Kate’s Review: “American Heiress”

28007903Book: “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst” by Jeffrey Toobin

Publishing Info: Doubleday, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From New Yorker staff writer and bestselling author Jeffrey Toobin, the definitive account of the kidnapping and trial that defined an insane era in American history

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a senior in college and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a ragtag group of self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. The already sensational story took the first of many incredible twists on April 3, when the group released a tape of Patty saying she had joined the SLA and had adopted the nom de guerre “Tania.”

The weird turns of the tale are truly astonishing — the Hearst family trying to secure Patty’s release by feeding all the people of Oakland and San Francisco for free; the photographs capturing “Tania” wielding a machine gun during a bank robbery; a cast of characters including everyone from Bill Walton to the Black Panthers to Ronald Reagan to F. Lee Bailey; the largest police shoot-out in American history; the first breaking news event to be broadcast live on television stations across the country; Patty’s year on the lam, running from authorities; and her circuslike trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the phrase “Stockholm syndrome” entered the lexicon.

The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, American Heiress thrillingly recounts the craziness of the times (there were an average of 1500 terrorist bombings a year in the early 1970s). Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst; and recreates her melodramatic trial. American Heiress examines the life of a young woman who suffered an unimaginable trauma and then made the stunning decision to join her captors’ crusade. Or did she?

Review: I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, and my usual stomping grounds were also in upper middle class areas. One of those neighborhoods was one that I could bike to, to hit the local Barnes and Noble, get a Starbucks mocha, and maybe go see a movie. This neighborhood also happened to be the same neighborhood that Sara Jane Olson, aka Kathy Soliah of the Symbionese Liberation Army, was found in after decades on the lam. My parents, both former anti-war protestors and pinko liberals of the 1960s and 70s, were pretty stunned, and when they explained who Soliah and the SLA were, I was stunned too. It was around this time that I was first introduced to the story of Patty Hearst, the heiress to the Hearst Fortune who was kidnapped by the SLA, only to join up with them. Sure, Hearst has kind of entered the pop cultural zeitgeist after all these years, that famous ‘Tania Picture’ pretty recognizable to even those who don’t necessarily know the significance of it. Hell, I had this picture on my bedroom door in high school (in vague protest of local gun legislation, but I digress). But outside of knowing the very basics of the case, I knew very little about Patty Hearst outside of this photograph. So when “American Heiress” ended up at my library, I decided it was time to learn more.

Toobin, a writer for the New Yorker, tells a comprehensive and detailed story not only about Patty and her kidnapping, but the crimes that the SLA committed before, during, and after, the trials and scrutiny that Patty faced, and the social and political climate of the United States in the 1970s. Gone were the idealistic days of the 1960s, and the 1970s was a time of much anger and frustration, as well as uncertainty. Nixon had recently been exposed for his corruption with the Watergate Scandal, gas prices were astronomical, and tensions were high. The Symbionese Liberation Army fancied itself a revolutionary group, but was less akin to peaceful protest and discourse, and more interested in bombs and murder (including the assassination of school superintendent Marcus Foster). Toobin does a great job of profiling our main players in the SLA, and his profiles are expansive and in depth. He also does a very good job of profiling Patty and her life pre-kidnapping. She was a student at Berkeley, engaged to an older man, and already feeling a little bit unappreciated and approaching a stagnancy. His descriptions of all these factors, as well as explanations of various societal events and views, all mix together to bring the reader right into this setting. I could almost feel the tension in the air.

What I also liked was that Toobin was pretty good at presenting a lot of this neutrally and seemingly without a conclusion he wanted the reader to draw. That may be in part to the fact that Patty Hearst didn’t have anything to do with this book, and declined to work with him on it. Because of that, Toobin has to work with other sources. He still managed to present a well thought out analysis of many factors within this crime. One of the biggest turns of the crime was the fact that Patty ‘joined’ her captors and began to commit crimes with them, releasing propaganda images and films denouncing her former life. She was eventually tried and convicted, in spite of the defense’s arguments that she was suffering from Stolkholm Syndrome. Eventually she was pardoned by President Carter. Toobin has really set out just to tell the story as it was, and how the SLA could have influenced her choices to cooperate. While the SLA didn’t have the competence to actually systematically brainwash her, it was, in a way, their short sightedness in their plan that may have led to her cooperation. They kidnapped her with no plan, and were constantly threatening her life and waffling with what to do with her. Because of this, through a need to survive and adapt, it could be argued that Hearst decided that to save herself, be it consciously or not, she needed to become one of them. But not once does Toobin go so far as to suggest that there is no responsibility there. After all, he also points out that she was angry with her parents for how they seemingly handled her kidnapping, and felt that they had turned their back on her. And by the end, I don’t really know where I fall in the argument. I jumped between ‘If she wasn’t a Hearst, or a white woman, or rich, she would have been in prison for far longer than eighteen months’, and ‘this poor girl was a complete victim and was completely railroaded!’. I still don’t really know where I stand, but I appreciate that. It shows that Toobin knows that it’s almost too complex for any solid answers to come out of it, especially after all this time. Honestly, it’s a combination of all those things. She was certainly a victim. But many victims don’t get the luxury of being seen as one.

The book is a little dense, so I hard a slower time getting through it, but in it’s density we get a whole lot of really interesting facts. I had no idea that so many familiar names were involved in this case. This runs the gamut from perhaps obvious people, like Ronald Reagan who was the Governor of California of the time (who said some pretty wretched things about poor minorities in relation to this case, surprise surprise), to the less obvious like Desi Arnaz (who was a family friend of Patty’s parents and whisked them away on a vacation to help them take their mind off of things). While sometimes this book could get a little off track with these things, I found it all pretty engrossing.

I think that true crime fans would like this book, but so would history buffs, and possibly even people interested in psychology and sociology. Patty Hearst is still around, making public appearances here and there, be it at the Westminster Dog Show or on TV. I don’t think anyone can really know everything about her outside of her, and she isn’t going to address it anytime soon. Nor should she have to. That said, Jeffrey Toobin does a great job of postulating and assessing various factors in her kidnapping fairly and in an insightful way. “American Heiress” was a good read, and I’m happy I know more about the poor girl whose chilling photo was on my bedroom door.

Rating 8: An in depth and interesting book about a notorious crime that never goes for sensation or salaciousness, “American Heiress” looks at the Patty Hearst Kidnapping through many lenses.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Heiress” has not been out long, and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. It can be found on “Fresh Air 2016”, but I think it would also fit in on “California True Crime”.

Find “American Heiress” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “When We Go Missing”

33382556Book: “When We Go Missing” by Kristen Twardowski

Publishing Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, December 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: Once, Alex Gardinier was a successful physical therapist and a happy wife. Now she is trapped in a crumbling hospital room. Seven years ago Alex’s ex-husband, Nathan, was convicted of murdering five girls, and he has been rotting in prison ever since. Except the doctors say that Nathan isn’t in prison. In fact, they don’t believe that he is a criminal at all. According to them, Nathan is a devoted husband who visits her every week. But Alex can’t recall ever seeing him at the hospital, and the last time they met he was holding her hostage on a boat.

Maybe the doctors are right – maybe these memories of his crimes are her own personal delusions – but if they are wrong, then Nathan somehow escaped from prison. If they are wrong, he has trapped Alex in a psychiatric ward.

If they are wrong, he is hunting her sister.

Review: During my time studying psychology in my high school and college careers, there were a number of case studies that freaked me out. Be it because of ethical problems (The Milgram Experiment), animal cruelty (Harlow Monkey Experiment), or just flat out human terribleness (The Stanford Prison Experiment), many studies have told us a lot, but have ridiculous messed up connotations. But one that seems perfect for a horror story is the Rosenhan Experiment, where non-mentally ill people faked symptoms to get inside mental institutions… and then found it pretty near impossible to get out, even when they stopped reporting symptoms. So when “When We Go Missing” ended up in the blog email box, and seemed to touch on exactly that, I thought “Oh yes. This could work.” And on top of that, it was written by fellow book and literature blogger Kristen Twardowski! So of course I gotta give a shout out of solidarity to her!

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(source)

And there may be mild spoilers here, but I promise that I won’t give too much away, nor will I give away anything that I don’t think isn’t established pretty early on, and therefore fair game.

Though the description makes it sound like it’s going to be mostly from Alex’s point of view, “When We Go Missing” actually follows the experiences and points of view of a number of women, all of whom are connected to Alex in one way or another. All of them have their own unique perspectives and experiences, and I appreciated the pieces of the larger, overarching puzzle that they provided. I do think that the description may be a little misleading in some ways, as I feel that through these multiple perspectives we find out quite early that Alex is not necessarily crazy, and that Nathan has somehow gotten away with sticking her into a Portuguese mental institution after he escaped from prison. But this still works, because now the mystery is how did he do this, how is Alex going to escape when she has been diagnosed as insane, and is Nathan going to get away with it. I am far more interested in figuring this out as opposed to ‘is Alex an unreliable narrator?’, a trope that I am pretty much well and over at this point.

Besides Alex’s story, be it before her time in the asylum or during it, we get the stories of Carolyn, Sandra, and Lucia. Carolyn is Alex’s sister, a woman who has never felt comfortable or trusting around Nathan, but doesn’t know how to say so. I really appreciated how her character progressed, and I totally believed her choices when it came to her sister and her sister’s marriage. While some may wonder how Carolyn couldn’t tell Alex her reservations, I found it to be pretty realistic that she may not feel it her place, or that she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. I’m someone who isn’t terribly close to her sister, and while the girl has a great head on her shoulders and has yet to make a terrible decision in regards to her personal life, I wonder if I’d have the courage to say if she had. So that resonated with me. Another character, Sandra, is actually the character I was most intrigued by, and found to be the most tragic. Sandra’s daughter disappeared, and she is trying to make sense of what happened to her. This journey takes her to the realization that a lot of women, many whom society may not miss, have gone missing, and that they may be connected. Her story was the one that I most looked forward to in terms of plotting, as it was definitely the saddest and the one that made me feel the most of all of the threads. And finally there was Lucia, a nurse at the asylum that Alex was being held in. She was another very interesting device for the story, acting as detective for the reader as we followed the hospital storyline through her eyes as well as Alex’s. I liked seeing Lucia try to figure out if the woman being detained in room 203 is insane, or if there is a larger conspiracy going on around her, and just how high up it goes. Because really, while the Rosenhan Experiment was upsetting in how it exposed the ineptitude of psychiatric hospitals diagnostic practices, wouldn’t it have been so much worse if it had all been one big conspiracy to keep the ‘patients’ in? And THAT is the thing about this book that freaked me out the most.

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No drinking fountains in sight to throw through a window either. (source)

There was a fair amount of jumping around in this book, timeline wise, which was a little confusing at first. Once I got the hang out it, however, it went a lot smoother, and I didn’t feel as lost as when I started. I think that it’s just a matter of getting used to the pacing and the jumping, which took a little bit of patience from me, a girl with ADD and a need for instant gratification.

“When We Go Missing” was an entertaining read that kept me guessing in a number of ways up through the last pages. It definitely hits a number of original themes and plot points, and I think that it would appeal to those of us who want something fresh from our psychological thrillers.

And be sure to come back here on Monday, January 23rd! Because the author of this book, Kristen Twardowski, is publishing a guest post here about writing, inspiration, and the creative process!

Rating 8: An entertaining and suspenseful book with a lot of well fleshed out characters, “When We Go Missing” was a very unsettling and tense novel with twist, turns, and a solid mystery!

Reader’s Advisory:

“When We Go Missing” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Fancy a Debut Psychological Thriller Author?”, and “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”.

“When We Go Missing” is not available on WorldCat yet, but it can be found in paperback and ebook form at amazon.com.

Kate’s Review: “Moonshot (Vol.1): The Indigenous Comics Collection”

25823323Book: “Moonshot (Vol.1): The Indigenous Comics Collection” by Hope Nicholson (Editor)

Publishing Info: Alternate History Comics, 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Produced by AH Comics Inc. (Titan: An Alternate History, Delta, Hobson’s Gate, Jewish Comix Anthology) and edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes, Nelvana of the Northern Lights), MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling.

From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection that is sure to amaze, intrigue and entertain!

Review: I had another impulsive moment at work recently, where I went to our New Books Wall and took a look at what there was to offer. Since these books don’t go to the usual request list, sometimes you can get really lucky and find something that’s in demand or brand new. I was immediately taken in by the gorgeous cover on a new graphic novel collection. I mean, DAMN, look at the cover for “Moonshot (Vol.1)”! Is it not staggering and beautiful!?

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Absolutely blown away, no lie (source)

I gave it some time on the wall, because I had a big stack at home and wanted to give the patrons a chance to snatch it up. But after waiting awhile I just had to have it. And I am so glad that I was entranced by the cover, because “Moonshot” as a whole was an entrancing collection!

The first thing to know about “Moonshot” is that it is a collection of one shot stories that are written by people from Indigenous Nations across North America, as are the artists. The second thing to know is that it is a collection filled with stunning variety because of all of these differing perspectives. I wasn’t sure of what to expect from this collection, but whatever my expectations may have been they were blown out of the water by what I found. While there are a number of stories in this book, a few of them really stood out to me, so I will focus my attention on them. That isn’t to say that the others aren’t as good, however. These are the ones that left the biggest impression because of story or artwork.

“The Qallupiluk: Forgiven” by Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, and menton3 (Ill.).

This story is from the Arctic regions, and concerns themes of death and forgiveness. This was also the one story in the collection that had minimal artwork, as it was mostly text with a few large pieces that stood out for the most important parts of the story. I liked a couple of things about this story. The first was that it was creepy as all get out, as the Qallupiluk is a creature that hides beneath the ice and takes unsuspecting victims under the water and kill them. This story is about a Qallupiluk that takes on the form of one of it’s victims in hopes of stealing away a child, until a dog calls it out. I liked the personal journey that the Qallupiluk took, as odd as that sounds, and has to confront the concept of forgiveness. The art, as I said, was scattered, but the images that were there were absolutely breathtaking and visceral. As someone who loves creepy imagery, this one was a true treat.

“Siku” by Tony Romito, and Jeremy D. Mohler (Ill.)

Another story from the Arctic region, and another one that involves malevolent forces and scary imagery. This one is about a hunter who witnesses a conflict between two otherworldly beings, one of which is a demon. Boy do I love the demon stories. This book definitely was more set up like a comic, with panels, bubbles, the works. It felt like an old school horror comic, and like something that I would pick up at the comic book shop when looking for something twisted. And the end, WAHH, so unsettling. The art didn’t stand out as much in this one, but that didn’t matter because the story really kept me interested. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t go into much detail, but it kind of cut to the quick in that it definitely touched on one of my bigger freak out factors in horror.

“Coyote and the Pebbles” by Dayton Edmonds, and Micah Farritor (Ill.)

I’ve grown up hearing many iterations of the Coyote myth, as Coyote is a very prominent character in many Indigenous narratives and mythologies. This one sounded familiar, but Edwards really made it his own. I’ve always liked Coyote, be he a troublemaker or sympathetic, and in this story I really liked how he was portrayed as somewhere in the middle (but being me, I still felt for him). It concerns the nocturnal animals of the world hoping to see more at night when the sun is down, and thinking that they should draw portraits of themselves to light the way. And Coyote thinks that he is the best artist of them all. This story is a straight up ‘how this came to be’ myth, but I really liked it. This was also my favorite art style in the collection, with animals shifting between animal form and human form, but even in human form still evoking their animal identity. Farritor has a real skill for pulling animal characteristics from his drawings, be they animals or not.

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Coyote and Raven discuss his artistic prowess (source).

This story was lovely and melancholy, and I really, really enjoyed it.

“Moonshot (Vol.1)” is a collection that was so fun, and breathtaking in a lot of ways, and I seriously cannot wait for Volume 2 to come out (YES, there is going to be a Volume 2, isn’t that great?!). I think that it’s also a very important work, especially since Indigenous representation is one of the lowest in Children’s and YA Literature. I cannot recommend this book enough to comics enthusiasts, and I think that everyone should consider picking it up. If the cover alone doesn’t get you, the stories inside certainly will.

Rating 8: With gorgeous and varied artwork and sweeping stories, “Moonshot (Vol.1)” is an important collection with talented writers and artists at the helm.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Moonshot (Vol.1)” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels & Comics by the Aboriginal, Indigenous, and Native People’s of the World”,  and “Canadian Graphic Novels & Comic Books”.

Find “Moonshot (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Altamont”

28435534Book: “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin

Publishing Info: Dey Street Books, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In this breathtaking cultural history filled with exclusive, never-before-revealed details, celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s.

In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, has long been seen as the distorted twin of Woodstock—the day that shattered the Sixties’ promise of peace and love when a concertgoer was killed by a member of the Hells Angels, the notorious biker club acting as security. While most people know of the events from the film Gimme Shelter, the whole story has remained buried in varied accounts, rumor, and myth—until now.

Altamont explores rock’s darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued beyond that infamous December night. Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show—from the Stones’ hastily planned tour preceding the concert to the bad acid that swept through the audience to other deaths that also occurred that evening—to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. He also provides an in-depth look at the Grateful Dead’s role in the events leading to Altamont, examining the band’s behind-the-scenes presence in both arranging the show and hiring the Hells Angels as security.

The product of twenty years of exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with many key players, including medical staff, Hells Angels members, the stage crew, and the musicians who were there, and featuring sixteen pages of color photos, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock’s formative and most turbulent decade.

Review: I’m going to take on a new responsibility here, guys! I’ve decided that I’m going to start reviewing the occasional non-fiction book as well as the other genres that I’m tackling. I don’t read non-fiction as much as fiction, but I have been reading enough pretty good stuff that I want to share it with you guys! So I’m starting this off with “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin. I went through a phase in high school where I listened to a lot of rock and roll from the mid to late 1960s, and went so far as to try and dress up like a hippie when I went to school (though admittedly I probably was more akin to an anti-war protester, as my Mom was my inspiration and I went off old photos of her as my template). Hell, my first ever concert was CSNY in 9th grade (also because of my folks). I had heard of the Altamont Concert in passing by my parents and the cultural impression it left, but didn’t know much beyond the Hells Angels stabbing Meredith Hunter to death while the Rolling Stones played. But that’s where Selvin comes in. Because he taught me quite a bit.

What I liked about this book is that it didn’t just cover the concert: it covered events that influenced the decision to have the concert, and the days leading up to it. I had not realized that by the time Altamont rolled around, The Rolling Stones were practically broke. I’ve never lived in a world where The Stones weren’t legends, so to think that at one point they were having monetary problems was mind blowing. They were still kind of living off the image of being a tour that packed in teenage girls, even though they had started to experiment with harder and edgier sounds like ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. They hadn’t toured in awhile, and the tour that Altamont was part of was going to be a quick effort to make some cash. I also hadn’t realized that Altamont was basically thrown together in a short period of time, and moved locations in even shorter time. The information that was provided in this book really opened my eyes to how the poor planning happened, and why everything was so haphazard.

Selvin also did a lot of good research about the people who attended this concert, from Meredith Hunter (the victim of the stabbing), to his girlfriend, to other people in the audience who were injured or killed during or right after Altamont. Everyone hears about Hunter’s death, but I had no idea that some drugged out people jumped into ravines, off bridges, and had terrible car accidents. Not only that, a member of Jefferson Airplane was knocked out by an Angel, and poor Stephen Stills was repeatedly gouged with a bike spoke by another one WHILE HE WAS ON STAGE SINGING.  It all seems like such a contrast to Woodstock, which has gone down in legend as a peace, love, rock and roll fest…when in reality, it sounds like it really just got lucky that it didn’t have the same awful stuff that Altamont had. Though admittedly, the Hells Angels played a part in that. But even the Angels Selvin really looked into. While it would certainly be easy to chalk it all up to these guys being violent thugs (and hey, they were), he also makes sure to point out that they too got pretty screwed over in a way here. They were not prepared to work security for such a huge show, and their own biker culture was in direct conflict with the druggie hippie culture, with neither side trying to understand the other (I too would be pissed if I had a motorcycle that a bunch of drugged out kids kept touching and knocking over).

My one qualm that I had with this book is that Selvin, while trying to ease blame off of the usual suspects and showing it as a perfect storm of nonsense, kind of throws the Stones under the bus a little bit. Do I think that the Stones were idiots to agree to this entire thing given how shoddily planned it was? Totally. Do I think that Jagger was disingenuous in his dealings with the press when asked about pricing for their tickets? Yes indeed. But Jagger was twenty six. Richards was twenty five. Grown men, yes, but young, and they had been surrounded by yes men for a few years whose jobs were to shield them from this stuff. It’s not fair to humanize the Hells Angels, who were stabbing, beating, and roughing up concertgoers, and then imply that the Stones were to blame for all the violence. I call bullshit on that. And I also wonder how witnessing this traumatic event, liability in question or not, affected the members of the band. After all, shortly thereafter at least Richards starting doing heavier drugs than he usually experimented with. It may not be connected but it did raise some questions.

Overall, this was an engrossing book that intrigued and disturbed me. I appreciated learning more about this notorious rock concert, and looking into how things can, and will, go wrong, to the point where there’s no turning back.

Rating 8: A very well researched book about a shitshow of a rock concert that has become notorious. Selvin gave more info than I expected, and told me many new things about Altamont, all messed up and disturbing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Altamont” is not on many lists yet, as it’s a fairly new book. But I think it would fit in on “Best Books on Rock and Roll”, and “The Rolling Stones”

Find “Altamont” at your library using WorldCat!.

 

Serena’s Review: “Conjured”

17286817Book: “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Info: Walker Childrens, September 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

Review: I’ve read several of Sarah Beth Durst’s books in the past, and they are if anything, always unique. So when I discovered this one, with its creepy carnival imagery, amnesia, and serial killer nemesis, I knew that the story would be in the hands of an author capable of fully taking advantage of these elements.

The story started off slowly for me, to be honest. While Eve’s amnesia is an important part of the story, it also leaves the reader in an awkward place being equally (perhaps even more so!) in the dark as she is. We’re pretty much plopped down into a situation with no background information and a narrator who doesn’t know anymore than we do, but who is clearly involved in something nefarious, with hints being thrown every direction by other characters. Durst also wasn’t in a rush to resolve this. I was about a third of the way into the book before I started feeling truly invested in the story. And while this is a rather large hurdle to leap for many readers, I would say the later pay off is definitely worth it.

Eve herself is such a unique narrator. Her voice is so strange and it speaks to the deftness of Durst’s abilities that she can show Eve’s growth through even the most minute of changes in Eve’s outlook on what goes on around her. When the reveal comes towards the end of the story, I actually found myself paging back through the book trying to spot these change points, many of which I missed in my initial read through.

As for the twist itself, parts of it I was able to guess, but others came completely out of the blue. The motivation of the villain, Eve’s true back story in relation to the villain, was both heart breaking and distinctly chilling. I particularly appreciated the fact that the story is not quickly wrapped up once some of these twists become clear and we get to fully explore the reality of these developments and spend time in this new world order.

Further, the confusion and distrust that leads to these reveals were excellent. Eve has been told everything, she remembers/knows none of it for herself. So as she begins to question those around her, so do we, the reader. Her bouts of amnesia were both frustrating and refreshingly new to this type of story. She isn’t just a narrator who doesn’t remember her past but whose stories unfolds neatly from there on out. Eve keeps forgetting. Between chapters even! Like I said, frustrating, but also very interesting.

As for supporting characters, these were a bit more hit and miss. I loved Malcom from the get go, and grew to love his partner as well. However, I was less thrilled with the three other teens Eve meets: Aiden, Victoria, and Topher. They seemed like a neat idea, but ultimately, I feel like they didn’t even need to be in the story. Very little of the outcome would have been changed, and they were often so unlikable that I found myself wanting to skim read through their portions.

And as for the love interest, Zack…I just don’t know. There are elements of his character that I liked, but he never fully recovered for me from his introductory line of dialogue when first meeting Eve:“I think it’s a shame that it’s customary to shake hands upon greeting when what I really want to do is kiss your lips and see if you taste like strawberries.”

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(source)

Personally, if a guy introduced himself to me that way the door would be slammed on the chance of us even be acquaintances, let alone romantically involved, right then and there. It’s supposed to be twisted together with Zack’s defining characteristic: he does not tell lies. And while this plays an important role later in the story, I think there is an obvious miss between “not telling lies” and “not spewing out every ridiculous-bordering-on-creepy thought that comes into your head to a complete stranger.”

Slow start and creepy Zack aside, once pieces of the mystery started fitting together, I couldn’t put this book down. If you like dark, fantasy stories and can be patient with unreliable narrators and a slow start, definitely check this one out!

Rating 8: Slow build to an awesome resolution.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Conjured” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fairy Tales for Grown Children” and “YA & Middle Grade Circus/Carnivals/Amusement Parks.”

Find “Conjured” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Bookclub Review: “A Brief History of Montmaray”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have gone the extra mile and created our own bookclub. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Across the Decades,” we each drew a decade and had to select a book that was either published or set in that decade.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

6341739Book: “A Brief History of Montmaray” by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2009

Where Did We Get This Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Sophie Fitzosborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.

Kate’s Thoughts

So as a fan of “Downton Abbey”, and as a fan of kicking the shit out of Nazis, I had high hopes that “A Brief History of Montmaray” would combine the best of both worlds. I had this vision of Mary Crawley punching an S.S. officer in the face a la “Indiana Jones” while making some snippy and cruel remark, and in my mind that was just the best damn thing that I had ever thought of in the history of ever, crossover wise.

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And she’ll never tell where the bodies are buried either. (source)

While the book did have some likable characters (the cousin Veronica, in particular) overall I was a bit disappointed that “A Brief History of Montmaray” was more focused on the dysfunctional, if quirky, royal family and the problems that they are facing in love, life, and succession. Our narrator, Sophie, is pretty good at laying out the family lines and showing how the royal family connects to each other (King John has no male heir, so the next in line should be his nephew Toby, Sophie’s older brother). Sophie, not having as much investment in the royal line to the throne, is a good choice for narrator, as she doesn’t have the pressure of being a direct heir like her brother, nor does she have the frustration of being an ineligible heir like her cousin based solely on her gender. Because of this she can present a pretty fair view of how things are supposed to work in this family. She is a fine narrator and a good lens to see these conflicts, but at the same time she isn’t as interesting as I wanted her to be. I much preferred Veronica, the incredibly intelligent and capable daughter of the King, who would make a fine queen if only Montmaray approved of female succession. She was by far the most interesting character, as she has so much more interest in her home country than Toby, the flaky rightful heir. It’s the perfect example of an unjust and sexist society that is probably really screwing itself over. Veronica is also quite well rounded, probably the most well rounded of all the characters. She is cunning and ambitious, but also loves her home and her family, so much so that she puts rightful succession above all else even though you know she is aching for it. Had the story been following Veronica’s POV, I think that I would have been able to forgive it a bit more for not focusing on the Nazi storyline, and the storyline about how Europe was in serious, serious danger at this time. I do realize that this is a series and that there were two other novels to focus on that, and that this novel was more about introducing us to this family. But to me, the family wasn’t the part that I wanted to focus on outside of Veronica. It was a bit too “I Capture The Castle” for me, a book that I recognize as being significant and a classic, but one that I also am not terribly fond of as a whole.

And yes, I’m resentful that there weren’t enough Nazis, at least not as much as the summary would suggest. True, the Germans do land on Montmaray, sending the FitzOsbourne family into turmoil for many reasons. But they are there for a moment in the middle, and then come back at the end. The rest of the book is about the family and their squabbles and scandals. And hey, I like a nice soap as much as the next person, but it all felt kind of trite compared to the things I knew were coming, even further into the series. It’s hard for me to care about awful (AWFUL) housekeepers and their stupid secrets when I know that a whole lot of awful pain is about to rain down on the rest of Europe. And maybe for me it’s still a little raw since there was recently just footage of a bunch of these guys doing the Hitler salute in D.C. But had I known that the family malarky and hoopla was going to be the focus (aka, more “Downton” and less “Indiana Jones”), my expectations would have been more in line with how it turned out, and therefore I would have been more receptive to it. As it was, I kept saying to myself “BUT WHEN ARE ALL THE NAZIS GOING TO REALLY GET THEIR COMEUPPANCE?!”

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Preferably in this kind of endgame situation. (source)

So I think that it’s fair to say that “A Brief History of Montmaray” was at a disadvantage because of misplaced expectations. It’s not necessarily the fault of Cooper, but more so how it was promoted. I loved Veronica, but that was about the only thing that I really enjoyed, and sadly that’s not really enough to keep me going.

Serena’s Thoughts

This book had been on my reading list for a while as it was well reviewed by several other blogs that I followed. And when I ended up with the 30s as my decade of choice for our bookclub theme this go-around, it seemed like a perfect time to finally get around to it!

As the historical fiction reviewer on this blog, it’s probably not a surprise that I enjoyed this book more than Kate. For the most part, the historical detail is what captures me in these stories, and I enjoy books about quirky families (ala “Anne of Green Gables” and Jane Austen novels). The addition of a bit more action than is usually found in this type of book was the extra cherry on the top for me.

I agree with Kate’s assessment of the characters themselves. Sophie was an interesting narrator and I enjoyed the transformation she goes through during this book. The combination of teenage silliness mixed with a healthy dose of self-awareness with regards to said silliness made her a very endearing teenage protagonist. Veronica, however, is the type of character I generally gravitate towards. Intelligent, snappy, and a girl who firmly has her head on her shoulders. Seriously, nothing would get done if Veronica wasn’t there. And she has by far the most challenging set of circumstances to deal with, what with the sexism involved in the rules of ascension and the terrible family life (crazy dad who hates her, abandoned by her mother).

As for the boys involved, I found myself increasingly frustrated with Simon, the set up love interest for Sophie. I couldn’t help agreeing with Veronica’s assessment of him as a bit of a self-serving prat. And while I generally liked Toby, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed with his selfishness. I mean, the guy gets to go out and live in the world to go to school, make friends, be in society, and, yes, there are responsibilities to being the heir, but that’s a huge amount of privilege, too. So for him to whine to his cousin and sisters who are living in a castle that is literally falling down around them and who have no friends of any sort really just seems ridiculous and made me want to slap some sense into him.

As for the Nazi involvement: I actually really appreciated that this book didn’t go the expected route with them. There was a lot of discussion with regards to the political climate in Europe and it does a lot to remind modern readers that the Nazi party didn’t just sprout out of the ground fully formed. There were a lot of moving pieces and many years went by before it became clear just what everyone was dealing with. There were some interesting nuggets that were very…Indiana Jones-ish…and were quite fun, and another lesser used mode of introducing Nazis into the story. I do agree that the book summary can be misleading, so if you go into it expecting clashes with Nazis and said comeuppance served upon them it might not be for you. However, given the year that this is set in, and that it’s the first in a trilogy, I guess I was more prepared for delayed gratification re: Nazi destruction.

All in all, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It’s definitely more geared towards readers who enjoy slower paced historical novels. There’s a good amount of family drama, family mystery ala books like “Rebecca,” and historical detail. And, while there is action and Nazis towards the end, those aspects definitely come later and don’t take up as much page time as the rest.

Kate’s Rating 6: Though I greatly enjoyed the character of Veronica, overall the story didn’t match my expectations, and therefore didn’t grab me as I thought it would.

Serena’s Rating 8: Strong historical detail and interesting characters, though beware the lighter Nazi involvement if that’s what you were here for!

Bookclub Questions:

1.) How did we feel about Sophie as a narrator? What do you think the story would have been like if it had been told from the perspective of a different character?

2.) Montmaray is an imaginary kingdom that is meant to exist in an otherwise historically accurate version of Europe. Did it succeed in this way? Were there aspects of the historical set-up that you particularly enjoyed or found distracting?

3.) The Nazis: How did you feel about them? Their entrance into the story, their mission, and the resolution to their involvement?

4) For a first-person narrated story, it feels as if we get a good amount of detail about many of the side characters. Were there characters who stood out? What about Rebeca and Simon?

5) The book does seem to involve some supernatural elements, how did you feel about this inclusion and twist?

6.) This is the first in a trilogy. Where do you think/want the story to go from here?

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Brief History of Montmaray” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Fiction Set During WWII”, and “Best YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “A Brief History of Montmaray” at your library using WorldCat.

The Next Book Selection: Not sure yet! We’re at the switching point between one “season” and another. For our next theme, we all chose two things (“a book that’s been turned into a musical!” or “a book about animals!”) and had to draw from a hat for our own options. We’ll see what comes up!

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light”

29277919Book: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle is faced with the most emotional exorcism he’s performed yet… as he begins to learn more about his abilities and what’s really happening around him. Secrets are revealed that will change everything.

Review: If Volume 1 was set up and Volume 2 was getting the wheels into motion, “Outcast: This Little Light” is the pay off, and boy does it pay off and then some. Kirkman has always done a good job of taking a well worn trope (be it zombies in “The Walking Dead” or superheroes in “Invincible”) and breathing new, unique life into it, and “Outcast” is doing the same for the demonic possession story. I’ve said it before, I’m not as scared or disconcerted by demonic possession stories, but “Outcast” is exceeding my expectations.

When we left off in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, Kyle and Anderson had the daunting and heart wrenching task of performing an exorcism on Kyle’s sister Megan. What could have been a frustrating and emotionally manipulative scene was actually done very well, as Megan’s danger didn’t feel like solely a way to get at our male protagonist. Given how these demons work, and given that this plot point is resolved pretty darn quickly and opens up some new plot paths, I was willing to give it a pass. Megan is a character that I am very fond of, as even though this happens to her, she bounces back and remains the tough and awesome sister that I really, really enjoy (yeah yeah, spoiler alert, but it needs to be said). It also opens up more for her to do because of some of the consequences of her temporary possession, especially in regards to her and her husband Mark. Mark is another really well done character, as while he could have easily been the skeptical and cruel brother in law who only serves to doubt Kyle, he’s taking an interesting turn as well. His and Megan’s relationship is one of the more well done and honest portrayals of marriage I’ve seen in a comic, and it serves as a nice counterbalance to the star crossed relationship between Allison and Kyle. While Kyle and Allison may be the couple that you are supposed to root for and invest in, with demons and misconceptions keeping them apart, I am far more invested in the one between Megan and Mark.

We also get a bit more insight into what exactly is going on with the demons regarding their motivations and their weaknesses. Kirkman continues to move the mythology out of the solely Judeo-Christian realm, giving us a bit more to chew on and getting a bit more creative. This, of course, is only adding more tension between Kyle and Anderson, as Kyle is pretty convinced that it has little to do with God, while Anderson is clinging to the belief that it has everything to do with that. It may be easy to say that I’m biased when it comes to this, as yes, I am an agnostic, but I think that by opening up the potential in demonic possession does a few positive things for the narrative. The first is that it makes it unique to other possession narratives. Adding your own spin to a classic story or device is going to make it stand out more, and “Outcast” is definitely standing out against other similar stories that I’ve seen in the past few years. It’s not just the demon mythology either, I am also very interested in what an ‘Outcast’, like Kyle, is, and how it all plays into this mythology. Another is that there’s lots to be said for being inclusive in stories like this, and by opening up more possibilities of explanation, Kirkman is speaking to a wider audience who may be reading this book and hoping for a more relatable evil to vanquish, and a more relatable way to combat it. And finally, at least for me, it’s scarier this way. Without going into specifics, I think that this kind of demonic force is hitting closer to my own personal fears. I like being scared, and this is giving me some serious willies.

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” left on a pretty hardcore cliffhanger, and now that I have fully succumbed to this comic I am definitely itching to see what happens next. Don’t keep me in suspense too long, Image Comics! When does Vol. 4 come out?

Rating 8: Now that the story is in full swing, “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is doing new and interesting things with the demonic possession trope. It’s still a bit weak in some areas (Kyle and Allison), but it’s thrilling in most others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is still not on any lists on Goodreads. Again, try “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”. Oh, and for another intriguing take on possession, give “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” a whirl too!

Find “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol. 1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”, “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”.