Kate’s Review: “We Sold Our Souls”

37715859Book: “We Sold Our Souls” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2018

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

Book Description: A new novel of supernatural horror (and pop culture) from the author of Horrorstor, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and Paperbacks from Hell.

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all. 

Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for sending me and eARC of this book!

My musical heart deftly belongs to New Wave and Punk music, but I have indeed dabbled in the wonders of metal, specifically Norwegian Black Metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone. So with my slight knowledge of some history of the evolution of black metal (thanks, Last Podcast on the Left!) I was all the more intrigued by Grady Hendrix’s new horror novel “We Sold Our Souls”. Given how much I thoroughly enjoyed “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”, I had high hopes that his newest work would be a similar reading experience.

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But with more corpse paint. (source)

We follow Kris, a former heavy metal musician whose life has gone off the rails. She used to be a founding member of gritty club band Dürt Würk that was on the edge of stardom, only for one night that has haunted her ever since to throw them all off track. Now Kris is working at a Best Western, and her former friend and bandmate, Terry Hunt, has found stardom through Nu Metal with a band called Koffin. Kris is a fairly typical Hendrix protagonist, in that she is flawed and damaged, but scrappy as hell. Her passion for metal is apparent from the get go, but Hendrix never falls into any familiar tropes that other less skilled authors may have implemented. Kris isn’t a sexy bad girl with dyed hair and a snarly attitude, nor is she too edgy for her own good (because ‘edgy’ is obviously how a woman metal head would be). On the contrary, she’s older, she’s a bit used up, and she’s somewhat unlikable, but she also has a heart and a soul and a drive to reclaim her past and the success that she assuredly is owed. Her love of the genre is thrown into every page, with quick and dirty history lessons tossed in here and there to give her a serious grounding within her place and her motivations. Hendrix is great at tossing in the pop culture without being overt about it, so it feels organic and natural as opposed to slapped on for the sake of it. Her journey of reconnecting with her bandmates, and then figuring out that they are in danger because of an ever present dark force that goes back to the night the band broke up, is a fun journey that has a lot of moments of pathos, be it about lost friendships, the unfairness of the music industry, or loving something so much and just not quite achieving a life within in no matter how hard you try. Kris’s story in this regard absolutely worked for me.

What didn’t work as well were the actual horror aspects of this book. As it says in the description, Kris’s soul was sold to a demonic entity so that Terry could succeed. It isn’t as simple as a Mephistopheles kind of deal, as Hendrix makes his own mythos and runs with it. While I appreciate the creativity here, I think that Hendrix does falter a bit when it comes to the horror elements of his books. There were scenes with various demonic beings, creatures, and forces that were meant to scare and unsettle, but every time we interacted with them it felt a little bit forced. Some of the scariest moments had nothing to do with the demons, and more to do with everyday horrors that felt plausible and completely realistic. For example, there is a scene where Kris has found herself in an underground pipe system, and can’t go backwards, only forwards, not knowing if the pipe is going to dead end out, or if she is going to get stuck. THIS was the part of the book that had my heart racing, not seeing someone get torn to pieces by possessed followers of Terry. Hendrix’s true strength is within the heart he gives his characters, and if this book had just been about a former band member confronting the person who did her wrong, without the supernatural elements, it would have been just as lovely and effective. But that doesn’t say much about the horror elements, now does it.

All that said, I did enjoy reading “We Sold Our Souls”, and think that Hendrix has once again delivered an entertaining and heartfelt book. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go blast some Darkthrone on a loop for a bit and just get lost in the music that he so lovingly brings to life within the pages of this book.

Rating 7: A fun love letter to heavy metal, “We Sold Our Souls” has a lot of strengths, but also falls into familiar traps when Hendrix tries a little too hard to be scary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We Sold Our Souls” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists as of yet. But if you are interested in metal music, “Lords of Chaos” may be of interest to you, and it would also fit in on “Books for Metalheads”.

Find “We Sold Our Souls” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “The Good Demon”

38945097Book: “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas

Publishing Info: Amulet Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC from NetGalley and a printed ARC from Amulet Books.

Book Description: True Detective meets The Exorcist in this gripping YA mystery debut about one girl’s exorcism—and her desperate quest to reunite with her demon

Clare has been miserable since her exorcism. The preacher that rid her of evil didn’t understand that her demon—simply known as Her—was like a sister to Clare. Now, Clare will do almost anything to get Her back. After a chance encounter with the son of the preacher who exorcised her, Clare goes on an adventure through the dark underbelly of her small Southern town, discovering its deep-seated occult roots. As she searches for Her, she must question the fine lines between good and evil, love and hate, and religion and free will. Vivid and sharp, The Good Demon tells the unusual story of friendship amid dark Gothic horror.

Review: I want to extend a special thank you to both NetGalley and Amulet books for sending me an eARC and a print ARC of this book.

I know that Halloween Season isn’t QUITE here yet (though honestly, once Labor Day hits I’m thinking about ghosts and ghouls and all things horror), but I just couldn’t wait for Horrorpalooza to pick up “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas. I was fortunate enough to get approved for a copy on NetGalley, but then imagine my extra delight when I was at Serena’s and she said that we’d received a print ARC of it as well.

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Me flailing in glee when I got this book. (source)

I’d been hearing about this novel since this past summer, when it was all over my twitter feed during BookExpo. While I’m not usually someone who is super into demonic possession/exorcism stories (with a FEW exceptions, as you guys probably remember), the idea of a girl wanting her exorcised demon BACK was one that piqued my interest. The demonic possession stories I like usually buck some of the familiar tropes that are associated with the genre, but ultimately they usually still maintain the demon=bad concept. “The Good Demon” sounded like it was going to take that down as well, so picking it up I went in with some lofty expectations.

What struck me most about “The Good Demon” was Clara, our main character who is desperate to find her demon, Her, again. In many demonic possession and exorcism stories, the person being possessed is usually passive, and a secondary character that the main character is trying to help. Clara defies these trends, as not only is she the main character, she is incredibly active and entrenched in ‘doing’ within the narrative. Her reasons for wanting Her back are understandable because of how Cajoleas has written her: her father’s death was a traumatic moment in her life, her mother is an addict who has effectively picked her new husband over her own daughter, and Clara has no other friends or support systems in her life now that Her has been exorcised. While there were ample opportunities for Clara to fall into stereotypical traps of a ‘bad girl’, Cajoleas always kept her from teetering, and kept her grounded in a realistic personality. She always felt like a realistic teenage girl who has seen some shit, and her voice was authentic and natural. As she uncovers the mysteries of the small, closed minded town that she is living in, you see her go up against obstacles that aren’t always because of supernatural or occult driven issues; many of the problems she faces are because of misogyny and prejudice that is entrenched within an Evangelical culture. I liked seeing her interact with basically all of the characters, be it within flashbacks to her friendship with Her, to the fraught and sad relationship with her mother, to the complicated and bittersweet relationship she takes up with Roy, the son of the preacher who performed the exorcism. Roy is a particularly interesting foil to her, as her sullenness is matched with his fundamentalist driven optimism, and her bitterness towards his father is in stark contrast to Roy’s submission to him. It was a relationship that felt very teenager-y, with both of them making decisions that feel right in the moment, but may have fallouts that they cannot see.

I had more mixed feelings about the actual possession story. I loved the flashbacks to Her, and I liked seeing Clara and Her interact, and have a complex relationship. It sets a groundwork that makes it very believable that Clara would go as far as she would go to get Her back. That was a very fresh take on possession, that perhaps this ‘demon’ wasn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. But by the end, it becomes pretty clear that the full deconstruction of the ‘possession’ story isn’t going to happen. It gets part way there, I will give it that, but ultimately it didn’t take a bold stance on redefining ‘demons’, and why people like Roy’s Dad might conflate something that empowers or emotionally supports girls and women as ‘demonic’.  I appreciate that ultimately Cajoleas is promoting the idea that you should feel secure within yourself and to be able to stand on your own, but I think that this message ultimately undercuts the positive female friendship message that I was hoping we would get from it.

While it didn’t QUITE live up to my expectations, “The Good Demon” was a fast and fun read, and it’s absolutely one that dark fantasy and horror fans should pick up during the upcoming spooky season. And I have good news, because it’s your chance to own this new dark fantasy novel! We’re giving away the print ARC of “The Good Demon”! This giveaway is open to U.S. Residents only, other terms and conditions are within the giveaway information in the link below.

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Rating 7: An interesting take on the possession/exorcism story with an interesting protagonist, “The Good Demon” deconstructs common tropes to a point, but falls a little short in it’s deconstruction by the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Good Demon” is coming out on Tuesday, September 18th, and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet. That said, I think it would fit in on “Demons, Mystics, and Black Magic”, and “Small Towns and Secrets”.

Find “The Good Demon” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Strange Grace”

32824058Book: “Strange Grace” by Tessa Gratton

Publishing Info: Margaret McElderry Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.

Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.

Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.

Review: I requested this book a whim based on the book description and, frankly, the beautiful cover art. I mean, c’mon, that’s one attractive book cover! But the description also appealed to me, seeming to follow some standard fairytale modes of storytelling as well as focusing on the love and friendship between three characters. While I did feel there were a few stumbling blocks and surprises along the way, I think “Strange Grace” will be a sure fire hit for many audiences.

A small village has existed in a state of semi-paradise for many, many years. No one is ever injured or killed. But this idealic life is bough with a steep price. Every seven years, the town folk must sacrifice a boy to the dark woods to buy themselves another period of safety. But this year is different, falling only a few years after the last sacrifice, a new boy is already being demanded. Three friends find themselves searching for an answer to what seems like an impossible choice, and they and their town will never be the same again.

The strongest aspect of this book for me was the writing and the tone. While I don’t typically read straight up horror novels, I like dark fantasies. A few that come to mind as similar to this are “The Beast is an Animal” and the “Raven Cycle” series. Each delve into magical elements, but instead of fairies and unicorns, there’s a lot more dark shadows and tree branches shaped like fingers scraping at our heroes’ backs. So, too, here. ‘”Strange Magic” fully embraces its own dark themes and doesn’t pull back from exploring some fairly graphic body horror. While I enjoyed most of the creepiness here, there were bits that were a stretch for me, so go in with that warning.

So, too, this story also aligns similarly to those previously mentioned fantasy novels in writing style. The writing is lyrical, whimsical, and edged with unexpected sharp points at times. For those looking for straight forward writing this might be a bit off-putting, but if you are a fan of the writing found in books like the “Raven Cycle,” this is very well might appeal to you. I for one found it lovely and was immediately caught up in the weave of the story.

What did hold me up, however, was the pacing. While the writing was beautiful, it didn’t do quite enough to distract me from the fact that the first 40-50% of the story was very slow-moving. What’s worse, that slowly built arc was never fully resolved. The story moved as if a climax of sorts was coming, but instead the author chose to use some odd time jumps that leap-frogged right over some of the parts of the story that I had been most looking forward to experiencing. It was an odd choice that made the story feel choppy and unresolved.

The other stumbling block was the characterization of our main trio. There is a lot of diversity to be found in this group of individuals, and if you’re looking for a fantasy story that features non-binary leads, than this is a great book to find that. But other than representation alone, I never felt fully invested in any of the three characters. I understood their individual motivations and histories, but as the story unfolded, I could never quite latch on to how they were processing their own experiences. There was a lot of “telling” and not much “showing” as far the relationships between them all went. One relationship is already established when the book begins, and not much is done to expand that much further, even though events occur that would at the very least warrant a re-evaluation of how each members is experience said relationship. Instead, we are simply told that characters feel a certain way and don’t see much internal dialogue about how they are processing these changes. Another relationship between another two is established with only a few brief conversations, but based on that, we are meant to understand that they, too, have deep feelings. In the end, as far as characters go, I was simply left wanting more.

Overall, I like much of the writing and fantasy/horror aspects of the book, but I struggled more with the pacing/structure and the characters themselves. However, if you like dark fantasies and are looking for a diverse cast of characters, “Strange Magic” is definitely worth a look!

Rating 7: Beautiful writing and truly creepy dark fantasy was a bit hindered by a clunky plot and characters who never felt like they quite connected with reader or with what was happening around them.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Strange Grace” is a new title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 YA Books with LGBT Themes.”

Find “Strange Grace” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Seafire”

378225341Book: “Seafire” by Natalie C. Parker

Publication Info: Razorbill, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one misson: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Review: There’s no doubt about it, this summer has been the summer of the pirates as far as my reading list as gone. It’s as if all of the authors and publisher all got together and decided that now, now was the time, just long enough for memories of the more recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” to fade away and soon enough that there is still nostalgia lingering from the very beginning. My feelings on the last several pirate-themed books have been very hit and miss, and the last was quite the miss indeed. But where “These Rebel Waves” failed, “Seafire” was there to redeem this budding genre!

Caledonia and her best friend trusted a Bullet once. And from that trust game death and destruction upon both of their families. Since then, the two women have gone on to gather together a crew of other women and a ship of their own. Together, they fight back against the Bullet’s reign of terror, and Caledonia is still looking for revenge on the boy who betrayed her. But when a Bullet ends up on their ship after saving Caledonia’s first mate, Cal is given a chance to trust again. Should she take it for the chance at new and potentially live-changing information?

So first off, thank god! A pirate story that actually has pirates and takes place on the sea! “Seafire” is just what it claims to be, as far as its action and world-building go. There are ships, a sea battles, and pirates, and all of the best type of action that one looks for in action adventure stories like these. It’s all fairly standard, but in this case, that’s a compliment.

What makes this book stand out from the rest is the cast of characters made up of the found family crew of women. The story delves into great themes such as loyalty, friendship, and of course, the love a family, be it your born family or chosen. It also explicitly deals with the challenges that family present to each other and the ways that they can let each other down, and that this applies to both born and chosen families. Each come with their own struggles, and navigating these relationships can be perilous.

Beyond these broader topics, I genuinely cared about a pretty large group of characters introduced in this book. I typically find myself only invested in the 1-2 main characters in most books, but here I found myself rooting and worrying for a much larger group. There is also good representation in this group with a solid f/f relationship between two secondary characters. But all of this investment also came with a price, since the book doesn’t shy away from the tragedies that can befall characters who regularly engage in sea battles.

As for the main characters, I mostly liked our main character, Cal. The fact that I only “mostly” liked her is also probably a point in the book’s favor, highlighting the attention given to creating a flawed, real teenage girl. Cal is by no means perfect. She is brave and determined, but all too often she makes choices based on her own personal need for revenge. She is slow to give up prejudices, but is also completely devoted to the group of women she has taken under her wing. Towards the end, I did begin to struggle more and more with her character and some of her decision-making, but I was on board enough with the rest of the story to not let myself get too bogged down in that.

There is a minor subplot of romance in the story, but I was fine with this part not taking up more time. The true relationships in this book are those built on sisterhood and friendship. As for the pacing, the book does have a slower start, but picked up quite a lot towards the end, so some patience is required when getting going. But, other than that, “Seafire” was a solid book full of badass women doing badass pirate-y things!

Rating 7: Delivers on its concept with an exciting pirate story full of strong women. The main character was at times not the most likable and it started slow, but was worth it in the end!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Seafire” is on these Goodreads lists: “YA Female Ensemble Casts” and “Lady Pirates.”

Find “Seafire” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Lies You Never Told Me”

36547961Book: “Lies You Never Told Me” by Jennifer Donaldson

Publishing Info: Razorbill, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Gabe and Elyse have never met. But they both have something to hide.

Quiet, shy Elyse can’t believe it when she’s cast as the lead in her Portland high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Her best friend, Brynn, is usually the star, and Elyse isn’t sure she’s up to the task. But when someone at rehearsals starts to catch her eye–someone she knows she absolutely shouldn’t be with–she can’t help but be pulled into the spotlight.

Austin native Gabe is contemplating the unthinkable–breaking up with Sasha, his headstrong, popular girlfriend. She’s not going to let him slip through her fingers, though, and when rumors start to circulate around school, he knows she has the power to change his life forever.

Gabe and Elyse both make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. Told in parallel narratives, this twisty, shocking story shows how one bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences that not everyone will survive.

Review: Whaaaat? A thriller review by Serena and not Kate?! That’s right, people! Buckle up and get ready for a good look at what it’s like for a fantasy reader to read a YA thriller! Spoiler alert: probably not that different, though much more naive as far as predicting twists. I’m sure Kate would have figured this one out, but oh well!

The story is told in dueling, first-person narratives. In one, we follow the story of Gabe, a teenage boy who, after being involved in a car accident and rescued by a mysterious girl, finds himself struggling to escape the clutches of his mean-girl girlfriend, Sasha, to pursue this new savior girl. The other narrative follows Elyse who on a whim auditions for a role in “Romeo and Juliet” and quickly finds herself entangled in a complicated web revolving around a person she knows she should avoid.

Both stories were engaging, however I did find myself more pulled into Elyse’s plot. Her struggles and circumstances were a bit more relatable to the average reader, while Gabe’s story could verge a bit into the unbelievable, particularly where his ex-girlfriend Sasha was involved. It was a bit hard to believe that she had so little oversight in her life that she could pull off some of the very unbalanced stunts she did.

The story is told in first-person, which I thought worked fairly well for the story. At times it did make the writing feel a bit too simple, and I found myself wanting a little more depth in the descriptions of scenes. This is a typical limitation of this writing tense, however, so it wasn’t overly distracting, just not my preferred type. And I do think that keeping it in first-person allowed readers to more fully identify with the mental and emotional struggles that Elyse and Gabe go through.

I also very much liked the diversity of the cast. Gabe is Mexican American and his sister has Down Syndrome. I especially loved the relationship between Gabe and his sister, and it was great to see a relationship like that portrayed on the page. The story also tackled several other topics such as poverty, addiction, and, of course, abusive romantic relationships.

As I’ve said, I haven’t read too many thrillers. So, while I know that there will some twist coming, I wasn’t able to spot this one. Maybe fans more familiar with the genre would have had an easier time of it, but I was genuinely surprised. Specifically, I was left wondering throughout most of the book how Elyse’s and Gabe’s storylines were tied together, and it was exciting to finally find out in the end. However, as surprising as it was, it also had an affect on how I viewed the rest of the story in the end, and I’m not sure it was a change for the better.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed “Lies You Never Told Me” even though it falls outside of my usual genre preferences. I’m sure it will be a hit for regular thriller fans as well!

Rating 7: While thrillers are probably never going to be my favorite, I found this book a compulsive read and a fun reminder of what this genre has to offer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lies You Never Told Me” is on these Goodreads lists: “Secrets and Lies” and “2018 YA Mysteries.”

Find “Lies You Never Told Me” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “Vox”

37796866Book: “Vox” by Christina Dalcher

Publishing Info: Berkley, August 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end. 

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

Review: A special thanks to Berkley Publishing and NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

People keep asking me if I have watched “The Handmaid’s Tale” yet, and as of now I still haven’t. I know that it’s supposed to be super super good, and I know that a number of my friends really love it, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it because it really just feels ‘too real’ right now. So I will admit that when I was sent the book “Vox” by Christina Dalcher from Bentley, I also had that moment of cringe, not because I doubted that it was good, but because I felt that it would touch on a raw nerve. Perhaps a few years ago I would have said that the idea of the American Government stripping women of all rights, and limiting their daily speech to 100 words total, as preposterous. Now? I’m not as certain about it. But I did eventually decide that it was time to buckle down and read it, and once I did, as terrifying as the themes were, I had a hard time putting it down.

The first big win of this book is that Dalcher creates a fairly realistic pathway for how American Society can change it’s societal values and ideals in such a drastic way in such a comparatively short amount of time. Our protagonist, Jean, is in her early forties, and she can trace the origins of this super right wing group, The Pure Movement, within her lifetime dating back towards her college years. Through flashbacks involving Jean and other people in her life, mostly her old friend and feminist advocate Jackie, we can see how a woman who became a renowned expert in neuroscience eventually ended up as a housewife with no rights and a counter on her hand to track her words. Dalcher presents a slow take over of right wing politics and ideals, and the apathy of ‘that will never happen here’ that does nothing until it is far too late. Dalcher also presents a fairly realistic progression of how Jean’s family is affected by the law, and how the men in her life betray her in different ways even though they also ‘love’ her (I hate putting that in quotations, but I feel like I have to). Be it her husband Patrick, who is a flunky to the government who doesn’t REALLY believe in the law, but does nothing to stop it, or her son Steven, who at seventeen is drinking the Kool Aid of The Pure Movement and becoming a traitor to his mother and general decency.

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I was consistently picturing THIS motherfucker whenever Steven was on page. (source)

Because of these things the plot was gripping and engrossing. I was horrified by the things that the Pure Movement does in this book (be it to women, LGBTQIA people, or other marginalized groups), but Jean was so compelling and so easy to root for that I kept reading, needing to know if she was going to overcome the persecution, if not completely overthrow it.

There were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me. I did feel that the pacing was a bit off by the end, as I felt that I suddenly wrapped up very quickly. There were a couple of inconsistencies within the ending that felt like they went against a few of the characters and their personalities, and while I do believe that some people can change their minds about certain things (I’m trying so hard to be vague), to go from one side of opinion to an opinion on the other VERY extreme side felt uncharacteristic and hard to swallow. I can’t really divulge much more without spoiling anything vital, but just trust me when I say it was a leap. That and I feel that some characters who did nasty things got too easy of a pass. I’m kind of over giving people who do crappy and disturbing and oppressive things the benefit of the doubt, so while I like me a redemption arc to a point, I’m not sure that I can stomach one that gives something of a pass to bigots, even if they were slowly brainwashed. 

Still and all, “Vox” is an entertaining read that give enough darkness to feel allegorical, but enough hope that you don’t want to just crawl into a hole and never come back out. I think that this could be a hot read come Fall, and think that anyone frustrated or scared may be able to work out some feelings by trying it out!

Rating 7: A gripping and addicting thriller that feels all too real at the moment, “Vox” was a disturbing, and somewhat cathartic, read about women being silenced by their own government and those who fight back.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Vox” is included on the Goodreads lists “Patriarchal Dystopias”, and “Best Books To Read When You Need A Reminder of Why Feminism Is Important”.

Find “Vox” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Phantom Tree”

32618152Book: “The Phantom Tree” by Nicola Cornick

Publishing Info: Graydon House, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.

The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past – it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.

But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…

Review: This is probably one of the first historical fiction novels that is NOT a mystery that I’ve read in quite a while! As such, I was quite excited to return to the genre, especially when comparisons to Phillipa Gregory’s books were being routinely listed (though I’ve had a fairly hit and miss experience with Gregory, I will always love “The Other Boleyn Girl.”) The book had a bit of a slow start and didn’t grab me as much as some of Gregory’s better books, but over all, I still enjoyed “The Phantom Tree,” especially its take on a lesser known and minor character in Tudor history.

Allison is a woman out of her own time, and while she’s managed to scramble a life together for herself, calling upon her vast stores of sheer determination and stubbornness, she still longs to return to her original time back in the 16th century where she was forced to leave behind her infant son. Her only clues are connections to Mary Seymour, a fellow orphan left to be raised at Wolf Hall, and a young woman with a mysterious ability of her own. But Mary has been lost to time, with many scholars believing she died in infancy. When Allison discovers a painting of an adult Mary, she finally is able to begin picking up the clues that may finally lead her home.

This story is pieced together through the perspectives of both Allison and Mary. Allison’s portions consist of her life in the present and her search to return to the past. And through Mary’s eyes, we see the events that lead to Allison’s journey to the future and the events that have unfolded after she’s gone missing, and which Allison herself is now piecing back together centuries later.

Both Allison and Mary were compelling characters, however the nature of the story and the way their stories unfolded did lead to the book feeling as if it had a slow start. Further, both of them were initially a bit unlikeable, with Allison coming off as a bit of a ignorant brat (mostly her past self) and Mary as too wilting and unwilling to take action in her own life. However, from these weaker beginnings, both characters ultimately grew into women I found myself greatly rooting for.

I didn’t know much about Mary Seymour before going into this book, so I did end up doing a bit of background reading to try and figure out how much if this story is based on history. Mary disappeared from history when she was around 2 years old and is presumed to have died in young childhood. That leaves the majority of this story as operating in a fictional setting. However, what made it stand out was the creative way the author managed to tell Mary’s story in a way that made it believable that she may have lived longer but still been absent from history. The fantastical elements come in early, especially with regards to Mary, so there’s never any real question about the authenticity of the tale, but it still added a nice layer that the book never strayed too far into the unbelievable as far as her actual life.

Allison is, of course, a completely fictional character. What I most appreciated about her story was the build-up for her character back in the 16th century that helped establish her as a person capable of adapting to a completely different life in modern times. Think about it: that’s a huge ask of a character and the book explores a few other characters who also time traveled and were less successful with it. The same brashness and stubborn refusal to bend that made her rather dislikable as a teenager in the past were also the traits that let her survive on her own in a completely new world.

The time travel and fantastical elements did end up playing a larger role in the story than I initially anticipated, and there were a few twists and turns towards the end that were especially surprising. At the same time, I never felt like these aspects of the book overran the historical setting of the past sequences or the modern version of the story that focused on Allison’s search for family, her discovery of self and what she wants from her life, and the burgeoning romance with a historical researcher.

By the end of the story, I was actively rooting for both of these main characters, made all the more tense by the knowledge that something dark had to be looming to explain Mary’s sudden disappearance in history. This particular element of the book did wrap up rather suddenly, and while it helped build the believablity of the mystery, it was also a bit traumatic to experience with one of your main characters.

I very much enjoyed “The Phantom Tree.” It was a strange mix of fantasy/time travel, historical fiction, and even modern romance. Both Mary and Allison were compelling heroines, though I never quite escaped a certain sense of distance from the story which prevented me from becoming fully enthralled. For fans of time travel stories, however, and especially those interested in the Tudors, I would definitely recommend this book!

Rating 7: A solid new entry into the subgenre of historical/time travel fiction, though I didn’t connect with it as fully as I may have wished.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Phantom Tree” is a new book so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Historical Fiction/Time Travel.”

Find “The Phantom Tree” at your library using WorldCat.