempting to wheedle out the truth from the reluctant Catholic Church, made all the more difficult from her partner’s past connection to the Church. But nothing can put Tennison off the case, and slowly but surely, the past will be unburied.

Like I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t read any other books in this series before picking up this book .Worse, I’ve only seen one or two of the episodes of the original show and none of the new show (didn’t even discover there was a new show until I went down a research rabbit hole). All of that to say, I still did fine without any real previous knowledge of the story. Like many police procedural books, there were perhaps some character connections and histories that I missed out on, but the story itself is started, centered, and concluded around this particular crime.

The crime itself was interesting. Being buried alive, I think, is pretty much anyone’s nightmare, so the horror was already built in right there. It was also a bit timely to be reading this book right now given the ongoing revelations about crimes within the church. I thought the book did a decent job of unpacking the “circling the wagons” nature of the Catholic Church while also not demonizing the entire belief system.

I also really liked both of the characters we had here. DCS Barnes, a completely new character to me, was particularly interesting with his past history with the Church. I liked that La Plante didn’t shy away from showing the biases that are inherent even to investigators who are meant to look at crimes through as objective a lens as possible. It’s simply not possible for a person not to bring their own baggage to some of these scenes, so it was nice to see the author give her characters these natural flaws.

I also enjoyed the time period that this book was set in. For some reason, I had assumed it would be a modern story, but I guess that doesn’t make much sense given the fact that it’s based on a TV show from the 90s I believe. The story itself is set in the early 80s, and I liked how it showed crime investigations going down without the modern tools we’re used to seeing in police procedurals today.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a crime procedural, and it was a good addition of a series to return to now and then. The story was definitely slow, and the writing was a bit awkward here and there (perhaps a testament to the author’s original writing experience coming from screenplay work rather than novel-writing). Fans of the series, I’m sure, will enjoy this. And those who enjoy police procedural stories are likely to appreciate it, too.

Rating 7: A bit slow and fumbling at times, but ultimately an enjoyable change of pace for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Unholy Murder” is a newer title so it isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Best Female Crime/Mystery/Thriller Writers.

Find “Unholy Murder” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Gods and Monsters”

Book: “Gods and Monsters” by Shelby Mahurin

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Evil always seeks a foothold. We must not give it one.

After a heartbreaking loss, Lou, Reid, Beau, and Coco are bent on vengeance more than ever before—and none more so than Lou.

But this is no longer the Lou they thought they knew. No longer the Lou that captured a chasseur’s heart. A darkness has settled over her, and this time it will take more than love to drive it out.

Previously Reviewed: “Serpent & Dove” and “Blood & Honey”

Review: I know, I know. Didn’t I essentially swear off this series at the end of my review of “Blood & Honey?” And yes, I was incredibly disappointed by that second entry, not only as its own (poorly done) work but for the extreme drop in quality from the first book which I mostly enjoyed. But…I have so much trouble escaping my completionist compulsions. That last entry is just kind of…hanging there. So here I am. And while the trilogy is in no way going down as a “must read” any time soon (there’s still no forgiving that second entry), at least I can now say that ended it on a better note than that.

Everyone was in a dark place after the great loss suffered at the end of the last book. But none more so than Lou. A girl whose brightness had once caught the attention of a grim, stubborn young chasseur is now consumed with a darkness that wants nothing more than vengeance. To Reid and their friends, Lou is barely recognizable, and they worry they won’t be able to pull her back to herself before she’s lost forever, swept up in a wave of revenge that will topple systems and countries.

So, I obviously had problems with the second book. I thought the characters were barely recognizable, and I hated, hated, the ridiculous drama that became the romance. With that, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with this third book. Lou, in particular, was set out on a very specific trajectory that had some extreme potential for crashing and burning into a fiery pit of tropes. Instead, while I think the book never climbs back to the high of the first, I was pleased to see a good exploration of important themes like grief in the face of the duties still required and the different pains and joys of found families versus those we’re born to.

The fast-paced action of the story probably helped distract me from some of my continued complaints about characterization. As the story gallops towards its final confrontations and conclusions, there is action scene on top of action scene. As we’ve seen many times before in this series, our characters again and again trip over “best laid plans” problems, with obstacles thrown in their way repeatedly. This contrivance, however, serves as more than just page filler and gets into the theme I mentioned above regarding having to keep moving forward even in the face of grief. The world doesn’t stop when losses occur; the world doesn’t care that our characters are hurting. Instead, life continues even while necessary processing and healing must happen alongside practical decisions and actions.

The relationships between the characters were also nice to see emphasized once again. I especially liked the friendship between Lou and Coco and how vital they were to one another, this small family they had made for themselves, each disconnected from their birth families in different ways. I also liked a lot of the scenes we had between Lou and Reid. Now that the series was over the hump, it was clear the author could return these two characters to the much more pleasing process of coming together (instead of the difficult-to-believe theatrics of the middle book that worked at tearing them apart).

My ultimate conclusion is that these books would have been much better served as the duology they were initially meant to be. Looking at all three, now that they have been published, it’s easy enough to see what the duology might have looked at. A lot of unnecessary angst, plot contrivance, and filler could have been trimmed, leaving behind the solid exploration of important themes, the witty banter, and a lovely romance. I’m mostly sad that we didn’t get that story. But I’m happy enough that it ended in a satisfying way. For those who have enjoyed the series so far, I’m sure they’ll be pleased with this entry. For those who were burned on the second book, I won’t say that this book justifies a return to the series, but it also won’t be a monumental regret if you choose to complete the trilogy.

Rating 7: Mostly a relief that it improved from the second book and managed to tie things together well enough.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Gods & Monsters” is on these Goodreads lists: Dragons/Serpents and 2021 YA with Male POV.

Find “Gods & Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Family Plot”

Book: “The Family Plot” by Cherie Priest

Publishing Info: Tor Books, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I own the audiobook.

Book Description: Music City Salvage is a family operation, owned and operated by Chuck Dutton: master stripper of doomed historic properties, and expert seller of all things old and crusty. But business is lean and times are tight, so he’s thrilled when the aged and esteemed Augusta Withrow appears in his office, bearing an offer he really ought to refuse. She has a massive family estate to unload – lock, stock, and barrel. For a check and a handshake, it’s all his. It’s a big check. It’s a firm handshake. And it’s enough of a gold mine that he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project.

Dahlia preps a couple of trucks, takes a small crew, and they caravan down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the ancient Withrow house is waiting – and so is a barn, a carriage house, and a small, overgrown cemetery that Augusta Withrow left out of the paperwork.

Augusta Withrow left out a lot of things.

The property is in unusually great shape for a condemned building. It’s empty, but it isn’t abandoned. Something in the Withrow mansion is angry and lost. This is its last chance to raise hell before the house is gone forever, and there’s still plenty of room in the strange little family plot.

Review: I’m always on the hunt for a haunted house read, as Gothic horror almost always sends shivers up my spine. If the story involves a ghost or two, all the better! I was perusing a book list of such things, and I saw “The Family Plot” by Cherie Priest was one of the selections. I had never heard of this book, and decided that I would add it to my audiobook list to have going while walking around the neighborhood or running weekend errands. And almost immediately I knew that I was in for a fun ride. A Southern Gothic haunted house story that takes full aim at the secrets that the wealthy keep? Hell yes.

“The Family Plot” is a ghost story that hits a lot of the things I love about the sub-genre. The first is that the setting just felt so real and well explored. Withrow Mansion was incredibly well described and detailed, and as I listened to the book I felt like I could see the rooms, the remnants of the life it had within, every aspect of the grounds and the house that was built there. It was also a really cool concept to have the people being haunted NOT being a new owner, or a descendant, or someone who has come to the mansion to live there, but a salvage crew that is there to gut it and make a buck. As Dahlia and her crew interact in the house, and as things get more and more dire, the reason they stay is very believable: if this job doesn’t work out, they will almost certainly be out of business. It makes the stakes a bit higher, and feels like a more tangible reason to not turn tail and run (though to be fair, homeowners almost always have sunk everything into a new house and leaving may not be much of an option for them either). Dahlia also has a well explained backstory, and as we slowly find out the backstory to the house and the spirits that are within in, we can draw parallels between her and the aggrieved spirits that I thought made it feel even scarier as the story went on.

And yes, this is a well done ghost story to boot. The dread builds and the scares are done in varying ways, from subtle shifts in scenery to full on jump scares as written on the page. But Priest also manages to avoid a few overdone tropes. Instead of Dahlia and her crew being stubborn nonbelievers, for the most part they all accept the fact that there are, in fact, ghosts in the house they are working on. One of the most frustrating themes in stories like this is that the person who knows that something is seriously wrong is usually pooh-poohed by those around them, and frankly, it’s usually a woman being told she’s being hysterical by the man in her life. But in “The Family Plot”, Dahlia is never seen as crazy, and is never treated as such by her colleagues. That said, there is tension between her and her cousin Bobby, which just adds a whole other level of intensity to the story, especially as the situation worsens. On top of all of this, our narrator did a great job with all of the characters, and her reading of it set the mood just perfectly.

But then, the goodwill that I had toward this story soured a bit at the end. I’m going to try not to spoil anything, as ultimately I think that this is worth the read if you’re looking for a solid haunted house story. But we get a final twist right at the end, like the VERY end, that just felt a bit like a cheat. As someone who LOVES horror, like loves loves loves it, I’m a bit of an outlier perhaps in that I’m not a fan of a last moment about face in regards to the resolution of the plot. Like, say that your protagonist escapes the pit of the psycho killer, only to stumble upon one of the psycho killer’s henchmen they didn’t know was a henchman while they’re escaping, then they get thrown back into the pit and we get a smash cut to the credits. That kind of sudden turn around doesn’t work for me on screen or on page, and any whiff of such just turns me off. And unfortunately, we get one of those twists here, and I’m just never going to like that kind of thing, and it tainted my overall enjoyment.

Frustrating end moment aside, I genuinely had a good time listening to “The Family Plot”. Halloween season isn’t so far away, so add this one to your pile of creepy reads you may be saving for that time of year!

Rating 7: A genuinely spooky haunted house story that is a bit derailed in the last couple of paragraphs, “The Family Plot” was a bit frustrating at the end, but was overall a fun horror experience.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Family Plot” is included on the Goodreads lists “Haunted Houses”, and “Eerie Fictions Written by Women”.

Find “The Family Plot” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Monthly Marillier: “Cybele’s Secret”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Cybele’s Secret” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2008

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult.

But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret.

Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her. . . .

Review: “Wild wood Dancing” definitely reads as a stand-alone, so I remember being surprised when I saw a second book coming out in this series. But given that it’s a story of five sisters, the continuing stories are easy to see. I wasn’t surprised, however, to see that this book focused on Paula. She was the other “sensible” sister of the five and seemed like the natural choice for Marillier, an author who tends towards rather similar heroines in the first place. I can’t lie, I might have been more intrigued with one of the other sisters, more outside her usual realm, but alas. And sadly, this is another of my lesser favorite works by this author.

Everyone had always assumed Jena would be the one to accompany their father in his travels and help with his trade business. But after she marries, the role falls on bookish Paula who journeys with her father to Istanbul, a city full of culture and learning. What began as a simple business trip, however, quickly becomes something more, with powerful cults being rumored to be active once again and a rare artifact at the center of it all. Confident in her own reasoning and logic, Paula begins to unravel the puzzle before her. But things only become more and more complicated, with strange signs and symbols and two men vying for her attention. Can Paula solve this mystery before her time is up?

Anyone who knows me can probably guess what one of my problems was with this book right from the description, both mine and the official summary above. Yep, love triangle. From my memory, this is really the only Marillier book that has a love triangle at its heart, and that’s probably one of the reasons she’s a favorite author of mine. Instead of wasting time between two love interests (time split between two often plays to the detriment of both), Marillier often sets up her end-game couple early on and spends the rest of the book slowly developing it. I remember my friend, Emily, read “Daughter of the Forest” and was unhappy that Sorcha didn’t end up with Simon. But from my read, that idea had never even entered my head, so strong of a love interest was Red once he arrived.

So, yes, here we see a true love triangle, with Paula drawn to both of these men in different ways. While it still felt fairly obvious which one she was going to choose, that fact just made it more of a challenge to read Paula’s ongoing struggles in the love department. On top of that, neither love interest was particularly compelling on his own. It’s bad enough when one romantic interest isn’t that great. But when you have two and a large part of your heroine’s arc is debating between the two and neither seem very great? Not good.

I also didn’t love Paula as a character. In a bit of backward thinking, the fact that she felt more “perfect” than Jena before her almost made her, too, less interesting. It can be argued that the challenges that Paula faces here are much more dangerous and difficult than what Jena had to deal with in her story. But Paula rarely faltered, other than perhaps a bit of over-reliance on her own smarts. What has become a bit of a routine complaint with these books, Paula is almost too perfect.

I did like the magical elements involved in the story. The last third, in particular, really dives into some interesting aspects of fantasy. There are also a few cameo appearances of characters from the first book, but sadly, not Jena. I also really enjoyed the setting of Istanbul. Marillier’s books are almost exclusively set in Ireland or Scandinavia, so Istanbul is a far cry from those settings. Her lyrical, detailed language really played well to describing the colorful, vibrant life of this ancient city.

So, this is one of my less favorite books in the series. It seems like every trilogy/duology of her comes with one book that is a huge favorite and another that is more of a let-down. While I’ve re-read “Wildwood Dancing” many, many times, this was the first re-read I’ve ever done of this book and I’m kind of reminded why. Fans of Paula from the first book would probably like this, and, in general, it’s still a strong book on its own in the subgenre of fairytale fantasy. Just not one of Marillier’s best works.

Rating 7: A love triangle and overly-perfect heroine brought down a book that did excel in the world-building arena, at least.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cybele’s Secret” is on these Goodreads lists: Hidden Gems of the Young Adult Genre and Aussie YA Paranormal and Fantasy.

Find “Cybele’s Secret” at your library using WorldCat!