In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1)

I have been enjoying mystery/thrillers lately and In The Woods by Tana French kept popping up on the lists of best police procedural mysteries so I placed that hold at the library.

The buddy cops Rob and Cassie are super adorable and I loved them immediately. Watching their banter and interactions made me laugh out loud more than once, and it was refreshing to see a true male/female friendship in a book that had no romantic undertones at all. It was more like a sister/brother dynamic if I had to compare it to anything at all, but really they were best friends and good partners.

Aaaand that’s where what I liked about this book ends. It wasn’t enough to keep me reading to the end, which disappointed me because I was hoping to get into this series. Everything took forever to do, almost half the book was just walking around a small Irish town talking to people and it was boooorrrrrriiiiiiing. When I got close to halfway and I realized I didn’t care about the story or what was happening, liking the two main characters wasn’t going to be enough to make me keep reading about the boring things they were doing. This was a did not finish and I was glad to put it down.

I think that Louisa Luna has ruined me for all other police procedurals, so I’ll take the next Alice Vega novel now, thanks. 🙂 But Into the Woods should be skipped. Go read Two Girls Down or The Janes instead if you haven’t yet.

Where the Crawdads Sing

Every once in awhile I read a book that is so beautiful, so well written, and so personal that I want to recommend it to everyone I meet. It’s the kind of book that is difficult to explain why you should read it, and all that comes out is a garble of “just read it, TRUST ME!” Well, my friends, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of those books.

The solitude of the main character Kya is what makes this book absolutely heart-wrenching. People help her along the way (and discriminate against her ruthlessly) but from child to old woman she is essentially alone and how she navigates that life is the lifeblood of this story. Watching her try to survive in the marsh as her family leaves her one by one, first her mother, then her siblings, and finally her father; seeing the few people who know what her situation is but don’t turn her in to the social services and instead help her survive – I didn’t know I was holding my breath through the entire first half of the book because even I didn’t want her to lose her marsh, her wildlands, her seagulls.

I was inspired by how she made a life out of nothing and how she found joy without other people. My heart broke for her when she trusted and saw that trust betrayed. I was furious when her naivete was taken advantage of. Despite all the bad, Kya finds joy in her simple life and it is a good lesson to receive from such a good book.

I haven’t come across many books about “white trash” in my reading, and so many aspects of Kya’s experience hit home for me, more than I want to admit. This book made me cry several times, not only because the story was powerful but because I remembered feeling what Kya was feeling in relationship to the larger world and the dangers it holds.

This book is powerful in an era where we are increasingly talking about how we need to understand each other better and do away with discrimination and oppression. And from an educator’s standpoint, Kya is an extreme example of the need to meet children where they are so they can learn in the way that is best for them, and I wish that we could teach all poor and secluded children the way Kya was taught. There are a multitude of themes to be discussed while reading and this would make an amazing book club pick in 2020.

If you are a woman, you need to read this book. If you are a man who loves a damaged woman, you need to read this book. If you haven’t already, please, go read this book. TRUST ME.

Chosen Ones

I have only read the first book of the Divergent series (and seen the movie) so I had no prior allegiance (LOL) to Veronica Roth. Since I did enjoy her storytelling in Divergent, I decided to pick up her first foray into the world of adult fiction and give it a shot.

I liked the concept of seeing how chosen ones live after they’ve defeated the big bad dude. The aftermath, the PTSD, the coping mechanisms, all were on full display in the group of chosen ones that we follow. Drinking, pretending, brave facing, adrenaline junkie-ing – it’s all here ten years later.

Where I feel like this book fell apart was in the execution of magic. How it was found and used, there is an entire history here that we miss because we weren’t there for the initial event. We get it in drips and drabs through chapters that are top secret documents we are privy to that document how things went down ten years ago, but I felt like it was a lot of exposition that couldn’t really be included in the action of the story because, well, the story was ten years later.

It would have been neat if there had been a duology or trilogy of YA novels that covered how they won as teenagers first, and then this book that is more adult that’s more of a “where are they now” kind of expose’. But that’s a lot of writing and not the point.

I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I’ll keep my last criticism brief: The love stories. Something I bring up a lot here at Angry Angel Books is that not everything has to be a love story. People can just be friends. They don’t have to have sex and googly eye at each other. And where the second half of this book fell apart for me was the rebound relationship that our MC Sloane has after breaking off her ten year relationship (and engagement) with her fellow chosen one Matt. Roth wants me to believe this is an immediate love connection and it’s real thin. Everything about this new guy and the chosen ones’ new circumstances felt so out of left field and unbelievable that I almost didn’t finish the book. Again, I think a lack of history that had to somehow get woven in through exposition via documents and history books and articles make this a skeleton that had no meat on the bones. Even the villain(s) was(were) kind of boring and unimpressive.

The ending was not well handled, and again keep in mind that I almost just put this one down and didn’t finish. I think as a whole it was a good idea, a cool concept, but it somehow needed more than 400 pages of a hardcover to accomplish that. I almost wish this had been a duology: the first book a more fleshed out version of the first half of this book that ends in the cliffhanger of [spoiler], then the second book is the second half, again, better fleshed out and more room for expansion, character development, and a satisfying ending because we are now invested in this world and its people.

I’d have to say skip this one. It was okay but if you have other choices for summer reads go try those.

The Janes (Alice Vega #2)

Two Girls Down (Alice Vega #1)

Alex Vega and Max Caplan are back for this Southwest human trafficking adventure! Two Jane Does are discovered in southern California, and the police department there hires Alex Caplan to investigate because they want to keep it off the radar to assist the DEA in their ongoing drug trafficking investigation. She of course calls in her partner Max Caplan, who is so lovesick agrees immediately even though his most recent job just offered him salary and benefits to come on as a full time investigator at their law firm.

This book starts a LOT faster than Two Girls Down and I was very thankful for that. Luna is a talented storyteller and for these kinds of thrillers I just needed her to get straight to the action. Corrupt cops and drug kingpins and human trafficking of children for sex dungeons – there is a lot going on here. And if you think you know where it’s going, you don’t. It’s what makes this book so fucking amazing.

I have to admit that at the start the way Caplan fawns over Vega, even creepily looking in on her through the blinds of her hotel room, kind of hit me the wrong way. It didn’t seem endearing, it felt like it was kind of dancing on the line between lovesick and obsessed and it made me uncomfortable. He’s got some boundaries though, and never acts on anything, so that’s something. I just feel like the way he was written early on kind of soured my view of how cool he was from the first book.

Eventually that resolves so it isn’t a major focus and we’re off to the races. This book has so many layers and every time I peeled one back I was shocked (and a little terrified) to find the next one. I devoured this book, I didn’t want to stop reading. It’s the first book I’ve taken in to read before bed in a long time because I had to squeeze just one more chapter in before I fell asleep.

You don’t have to read Two Girls Down before this one, but if you want to feel invested in the character development between Vega and Cap and Nell and the Bastard, you’ll want to read it first. You won’t mind though, they are both spectacular. Go get you some.

Wow, No Thank You

Wow No Thank You

New York Times review

Entertainment Weekly

Kirkus Reviews

There isn’t a lot to say about Samantha Irby’s new set of essays that hasn’t already been said by a lot of people smarter and more highly paid than me. I think that when I read her work, I see a life that is possible. Inherent permission to live a life that is unapologetic, that is focused on the true self and pursuing what makes that actual self happy (or at least less miserable). People focus so much on the things that we should to or are supposed to do, but they never realize that most of the time they don’t need someone’s permission to choose to do something else.

I also appreciate that Irby weaves in the obstacles and problems with the search for such a life in with humor and sarcasm. We’re all laughing and crying because, for the most part, women have experienced a lot of these struggles before. I would give literally anything to have my doctor agree to microwave my uterus so I don’t have to dread having another IUD inserted in 2021. I am not using it and all it gives me is despair, if you will not remove it please kill it and save us all the trouble.

I worry though that these high paid people, people smarter and higher up than me feel like they are vacationing in someone else’s life, which is basically what anyone does when they read a memoir sure. What I mean is that unless you’ve experienced poverty, a landlord that basically fucks with you, HUNGER, anything that Irby jauntily floats us all through with humor and self-deprecation, you’re not hearing the fear, the desperation, and the relief in a lot of these essays. A few of the above linked reviews talk about how these essays feel different. When I read that, I balked at it because it was almost like they were saying she wasn’t struggling enough to be as edgy as she was in the past. This most recent collection feels different because life feels a lot different when you don’t have to constantly worry about getting kicked out of your apartment and are getting proper healthcare and enough to eat. Life feels different when you have people around that love and support you and that you can love and support in return.

Irby’s books are a journey to this stability, and each collection of essays feels different because each one brings us closer to what every poor kid wishes for themselves and others: seeing that Irby is going to be okay. Does she still have health problems and other issues that we love to hear her complain about? Sure, but I feel a lot better reading them knowing that at the core of them, she’s relatively safe and happy. I can’t wait to hear more and will be preordering book 4. Wow, yes thank you. 🙂

Catching Up

I have arrived at the end of the 19-20 school year and the start of summer 2020 and I just wanted to put a small post out there to let you know that I am working on two new reviews with a third to come. It has been an easy escape to read, but difficult to work up the motivation to write down my thoughts on the books. Now that my only obligations are what I want to do, I’ll be getting those written up and out shortly.

Honestly I’m just glad that I made it through another day right now. I hope that if you are reading this that you are safe and healthy and finding a way to exist in this new world that is unfurling before our eyes. Thank you for reading and supporting Angry Angel Books.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Zelda Link to the Past

Gameplay Guide

I finally bought a Switch for the husband and myself at the beginning of 2020, luckily before many of the stay at home orders went into place and everyone frantically bought them out of stock. The Nintendo Shop makes many of the past Nintendo and Super Nintendo games available to play, which is nice because I only had a few to play when I was a kid and now I can try more! One of the games I played was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but I can’t remember ever finishing it. So I decided to look up a guide online and make my way through.

There are two levels of this game: the three medallions (master sword) and the seven crystal maidens (Ganon). You have to travel around the map to collect the hero medallions to claim the master sword, which you think you are taking to defeat a wizard, but then a dark world is revealed where 7 maidens (including Zelda, who you think you’ve rescued) have been trapped in crystals in order to fuel the portal that the dark lord Ganon is trying to use to enter the light world that you’ve been playing in so far. You have to travel between the light and dark worlds to save the seven maidens, use their power to unlock Ganon’s tower, and defeat Ganon before he brings darkness to the entire universe.

I used this guide to make my way through the world. Not only does it help you through all the bosses and dungeons, but it helps you to make sure you gather all the tools and supplies you need to beat those dungeons, plus a few extra helpful ones (I’m looking at you, Bombos Medallion!). I spaced out my play by playing up to the next big thing, and then going to do something else. I’d play until I got a medallion, then stop. Next medallion, stop. And so on. This has extended my enjoyment through at least 10 days, but it’s taken more because some of the goodies you go to gather take a bit of time too. 

My favorite item of all the ones you follow the guide to collect was the Cane of Byrna. I’m sure others would say it was the Magic Cape (both items protect you from damage when used) but I liked that I could still see Link when I used the cane to protect him (the cape makes you invisible and all you can see is Link’s shadow). Once you have the cane your path to beating a lot of the dungeon monsters, especially in the dark world, is basically clear. You have to stock at least one glass jar with the medicine of magic to make sure you can use it enough, but it was absolutely necessary for me to get up close to some of the big bads without taking damage to swipe with my sword.

A close second was the Bombos Medallion. This medallion is not required for any of the mechanics of the game like the Ether and Quake Medallions are, but using it will clear any room of enemies. If you can see them, the Bombos will get them, and in some of the dungeons with more annoying enemies it was worth it to throw down a Bombos to clear the way.

One of my criticisms of this and many other games like it is that most of what I’ve done would have been next to impossible without a guide. I see now why I probably didn’t finish it in the past, since having to figure some of this out on my own would have proved highly frustrating. Most of my childhood video game participation was Mario-based, and in most of those you have only one direction to go: forward, and only certain items that can help you along the way, but that you don’t have to hold onto to succeed. Zelda games require you to explore, to use logic and process of elimination to make sure you discover all paths and items in order to move forward, and to try multiple ways to solve a problem. Grown-up me wishes that kid me could have been exposed to more games like this so I could have had another venue in which to learn patience and problem-solving.

This remains one of my favorite retro games and has inspired me to try to play through any of the Zelda games that I have access to. When I do, I’ll be sure to post about them here.

Special Note: If you’re interested in playing these retro games without having to shell out the cash for a Switch (if you could even find one to buy right now), there are other ways to play. The NES Nintendo Classic Edition and the Super Nintendo Classic Edition are both preloaded with the classic games and come with the classic controllers you remember. I am not sure about their availability during this pandemic either, but it’s a cheaper way to return to the video games of yesteryear.

 

 

Risky Business

Risky Business

Woman is hurt by man, pregnant by him, leaves to start a new life with child someplace else, devotes her entire world to her child’s happiness and has locked her heart away, never to trust to love again. Builds a business from the ground up and 10 years later she hires a dude that was into the wrong stuff and he gets killed. His twin brother comes to town to collect his body and find answers to what happened, gets involved with woman while investigating and we’re off to the races.

This book was originally published in the ’80s and it shows. I love Nora Roberts, and this story is pretty solid except for how quickly Jonas forces himself on Liz. He’s pushing her into doors and corners and walls and kissing her within like 24 hours of meeting her, which to my year 2020 dark timeline mind felt…bad. She’s attacked by the murderer because they think she knows where all the missing money is, and Jonas immediately demands to follow her everywhere to protect her. It’s 100% a product of its time so I tried to read around that, which was difficult for a romance novel. The cringey stuff was at the beginning when they weren’t *finger quotes*in love*finger quotes* but once she’s into him it felt a little better but not a lot.

The murder mystery was really cool. I’ve always loved Roberts’ stories around the sexy times. I chose this one to read because Roberts is familiar and a regular go to for me and I needed a comfort read, plus it was already on my Kindle. In the future, though, I think I’m going to need to seek out recent Roberts to avoid the cringe in the overly forceful contact. I mean, if I’m going to read a romance I might as well enjoy the intimate scenes too, and this one just didn’t hit those notes for me. Overall I think I would recommend that you skip this one and find something she’s published maybe after 2010.

The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back

I truly enjoyed Marie Lu’s reimagining of the fairy tales in her Lunar Chronicles series, so when I saw that she was writing a Mozart story from the perspective of his sister I was intrigued. History never treats women artists as well as their male counterparts, and historians wonder if Nannerl was the more talented Mozart.

I take no pleasure in saying that this book is a failure of world building and character development. I wanted to care about what was going on, but it was all so…I’m not sure the best word to describe it…maybe monotone? Nannerl imagines the Kingdom of Back, which is a backwards version of her real world. There is a princeling who is trying to win his throne back and he offers her a chance to compose in a special notebook if she’ll help him regain his kingdom.

The Kingdom was supposed to be magical and mysterious but it was so obviously her imagination that it was hard to believe that it was a parallel universe, which I think was the intention? And where were the stakes? There’s no impending marriage for her to escape, no other duties, even her father encourages her playing (not composing though) so that she and her younger brother can earn money and patronage for the family. She wants to compose, her own desire is the only driving force and maybe this will lose me my feminist pin but that wasn’t enough to keep me reading. I must compose or die! isn’t a compelling story mover.

Really Nannerl’s drive is “I want to never be forgotten” but even that is…well we’re all going to be forgotten and that’s something that you learn as you grow and accepting it is part of the maturing process. Having already accepted this, it was next to impossible to feel for a teenager from another era altogether who imagines another realm that helps her while she is trying to become famous. The entire story just felt shallow and selfish, which I’m usually okay with but here it was just boring.

I put it down about halfway through. I’d rather go pick up Lu’s other, better works. If you like fantasy, go find something else. I’d skip this one unless you can get it at your local library, then why not. See if it’s for you. But don’t put your money out on it.

Here and Now and Then

Here and Now and Then

A pandemic is the perfect time for my stay -at-home self to catch up on all the 2019 books I didn’t have time or energy to read. Luckily I was able to get three such books out of the library before I locked the husband and I down in the house with weeks of food and (thankfully) toilet paper. Coming off the enjoyable read Recursion by Blake Crouch, I decided to start with the time travel story in the stack.

Mike Chen starts off his book with a bang. We immediately understand that Kin Stewart is a time traveler cop who deals with time traveling criminals – he’s wrestling with one and gets shot. His equipment is damaged, which means they cannot retrieve him and bring him back to the future. So he’s stuck until someone finds him, and then the problems really start.

He’s not supposed to form attachments, but he meets a woman and gets married and gets a dog and has a daughter – all against the rules of a time travel agent. He’s stuck in the past for 18 years before he’s found by a retrieval agent, who makes the arrangements for the jump home. In the future though, its only been a week, and when he returns he tries to manage his family in the past while also reacclimating to his fiancee and friends and job in the future. Spoiler alert: this mix doesn’t go well.

The book goes 100 mph until it screeches to a halt when Kin’s efforts to help his daughter have a better future creates a HUGE alarm in the time travel company. She has created a video game based on one of his journals that basically lays all the company’s secrets bare. He has to return to the past one last time to save her from being erased, helped by his future fiancee Penny and his retrieval agent Markus. This part of the book takes FOREVER and we all know how it’s going to end and it’s the most anticlimactic ending to a book I think I’ve ever read.

Honestly at one point I wanted his daughter to get wiped out of history. Chapter after chapter he’s just obsessed with knowing about her life and how it’s going and how he can help and is she okay??? Oh my god, it was very boring and a little irritating too. Just let it go, man. Start over with Penny. Live your life into the future and let the past be the past.

The book as a whole is really well written and the story is sound, but it’s not very deep. There aren’t any lessons to take away, you kind of know what’s going to happen the whole time. But if you want a quick read about time travel, you could do a lot worse than Here and Now and Then. Give it a try.