Kate’s Review: “It’s Always The Husband”

31451082Book: “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, May 2017

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

Book Description: Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny. They first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, even though they are as different as three women can be. Twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge . . and someone else is urging her to jump.

How did things come to this?

As the novel cuts back and forth between their college years and their adult years, you see the exact reasons why these women love and hate each other—but can feelings that strong lead to murder? Or will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband? 

Review: On the show “Major Crimes”, one of my favorite characters, Detective Lt. Provenza, has a tag line that he lives by. “It’s always the husband, it’s always the husband it’s ALWAYS the husband.” Of course, on the show it isn’t ALWAYS the husband, but it plays to the sad statistic that when a woman is murdered, the odds are that her murderer is going to be her husband or boyfriend. It probably doesn’t surprise you that when I first heard of the book “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell that this phrase was going through my head. But like on “Major Crimes”, I had a feeling going in that it would be a bit more complicated than the steadfast and all too real adage that Provenza likes to toss about.

The story is told through two time periods that tend to flip flop from one to the other. The first is twenty years in the past, when three women start their freshman year of college at a prestigious school in New England. Aubrey is the girl who got there solely on her brains, and is escaping an impoverished life back in Nevada. Jenny is a townie who has ambitions and hopes to become more than her small town expectations. And Kate is the entitled and rick party girl, who expects life to be handed to her. Their differences were stark and while I had a hard time believing that they would have been as close as the book makes them out to be (specifically Jenny; I just don’t believe that she would have put up with Kate’s bullshit), I felt like they were all well explored and fleshed out. I liked seeing how they changed and shifted in their personalities from their freshman year to the present day, when they have all gone their separate ways and established themselves. I also liked that none of them were all good, or all bad. While Kate was absolutely a wretched and toxic human being, Campbell threw in some background and plot points that humanized her. While Jenny was determined and incredibly competent, and absolutely my favorite of the three main characters, she makes stupid decisions and mistakes that I wanted to smack her upside the head for. And Aubrey is so damaged and innocent that you definitely feel sorry for her, but a dark side lingers there, and when it rears it’s ugly head you can’t help but be a bit freaked out by it. As a reader I cared about all of them in some way, and was invested in how things turned out for all of them, and who it was that ended up on that bridge. It may also be a testament to how good the narrator was on this audiobook, as she varied her voices and inflections for each character wonderfully.

The mystery itself was very well done. The clues to what happened are laid out in both the past and the present, giving hints both in actions and the characters personality traits. This book definitely kept me guessing as it went on, and I never had a complete handle on what the ultimate solution was, which I really liked. My thoughts and opinions shifted in the ways that Campbell probably wanted them to, and I didn’t even mind that I was being led about like a puppet on a string because it was so fun to be taken on this journey. It eventually becomes clear just who it is on the bridge, but even getting to that first reveal was a fun trip to take, and it was even more enticing to find out who put her in that position, and why.

I will say that there were a couple of things that I took umbrage with. For one, there is a storyline with the new Chief of police in town who is investigating the murder, Owen. He goes in completely biased, as he had a VERY short dalliance with the victim before she ends up dead, and I found myself just irritated with everything about him and his motivations. I also found it a bit hard to swallow that an unexpected dinner with a woman who didn’t even give him her real name would affect him so much, no matter how magnetic she was, and it felt like an unnecessary way to throw in some drama. There are plenty of cops who try to fit evidence to a perp as opposed to the other way around without having a personal connection to the victim, so that seemed a bit superfluous. And this book also does that thing that I just cannot stand, in that in the last page and paragraphs of the book a FINAL TWIST is revealed. Man, that made me roll my eyes super hard. But unlike other books that have implemented this strategy in my recent reading, I enjoyed this one enough for everything else that I couldn’t hold it  totally against it. Just know that it’s coming.

“It’s Always The Husband” was a sudsy and compelling thriller that I had a great time listening to. While it had some flaws, overall I greatly enjoyed it. And I think that it would truly get Provenza to rethink his usual mantra.

Rating 7: A fast paced and well plotted thriller with some great revelations and some great surprises. One plot line was a bit tedious and frustrating, but overall I enjoyed what this book had to give.

Reader’s Advisory:

“It’s Always The Husband” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Librarian Recommended Books”, and “Best Twists”.

Find “It’s Always The Husband” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Hippopotamus Pool”

126730Book: “The Hippopotamus Pool” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, June 1997

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

Book Description: A masked stranger offers to reveal an Egyptian queen’s last tomb… and Amelia Peabody Emerson and her irascible archaeologist husband are intrigued, to say the least. When the guide mysteriously disappears before he tells his secret, the Emersons sail to Thebes to follow his trail, helped – and hampered – by their teenaged son, Ramses, and beautiful ward, Nefret. Before the sands of time shift very far, all will be risking their lives foiling murderers, kidnappers, grave robbers, and ancient curses. And the Hippopotamus Pool? It’s a legend of war and wits that Amelia is translating, one that alerts her to a hippo of a different type – a nefarious, overweight art dealer who may become her next archenemy!

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.”

Review: This is the most privileged-person reading problem ever: how do I continue to find creative ways of praising these books and this author without just sinking into repetitive gushing?? It’s problem, people.

Let’s just say that the strengths of this series are just as present in this book as they have been in the many before it. Amelia is ever the entertaining heroine (I’ve been listening to the audiobook version for the past several books, and it’s almost impossible now to separate the Amelia of the page and the Amelia that is brought to life with Barbara Rosenblatt’s expert and canny reading of her). Emerson, an excellent romantic hero, foibles and all.  A mystery, complicated and full of new suspects. Villains, some old and some new.

But I will focus on a few of the newer bits of this story. For one, while there is comfort in the stability of Amelia, Emerson, and their relationship, it’s a nice balance to have it contrasted with the ever-evolving lives of their children. Ramses and Nefret are now teenagers, Ramses on the young teen side and Nefret right smack in the middle, an especially complicated age for a young woman of fortune.

For his part, Ramses is beginning to evolve his relationship from child-with-adults to putting out feelers establishing himself as an independent entity. His changing relationship with his parents is perfectly illustrated in small changes (calling them “mother and father” rather than “mama and papa”). But also comes into play in larger ways as he pushes for independence and respect. However, Ramses’s relationship with them is firmly bound in familial love and respect. So these struggles often present themselves instead in strained interactions with his “sister” Nefret.

The two are at a perfect point for frustration. Sixteen and fourteen are around the exact ages when two years represents a world of difference and both the older and younger sibling struggle. In this case, it is all the more challenging in the fact that while Nefret has been adopted by the Emersons, she is not their natural born daughter.

Peters strikes the perfect balance in this sibling relationship. They bicker and argue like all the best siblings, but there is also a clear underlying tension in the knowledge of their non-typical family relationship. Further, Nefret is still adjusting to life in British Society, with all of the ridiculous rules and impositions that come with it. Yes, she’s growing up with a “mother” who shirks much of this (lucky for Nefret!),  but society itself has a way of pushing back, this time in the form of “suitors.”

I particularly loved Amelia’s attempts to parent a young daughter. She went from having one child, a very non-typical boy, at that. To having a pre-teen daughter who came with the added complications of being smart, headstrong, beautiful, and an heiress. But like anything, Amelia is up to the task. Theirs is a very nice example of female relationships, both maternal and friendly.

As I said, most of these stories come with the addition of new characters and you never quite know which ones are “one offs” or which are there to stay. We had Nefret introduced recently, but Peters wasn’t done there! Here we have the addition of David, a young boy (around Ramses’s age) who is loosely related to Abdullah, but through various mishaps has lead a life estranged from his family and raised to a life of crime. This will not do, of course! Particularly since Ramses forms a close, brotherly bond with David throughout this book. I feel confident that David is a character that is here to stay, and I’m excited to see what role he falls into in this strange family.

Beyond characters, this story is one of the first in a while to truly delve into a major dig, this time with the discovery of a queen’s tomb. While Egyptology is always important to these stories, there are varying degrees in each. I very much enjoyed having another mystery focused so closely on a dig.

Lastly, this book tackles some difficult topics with the sudden death of Evelyn and Walter’s infant child. Through Amelia’s eyes we see Evelyn’s struggle with this loss, the strain that is put on her and Walter’s marriage, and the process of living through grief. This also leads to Evelyn and Walter playing a much larger role in this book than they have for quite a long time. While the reason was tragic, I loved having these two characters back in a book. Evelyn especially. Not only does Amelia’s relationship with her lead to a deeper exploration of loss and depression, but Evelyn also rises through it into a role that was surprising and fun to read. Walter, on the other hand, had moments where I wanted to slap him upside his head. I can’t quite remember whether he always had some of the tendencies he put on display in this book, or whether this is evidence of Peters evolving his character over time and through experience. Don’t get he wrong, however, I still finished the book enjoying his character.

Well, hopefully I managed to cover some new ground in my praise of this book! But really, I’ll take the challenge of tricky reviews for the assurance of enjoyable novels any day. For fans of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, this is yet another to check out!

Rating 8: Yet another excellent story. This one tackles some tough issues, but handles them well and introduces another (hopefully!) main character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hippopotamus Pool” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries” and “Archaeology Novels.”

Find “The Hippopotamus Pool” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

Serena’s Review: “The Fifth Petal”

29741905Book: “The Fifth Petal” by Brunonia Barry

Publishing Info: Crown, January 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: Blogging For Books

Book Description: When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night, Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty wonders if there is a connection between his death and Salem’s most notorious cold case, a triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed on Halloween night in 1989. He finds unexpected help in Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims newly returned to town. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian, is guilty of murder or witchcraft.

But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?

Review: This is the second book by Barry, the first being “The Lace Reader.” I haven’t read this book, and when I requested this one I didn’t know that it was connected to this first novel. However, luckily for me, this story takes place many years later and any recurring characters that appear are at a different enough point in their lives that I never felt that missing this first book had much of an impact on my views of this. And, all told, they were fairly postive

As we all know by now, Kate is the horror/thriller reader on this blog, but in the spirit of Halloween, I tried to choose one book to read that month that was at least somewhat “on theme.” Enter “The Fifth Petal,” a murder mystery with ties to relations of the women accused as witches in the Salem trials. So, yeah, about as close as I’m ever going to venture to true horror. Witches, however, are more within my realm of experience and interest, so this seemed like a good compromise.

As the story progressed, I found this connection to modern day Salem and its history to be one of the more intriguing aspects of the story. Like many people, this place, time, and horrifying event, has always held a note of fascination for me. I feel that I went into this story already knowing much of this information, but I still enjoyed the nuggets I as able to pick up here and there, especially about the modern day town.

The author’s note at the end goes into good detail about how much of it is based on truth, which made these aspects of the story even better, in hindsight. Much of layout of the town is accurate, such as the location of the hanging tree. Goes to show how much good research reflects well on a story.

The story was also very action packed and never wanted for movement. This is a good and bad thing, in my view. I whipped through this read very quickly, but at the same time, portions of the story felt muddled, trying to fit too much within a limited page count. It’s a tough balance to strike, but I feel that either slowing it down in a few parts, or simply extending the page count out a bit so each of these elements had more room to breathe, would have ultimately served the novel well. At a certain point I began to question whether all of these various plotlines were necessary.

Callie was an ok leading lady. The mystery of her lost memories was interesting, but in a lot of ways she was just kind of bland. Nothing about her really stood out to me, and she ended up reading like the typical main character at the heart of stories like this. This, too, might have been improved had the author not devoted so much time to the many, many plotlines that I referenced earlier.

I also found myself enjoying the romantic spin of the story. I don’t typically read contemporary books, or contemporary romance, specifically, but every once in a while, themes from books like that can hit the spot. This book was a good compromise in this way as well. Got my romance fix, but still got to keep my fantasy/thriller moments.

Ultimately, I enjoyed “The Fifth Petal.” It wasn’t without flaws, and it falls pretty far outside of my usual reading tastes, but it was an fun enough time. It won’t stand out to me as anything special, but for readers who enjoy thrillers and contemporary romance a bit more than me, this might be a good read for you!

Rating 7: Fairly unassuming and enjoyable. Could be improved by fewer plotlines stuffed into one story, but was a quick read, especially for those interested in the Salem Witch Trials.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Fifth Petal” is a newer book, but it is on this Goodreads list: “Fall, Halloween, New England Fiction.”

Find “The Fifth Petal” at your library using WorldCat!

More information:

About Brunonia Barry

More on The Fifth Petal”

Kate’s Review: “Fragments of the Lost”

27797316Book: “Fragments of the Lost” by Megan Miranda

Publishing Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, November 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley!

Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger comes a suspenseful psychological mystery about one girl’s search to uncover the truth behind her ex-boyfriend’s death. Perfect for fans of We Were Liars and 13 Reasons Why . 

Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all. 

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?

Review: A special thank you to Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

So perhaps you all remember that I read and reviewed Megan Miranda’s novel “All the Missing Girls”, and I wasn’t very impressed with it beyond the framing of it. But I was intrigued enough by her as a writer that I knew I’d probably pick up something else she had written in the future. That book happened to be “Fragments of the Lost”, a new YA psychological thriller by her. I saw that it was available on NetGalley, and decided to request it. When I finally got to reading it, I figured that I would start it one evening and make my way through, as I did with “All the Missing Girls”. But lo and behold, I actually sat down and read it in one sitting. So you know that we’re off to a pretty good start when THAT happens.

I think that what grabbed me about this book right away was Jessa, our main character. She’s a girl who has gone through the awful trauma of losing her ex-boyfriend Caleb after his car is thought to have gone off a cliff during a rainstorm and flood. She’s believable in that she has mixed feelings about cleaning out Caleb’s room, as they had broken up before his car went off the cliff on that rainy day. She was a very down to earth and realistic person, never treading into the realm of simpering or frustrating in her emotions. Which is funny, because I fully prepared myself for her to be the kind of wreck that Nicolette was in “All the Missing Girls”, and yet it was in the YA novel that Miranda’s main character was bit more nuanced. As she cleans up Caleb’s room, we get to see their relationships through flashbacks, depending on the object that she is sorting in the moment. While it had ample chances to become schmaltzy, it never did because Jessa is that well rounded and complex of a character. As for the other characters, we really only got to see them through Jessa’s eyes, so it was harder to get a gauge of who they were. I think that you certainly can give readers a handle on other characters through a main character filter, but I didn’t feel like we completely got there with Jessa. While I really liked her, everyone else was fairly bland. Caleb was really just this enigmatic good person that we didn’t really get to know beyond this plotline, and while I did like their mutual friend Max, a sweet geeky kind of guy, he was really just there to provide support to Jessa through thick and thin, no matter what. I liked him and I liked how he interacted with her, but he was just there for the ride and showing up when needed.

The mystery was solid enough, and I liked that we were given the pieces as Jessa boxed up his room. From a pair of spare glasses to a broken fan to some sporting equipment, we learn bit by bit what Caleb was like, what his relationship with Jessa was like, and why perhaps none of it was as real as she thought it was. I think that had it stopped there, and been an examination about young love lost, the different sides of people even in relationships, and why we may never know everything about them, this would have been a pretty powerful book. But while the mystery was solid (as to what actually happened to Caleb that day), I think that it may have actually hindered an already powerful narrative. That isn’t to say that Miranda had to write a book that was solely a meditation on grief and loss, because it’s her prerogative to write a mystery and I say have at it. Hell, this mystery was interesting to follow and I liked it enough. But along with it, we started to get into areas that kind of pulled me out of the story because of how unrealistic things were. It was mostly little things, like how a library computer would probably NEVER have search history that went between sign in sessions because of privacy laws, or how it would take a whole lot more than just a fake ID to completely restart your life as a new person. These may not seem like much, but it was enough to take me out of the story even for a little while, which was distracting. There was also a sudden shift in solution in the end, and you all know how I feel about that kind of thing. When I’m told that only options A and B are going to work, I have a really hard time swallowing a sudden option C rearing it’s ugly, if not convenient head.

“Fragments of the Lost” was a twisty turny read, though, and I think that it’s one of the stronger YA thriller/mysteries that I’ve read this year. Meg Miranda should definitely write more for this audience, as she brings the nuance that is needed to write an effective whodunit.

Rating 7: A pretty interesting mystery with an engrossing parsing of clues, “Fragments of the Lost” is a tangled read with some unexpected surprises. The characterization of supporting characters could have been stronger, but I enjoyed reading it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fragments of the Lost” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “YA Post Death Novels”.

Find “Fragments of the Lost” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Are You Sleeping”

30753570Book: “Are You Sleeping” by Kathleen Barber

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay. The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future. 

Review: Like a lot of people, I was damn well obsessed with the podcast “Serial” when it aired it’s first season a few years ago. I had held off on listening to it for awhile, but then I gave in and was able to binge almost all of it over the course of a few days. As someone who has always been interested in true crime, the thought that someone may have gone to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and that perhaps those around him may have known his innocence the whole time, I found the premise compelling. I know that some people found it ghoulish, as the podcast used the murder of Hae Min Lee as a framework for it’s investigation. Such grievances are raised in the novel “Are You Sleeping”, a debut from Kathleen Barber, and makes the reader look at it through the eyes of a murder victims family as old wounds are opened up for sensationalism and ‘entertainment’. I’ll admit I felt a little yucky with myself as I read this book. But I wasn’t just chastened; I was also sucked into the story of Josie, her twin sister Lanie, and the family that is still suffering from the fallout of the murder of the family patriarch.

The plot starts out common enough; Josie is living a happy life in New York with a genuinely good man named Caleb. But what Caleb doesn’t know is that Josie hasn’t told him about her past. Her father, Charles Berman, was shot in the head when she was a teenager, and her twin sister Lanie said that their Goth and rebellious neighbor Warren pulled the trigger. Shortly thereafter, their mother Erin ran off and joined a cult, and Josie split town as soon as she could and swore she’d never talk to her sister again, and never return. But then a popular podcast hosted by the duplicitous and fame hunger Poppy Parnell has started raising questions as to Warren’s guilt, and tragedy sweeps Josie back to her hometown, the secrets and lies she’s told her whole life starting to plague her. Pretty common fare for this kind of book. But what sets is aside from others I’ve read is that it makes use of the podcast format, as well as the social media frenzy that can come with it, to help frame the plot and the characters that we meet. It was great seeing twitter feeds, reddit posts, and transcripts from the episodes to get various pieces of the puzzle that we may not have otherwise seen, and it was kind of fun sifting through them like the reader, too, was an armchair detective. The pacing and tone was fast and tense from the starting gate, and I was basically hooked the moment that I sat down and committed to it, reading most of it in one day. The mystery itself wasn’t that hard to figure out, but it was definitely a fun ride to take even if I predicted the destination pretty early on.

That said, it wasn’t really doing much different or unique from this genre. While I definitely enjoyed it more than, say, “Every Last Lie” or “Into The Water”, it didn’t blow me away as some other thrillers this year have (“Everything You Want Me To Be”, anyone?). Josie wasn’t as large a mess as these kins of protagonists can be, which was incredibly refreshing, but Lanie was REALLY hard to take at times just because she very much WAS a huge, honking trainwreck. I’m relieved that the book wasn’t from her POV, because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t take that. None of the characters, however, really stood out as more than pretty standard players in this kind of book (the dutiful boyfriend, the ex who caused you pain, the uptight female relative). I had been hoping that there would be a little bit of experimentation with these tropes, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

But run of the mill characters and kind of easy to see ending aside, I really did have a fun time reading “Are You Sleeping”. Given that the holiday season is basically upon us and travel may be in some of your futures, I would definitely recommend this book for a long plane ride, a road trip, or just reading in the coziness of your home as the weather turns colder. But don’t let it shame you from listening to your favorite true crime podcast, okay?

Rating 7: An addictive mystery with a fun framework, but it isn’t really anything much that we haven’t seen before outside of said framework. A breezy read, maybe perfect for travel or a ready by a roaring fire.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Are You Sleeping” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and “There’s Something Dangerous About The Boredom of Teenage Girls”.

Find “Are You Sleeping” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Every You, Every Me”

9972838We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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

Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2011

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 700s (The Arts)

Book Description: In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he’s been unable to sleep, spending night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as it sounds, Evan’s starting to believe it’s Ariel that’s behind all of this, punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself. Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every Me is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author.

Kate’s Thoughts

“Every You, Every Me” was my choice for Book Club this time around, and it was my gut reaction when I got the 700s (aka The ARTS!) of the Dewey Call Numbers. I knew that this book was written by David Levithan, but that the photos that were interspersed throughout the book were taken by Jonathan Farmer and given to Levithan as he was writing the story. Levithan wouldn’t know what the next photo would be, and then would have to fit it into the narrative. The concept of this was a fascinating one to me, and I thought that the photos angle fit into the Dewey theme. I haven’t had a lot of luck with ‘concept’ novels such as these, as I was one of those folks who didn’t absolutely adore “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and decided to give a hard pass to the “Asylum” series. But my reasoning was that hey, it’s David Levithan.

That said, this wasn’t the thrilling mystery with appropriate and aching teen pathos that I had hoped it would be. There was a great idea here, and glimmers of that idea shined through from time to time, but all in all I felt that “Every You, Every Me” never quite evolved beyond a concept. Evan is our narrator, and he is telling this story through stream of consciousness diary entries and through the photos that he is receiving from an anonymous source. He is set up as an unreliable narrator from the jump, with parts of his diary entries crossed out (but not enough that the reader can’t read the redacted thoughts). It was a little heavy on the crossing out, but I felt that it was a fairly effective way of showing his personal struggles instead of him literally saying ‘I AM CONFLICTED ABOUT ALL OF THIS AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL OR WHAT ROLE I PLAYED’. Evan himself was both interesting and maddening. Maddening in that goodness gracious was he the epitome of emo teen angst kid, so much so that our book club joked about how much My Chemical Romance and Evanescence would be on his iPod.

Fun Fact, a playlist of his favorite songs was officially created by our book club member Anita. See the bottom of this post to access it.

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(source)

But along with Evan being so hopelessly angsty, he was also very fascinating as a character, mostly because I felt that Levithan did a VERY good job of portraying the mind of someone who has gone through a very upsetting trauma. No deep spoilers here, but what I will say is that Evan has lost his closest friend Ariel, and he thinks that it is all his fault. While Evan is the narrator and protagonist, this story is really about the mysterious Ariel; who she was, how she was, and where she has gone (which is the main mystery of this book). They have a deep and codependent friendship, and the more you learn about Ariel and how she treated Evan, the more, I think, you get to understand why he is so, so warped and moody in this whole thing. I definitely found Evan to be more sympathetic as time went on, but also stopped caring about what happened to Ariel and who is harassing Evan BECAUSE my opinions of Ariel changed so much. Which is a bit callous of me, within the context of the book, but the sheer manipulation within that relationship just made me uncomfortable and angry and uncaring towards her endgame.

The ending, though. Again, I don’t want to go into deep deep spoilers here, but it felt so tacked on and so clunky that it kind of threw the book off kilter for me. I know that it kind of harkens back to one of the bigger themes in this book (i.e. no one really knows every side of a person), but it almost felt a bit TOO unrealistic in how it all played out. I’m fine with a huge twist coming through, but I want at least SOME groundwork for that twist to be laid out.

So while I was kind of disappointed with “Every You, Every Me”, I did like the characterization that Levithan created for his main players. The concept is unique enough that I would say pick it up just to see how this neat writing exercise turned out, but don’t expect to be super blown away by it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I have read a few David Levithan books before this one and have mostly enjoyed them. He is particularly strong at writing believably complex teenage protagonists who are not only relatable to teens themselves, but also to adult readers. Other than this knowledge of the author, all I knew about this book was a vague understanding of it being a concept book with the photographs being sent to him as he wrote the book. I, like Kate, have never particularly loved the concept books I’ve read in the past. Too often I feel that the author ends up relying on the images to depict much of the drama of their story, thus paying less attention to, or becoming simply lazy with, their own written descriptions. Powerful writing doesn’t need the support of photographs, and while they can serve as a nice backdrop, I don’t love the idea of a story becoming dependent on them.

For the most part, I think that Levithan walked a nice line with the art in this book. The photographs were interesting and he managed to (mostly) tie them in nicely with the overarching plot of the book. There’s a great theme of what it means to know someone that runs throughout the story, and this concept ties neatly with a conversation that seems to always swirl around the small glimpses of a person that are caught in specific photographs. I loved this idea, that like photographs, we’re only ever seeing small glimpses of an entire person. And that another person (another photograph) will see/capture an entirely different side of that individual. These themes were probably my favorite part of this book.

Other than this, I did struggle with the story. Evan is not the type of narrator that typically appeals to me. He’s conflicted and self-questioning to the point that his angst and confusion are more off-putting than sympathetic. I wanted to shake him at multiple times during the story, and frankly had a hard time taking him seriously. As we learn the truth behind his concerns, I could better understand his reasons for feeling the way he does. But that doesn’t wave away the execution of those feelings that presents him as a whiny, overly emotional teen boy who is hard to invest oneself in.

Further, I was not a fan of the crossing out text tool that was used so much in this book. Not only did it negatively play into the already annoyingly self-involved angst machine that was Evan, but at many points in the story the basic function of cross out text seemed to be misunderstood. In some ways, yes, it makes sense for a story like this with a semi-unreliable narrator like Evan to cross out some parts of the text and through these reconsidered aspects of his writing, get a better understanding of his thoughts and character. But at times, especially towards the end of the book, huge sections of the story were crossed out and the format was being used more to indicate a flashback than to highlight a questioned thought of Evan’s. I think the format read as a bit pretentious, and by the end of the story, I was so distracted by it and how it was being used that it was actively throwing me out of the story.

I also agree with Kate about the ending. Without spoiling anything, the explanation of the photographs seemed to come out of left field and a lot of hand waving and hoop jumping was done to explain portions of the mystery. It felt tacked on and unearned.

Lastly, as this entire mystery revolves around Ariel, we learn a lot about her and need to understand the role that she played to all of these friends, specifically Evan, who are all so distressed by her loss. And, like the character of Evan, I couldn’t really get behind the appeal of Ariel. At Book Club, we all had a bit too much fun coming up with all the crazy explanations for why all of these characters seemed so obsessed with Ariel. None of our explanations were favorable to her.

Ultimately, I think this book touched on some very important themes, specifically those having to do with the fact that people are made up of multitudes and that no one person can ever fully know another. But the execution was shoddy with the crossed out text, and Ariel and Evan were pretty unlikable all around. Add to that the fact that this isn’t a favorite genre of mine (no fault of the book’s), and I didn’t end up loving this one. Alas, they can’t all be winners!

Kate’s Rating 6: A fascinating premise with some interesting things to say about trauma and loss, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. Add in a clunky solution and you have an okay book, when it could have been a great one.

Serena’s Rating 5: Good themes were bogged down by the restrictions of the concept art, an angst-fest leading character, and a dud of an ending.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the device of the photographs that was used in this book? Did you feel that Levithan did a good job of incorporating the random photos he received into this story? Do you think this story needed the photos to feel fully realized?
  2. Evan is our protagonist, and his relationship with Ariel is the crux of this book. What did you think of him as a narrator? How did you feel about him at the end vs at the beginning?
  3. One of the big mysteries of this book is where Ariel is and what happened to her. Were you invested in this mystery, and invested in Ariel as a character?
  4. Another theme of this book is that people tend to have different sides of them that they present to different people. Could you relate to this concept? Do you have different sides of yourself that different people see?
  5. SPOILERS: Let’s talk about the ending. What did you think of the reveal of Dawn, Ariel’s secret best friend that Evan and Jack didn’t know about, being the one sending the photos?
  6. This is what one might call a concept novel, using photos to drive and tell a story as they are presented. What are your opinions on this kind of book (similar to Miss Peregrine, or Asylum, etc)? Did EVERY YOU EVERY ME confirm those feelings, or buck them (in whichever way that may be)?

Reader’s Advisory

“Every You, Every Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Involving Mental Health Issues (2000s-Present)”, and “YA Books With Pictures”.

Find “Every You, Every Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper

And now…. the aforementioned playlist! Thanks to Katie, Alicia, and Anita who helped compile the list, and to Anita for putting it together!

 

Serena’s Review: “City of Lies”

342865371Book: “City of Lies” by Victoria Thompson

Publishing Info: Berkley, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Like most women, Elizabeth Miles assumes many roles; unlike most, hers have made her a woman on the run. Living on the edge of society, Elizabeth uses her guile to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But brutal and greedy entrepreneur Oscar Thornton is out for blood. He’s lost a great deal of money and is not going to forgive a woman for outwitting him. With his thugs hot on her trail, Elizabeth seizes the moment to blend in with a group of women who have an agenda of their own.

She never expects to like or understand these privileged women, but she soon comes to respect their intentions, forming an unlikely bond with the wealthy matriarch of the group whose son Gabriel is the rarest of species—an honest man in a dishonest world. She knows she’s playing a risky game, and her deception could be revealed at any moment, possibly even by sharp-eyed Gabriel. Nor has she been forgotten by Thornton, who’s biding his time within this gilded orbit, waiting to strike. Elizabeth must draw on her wits and every last ounce of courage she possesses to keep her new life from being cut short by this vicious shadow from her past.

Review: Victoria Thompson is a very prolific mystery author, with another long-running steampunk series, that somehow I’ve completely missed! But, as nice as it is to discover a new author with a long-running series, it’s also a bit intimidating to look at as a whole. With that in mind, I was thrilled to learn that she was starting a new series just this fall. Problem solved: get in at the beginning of this series and have another series to happily follow for years to come! Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, you also have to enjoy the first book for this long-game plan to really work. And while there are pieces that I enjoyed here and there, “City of Lies” just didn’t do it for me.

The story starts off well enough with readers meeting Elizabeth Miles in the midst of a complicated con. These first few chapters started off so promising. This entire con, and the role that Elizabeth plays within it, is smart, snappy, and intriguing. She is presented as an independent and wily woman making her way through the world in maybe not the most ethical manner, but one that is definitely interesting to read about. And then the con goes wrong and she finds herself on the run, and suddenly caught up with a group of women protestors. And right away, the book went off the tracks for me.

While those first few chapters were short, they did a lot to convince me that Elizabeth was a heroine who was canny and had managed to make a life for herself in a way that is only accessible to the brave and street smart. But once she’s on the run, I immediately began questioning all of her decisions. Was getting arrested (and then shipped far, far away to another prison), really the best way to avoid goons chasing her down the street? I mean, I’ve seen “The Bourne Identity” probably more times than I should admit, so I’m all for the “get lost in the protestors” method of evasion. But notably, “go to prison and then buy into a hunger strike” is never a part of his plans. And if Bourne’s not doing it, neither should you!

Part of the problem was that I never became very interested in the women that Elizabeth meets here. I had to repeatedly page back to remind myself what was distinctive about each of them. And while, obviously, their protest movement is historically important, it just read as…blah. Which almost seems like a feat in and of itself.

leslie-knope-warrior
What I’m saying is Leslie Knope did it better. (source)

I was also not digging the romance. This book seems to walk the line between many different genres (historical, mystery, romance), but isn’t fully committing to the common expectations of any of them. The romance was too chaste. The history was too plan. The con/mystery element fell to the way side (also the original book description on Goodreads is completely misleading , referencing Elizabeth chasing down a killer in D.C., which isn’t right at all).

While Thompson’s writing seems solid, this book simply didn’t seem to have much new to say or offer for any of the genres that it covers. And Elizabeth, who started strong, quickly fell into a character rife with confusion and unclear motivations. As I haven’t read Thompson’s other series, I can’t say if some of these complaints may just be that her writing style and storytelling choices just aren’t for me or whether this is an outlier from her previous  books. Maybe some time I’ll pick up one of those and see, but this book lands solidly in the middle of the road for me. I didn’t hate it, but I also won’t remember it. For fans of Thompson, however, and perhaps those who like more chaste historical romances, this might be worth checking out?

Rating 5: In one word: bland.

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Lies” is a new title and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Most Anticipated Historical Mysteries for 2017.”

Find “City of Lies” at your library using WorldCat!