Kate’s Review: “All the Beautiful Lies”

35230481Book: “All the Beautiful Lies” by Peter Swanson

Publishing info: William Morrow, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.

Review: If you ever said to yourself “You know, I think that I would like a book that is ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Double Indemnity’ with a little bit of ‘Black Widow’ for good measure,” then I have some good news for you. “All the Beautiful Lies” is what you may be looking for. Once again Peter Swanson has written a book that sat my butt down and gave me very little reason to stop reading unless it was absolutely necessary. Which rendered me basically couch ridden for an entire morning when there were other things I needed to be doing.

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File footage of my productivity failing to escape the clutches of an engrossing thriller. (source)

I liked that this book is told between a number of third person perspectives, and through a couple different points in time. The most pertinent perspectives are those of Harry, the newly orphaned twenty something who returns home when his father dies in an accident, and Alice, his young stepmother who has an air about her that sucks him in, just as it did his father. While Harry’s story is focused directly in the ‘now’, Alice’s is focused mostly in the ‘then’, two timelines that do eventually converge in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and which gave insight into both their characters. While I did enjoy the slow burn of the mystery of Harry’s father’s death, and whether it was an accident or not (and who the mysterious Grace is and how she factors into it all), I was definitely more interested in Alice’s story. We know that she is enticing and mysterious, and has a pull over Harry even though he doesn’t know her very well. It’s very fun to see how she eventually becomes the person that she is. Her story is complicated and doesn’t hold back in it’s complication; Alice is many things that may seem like contradictions, but hold together believably. Swanson has always been good at making complex characters with dubious to sketchy morals, and you can put Alice up there with Lily Kintner when it comes to ambitious and dangerous, albeit fascinating, morally suspect femme fatales.

Swanson is also someone who knows how to take a twist and really pull it off. Part way through this book, a huge shift came along and totally shocked me. Not only that, Swanson recalibrated and brought in two NEW perspective points that caught me off guard and knocked me off kilter for a little bit. While a less deft author might have bungled the pass off (and thoroughly frustrated me in the process), Swanson tied it all together while still expanding the scope, bringing more much needed clues to the forefront. And he is so good at slowly revealing his hand that I never reached any conclusion before he wanted me to; no matter how many times I tried to keep a few steps ahead, I never was. The burn may be slow, but I was so desperate to find out what happened next that it felt like an emotional rollercoaster until the very last page. Which managed to throw one more curveball in, with master level skill.

And the tone is just creepy at times, for lots of reasons. Sexuality is weaponized, seduction borders on the nerve wracking, and because you know things that other characters may not you just kind of have to sit back and watch it, totally unsettled as it all unravels. The constant sexual tension between Harry and Alice is just icky because she’s his stepmother, as is another relationship in the book which is even worse (but no spoilers here), and watching these relationships slowly unfold because of a predator casting a web will give you the serious, serious willies. But Swanson is also careful to show just how calculated these predators are, and how they can make their prey not feel like prey at all. But at the same time, it never falls into the bounds of bad taste: it’s not titillating or sexy, it’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable and upsetting.

All in all, “All the Beautiful Lies” is another winner from Peter Swanson. If you haven’t given his books a try yet, now is the time and this would be a good one to start with.

Rating 8: Another solid and salacious mystery/thriller from Peter Swanson, “All the Beautiful Lies” sucked me in and held my interest until I had reached the last page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Beautiful Lies” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “All the Beautiful Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Dread Nation”

30223025Book: “Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Review: Zombies have been a genre trope of choice for awhile now in horror fiction. They are usually used to show that in a world of zombies, humans are still the real monsters, and that’s a theme that I enjoy no matter how often it is invoked. But the thing is, zombies are starting to feel a bit stale. With “The Walking Dead” hemorrhaging viewers and post apocalyptic horror movies choosing to go other routes, the zombie story has needed a jolt for awhile now to, uh, revive it. So that is probably why I enjoyed “Dread Nation” so much. “Dread Nation” definitely breathes new life into the zombie story, quite possibly because the zombies are not the focus, nor are they the ultimate bringer of the end of the world. Zombies pale in face of the true enemy in this book, and that enemy is racism in American society. So that means fans of “Lovecraft Country”, this might be the next  book you should add to your list.

Justina Ireland has created an alternate timeline history of America, the divergence happening during the Civil War when the Undead (or Shamblers, as they are called in this) suddenly rose from the ground. The alternate history is so rich and new, and yet so familiar, that it definitely feels like this how things would have worked out had this occurrence actually happened in American History. Jane is our protagonist, and she is a true delight as a YA historical fiction/horror/thriller heroine. She has some character similarities to other greats in the genre (Katniss Everdeen comes to mind), mainly because Jane doesn’t necessarily seek out being a leader or a rabblerouser and just wants to live life by her own rules. But unlike books like “The Hunger Games” series, which have a vague and malleable version of oppression and dystopia, the one in “Dread Nation” is right out of the history books: Jane is a black girl living in a racist society, and the injustices that she deals with are still relevant in real world American in 2018, not limited to an alternate history of this nation. Jane, like other kids of color her age, has been sent to a school to learn how to fight the zombie hordes so the white people in society don’t have to, and while she is learning to be an Attendant (a more prestigious position in some ways, as she learns not only to fight but also trains in etiquette to serve a rich white woman) it’s still a subservient place in society. Much like the modern wars of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, it’s the minorities who are on the front lines giving up their bodies while the white elite sit by and live their lives blissfully unaffected. Jane faces systemic racism and oppression from positions of authority because of her skin, but those aren’t the only themes that still apply today. Jane’s classmate/frenemy Katherine is a white passing black girl, and while her skin means she can shield herself from racism, she doesn’t feel like she has a place in the black community or the white community. Ireland does a great job of bringing these themes (and more) to the forefront, and making them feel relevant today even though the story takes place two centuries ago.

(Note: There has been some criticism of “Dread Nation” regarding how it discusses and portrays the Native characters and themes, most prominently from Debbie Reese. While I did like the book for the most part and think that it does a good job with its portrayal of racism in America, these criticisms are important to see and think about.)

But what about the zombies, you may be asking. As a zombie aficionado (even as they start to feel a bit played out), I can say that I really liked Ireland’s take on them. The action scenes with them never failed to disappoint, and the mythology that Ireland has built around them feels fresh because this isn’t a fallen society, but a society that is trying to coexist with these things. That is a narrative that you don’t see often, and given that I’ve always wanted to see it explored more I was so happy that Ireland went in that direction with the Undead world building. I also felt like she integrated it enough into actual events in American History and changed some of the outcomes or paths in response to it that it felt believable that this is how society would have reacted. Because of this, it always does feel like Civil War Era America, even with a zombie uprising. The Undead storyline, too, finds ways to  bring forward social justice topics on race that still concern society today and back then, with science, medicine, and research being done at the expense of black lives and bodies.

“Dread Nation” was a great read that has re-energized my love for the zombie genre. Ireland has given it so much more meat, and I hope that people who read it will think about all of the things she’s trying to say, even if they just came in for the Undead.

Rating 8: A tense and unique historical fiction/horror novel, “Dread Nation” not only tinkers with the zombie story, it also uses it to examine modern issues of race and racism in America.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dread Nation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Lives Matter Library Ideas”, and “Zombie Apocalypse by Black Authors or w/ Black Main Characters”.

Find “Dread Nation” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Julia Defiant”

30634295Book: “Julia Defiant” by Catherine Egan

Publication Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers. June 2017

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

Book Description: Julia and a mismatched band of revolutionaries, scholars, and thieves have crossed the world searching for a witch. But for all the miles traveled, they are no closer to finding Ko Dan. No closer to undoing the terrible spell he cast that bound an ancient magic to the life of a small child. Casimir wants that magic will happily kill Theo to extract it and every moment they hunt for Ko Dan, Casimir s assassins are hunting them.

Julia can deal with danger. The thing that truly scares her lies within. Her strange ability to vanish to a place just out of sight has grown: she can now disappear so completely that it s like stepping into another world. It s a fiery, hellish world, filled with creatures who seem to recognize her and count her as one of their own.

So . . . is Julia a girl with a monster lurking inside her? Or a monster wearing the disguise of a girl? If she can use her monstrous power to save Theo, does it matter?

Previously reviewed: “Julia Vanishes”

Review: I saw that the third novel in this series was due to come out shortly, so it was a good reminder to check out this second book. Somehow the “Julia Vanishes” had slipped completely off my radar, all the more surprising for it having a few rare qualities that stand out in a sea of fantasy fiction that can be all too filled with tropes. These rarities were on display once again in this second book, and some of the quibbles I had with the first have also largely been resolved.

Several months have passed and miles have been crossed since the ending of the first book. Julia and her rather enormous cast of fellows now find themselves in a foreign land, loosely based on China, still on the search for a way to remove the magical book from the body of little Theo. Julia, in particular, is devoted to this mission in an effort to make up for her past disastrous choices with regards to Theo. But as she works towards this cause, she begins to discover more aspects of her unique vanishing ability and with these discoveries come unwelcome questions about her own history and identity.

First off, it is absolutely necessary to read the first book in this series before getting to this one. Even the several months break I had between the two lead to a longer than usual re-familiarizing period of time when I started this one. Several of the points that make this book and series so good (a large cast of characters, unique worlds, complicated histories) also make it very challenging to jump into with out refreshing oneself on the events of the past book. Beyond our cast of familiar characters, we’re also dropped into the middle of a new portion of this world with its own politics with regards to witches, its own powerful individual with whom Julia and co. must work, and new settings. After I finally felt like I had caught myself up, I greatly enjoyed this change in scenery. (It’s also noteworthy that for all of these challenges with complicated names/histories/etc., I greatly appreciated the author’s choice to trust her audience to catch up with things on their own. There were no info-dumps or clunky prologues to help with this process, but instead readers are left to put the pieces together on their own, which, with some patience, is perfectly doable.)

One of my criticisms of the first book was the fact that it felt like it had two dueling stories competing against each other, both detracting from the other. This problem has been completely handled in this book. The plotting felt much more streamlined and there was an appreciated increase in the action of the story. The book is driven by the mission to save Theo and this action is balanced by the character growth and inspection that comes through the ongoing mystery into Julia’s past and her abilities. Rather than having two plot pieces tangling together, this balance of plot and character development feel much more natural and give this book a stronger sense of natural flow.

Julia’s development is probably one of my favorite parts of this story. Her increased confidence and clever use of her vanishing powers could have opened a door for her character to lose value due to being “over powered.” But instead, the author finds ways to not only bring large questions into her magical abilities and history, but also focus in on the very human struggles that Julia is still managing. Her feelings of self-hatred with regards to her past choice to give up Theo to the enemy. Her relationship with a brother and her realization that he has lived a restricted life in an effort to support her. The ongoing fallout from her broken heart in the last book, and her realization that there are more fish in the sea.

What makes this last point stand out so well is the way the author introduces other fishes without setting any of them up as a “soul mate” or “one true love.” I loved the “Alanna” series by Tamora Pierce growing up. And I think one part that I liked then and have grown to appreciate more and more as I get older was the way that Pierce exposed Alanna to different romantic interests throughout the series until, in the end, she finally is able to recognize what is important in a partner and what she specifically needs. All to often in YA fiction, romantic interests are introduced who are A.) the protagonists first love of any kind and B.) perfect for them in every way, no questions asked. This never sits well, and I commend the author of this book for exploring a more honest take on the trials and tribulations of young love. Your first love may not be perfect for you. What’s more, your SECOND love also may not be perfect for you. But you learn things from them all. I had a hard time thinking of a similar current series that has tackled this subject as well as this book has, especially given how small a role the romantic aspects play in either book, all told.

I really enjoyed this book, even more than the first. My quibbles about the plotting where deftly handled, and this one was a quick read full of intense action sequences, strong characterization for a large cast, and solid character growth and exploration for Julia herself. Of course, as I’ve said, you have to read the first book first. But if you enjoyed that one at all, I definitely recommend this book as I think it’s even better!

Rating 8: With a realistic portrayal of the challenges of young love and an increased amount of action, “Julia Defiant” is an even better novel than the first!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Julia Defiant” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy Books about Thieves.”

Find “Julia Defiant” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories”

35939533Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” by Marguerite Bennett, Aneke (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The ultra-popular statues from DC Collectibles come to life in their own ongoing hit comic book series, now in its sixth and final installment!

The Bombshells face their final battle as a supernatural Nazi invasion begins! On top of that, Hugo Strange unleashes his failed lab experiments on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s circus and Lois Lane has her chance to avenge her family on the villain — will she take the shot? Amid the chaos, discover Lex Luthor’s true colors as he reveals which side he’s really on, and what that means for the future of the Bombshells!

The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 6. Collects DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS #25 and #30-33.

Review: I didn’t realize it when I reviewed our previous “DC Bombshells” Collection that “War Stories” was the last in the first large series within this alternate historical universe starring the awesome ladies of DC. I also didn’t realize that the second series, “DC Bombshells: United” was cancelled about a year into it’s run. Trust me, if I had known these things when we last visited this series, I would have gone on a long rant. In fact I’m pretty sure that I will be ranting before this review is through. But for now I’m going to try and focus on the big finale and pretty solid wrap up that was “DC Bombshells: War Stories”. Let’s see how long it takes me before I start going off. I’ll try to keep my cool.

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Don’t mind me, I’m totally calm. (source)

When we left off, Ivy and Harley were in Russia helping civilians out, Raven had stowed away with them to try and find her father, Zatanna and Constantine were trying to find her, and Kara and Lois Lane had tracked down Hugo Strange and found that he’d used some of Kara’s DNA to make a clone of her, whom he called Power Girl. Also there was another captive they rescued, named Superman. And The Suicide Squad showed up, led by Batgirl and including Frankie, Killer Croc, Enchantress, and Ravager. So in this volume, all of these stories come to a head. Sadly, this means that Wonder Woman, Batwoman, The Batgirls, and Mera are all absent from this final volume in this large arc/first series, and to me that didn’t sit right. I know that all of them are going to have more to do in “DC Bombshells United” as the focus turns to the home front and the ills the American Government commits against it’s own citizenry, but this was a significant end and shift, and I think they should have shown up in some capacity. But the stories here as they are are all pretty satisfactory in spite of this glaring absences. I especially enjoyed the Suicide Squad mission, which took our team into a German Sub in hopes of finding Luc, Batgirl’s long lost paramour. I liked this storyline  because while it continued the themes of Nazi occultism and mystic plotting, we got to see Edward Nygma and a few Lovecraftian-esque threats. Plus, this Suicide Squad is pretty excellent, all of them with a 1940s flair, which means that in my mind Killer Croc has a Mid-Atlantic accent and that just tickles me. Along with this already bonus storyline we get another one involving some of the Batgirl of Burnside characters, mainly Frankie, Qadir, and Nadimah dabbling in some magical mischief. It was a one off and didn’t really add much to the overall plot, but it was still enjoyable and fun to see more characters appear in this alternate timeline.

The climax of this series, however, comes with the Battle of Leningrad, as the Bombshells have to come together to not only fight Hugo Strange, Killer Frost, and the Nazis, but to try and save Leningrad and the people there. I liked seeing all of the ladies come together in one place, and I felt like they all got some decent moments to shine within this final battle. That said, it wouldn’t be a pivotal battle of a series if there wasn’t some sadness and sacrifice, and while it never reaches levels of Stargirl loss here, there are definitely repercussions and moments of sadness for some of our characters, which all were executed with deft emotion and feeling. What I love about this series is that it shows that sadness and pain are not weaknesses in our characters,, and it’s refreshing to see that some characters do get lost in their emotions, both in good ways and in bad ways. But even when it’s in bad ways you never get the sense that these emotions are bad to have, just that they need to be used in less destructive ways. Its a theme we see a lot in these stories and it makes me wonder if a comic that was starring the males of DC would be so bold as to take that stance. I think I know the answer to that, sadly.

And finally, there is a whole new threat that comes from the Russian side and brings more storyline to Kara and her origins: Faora Hu-El from Krypton has arrived once more (seen previously WAAAAAY back when Supergirl and Stargirl were being used as Russian Propaganda), and boy has she brought some serious baggage to our finale. And since I want to discuss it here, this is our SPOILER ALERT moment that almost always pops up in this series. One of the things that “DC Bombshells” has done is made this universe and it’s characters and storylines very female centric, and that has altered some backstories here and there. The biggest alterations to date are pretty Kryptonian centric. Not only is Superman a clone of unknown origins created in Strange’s lab (as far as well know at this juncture), Kara’s own origin story is shaken up with the arrival of Faora, who tells her that she is a perfect being created by Faora, Alura, and Lara. It’s pretty neat and ballsy to reveal within this final battle that Supergirl, the last true Kryptonian (given Superman’s new origin) and most powerful being in the story,  is the product of three women and Kryptonian science. I have this image of ‘well actually’ toxic nerdboys pitching a HUGE fit about this. But that’s what “DC Bombshells” has always been about: it’s about women at the forefront, women supporting and loving and fighting women, and women as the main components of a story, with guys playing the traditional roles that women have played in comics for years. Frankly, it’s genius.

Which is ALL THE MORE REASON THAT IT SUCKS THAT DC HAS PULLED THE PLUG. Representation in comics is so important because representation in all types of media is important. With women being in the lead, women of all races, religions, and sexual orientations, “DC Bombshells” has been one of the best comic series DC has when it comes to representation (especially since apparently “Batwoman” is ALSO getting axed! Sure, I wasn’t a fan, but BATWOMAN IS IMPORTANT)! DC is still going to toss a whole lot of bank into it’s middling AT BEST movies (“Woman Woman” not included, and holy SHIT is THAT ironic given the context of this rant) and keep rebooting Batman and Superman over and over AND bastardize Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” universe for funsies, but it can’t throw a bone to a series where women are at the forefront and aren’t sexualized and objectified through a male-only gaze? IT’S UNACCEPTABLE!!!!

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Hey, I lasted awhile before I full on lost it, right? (source)

Well, regardless, this first arc of “DC Bombshells” comes to a solid close in “War Stories”, and while I know that “Bombshells United” isn’t as long, I’m going to really, REALLY savor it as I make my way through. These DC women continue to create a better world filled with compassion and justice, and I know that even though it’s ending that won’t change the importance of this series as a whole.

Oh, and is Black Canary going to show up in this next series? Asking for a friend.

Rating 8: A solid and mostly satisfying end to the first major arc of the “Bombshells” comics, “DC Bombshells: War Stories” is a wrap up with most of the characters we love, though a few notables were missing and it was very noticeable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2018 Lesbian Releases”, and it would fit in on “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Buried Heart”

29750595Book: “Buried Heart” by Kate Elliott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July 2017

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

Book Description: In this third book in the epic Court of Fives series, Jessamy is the crux of a revolution forged by the Commoner class hoping to overthrow their longtime Patron overlords. But enemies from foreign lands have attacked the kingdom, and Jes must find a way to unite the Commoners and Patrons to defend their home and all the people she loves. Will her status as a prominent champion athlete be enough to bring together those who have despised one another since long before her birth? Will she be able to keep her family out of the clutches of the evil Lord Gargaron? And will her relationship with Prince Kalliarkos remain strong when they find themselves on opposite sides of a war?

Previously reviewed: “Court of Fives” & “Poisoned Blade”

Review: This review is a long time in coming given how much I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy since we’re coming up fast on a years since it’s been out! But I will blame my audiobook library queue. I had this one almost finished months ago, and then had to return it to the library and had to wait in line patiently to get it back. Yes, yes, I could have just read a physical copy or done any number of things to get it sooner. But my dedication to one format and the library knows no bounds! Even if that leads me to nonsensical places like writing a review months later and then dedicating an entire paragraph to these very trials and tribulations. Anyways, on to the review!

Things are coming to a head in the fight for the future of Jes’s homeland. And not only are her parents on opposing sides of this battle, but her beloved Prince Kal is finding himself more and more likely to be called upon as a leader in these trying times. While Jes’s prowess as an athlete and the star-power she has won for herself there has gotten her this far, what role will she play as events greater than she ever imagined begin to unfurl?

The story picks up immediately following the events of “Poisoned Blade.” I always like books that could be read as one, continuous story, but coming after a long break between reads, it did prove a bit challenging for me to fall back into this world. There is just so much here! After two books already, Elliott has set up not only a complex and believable world, but one that is peopled and driven by two different cultures with very different outlooks on life, and, importantly, history. That’s not to mention the ever growing cast of characters, all of whom have been slowly revealed to have their own motives in the ongoing conflict. Once I caught myself up again, all of these details fell neatly into place and this same complexity reestablished itself as firmly a plus for the series.

Especially the history aspect of the book. Throughout the series, Elliott has done a thorough deep-dive into what it really looks like to have a history that has only been told by the winners. Through all three books we have begun to see just how thoroughly retold and rewashed events of the past have been, and how now, in the third book, people are trying to reclaim these lost bits of history. This also was carefully crafted and presented. There are no easy pathways and correct decisions that can be made to right the wrongs of the past. And Elliott explores how the choices made in the present will continue to play into this narrative as the future of these two peoples continues to unfold.

Jes, as always, is a great character through whom to view this conflict. As a girl from both worlds, we are given front row seats to her own harsh realizations about what actual change would entail. Throughout the first two books and a large portion of this one, Jes’s outlook on the future has been, frankly, pretty naive. Here she is forced to truly confront her own ignorance of the political powers at play and the limitations that exist for even rulers themselves.

The action takes a swing away from the excitement of the court of fives games that has made up much of the other books. With stakes as high as these, there simply isn’t room for these type of trials as often. However, even with that being the case, I was impressed by how neatly Elliott was able to tie this aspect of the story into the greater conflict as a hole. Don’t get me wrong, Jes’s skill as a competitor is still important and relevant to this book, and the few races we saw all had incredibly high stakes and were just as thrilling as always.

However, the real action came back to the conflict itself. We saw more battles, more personal struggles in Jes’s ongoing conflict with Lord Gargaron, and a epic resolution to the entire chain of events that was both heartbreaking and incredibly satisfying. Elliott doesn’t back away from the ugliness that would take place in an overthrow of this kind, even with the most benevolent and wise of leaders at its head. Further, Jes and Kal’s romance does not get the “magic wand” treatment and they, too, much confront the challenges of any future they may have together.

I thoroughly enjoyed this final installment in the trilogy. I did knock it down one point from the previous two, simply because there were portions in the beginning and middle of the book where the pacing seemed off (events would move quickly, only to suddenly lag for several pages). This book had to fit a lot into one story and there were times where I felt like it had a few missteps simply due to the challenges of getting it all in there. But that said, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable read and very gratifying end to a solid fantasy trilogy.

Rating 8: An epic conclusion to a high stakes fantasy trilogy, full of action, heartbreak, and an introspection on what it means for a nation to rediscover its history and reclaim its future.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Buried Heart” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “The Games We Play” and “Best Books About Family Relationships.”

Find “Buried Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Little Monsters”

32320750Book: “Little Monsters” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Review: I did not grow up in a small town, but both of my parents did, and they have many stories from their childhoods about small town life and culture. Rumors and gossip were things that spread like wildfire, and get passed down from generation to generation and live longer than anyone imagines they would. I think of the story my Dad tells about a rumor that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the murderers from “In Cold Blood”, stopped in the town limits on their way to Mexico after they killed The Clutter Family. No can prove that they did, but to some people it’s absolute fact. I really enjoy stories that explore the power of rumor and urban legends, especially within small communities. Enter Kare Thomas and her novel “Little Monsters”. Thomas is making her way up alongside Stephanie Kuehn for must read YA thriller authors, as hot off the tail of “The Darkest Corners” she put out another stellar YA thriller and mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and needed to know more. I have her upcoming novel “The Cheerleaders” sitting on my Kindle thanks to NetGalley, and I can tell you that’s going to get priority on my reading list thanks to this awesome read about small town society, and interloper trying to fit in, and rumors and urban legends that take on lives of their own.

Thomas brings us to the town of Broken Falls, Wisconsin as our protagonist Kacey settles into her new life with her father and his family. Kacey is damaged and wary, a teenager whose mother had been toxic and abusive and whose behavior prompted social services to step in. Her transition to a new life from a life where she felt completely unwanted makes for an interesting and complex protagonist, and Thomas writes her pretty well and believably. I totally bought into why she would cling to Bailey and Jade, and also understand why she may not see some of their manipulations for what they are. So, too, is she believable when she makes poor decisions in the face of accusations that she has something to do with Bailey’s disappearance. I found myself feeling to Kacey as well as wanting to shake her whenever she was confronted by a suspicious authority or community member, but at the same time a teenager probably wouldn’t be making the best decisions without guidance from a busy father and loving, but stressed, stepmother. The town of Broken Falls itself, from the physical description to those who populate it, also felt well fleshed out and realistic in the reaction to Bailey’s disappearance. My folks have many a story about the mistrust of outsiders, and outsiders being looked at first when something awful happens because of the false idea that no one from the community could POSSIBLY do such a thing. Such ideas can be very damaging, and to see them play out with a teenage girl at the center kept me on the edge of my seat, especially since Kacey herself dabbles in unreliable protagonist tropes herself.

The mystery itself is told through two POVs: Kacey’s, and then through diary entries that Bailey left behind but are seemingly only seen by the reader. This allowed for a slow burn of a reveal to unravel at a good pace, and I loved seeing the facts come out one by one. I was definitely tantalized by the various clues that would be laid out, and they all come together so neatly and tautly that I was pretty blown away by it. Thomas did a great job of setting this all up, and the payoff was well worth it. I definitely didn’t solve this a moment before Thomas wanted me to, and as the results fell into place I was genuinely caught off guard and then totally satisfied by it. The mystery also does a good job of slowly revealing truths not only about Bailey,  but other people in the story, which make sense going back before they are revealed. And I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m going to leave the mystery at that.

The other component of this book that I REALLY enjoyed, even if it didn’t have as much obvious play, was the urban legend of The Red Woman. Broken Falls has a story about a man who murdered his family and burned down his house, but the body of his wife was never found. Now there is a legend about her ghost being seen on the property of the farm they shared, given the fact no one bought it and it has been left to rot. I LOVE a good urban legend, and Thomas does a really good job of creating a new, believable one that is INCREDIBLY creepy (images of and specters of bloody women running after dark, anyone?) and plays a very key, but subtle, role in the other themes of this book. I would read a book all about The Red Woman urban legend, if Thomas were so inclined to write it.

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‘Nuff said. (source)

So all in all, “Little Monsters” was a fast, fun, satisfying read. Kara Thomas is up there with the other greats of the YA Thriller genre, and I can’t wait to see what she brings us with “The Cheerleaders”, and any other works that she puts into the YA literary world.

Rating 8: A tight and tense thriller with a solid mystery and creepy characters, “Little Monsters” is another winner from YA Thriller superstar Kara Thomas!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Crime and Murder Mysteries”, and “First Draft Interviewee Books”.

Find “Little Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”

36373481Book: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, May 2018

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

Book Description: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book!

I was so excited when I opened up Ruth Ware’s previous book “The Lying Game”, as I had thought up until that point that I had found a new guaranteed-to-read author to keep in mind. I love having authors whose works I know I am going to like and therefore need to get my grubby mitts on ASAP. But when I was done with “The Lying Game” I was left with a slight dissatisfaction. It just hadn’t lived up to “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, nor “The Woman in Cabin 10” (which hadn’t lived up to  “In a Dark, Dark Wood” either, though it was still enjoyable). I hoped that my ennui with “The Lying Game” was a fluke, and picked up “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” with apprehension. This was going to make or break the guaranteed-to-read status of Ruth Ware.

In “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”, Ware exchanges the whodunnit murder storyline for a treasure trove of family secrets and scandal, which is a whole other kind of beast when it comes to mystery themes. While the slow decline of the aristocracy and family manor houses has made these stories less and less common, the Westaway Family at the center of the novel harkens back to a time of squabbles over inheritance and land ownership, which I quite enjoyed. I do love a good scandals of the upper class plotline, and Ware makes it feel believable even though the time of “Downton Abbey” has long past by the time we meet Hal and the family she is trying to infiltrate. Hal is the perfect protagonist for this kind of book, as she is a twentysomething who has recently found herself alone in the world and in monetary straits while she tries to run her deceased mother’s tarot card/psychic booth on a boardwalk carnival. While you know that her trying to masquerade as someone she isn’t is morally wrong, Hal is likable enough and sympathetic enough that you have to root for her. Unlike other train wreck protagonists that you see in the genre, Hal’s life is a mess, but she herself doesn’t seem like one, just a victim of circumstance and bad choices made during a time of vulnerability (in this case being the death of her mother). The various members of the Westaway Family are also well developed and understandable in their actions because of the fallout of their terrible mother’s death, and the sudden appearance of someone they believe is the daughter of their long lost sister. I loved seeing the conflict of a few of their members, the resentment of losing part of the inheritance mixed with the longing of connecting to their supposed niece. It makes Hal’s own inner turmoil about deceiving them that much more high stakes, because most of them are legitimately good, if not damaged, people.

The mystery itself was also pretty well done. This book didn’t have as many high stakes thrills as previous novels, but it was solid in it’s footing and the puzzles surrounding the family kept me reading. I was also left questioning many of the twists and turns that Ware threw out there, the clues being given in both Hal’s story and diary entries of someone who lived at the estate years in the past. While I kind of guessed the solution to part of the puzzle early on, there were definitely pieces that I didn’t get. Along with that, I did find myself questioning my guesses, so Ware did keep me on my toes until the final reveals. While there weren’t many moments of intense suspense, it was still what I would consider a page turner. It just wasn’t as focused on blood and gore as it was on intrigue and family scandals. I liked the diary entry angle, because it did give out clues at an even pace, and while it was truthful and reliable in its contents, it was written in a way that still could have been deceptive if you didn’t know what you were looking at. Ware was masterful in making it all come together in the end, which is a skill that not all authors can pull off.

I’m pleased that “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” has solidified Ruth Ware as a must read author for me. It went beyond what I normally expect from her, and shows that the comparisons to Agatha Christie are not just hyperbole. If you want a mystery by Ware that isn’t as intense, this is the book that you should pick up.

Rating 8: Ruth Ware returns to form with this strange and twisty mystery. It’s not as suspenseful as her past books, but it still keeps the reader invested and guessing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Death of Mrs. Westaway” is new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “The Page Turners of Summer 2018”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” at your library using WorldCat!