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

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

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

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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Please please please please. (source)

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

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

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(source)

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Kate’s Review: “All the Missing Girls”

23212667Book: “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book DescriptionLike the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.

Review: Oh look, ANOTHER book that involves a missing person or persons! The good news is that once this is done we’ll kind of move away from that theme, at least for awhile. Because let’s be fair, this theme is totally a no brainer for the thriller and grit lit genre. So our most recent missing person story is “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda. This one almost made my highlights list in June, and even though it was eeked out at the last minute I still put it on request, because the buzz is that this could become another huge runaway hit. And yeah, I guess I agree with that. But unfortunately, it fell short of other grit lit books that I have read. Yes, it has a very cool frame in how it’s told, as Miranda decides to tell the main arc of the story backwards. We start at Day 15 of Annaleise’s disappearance, and work out way back to Day 1, peppering flashbacks to Corinne’s disappearance as well. A pretty strong gimmick, but the problem with gimmicks is that sometimes that is all a product has going for it. And sadly, I think that if “All the Missing Girls” was told in linear order, it wouldn’t stand out.

Nic is the standard main character in this genre: she’s emotionally a mess, she is stuck in a past that she tries to escape, and she can’t see past her current, bad situation, which them causes harm to those in her new life. It’s a character archetype in these stories that is getting a little old. I mean, the moment that she said that she had a handsome, smart, wonderful fiance named Everett I knew that poor Everett was going to be run through the ringer thanks to her shenanigans. I don’t know what rule has been written that says that these damaged women need to treat everyone who cares about them like crap, but Nic holds fast to it. Sometimes it’s done well and you can see the flaws in their loved ones who just don’t (or won’t) understand them, but in this one I just felt bad for Everett because Nic is a trainwreck. She has a strained relationship with her brother, she is still hung up on her ex boyfriend Tyler (who is ALSO a walking trope as the puppy eyed ex boyfriend whose candle still burns bright for his lost lady love), and she misses her frenemy Corinne in spite of the fact that Corinne was just the worst. Protagonists like this are so hard for me to like, because while I like that these women aren’t perfect and are complex and can be complete messes a la the guys in “True Detective” or something, it’s getting a little old.

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And honestly, “True Detective” had gotten a little old by season 2. (source)

But as far as the structure go, gimmicky as it may be, it did make the story more intriguing. I kind of had to wrap my head around it, as going backwards but revealing the truths about Corinne in a forward time was kind of a mind twister, but once I got the hang of it I did enjoy this creative choice. It also allowed us to find out the past after we got to see the present and future, and in doing so it did give some of the revelations a stronger reveal and emotional punch. It also was fun seeing that you think that you know what the solution is because you started at the end, but then as you move backwards you realize that no, you’re totally off base and so wrong. I am kind of curious if Miranda wrote it out in order first, or if she always started at the end and worked her way back to the beginning. It couldn’t have been easy, and so I do have to give her props for sticking the landing. I just wish that the story itself was stronger, to match the strong storytelling choices.

There was also a lot to explore when it came to Nic and her relationship with her father. Her Dad is suffering from dementia, and Miranda did a very good job of portraying someone who loves her father and hates to see him that way, but also gets easily frustrated and upset with him even though she knows that he can’t control his lapses. As someone who watched her mother and aunts have to deal with their dementia-ridden mother, and how hard it was, I really appreciated that Miranda showed multiple sides to how this can affect family members. While the dementia could have just been used as a plot device (and it was to an extent), it was handled with enough care that it didn’t feel cynical or clunky.

“All the Missing Girls” serves mostly more of the same, but the plot structure was pretty neat. I don’t know if I’d pick up another book by Miranda, but who knows how I will feel if another one comes out and it sounds promising. Give this a whirl if you want a new way of reading a mystery, but don’t be shocked if it feels all too familiar.

Rating 7: The way the story is framed is definitely cool and intriguing, but with weaker characters it feels like the story relies too heavily on the gimmick.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Missing Girls” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Women with Moxie”, and “Great Discussion Starters”.

Find “All the Missing Girls” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “What She Knew”

25817531Book: “What She Knew” by Gilly Macmillan

Publishing Info: William Morrow, December 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: On audiobook from the library!

Book Description: In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.  

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking…

Review: Yeesh, as I started listening to this book I noticed something of a theme in the books I’ve been taking on lately. So many missing people and/or children! I think that had it been one or two books that had this theme I would have been less likely to notice it, but given “What She Knew” (and another one I will be reviewing at a later date), my total number of missing persons/children books in the past month will be at five. Grim, grim stuff. So the theme continues with this book, one that I had on my list for awhile and just so happened to find on audiobook download at my library. But the difference between this book and the other ones I’ve read is that this one not only deals with a missing child, but the toxic shame culture that has risen when it comes to how we perceive other’s parenting and how we express our displeasure about it. Specifically, via the Internet. Why this summer alone there have been two very high profile cases of tragedies involving children, those of Harambe the Gorilla and the Walt Disney World alligator attack. In one instance an animal was killed when a child fell into it’s enclosure, and in another instance a child was taken and killed by an alligator, which led to Disney killing more alligators in the search for the culprit. And boy oh boy did people take to the Internet to blame the parents, saying that if they had just been paying closer attention, all of this could have been avoided. I kept thinking about these cases and others as I listened to this book, as one of the most villainous culprits in this book is parent-shaming. Macmillan pulls no punches when she shows the insidious cruelty of the shame centered Internet.

The mystery to this book was pretty stellar, even though it occasionally treaded a bit towards the unhinged. There was twist after twist after twist, and since I was listening to it it wasn’t as easy to keep up with it. I couldn’t really skip back that easily, so I would just have to say ‘okay, I guess I remember this stuff’ and hope that I actually did. I think that sometimes when trying to throw out red herrings, Macmillan just went a bit overboard. First the person who did it would be Person A, then it would be Person B, then it would be Person A again, but then no wait, it’s Person C! Just a few too many flip flops for my taste. The benefit of the flip flops, though, is that I was taken by surprise as to how it all shook out, which is always a good thing when it comes to my reading materials.

The characters in this book ran the gamut from run of the mill to pretty complex. I really liked Rachel, the harried and terrified mother of the missing Ben. She was a well done picture of someone who is terrified that she has lost her child forever, and yet is willing to pull out all of the stops and kick down all of the doors in London to find him. At times I wanted to shake her and tell her to, for the love of GOD, listen to the professionals who are trying to bring your child back to you, but I am pretty sure that was the whole point. Her relationship with her older, controlling sister Nicky was one of the strongest things about this book, as they blatantly love each other fiercely, but lock horns over under the surface conflicts that aren’t apparent until later. That said, these under the surface conflicts are the product of a very out there plot twist that didn’t feel necessary. I know that it was supposed to instill doubt in the reality of their relationship (and I will leave it at that), but there were a lot of less ridiculous ways that Macmillan could maintained the doubt, in my opinion. It kind of baffled me.

I also found the parts that centered on Detective Inspector Clemo to be a bit superfluous. I liked him enough as a character, and it was nice seeing the police side of the investigation and the hindrances that they faced in this situation (probably pretty realistic hindrances), but the troubles in his personal life and his emotional problems just didn’t quite do it for me. I know that the way that it was told (as sometimes therapy transcripts were used to tell his side of the story) was just another way to make the reader wonder what was happening, but I found myself hoping that these parts of the story would go faster. It was a good dichotomy to show the police approach versus the proactive approach Rachel wanted to take, so that aspect was appreciated.

I listened to this on audiobook, and both a male and female narrator were used depending on whose side of the story was being told. Penelope Rawlings covered the Rachel parts, and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart covered Clemo. Sometimes they kind of had different cadence and voice styles for the same character, which was a little distracting, but overall I thought that they both did a good job. Rawlings especially conveyed Rachel’s desperation very well.

“What She Knew” was a good book to listen to in the car, and I enjoyed it for what it was. It’s a good story to add to the lady centered thrillers that have exploded in popularity, and I think that fans of the grit-lit genre should definitely give it a try!

Rating 7: This was a pretty tight thriller with a lot of good twists, but there were so many that it almost gave me whiplash. The narrators did a good job, and the story was satisfying, though some parts were stronger than others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“What She Knew” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Book of the Month Club Picks”.

Find “What She Knew” at your library using WorldCat!

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

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

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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

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(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

 

Serena’s Review: “The Anatomist’s Wife”

13542496Book: “The Anatomist’s Wife” by Anna Lee Huber

Publishing Info: Berkley, January 2012

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

Book Description: Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister’s estate, finding solace in her passion for painting. But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own macabre purposes.

Kiera wants to put her past aside, but when one of the house guests is murdered, her brother-in-law asks her to utilize her knowledge of human anatomy to aid the insufferable Sebastian Gage–a fellow guest with some experience as an inquiry agent. While Gage is clearly more competent than she first assumed, Kiera isn’t about to let her guard down as accusations and rumors swirl.

When Kiera and Gage’s search leads them to even more gruesome discoveries, a series of disturbing notes urges Lady Darby to give up the inquiry. But Kiera is determined to both protect her family and prove her innocence, even as she risks becoming the next victim…

Review: Well, I guess it was coming. I had been on a historical binge for the last few weeks, mostly to great success, so there was bound to be a come-down heading my way, and sadly that come-down arrived in the form of “The Anatomist’s Wife.” Really, I should have been skeptical at the title alone considering that “The [insert occupation here]’s Wife” has been the working title of every new work wanting to make a name for itself in the historical fiction world for the last 5 years at least. But the cover was so beautiful! And what if it was another great historical woman detective series that I could just dig my teeth into for the next few months! And look at how pretty! Alas, this book suffered from failings in writing, narrative, and characterization, as well as fell into a few tropes that are particular pet peeves of mine.

For the good, on the whole the writing is fairly strong. The author wasn’t pulling any narrative marvels out of her hat, but it was clear and concise, and for the most part, the dialogue was believable and interesting. Unfortunately, there were also a few distractions. The story is set in Scotland, and while it is explained that many of the characters are from London and thus devoid of a Scottish accent, the author chooses to sprinkle bits of the dialect into the story in such a way that is very distracting. Kiera’s brother-in-law, for example, is originally from Scotland but has apparently lost much of his accent due to schooling. Fine, sounds believable. But then at bizarre intervals throughout the story, he suddenly starts speaking in a deep brogue.

The other sticking point I found with the writing was the author’s choice to write from first person. I’ve long held the view that first person narration is much more difficult to write than third person, and there’s a reason many readers don’t prefer it due to these challenges. For example, in this story, Kiera refers to her own hair as “chestnut tresses” at least twice. No one thinks of themselves like that! Or, if they do, they are a thoroughly strange and probably unsavory character. There were also several anachronisms in the way that Kiera thought/behaved. I’m all for the strong, independent woman character in historical mysteries like this, but there were at least 12 too many eye rolls for even my taste.

Which leads into one of my biggest criticisms of the story: Kiera herself. It felt like the author wasn’t sure whether she wanted to write a historical mystery or a romance novel. And this indecision resulted in very inconsistent characterization for Kiera. She would wildly vacillate from one extreme to another. First as a competent, confident, and independent-minded widow who has seen the nasty parts of the world and has chosen to use the skills she has gained from this to solve a horrendous murder. And next as a weepy, weak, irrational, love-stricken lady who literally clings to the men around her. I’m all for fully rounded out characters, as that’s just a true portrayal of people. We all can be competent one minute and irrational the next, but there’s usually a good explanation for the change. Definitely a better one than “she needs to have an emotional breakdown so that when the love interest sweeps in it’s romantic!” which is often what it felt like here.

Further, there were two tropes of romance novels (at this point, I’m pretty convinced that that was what the author should have written and just left off the whole mystery to begin with) that I absolutely can’t stand. First, while most romance novels have a progression of feelings between the heroine and the hero that can often start with some level of dislike, this book took this idea and would speed the process up one minute and rewind it the next. Kiera hates Gage, he’s a rake! Gage pays her a very small compliment and Kiera’s heart is fluttering and she doesn’t know why! Kiera really doesn’t like him, look at all that flirting! But her stomach swoops when he walks in the door! What can that be about? She definitely doesn’t like him. Sigh. It was exhausting and undermined Kiera as a person. She came across as completely unaware of herself and those around her, which is not a good trait in a want-to-be detective.

Second, Kiera was constantly criticizing the women around her for being shallow and silly. Even worse, she was constantly being told by one man or another how unique and special she was because she “wasn’t like other women.” In general, if the only way a book/author can make the main female character worthy of praise is by tearing down all the women around her, maybe the main female character just isn’t that special to begin with? Like I said, I’m all for the strong, independent women character, but you don’t get there by implying that any other type of woman whose interests might align with the more traditional roles women have played is somehow lesser.

The mystery was adequate. I was able to predict the killer fairly early on, which is always disappointing, but there was a good trail of clues to follow and things tied together nicely. The secondary characters were also interesting, especially Kiera’s sister Alanna who had much more spunk and fire than Kiera herself, sadly.

All in all, I was pretty disappointed by this book. If you are more interested in a historical romance novel with a dash of a mystery, I might recommend this. But not the other way around.

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(source)

Rating 4: A very “meh” mystery and an irritating leading lady makes for a not great reading experience.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Anatomist’s Wife” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “The _______’s Wife,” and “Best Romantic Mystery Series.”

Find “The Anatomist’s Wife” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Girl Last Seen”

27070146Book: “Girl Last Seen” by Heather Anastasiu and Anne Greenwood Brown

Publication Info: Aw Teen, March 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: Kadence Mulligan’s star was rising. She and her best friend, Lauren DeSanto, watched their songs go viral on YouTube, then she launched a solo career when a nasty throat infection paralyzed Lauren’s vocal chords. Everyone knows Lauren and Kadence had a major falling-out over Kady’s boyfriend. But Lauren knows how deceptive Kadence could be sometimes. And nobody believes Lauren when she claims she had nothing to do with the disappearance. Or the blood evidence As the town and local media condemns Lauren, she realizes the only way to clear her name is to discover the truth herself. Lauren slowly unravels the twisted life of Kadence Mulligan and sees that there was more to her than she ever knew. But will she realize she’s unknowingly playing a part in an elaborate game to cover up a crime before it’s too late?

Review:  Sometimes I take a chance on a book that I have never heard of. Working at a library means that I see a lot of books pass by me, so I get tempted to be spontaneous fairly often. “Girl Last Seen” is one of those books that I decided to take a chance on. I had a long plane trip ahead of me, and something fluffy and easy sounded really good to me. However, I didn’t want it to be THAT fluffy and easy. And unfortunately, “Girl Last Seen” fell very much into that camp. It was kind of like the idea was ‘what if we took “Gone Girl” and made it for teens?’ I have news for you. Teenagers could just read “Gone Girl”. And I didn’t like “Gone Girl” either. So you know that this isn’t looking good for this book.

First of all, none of the characters were very interesting. You have Lauren, a musician and lyricist who is part of a musical duo with her best friend Kadence. But of course the moment that Lauren lost her voice semi permanently due to a nasty infection she contracted, Kadence dropped her and went solo. Lauren is your typical victimized best friend, who did crappy things to become popular, like dropping her old best friend Nathan. Then there’s Nathan, who became a pariah after he lost Lauren, so much so that he left school for awhile. He’s back now, though, and conveniently hot. And he’s going by the name Jude. He’s also kind of stalkery and hell bent on revenge against Kadence and Lauren, but not really Lauren because he’s still madly in love with her. This is normally a trope that I’m on board with, but in this case he wasn’t sympathetic enough for me to pledge my alliance to him. Then there is Kadence’s boyfriend Mason, the guy who put another wedge between Kadence and Lauren by kissing Lauren in the heat of the moment. Which is just another reason that people in their community think that Lauren has something to do with Kadence’s disappearance. All tropes that we’ve seen before. I’m fine with tropes, but only if they are made into their own well rounded characters and plot points, and none of them are.

There was also a strange choice in writing with this book, in that it tried to take an epistolary approach for the chapters that concerned Kadence. But instead of using written things like texts, or emails, or instant messages (is that still a thing?), the authors try to write out what is happening on web videos or news reports. When trying to write out something that is so visual, it comes off as very stilted and strange. I didn’t understand why that choice was made, when it could have been something like a blog post or a bunch of tweets. Instead we got a lot of things like ‘she looks away from the camera and looks upset’, which is the EPITOME of telling and not showing!!! That is a huge pet peeve of mine. If this were an actual web series, sure, a girl looking away from a camera and looking upset may show instead of tell, but in this case it just was awkward and irritating.

And there wasn’t really any big mystery to this whole thing. I pretty much knew what was happening from the beginning, and while the authors tried to throw some red herrings in there, it didn’t really fool me. That said, there was one final big twist that I didn’t see coming, which I do have to give them props for. It was much better than what the initial explanation was, and I did take that at face value at first. So kudos in that regard, as not only was it surprising, but it did end up being the most satisfactory of endings that I could get from this book. But one small twist that shocked me didn’t make up for lots of other things that didn’t quite add up in my eyes.

Seriously, teens could just read “Gone Girl” and get basically the same gist. It’s a shame because the summary was intriguing and I like being spontaneous, but when my spontaneity isn’t rewarded I feel more of a need to stick to planning out what I’m going to read.

Rating 3: This one just didn’t do it for me. The characters were flat, the mystery has been done, and most of the twists were predictable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Girl Last Seen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA Music Books”, and “2016 YA Contemporary”.

Find “Girl Last Seen” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Reviews: “Ink and Bone”

27276336Book: “Ink and Bone” by Lisa Unger

Publishing Info: Touchstone, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by people whom others can’t see and haunted by prophetic dreams, she has never been able to control or understand the things that happen to her. When Finley’s abilities start to become too strong for her to handle – and even the roar of her motorcycle or another dazzling tattoo can’t drown out the voices – she turns to the only person she knows who can help her: her grandmother Eloise Montgomery, a renowned psychic living in The Hollows, New York.

Merri Gleason is a woman at the end of her tether after a ten-month-long search for her missing daughter, Abbey. With almost every hope exhausted, she resorts to hiring Jones Cooper, a detective who sometimes works with psychic Eloise Montgomery. Merri’s not a believer, but she’s just desperate enough to go down that road, praying that she’s not too late. Time, she knows, is running out.

As a harsh white winter moves into The Hollows, Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves to have much more at stake than even the fate of a missing girl. As Finley digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, she is forced to examine the past, even as she tries to look into the future. Only one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what.

Review: I had originally put “Ink and Bone” as one of my highlighted books for the month of June, but then it got bumped off in favor of “The Girls” by Emma Cline. But in an ironic twist of fate, I got to “Ink and Bone” before I got to “The Girls”. I do like a good mystery, and I do like themes of psychic consultants and procedural dramas that center around missing or kidnapped people. Perhaps that makes me morbid, but meh, I’ll own it. So I was pretty excited to actually get my hands on “Ink and Bone” when it came in at my library. But I think that what was ultimately the downfall of this situation was that as far as grit-lit thrillers go, I’ve read quite a few really good ones as of late. And “Ink and Bone” just didn’t quite live up to those.

I will start with the good, though. The opening prologue, in which Abbey is kidnapped, was very well written and did suck me in. Unger did a very good job with how she set up the scene, how she laid clues to later plot twists inside of it, and how she put the reader in Abbey’s shoes, so profoundly that I was on edge throughout the whole segment. It definitely started the story off with a serious bang, and I was very interested in finding out what happened. It started at such a high and tension filled level that I was thinking that it could only go up from there. Unfortunately, at least for me, the rest of the book never quite reached the same levels of intensity and suspense that the first few pages did. And for a thriller novel, that is quite the no-no.

I really did like Finley, our main character and tormented psychic. I liked that she wasn’t perfect, and wasn’t exactly the trope that many of these psychics in stories like this fall into: the serene, calm, almost ethereal enigma. Finley doesn’t have the temperament for that. She is young, and a bit insecure with herself, and hasn’t quite come to terms with her gifts. Her grandmother, Eloise, is trying to guide her in hopes that she will be able to hone her craft, but Finley, at first, isn’t quite sure that she has what it takes. After all, Eloise is basically the go-to psychic for cops and investigations that are at the end of their ropes. It was fun seeing a young psychic trying to get her sea legs, as so many in pop culture (like Alison DuBois in “Medium” or Billie Dean in “American Horror Story”) are already in tune with what they can and cannot do. I also liked her relationship with her tattoo artist on-again off-again lover, Ranier. Their relationship isn’t exactly the healthiest, but I could understand why she was drawn to him, and how he is both good and not so go for her. Her need to get tattoos all over her body as a coping mechanism to her visions was a very fascinating character trait, and gave her a bit more of an edge without seeming cloying.

Most of the other characters, however, were fairly predictable. Eloise definitely fell into the role of serene and wise psychic grandmother, and while she was perfectly nice it didn’t exactly do anything new for the old chestnut of a trope. I felt the same way about Merri and Wolf, the parents of Abbey, the kidnapped girl. Wolf is, of course, a shitty human being who has been sleeping with other women throughout his entire marriage. Of course he is. And Merri is the woman who stands by her man in spite of it all. I think that perhaps she was meant to be a bit more well rounded because she fully knows what he’s doing and has a certain amount of disdain for him and his actions, but it just felt odd to me. I know that they were both dealing with shared grief, but I just couldn’t quite get on board with them as a couple. Maybe I wasn’t meant to. The kidnappers were also the usual suspects: a crazed man who is also a pedophile (at least implied), and his naive wife who is trying to replace their dead daughter with other girls, who happen to be psychic as well (or at least highly sensitive). It felt a little “Doctor Sleep” to me in that regard, as while they weren’t eating the psychic girls’ life forces they were forcing them to speak to the ghost of their dead daughter in hopes of keeping a part of her with them, and therein sucking the life out of them that way. I couldn’t tell if we were meant to feel sympathy for the mother or not. Their mentally disabled son, Bobo, is another story. He bonds with the present ‘Penny’ (the name that all the kidnapped girls take on, after the dead daughter) and doesn’t want to hurt her, as he didn’t want to hurt the others, but is domineered by his mother and his need to please her.

Again, pretty standard tropes for a thriller.

I even guessed the twist pretty early on, which never gives a book any points. Doesn’t take away points, mind you, but in this case, other problems couldn’t quite save this book for me. It isn’t a bad book by any means, it just wasn’t really what I was looking for.

Rating 5: I really wanted to like this book more than I did, but it didn’t draw me in as much as I had hoped it would. I liked Finley enough, but other characters are pretty familiar tropes and the story hasn’t added much to the genre.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Ink and Bone” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Most Anticipated Mysteries of 2016”, and “2016: What the Over-35s Are Reading”.

Find “Ink and Bone” at your local library using WorldCat!