Kate’s Review: “Disappearing Earth”

34563821._sy475_Book: “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips

Publishing Info: Knopf, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I borrowed it from my Mom

Book Description: Beautifully written, thought-provoking, intense and cleverly wrought, this is the most extraordinary first novel from a mesmerising new talent.

One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the north-eastern edge of Russia, two sisters are abducted. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women.

Set on the remote Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth draws us into the world of an astonishing cast of characters, all connected by an unfathomable crime. We are transported to vistas of rugged beauty – densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes and the glassy seas that border Japan and Alaska – and into a region as complex as it is alluring, where social and ethnic tensions have long simmered, and where outsiders are often the first to be accused.

In a story as propulsive as it is emotionally engaging, and through a young writer’s virtuosic feat of empathy and imagination, this powerful novel provides a new understanding of the intricate bonds of family and community, in a Russia unlike any we have seen before.

Review: I was visiting my parents when I saw “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips on their coffee table. I asked them who had read it, and my Dad said ‘Your Mom got it for me. I read it. I didn’t like it at all.’ Not the highest of praise, but I also knew that it was probably less a reflection of the quality of writing, and more of the kind of writing. I know my Dad, and I know that literary fiction isn’t really his style. Therefore, I was definitely interested in giving it a go, especially since it had so much praise from the book community. Because that’s what “Disappearing Earth” is at it’s heart: it has the plot of a thriller, but the foundation and bones of a literary novel.

While it’s true that “Disappearing Earth” starts with, and deeply connects, to the disappearance of Alonya and Sophia, two sisters who vanish in an isolated town in Kamchatka, Russia. But it’s definitely more about life in an isolated town in a country that is still feeling the effects of a fallen empire, and the people who live their lives there every day. Each chapter takes place in a different month after the disappearance, spanning over nearly a year, and has a different perspective of a member of the community, or the surrounding communities. Each character has their own connection to the missing girls, from their mother, to a police officer, to the only witness, to members of the Even community who had their own disappearance a few years prior (but more on that later). But focusing on the various people in the town and their own connection to the girls and their disappearance, as direct or indirect as it may be, we get a slice of life narrative that is steeped in sadness, resilience, and a little bit of hope. Can I understand why this perhaps wasn’t my Dad’s kind of book? Sure. It’s not your typical thriller/mystery, even though Alonya and Sophia’s disappearance is always at hand. It’s really more about how these girls went missing, how different people react to it (from disbelief to coldness to determination to know what happened).

The theme that really stood out to me, however, was that of the Even community and characters, specifically Alla Innokentevna, the mother of the missing Lilia, and Ksyusha, a University student who is torn between her community at home and the community she has at school, specifically her boyfriend, a white Russian named Ruslan. One of the big reveals of this book is the disappearance of Lilia, whose disappearance was like Alonya and Sophia’s, but went largely unnoticed by those outside of Esso and the natives who live there. I know so little about Russian society, and the little that I do know has very little to do with the rural communities and the relationships between the white Russians and the native communities. And like in other parts of the world, the non-white victim has gone largely forgotten while two white girls have their faces splashed all over town and beyond. It’s not a mystery what happened to Alonya and Sophia, as we see what happens to them in the very first chapter, but we do find ourselves wondering if Lilia did actually leave by her own volition, or if she fell victim to the same predator as the two younger girls. And Phillips does a very good job of making you fear the very worst, and wrings out some truly heart wrenching moments involving her family. Especially when Alla interacts with Martina, Alonya and Sophia’s mother.

And finally, Phillips completely captured what life is like in this village, making the village feel like a character in and of itself. I got a very good feel for not only the location and the people, but also the day to day emotions and experiences that the communities as a whole had, and how they were shaped by where they live. This was so well done, and I was a bit astounded by how real and evocative the place of this story was.

“Disappearing Earth” may not be the kind of thriller I usually cover, but it’s so damn good. Phillips has blended two genres to make a satisfying and compelling read. I’m no doubt going to have to have a long conversation with my Dad to try and plead its case!

Rating 9: Evocative and melancholy, “Disappearing Earth” is about life on an isolated peninsula, and the way lives change yet continue when a community is rocked by tragedy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Disappearing Earth” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Books on the North”, and “Russia Based Thrillers”.

Find “Disappearing Earth” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “One of Us Is Next”

One of Us is Next FINAL cover.inddBook: “One of Us Is Next” by Karen M. McManus

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press for Young Readers, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling thriller everyone is talking about, One of Us Is Lying! There’s a new mystery to solve at Bayview High, and there’s a whole new set of rules.

Come on, Bayview, you know you’ve missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one’s been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts. Until now. This time it’s not an app, though—it’s a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe’s the first target. If you choose not to play, it’s a truth. And hers is dark. Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare. But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it’s that they can’t count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon’s gone, but someone’s determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there’s a whole new set of rules.

Review: Back in 2017, I was super impressed by Karen M. McManus’s debut YA thriller “One of Us Is Lying”. It felt like “The Breakfast Club” was mashed up with a soapy murder mystery, and had interesting and complex characters to boot. Because of this I was stoked to find out that McManus had written a sequel called “One of Us Is Next”, which takes the original premise, twists it up, and brings in some new and some familiar faces. It took a little while for my library to get it, but as soon as it was in my hands I set a day aside and basically devoured it in one go.

“One of Us Is Next” is a semi-direct sequel in that it takes place at the same school but has a mixed bag of characters. The Original Bayview Four, as the protagonists from the first book are called, are definitely around, but the focus is not on them. Rather, we have a few brand new characters, and a few former supporting characters turned leads. I really liked this choice, as it gave us a little bit of familiarity while still giving us fresh faces and new possibilities along with a new tech based threat. In this case the threat is a Truth or Dare game, in which if you are chosen you have to pick one or the other. If you pick Dare, you have to do something based on the person in control’s whims. If you ignore it or pick truth, something humiliating will be exposed. I LOVED this new game, as McManus gave a similar premise completely new stakes. The three main character focuses are Maeve, Bronwyn’s sister who played a very important role in the first book; Phoebe, a semi popular girl who is the first target of the Truth or Dare game; and Knox, a geeky theater kid who is Maeve’s best friend. Once again McManus is great at making these characters all have their own secrets and insecurities while showing their vulnerabilities when they could easily fall into stereotypes. Of the three I was the most enamored with Phoebe, which caught me by surprise given that she is almost right off the bat painted in a light that’s less than flattering (no spoilers here though!). While she has made bad and selfish decisions in the past, once her bad decisions are exposed we get to see into her mind, her thought process, and what she’s been dealing with at home (recently deceased father, downsized living situation, a formerly close relationship with her sister in shambles). I ended up really loving Phoebe, rough edges and all, as she (like Nate and Addy in the previous book) had so much depth and so much heart it was impossible not to root for her. And Maeve has her own issues that felt very heavy and weighted, and McManus was able to give it the serious tone that it needed without making it feel like it was overshadowing everything else.

Kind of like the first book, the mystery itself left a little bit to be desired in the sense that I figured it out pretty quickly, at least part of it. But, also like the first book, that didn’t really matter, as I was more than happy to go along for the ride of building up to the endgame solution. Our cast of characters is immensely likable, and I liked seeing how the Truth or Dare game escalated to the breaking point AND how it all came together in the end. Like, ALL of it. McManus does know how to weave multiple strands, and even if I saw one of the bigger threads from a ways away it was still well done. And I also liked how she incorporated the characters from the previous books into said mystery, without leaning too much upon them. I loved seeing what Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper have been doing, and it was nice getting reassurance that they are all still doing well (for the most part. There has to be a LITTLE drama, after all).

Fans of “One of Us Is Lying” will not be disappointed with “One of Us Is Next”! If McManus wanted to continue the soapy and twisty adventures of Bayview High, I would happily follow her wherever she takes it!

Rating 8: A gripping mystery and worthy follow up to a runaway hit, “One of Us Is Next” is a twisty tale that kept me guessing, and gave us a new set of characters that were easy to root for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“One of Us Is Next” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Thrillers and Mysteries 2019-2020″, and “Popsugar 2020 – A Book That Passes the Bechdel Test”.

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

Previously reviewed: “One of Us Is Lying”

Kate’s Review: “A Line in the Dark”

28096526Book: “A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: The most important thing is that Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend, even if Angie can’t see how she truly feels. It’s okay that Jess is the girl on the sidelines that nobody notices. That means she’s free to watch everyone else and be at Angie’s side. But when Angie starts falling for Margot, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can already see what’s going to happen. And suddenly her gift for observation is a curse.

As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess finds more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences. When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.

Review: A couple years ago Serena and I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival, and given that neither of us have any will power we both left with a few books in tow. One of the books that I brought with me was “A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo, which had been on my Highlights list in October 2017. Suffice to say, it languished on my shelf for awhile. Like, two years and a fourth years awhile. Definitely my bad. But since I’m trying to read books that I’ve been putting off as of late, I decided the time had come for “A Line in the Dark”.

It takes a little while to get there, but ultimately “A Line in the Dark” is a mystery. But the bigger themes involve friendship, loyalty, privilege, and jealousy. Jess and Angie are best friends, but the tension that exists between them is almost immediate, and prevalent throughout the narrative. Jess is infatuated with Angie, and her devotion to her best friend is exacerbated even more so because of her attraction for her. So when Angie starts dating the privileged and potentially toxic Margot from the local boarding school, Jess’s jealously starts to fester and stir. It’s hard to know much about Margot, as this book spends a lot of the time in Jess’s head, and her opinion is skewed because of her jealousy. We don’t know if Jess is an unreliable narrator, which adds to the mystery that appears when Margot’s friend Ryan (another mean girl from the boarding school) goes missing after a party that all of the girls attend. Ryan’s disappearance and it’s aftermath is told through Jess’s POV, transcripts of police interviews, and a sudden shift in perspective as the narrative turns to third person. While the first person POV and transcripts worked well together, the sudden shift to third person felt a little forced, especially since it happens later in the book as opposed to being established right away. That said, I did like the mystery and how the clues unfolded, as well as how we eventually got to the solution through these three devices. Even if the third device wasn’t as strong, in my opinion.

That said, I did have a problem with how the characters were presented. There were already some limitations due to the majority of the novel being in the first person, but I do believe that a first person POV doesn’t necessarily hinder an author from character development. I’ve read a number of books in the first person where I still got a really good sense of the surrounding characters, but “A Line in the Dark” didn’t have that. I never really got a good sense for what Angie was like outside of being an object of affection for Jess. We’re told that Jess’s parents think she’s a bad influence, but I never could really figure out why that was. Margot gets a little more to work with, but that isn’t clear until we’re basically done with the story. And even though we have Jess’s first person perspective throughout a lot of the narrative, I felt like the only thing I really knew about her was her love of art and her devotion to Angie. I did like that Lo does comment on classism and racism within this book, as Jess is Chinese American and has to deal with privileged and racist wealthy kids during her art program and when she hangs out with Angie and Margot and Margot’s group. I thought that while it was subtle commentary, it packed a punch.

Not so compelling characters aside, I enjoyed “A Line in the Dark” for it’s mystery. I will definitely be looking into reading more works by Lo, as it’s undeniable that she knows how to craft a tense story.

Rating 6: A solid mystery that keeps the tension taut, “A Line in the Dark” kept me interested, even if the characters weren’t as drawn out as I’d hoped they would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Line in the Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bi and Lesbian Psychological Thrillers”, and “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “A Line in the Dark” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Good Girls Lie”

42771599Book: “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison

Publishing Info: Mira Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.

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

The end of 2019 is upon us and on this New Years Eve we are going to close out the 2019 blog year with one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres: the soapy catty boarding school thriller! Oh how I love the juicy and scandalous tales of kids at boarding school behaving badly, and if you have an interesting mystery to boot it’s just icing on the cake. So how lucky for me that I was approved to check out “Good Girls Lie” by J.T. Ellison. Boarding school drama, secret societies, and murder are just a few of the juicy tidbits you’ll find in this novel.

Our main character is Ash, an English orphan who has been accepted to the prestigious Goode school, an all girls academy that is said to produce women who go on to the Ivy League and then find themselves in powerful jobs and totally set lives. Ash isn’t interested in making friends, as she just wants to finish school and move on with her life. It’s told from the first person perspective, and I have to say that Ellison is really good at still maintaining a sense of mystery in spite of the fact we are in Ash’s head for most of the novel (there are some other perspectives, but more on that later). We know that something went down while she was back in England, and that Ash is hiding something. Pretty standard stuff, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining. If anything, the fact that it hit a lot of familiar notes and had a number of red herrings and twists made it feel like a comfortable sweater that fit in every way I wanted it to. Ash as a main character was also a positive of this story, as I thought that she had enough mystery and relatability that I was invested in how things turned out for her, as well as worried about what she may or may not be capable of. I was genuinely questioning if I was dealing with an unreliable narrator or not, and I couldn’t wait to see how it all shook out. I also enjoyed the complicated relationship Ash had with another student at the school, Becca. Becca is a couple years older than Ash and one of the most envied, and perhaps feared, girls at Goode, and her interest in Ash is something that makes other girls jealous and curious. Their friendship is filled with a fair amount of sexual tension, and question as to whether either of them can be trusted makes the tension all the more amped, and therefore satisfying.

There was one aspect of this book that didn’t totally work for me, and that is that along with Ash’s perspective, we also occasionally get some third person perspectives from Dean Ford, the headmistress at Goode. While I think that multiple perspectives can be done well, and that you can construct more ‘ah ha!’ moments if you have the ability to see outside the first person narration, a lot of the moments that we had with Ford were more about showing her weaknesses and personal problems. I like the concept of exploring a woman who has to live up to the reputations of the many other head mistresses that the school has had (in particular, her mother, who was the previous head mistress), and how she may fixate on a new, and potentially damaged student, but the way that it was executed felt like it was fat that could have been trimmed.

“Good Girls Lie” was a boarding school thriller that hit the familiar points. Like I’ve said before, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! If you want a read that you can just enjoy for what it is, and you like boarding school thrillers, this will be a good fit. I hope that you all have a very happy and safe New Year’s Eve, and I’ll see you in 2020!!

Rating 7: A soapy mystery with catty drama, “Good Girls Lie” was a worthy contribution to the ‘thriller at a boarding school’ genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Good Girls Lie” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Sapphic Boarding School Books”.

Find “Good Girls Lie” at your school using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Trace of Evil”

43263388Book: “Trace of Evil” (Natalie Lockhart #1) by Alice Blanchard

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, December 2019

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

Book Description: A riveting mystery that introduces a bold and audacious rookie detective assigned to hunt for a killer who is haunted by the past in this gripping murder case…

Natalie Lockhart always knew she was going to be a cop. A rookie detective on the Burning Lake police force, she was raised on the wisdom of her chief-of-police father. These cases will haunt you if you let them. Grief doesn’t come with instructions.

But the one thing her father couldn’t teach her was how to handle loss. Natalie’s beloved sister was viciously murdered as a teenager, and she carries the scars deep in her heart. Although the killer was locked up, the trace evidence never added up, and Natalie can’t help wondering―is the past really behind her?

As the newest member on the force, Natalie is tasked with finding nine missing persons who’ve vanished off the face of the earth, dubbed “the Missing Nine.” One night, while following up on a new lead, she comes across a savage crime that will change everything.

Daisy Buckner―a popular schoolteacher, wife to a cop, and newly pregnant―lies dead on her kitchen floor. As Natalie hunts for Daisy’s killer in the wake of the town’s shock, her search leads to a string of strange clues―about the Missing Nine, about Daisy’s secret life, and reviving fresh doubts about her sister’s murder.

As the investigation deepens, Natalie’s every move risks far-reaching consequences―for the victims, for the town of Burning Lake, and for herself.

Spellbinding and gripping, Trace of Evil is a novel of twisting suspense that will leave you breathless.

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

Awhile back one of the librarians I follow on Twitter was speaking highly of a book by an author I hadn’t heard of. He had an ARC of “Trace of Evil” by Alice Blanchard, and when I clicked on the description it sounded like it would be up my alley. Small town police detective, missing people, a victim with secrets, all matters that will pull me into a story on any given day. I got it from NetGalley, and opened it up, expecting all of those things but maybe not much more. And what else did I get?

Witchcraft, covens, and teenagers with secret ties to black magic rituals.

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Oh HELL YES. (source)

“Trace of Evil” has three main mysteries that make up the guts of the plot. The first is the most obvious, that of the murder of Daisy Buckner. Natalie Lockhart, our plucky but haunted protagonist, has her own personal connections to Daisy. Not only is she colleagues with Daisy’s husband, Natalie’s older sister Grace wa very close with Daisy, so Natalie’s personal investment is high. I enjoyed seeing Natalie slowly piece together various components to the murder, and how Blanchard was sure to show some of the downfalls of being a woman detective in a small town where everyone knows everything about your past. The second mystery involves a number of missing women, or the Missing Nine, that Natalie has been trying to solve since she joined the force. But along with that obsession, Natalie has her own personal mystery to try and solve; when she was a kid, a masked boy attacked her in the woods. Natalie has spent the rest of her life trying to find out who that boy was. Throw in the fact that her oldest sister Willow was the victim of a horrific murder, and you have a lady cop with a lot of emotional baggage on top of the usual caseload that she has to take on every day. But these various bits of backstory never bog Natalie down, nor does Blanchard make it an excuse to make Natalie overly prickly, overly reckless, or overly damaged. Her traumas absolutely have shaped her, but instead of taking the obvious route of ‘broken but brilliant cop’, Natalie is instead multifaceted and achingly human. I really, really like her as a protagonist (and yes, I’m already rooting for her and her colleague Luke to hook up. She’s had a thing for him since childhood, y’all, it’s great!). Blanchard also is able to take all three mysteries and to show how they are connected, even in the most superficial of ways, and really make the reader buy into the connections. This was one of those instances where I didn’t guess any of the solutions to any of the mysteries, and that left me tickled.

And yes, there is a witchcraft element that I thoroughly enjoyed, if only because I totally saw my own dabbling in Wicca within this plot point. Burning Lake, the town Natalie lives in, has a history of witchcraft and witch trials, and it has permeated a lot of the culture and turned it into a Salem-esque community. Not only did Natalie and her sisters dip their toes into it, but now Natalie’s niece and her friends have started to dabble. But, as is the case in other tales, cliques and infighting tends to lead to a misuse of the ‘magic’, and I loved seeing Blanchard bring that into this story and finding ways to not only connect it to the mystery at hand, but to also show how teen girls who feel powerless can be drawn in to the idea of magic and ritual.

I really, really loved “Trace of Evil”. My hope is that Natalie Lockhart comes back soon, because I now have a new mystery series that I fully intend to keep up with. I highly recommend this thriller to all fans of the genre, and hope that you love it as much as I did.

Rating 10: Suspenseful, detailed, engaging, and filled with great characters, “Trace of Evil” is a promising start to a new series that I thoroughly loved.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Trace of Evil” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Small Towns with Secrets”, and “Spellbinding Fiction”.

Find “Trace of Evil” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Anything For You”

43263434Book: “Anything for You (Valerie Hart #3)” by Saul Black

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, November 2019

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

Book Description: Critically acclaimed author Saul Black returns with a heart-racing thriller in which a brutal murder forces one woman to reckon with her own past–and her future.

On a hot summer night, a watchful neighbor locks eyes with an intruder and unwittingly alerts the police to a vicious crime scene next door: a lavish master bedroom where a man lies dead. His wife is bleeding out onto the hardwood floor, clinging to life.

The victim, Adam Grant, was a well-known San Francisco prosecutor–a man whose connection to Homicide detective Valerie Hart brings her face-to-face with a life she’s long since left behind. Adam’s career made him an easy target, and forensic evidence points towards an ex-con he put behind bars years ago. But while Adam’s wife and daughter grapple with their tragic loss, Valerie uncovers devastating clues that point in a more ominous direction. Lurking in the shadows of the Grants’ pristine life is a mysterious blonde who holds the key to a dangerous past.

As Valerie struggles to forge a new path for herself, the investigation forces her to confront the question: can we ever really leave our pasts behind?

Sophisticated and stunning, Anything for You is an unforgettable thriller that will grip readers long after turning the last page.

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

We had to wait a little while, but finally, FINALLY the gritty and complex detective Valerie Hart is back for another mystery! Saul Black continues the adventures of the San Francisco sleuth in “Anything For You”, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. I don’t have many mystery series I follow, but when a new one comes out I’m game to dig in. I had some mostly positive, but also a bit mixed, feelings about the previous Valerie Hart books after revisiting them (as seen in my previous review), but had high hopes that I’d come out of “Anything For You” still feeling good. And I did. Mostly.

I’ll talk about the mystery first, as that really in the central plot point and Hart is just living in it. A well known lawyer is found murdered in his home, leaving behind a wife and daughter. Hart is on the case, though she should probably step aside given that she almost slept with the man a few years ago (because of course she did). It initially looks open and shut, but as Hart continues to investigate we get to see the slow reveal of a more complex (and sinister) plan and past that the victim might have been hiding. Along with Hart’s investigation and her slow clue building, we also get the perspective of a mysterious woman whose connection isn’t apparent at first, but slowly becomes more and more clear. To me this was the most interesting aspect of this story, and possibly the most interesting slow reveal of all of Black’s Valerie Hart books. I was actually more interested in seeing what this mysterious woman’s story was going to bring next than I was in the official investigation, and then once the tethers did intersect and wrap everything together I was all the more satisfied with how Black build up a cohesive and complex mystery.

As for Hart, I still really like Valerie and I like seeing how she progresses in each book. When we see her in this one, she is now married to her lover Nick, and they are considering starting a family. The questions of parenthood and whether she’s cut out for her are obviously weighing on her mind, and it means that, once again, she starts to drift towards her usual self destructive tendencies. And as much as I love Valerie and I like that it’s being acknowledged that family planning can be filled with complex emotions, I do feel like Valerie’s constant slip up potential is a little old at this point. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any growth whatsoever with her character, as she certainly isn’t static in her behavior or personality. But I do think that it’s an easy out to revert to questions of ‘will she or won’t she’ make bad decisions just for the sake of inner conflict and turmoil. I’m also becoming more and more sensitive to the ‘men write women’ pattern that can be seen sometimes, especially when it comes to ‘strong female characters’. When it comes to Hart, she sometimes falls into all too common tropes about what that means, like sacrificing any aspect of femininity, pointing out the flaws of other women to make her look better, or simply putting more ‘masculine’ traits (that is traits commonly associated with masculinity in our culture) into her bag of tricks to show how tough she is. That isn’t to say that all men or all women exist in a monolith when it comes to behavior and emotional coping skills, as that would also be a foolish thing to insist upon. The problem with Valerie is that more and more she falls into the ‘not like other girls’ box, and it’s one that I have less and less patience for. And honestly, every time that Valerie referred to her genitalia as ‘her c*nt’, I cringed. And I know that Black is British and the associations with that word are very different there, but still. It just felt like another ‘not like other girls’ moment, and it was laid on pretty thick.

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(source)

Overall there was a lot for me to like about “Anything for You”, and I am still interested in seeing what lies in store for Valerie Hart and any future endeavors she may undertake. But I’m hoping that her character gets to grow a little more in the future.

Rating 7: Valerie Hart is still a compelling protagonist and the mystery was good, but I’m starting to worry that we’re edging into all too common ‘tough but messed up girl’ tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Anything For You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Who Solve Crimes”.

Find “Anything For You” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Killing Lessons” and “Lovemurder”

 

Serena’s Review: “The Art of Theft”

36510437Book: “The Art of Theft” by Sherry Thomas”

Publication Info: Berkley, October 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.

But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.

Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia’s admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake…

Previously Reviewed: “A Study in Scarlet Women” and “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” and “The Hollow of Fear”

Review:  Continuing my week of Sherry Thomas reviews! While “The Magnolia Sword” took me by surprise (I didn’t realize it was coming out until late in the game, and still later figured out the author was Sherry Thomas), I’ve been impatiently waiting for the release of the latest “Lady Sherlock” story. Thanks to Edelweiss+, I had early access to it on my Kindle, and due to a complete lack of willpower, I ended up reading this book a few months ago but still wanted to review it closer to its publication date, so here we are. And while this wasn’t my favorite book in the series, I’m still enjoying the heck out of these stories and, again, am anxiously awaiting the next.

After helping Lord Ingram escape a false murder charge in the last book, Charlotte Holmes once again finds herself at the service of one of her close friends. This time it’s Mrs. Watson who has been contacted by a friend from the past who is now caught up in a mysterious blackmail/art theft situation. But this time, Charlotte and co. must do more than simply unravel the various players in this charade, but now find themselves playing an active role within the events themselves. Now she must not only discover who is at the heart of this conflict, but find a way to walk the narrow line between solving the case and not becoming a criminal herself!

Many of the strengths of the original books are still present here. Charlotte, as always, is a perfectly realized character, now comfortably familiar in both her quirks (her sense of fashion and preference for sweet treats), her strengths (obviously), as well as her weaknesses (challenges with navigating complicated relationships). One of the pleasing things about a long(ish) running series is this solid comfort with a character who is understood and beloved, but it also come with challenges. Here, while Charlotte is still at the heart of untangling the mystery, it feels like she is not the main character in her own book. That is, there is very little ongoing character development or a unique arc that is devoted to her. Much of this character work is picked up by the others in the book, but for a series that is called the “Lady Sherlock” series, this book was the first that did begin to show some signs of not quite knowing where to go from here with its titular character.

Luckily, the series has already set up a good number of side characters in the first several books so a shift of focus to them, while not preferred, also still feels earned. And I was already invested enough to feel that their conflicts were enough to carry much of this story. Mrs. Watson, of course, is at the heart of this story, and I loved learning more about her past and those who played a role in it. We see, again, both the strengths and weaknesses that lead her to where she is today. She also serves as a good mentor for Livia who ends up taking on a much more active role in this story.

Throughout the series, Livia has always played a bit of a strange role. A decent amount of page time is devoted to her, but she’s typically no where near the action and her development has moved at a fairly glacial pace. Here, Livia finally gets to come out of the shadow and play with the big kids. I loved seeing her come out of her shell, even if it was an uncomfortable process for her. Through her, the story also spends a bit exploring, again, the limitations on women in this time period. And, while Livia’s life has by no means been a happy one, she comes to realize the privileges that she has taken for granted.

I did enjoy the mystery itself as well. After the more active role that Charlotte took on in the previous book, it was nice to see that approach used once again here with Charlotte and co. essentially staging a heist. The story has definite “‘Ocean’s 11’ but in Victorian times” vibes, which I thought was a clever change of pace from the other, more typical mysteries of the first books. There were some surprises sprinkled throughout, as well, and, overall, I found the conclusion and explanation satisfying.

However, for all the answers we do get, there were a few too many loose ends left hanging. This was clearly done on purpose, but there were just one or two too many for me not to begin to feel slightly frustrated and anxious. For one thing, these mysteries are complicated. It always takes a bit of thinking on my part to fully put things together and still I’d have a hard time explaining it all later. But to add more unsolved clues on top of all that, clues I can only assume will come into play in a later book and that I will need to recall…it’s a bit too much. For me, I was left feeling a bit worried that I was not only missing things in this book, but will now likely miss even more in some future story.

The book also ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which I’m not sure was necessary. It’s not the type that gnaws away at you, but more just introduces the topic of the next book. But it seemed liked a strange choice for an established series. It’s the kind of thing you do in book one or two, just to keep readers interested. But here, it was more like an unneeded “coming next week” preview for a well-watched and established TV show. Just leave it out and let the book end on a note relevant to this book’s story. The next book can take care of itself without page time given to it here.

Those quibbles aside, this was another solid entry in the “Lady Sherlock” series. I’m definitely excited for the next book as it seems like it will focus on a character who wasn’t much seen in this story. And I hope that Charlotte’s more active role continues. However, I also hope that she gets a bit more character development and a more defined emotional arc in future stories. I enjoy the side characters, for sure, but I’m mostly here for Charlotte. All of this to say, if you’ve enjoyed this series so far, you’re good to go on this one as well. And never fear, there will be another; it’s all set up right there at the end of this one.

Rating 8: While Charlotte fades a bit into the background and there are a few too many dangling clues, I enjoyed the addition of a heist plot onto another solid mystery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Art of Theft” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads’ lists, but it is on “Historical Mystery 2019.”

Find “The Art of Theft” at your library using WorldCat!