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 Review: “End of Watch”

25526965Book: “End of Watch” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of the Mercedes Massacre, where eight people were killed and many more were badly injured, has been in the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic for five years, in a vegetative state. According to his doctors, anything approaching a complete recovery is unlikely. But behind the drool and stare, Brady is awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.

Retired police detective Bill Hodges, the unlikely hero of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, now runs an investigation agency with his partner, Holly Gibney, who delivered the blow to Hartsfield’s head that put him on the brain injury ward. Brady also remembers that. When Bill and Holly are called to a murder-suicide with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put not only their lives at risk, but those of Hodges’s friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Because Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Bill Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.

In End of Watch, Stephen King brings the Hodges trilogy to a sublimely terrifying conclusion, combining the detective fiction of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers with the supernatural suspense that has been his trademark. The result is an unnerving look at human vulnerability and up-all-night entertainment.

Review: You know that you are coming to the end of a good series when you are both racing through a book, and yet not wanting to finish it. This is the experience I had while reading “End of Watch”. On the airplane I realized that I had read half of the book, and decided that it was time to put it down, because I needed to savor it. I needed to hold onto the last Bill Hodges story for as long as I could. So when I did commit to sit down and finish it, it was both wonderful and awful. I wanted to know how it all ended, but I never wanted it to end.

It was definitely good to get back to the roots of this series, and those roots are Brady Hartsfield. As I mentioned in my review of “Finders Keepers”, it just isn’t quite the same without The Mercedes Killer himself. And he came back with all the malevolence that he had in the first book. But this time he is using a video game console and his newly acquired psychic powers to take out his victims. He gets them obsessed with this game, specifically trying to click on pink fish for points, and hypnotizes them into committing suicide. I’m sure it was meant to be a damning indictment of social media, but what’s even more accidentally relevant is that I started reading this right around the time that Pokemon Go had started taking the world by storm.

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This has not stopped my own quest for Dragon and Ghost types, however. (source)

So the idea of Brady now having psychic, body jumping powers is kind of… silly. I mean, it doesn’t really fit with the realism of the rest of this series, but I was willing to give it a pass because 1) it goes back to King’s roots of “Carrie”, “Firestarter”, and “The Shining”, and 2) it gave Hartsfield a way to come back in spite of the fact he’s nearly braindead thanks to Holly Gibney.

This is very much Hodges swan song, though, as his health is deteriorating. Given that the book is called “End of Watch”, it should as no surprise that this is, indeed, the end of Hodges’ times as a detective. That didn’t make it any less melancholy, however, and his connections to his friends, especially Holly, made it hurt all the more. Hodges has helped Holly adjust and acclimate to a life she never thought she would have, and while so much of that is because of her, her friendship with Hodges (and Jerome too) played a big factor in it. So knowing that Hodges’ health issues are very serious makes the reader ache for Holly just as much the ache is for Hodges. They have come so far from “Mr. Mercedes”, their relationship going above platonic and romantic, and being in a category of it’s own. I am also still very happy with how King has characterized Holly, as while she has become more comfortable with herself for the most part, she still has her problems and they are NEVER presented as a character weakness. They are just shown as a part of who she is, that it’s just fine. King has made efforts in his more recent works to include more diverse characters, and Holly is a great example of that. Jerome Robinson is too, but I feel like we didn’t really get to see enough of him in this last book. Granted, he’s off at school and has his own life now, but I would have loved to see a bit more of him and his sister Barbara. That said, the part that Barbara did have was another good way for King to take on issues of race in this country. It was momentary, but it was well done.

The thriller elements in this book were spot on, as I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. King manages to take themes from the noir genre and makes them feel modern and unique, and the rivalry between Hodges and Hartsfield reflect this perfectly. We are ready for them to finally have their showdown, a moment we’ve been waiting for since “Mr. Mercedes”. Once I got into the final climax of the book, I was completely tense and freaked out, ready to find out how it was all going to turn out, and I was LIVID when I got a text from the husband that it was time to come pick him up from his morning excursion on our trip right as it was all shaking out.

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Actual file footage from that day. (source)

Suffice to say, I didn’t want to put it down because it was just too damn addicting. And that is everything I want in a thriller novel.

“End of Watch” was an imperfect end to the Bill Hodges series, but it managed to hit all of the right notes and left me incredibly satisfied. I was very, very happy with how the Bill Hodges Trilogy wrapped itself up. Stephen King is a true master, who has proven that he can write many different stories of many different types, but he’ll probably always have a place in his original horror roots.

Rating 8: Though there were some moments that felt rushed and some characters who felt left behind, “End of Watch” was a solid and satisfying end to King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“End of Watch” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Protagonists over 60”, and “Can’t Wait Reads of 2016”.

Find “End of Watch” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviews in the series: “Mr. Mercedes”, “Finders Keepers”

Kate’s Rev-Up Review: “Finders Keepers”

22453035Book: “Finders Keepers” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, June 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: “Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.

Review: The flashback to the “Bill Hodges Series” continues with the middle book, “Finders Keepers”. I got my grubby little paws on this book shortly after I had listened to “Mr. Mercedes” on audiobook, but couldn’t wait for the CDs to arrive so I just grabbed the print book. Sorry, Will Patton, I was just too anxious to dive right in. The upside with reading this book in print form was that I basically devoured it once I had it in my hand. I read faster than Will Patton speaks, after all. Eager was I to fall back into the world of Private Detective Bill Hodges and his assistants Jerome and Holly. Eager was I to revisit that horrible and evil Brady Hartsfield, who was left beaten and practically brain dead by Holly in an effort to stop him from blowing up a concert of teenage girls. Eager was I.

So it was too bad that “Finders Keepers” kind of let me down.

It certainly wasn’t the writing. King brings some more great suspense to this narrative, building layer upon layer of serious tension. He starts out with a horrific murder, and doesn’t let the action or intensity die down. Morris Bellamy is like a male and more expansive version of Annie Wilkes, his obsession with his favorite writer pushing him over the edge into violence and madness.He is a very clear threat, and I definitely felt a lot of fear for poor Pete Saubers, a boy whose family is falling into financial ruin and is looking for a miracle. So of course he’s going to take that money that he finds, any empathetic reader would understand it. Had this been any other Stephen King book, I probably would have loved this and bought into it 100%. The problem for me is that this is Book 2 in the Bill Hodges Trilogy. And Bill, Holly, and Jerome do not make an appearance in this book until about one third of the way, and to me that is just far too long to bring these characters back when it is supposed to be the middle part of a Bill Hodges Trilogy. It kind of felt like that King had a new fun idea, and then, knowing he wanted to write more Bill Hodges stuff, decided to throw both themes together to kill two birds with one stone. He did it in a believable way, even connecting the Saubers family to the Mr. Mercedes massacre (Mr. Saubers was one of the victims, left with a permanent limp and few job prospects because of it), but it still felt cobbled together. Perhaps this could be written off as a good way to show that Hodges and Holly and, to a lesser extent, Jerome have started their own detective business together (called Finders Keepers), but it still was a bit too long to keep them away for the sake of the new characters.

And plus, I feel that this story as a whole has just as much to do with Brady Hartsfield as it does with Bill Hodges. Hartsfield has a small role in this, but being something of a vegetable lying in a hospital bed makes it kind of difficult to give him much to do. Given all the weight he was given in the first one, I was expecting a bit more from him, especially since it was pretty clear from the get go that there was more to his story. I think that if this series was more than just three books I would have been a bit more forgiving with not focusing on him as much. I would have felt like there was plenty of time. But with three books in this series, to barely have Hodges’ nemesis, and to keep Hodges and his gang out of it for the first third as well, it just doesn’t feel right.

But there are things here that I really did like. Jerome’s sister Barbara, relegated to role of potential victim in “Mr. Mercedes” gets to do a bit more in “Finders Keepers”. She’s the friend of Pete Saubers’ sister, who is worried about her brother and her family. Barbara is the one who prompts her to go see Hodges about what’s going on in her life. I like the fact that King is trying to have more diverse people in his books as of late, and Jerome and Barabara Robinson work very well as characters and as helpers to Bill Hodges. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this book, however, is the progression of Holly Gibney. When we met Holly in “Mr. Mercedes” she was a nervous, unstable wreck who was conquered by her demons. But in “Finders Keepers”, her new found freedom and purpose (and friend group of Hodges and Jerome) has helped her bloom into a confident and savvy detective in her own right. True, she still has some of her hang ups, and her less extreme personality quirks are still quite present (being too literal and lacking any kind of filter), she is far more in control of her nerves and feels a lot better about herself and her life. I love Holly, and she brings her own bit of diversity to the story, being a character who has mental disabilities and may be on the spectrum. King still writes her tenderly and with a gentle touch, but never condescends to her as a character either. Her character development is really the best damn thing about this book, and her friendship with Hodges is very satisfying.

And then there is the fact that Brady Hartsfield seems to be gaining some strange powers…. I thought that this was a real world King story, not necessarily a supernatural one. That isn’t to say that I was irritated with this. I like that King decided to go back to his roots, ALL the way bak to his first book, “Carrie”.

“Finders Keepers” wasn’t as strong as “Mr. Mercedes”, and something of a disappointing distraction from the Hodges/Hartsfield story that is at the heart of this series. But distracted or not, my girl Holly Gibney got some time to shine in this one, and that was worth it. Up next I will take on the last of the trilogy, “End of Watch”.

Rating 7: A solid mystery on it’s own, but it feels like a strange, out of place add on to the overarching story of Bill Hodges. Frankly, it needs more Brady Hartsfield. But Holly Gibney really shined bright.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Finders Keepers” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Quirky Books”, and “Stephen King’s Non-Horror Books”.

Find “Finders Keepers” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews in this series: “Mr. Mercedes”

Kate’s Rev-Up Review: “Mr. Mercedes”

18775247Book: “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, June 2014

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

Description: In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

Review: One of the best things to take with me on vacation is a big ol’ stack of books. And even though I almost never get through as large a stack as I think I’m going to (what with vacation having lots of distractions), I usually get through at least two. This las vacation I brought “End of Watch”, the last in a trilogy by Stephen King, and given that it was a thriller I thought that I would just write up a review and call it a day. But then I remembered that I had read books 1 and 2 before Serena and I started this blog. So, taking a page out of the Book of Serena, I am going to review the first two books in the Bill Hodges Trilogy before I tackled the third (with spoilers abound). So that means we are going waaaaay back to when I read “Mr. Mercedes” last year.

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And cue wavy lines, and flashback music, and…. (source)

When we start “Mr. Mercedes”, King paints a very bleak picture of a blue collar town in the midst of the most recent recession. King has always done a very good job of depicting the darker side of small town life, and while our setting isn’t exactly small, the feelings of class divides and suburban vs urban are in full swing, even though almost everyone is hurting financially. That is possibly just adding salt to the wound that is the Mr. Mercedes massacre that opens this book. A bunch of people are lined up outside of the town civic center, waiting for hte doors of a job fair to open. While there are a limited number of jobs to be found inside, hundreds upon hundreds of desperate people are hoping that this is their chance…. only to be mowed down by a maniac in a stolen Mercedes. Going into the book I thought that perhaps this was going to be like many other noir detective stories, with our private investigator (in this case retired detective Bill Hodges) solving the puzzle with us only seeing his perspective.

But then King went and overturned my expectations, because almost immediately we got to see into the life and mind of Mr. Mercedes himself, Brady Hartsfield. This is the kind of guy that kills a bunch of innocent people just for funsies, and then tries to goad a retired detective into suicide by sending him a nasty little letter mocking the fact that he never found him. He works at a floundering discount electronics store, and as an ice cream truck driver, using the latter occupation to spy on Hodges. He’s basically the worst, and he is also one of the best damn things about the book. I love that we got to see into the very nastiness and awfulness of his mind, and King presented his background and home life in such a vivid and horrific way that the reader gets to see why he was the way he was, but not once feels at all bad for him. Brady Hartsfield was certainly a created monstrosity, but that’s no excuse. He is a villain that makes your skin crawl and sets your teeth on edge, as only King can write them.

And then there is Bill Hodges. He’s overweight, he’s cynical as all get out, and he fits the hard boiled detective model pretty handily. He is working outside of the law in a way, he has a spunky sidekick (in that of Jerome Robinson, a neighborhood teen who mows Hodges’ lawn for him), and even gets to start up an affair with a comely client, Janey. Janey is the sister of Olivia Trelawney, whose Mercedes was stolen and used as a weapon. Olivia was hammered pretty hard by Hodges and his partner Pete while they were on the case (as they thought she must have left her car unlocked and made it available to the murderer), and Olivia eventually killed herself out of guilt. Janey hires Hodges in hopes of clearing her sister’s name. All pretty standard tropes, really….. But then King takes those tropes and tosses them out the window. Hodges is outside the law but maintains a pleasant relationship with his former partner, Pete. Jerome is not only young and spunky, he’s also incredibly computer savvy. And after tragedy befalls Janey, King paves the way for Holly Gibney to enter the fray, who is the true hero of this entire series, in my very honest opinion.

I need to gush about Holly and how much I love her. She is introduced as the cousin of Olivia and Janey, seen as perhaps just a strange and awkward relative who is just one of a number of strange and awkward relatives (though the others are certainly more on the unpleasant side). Holly is nervous, anxiety ridden, and it is implied that she is somewhere on the Autism/Asperger’s spectrum as well. But when her cousin is killed, she steps up to the plate and demands that she is allowed to help find the man who has brought so much pain to her family, and that of many families. King writes Holly in a sensitive and delicate way, not making her just the perfect ‘savant’ stereotype that may have been tempting. Holly is very skilled but she is also very troubled, and seeing Hodges and Jerome interact with her and come to understand her was one of the best character progressions that I have seen come out of a book by King.

Watching all these three of these neat characters try to piece together the clues and hunt for Brady, all while seeing Brady plan and plot a few steps ahead of them, made for a very tense and satisfying read. King sets out the clues and the evidence for Hodges to solve, lets the readers solve some of it first, but then keeps on surprising us just as much as Brady surprises Hodges. There were times in the car that I was yelling out in fear and nervousness over how things were going to play out, which to me shows that the writer has done his job. There were a few things that kind of felt a bit convenient in terms of how conclusions were drawn or how situations came out, which didn’t really surprise me because King has been known to be somewhat guilty of deus ex machinas in his stories. This is both frustrating in that I wish he would just stop it, but at the same time it’s just something I’ve come to accept of him and his stories.

I should also mention that this is an audiobook that is read by the absolutely FABULOUS Will Patton, an actor whom you would recognize if you saw him but may not be familiar with by name only. You probably best know him as the Other Coach from “Remember the Titans”.

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I mean Denzel outshines everyone but you know this guy. (source)

He is hands down my favorite audiobook narrator in the business, as he has this amazing knack for making his voice change ever so slightly for every character’s perspective. For having kind of a gruff voice, he’s great at voicing all characters. Will Patton is the best. It is known.

“Mr. Mercedes” is a very well written thriller. For thriller fans who may not like horror novels or scary stories, this may be a good way to see what King has to offer. It is a great start to a solid trilogy.

Rating 8: A very tense and creepy thriller, with lots of great characters. King takes the noir novel and makes it his own.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Mr. Mercedes” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best of Stephen King from the 21st Century”, and “Books that Make You Stay Up Too Late”.

Find “Mr. Mercedes” 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!

 

Joint Review: “Jane Steele”

25938397Though we do tend to read different genres, there is sometimes overlap in the books that we pick up and devour. When this happens, we decide to do a joint review, giving our thoughts through our own personal lenses of what we look for in reading material. 

Book: “Jane Steele” by Lyndsay Faye

Publishing Info: G.P. Putman’s Sons, March 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!;

Book Description: “Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
 
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
 
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I didn’t discover “Jane Eyre” until a couple years ago, but when I did I immediately fell in love with it. I loved Jane, I loved Rochester, I loved the broody star-crossed romance between them, and I loved how brassy and spitfire Jane was. It has now become one of my very favorite “classic” novels, and I am always on the look out for a good interpretation of it, or a good retelling. I can say, safely, that this search hasn’t always borne the best kind of fruit. One that stands out in particular was the book “Jane Eyre Laid Bare” by Eve Sinclair, and boy was THAT a huge miss for me. Essentially it was “Jane Eyre” but with erotic sex scenes sprinkled throughout, and that doesn’t really offend me on paper. What offends me is that it ends after she leaves Thornfield Hall the first time, and it made Rochester into a submissive slave for his dominatrix crazy wife in the attic, who wants Jane as her new sub.

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I want my Jane and Rochester romance brooding, but not creepy. (source)

Luckily, “Jane Steele” is a much better interpretation of the source material. It isn’t so much a retelling of “Jane Eyre,” as much as it is an homage to the themes of it. Jane Steele is certainly an orphan girl with a cruel aunt, who goes to a boarding school, and ends up as governess to a girl in a sweeping mansion on the moors… But she’s also a fan of “Jane Eyre” the novel. Oh, and she’s a serial killer, though I would argue that in most cases she is completely justified in what she is doing, so to try and paint it as such seems a bit dishonest. In fact, I think that was my biggest frustration with the book, in that I thought it was going to be about a crazy version of Jane who kills mercilessly. But it wasn’t. But ultimately, that was okay.

I liked Jane Steele as a narrator and protagonist quite a bit. True, I sometimes found the winking at the reader airs about her to be a bit much, but overall I found her to be well rounded and I found her to be a good proxy for the original Jane. Her hardships at home and at school always felt very real, talking about the way that women during the time period were mistreated and abused in a very realistic way. In fact, up until we got to the stuff at Highgate House, where Charles Thornfield (the Rochester Proxy) lived, which also happened to be her childhood home, I was totally on board with this book. Regretfully, it was when she started the part I was most anticipating that it started to lose a bit of its luster for me. Charles was fine. I really liked his butler/friend Sardar, who is Sikh. Charles and Sardar fought together during the Sikh Wars, and I really liked that Faye didn’t just ignore the British imperialism that was going on at the time and the consequences it had for those that it was conquering. Unfortunately, Sardar and his deep and complex friendships with Charles and Jane aside, Jane and Charles didn’t have the oomph and chemistry that Jane Eyre and Rochester Proxies NEED TO HAVE. They need to smolder, and Jane and Charles didn’t do that for me.

The murder scenes are rightfully gruesome though! I liked seeing Jane Steele going out there and perpetrating various crimes of revenge. I think that had some of these cases addressed been a bit more shades of grey it would have given the story more literary clout.  On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a power fantasy of women getting revenge on those who have abused them or abused other women. Sometimes that can be satisfying, too. The villains in this book are almost always White Men with Too Much Power, and given that British imperialism during the time period that “Jane Eyre” was written in was very much the name of the game, it was very nice to see that turned on it’s head.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed “Jane Steele.” As far as homages to “Jane Eyre” go, this one is a true winner.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I remember growing up and hearing over and over again that “Jane Eyre” was my mother’s favorite book. It was a yearly read for her. Around middle school, I discovered Jane Austen, another favorite of my mother’s and an author who was often mentioned in conjunction with her raves of “Jane Eyre.” So, after finishing all of Austen’s works, it was a natural jump to this. Unfortunately, this jump might have been my first mistake. Having come off the witty, light, and comedic notes that Jane Austen is known for, “Jane Eyre”‘s much darker, angsty tone didn’t sit quite right for me. I found the tone of the book glum, and while I like Jane Eyre as a character, I thought that Rochester was generally a jerk towards her and that she could do better. I thought this even before getting to the “hidden crazy wife in the attic” part. Now, as an adult, I have re-read it and appreciated it more. But, while I can completely see how this book became a favorite for Kate (whose love of brooding men knows no limit!), it still never hits quite the right notes for me, especially in the romance department. All that said, I still enjoyed it and was very intrigued by the concept of this book. Bizarrely, I assumed that making Jane Eyre a serial killer might actually lighted up the original tale, and in some ways, I think this was right. I mean, what a crazy idea! But it works!

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this novel. The language was seamless and appropriate to the time. I think this is often one of the greatest challenges of retellings of classic novels. Authors attempt to mimic speech patterns and language choices and either wildly miss the mark or come across as trying too hard. So, too, it is too easy to superimpose modern sensibilities on historical time periods, thus completely undermining aspects of society and worldviews that are imperative to the original story. In both of these ways, “Jane Steele” was a success. The challenges Jane faced were realistic and appropriate to the time. And while reacting with murder was certainly not the common approach, her motivations and methods were believable.

As Kate mentioned, one problem with this concept was the way the book was advertised: “Jane Eyre as a serial killer!” as well as the way Jane Steele refers to herself as a murderer throughout the book. Perhaps this has to do, again, with modern perspectives looking in on these situations, but I, like Kate, found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with Jane’s inability to accurately assess the context behind many of her supposed murders. Unfortunately, for me, this problem also undermined an important moment in the conclusion of the novel. The build up and resolution didn’t seem to fit. But, on the other hand, this could just be a case of an unreliable narrator, and in many ways it’s understandable. Just slightly frustrating for the reader.

I actually really enjoyed Jane’s time at Highgate House. Perhaps because I wasn’t fully on board with Jane/Rochester in the original, the changes to the type of relationship and interactions between Jane and Charles didn’t bother me as much. If anything, for me it was still too similar. I don’t know, brooders aren’t my type!

I definitely agree with Kate, however, that a strength of the book was its secondary characters and the backstory for Charles and Sardar with the Sikh Wars. Their history was complicated and interesting, and their child ward was much more engaging than Adele was in the original.

I enjoyed the call backs to “Jane Eyre,” particularly when Jane Steele called the character out on choices that I, too, found questionable in that book. However, I also agree with Kate here that some of these winking nods could also interrupt the novel and be slightly jarring in tone. I like where the author was going with it, but at certain points, it felt like she was trapped by her own idea a bit.

All in all, I very much enjoyed “Jane Steele.” As a fan of historical novels, this book landed well. As I first mentioned, the biggest challenges (the language and the adherence to the structures of society in that time period) were handled aptly. And while I did have a few criticisms, I would highly recommend this book to fans of “Jane Eyre.” You don’t have to have read the original, but I guarantee a basic knowledge of that book will improve your reading enjoyment of this.

Kate’s Rating 8: A tense and fun read, with lots of “Jane Eyre” love to go around. I just wish the romance was stronger.

Serena’s Rating 8: A strong retelling that doesn’t fall into the common traps for historical retellings. The unreliable narrator was both a plus and a negative, however.

Reader’s Advisory

“Jane Steele” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Derivatives of Jane Eyre”, and “Female Anti-Heroines”.

Fine “Jane Steele” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Welcome to Night Vale”

25270656Book: “Welcome to Night Vale” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Publishing Info: HarperAudio, October 2015

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

Description: Night Vale is a small desert town where all the conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard are actually true. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge. Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked ‘KING CITY’ by a mysterious man in a tan jacket. She can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City before she herself unravels. Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it. Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: ‘KING CITY’. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures …if they can ever find it.

Review: In the summer of 2013 I discovered a quirky and strange little podcast called “Welcome to Night Vale”. This is going to sound incredibly hipster of me, but I got into it right before it exploded in popularity on the Internet and across geek fandoms everywhere. I followed it for awhile, as it really is my kind of story. It’s kind of like “Lake Wobegon” meets “Twin Peaks” meets “X-Files” meets “Parks and Rec”. The premise is that it’s a radio show of community updates run by a man named Cecil Palmer, and the community has black helicopters, monsters for librarians, floating cats, and hooded figures congregating in the local dog park, which may or may not transport you to another dimension. So it’s weird. Like, VERY weird. But it also has a lot of heart. I kind of lost interest after the StrexCorp storyline wrapped up, but I do still have a fondness for the universe and decided to give the book a try. I initially got it in print from the library…. But after perusing it, I was like ‘oh… Maybe not’.

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My thoughts: “Oh God, was it always like this? Was it always this aggressively quirky? Did I LIKE this?!” (source)

After having a crisis of faith in a podcast I had fond memories of, I returned the book and vowed never to speak of it again. But then I saw, months later, that the audiobook was available to download, and that Cecil Baldwin, the voice actor for Cecil Palmer and main voice of the show, was reading the book. So I decided to give it a try that way. And THAT, my friends, made ALL the difference.

So yeah, “Welcome to Night Vale” is weird, and is aggressively quirky, and yeah, it probably has a smug sense of satisfaction about itself and how clever it is. But Cecil Baldwin as Cecil Palmer just makes it so damn charming and makes the town so damn lovable that he really, REALLY saves the story. And he does the same for the book when he reads it. I think that as a book this kind of set up just doesn’t really totally work, so it makes sense to give it the pacing that an audiobook can provide because this is it’s home format. You need to listen to “Welcome to Night Vale”, just like you listen to the podcast. I can’t explain why. But you just do.

“Welcome to Night Vale” also happens to have a lot of heart buried in it’s creepy and strange and uncanny-esque premise, and the book has the same thing going for it. Though it isn’t in community radio format (sadly, though Cecil and his boyfriend Carlos DO make appearances), it does have strange anecdotes and oddities in a narrative sense. In the book we follow two women, Jackie and Diane. Jackie is perpetually nineteen, but she is also trying to find herself just like many nineteen year olds are. Her struggles are both strange, as she has a piece of paper permanently attached to her hand, but she wants to know who she is, as she cannot seem to remember. And then there’s Diane, whose son in a shapeshifter, sure. But their relationship is so damn spot on in it’s portrayal of a single mother dealing with a teenage son who is growing up and apart from her. It is the very parts of these characters that make them human that make the aggressive quirkiness easy to swallow. Even if “Welcome to Night Vale” is goofy and very, very strange, if you look past that, the characters are people with very real, touching problems. And I also really liked the relationship between Jackie and Diane, who are united in their need to know what King City is, but are still very different and aren’t always going to get along because of that.

But buyer beware. I think that unless you have a working knowledge of this podcast and the world that it has set up, this book will be very confusing and probably maddening to you. It’s working on the premise that you know what the scoop is with Night Vale, and it doesn’t hold the reader’s hand in the strangeness. It just leaps into the narrative full throttle. The podcast was always weird, but kind of gradually worked it’s way to where the story is now, and the book just goes into it. Which kind of makes me have to ask this question, if you jumped in and were surprised or indignant that it didn’t make sense to you:

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(source)

That would be like me jumping in the middle of a “Halo” novelization series and wondering why it was that I don’t understand what was happening. Those books aren’t written for me because I am not a “Halo” fan, and sadly, this book isn’t written for you because you are not a “Night Vale” fan. This book can’t stand alone, guys. It just can’t. You need to know this mythology. Which isn’t exactly a great thing for this book, in all honesty. The point, I would imagine, was to try and branch out to other people outside of the built in listener base. And this book probably won’t do that.

I thought it was fun enough. I’m not necessarily clamoring back to the podcast in a game of catch up, but I do still love Cecil Palmer the character and Cecil Baldwin the voice. “Welcome To Night Vale”, if listened to, should be a fun little bonus for the podcast. But a stand alone book it is not.

Rating 7: This will probably be fun for fans of the podcast, but I don’t think that there is any way that a layman could enjoy this book. If you haven’t listened to the show, this is NOT for you. Either jump into the podcast, or leave it be. Also, it only worked for me when I listened to it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Welcome to Night Vale” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists as of now. I’m not surprised. So instead, here is a link to a blog that has some read-alikes, and hell, here is the damn podcast. You really should start here.

Find “Welcome to Night Vale” at your library using WorldCat!