Kate’s Review: “The Night Before”

40867676Book: “The Night Before” by Wendy Walker

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: First dates can be murder. 

Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control. 

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date. 

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…

Review: This summer has come and gone, and while I didn’t have a trip where you could find me by the pool with a stack of books, there were a few books I did read that would have been the perfect pool reads. You know the kind, the ones that will suck you in and that you can’t put down. “The Night Before” was one such book. And while I read it in bed as opposed to pool side, all of the elements that I love were there. Wendy Walker has impressed me again.

“The Night Before” is told through two perspectives, the sisters Laura and Rosie. Laura is freshly out of an intense romantic relationship, and her rocky love life has started to take an emotional toll on her. Her arc is first person, and starts the night of the first date she’s had since her last relationship. She’s about to meet a man named Jonathan she met online. She’s nervous but excited to get back in it. The second narrative is Rosie’s which is third person and starts the morning after, when Laura hasn’t come home, and Rosie is worried. While this could be a pretty standard set up for a pretty standard thriller, Rosie’s fear, as it turns out, seems to be more about what Laura is capable of as opposed to the mystery man she was going on a date with. Therefore, our story is about not only finding out what happened to Laura, but if she is less the vulnerable victim and more a dangerous predator. The two perspectives slowly start to unravel Laura’s past, the reasons Rosie may be both worried and perhaps scared of her, and how Laura’s past relationships may influence her actions on the night she goes missing. Walker did a really good job of slowly revealing her cards, and while I had a lot of theories about what was going on, I usually found myself in the wrong, which was great! It goes to show that the mystery was strong and that Walker had complete control of what she wanted to reader to take away from it. I was so invested in finding out what happened that I found myself tearing through this book in a couple of sittings. The suspense builds at a satisfying pace, and by the end it has risen to a breaking point that makes the reader unable to put it down.

I liked Laura and Rosie enough as characters, thought I do wish that we got a little bit more interaction between them in the moment so we weren’t relying as much on telling as opposed to showing. I also felt like that while we got a really good sense of who Laura was as a person when all was said and done, Rosie was relegated to worried older sister, and I wanted more from her. I also felt like one of the big reveals was a little farfetched, or if not farfetched it felt like the weight of it didn’t carry in the way I think it should have. The hints at the set up were there, so that wasn’t a problem, but ultimately it was clear it was just there to aid a red herring as opposed to be a meaningful moment of plot and character development. All that said, the plot and mystery was so strong that I didn’t really mind.

“The Night Before” was a fast paced and fun read with a solid mystery and a lot of good twists. Pool side reading may be over, but if you want a book that you could get lost in, this would be a pick that I recommend!

Rating 8: A gripping and fast paced thriller that kept me guessing, “The Night Before” is a fun read with many twists and turns. While the characters could have been more developed, the plot and mystery made up for it and then some.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Before” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”, and “The Girl on the Train Readalikes”.

Find “The Night Before” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Harp of Kings”

43316755._sy475_Book: “The Harp of Kings” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Info: Ace, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . . 

Review: It’s always exciting to receive new books to read. But I have to say, this was the most excited I’ve ever been to receive an advanced copy of a book. Juliet Marillier has been a favorite author of mine for about 15 years and I’ve read every single one of her books and own 90% of them (really, that’s just a reminder that I need to get on top of things and complete collection!). Plus, it’s the first book in a series which always brings with it an extra dose of excitement. Per the usual, I was not let down and was once more caught up in Mariller’s world where fairytales take on new life.

As the children of Blackthorn and Grim, Liobhan and her brother have a multitude of skills. But primarily they each are skilled musicians. Now training to hopefully be recruited as famed Swan Island warriors, they didn’t suspect that this particular skill set would be called upon so early among a band of fighters who often prize secrecy, fighting abilities, and overall efficiency above all else. But now in hiding as court bards, they each begin to discover that no mission is as straight forward as it seems, and their parents’ habit of finding themselves ensnared in magical mysteries seems to be a family trait.

As I said, it’s always exciting to start a new series by a favorite author. Over the years, I know that I can count on Marillier always delivering on a few key points: strong, intriguing main characters, a perfect blend of the fantastical and the historic, and a gorgeous writing that will make you feel as if you, too, are walking through lush woods filled with bird song and mysterious shadows. Here, all of those things were again on point.

As with her “Blackthorn & Grim” trilogy, this book is divided between multiple POVs. We have Liobhan, the headstrong, capable warrior who has more than a hint of her mother’s fiery disposition. Her brother, Brocc, who is the more talented musician between the two and sees a story in all that is around him. And Dau, a fellow trainee, who is determined to be accepted as a Swan Island warrior no matter what, knowing he can never return home.

I enjoyed all three narrators, though I definitely found myself more drawn to Liobhan and Dau. To some extent that is to be expected as each has significantly more chapters and page time than Brocc. And it is definitely Liobhan around whom most of the story and action hinge. I loved seeing elements of Blackthorn’s character in her. And her strong connection to her brother and tenuous, burgeoning friendship with Dau were both excellent. Dau, himself, was also intriguing as his story slowly unfolds and we begin to understand more about his past and what drives him now.

For me, Brocc was the weakest of the three. The way the story unfolds, his chapters are crucial to understanding all of the mystery involved. But I also wonder if there was another way to go about it as the way it stands now, especially towards the end where he essentially disappears from the story for a good chunk and when we return we learn that some rather significant events occurred that we the readers didn’t even get to see. It makes his chapters feel a bit superfluous, as if they’re there to serve the needs of the story, but don’t fully justify Brocc’s needing his own POV based on the character himself. It’s a strange thing to find in a Marillier book. But it was more of a minor mental question mark than a problem for my reading.

Marillier’s real strengths with characters often comes in the ways she writes the relationships between them, the friendships, the family bonds, and the romances. This one definitely focuses on the first two. Brocc and Liobhan’s bond as siblings was lovely and I very much enjoyed the growing friendship that formed between Liobhan and Dau, two characters that started the story very much at odds. I think there’s some strong potential for a developing romance here, and I’m excited to see where it goes. However, there was another romance in the story, and that one I had a bit more trouble with. It was fine, all things considered. But it also felt rushed and much of the connection that is formed happens off page and the reader is only informed of it after the fact. Again, odd to find in a Marillier book. I’m curious to know whether this was a one-off thing or whether we will see more of this relationship in the future.

I very much enjoyed the mystery itself. I was able to put many of the pieces together myself, but the way they played out was still quite enjoyable to read. The “villain” of the piece was quite good and there were some choices made towards the end in this regard that really did surprise me. I also enjoyed all of the Easter eggs to be found in this story. All of this talk about MCU and DCEU, etc. etc., it’s like Marillier has been slowly creating her own “Marillier-universe” and for longtime readers, there’s a lot of good stuff to be gleaned in this one. But it can also just as easily be read by first-timers as well with very little being missed.

I’m so excited for this series (have I mentioned that yet?) and think that this is a solid opener to further adventures. There were a few odd points with Brocc’s reduced number of chapters as compared to the other two and a romance that felt a bit rushed and weirdly off page. Perhaps the natural growing pains of settling in to a new story with new character. But other than these few quibbles, I was still captivated by this story. I enjoyed the mystery at the heart of the story and while much of it is resolved, there are still plenty of question marks left open for further exploration. And Liobhan and Dau, in particular, are both set up to be excellent protagonists. Fans of Marillier’s work should definitely check this out and fantasy fans in general will likely enjoy this book, particularly if you’re drawn to fairytales and the like.

We’re also currently hosting a giveaway for an ARC of this book! Don’t forget to enter here!

Rating 8: Marillier delivers once again with a book where readers will feel like they, too, are lost among the trees and ready to find magic around every corner.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Harp of Kings” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books with Musical Instruments in the Title.”

Find “The Harp of Kings” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me”

29981020._sx318_Book: “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell.

Publishing Info: First Second Books, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley’s dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There’s just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.

Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it’s really Laura Dean that’s the problem. Maybe it’s Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever. Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.

Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell bring to life a sweet and spirited tale of young love that asks us to consider what happens when we ditch the toxic relationships we crave to embrace the healthy ones we need.

Review: Teenage love is rough. True, I married my high school sweetheart and we haven’t really had any rough patches, then or now, but hey, I had my fair share of awkward pining and heartbreak before all that. While romance isn’t really a go to genre for me, when I do read it I like seeing how the love story aspects of a book portray romance and relationships, especially when a book is Young Adult. This brings me to “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, a YA graphic novel about the tumultuousness of a teenage romance. I’ve always found Tamaki to be honest and realistic when it comes to her books, and therefore I was very interested in seeing what she was going to do with the story of Freddy and Laura, two teenage girls who keep falling in and out of a relationship.

Like her other stories, Tamaki really knows how to capture realistic and relatable teenage voices. Just about every character in “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” feels like a real teenager, both in how they act in situations and how they don’t always understand how their actions affect other people. Freddy is our protagonist, the lovelorn girlfriend of the fickle and manipulative Laura. When we meet her Freddy has had her heart broken by Laura once again, and is seeking advice from an online advice columnist. Freddy is absolutely being taken advantage of, but at the same time she is so caught up in her own miserable love life she isn’t able to see what is going on with her other, more loyal friends. She is both someone you can’t help but root for, as well as someone you want to shake for being so self absorbed. As a character she’s very well conceived, and her flaws and moments of unlikability make her an even stronger protagonist than I was expecting. Her relationship with Laura is toxic at its heart, as Laura’s interest is only in Freddy when it’s convenient to herself, and because of this you both feel pity for Freddy, as well as frustration. But that was one of the stand out themes of this book, in that toxic relationships, be it between teens or adults, romantic or platonic, don’t only affect those in said relationships, and how we can blind ourselves to the people we become while inside of them. But even if Freddy makes mistakes and can be hard to like at times, she doesn’t compare to Laura, who is just the worst. We don’t really get to see THAT much of Laura when all is said and done, as she flits in and out of Freddy’s life in fickle and self absorbed ways, but you definitely know the kind of person she is even in these moments. Tamaki is great at portraying how cruel and mean Laura is without going into heavy handed monologues or speeches, as well as how the toll it takes on Freddy ripples across her other relationships. It’s a great example of showing and not telling, something that is sometimes lost in books written for teens.

I also really liked that this book is very sapphic and LGBTQIA+ in it’s themes. Many of the characters, from Freddy and Laura to their friends groups, are LGBTQIA+, and the normalcy of it all is very evident from the get go. While sometimes these themes did fall more into a telling vs showing trap (a couple of kind of shoe horned in bits of dialogue that didn’t quite fit popped up here and there), I really liked that all of these characters were true to themselves and the majority of the conflict had nothing to do with their identities. Along with this, I liked that this exact normalcy made it so that Laura Dean could be a genuinely terrible person, and that it would be next to impossible to say that she is that way because of her sexual orientation, a them that is sometimes still seen in fiction stories, regrettably. This book also tackles other, harder issues that YA books aren’t always comfortable tackling in empathetic ways. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that there is a side storyline involving abortion that did a really good job of not stigmatizing the procedure or the choice of having one. 

Finally, I really really loved the artwork in this book. It has a muted and subtle quality to it, with some manga-esque traits that still felt unique to the artist, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. I also liked that while it’s mostly in black and white, there are little splashes of a soft pink throughout the story. It really made the images pop.

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(source)

“Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” is a bittersweet and hopeful look at the ups and downs of teenage relationships. If you haven’t checked out anything by Mariko Tamaki yet, I would say that this would be a good place to start.

Rating 8: A bittersweet story about the ups and downs of teenage romance, “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” hits you in the feels when it comes to love and toxic relationships.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lesbian Teen Fiction”, and “Sapphic Graphic”.

Find “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Loki: Where Mischief Lies”

37076222._sx318_Book: “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” by Mackenzi Lee

Publishing Info: Marvel Press, September 2019

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

Book Description: Before the days of going toe-to-toe with the Avengers, a younger Loki is desperate to prove himself heroic and capable, while it seems everyone around him suspects him of inevitable villainy and depravity . . . except for Amora. Asgard’s resident sorceress-in-training feels like a kindred spirit-someone who values magic and knowledge, who might even see the best in him.

But when Loki and Amora cause the destruction of one of Asgard’s most prized possessions, Amora is banished to Earth, where her powers will slowly and excruciatingly fade to nothing. Without the only person who ever looked at his magic as a gift instead of a threat, Loki slips further into anguish and the shadow of his universally adored brother, Thor.

When Asgardian magic is detected in relation to a string of mysterious murders on Earth, Odin sends Loki to investigate. As he descends upon nineteenth-century London, Loki embarks on a journey that leads him to more than just a murder suspect, putting him on a path to discover the source of his power-and who he’s meant to be.

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

Long time readers of this blog might remember that, unlike Serena, I am rather prickly when it comes to the DC and Marvel rivalry. I don’t really go out of my way to read many Marvel things, and when it comes to the MCU I’ve only seen a handful of the films. But the movies within the canon that I have seen multiple times and in a complete arc are the ones that center around Thor. And it probably surprises no one that the biggest factor of this is Loki, the sometimes villain, sometimes anti-hero brother of Thor who is at turns a pain in the neck and other turns a somewhat valuable ally. Because of this, when I saw that Loki was getting his own YA novel that gave him his own adventure and some backstory, I was mildly intrigued. But when I saw that it was being written by Mackenzi Lee, the author of the lighthearted and romantic romp “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”?

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Sign me up post haste! (source)

Lee has always had a real talent for giving voice to snarky, bitchy, and flawed yet likable protagonists, so it’s really no surprise that her version of Loki was spot on. She does a very good job of balancing the complexities of his personality, both the megalomaniac side, and the side that has been emotionally warped by his family life and the ways that his father and brother have failed him. You see him wanting to bring pride and joy to Odin and Thor, but ultimately falling into the easier patterns of being out for himself, in part due to his only friend Amora. Amora is a mysterious character who is the court sorceress’s student, and her magic entices Loki since he, too, is magical. You get the sense that Amora isn’t a great influence on him, but you also completely understand why he would be drawn to her, given that Odin has tried to suppress his magical powers. But while you can definitely understand why Loki lashes out and behaves in the ways that he does, Lee is also very careful not to go to the ‘poor misunderstood baby’ interpretation. Loki’s choices are his own, and while she lets you see why he’d do it, she never lets him off the hook. If anything it makes him all the more tragic, especially when you see him interacting with his family, particularly Thor and their mother Frigga. Given that the reason I can’t totally write of “Thor: The Dark World” is the heartbreaking themes and Frigga and Loki’s relationship, any scenes with these two had me almost in tears. Lee really know how to get to the meat of Loki’s motivations, and that was great to see.

The overall plot was also a delight and a half. While we do spend a large amount of time in Asgard (as well as other realms), a big chunk of the story is spent on Earth in Victorian London. Odin sends Loki to work with a mortal secret society that has found evidence of Asgardian magic being used for bad purposes, and to have the spoiled and vain Loki have to interact with Victorian era humans is QUITE amusing. The secret group, SHARP, consists of a number of societal misfits, much like Loki himself is, and I felt like Lee gave solid backstories to all of them. My favorite of this group was Theo, the earnest and loyal investigator who has to hide his sexuality from the world. Theo acts as a moral compass to Loki, but in ways that don’t come off as condescending or self serving, which tends to be the problem with Thor back in Asgard. This is in contrast to Loki’s other foil, Amora, who tries to pull him more towards his more self serving side, and the two relationships make for high tension and conflicting feelings in Loki. Related to this is that Lee has made Loki the genderfluid and pansexual character that has been long heralded in the fandom, and it really, really works within this narrative. Sweet, sweet romantic agony as you feel like Loki wants to be good enough for Theo, but feels he can only meet Amora’s standards.

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All the tears. (source)

Overall, “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” was a super fun interpretation of a beloved Marvel fan favorite. Mackenzi Lee is writing a couple more backstory novels for other Marvel characters, and even if they aren’t my own personal favorites, I may have to give them a go.

Rating 8: A fun backstory for Loki from one of the most fun YA authors of today, “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” gives the morally ambiguous quasi-villain some time to shine and be the (anti)hero of his own story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Loki: Where Mischief Lies” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Trickster”, and “YA/Middle Grade Comic Book Superhero Novels”.

Find “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Eyes of the Dragon”

848162Book: “The Eyes of the Dragon” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Signet Books, February 1987

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Delain, King Roland is murdered and his son and heir, Peter, is framed for the crime. Peter and his loyal friends must battle an evil wizard and Peter’s usurper brother, Thomas, for the throne. Imprisoned in a tower, Peter conceives an escape plan that will take him years to execute before taking on Flagg, the powerful sorcerer who has masterminded this coup.

Review: I’m sure that this has been brought up before, but one of my favorite literary characters of all time is Stephen King’s Randall Flagg, the villainous but charismatic demon from multiple works in the Stephen King Universe. It probably goes Gandalf, Anne Shirley, and then Flagg (and what a group that is!). But for loving Flagg so much, I hadn’t read many books that have his presence outside of “The Stand”. “The Dark Tower” series is an endeavor I plan to take on eventually, but given its vastness the commitment is terrifying. So after needing a SERIOUS palate cleanser post “Game of Thrones” and all the bad storytelling havoc it wrought, I wanted a fantasy novel to make me feel better. Even though fantasy isn’t really my cup of tea outside of a few exceptions, I felt that King could potentially give me the fantasy story I needed, so I picked up “The Eyes of the Dragon”. And who is the villain within the story? A magician named FLAGG!!! 

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This look was so dated but whatever, he was still scary. (source)

I think I knew that he was in this book on some level, but in the moment it was a pleasant surprise. So I dove into the audiobook of “The Eyes of the Dragon”, and was not let down by King and his fantasy storytelling.

“The Eyes of the Dragon” is admittedly pretty basic fantasy with a clear hero, a clear villain, and a cut and dry conflict that has high, deadly stakes. It takes place in the kingdom of Delain, a medieval-esque world with kings, lords, and peasants. King Roland is a mediocre but passable ruler, and his court magician Flagg is biding his time and hoping to seize power so that he can cause chaos throughout the realm (as is his prerogative in most everything he does). He therein poisons the king and frames the oldest and more noble son, Peter, for his murder, so that he can put Thomas, the younger and more malleable son, in a puppet rule. Peter then has to prove his innocence and get his throne back. Very basic fantasy tropes that are now well worn, so much so that a lot of modern fantasy, I’d bet, would never dare do something so simplistic. But it’s the simplicity that I liked most while I was listening to “The Eyes of the Dragon” (more on that format choice in a bit). I can’t tell you if it was because I was gun shy after being so let down by “Game of Thrones”, or the fact that the fantasy stories I have enjoyed most in the past have been pretty cut and dry. Whatever it was, having a clear hero and a clear villain, especially a villain that I already love, was a literary comfort. The strength of this story really does come from its characters, which should be no surprise given that King is the one who created them. While none of them are particularly complex, they were still characters that I could easily root for, and against, and in some cases feel a deep, deep pity for. And while a lot of the fantasy themes and elements are things we’ve seen before (including a serious lack of female characters outside of the badass Naomi and her dog Friskie), I still feel like King implemented them in effective ways, from creating creative poisons, unique lore, and a kingdom whose culture, economy, and power structure felt well developed and fleshed out. This version of Flagg is also interesting in that he’s still malevolent, but he is lacking the charm that he oozed in “The Stand”. But that, too, still works because in “The Stand” his main goal is to recruit a number of modern day, Earthly psychopaths and degenerates, whereas in Delain he is the foreboding and all knowing court magician who has the ear of kings. It shows the chameleon-like personality shifts that he has throughout the various King works he appears in, and I REALLY liked that.

I also really want to focus on the narrator of the audiobook, who is none other than Bronson “Balki” Pinchot. While most of us probably think of Pinchot as a flamboyant character actor who plays over the top comedic characters (more often than not with odd European accents), he is phenomenal as our book narrator. He has differing voices for all of the characters, he isn’t afraid to emote in the ways that the characters are emoting, even if that means he’s legitimately screaming at the top of his lungs, and he provides the proper pacing and beats for every moment. I knew that he had dramatic acting chops from a few things I’d seen him in, but goddamn he knocks this story out of the park on every level.

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I don’t know what I expected, but you’re killing it, Pinchot, you’re KILLING IT! (source)

Overall, “The Eyes of the Dragon” was a comfort read of a fantasy novel that I needed in that moment. While I’m still a bit intimidated to take on “The Dark Tower”, it gives me an idea of how King approaches his fantasy stories. And I am always happy to see my man Flagg show up, no matter in what form it may be.

Rating 8: A satisfying and fun dive into fantasy, “The Eyes of the Dragon” is a different work from Stephen King, but one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Eyes of the Dragon” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Dark Tower: Connections”, and “Fantasy One-Shots”.

Find “The Eyes of the Dragon” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Kiss Number 8”

22612920Book: “Kiss Number 8” by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second Books, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Amanda can’t figure out what’s so exciting about kissing. It’s just a lot of teeth clanking, germ swapping, closing of eyes so you can’t see that godzilla-sized zit just inches from your own hormonal monstrosity. All of her seven kisses had been horrible in different ways, but nothing compared to the awfulness that followed Kiss Number Eight. An exploration of sexuality, family, and faith, Kiss Number Eight is a coming-of-age tale filled with humor and hope.

Review: It may seem like I’m doing a LOT of graphic novels lately, but in my defense I neglected this format a lot this summer. This occurred to me when I was requesting books for a teen graphic novel display, and one of the books I stumbled upon was “Kiss Number 8” by Colleen A.F. Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. After requesting it for work, I requested it for myself. I hadn’t looked too much into it when I requested it; I knew that it had LGBTQIA+ themes, and I knew that it was about a teen girl figuring out her sexuality. But what I didn’t expect was how emotional “Kiss Number 8” was going to be, and how hard it would be to read at times because of the themes.

And to note, I will have to address some vague spoilers in this review to fully discuss my opinions. I’ll do my best to keep it general.

“Kiss Number 8” takes place in 2004, a time that doesn’t seem to distant to me but is actually fifteen years ago. As I was reading this book, it served as a reminder of how many things have changed in terms of societies views on sexuality, and yet how far we still have to go. Amanda is written as a pretty typical teenage girl of this time and place, and up until this point she can count on a number of things: she has a fantastic relationship with her father, she has a tempestuous relationship with her mother, and her best friends Cat and Laura are always going to be there for her, even if they don’t particularly like each other. You get a great glimpse into Amanda’s life through snippets of scenes, and by the time the main plots start to kick in you already know who she is and what her reality is. Venable does a good job of showing rather than telling when it comes to how Amanda feels about those in her life, especially her growing infatuation with Cat, whose care free and somewhat selfish personality is apparent to everyone BUT Amanda. I also liked the slow unraveling and reveal of the other main plot line: a mysterious phone call to her father, and a mysterious letter that he tries to hide from her. Venable does a really good job of making the reader think it’s going to be one thing, but then piece by piece shows that it’s something completely different, something that connects to Amanda’s present emotional situation with Cat and goes even further back into how people have to hide their identities from others.

I also thought that Venable did a good job of portraying realistic, and at times very flawed, characters. As I mentioned earlier, Amanda is a pretty normal teenage girl, but along with that comes a cruel streak towards those who care about her, especially her mother and Laura. She makes bad decisions in moments of great emotion, and it ends up hurting people, who in turn react poorly and hurt her back. But you never get the sense that she is a bad person when she does these things, rather that she is in a great deal of pain and dealing with confusion about herself and a life she thought she had all sorted out. The fallout from these choices always felt real, and sometimes that meant that it was painful to read. But again, Amanda doesn’t ever come off as a bad person, just a person who is still learning. In fact, most of the characters are given a certain amount of grace when they screw up, and aren’t painted as being one dimensional or cardboard cut outs of tropes…. Even when they don’t necessarily deserve it. Because to me, with how some of the characters did end up reacting to Amanda’s identity, and the identities of others within the story, I didn’t want them to be given a pass, realistic or not. Not when they caused to much pain.

And that is a good segue into difficult moments that I had with “Kiss Number 8”, specifically with how a number of the characters were when it comes to LGBT issues. There is a LOT of homophobia and transphobia in this book, and while it’s all written within the context of the story, and doesn’t feel like it’s excused or glossed over, it could still be triggering for readers who are in those communities. While Amanda was a lived experience of learning about herself and her sexuality, I feel like the ball was dropped a bit more with the trans characters in the narrative. They were more used as lessons for Amanda to learn, and their voices and experiences were put in the context of a cis girl realizing that they too are human beings who deserve respect and dignity. That isn’t to say that I thought Venable was malicious in her portrayal, but it does show that we still have a ways to go when it comes to how trans characters are portrayed within the stories we read. That said, I am a cis straight woman, so if my assessment is off kilter to anyone please do let me know. I, too, am still learning.

I have nothing but good things to say about Crenshaw’s artwork. The characters are cartoony and fun, and their designs remind me of other popular teen graphic works like “Drama” and “This One Summer”, but the style is still unique and feels new and fresh. And even with the more ‘cartoony’ drawings, the emotional weight of the various situations still came through loud and clear.

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(source)

Uncomfortable and clunky aspects aside, I enjoyed “Kiss Number 8”. It’s an honest and emotional book that kept me reading, and reminded me that there is still so much progress to be made, even if we’ve come so far.

Rating 8: A bittersweet and emotional story about finding one’s identity, “Kiss Number 8” has complex characters and relevant themes. We’ve come so far with stories like this, but we still have a ways to go.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Kiss Number 8” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lesbian Teen Fiction”, and “Sapphic Graphic”.

Find “Kiss Number 8” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Storm Cursed”

9780425281291_StormCursed_FCO_mech.inddBook: “Storm Cursed” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.

And a coyote shapeshifter.

And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word.

We will die to keep it.

Previously Reviewed:“Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” and “Fire Touched” and“Silence Fallen”

Review: I had some trepidation going into this book. As a whole, the Mercy Thomson series has been on somewhat of a downward trend for me the last several books, so I was worried that would continue. On top of that, the last “Alpha and Omega” book introduced a new aspect to a beloved character who appears in both series, and one that influences Mercy’s own history more than anyone’s. And I had feelings about that. Not good ones. So I was worried how that might come into play here. And then, of course, my lovely Kate Daniels series just finished up, so now all of my urban fantasy hopes and dreams rest on this series. It was a lot. But I am pleased to report that what you have before you is a review where for once all of my worst fears were for naught and instead I found this book to be a happy return to what I always loved about this series in the first place!

Mercy and the Pack are busy protecting the territory that Mercy has claimed as theirs to protect. On top of that, she’s trying to re-open her car shop and help her husband, Adam, balance precarious negotiations between the powerful fae Grey Lords and the human political powers. These things barely in hand, Mercy is dismayed to find that a new group of witches have taken up residence in her neighborhood, bringing with them all the terrors and sorrows that accompany the dark magic they need for their powers. With tensions running high, this is just the challenge they don’t need. And on top of it all, Mercy and the others begin to wonder what role their own resident witch, the powerful Elizabeta plays in all of this.

The first thing that this book did right, in my estimation, is return to the original, single narrator format. I’ve always been here for Mercy and her story. And while the last few books have had a few interesting things to offer with the added POVs from Adam, overall, I’ve found these chapters to be at best distracting and at worst detracting from Mercy’s story overall. In the last book, for example, I came away from the story feeling that Adam’s portion could almost have been removed entirely with no other changes really needed. And as it was, those chapters just took away page time from Mercy herself.

So I was incredibly happy when I opened this book and realized that the entire thing would be from Mercy’s perspective alone. There’s not a lot of new things to say about her as a narrator, as we’re now so many books into the series. But the strengths that were there in the beginning were back again here: Mercy’s unique perspective on the supernatural world, her wit, and her practical approach to navigating challenges that are often far outside of her wheelhouse.

Overall, she was a bit more reactive to the events going on around her than proactive, but I think this is a natural change for her character, as the world she exists within has gotten so much bigger. With this expanding world has come an entire host of friends and allies to call upon, and I’m always glad when I see these individuals pulled in in creative ways. In particular, I enjoyed the return of Stephan, the vampire friend with whom Mercy now shares a complicated relationship that they are each still learning to navigate.

As for the story itself, I was pleased to find that no mention was made of the “reveal” that came up in the last “Alpha and Omega.” I’m hopeful that at the very least we can all go along pretending that that never happened, though I’d be happier still to find it categorically negated in some future book.

This book also felt much more dark than some of the previous entries. Witches and their black magic rely on inflicting pain and suffering on other creatures, so any book that features them as the primary antagonists is going to go to some pretty horrific places. For those animals lovers out there (among whom I count myself), definitely be prepared for some tears and cringe worthy scenes. At times it felt like a bit much. But on the other hand, I think I was also more invested in the downfall of the “big bads” in this book than in many of the previous ones due to the increased horror of their actions.

Accurate across all supernatural books/shows, it seems. 

I could have used a bit more Adam/Mercy time, and the book description with its focus on the negotiation between the fae and the humans is a bit misleading, as that feels like a more minor story line, ultimately. But overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, much more so than the last several in fact! It’s always great to see a long-running series prove that it still has something fresh and new to offer. This goes a long way towards reassuring my near panic about not having an urban fantasy series to look forward to any longer. Fans of the series should be pleased with this one!

Rating 8: Mercy Thomson and Briggs can still deliver!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Storm Cursed” is mostly on Goodreads book lists that have to do with new titles this year, so here’s one of those it is on: “2019 Paranormal.”

Find “Storm Cursed” at your library using WorldCat!