After the Eclipse

After the Eclipse was provided to me as an eARC by Titan Books in return for an honest review. After the Eclipse has a publication date of March 5, 2019. 

After the Eclipse is Fran Dorricott’s debut novel. As I began to read I was surprised to find that it begins with the the point of view of the first kidnapped girl, Olive. We see her being a rebellious little girl and shaking off her older sister Cassie to go buy a snack and a soda. They are attending the town’s celebration of the solar eclipse, and have gathered to watch it happen. On her way back to the gathering, Olive encounters someone she seems to know, a man who drives up to her in a van and offers her a ride back to the celebration. She hesitantly accepts, and realizes her error as they drive away.

The story is then told between Olive’s captivity and her older, now adult, sister Cassie’s experience in the present day. Another girl has gone missing, this time about a week before another solar eclipse, and sixteen years after Olive was taken. Cassie blames herself for Olive’s disappearance, and as a recently unemployed journalist who has returned home to take care of her grandmother, she sees it as her duty to uncover the truth behind the newest disappearance. 

I love how the setting of a small town in England creates a different kind of atmosphere. It reminds me of the cozy, small town, murder mystery shows on the BBC. Please come in and have a cuppa while we watch the retired grandma travel around town in her frumpy coat asking questions about the murders, which people answer because she’s just a grandma after all, until she solves the mystery! I mean, 10 people had to die before she figures it out, but it’s adorable! And Cassie isn’t an old lady, but the feeling is the same. Is it the gardener? The local doctor? The guy we all think beats his wife? The fisherman that talks too much at the pub? Find out next week on BBC One! I loved it. Coziness amidst the thrill of the hunt. Tea everywhere.

It’s a small town, so everybody knows everybody, but I really appreciated how Dorricott brought a feminist eye to the search for answers. Dads and stepdads were looked at with high suspicion, their aggressive and possessive natures questioned and suspected, and I really appreciated that. Most kidnappings and abuse cases happen between kids and someone they know, and we get glimpses of the man who has taken Olive in her POV chapters.

I guess the only thing I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around was why the eclipse was necessary. There is a line early in the book that said something to the effect of “another girl kidnapped sixteen years later on the even of an eclipse. It couldn’t be a coincidence…” and my mind was like, yes it could totally be a coincidence. How many kidnappings have there been in the past sixteen years? One kidnapping every sixteen years doesn’t seem like it would raise a bunch of eyebrows, terrible yes, but not a lot of connections besides an eclipse(?) to make it seem weird. What is weird is that the kidnappings didn’t happen during or after the eclipses. The first happens just before, and this more recent one happens like a week before. Why is the eclipse such an important thing? Why is it the title? After the Eclipse? I mean…I’m just confused. It seems like an unnecessary detail added in to create a sense of uniqueness that the story did not need.

This is an electric debut. The suspense is so amazing and you’ll be holding your breath without realizing it. In some parts I found that I couldn’t read fast enough to keep up with my desire to know more, to find out what happened next, to make sure everything would turn out okay. The child abuse stuff was creepy and gross, so if that’s something you can’t read about you should be warned right now that it’s there and it will make your skin crawl. If you’re looking for an excellent thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end, you need to pick up After the Eclipse.

My Lovely Wife

Have you ever seen the show Dexter? It’s about a serial killer who hides in plain sight as a police forensics analyst and kills bad people to satisfy his psychological urges. I watched the first season and then none of the rest. It was so long ago that I remember deciding that the finale to that season was so good that I didn’t need to see more. An individual with a terrible tendency turned it into something “good” and I was 100% fine with that.

When I started reading My Lovely Wife it was the same kind of feeling. Millicent has a terrible past that her husband helps her…well… deal with. Their first murder is her sister who abused her as a child. The next is someone who worked with the sister who remembered the husband. It feels like what they are doing, while terrible, has a greater purpose.

Then the couple discovers they now have a hunger for murder. In the midst of low-paying service jobs and harried family life (they have two kids!!), they decide to continue doing this one thing together that makes them feel connected and in control when in so many areas of their life they are not. So the third murder is someone they choose via social media, and we enter the story as they are choosing the fourth.

This story put a hook in my mouth and I allowed myself to be led through the first 40% of the book. The suspense was killing me. Our narrator is the husband and he’s doing all this to impress his wife, but the wife seems way more into it than she should be and so I had some questions that I wanted answered. Since the book is told through the POV of the husband, I began to realize that I wasn’t going to get those answers until he got them, and he obviously wasn’t going to get them soon because he was kind of stupid and impulsive.

Suddenly my excitement and suspense turned to boredom as I watched this ineffectual jackass get bribed by his son, revive an actual serial killer which scares his daughter enough to bring a knife to school, and chase his wife around like a small puppy dog hoping to impress her at every turn. I wasn’t about to spend any more time with this guy than I had to, I don’t care how terrifying Millicent turned out to be. I set it down and won’t be going back.

Usually I say something like “I didn’t like it, but you might!” but for this one you might want to just skip it. I’m sure there are better thrillers out there than this.

The Near Witch

You all know that I have tried books by V.E. Schwab before. A Darker Shade of Magic and Vicious have both made their way across my desk as gateways into her writing. She is dynamic online, I love her personality, and I desperately want to like her books and her writing.

A call came across the Twitterverse that if any bloggers wished to have a copy of Schwab’s debut novel THE NEAR WITCH, they could email the publisher and request once. Apparently it had gone out of print, but now that Schwab has a following and a wide enough audience, the decision had been made to re-release it in hopes that it would find an audience now when before it seemed to miss them.

My physical copy of The Near Witch was provided to me by Titan Books in return for an honest review. It’s also worth noting that I have not read any other reviews of this book before writing my own, only the synopsis to see if I wanted to request it.

I can see why this book might have missed people the first time around. It seems too familiar, like a story you’ve heard before and so your brain can take you through to the ending without you ever having to read the book. I have to admit that I almost put the book down halfway through, because it was too obvious what would come to pass. Even with the one or two twists thrown in for good measure, it ended right where I figured it would, lessons learned all around.

As always with this kind of critique though, I have to come back to the fact that this book is YA – meant for people in their late teens/early twenties who haven’t read as extensively as I have, or haven’t seen as much of the world as I have. I wouldn’t want someone to skip this book based on that feeling alone, because something I always love about Schwab’s writing is the vivid imagery and her ability to make you feel like you are there.

The Near Witch seems to be more concerned with the story than the characters. The sweet kisses and dedication that Lexi feels for Cole after only 24 hours of interacting falls flat for me when I am not sure why I care about any of the characters. In her novel Vicious, I feel invested in Victor Vale and the other characters because I see what they have invested in their own stories. What happens to them matters to me because I care about them. In The Near Witch the stranger (Cole) arrives on the moor wind and we are off on a story full of scapegoating, prejudices, and hatred as children begin disappearing from their beds at night. You don’t get to know the characters deeply enough to care, you just get swept away by the race to save the kidnapped children and we hope you don’t ask for more.

Despite the reasons it fell flat for me in particular, I still think that this story is valuable because it warns that we always seem to need someone to blame, and often we are too quick to blame to assuage our own grief, thereby ending up hurting more people in the process. Long debts come due sooner or later when we rush to judgment or act without thinking, and the ones to pay those debts are often not the ones who incurred them in the first place. They are the young, the vulnerable, and the future of a society. In this way I feel like The Near Witch is coming back into publication at a time when it is beneficial to hear this kind of story told as much as possible. It is applicable to all of the racial, ethnic, class, and climate discussions that the global society is grappling with, and I believe that there is no better source of lessons and morals than children’s fairy tales and stories. Schwab lends her voice to this struggle in many ways, and most recently with this re-publication of her debut.

If you have a young person in your life who loves witches, magic, mystery, and love at first sight, you should definitely consider picking this one up for them. Give it a go.

The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air #2)

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1)

It had been quite a while since I had read The Cruel Prince, but Holly Black did an excellent job of summarizing the main points in her first few chapters of The Wicked King. There was an absolute bloodbath at the end of the last book where many factions made a play for the throne. Jude Duarte, the mortal ward of the Grand General Madoc outsmarted them all by having her foster brother Oak, revealed to be of royal blood, place the blood crown on Cardan’s head, making him High King of Elfhame. Oak is sent away to the mortal world until he comes of age, when Cardan has agreed to abdicate and place the crown on Oak’s head instead.

The Wicked King picks up with Jude playing puppeteer to Cardan’s rule, trying to make everything run smoothly after the attempts on the throne and his agreement to allow her to command him for a year and a day. The Undersea and its queen begin to make an attempt to overthrow the land using Cardan’s only living brother Baeliken, and that sets up this next stage in our journey.

One of the main enjoyments that I get from these books is that we are always operating at a medium level of danger. As we follow Jude through Elfhame the very plants can poison her, any agreement she makes can come back to bite her, and even accepting a gift from someone can place her in their service or at their bidding. She has to be on her guard all the time, and as you read this book you will find that you are holding your breath while you wait for the next danger to jump out of the bushes.

I love how Jude becomes a part of Elfhame. She thinks she has it all figured out. She’s a great fighter, strategist, and bargainer. The Wicked King shows us a Jude that has almost lost all connection with her humanity and uses her knowledge and power as a kind of armor/cloak that she thinks makes her belong. Despite all her scheming though, her humanity cannot be denied, and she must remember that part of herself or be forced to by others who may or may not care for her. (Honestly I’m still confused about who actually has her best interests at heart and whether she’s always been alone, pinging around Elfhame like a lonely pinball.)

I still am not sure if Cardan truly cares for Jude. I don’t know if Cardan is an idiot or a genius. I’m not sure if he wants to be High King or if he actually is going along with Jude’s plan for Oak to become king. Is he a trickster of the highest order or is he flying by the seat of his elven pants? I DON’T KNOW AND IT’S KILLING ME NOT TO KNOW. I hated him in the first book and now I can’t decide if I love him or hate him.

Holly Black is the most devious and wonderful author I think I have ever encountered. The world is lush and complex, the magic is terrifying and tricky, and the people are not to be trusted. You’ll want to trust, you’ll want to believe, but that’s what makes you mortal. So be careful when you venture into this series, because it’s easy to be trapped and in trouble in Elfhame. After this second book my heart is in trouble, because I’m not sure it can survive until the next book arrives.

If you enjoy magic, elves, intrigue, dangerous bargains, and roller coaster ride that comes with the pursuit of power, you will love this series. Go get you some.

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Gingerbread

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi was provided to me as an eARC by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Publishing Group, via Edelweiss+ in return for an honest review. Gingerbread is scheduled to release for purchase on March 5, 2019.

I usually don’t review books of which I have experienced less than 30%. Most of the ARCs I am provided with come through to the Kindle, so I’m able to work to hit that threshold. With Gingerbread, I only made it to 9%, but I would like to explain why, and then encourage you to read it.

There are certain kinds of books that are not my cup of tea. Among these are the kinds of books that simply take you through the mundane workings of a suburban family’s day and try to show you the magic hidden within. I cannot stand that kind of stuff. Plus, it links to another kind of story I can’t stand, which is suburban politics or mommy wars. Examples of this are things like battles for PTA president or calling child protective services on someone as payback or HOA meeting pettiness. All of this kind of stuff just misses me, mostly because I think it’s so stupid and meaningless, but also because I can’t relate. If the protagonists own a home and have kids the book is already two circles out from my bulls eye. That’s not to say I won’t read a story about people who own homes or have kids – it’s the story that surrounds that setting that makes or breaks it.

Gingerbread is steeped in this “trying to belong in suburbia” kind of tale and I jut couldn’t get into it. The main character mom brings her famous gingerbread to a PTA meeting as gifts for the other moms and they just leave it there scattered among the chairs when they leave. I have no patience for that kind of cruelty.

Another kind of story that I won’t invest time in is one where someone clings to their family tradition even in the face of trauma or abuse or even just basic disrespect. Gingerbread represents past, present, and future for this family, and its presence in the story is a symbol of how this mom will carry her family’s legacy and traditions into the future in a strong way (spoiler, she’s not doing so hot).

I say all this to say that this simply wasn’t a book I would read because I wouldn’t enjoy it. That is not to say that it was poorly written, or that the story isn’t structured well – it was. If these kinds of stories are your cup of tea, you should absolutely pick up Gingerbread, because you won’t be in better storytelling hands than Helen Oyeyemi, who is at the top of the field for this kind of book.

Just because something isn’t for me doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just not for me. Look into the book, read the blurbs and the synopsis and a few reviews, and feel comfortable picking it up. I’m not shooing you away, I’m just letting you know that it wasn’t my cup of tea.

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The Everlasting Rose (The Belles #2)

The Belles (The Belles #1)

The Everlasting Rose was provided to me as a free eARC by Disney Book Group and Freeform Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review. The Everlasting Rose will be released March 5, 2019.

Second books often find themselves in a slump. I’ve learned that this is because the first book is often written without a deadline, put through multiple drafts, and given the chance to become perfect. Second books in a series tend to be under a deadline and under the scrutiny of many, which explains why they often feel bland, rushed, and a bridge to something better.

Not so with The Everlasting Rose.

Camille has escaped the palace and is on the run with the intention of finding the Princess Charlotte and foiling Princess Sophia’s plans to become queen. She runs into the rebel force of Iron Ladies who have chosen to live without beauty treatments and want to help the kingdom move away from them as well. They agree to help Camille and she makes arrangements to crash the coronation and bring Charlotte back to take her rightful place.

This book was everything The Belles wasn’t. People died, there were very real consequences, you can feel that the kingdom is under a cruel (yet beautiful) dictatorship. Camille has to explore what matters most to her so that she can make the right choices and keep her eyes on the top priority, which moves from her new love for Remy, keeping her Belle sisters safe, and murdering the ever-loving daylights out of Sophia. Every time her arcana woke up and she started to choke the life out of someone because she was so angry my vengeful heart just purred (although RIP to a sweet bebe no spoilers).

I enjoyed the read from start to finish. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises, you’re basically getting what you would expect even in the “twists,” but the story is told so well that you won’t mind the predictability. I was unable to unearth whether or not there will be a third book or if this was simply a duology, but The Everlasting Rose ties up nicely at the end while leaving just a few threads out there that another book could build on. If that next book should materialize I think I will be there to read it.

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The Perfect Assassin (The Chronicles of Ghadid #1)

The Perfect Assassin was provided to me as a free digital advance copy by Tor Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review. The Perfect Assassin will be available for purchase on March 19, 2019 but you can also preorder anytime.

When I started reading The Perfect Assassin I was reminded of a trilogy of books that is one of my absolute favorites. The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton introduced me to dangerous shapeshifters and legendary djinn, all of which must be decrypted and understood before goals could be reached. Another such series is the An Ember in the Ashes line by Sabaa Tahir. Through both of these series I have discovered a love of the stories and mythology from the middle east and desert realms.

This particular series begins with the final entrance exam for a school of assassins. We follow the main character Amastan as he sweats through his worst fears and completes a physically strenuous trial to join all his classmates as freshly minted assassins in the city of Ghalid. The problem is that the drum chiefs that run all the neighborhoods put an end to assassin’s contracts a long time ago, with no indication they will be issued again anytime soon. So the young assassins are told to bide their time and stay sharp in case contracts start up again.

One of the rules of being an assassin is that when they kill they have to do it so the body will be easily discovered, because if they aren’t then the special priests who quiet jaani (souls?) won’t be able to get there in time and the jaani becomes an angry ghost that floats around trying to possess people. These jaani start showing up and attacking Amastan, and he and his assassin cousins start discovering bodies on the rooftops, meaning that there are more and more unquieted jaani preying on the people in Ghadid. It’s up to Amastan and his friends to uncover the murderer and restore peace to Ghadid.

My only complaint was that the ending doesn’t make me salivate for the next installation in the series (chronicles). Everything is nicely tied up and everyone seems to be where they should be. Usually when I finish the first book of a series I am on Twitter demanding the next one post haste, but here it felt more like a standalone tome.

Balancing out this complaint is my delight in the normalcy with which the sexuality of Amastan is presented. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want more books where LGBTQIA+ individuals are just a part of the world. Their presence is normal, not a red flag or something to be overcome or something they have to hide or convince others of. Just normal. I love this in a representation book. Thanks to K.A. Doore for making this a part of her writing.

Oh my goodness do I apparently love me some desert mysticism and stabby murder. I couldn’t stop reading, I had to know what happened next. Even though most of the elements were fantasy, this book is a mystery/thriller in its own right too. I strongly recommend giving this one a go.

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