Serena’s Review: “The Ape Who Guards the Balance”

64255Book: “The Ape Who Guards the Balance” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: William Morrow, September 1998

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

Book Description: The prospects for the 1907 archaeological season in Egypt seem fairly dull to Amelia Peabody. Despite her adored husband’s brilliant reputation in his field, his dashing-yet-less-than-diplomatic behavior has Professor Radcliffe Emerson ignominiously demoted to examining only the most boring tombs in the Valley of the Kings — mere leftovers, really. All the Peabody Emersons profess stiff upper lips and intend to make the best of a bad situation, but this year the legendary land of the pharaohs will yield more than priceless artifacts for the Emerson expedition. For the desert guards even deeper mysteries that are wrapped in greed — and sealed by murder.

In a seedy section of Cairo, the youngest members of the expedition purchase a mint-condition papyrus of the famed Book of the Dead, the collection of magical spells and prayers designed to ward off the perils of the underworld and lead the deceased into everlasting life. But for as long as there have been graves, there have also been grave robbers — as well as those who believe tomb violators risk the wrath of gods like Thoth, the little baboon who protects the scales used to weigh such precious commodities as hearts and souls.

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” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.” and “The Hippopotamus Pool”

Review: It’s been a while, but we’re back with another Amelia Peabody novel. I usually turn to these when I find myself in a reading slump, but luckily I’ve had a pretty good run on books recently. But I still found myself with a hankering for my favorite female sleuth, and so here we are!

Back in Egypt, Amelia and her family find themselves looking forward to what will likely be a long, boring season. They have been “banished,” essentially, to some of the lesser tombs in the Valley and aren’t likely to make any grand discoveries. However, adventure is sure to find them, this time in the appearance of a priceless artifact that is recovered by Ramses, Nefret, and David. But following the artifact is a wake of mayhem and murder. Determined to find out who is behind these disturbances, Amelia and co. are on the case! Matters are only muddied, however, when their extended family (Walter, Evelyn, and their daughter, Lia) arrive and previously unknown attachments are revealed.

Many of the tried and true aspects of this series that I have always enjoyed are still present. While the narration is now more broken up, with the introduction of manuscripts and letters written from the perspectives of Ramses and Nefret, we still spend much of our time with our familiar and beloved Amelia. Here, however, the story really does take a new turn with regards to our heroine and her role in these stories. Up to this point, Amelia has been a solid point of reason, sound thinking, humorous commentary, and an adventurous spirit. All of these aspects of her personality remain here, however we are also exposed to a new reality: even Amelia herself has flaws and falls prey to certain prejudices that she wasn’t even aware of in herself. While it is difficult to see our reliable main character clash up against points of view that the modern reader immediately recognizes as traps of prejudices, I loved the full exploration of how this type of latent viewpoint could exist even within the most modern and intellectual beings of the time. And, be assured, even this challenge, as unexpected as it may have been for our heroine, is one that she is up to conquering!

As these books have continued, readers become more and more invested in the goings ons and thoughts/feelings of the younger group of the Emerson party. And this is probably the first book where I felt like these sections truly came into their own. Ramses continues to struggle with his repressed feelings for Nefret. Nefret, herself, continues to run into the barriers that are set against her due to her age and sex (even by members of her own family). And David struggles to find his role in a world that would often judge him first by the color of his skin, even when strong connections exist between him and those who might judge.

The mystery itself was also enjoyable. While I was able to predict certain twists and turns, the romp was still worth the ride. Many familiar faces play a role in this mystery, wandering in and out of scenes in some unexpected ways. I was particularly pleased to see the return of a certain villain who often creates many disturbances in the Emerson clan. What’s more, the stakes in this mystery are much higher than they have been in the past. While the book is still a “feel good” mystery, there was much more darkness and tragedy than I have come to expect. I never love crying over a book, but in this instance, I felt like the sadder moments were not only well-earned but a necessary send-off to certain storylines.

The archeological portions of the story were also quite compelling. We’ve gotten so used to our meticulous and studious main characters, that reading this book and its descriptions of the mishandling of a tomb found by another excavation team, I found myself almost getting as emotionally worked up as Emerson himself!

As I’ve said, many portions of this book felt familiar, but in the best way. There are significant strides made in advancing the storylines of the younger generation, which I’m sure we’ll see continue to play out in books to come. It also takes a new approach to examining Amelia’s own character, forcing her to confront some weaknesses in her own perceptions, an aspect of the story that I particularly enjoyed. As always, for fans of this series, keeping plugging along! You won’t be disappointed!

Rating 8: Continues the series’ long line of success, but adds new layers with an exploration of Amelia’s own flaws and an extra focus on the lives of Ramses, Nefret, and David.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ape Who Guards the Balance” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Archaeology Thriller Books” and “Strong Female Characters Written by Female Authors.”

Find “The Ape Who Guards the Balance” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Witch Elm”

39720991Book: “The Witch Elm” by Tana French

Publishing Info: Viking, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

Review: Thank you so much to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I first read Tana French with her first “Dublin Murder Squad” novel “In The Woods” around the time it came out. I liked it enough, but didn’t really move on until I read “Faithful Place” a few years later. I like French’s style, and I like her characters, but the mysteries themselves never really intrigued me as much as I wanted them to. But when I read about her newest novel, “The Witch Elm”, I was immediately interested in the premise. A man returns to a childhood family home and while he’s there a skull is found in a wych elm. Given that it sounds a little like the ‘who put Bella in the wych elm?’ crime, I wanted to see what French would do with it given her prowess for eeriness and dark characterizations.

“The Witch Elm” is a mystery about how this skeleton got into this tree, as well as how our main character Toby is connected to it. But ultimately it is more a story about family, memory, and how our perceptions of reality can change. Toby is an unreliable narrator not in that he is deliberately hiding facts from the reader, but in that he has gaps in his memory because of time and because of a traumatic brain injury sustained at the start of the book. French did a very good job of integrating the burglary and attack into the plot without making it feel purely plot driven, as there was a slow build up to it and then a sustained period of immediate consequences after that lingered well before the main drive of the plot at Toby’s Uncle Hugo’s home. And since Toby is constantly questioning his own memory, and his potential culpability in regards to the body in the tree, the reader also has to wonder whether or not we are following an innocent bystander caught up in a murder, or the murderer himself. But French is also very adept at presenting other characters who could also have a hand in murder, for many realistic and believable reasons. I quite enjoyed the mystery and seeing where it was going to go next.

I also very much enjoyed the family dynamic that Toby had with those around him, from his Uncle Hugo to his cousins Susanna and Leon. While the relationship with Susanna and Leon was a bit strained, be it because of their potential to be suspects to their differing views on how they should be dealing with their uncle to baggage from the past, it felt very real for a family with various dysfunctions. And Toby’s relationship with Hugo is quite lovely, as Hugo is dying of a brain tumor and Toby, having his own medical set backs and problems with cognition, really connects with him. They all did feel like a real family with it’s ups and downs, and this aspect of the book was probably the strongest for me.

I think that the main quibbles I had were with the length of the story. It takes a little bit of time to get started, for one thing, and while I understand why it does (as mentioned above, French is careful to make the attack and break in feel like more than just a device to get Toby’s mind foggy), I felt like it dragged its feet a bit. I found myself tempted to skip ahead to the family estate, and while I didn’t do that I do think that it took just a little too long to get all of the set up into place. And then it went on a bit longer than it had to, with a tacked on moment at the end that didn’t feel lit it needed to be there. I don’t wish to spoil it so I won’t say what it is here, but a new moment of conflict with very dire consequences happens well after we’ve found out the solution to the Wych Elm mystery at hand. And I didn’t quite understand why it had to happen at all. It felt unnecessary and it didn’t add much to the plot.

But all that said, Tana French is still an author who knows how to write an atmospheric mystery with some fascinating characters. “The Witch Elm” was a fun detour from her “Dublin Murder Squad” series, and I will be very curious to see if she is going to write more stand alone novels down the line, because this one stood on it’s own two feet pretty handily.

Rating 7: While there was a compelling mystery and family story at it’s heart, “The Witch Elm” took a bit too long to get going, and lagged longer than it had to.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Witch Elm” is included on the Goodreads lists “Autumn Seasonal Reads”, and I think it would fit in on “Popular Family Secrets Books”.

Find “The Witch Elm” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Broken Things”

37859646Book: “Broken Things” by Lauren Oliver

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from Edelweiss.

Book Description: It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods. 

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it. 

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.

Review: I want to say thank you to Edelweiss for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Horrorpalooza has officially begun!!! As you all know, the month of October is where I try to do all horror/upsetting thriller, all the time, and kicking off with the new Lauren Oliver is a great way to begin! Lauren Oliver has written some pretty stellar YA novels in multiple genres, but I think that her mind bending thrillers are her best. I especially liked the book “Vanishing Girls”, a book about two sisters with lots of problems. So when I saw that she had a new book coming out called “Broken Things”, I was intrigued, and when the plot sounded like it was inspired by the Slender Man Stabbing I had to have it. Oliver has always done a good job of making creepy atmospheres as well as creating damaged but interesting protagonists, so I had pretty high hopes for this book. And the good news is that “Broken Things” is another strong showing from Oliver.

This story is told through two perspectives in two different timelines. The first perspective is Brynn, the sardonic sarcastic girl of the friend group. After they were never charged with Summer’s murder, she left town, and has been in a seemingly fragile mental state, hopping in and out of rehab. The other is Mia, the quieter, kinder one of the group, who never left town but had her life be torn apart by her mother’s mental illness and the rumors that always plagued her. Both girls are very different characters, but Oliver does a good job of writing both of them and making their motivations known and understood. While Brynn’s story was the one that I liked the best of the two, I felt that Mia had the most character growth, so there was something to really enjoy through both POVs. Brynn and Mia are also equally complex, as Brynn was potentially in love with Summer back when she was alive, and Mia had a crush on Summer’s then boyfriend, turned fellow suspect. Their romantic entanglements, however, are not the main focus of their storylines, as the big relationship is the one between the two of them as they learn to trust each other again. I greatly enjoyed seeing them try to bridge that gap, especially since there might have been problems even before Summer died. And through their perspectives I felt like I got a good look into what Summer was like, and that she was just as well rounded as they were in spite of the fact that she didn’t have much in terms of her own perspectives.

The timelines are in the present, and what happened leading up to Summer’s death from the time they met her until the night that she died. Both timelines and both perspectives slowly and carefully lay out all of the pieces of the puzzle, and Oliver reveals them at her own pace in their own due time. While we knew everything that was going on in these character’s minds, and the various clues that each of them had, the two timelines and two perspectives made it so that we got to watch them bring it all together. It rarely felt like it was lagging or dragging as Brynn and Mia tackle the mystery, both of Summer’s death and also what Summer was actually like outside of being painted as a symbol of purity taken before her time. While I did guess a couple of things before their reveals, overall there were plenty of gasp worthy moments that took be by surprise. The journey of getting to the solution was lots of fun, with a lot of twisted and dark moments that made for a tense and eerie atmosphere.

I also liked the glimpses we got into the fantasy world of Lovelorn. Like the Slender Man Stabbing, the girls in question had become obsessed with a fantasy world that they believed, to a point, was real. While it may have been easy to just make up a slapdash version of Slender Man for this story, Oliver made a whole new world that had some unique elements. While it wasn’t the focus, we got enough tastes of this fantasy world that I felt like I knew it almost as well as Brynn, Mia, and Summer did. If Lauren Oliver wanted to write a couple of Lovelorn books, I would probably read them, and that’s coming from me, whose tastes in fantasy are VERY particular.

“Broken Things” is another tantalizing and thrilling book by Lauren Oliver, and she continues to show that there can be some well done crossovers between age groups when it comes to thrillers. Adults and teens alike will enjoy “Broken Things”.

Rating 9: An engrossing and thrilling mystery with complex and dark characters, “Broken Things” is a triumphant return to the teen thriller genre for Lauren Oliver.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Broken Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “Buzz Books 2018 – Young Adult Fall/Winter”, and “2018 YA Mysteries”.

Find “Broken Things” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Hollow of Fear”

363423301Book: “The Hollow of Fear” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Berkley, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

Previously Reviewed: “A Study in Scarlet Women” and “A Conspiracy in Belgravia”

Review: I warned you in our “Highlights” post that a review was coming quickly! Thanks to the lovely Edelweiss, I’ve had access to this title for a while but had been trying to resist reading it until closer to its publication date. Torture indeed. And at this point, after three amazing books (spoiler: I loved this one), it’s such a pleasure to find another series that I can now put full faith into the fact that I’m sure to love future titles as well. Why can’t they all just be out now though?? They should defy space and time and arrive ala Netflix binging. But enough of that, on with the review!

The fallout of the events that took place in “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” are still being felt, most largely by Lord Ingram himself whose world has crumbled after the discovery of his wife’s involvement with the criminal mastermind Moriarty. But a bad situation can always get worse and very much does with the discovery of Lady Ingram’s body on his own property. Of course, Charlotte Holmes would never watch idly as disaster befell her dear friend. But still banished from society and with a gossip-worthy connection with Lord Ingram himself, how can she involve herself in the case in a useful manner? In disguise, of course!

Oh where, oh where to start my crazed ranting! I think part of my love still comes down to the very fact that this series exists and exists as well as it does. I’ve recommended it to a few people lately, including my husband, and his and many other’s responses have often been the same. Something like “…really? but…why?” For some, this is simply because they see no reason to adapt the character once again at all and for others there is a general distrust that a series could effectively gender swap the character while also maintaining its historical setting. And really, these are both legit concerns. In the last several years, though it has been waning a bit recently, it seems the entire world was under a certain “Sherlock” fever, with a new adaptation, either written or on some screen or another, announced every other day. But to these skeptics I say a loud and resounding “nay!” There is always room for another adaptation if and when an author is truly capable of bending these classic characters into something truly new without losing the essence of said characters and stories. And that is what makes Sherry Thomas’s books so amazing.

“The Hollow of Fear” is no exception. By this point, we know that Thomas has tackled the biggest challenge: creating a new version of Sherlock that both rings true to the original but also has enough novel factors to stand alone among other adaptations. And from there, it’s just a matter of releasing said character into another plot and seeing what happens. I think what makes this story stand out in particular is the fact that it is more of a direct sequel to its predecessor than the original. The first two definitely had connected through lines, but could perhaps be read individually. Here, this story directly pulls from the events of the last and is stronger for having a more robust mystery built upon information and puzzles that have been laid down through both books now.

I also enjoyed that the story largely takes place in a small space, Lord Ingram’s estate. We jump here and there to a few places in the surrounding community, but in many ways it reads like a classic mansion mystery where a large group gathers, a murder is committed, and the culprit and method must be sought out amidst the question of how such an event could occur with so many witnesses around.

All of our favorite characters make an appearance though the amount of page time for each is switched around a bit. Here, we spend a lot more time with Charlotte’s sister, Livia and got to see her come a bit into her own, building confidence as she went. We also spend a good amount of time with Detective Treadles, and I particularly enjoyed his storyline here. In the last few books, he’s been a bit unlikable due to his feelings and prejudices about his wife, but here we see him truly have to confront these aspects of himself. In retrospect, I very much enjoy this slow transformation. I think it reads as a much more honest version of this type of change and the moments that lead him to real inner reflection in this book also ring true for what would open one’s eyes about one’s own behaviors and thoughts with regards to these types of prejudices.

Charlotte herself is of course amazing. I very much enjoyed her undercover work, and it was a fun twist to see her more fully interacting with the mystery as the story unfolded. Due to her gender and outcast status, she always had to operate a bit on the sidelines in the past books, and while that lead to some really great moments too, this was a nice change of pace from what could have become a predictable set of events.

Her relationship with Lord Ingram was also further explored, and while I still very much enjoy this building relationship, there were a few things at the end that were particular to this couple that lead me to drop my rating from a full 10. Some of the explanations for past actions I’m not sure truly made sense or were necessary in the grand scheme of things. Instead, they almost read as excuses to include certain parts of the story that were hard to work in otherwise. And then were largely reset again at the end of this book. I’m curious where things will go from here, however, as I don’t think this type of bait-and-switch will work twice, so at some point this complicated relationship is going to need to be dealt with in another way.

The mystery itself was also very good and remains one of the strongest pros of the entire series. Here there were a few moments where I thought I had guessed at crucial information and was feeling quite smug about it only to later discover that, nope, that wasn’t right at all. And while there were a few very satisfying scenes at the end where Charlotte was able to put some self-important police investigators in their place, part of that reveal also relied on one concept that felt a bit too convenient. But, again, that’s a very nit-picky criticism. Because overall, for fans of historical mysteries, this series is turning out to be a must read!

Rating 9: Sherry Thomas continues to make the difficult task of writing a new version of Sherlock Holmes seem “elementary” indeed!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hollow of Fear” is a newer title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it is on “Historical Mystery 2018.”

Find “The Hollow of Fear” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Pieces of Her”

35887251Book: “Pieces of Her” by Karin Slaughter

Publishing Info: William Morrow, August 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me a hardcover copy.

Book Description: What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all…?

Andrea knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them…

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book!

This may be surprising to some of you out there, but until I was given “Pieces of Her” I had never actually read a book by Karin Slaughter. Given that she’s such a prolific thriller and mystery author it’s a bit strange, and yet while I’d certainly heard of her I just never picked her up. But when William Morrow asked if I would be interested in reading this book, I said sure, and decided to give her a whirl, finally! And while I went in not knowing what to expect, I ended up really enjoying “Pieces of Her”.

The first thing that struck me about “Pieces of Her” was that I was going to be getting two separate stories, even if I didn’t realize that at first. The first narrative is that of Andy, a thirty one year old woman who has found herself drifting in life (as so many people around my age have, thanks in part to the Great Recession that slammed us right when we were set to be starting or ending college). She loves her mother Laura, who has always been a caring and devoted parent to her. But when Laura becomes famous for interfering in an act of violence and killing a killer, Andy sees a side of her mother that she never knew existed. For many people there is that one moment that you realize that your parent is a person beyond just being your parent, and Andy’s moment turns into a very engrossing journey. We follow Andy as she tries to piece together who Laura was before she had Andy, and why she seems to be comfortable with violence and destruction. This mystery is intriguing and the journey Andy takes kept me interested. But what was even more interesting was the story of Laura’s past, which is told as well through her own chapters and sections. These were even more fascinating, as we got to watch Laura face harrowing and upsetting circumstances (which I don’t particularly want to spoil here, as it was far more fun slowly watching it all come to fruition), and see how she moved from her experiences there to the picture perfect, but not really perfect, parent that she was in Andy’s eyes. Seeing their relationship evolve because of these revelations was also very neat, just as watching the story as a whole unfold and come together was very gripping. Slaughter is clearly a pro at devising a cohesive and intricate plot.

I also really enjoyed the various societal themes that Slaughter discusses in this book, specifically how our culture tends to gloss over or perpetuate violence towards women due to toxic masculinity and toxic men. There are multiple severe and relevant moments of violence in this book that target women, targeted by men who are entitled, who are angry, or who have been victims of societal standards of masculinity and therein take their pain and turn it against others. It’s no coincidence that the act of violence that sparks the entire story is perpetrated by a teenager who killed his ex girlfriend and her mother because said girlfriend dumped him. It’s no coincidence that a character who makes a pivotal decision in the past timeline was a victim of violence at the hands of her husband, who killed their children and himself. Other women in this book have had various abuses thrown at them by men, and it shapes them and drives them to do various things, some good, some bad. This is very much a book about how our culture can hurt and fail those who are vulnerable, and I greatly appreciated that Slaughter was willing to do a deep dive into some psychological darkness. It made the story that much richer, and made it feel that much more real.

“Pieces of Her” was a book that I ended up greatly enjoying. I’m sure that Karin Slaughter fans will find a lot to like, but I think that fans of thrillers who haven’t sought her out would find it to be an entertaining read.

Rating 8: A well plotted out and engrossing thriller/mystery that addresses hidden pasts, violence towards women, and the relationship between mothers and daughters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pieces of Her” is still fairly new and not on many relevant or specific Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Witness Protection, New Identities, People in Hiding”, and “Bonds Between Mother’s and Daughters”.

Find “Pieces of Her” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Sadie”

34810320Book: “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2018

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

Book Description: Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. 

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Review: I want to thank NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this novel!

I fully admit to being a huge fan of true crime, even though I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the sometimes inevitably exploitative nature of it. Even if books, TV shows, podcasts, and the like do raise awareness when it comes to various crimes, especially murder, it also turns other people’s potential pain into entertainment to make money off of. I’m no role model, as I ultimately consume SO MUCH true crime stuff it borders on the obsessive. But it isn’t lost on me that there is something dark and a bit voyeuristic about listening to and reading stories about murder. So I knew that “Sadie” by Courtney Summers was going to be, at the very least, an interesting read. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be a phenomenal one.

I first want to start with how the narrative is laid out. There are two alternating storylines that we are following: There is the transcript of the podcast “The Girls”, hosted by a well meaning man named West McCray, and then there is the first person perspective of Sadie herself, as she goes on her lonely mission to hunt down the man that she thinks killed her sister Mattie. The podcast transcript feels very much like other breakaway true crime podcasts that involve an investigative elements like “Serial” or “S-Town”, as West is tracking down Sadie in ‘real time’ and finding his narrative as he goes. Given that I love these kinds of podcasts, I knew that I was going to be picky as hell with how Summers did it, but she pulls it off in spite of the fact a podcast is, in itself, an audio experience. But ultimately, West doesn’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle, so for much of the time we are a couple steps ahead of him. We get to see him slowly piece Sadie’s actions together, and see how he could frame the story in a way that can have many themes that his audience would take interest in: poverty, addiction, violence towards women, and familial loyalty all play a part in “The Girls” as West interviews and gets to know the people in Sadie’s life and those that she interacts with. Audience members (aka the reader) can see the big picture that came together to impact Sadie and Mattie’s life, and West gets to remain detached as well as interested, controlling the narrative as best he can and guiding his audience to feel sympathy for Sadie and the culture (poverty stricken and forgotten) that she comes from, while still maintaining the safety and comfort of their own lives.

Sadie, on the other hand, does not have that luxury. Her parts of the story are dark, grim, and filled with despair as this nineteen year old is trying to hunt down the man she thinks killed the only person in the world she loved with all of her heart. Sadie doesn’t care that their mother, Claire, is a victim of a society that gives little to no support to single mothers who live in poverty and with addiction. Sadie doesn’t care that she herself has been victimized by society that is steeped in misogyny and makes victims out of women of all ages. Sadie just knows that Mattie is dead, and that she is going to kill the man she believes did it. Sadie’s story is at times so hard to read because Summers doesn’t sugar coat or gloss over the violence and hardships that she encounters, but that makes it all the stronger. While West makes Sadie’s story a commodity, we SEE her story, and we see how bad it is. While West certainly has his heart in the right place, you can see the exploitation at the heart of it because you see everything Sadie goes through in her own words. But then Sadie is also unreliable in her own ways, and sometimes what she says doesn’t necessarily line up with later revealed realities. The ways that the two narratives serve to both confirm and also upend each other never ceased to catch me off guard, and I liked that it also emphasized the various struggles that victims of domestic violence face when their abusers can hide behind a mask and trick even those closest to the victims.

I’ve labeled this as a mystery, as it SORT of is (between who killed Mattie and what happened to Sadie), but ultimately the mystery isn’t the point of this story. The point is female rage, and Summers does a masterful job of keeping it grounded in reality and never treading towards melodrama or overcompensating. Too often with YA books do we see authors feeling a need to spell everything out, or take things to extremes that feel unrealistic. Everything in “Sadie” feels real, and because of that it kicks you in the guy repeatedly, and doesn’t try to placate to the need for a happy ending or absolute closure. I really hope that this book gets noticed by readers, because it is easily one of the best YA novels I’ve read in recent memory.

“Sadie” is another perfect example of why adults shouldn’t turn their nose up at YA, just as it is a perfect example of a YA author trusting her audience. This is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time, and I cannot recommend it enough for it’s relevance and it’s power. Go read it.

Rating 10: A gut wrenching and engrossing novel that cuts to the bone, “Sadie” is a story about victimization, revenge, and how the lines can blur between investigative journalism, entertainment, and advocacy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sadie” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Missing Persons”, and “If You Love Veronica Mars…- YA Books”.

Find “Sadie” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Treacherous Curse”

26244626Book: “A Treacherous Curse” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker.

His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past.Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

Review: I am now completely caught up on the Veronica Speedwell novels! Yay!! There are now no more Vernoica Speedwell novels to read until MARCH 2019! Boo!! But, as always, it is best to focus on the present instead of dreading the long, cold dreary months until next spring when the next book is finally released. And, surprising no one, this book was delight, and I blazed through it much more quickly than I would have liked!

Veronica and Stoker are minding their own business, busily cataloging the items that have been gathering dust in their patron’s expansive properties for generations. All seems well until a sensationalist story of a cursed expedition to Egypt begins making a splash across the local newspapers. But what should have remained a simple curiosity, becomes much more dire when the pair realize that the linchpin for the mystery is a man who was formerly Stoker’s partner. What’s worse, this partner was the one to run off with Stoker’s ex-wife. So when this man disappears, Stoker finds himself squarely in the cross-hairs of an investigation that is only too likely to recast him, once again, as a villain of society. Veronica, of course, has something to say about this, and so with her leading the charge, the pair set out to unravel the mystery and secure Stoker’s reputation and future.

I’ve made comparisons to the Amelia Peabody series from the start, but the subject matter of this one really hits that nail squarely on the head. I’ve always been interested in Egyptology (I blame my unrepentant love of 90s “The Mummy!”), so I was excited to see it as a focal point of this book. There are the requisite references to ancient gods, a few curses running around, and ancient jewelry that’s gone missing. And what would a good Egyptian mystery be without a mummy? So of course there is one of those as well. I enjoyed the sprawling cast of characters that made up the suspect pool of the story, all having an extensive history together working on digs in that area of the world. The tangled relationships and roles left me constantly guessing as to the motives of each player and how they could be involved with the disappearance of Stoker’s former friend.  It was even more fun reading these bits than usual, as references to famous hotels and locations in Eygpt were familiar from my reading of the Amelia Peabody books.

While I did like these elements of the mystery and my general appreciation for the topic remained, I was a bit put off by the constant comparisons to the other series that was going on in my mind. The line was just a bit too close between the two. Not Stoker and Veronica themselves, since as characters they have enough established to differentiate themselves from Amelia and Emerson. But the way the mystery unfolded and the roles the characters involved played did start to feel a bit predictable having come off reading so many historical mysteries featuring similar topics.

Veronica and Stoker were excellent as always. Veronica, especially, seems to really come into her own in this book. Stoker, understandably, struggles with the entire situation and is thrown into numerous scenes that shake him quite badly, most notably a confrontation with his ex-wife. I particularly liked Veronica’s tongue-lashing of Stoker when he too often fell into bouts of self-pity. Stoker’s arc and past have been slowly unrolling for the past several books, but I do hope that this confrontation with his past as forced upon him by this story will put an end to some of the more mopey and melodramatic moments he could be prone to. Veronica always plays nicely off this aspect of him, but at a certain point, there needs to be a bit more growth on Stoker’s side. So while I liked the situations that arose here, I’m hopeful that this will be the end of this particular plot point.

A complaint I’ve had in the past has had to do with the endings often feeling rushed and too convenient. This book mostly avoids that same pitfall. Mostly. Instead, there are various reveals scattered throughout the story. This allows what is really a very complicated mystery with a ton of moving pieces to come together in a more natural and less info-dumpy manner. However, again, the ending did fall prone to the convenience factor with the villains neatly doing away with themselves. It seems to be a common trait.

The romance between Veronica and Stoker was understandably muted in this story, given the nature of the mystery and the involvement of Stoker’s ex, whom he still struggles to move on from. Similarly to his tendency towards the morose, I’m hopeful that this book marks a turning point in their relationship as well. No need to rush to the alter or anything, but a bit more progress in this area would be nice.

I very much enjoyed “A Treacherous Curse.” It remained true to all the aspects that I’ve enjoyed previously, most notably the strength of its two leads and the inclusion of a legitimately puzzling mystery. The topic of the mystery was a bit dampened  by comparisons to the Amelia Peabody books, because let’s be honest, there’s no beating those stories as far as historical mysteries in Egypt go. But this goes down as another solid entry in this series, and if you haven’t already, definitely check it out. Or save it up a bit until March is closer so you’re not waiting forever like me.

Rating 8: While Egypt remains Amelia Peabody’s stronghold, Veronica and Stoker are setting up camp as a strong second.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Treacherous Curse” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “A Treacherous Curse” at your library using WorldCat.