Kate’s Review: “The Natural Way of Things”

28251422Book: “The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood

Publishing Info: Europa Editions, June 2016 (originally Allen & Unwin, October 2015)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage – a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted.

Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls, forced to wear strange uniforms, their heads shaved, guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers and a ‘nurse’. The girls all have something in common, but what is it? What crime has brought them here from the city? Who is the mysterious security company responsible for this desolate place with its brutal rules, its total isolation from the contemporary world? Doing hard labour under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what links them: in each girl’s past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. They pray for rescue – but when the food starts running out it becomes clear that the jailers have also become the jailed. The girls can only rescue themselves.

The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage.

With extraordinary echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, The Natural Way of Things is a compulsively readable, scarifying and deeply moving contemporary novel. It confirms Charlotte Wood’s position as one of our most thoughtful, provocative and fearless truth-tellers, as she unflinchingly reveals us and our world to ourselves.

Review: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read a version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” that was amped up on steroids? Well “The Natural Way of Things” takes it a few steps further and puts it on PCP. This is one of the books that I heard about through a description my mother sent me via email. She knows what I like. Set in a desolate Outback wasteland, I also got hints of “Mad Max: Fury Road” from this book, as it’s a violent tale of misogyny run amok. Unfortunately in this one the imprisoned women don’t have an Imperator Furiosa or Max Rockatansky there to whisk them away in a tanker truck. These women, their crimes getting caught in a sex scandal with a man or men with a considerable amount of power, are trapped in a desert complex with sadistic guards and a dwindling food supply. Rough, rough stuff. Thanks for sending it my way, Mom. This is the same woman who sent me a review of the awesome “What Belongs To You”, a book that starts with a gay hook-up in a public bathroom in Bulgaria.

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Probably my Mom whenever she shoots me an edgy book recommendation. (source)

But I’m glad that it’s rough stuff. I like that Charlotte Wood takes a hideous thing and doesn’t make it titillating, doesn’t gloss it over. There are descriptions in this book, from wounds to violence to homemade tampons with gross supplies, that made me cringe and flinch. The crime these women committed was the crime of being sexual beings whose sexuality threatened male power structures. Is it a little on the nose? Sure. But that doesn’t make it any less effective.

We mainly follow two women in particular. There’s the young and fierce Yolanda, who had sex with a number of players on a sports team (though the consent of this was, to me, questionable at best). Then there’s Verla, a bit more mild mannered and caught in an affair with a high powered politician. They cope in different ways with their capture. Yolanda becomes obsessed with trapping and skinning rabbits for food, while Verla hunts ceaselessly for mushrooms. Their routines and their deep friendship is what keeps them going, but their circumstances are so horrific you kind of wonder why they would want to. I loved both of them in their own ways, Yolanda for her ferocity and Verla for her cunning. They are strong in very different ways, being two examples of well written and tough female characters who are still realistic within their circumstances. The other women are also given a lot of depth, with a lot of them having their own unique personalities. Some of them are kind, others are not, but they are all victims and Wood makes it clear that none of them deserve what is being heaped upon them.

Wood’s writing is literary and her prose is haunting. There are passages and phrases in this book that flow effortlessly and evoke vivid imagery. She portrayed this camp so well that I could see the dust in the air, feel the heat, smell the stenches. It was a hard read, but in it’s horror and devastation there was a beauty in her words and a poetry in her writing. Her characters are also well drawn out, from the prisoners to the guards as well. There are a couple of guards we focus on, and while they do have their moments of extreme violence towards women, their disdain for women in general adds to the violence in another way. One of the guards is described as a hippie type who loves yoga, but his poisonous bile he spews about his ex girlfriend goes to show that words can also reduce women to animals, almost as much as leashes and prisons can. I almost had a harder time reading these horrible words he was saying about a woman who wasn’t even present, just because who knows how many women are spoken of in such a dehumanizing and objectifying way every minute of every day. This was the realest part of the book, and it was a punch in the gut.

I think that the only part of this book I had an actual critical hard time with (because I mean, I had a hard time with a lot of it) was that I wasn’t totally certain if this was supposed to be set in the present, real Australia, or a fictional dystopian Australia. Lots of people have listed it as Sci-Fi and Speculative fiction, but I didn’t really see much that would imply that this was the case. Well, outside of the whole ‘women rounded up and sent to a prison camp for being involved in sex scandals’ thing. I guess that to me it didn’t really scream Sci-Fi as a whole with just that aspect of it.

In a time where rape culture and misogyny is being spoken of more and more, I think that a book like “The Natural Way of Things” is an important work to showcase and talk about. “Mad Max: Fury Road” brought up these themes and attracted the ire of angry misogynists all over the Internet. “The Natural Way of Things” pushes these themes further, and flat out spits in the faces of those same creeps. It wasn’t an easy book to read, but it’s scathing take down of societal hypocrisy and violent chauvinism makes it a must read.

Rating 8: A scathing and well written novel about dangerous misogyny and rebellion. This should probably be on Women’s Studies reading lists everywhere, and that’s not snark.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Natural Way of Things” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Best Feminist Fiction”, and “Australian Speculative Fiction”.

Find “The Natural Way of Things” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Woman in Cabin 10”

28187230Book: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, July 2016 (first published in June 2016)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, comes The Woman in Cabin 10, an equally suspenseful novel from Ruth Ware—this time, set at sea.

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another intense read.

Review: Earlier this year I reviewed the book “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware, and if you recall I greatly enjoyed it. Ware created a very creepy and tense thriller, with some very fun and interesting characters. When I found out that she had written another book that was coming out this summer, I was pretty stoked! I had a feeling that it was going to be difficult to follow up “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, at least in my eyes, but I was hoping that Ware would be able to prove that she has what it takes to stick around and become a pillar in the grit-lit writing community. Suffice to say, I was very, very hopeful that it would be good…. okay, I was nervous. PLEASE let it be good.

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Please please please please. (source)

I was a little nervous at first as I started reading too. Lo Blacklock starts out and seems like a typical Grit Lit mess. Since I am not fond of that trope and since I had recently come off another book that had that trope as the main character, I was feeling quite a bit sensitive to it. The good news, though, is that Ware is very, very conscientious about how she writes her main characters. While she may appear typical, Lo has a very well plotted out backstory, one that gives every reason for her to be this way, and not because of any one specific life changing incident. The PTSD she is suffering post-break in is just another layer to it, and I really liked that it wasn’t the one thing that totally messed her up for ever and always. But all that said, since it is first person and since she does have a number of problems, the reader does sort of question everything, and you do wonder if she is just imagining things and losing it, or if something really did happen on this ship. There were many shades of grey in this book, and it could have very easily been one circumstance over the other. It was written believably for multiple outcomes.

The setting of a cruise ship was also absolutely perfect. I already am totally not on board with cruise ships. Between the horror stories you hear about illness and malfunction, or the fact that it is, indeed, very social (introvert’s nightmare), there have been instances of people just disappearing off of ships. So not only is it claustrophobic, it’s also an expansive void. If you are in the middle of the ocean and fall off the side and no one sees, you are probably going to die and no one will ever know what happened to you.

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(source)

So the claustrophobic atmosphere in conjunction with Lo’s paranoia and unreliable first person POV really made a creepy and tense story. Everyone on this damn boat is a suspect, but then maybe there are no suspects! But ultimately, I did kind of guess at least part of the puzzle that was presented to us in this book. Not all of it, but some of it. That isn’t saying much, because I am usually pretty good at guessing these things, so don’t take this as me condemning the mystery. There are plenty of red herrings to go around.

There was one aspect of the book that kind of caught me off guard and seemed very awkward, out of place, and kind of upsetting. It’s just one scene, but I did want to address it because, wow. So Lo’s ex boyfriend Ben is on the ship as well, as he’s a writer too. The night of the possible murder, before all that, Lo drinks a lot, as does Ben, and then he corners her and grabs her breast. Which she is pretty clearly not cool with. She does push him off and he stops right away, realizing that he was misreading her signals (WHAT SIGNALS, I couldn’t tell you, as she sure seemed not interested), but it wasn’t treated like the sexual assault that it was! It was more brushed off and seen as inconsequential, more like a cherry on top to an already not great night. That didn’t sit well with me, personally, as it wasn’t really given the weight that it should have been given. Which was all the more frustrating because outside of that Ben wasn’t exactly a terrible character or meant to be a bad guy. Kind of a prick but certainly not predatory. From that moment on every scene with him just felt off, and he never recovered in my eyes. Odd choice and not a great one.

“The Woman in Cabin 10”, however, did almost live up to “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, and I am happy that Ruth Ware has managed to solidify herself as a major talent in this genre! Grit-lit fans rejoice! We have Ruth Ware and it seems like she is here to stay!

Rating 8: A twisty and well plotted out mystery with a well written main character. Some strange choices were made, but overall this thriller is sufficiently creepy and tense!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Woman in Cabin 10” is included on these Goodreads lists: “If You Enjoyed Gone Girl, You Might Also Like…”, and “Booklist Best Mystery Fiction 2016 (part 2)”.

Find “The Woman in Cabin 10” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Forgotten Sisters”

22529349 Book: “The Forgotten Sisters” by Shannon Hale

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Review: Sadly, this is the last “Princess Academy” story in the trilogy, and I was more sad to see it end than I had been expecting. While never the pinnacle of excitement, this series was a steady crowd-pleaser, and in a the book world where a series taking a sudden drop with follow up books after an excellent start is all too common, it not only maintains its core story, but goes out with a bang! I liked this third and last book almost as much as the first and more than the second.

“The Forgotten Sisters” picks up a few months after the last book, with Miri and Peder looking forward to finally returning home to Mount Eskel. But, because this is the end of a trilogy, nothing goes to plan and suddenly Miri finds herself charged to establish her very own Princess Academy for three noble-born girls who have run amok in the swampy southern lands for many years. No surprise, they are not what they first seemed and Miri quickly becomes tangled in the complicated web of politics that seems to find her wherever she goes.

This book differs from the previous two in the absence of several of the characters I had come to know and love from the previous stories. But Miri, steady and lovable Miri, is still at the center of it all. Further, while in the previous book I often found myself growing frustrated with Miri’s naivety and overly -simplified view of the world and people, in this book Miri was back on form: spunky, but grounded.

The three sisters were each a great addition to the cast. While it would be easy to pigeon-hole the girls (Astrid: the warrior! Felissa: the one who cares! Sus: the book-worm!), I found myself enjoying all three characters, most especially the way they each completed one another in their very strong, small family group. Though, Astrid, I did always picture her thusly:

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Astrid, kicking ass and taking names (source)

And, while some of my other favorite characters weren’t around much, Peder has an active role in this story. He always kind of existed on the periphery of the action in the last two novels, so it was refreshing to see him set into the spotlight somewhat. Not only did this give me for from the character, but it helped cement why Peder and Miri work together as a couple.

These are middle grade novels, however, so it must be admitted that a lot of the action gets wrapped up in a very “G rated” way. This can at times be jarring when the books are often tackling very serious issues, but things work out in the best way possible due to amazing amounts of luck and human understanding from all sides. But it’s very sweet nonetheless. That being said, this book did take a few unexpected turns into places that were quite sad. This added level of gravitas helped excuse later “easy outs.”

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and the series as a whole. When I finished the second novel in the trilogy, it was ended in such a way that could have allowed for the series to end, and if that had been the case, I would have left a bit disappointed. It was not only a relief to find out there was a third, but after reading it, this book bumps the whole series back up as a strong recommendation for any readers looking for light, middle grade fantasy, especially for young girls.

Rating 8: A great conclusion, with solid showings from staple characters and fun new additions!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Forgotten Sisters” is included on this Goodreads list: “Middle Grade Fairy Tales” and “Best Kick-Ass Female Characters From YA and Children’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.”

Find “The Forgotten Sisters” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Review: “Princess Academy” and “Palace of Stone”

 

Kate’s Review: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”

27064358Book: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her fourteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.

The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend his disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration. The local and state police haven’t uncovered any leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were with Tommy last, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock— rumored to be cursed.

Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their own windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connected them all and changes everything.

As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened becomes more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.

Review: So the other night, the moment finished “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, I closed the book, set it on my night stand, and thought to myself

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(source)

I knew that I would need to ruminate on it for a little bit and let it stew. Its interesting, because Tremblay’s other book I’ve read, “A Head Full Of Ghosts”, seemed pretty straight forward and clear cut to me. I devoured that one, made an opinion, and called it a day, even though I know that others contest my theory about it (my friend Hillary in particular). But with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” I found myself filled with questions. After going back and not only thinking about it, but re-reading parts of it as well, I have made up my mind about this book: I greatly enjoyed it. Part of that enjoyment comes from the fact that there isn’t really any clarity as to what really happened. We have about as much knowledge as the characters in this book, cobbled together from diary entries, hearsay, unreliable witness statements, and local legends and rumors. The big question is what happened to Tommy Sanderson? Is it supernatural, or just a regular, worldly evil? Tremblay is great at making you question the things that you read in his books, and boy was I questioning everything.

I first want to talk about the family that is holding out hope for Tommy. Tremblay writes the horror a parent feels when their child is missing in an honest and empathetic way, as Elizabeth is at times both completely panicked and anxiety driven, to numb and almost subdued. She has her moments of doubting everyone around her, even her other child, Kate, and wondering if anyone is being one hundred percent honest with her and what they know. It doesn’t help matters that she is convinced that she saw a vision of Tommy in his room after his disappearance, a shadowy shape crouched down and looking distorted. She feels his presence, she sees him, she smells him, but questions if it’s Tommy, or a ghost, or an omen, or merely her faculties starting to fall apart. This isn’t the first horrific loss that the family has experienced, as the family patriarch left them and then was killed in a drunk driving accident, which raises more questions about Tommy as well. Is this something that has haunted him and affected him for all these years? Is this a trauma that he never really recovered from, and that has altered his state of emotional being? Is this why he’s obsessed with zombies and disaster? Elizabeth’s inability to know and the fact that it is driving her mad is so heartbreaking, but so real. It’s also very hard to read about how it’s all affecting Kate, her other child and Tommy’s little sister. Kate is also hurting and scared, but has this twelve year old girl need to be tough and a supportive, so much so that she makes some very bad decisions when she thinks that she is taking care of her Mom. Seeing the role reversal of a child caring for a parent in this way is always so sad, and Elizabeth and Kate are just another well done example of this dichotomy. I really liked Kate and how Tremblay wrote her, complications and all.

The only insight we get into Tommy’s state of mind is through a frenzied journal, and what his friends and loved ones say about him. His friends portray him as just one of the gang, part of a group that is still having their long summer adventures a la “Stand By Me” or “The Goonies”. But Tremblay slowly reveals that maybe this isn’t the case, and that maybe even their perceptions and depictions of him, even beyond the secrets they are keeping, aren’t quite true either. Those around him only see him through the lenses of a mother, a little sister, and his pals, until the strange and upsetting diary is found. And even that is unclear as to what is the truth and what isn’t. I think that by making Tommy so mysterious, even when so much of him is laid out in the open, is what makes this book all the more scary, and all the more tragic. The one thing that is clear from all of the misdirection and false fronts is that Tommy is lost in more ways than one, and seeing it all written out and pieced together was incredibly heartbreaking. He is searching for someone to really understand him, and unfortunately a rather cryptic and strange character realizes this, and decides to take advantage of it. In this way, the horror of the story is far more real than ghosts, or devils, or other things that go bump in the night. It became evident that, even though perhaps there are strange and supernatural things afoot, the real scary thing is that sometimes we don’t really know those that we care about the most, and if they disappear we will be left with a huge, gaping hole that is filled with far too many questions. And we ultimately may not be able to protect them from those who want to take advantage of them.

And since this is a horror book, and since Tremblay is a damn fine horror writer, I need to talk about the creepy and weird shit that goes down. I already have an abject fear of waking up in the night to see a strange shadow person in the window or in the corner of my room, so whenever this part of the story happened shivers ran up my spine. Shadow people are present in many different kinds of folklore, and the way that they were described in this book was so effective and upsetting that I still feel a bit disturbed by it, a few days after finishing it. I like that Tremblay gives different explanations, from mass hysteria to the Third Man Phenomenon to just plain out supernatural terror. There is one scene written out in transcript form, that describes a Shadow Being combined with a bit of Uncanny horror to top it off, and I was practically shaking I was so tense. I don’t want to give anything away, but my God, it was so unsettling that it’s really sticking with me. Ultimately, the concept of shadow figures and shadow doubles could be a metaphor for other things, or it could just be a flat out creepy entity to instill fear into the reader. But it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it scared the hell out of me, as unless it were a “Parent Trap” kind of situation I think that the thought of running into a Shadow Double or Doppelganger is just the very worst. Ugh. Thanks, Mr. Tremblay, for freaking me the hell out in that regard.

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More like ‘let’s stalk outside peoples’ windows together’, am I right?! (source)

I was left super disturbed by “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, and though it took a bit to build up and terrify me, terrify me it did. Paul Tremblay has continued to prove himself to be one of the best horror writers out there at the moment, filling his stories with scares and also a lot of emotions. And a whole lot of ambiguity, which I have accepted and come to really, really appreciate. If you read it at night, don’t do it by a window.

Rating 8: A slow burn horror story that is both terrifying and tragic, this newest book from the fabulous Paul Tremblay is another true winner. Ambiguity abound, but that can be the best thing about a horror story.

Reader’s Advisory:

Since “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” is still fairly new, it isn’t on many Goodreads Lists at the moment. However, with the themes it has, I would say look at “Popular Missing Persons Books” and “Popular Coming of Age Books”. And hey, if you have Netflix, give “Stranger Things” a try because MAN are they similar in a lot of ways (and I mean that it absolutely the best way possible)!

Find “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “End of Watch”

25526965Book: “End of Watch” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of the Mercedes Massacre, where eight people were killed and many more were badly injured, has been in the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic for five years, in a vegetative state. According to his doctors, anything approaching a complete recovery is unlikely. But behind the drool and stare, Brady is awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.

Retired police detective Bill Hodges, the unlikely hero of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, now runs an investigation agency with his partner, Holly Gibney, who delivered the blow to Hartsfield’s head that put him on the brain injury ward. Brady also remembers that. When Bill and Holly are called to a murder-suicide with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put not only their lives at risk, but those of Hodges’s friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Because Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Bill Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.

In End of Watch, Stephen King brings the Hodges trilogy to a sublimely terrifying conclusion, combining the detective fiction of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers with the supernatural suspense that has been his trademark. The result is an unnerving look at human vulnerability and up-all-night entertainment.

Review: You know that you are coming to the end of a good series when you are both racing through a book, and yet not wanting to finish it. This is the experience I had while reading “End of Watch”. On the airplane I realized that I had read half of the book, and decided that it was time to put it down, because I needed to savor it. I needed to hold onto the last Bill Hodges story for as long as I could. So when I did commit to sit down and finish it, it was both wonderful and awful. I wanted to know how it all ended, but I never wanted it to end.

It was definitely good to get back to the roots of this series, and those roots are Brady Hartsfield. As I mentioned in my review of “Finders Keepers”, it just isn’t quite the same without The Mercedes Killer himself. And he came back with all the malevolence that he had in the first book. But this time he is using a video game console and his newly acquired psychic powers to take out his victims. He gets them obsessed with this game, specifically trying to click on pink fish for points, and hypnotizes them into committing suicide. I’m sure it was meant to be a damning indictment of social media, but what’s even more accidentally relevant is that I started reading this right around the time that Pokemon Go had started taking the world by storm.

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This has not stopped my own quest for Dragon and Ghost types, however. (source)

So the idea of Brady now having psychic, body jumping powers is kind of… silly. I mean, it doesn’t really fit with the realism of the rest of this series, but I was willing to give it a pass because 1) it goes back to King’s roots of “Carrie”, “Firestarter”, and “The Shining”, and 2) it gave Hartsfield a way to come back in spite of the fact he’s nearly braindead thanks to Holly Gibney.

This is very much Hodges swan song, though, as his health is deteriorating. Given that the book is called “End of Watch”, it should as no surprise that this is, indeed, the end of Hodges’ times as a detective. That didn’t make it any less melancholy, however, and his connections to his friends, especially Holly, made it hurt all the more. Hodges has helped Holly adjust and acclimate to a life she never thought she would have, and while so much of that is because of her, her friendship with Hodges (and Jerome too) played a big factor in it. So knowing that Hodges’ health issues are very serious makes the reader ache for Holly just as much the ache is for Hodges. They have come so far from “Mr. Mercedes”, their relationship going above platonic and romantic, and being in a category of it’s own. I am also still very happy with how King has characterized Holly, as while she has become more comfortable with herself for the most part, she still has her problems and they are NEVER presented as a character weakness. They are just shown as a part of who she is, that it’s just fine. King has made efforts in his more recent works to include more diverse characters, and Holly is a great example of that. Jerome Robinson is too, but I feel like we didn’t really get to see enough of him in this last book. Granted, he’s off at school and has his own life now, but I would have loved to see a bit more of him and his sister Barbara. That said, the part that Barbara did have was another good way for King to take on issues of race in this country. It was momentary, but it was well done.

The thriller elements in this book were spot on, as I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. King manages to take themes from the noir genre and makes them feel modern and unique, and the rivalry between Hodges and Hartsfield reflect this perfectly. We are ready for them to finally have their showdown, a moment we’ve been waiting for since “Mr. Mercedes”. Once I got into the final climax of the book, I was completely tense and freaked out, ready to find out how it was all going to turn out, and I was LIVID when I got a text from the husband that it was time to come pick him up from his morning excursion on our trip right as it was all shaking out.

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Actual file footage from that day. (source)

Suffice to say, I didn’t want to put it down because it was just too damn addicting. And that is everything I want in a thriller novel.

“End of Watch” was an imperfect end to the Bill Hodges series, but it managed to hit all of the right notes and left me incredibly satisfied. I was very, very happy with how the Bill Hodges Trilogy wrapped itself up. Stephen King is a true master, who has proven that he can write many different stories of many different types, but he’ll probably always have a place in his original horror roots.

Rating 8: Though there were some moments that felt rushed and some characters who felt left behind, “End of Watch” was a solid and satisfying end to King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“End of Watch” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Protagonists over 60”, and “Can’t Wait Reads of 2016”.

Find “End of Watch” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviews in the series: “Mr. Mercedes”, “Finders Keepers”

Serena’s Review: “My Lady Jane”

22840421Book: “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book description: The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In “My Lady Jane,” coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of “The Princess Bride,” featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Review: I listed this book as one of my picks for June Highlights without any real knowledge of what it would be. A comedy of the definitely-tragic life of Lady Jane Grey? Something about a horse? But the comparison to “The Princess Bride” is what truly sold me on it, and I immediately requested it from the library. And it was a blast!

King Edward is dying. Or so he’s been told. And in a brilliant scheme of his (not) own making, he decides to line up his best friend and cousin Lady Jane Grey to inherit the throne behind him. But to do so, she should really be married so the male heirs can take over eventually, because women are questionable leaders, Edward has to believe. And so enters Lord Gifford, or “G” who has a bit of a “horse” problem. That is, he becomes a horse from dawn to dusk every day. So now, poor Jane must mourn Edward (or does she?), become queen, and deal with a husband who prefers apples. It’s all quite lovely.

I am generally hit-and-miss on the concept of duel protagonists, even more skeptical of three. But this book pulls it off! We have chapters from Edward, G, and, of course, Jane, to tell us their story. Naturally, it would be easy for Edward’s chapters to fall to the wayside in a story that is largely about Jane’s queenship and her burgeoning relationship with G, her husband/horse. But I was surprised to find myself truly enjoying Edwards contributions and his journey to self-awareness. Yes, Edward, maybe women can rule…maybe, your half-sister, even, Ness (also known as Elizabeth…)?

G and Jane, however, were the true heart of the story and I enjoyed them both immensely. Jane loves books, so there was a natural kinship between us there.

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At one point, in the early more rocky stages of their relationship, Jane builds a wall of books between herself and G in the carriage because there was not enough room in the trunks. This is my kind of girl. G, too, had a great voice and sense of humor. His perspective from his “horse self” was hilarious.

Really, the humor is what made this book. The dialogue was witty, and the authors fully embraced the ridiculousness of their concept, and it as almost impossible to not feel their own laughter emanating from the pages.

And yes, the comparisons to “The Princess Bride” were on point. The use of a narrator inserting thoughts and opinions throughout the story was used in the same way, and there definite nods to the story itself. In one scene, G refers to a large bear by some long acronym and proclaimed he didn’t believe it existed (ala “ROUSs? I don’t believe they exist!”) However, while I enjoyed these nods and the style in general, there were points where I felt like it was leaning too heavily on elements from that story. A nod here and there, sure, but there were a few too many, especially with the parenthetical narration bits that struck a bit too closely to “The Princess Bride.” It’s one thing to follow a format, it’s another to almost copy an idea. Parts of this made me uncomfortable.

I also really liked the twisting of history. Instead of the actual struggle between Catholics and Protestants that was going on during this time period (and lead to the conflict in rulers with Mary and Elizabeth fighting for different national religions, essentially), this book changes it to a conflict between the Verities (people who stay people and believe this is the RIGHT way to be) and the Ethians (those who can turn into nifty creatures like horses/dogs/etc). It was fun seeing what was actually a very serious conflict be turned into such a creative fantasy adventure.

Which speaks to tone over all. Like I said, this is definitely a comedy story. If you’re looking for anything regarding a serious, historical book, this is not for you. The story/characters/narrator consistently make fun of elements of the time period (see: sexism regarding women rulers), and the dialogue is full of anachronisms. But, if you’re in the mood for a quirky, fun, romantic comedy, this book is definitely for you!

Rating 8: Super fun story, with three great leads. If you liked “The Princess Bride,” you’ll like this. But was also a bit too close to this original, at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Lady Jane” is a very new book, so it’s not on many lists. Obviously, if you liked this and haven’t read “The Princess Bride,” go do that now! And another great comedy fantasy series I love is called the “Hero” series by Moira J. Moore and starts with “Resenting the Hero.”

Find “My Lady Jane” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “The Raven King”

17378527This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the fourth and final book in the series, “The Raven King.”

Book: “The Raven King” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, April 2016

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

Book Description: Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I waited long and not totally patiently to get to this, the conclusion to “The Raven Cycle”. The book version taunted me on the shelf at work, because I was determined to hear Will Patton give life to these characters one last time, and that is what I did. And boy was it worth the wait. When early in the story some strange, ethereal beings that looked just like Blue Sargent came walking through the woods saying ‘make way for the Raven King’, in a weird, strange way, I knew that I was going to enjoy the end of all things. And all of our Raven Boys (and Blue) are so completely burdened during this book that the way that this all shakes out is going to be very, very important and consequence filled.

I was mostly happy and satisfied with how it did, which is the good news! Stiefvater had a lot of plots to wrap up, but I feel like she addressed most of them and gave them closure. The reality of their situation has started to take it’s toll on The Raven Boys and Blue. Blue is coping with the prophecy that has haunted her her entire life, now that she has found a true love in Gansey. Gansey knows that he’s doomed to die in a sacrifice, and is trying to make peace with this. Ronan is still creating things and creatures and pulling them out of his dreams (including a little girl with hooves he calls Orphan Girl), but the responsibilities with this gift are weighing on him. Adam is a powerful scryer, but the loss of Persephone in “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” is still haunting him, as is his abuse filled past. And Noah seems to be wasting away before their eyes. Seeing all of this was both very sad, but very good in the sense that it was a good reminder that they are all teenagers. If they weren’t as affected by these things as they were, it would seem very disingenuous on Stiefvater’s part. It felt appropriate that they were all in their own little angst bubbles in this book.

It was also fun seeing Piper Greenmantle again, newly teamed up with Neve and a really disgusting demon that looks like a giant wasp. The demon always felt like a serious threat, and Stiefvater’s descriptions of it and the hell that it wreaked upon the characters in this book were very scary and made me squirm. But I think that this could tie into one of the weaknesses of this book. While Stiefvater did a good job of wrapping up most of the storylines, there were a few that felt very rushed to wrap up. I don’t want to give spoilers away, necessarily, but there were a couple characters who were brought back just to be thrown to the side. I went in thinking that these characters were going to be there for the remains of the book, especially the ones that have been gone since early in the series, to give them a large send off. But then they would be over and done with after, like, a chapter. I didn’t like how rushed that felt, and I think that sometimes it was done to make room for the new characters, which didn’t seem too fair.

That said, I LOVED a few of the new characters, Henry Cheng especially. We hadn’t seen very much of him in the previous “Raven Cycle” books, but he was given a prominent role in this book as he gets closer to Gansey and Blue. His friendship with Blue was especially nice, since in the previous book he highly offended her without meaning to and it caused a lot of tension between her and Gansey. By the end of this he kind of felt like Carol Cleveland’s role in the “Monty Python” group: not officially a part of the gang, but important enough and there enough that he was totally a part of the gang all things considered. I also liked the introduction of his mother, Sun, a dealer in magical and antique items, a fact that manages to tie a lot of the realties of this world and the conflict that is in it together.

There was another thing that I was worried about in this book, and that was Gansey’s ultimate demise. I, of course, hoped that there would be a way to make this prophecy not so, as I love Gansey, I love his relationship with his friends, and I love his relationship with Blue. But at the same time, this Death Kiss had been so hyped and so matter of fact, that if Stiefvater did some sort of cheap cop out or cliched solution, I would only be disappointed. I was worried and very skeptical that she would muck it up in some way. I’m not going to say much else on the matter, except that this was NOT the case at all, and that she was able to reconcile everything together in a way that I really, really enjoyed.

And Adam and Ronan. Oh my gosh, Adam and Ronan. I love everything about their relationship, and there were absolutely beautiful descriptions about each of them through the other’s eyes that felt so achingly romantic and tender that I got choked up a few times. You wouldn’t think that describing someone as an oil spill would be breathtaking in this regard, and yet Stiefvater managed to do it. Both of these characters are filled with so much anguish and pain, and they understand each other so well and so fully that it always hits the mark in the exact way that it should.

Overall I enjoyed “The Raven King”. I’m going to miss all of these characters and this world that Stiefvater has created, but I am so happy that she ended it the way that she did. Fantasy fans need to check this one out..

Serena’s Thoughts:

And so it ends. I was so nervous for this book. For one, sticking the landing is notably difficult for any series. And for two, Stiefvater had seemingly dug herself quite the hole to dig her way out of. Beyond the obvious prediction of Gansey’s death that has hung over the series as a whole from the very first chapter of the first book, none of these characters have had an easy time of it.

Blue, with her struggles to find a place for herself in a world that she doesn’t seem to fit within all while carrying this heavy burden with regards to love and death tangled in such a way that would break most adults. Ronan, so powerful and yet so trodden down with the burdens of his gift and the losses that just seem to keep coming. Adam, who has come so far, but still carries the scars of his home life, and the internal struggle to accept the gifts of friendship that he has been given, and now has to contend with the full extent to which his promise to be Cabeswater’s hands and eyes will affect his life. And Gansey, now aware of his doom, who can feel the end coming but doesn’t know how to get there or even what role he is to play, now surrounded by such supernaturally powerful friends as Ronan, Blue, and Adam have become. How does to end all of these stories in a way that is true to the tone of the book?

It will be very hard to review this story without spoilers, but I will say that I was immensely satisfied with the ending. These are incredible challenges to face, and I think that Stiefvater handled them all with aplomb. Further, and I really shouldn’t even be surprised any more by this, she adds another character, Henry, who comes with his own baggage and gifts and was slotted in so seamlessly that by the end of the story, I was just as invested in his outcome as the others. Seriously, how does she do this??

The horror in this book also reaches its peak. There were pieces of imagery that were incredibly disconcerting, and often the scene-setting even played hand-in-hand with the type of story-telling you will find in the best horror/thriller novels. At one point, a scene is described through a character’s perspective who cannot see what is happening around him. In many ways, the scene was exactly like one you would come across in a horror movie, when suddenly a room is plunged into darkness and all you have to go on is scuffling and the random shout of dialogue to piece together what is happening. Stiefvater, just like a director of a film scene like this, understands perfectly that sometimes our imagination will make the unseen a million times more terrifying than anything actually presented. It was excellent.

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And, while I was satisfied with the ending, Stiefvater doesn’t fall into the trap of happily-ever-after. The villain in this story is a demon, and if that’s what you’ve got to fight against, a story can’t end with only rainbows and butterflies. A few villains from previous books make surprise appearances, and the background into Mr. Grey’s life as a hitman hired by an underground network of magical art dealers, essentially, is more fully fleshed out in a very creative manner. Sacrifices are made and there were times were I was definitely crying.

But like I said, it did end perfectly. The paths that are lain before the remaining characters were believable and true to the types of people they had all grown into by the end of the series. There was the possibility lain down for future stories for the characters, but I’m not sure how I would feel about a return to this series. This all felt wrapped up so neatly, and I am more than content imagining their future adventures without needing actual follow-up novels. But, at the same time, I’ve started out skeptical about how Stiefvater could pull of this series and live up to the hype, and she’s completely surpassed my expectations. Maybe I should be more trusting! Either way, this was a fantastic conclusion, and I highly, highly recommend this entire series to fans of young adult fantasy and horror.

Kate’s Rating 8: Some of the plot points are hastily tied up, but overall the characterization is spot on and the ending is very satisfying.

Serena’s Rating 9: Practically perfect ending.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven King” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys,” “The Dream Thieves” and “Blue Lily, Lily Blue.”