Kate’s Reviews: “One of Us Is Lying”

32682118Book: “One of Us Is Lying” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.  Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention: Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule; Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess; Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing; Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher; and Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?  Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Review: You want to talk about classic high school movies, one of the assured mentions is going to be “The Breakfast Club”. While I really don’t like what happens to Ally Sheedy’s character (as a ‘basket-case’ in high school myself, I didn’t appreciate being told that if I just got a makeover boys would like me), I have to admit that the concept of kids coming from different social circles and getting along for one day is really appealing. ESPECIALLY when one of those kids is Judd Nelson, my GOD. So when I heard about this book, and that it’s basically “The Breakfast Club” with a murder mystery to boot, I was TOTALLY IN!!!!

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I say naaaah, nah nah nah nahhhh… (source)

But we actually got so much more than that. While sure, the Brat Pack in that movie each gets their own little piece of vulnerability, McManus has an entire book to explore each of her characters to their fullest extent, and can paint them in complicated and well rounded ways that gives the reader reasons to be invested in all of them. We get four perspective characters in this book. Bronwyn is the brainiac who is carrying an Ivy League dream not only as a legacy, but as a biracial girl whose Columbian side of the family literally pulled itself up by the bootstraps to start said legacy. Addy is a girl who has been taught that her only strength is her beauty, perpetuated by a vapid mother and a controlling boyfriend. Cooper is a star athlete whose family is riding on the idea of him getting a major league offer because of his pitching arm. And Nate, oh my sweet sweet Nate, is a dealer on probation living in a ramshackle home with a drunken father. And all of them have secrets, which is why all of them are viable suspects when Simon, app creator and provocateur extraordinaire, is murdered while they are all serving detention together.

All of these characters had realistic and believable voices, and I saw the vulnerability and desperation in each of them as their secrets started to come to light. It became pretty clear from the get go that none of them were actually suspects to be taken seriously, and while I don’t know how I feel about that, it was a delight to be able to see them hide other things instead of throwing an entire barrel of red herrings my way. And while some of them had secrets that weren’t that hard to guess, getting to the answers was a heck of a ride, especially since all of them grew and evolved so much as they got there. Addy especially went on a character arc that felt so organic and so heart-wrenching and yet empowering that I was especially happy to get to her perspective chapters. This storyline brings up questions of relationships, romance vs domination, and what sort of value we put on women and girls who are attractive but not encouraged to be much more. I also really liked reading how Nate and Bronwyn’s relationship progressed and evolved. There of course was going to be some romance in this book, and of COURSE the geeky girl and the bad boy is a trope that’s ripe for the picking. But I liked how McManus had these two interact and complement each other without  making either feel like they were out of character. I also liked that we got to see Nate’s backstory and how it wasn’t the usual ‘my Dad’s abusive and that’s why I’m a nasty prick’ sob story. It wasn’t much more than that, but it did address the struggles of families with mental illness, especially when resources are limited when it comes to getting help.

The big mystery itself though? Well, while I had a super fun time just going with the flow and following it to it’s conclusion, I did find the final answers to be a bit disappointing. True, I did like that our four main characters were pretty much in the clear from the get go, I still think that had there been some more twists and reveals instead of things being pretty easily explained and neatly finished it could have been a seriously stellar mystery. As it was, I was pretty much satisfied with how it all shook out, but it wasn’t much to write home about. The strengths in this book were definitely in the characters, and the supporting characters that they each had in their lives. I would have been completely content if there was no murder mystery at all and it was just about a bunch of kids from different groups learning that they could, in fact, become friends….. So, basically, “The Breakfast Club”, but without that bullshit makeover scene.

“One of Us Is Lying” was a fun and entertaining read. The side mysteries were fun, the characters were well written, and I would totally read something else from Karen M. McManus down the line. With the right amount of mystery and suds, it’s the perfect read for the dog days of summer.

Rating 8: Though the solution felt a little bit thrown together and convenient, I quite liked learning the various secrets of all the characters in this book, as well as seeing them all grow and change.

Reader’s Advisory:

“One of Us Is Lying” is new and not on many lists yet. But it is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Suspense and Thrillers”, and would fit in on “Cliques and Crime”.

Find “One of Us Is Lying” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper”

72445Book: “The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes” by Scott Frost

Publishing Info: Pocket Books, 1991

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: Former Eagle Scout and lifetime audio freak Dale Cooper brings us his autobiography, culled from his private collection of personal tape recordings beginning with his thirteenth birthday. Discover the secrets, never before seen on television, of Twin Peaks’ most-wanted man, who scored a perfect 100 on his marksmanship test and once let a gentle, beautiful woman lead him astray. He’s Dale Cooper – the man who seems too good to be true – and this is his story.

Review: This “Twin Peaks” train keeps on chugging along!!! And while the revival of the show has been both wonderful and absolutely confounding, I have also been turning to the books that came before it. This time instead of focusing on poor dead Laura Palmer, we are getting to know a little bit more about the always optimistic, super enthusiastic, but also ultimately a bit tragic, Dale Cooper, the main protagonist of the show. Dale Cooper is one of my favorite characters of all time, his bubbly earnestness completely charming and absolutely adorable. I was a little skeptical that this book would be able to do him justice, as Kyle Maclachlan just brings him to complete and total life. BUT, I have GREAT news. This book pretty much manages to do it. A warning, though, if you want to see anything else about the town itself and it’s inhabitants, sadly it ends right before Cooper arrives. This is all Cooper, all the time, and while that was totally fine by me, it’s good to know that this is his story, not that of the beloved town.

Much like “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”, you have to go into this book with the knowledge of the show to really get anything from it. We get to see Dale Cooper’s life through his ‘tapes’, transcribed audio recordings that start at his thirteenth birthday. And boy, did it just sound like good ol’ Coop to me as I read them. It really shouldn’t surprise me, as Scott Frost was a writer on the show, but I found myself smiling and cackling with glee as I read this book, it’s content far less heavy than “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”. Even thirteen year old Dale Cooper is filled with joy and wonder for the world around him, as well as picking up on little hints and details about the people in his life that sheds a little light on things that happen to him later in life. This book explores more of the theory that Cooper is deeply intuitive to the point of being a bit psychic, and expands upon it through his childhood and his family members (specifically his mother; seems that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in this regard). I enjoyed reading about how he saw the changing times of the 1960s, how he viewed his coming of age, and what life was like for him when he first came to the F.B.I. I was ESPECIALLY waiting for mention of one of my other favorite characters on the show, Albert Rosenfield, because boy do I kind of ship the two of them, and without spoiling anything I can tell you that THIS BOOK DID NOT DISAPPOINT!

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The ship sails on. (source)

But along with the fan service that felt totally designed for me, this book also gave me a dark side of Coop that isn’t seen as much in the original series. His tapes do serve as his own diary in spite of the fact that he’s sending a fair number of them to Diane, and there were moments of despair and existential angst that I’m not as used to seeing in my man Cooper. He did have his darker moments in Season 2, and in the revival BOY are things bleak for him, but in this book I felt like we got to see a whole other side to Cooper that I tend to forget, or did even know, existed. He expounds upon the losses of the important women in his life with a subtle grief, or will disappear for months at a time, and I just felt like this book does add a new darkness to the character who can be seen holding chocolate bunnies or gleefully experiencing coniferous trees with childlike wonder. Sometimes this could be a bit too much, especially when we get to the Wyndam and Caroline Earle part of his life, but in the right amounts it was very pathos ridden and melancholy.

Plus, there were genuine moments of creepiness that I thoroughly enjoyed. Be it the brutal natures of some of the crimes that Dale investigated, or the weird moments of odd rambling that he would do with his tapes in darker, more harried mind spaces, there were parts of this book that gave me chills down my spine. Nothing was totally scary or freaky, but there would be moments that were turned just a little bit odd, and that when I thought about it for a moment I just felt weirded out. That’s the power of “Twin Peaks”, the little moments that are just a bit askew, but completely set you  on edge. This book is filled with them.

Do you have to read this book if you are a “Twin Peaks” fan? Probably not. It didn’t give me any new insights into anything, really. But it’s a fun little bonus that can be put to the mythos of the series as a whole, especially seeing some of these things being played out or alluded to in the new revival. If you can’t get enough of “Twin Peaks” and are still scratching your head over some of the stuff in the new series, “The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper” will probably suit you just fine.

Rating 7: A bit more enjoyable than “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” in tone, Frost has Coop’s voice down pat. Not much is added to the “Twin Peaks” experience, but it’s a fun, and at times creepy, read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper” is included on the Goodreads lists “TWIN PEAKS”, and “Books Written by Fictional Characters”.

Find “The Autobiography of F.B.I Special Agent Dale Cooper” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Reviews: “Final Girls”

32796253Book: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: A free ARC provided by Net Galley.

Book Description: Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past. 

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

Review: First and foremost, I want to extend a sincere thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. It means a lot and I greatly appreciate the generosity,

You all know my deep deep love for horror movies, and that I have a serious guilty-ish pleasure for the slasher film genre. There are so many things about it that are kind of grotesque and trite, but I really do enjoy a slash ’em up kind of flick like “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, or “Scream”. I think that my love for that subgenre stems from my time as an awkward teenager who was a bit more cautious and shy than some of her lady friends. Because of this, I really related to the “Final Girl” trope that those movies almost always trot out: the virginal good girl who triumphs over evil and is the only one who can vanquish the bloodthirsty villain. The movie “Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” did a great job of deconstructing the concept of the Final Girl, as did the movie “Final Girls”, and I’ve been aching to read a book about it as well. When Lauren Beukes “Survivors’ Club” didn’t quite get there, my only hope left was “Final Girls” by Riley Sager, and BOY am I THRILLED to say that this book nailed it and gave me everything I needed.

The very scenarios given in this book as the mass killings that the Final Girls endured are so textbook 80s slasher film that I was living a Dayglow glittered fever dream. You have the college kids in a cabin in the woods, the sorority house massacre, and the isolated motel ambush with a killer who is wearing a sack on his head! PERFECTION. But even beyond setting up the perfect slasher scenarios, Sager also painted pictures of how an actual ‘Final Girl’ might endure after the trauma. As much as we love the idea of Nancy Thmpson or Laurie Strode going on to live happy lives, in the real world the consequences would be far more long lasting. Quincy is a complete mess whose outward appearance is a lie to the pain underneath. She has her baking blog and her true blue fiance, but she is addicted to Xanax and unable to let go of Coop, the cop who saved her all those years ago from a killer in the woods. She has distanced herself from other survivors of violent massacres, Lisa and Sam, because while the media loves to lump them together, she just wants to be herself and to live her life. I really loved Quincy for her full damaged self.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was that it wasn’t the meta and self referential homage that I was expecting it to be, even though it’s set up was one hundred percent spot on for such a novel. Instead there was a serious mystery here, specifically involving Sam. After Lisa, the original and perhaps most ‘with it’ Final Girl is found dead of an apparent suicide, Quincy is approached by the second, Sam, who had been off the grid for years. The mystery at the heart of this book is about Sam’s experiences, as well as Quincy’s. Though I went in thinking that it would be about the two of them teaming up to find a killer, it turned out to be something much different. And then it superseded my expectations AGAIN when it also became a question about Quincy and her experience at a cabin in the woods. The movies like to portray these Final Girl types as innocents caught up in a whirlwind of circumstance, the ultimate Madonnas who are better than the Whores that surround them and therefore they get to live. But Sager poses that perhaps it’s more interesting if they are just complex, well rounded people instead of just a trope, and questions whether being innocent is the absolute only thing you can be to deserve to survive something as brutal as a slasher killer.

I truly enjoyed this book as a fan of the slasher genre, even if it wasn’t the self satisfied wink fest I thought it was going to be. Fans of this genre really need to go out and get their hands on “Final Girls”. Quincy has every right to stand with Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and all those other badass women who take out those who wish them ill, and she can do it while still being damaged.

Rating 9: A great mystery with some excellent character studies, “Final Girls” goes beyond a meta romp for slasher horror fans and is a fabulous and suspenseful summer read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Final Girls” is new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists as of yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Best Female Driven Mysteries”, and “Popular Slasher Books”.

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Into the Water”

33151805Book: “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins

Publishing Info: Riverhead Books, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionA single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

Review: A couple years ago I got the book “The Girl on the Train” from my library, a spoil of war known as the ‘New Items Wall’. I had been waiting for it to be up for the allotted amount of time employees have to wait before it’s up for grabs, and as soon as that time was up I grabbed it and claimed it as my own. It didn’t take me long to read it. I found it pretty okay. I was entertained, even if I guessed the big twist long before the reveal was meant to happen. Though it’s gotten a bit of backlash as of late, I knew that anything else that Paula Hawkins wrote would get a lot of attention, and that I would be interested in reading it. So enter “Into the Water”, the newest book by Paula Hawkins. Like “The Girl on the Train”, I had to wait for this one to pass the time limit. And then I grabbed it for myself.

When “Into the Water” took me in, it took me in pretty hard. The book is told through multiple perspectives, each of them slowly giving tiny pieces of the overall puzzle as to what exactly happened to the two dead ladies who drowned in the local pond. The first is Katie, a teenage girl who jumped to her death from the cliff above the drowning pool. The second is Nel, a single mother whose daughter, Lena, was best friends with Katie. No one knows what happened to Nel. She was writing a book about the large number of women who died in the drowning pool over the years, either by suicide, witch craft trial, or straight up murder. Various perspectives include the eyes of Jules, Nel’s sister, Lena, Nel’s daughter, Sean, a detective and a man with his own connection to the pool, and Erin, Sean’s partner on the force. These four voices were the strongest of the bunch, as others either felt overdramatic (the mother of Katie was especially grating, even though I did feel sympathy for her), superfluous (a local psychic who has her own beef with Sean’s family), or just downright yucky (Mark, a teacher who may have had an improper relationship with one of his students). While they all added their own important pieces, it was hard to keep track of all of them at times at first. You add in chapters from Nel’s book about the other women who died in the drowning pool and you get a lot of information to process as you are paging through quickly because it’s so enthralling.

I had a few theories about what was going on this book, and unlike “The Girl on the Train” I wasn’t totally convinced about what had happened very early one. While I liked that it kept me guessing pretty well, I did take issue with the fact that this book is the kind of story that likes to keep yanking the rug out from under you. I am okay with twists and turns, but I get really sore when a solution is presented, a conclusion is presumed, and then in the last paragraph, NAY, the last SENTENCE, the solution is completely thrown out the window and a new reality is set in place. That’s not clever to me, that’s not inventive or an ‘ah ha!’ moment. That’s a cop out, and I am not impressed with cop outs.

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(source)

I think that I need to just start to accept the fact that while I am definitely going to keep up with Paula Hawkins books in the future, I’m going to have to accept that for me it’s going to be less about the solution and more about the journey getting there. I would definitely say that “Into the Water” kept me entertained and captivated well until the final pages were turned, but on the other side of the coin the ending was a huge let down. What I will say is that Hawkins knows how to construct a mystery and a thriller, and just because the endings have disappointed me it doesn’t mean that I will completely overlook the experience as a whole.

Rating 6: Incredibly engrossing and addictive, but with a dud of an ending, “Into the Water” kept me going but left me frustrated.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Into the Water” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Crime Books You’re Excited For!”, and “2017 Suspense and Thrillers”.

Find “Into the Water” at your local library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Girls on Fire”

26074200Book: “Girls on Fire” by Robin Wasserman

Publishing Info: Harper, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town’s bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it’s a secret that will change everything…

Review: Who here has seen or heard of the movie “Heavenly Creatures”? It’s kind of a noteworthy gem for a number of reasons. The first is that it was one of the break out roles that Kate Winslet had before “Titanic”. It was also one of the movies Peter Jackson made before he took on the “Lord of the Rings” movies. But the third reason is the kicker: it’s also a true story, in which two girls in New Zealand, bolstered forth by their obsessive friendship, kill one of their moms because she didn’t approve of their closeness. And then one of them grew up to be Anne Perry the crime author. I think that “Heavenly Creatures” kind of sets a standard for the ‘dangerous obsessive female friendship’ trope, even if it was a real life occurrence. When I read about “Girls on Fire” I was pretty intrigued. I was hoping that I would find a new rumination on a story that’s been told many times over, from “Heavenly Creatures” to last year’s smash hit “The Girls”. But sadly I found more of the same old, same old.

I think that it’s definitely important to note that “Girls on Fire” does tackle a lot of important questions about what it means to be a teenage girl in American society, and what expectations are thrust upon this group in terms of how to behave and interact with others. Both Lacey and Hannah (or “Dex” as Lacey renames her early in their friendship) are perceived in certain ways by not only their peers and their community, they are perceived in certain ways by their families, the people who are supposed to know them best. This, too, can be said for the bane of their existence, Nikki Drummond, the most popular girl in school who mistreats Hannah and anyone she sees as beneath her. Nikki has facades that she puts on for different people, and while Hannah thinks she knows one side, Lacey knows another one. The perspectives in this book are mainly those of Hannah and Lacey, alternating in sections called ‘Us’. But every once in awhile we’ll get an outside perspective from one of those close to them, under the sections called ‘Them’. I loved how this was set up, as it really reinforced the ‘us vs the world’ mentality that these two obsessed friends shared. I also liked how the structure served to explain just what happened with the popular boy who committed suicide, as it’s pretty clear from the get go that it’s not as cut and dry as it all seems.

But now we get to the crux of the issue, and that is this isn’t a book that I enjoyed much beyond that. “Girls on Fire” didn’t really do anything new in terms of characterization and plotting. Both Hannah and Lacey were pretty two dimensional, even with their perspectives being laid out in the open. Lacey is the bad girl who has the terrible upbringing and just wants to be loved and turns to drugs, alcohol, and Kurt Cobain (as well as dabbling in the most milquetoast of stereotypical Satanism). Hannah is the quiet one who is so mousy that everyone is shocked when she starts to turn darker, and has darker deeper demons than anyone could have imagined. These are character tropes that we’ve seen before, and neither of them went beyond these tried and true depictions. Even the parents were stereotypes of what we imagine parents with kids like these to be. Hannah’s Mom is banal and unassuming and resents that her daughter is branching out into a more interesting realm. Her father is a former wild child who misses his days of being free, and therefore longs for Lacey both sexually and philosophically. And Lacey’s mother is an alcoholic who has married an abusive man. The only character who intrigued me and surpassed my expectations was Nikki, and even then she still ultimately lived up to our basal expectations of what a mean girl is and why a mean girl might be mean. It’s a real shame, because there was some serious potential in all of these girls to examine how our perceptions of them might be undue. But then they really didn’t have much more to say beyond what their main stereotypes were. And the central mystery isn’t really that much of a mystery, in all honesty. You can guess it pretty early on in the unspooling of that particular thread.

I had higher hopes for “Girls on Fire” than the book was able to deliver. If you are interested in a story examining the perils of dangerous girl friendships, just get your hands on “Heavenly Creatures”.

Rating 5: Though the themes are interesting and the perspectives creatively structured, this book wasn’t reinventing the wheel in any way, and it didn’t really bring a new take to a story we’ve heard before.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Girls on Fire” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books About Female Friendship”, and “Best Quietly Creepy Novels”.

Find “Girls on Fire” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog”

157857Book: “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, February 1994

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

Book Description: Now, in the seventh mystery in the series, the Emerson-Peabodys are traveling up the Nile once again to encounter their most deadly adversary, the Master Criminal, who is back at his sinister best. Amelia Peabody was unabashedly proud of her newest translation, a fragment of the ancient fairytale “The Doomed Prince.” Later, she would wonder why no sense of foreboding struck her as she retold the story of the king’s favorite son who had been warned that he would die from the snake, the crocodile, or the dog. Little did she realize, as she and her beloved husband sailed blissfully toward the pyramids of ancient Egypt, that those very beasts (and a cat as well) would be part of a deadly plot.

Review: And we’re back for my first Amelia Peabody review of the year! After coming out on the top of my favorite reads list from 2016, I had high expectations for this book and this series. But, most comforting of all, even this far into the series, I had very few worries that I would not enjoy this book as much as I have the many that have come before it. Trust has been built, and I can now look forward to each next book in this series with very little trepidation.

“The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” opens with Amelia and Evelyn pining for the adventure and romance of the past. Neither is unhappy with their life, full as each is by family and profession, but both Amelia and Evelyn spend moments reminiscing for the romantic passions they remember pre-children. And from these honest and natural feelings, comes very unwanted results, at least for Amelia. After returning to Egypt for another season, Amelia is looking forward to a rare opportunity to work alone with Emerson, as Ramses has chosen to remain in England for…school (to moon over Nefret, more likely). But these simple plans are suddenly foiled when Emerson is kidnapped and, while escaping the experience with his life, loses his memories in the process, including the fact that he was ever married to a woman named Amelia Peabody.

Generally, I am very suspicious of the whole amnesia plot tactic. This probably stems from being burned in early childhood by the egregious and completely unacceptable use of an amnesia story being thrown into my beloved “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and essentially triggering the beginning of the end for the series as a whole. But I won’t go on another rant about that, though it’s is difficult to resist. However, here, Peters uses it as simply another foil to Amelia’s ever-lasting quest to simply get through an archeological season without murder and mystery.

Having read the series up to this point over the last few years, it was interesting being thrown back in time, essentially, to the character that Emerson was pre-Amelia. I have to say, I’m not sure he deserved her, based on his behavior here! I haven’t re-read the original story, but I have to think that this version of the character was fairly true to how he was written then, and in one word, he’s kind of an ass. I have gotten accustomed to his gruffness and easy piques of anger always being balanced by his love and respect for Amelia. But without her influence or his desire to appease her sense of rightness, these quirks suddenly start overcoming the more appealing parts of his character. However, Amelia remains steadfast to winning him back throughout it all, even if we, the readers, want to smack him up the backside of the head (though she does employ similar tactics in her “wooing”).

The mystery itself is quite a tangled web with many villains re-appearing from past books. Probably the most challenging part of the story was trying to remember these characters and keep their histories straight in my head. There is typically a large cast of characters in these books, but we’re often meeting them for the first time and thus given time to acquaint ourselves. Here, while brief introductions are given, a lot is left to the reader to fill in gaps. I feel like the suspects would have been better rounded out had these histories and motivations been a bit better documented, for those of us who don’t have an encyclopedic memory of the series as a whole.

I also enjoyed the fact that the Nefret storyline wasn’t completely dropped in this book.  Most of the previous books can be read as standalones, and that is true of this one as well, for the most part. But the adventures and outcomes of “The Last Camel Died at Noon” introduced lasting effects on the Emerson-Peabody family going forward. Not only do we have a new character whom we can only assume will be a major staple in the series in the future, but her sudden appearance and secret history would be largely commented on by society as a whole. On the more intimate character level, I loved Amelia’s struggles with adapting to being a mother figure for a daughter as well as a son, and her realization that their needs are very different. And on a larger story level, I appreciated the fact that the happenings of the previous book were paramount to the mystery we have here while still allowing the book to be read on its own. It is a tricky balance to maintain, but one that I feel Peters pulled off very effectively.

While the amnesia storyline was handled for the most part very well, this book does highlight a trend for my views on the series as a whole.  I understand that perhaps the author was concerned that the happy and stable relationship between Amelia and Emerson might come across as tired, book after book, and she felt compelled to throw wrenches into the work. But the two books were this tactic was more prominently used (this story with the amnesia, and “Deeds of the Distruber” where there is much confusion and distrust between the two) were both on the lower end of my ratings. I still very much enjoyed them, but I, at least, don’t need relationship drama from this series to remain interested and when it’s present, it doesn’t add much to the series as a whole.

But, as I said, I still very much enjoyed it and am happily looking forward to the next!

Rating 7: Relationship shenanigans aside, an interesting mystery and a nice tie-in to the previous book.

Reader’s Advisory:

The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” is included on these Goodreads lists: “The Villain Was Interesting” and “Mysteries with great humor.”

Find “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon”

Kate’s Review: “Shiny Broken Pieces”

26198216Book: “Shiny Broken Pieces” by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Book Description: June, Bette, and Gigi have given their all to dance at Manhattan’s most elite ballet school. Now they are competing one final time for a spot at the prestigious American Ballet Company. With the stakes higher than ever, these girls have everything to lose…and no one is playing nice.

June is starting to finally see herself as a prima ballerina. However, getting what she wants might cost her everything—including the only boy she’s ever loved. Legacy dancer Bette is determined to clear her name after she was suspended and accused of hurting her rival, Gigi. Even if she returns, though, will she ever regain the spotlight she craves? And Gigi is not going to let Bette—or the other dancers who bullied her—go unpunished. But as revenge consumes her, Gigi may be the one who pays the price.

After years of grueling auditions, torn ribbons, and broken hearts, it all comes down to this last dance. Who will make the cut? And who will lose her dream forever?

Review: So here we are again, following the vindictive and somewhat sociopathic students at the American Ballet Company. This time, in “Shiny Broken Pieces”, it’s basically senior year and the stakes are higher than ever!!! Which means that, one would think, shit is about to get real, dramatics wise! And maybe we’ll get some answers regarding what happened at the end of the previous book, “Tiny Pretty Things”. Like, who killed Gigi’s butterflies? Who put glass in her shoe? Who shoved her in front of a taxi in hopes that she would be injured for life? We get some answers to all those questions and more. But I’m sorry to say that this sequel didn’t quite live up to the amazingness of the original.

But let’s start at the beginning and start with the good. Also, there are going to be spoilers for this book, because some of my issues are about certain plot points and plot twists.

I really liked that in “Shiny Broken Pieces”, Charaipotra and Clayton were perfectly comfortable exploring and expanding all of their characters to make them even more well rounded and interesting. I think that it’s a pretty brave move to take favorites and lovable characters from the first book and make them more flawed and potentially unlikable in this one, if only to make the point that damaged people can do crappy things, and that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily evil. I’m talking, specifically, about Gigi. Gigi went through some terrible crap in this first book, no doubt about it. From racism thrown her way to injuries caused by others, Gigi is angry, and rightfully so. But in her anger, she starts to lose herself and starts to make the shift from damaged, to broken, and I believe there is a distinct difference. Now we are worried that she is going to turn into a monster, much like Bette was in the first book. And Bette, too, went through some serious changes through the pain that she suffered in the first one. She’s still entitled and snooty, but in this book you see her trying to find her redemption, and the strengths of her character are drawn out and put on display. These girls, the protagonist and the antagonist, get to grow and show that they are just people, and people make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t find atonement.

And the dramatics were back in this one, though the ante has been upped and it’s far more life or death for some of the characters. Now that Cassie, one of Bette’s victims from the first story, is back, things start to get especially gruesome at school. From peanut allergies being weaponized to trap doors opening unexpectedly, we do get a dose of the soapy thrills from the first book. But we also get some realistic conflict that maybe and every day teen could have to face. June, for example, is facing the potential of making a choice about her future. She wants to dance, but isn’t sure that she has what it takes to do so. Her eating disorder is running away with her, and many ballet companies won’t take on a girl who could be a liability in that way. Plus, she has her boyfriend now, who wants her to got NYU with him. June has to decide between a potentially unattainable/destructive dream, and a stable and loving but possibly unfulfilling future.

But now we come to the big problem I had with “Shiny Broken Pieces”, and this is where the big spoiler guns come out.

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(source)

So in this book, we find out who did some of the most heinous things to Gigi in the previous book: Will is the one who pushed her in front of the car. Sei-jin is the one who put glass in her ballet shoes. And Henri, who is Cassie’s boyfriend, seduced Will and influenced him to push Gigi in the first place as part of a grand scheme to solidify Cassie’s spot as top dog when she returned to school. So, a gay character, a lesbian character, and a bi-sexual (heavily implied) character were the ones who committed the violent acts against Gigi. And they are the only representations of LGBT characters in this book.

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I… take issue. (source)

So let me say right now that as a theoretical debate, I don’t really have a problem with characters from marginalized groups being the villains in stories in general. I think that villains can be from all backgrounds and that a well rounded villainous character is a good thing in a lot of stories. I think that equity and representation can extend to antagonists as well as protagonists. HOWEVER, I think that it’s irresponsible to do this if that is the only representation of that group within the narrative. And I think that it’s irresponsible if all of the characters from a marginalized group are antagonists. So for EVERY LGBT character in this book to have done something REALLY terrible (and gosh, Henri really just kind of fit into the ‘evil and untrustworthy bisexual’ trope in all ways, looking back at it), it didn’t sit well. And yes, people like Bette, June, and Gigi also did really terrible things as the story went on as well. But at least Bette, June, and Gigi all had perspective chapters so that we could see into their motivations and into their trains of thoughts. We may have some implied moments for Will and Sei-jin, but because we don’t get their own personal sides to their stories, they definitely come off as two dimensional caricatures with very little, or no redemption. Which isn’t great. These books are awesome when it comes to portrayals of racial diversity, no doubt. But I was very frustrated with the LGBT portrayals.

And finally, the audiobook might not have been the best choice for reading this book. I did it because my stack was so high, but the narrators for the three characters were pretty lackluster. There wasn’t much consistency between them and the accents they gave some characters, and none of them were particularly emphatic or lively. It felt more like they were reading a book, and I think that audiobook narrators really need to embody the book. I wonder if I would have been a bit more forgiving of some of the problems I had with this book (excluding the LGBT representation) if I had read this book in print.

So overall, I think that “Shiny Broken Pieces” was a solid follow up to “Tiny Pretty Things” with a fairly satisfactory ending. But the caveats to that kind of overshadowed how good it could have been.

Rating 7: A pretty solid follow up to the first book, but some problematic portrayals and lackluster narration made it not as entertaining as the first book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shiny Broken Pieces” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Hell is a Teenage Girl”, and “Books with Diversity”.

Find “Shiny Broken Pieces” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Tiny Pretty Things”