Review: The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

43744294 (1)The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

Published: August 13, 2019 by Ballantine Books

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Synopsis: A new teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war–with deadly consequences.

What do you love? What do you hate? What do you want?

It starts with this simple writing prompt from Alex Witt, Stonebridge Academy’s new creative writing teacher. When the students’ answers raise disturbing questions of their own, Ms. Witt knows there’s more going on the school than the faculty wants to see. She soon learns about The Ten–the students at the top of the school’s social hierarchy–as well as their connection to something called The Darkroom.

Ms. Witt can’t remain a passive observer. She finds the few girls who’ve started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and incites a resistance that quickly becomes a movement. But just as it gains momentum, she also attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her–including what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.

Meanwhile, Gemma, a defiant senior, has been plotting her attack for years, waiting for the right moment. Shy loner Norman hates his role in the Darkroom, but can’t find the courage to fight back until he makes an unlikely alliance. And then there’s Finn Ford, an English teacher with a shady reputation who keeps one eye on his literary ambitions and one on Ms. Witt.

As the school’s secrets begin to trickle out, a boys-versus-girls skirmish turns into an all-out war, with deeply personal–and potentially fatal–consequences for everyone involved.

Rating: 1 star

Review: I picked this audiobook up on a whim. I needed something to listen to while I was working and the synopsis sounded interesting. I saw some good reviews from people that I know and thought I’d give it a whirl. I have heard a lot of praise over the years for Lisa Lutz. In the end, hopefully this book is not indicative of her work in general or I don’t think I’ll pick up another.

To put it simply this was a book with a good idea that was made to be completely nonsensical. The story features approximately five narrators along the way and all of them are basically identical. I didn’t find anything that separated the characters from one another in personality or behavior. They also introduce us to too many other characters. Half the time I had no idea who we were talking about because they mention about fifty people but only ten of them are actually important so I have no idea who anyone else is.

There’s also a lot of filler in this book. Most of the first half of the book was loooooong conversations about teenagers hooking up, who was popular, and what everyone was wearing. I swear, if Gemma went on one more rant about her outfit I would have screamed. And it just went on and on and on. Literally nothing happened for several hundred pages except sex, clothes and parties.

I don’t mind a book that’s a slow burn but this was a snail’s pace. I didn’t even realize that the revenge plot was in motion until about four pranks into it, and Gemma blatantly calls it out. I remember thinking, “Oh, we’re already in motion with this? I had no idea!”

Ms. Witt was utterly useless. She acts like she stumbles on some deep, dark secret. But it must not be too big of a secret because eight different students tell her about it and at least half the staff knows about it too. This secret is also supposed to be indicative of an embedded institutional attitude of “boys will be boys”, but it’s only been going on for five years and when the rest of the staff find out about it they are horrified. So I would hardly call that an institutional issue.

Also, I have no idea why this was portrayed as some horrible abuse on women. Yeah, the boys are talking about their sexual conquests, pitting the girls in a contest that they don’t know about. It’s not right, it’s gross, but teenage boys are functioning at a maturity level of barely above caveman. You can force feed them as much feminism as you like, he’s still going to act like a rabid animal. Because he is. There was a single instance in the book of a girl being coerced into a sexual act she didn’t want to perform, the rest of the girls were either in a relationship (or thought they were, lying for the win) or were completely willing. So, shouldn’t the real lesson here be that randomly hooking up with boys gave them fodder to act like animals and girls should value themselves more than that? That’s the message I would want my daughter getting. The only valuable thing that Mr. Witt does in this book is tell the girls that they don’t have to perform sexual acts unless they want to, and all the girls act like this is some shocking revelation to them. That’s rather sad if that’s true of teenage girls these days.

Finally, the ending was completely ridiculous. It went to a place that made no sense at all. The girls had already won. They had made an end to the contest. They had punished the boys involved. But then we go to the absolute extreme anyway. Why? You already won. It’s not smart to keep fighting a war that has already been won. And in the end the girls complained a lot about the boys not taking responsibility, but they ended up doing something far worse and took no responsibility either. This book did nothing to further any conversation about bullying, feminism, or sexual relationships between teenagers. It was just bad.

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

50157754Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Published: April 14, 2020 by Amulet Books

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Synopsis: The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?

Rating: 4 star

Review: This book drew me in with its cover, as is often the case. I was intrigued by the synopsis. And several reviews of it called it a merging of Frakenstein, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, and that left me even more interested. Normally with that much hype surrounding a book it is bound to disappoint, at least a little bit, but this book was fantastic.

Hark was a fabulous character. He was uncertain and timid but trying to find a foothold in the world. He could see that his friendship with Jelt was changing but admitting it to himself meant that nothing would be the same. He broke my heart and left me cheering him on. He had a great story arc. Through the course of the story he was forced from being a little boy running a small time con to a man who takes responsibility for his own story.

I had a hard time feeling too much sympathy for Jelt because he was pretty mean to Hark from the moment we met him. But, despite that, I felt tremendous sympathy for how Hark dealt with the changes in his friend.

The gods were presented as monsters first, deities almost by accident, and I liked that approach. The idea of monster gods is appealing to me and this was the perfect blend of monster and majesty to suit me. The world this book was set in was also beautifully detailed. I could feel the undulating waves of the Undersea. The permeating fear of it that fed the gods for thousands of years. It was a beautifully written story. My only complaint was that the ending when Hark is going after the heart dragged on for a bit too long. After about 50 pages my mind started to wander and I wished we could stop describing everything so thoroughly and move on with the action a bit quicker. But the ending was compelling, as was the epilogue. I read the last thirty pages or so with tears streaming down my face, my heart breaking and cheering for Hark all at the same time. In the end this was a story about the power of stories, and it had a profound power all its own.

Review: The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

44428333The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag

Published: March 31, 2020 by Harper Voyager

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Synopsis: Once upon a time, a demon who desired earthly domination fathered an army of dark daughters to help him corrupt humanity . . .

As children, Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet, and Bea dreamed of a strange otherworld: a nightscape of mists and fog, perpetually falling leaves and hungry ivy, lit by an unwavering moon. Here, in this shadowland of Everwhere, the four girls, half-sisters connected by blood and magic, began to nurture their elemental powers together. But at thirteen, the sisters were ripped from Everwhere and separated. Now, five years later, they search for one another and yearn to rediscover their unique and supernatural strengths. Goldie (earth) manipulates plants and gives life. Liyana (water) controls rivers and rain. Scarlet (fire) has electricity at her fingertips. Bea (air) can fly.

To realize their full potential, the blood sisters must return to the land of their childhood dreams. But Everwhere can only be accessed through certain gates at 3:33 A.M. on the night of a new moon. As Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet, and Bea are beset with the challenges of their earthly lives, they must prepare for a battle that lies ahead. On their eighteenth birthday, they will be subjected to a gladiatorial fight with their father’s soldiers. If they survive, they will face their father who will let them live only if they turn dark. Which would be fair, if only the sisters knew what was coming.

So, they have thirty-three days to discover who they truly are and what they can truly do, before they must fight to save themselves and those they love.

Rating: 1 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Harper Voyager!***

The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover. I mean, look at it. It is probably one of the most gorgeous book covers that I have ever seen. Then the title. The Sisters Grimm. Immediately my mind is drawn to fairy tales. I love fairy tales. And I love fairy tell re-tellings. But this book is a perfect example of a good idea that got beaten to death with poor writing and poor execution.

***SPOILER ALERT: Be aware, this is a spoilery review. The ranty ones typically are.

The basic idea of this book is that a demon (Wilhelm I think his name was) has fathered thousands of sisters Grimm on earth. I am not sure if this is metaphysical thing or a biological thing, but some of the daughters have mothers who are also Grimm sisters. So, ew, I imagine at some point in the history of this world we had some incest. As children, the Grimm sisters can come and go from “Everywhere”, a magical forest, as they please. But as they age they forget this place until about a month before their 18th birthday, which is when they start to remember and get their powers back. Wilhelm also has soldiers, who are transformed into babies from stars (WTF?), and their life’s mission is to kill Grimm sisters on their 18th birthdays. Then something about the Grimm sisters who survive have to choose good or evil and then their father kills them if they choose good and then….well, the author didn’t both to tell me what happens then.

That was my first big problem with this book. Despite being 400 pages long, the author didn’t bother to explain anything to me. I have no idea how the world works, how the magic works, why things are this way, or what the rules are. I am not even clear on what the sisters’ powers are. Scarlet can start fires, Liyana can telepathically listen in on other people’s minds, Bea can transform things with her mind. And I have no idea what Goldie can do except mentally tell people what to do and they sometimes listen. And all of them have other powers that randomly appear and don’t seem to relate to anything else they can do, at all.

Since we’re talking about the girls, let’s talk about how utterly devoid of personality all of them are. I honestly could not tell the difference between any of them until someone used their name or until Bea or Liyana would occasionally throw in a non-English word into an otherwise entirely English conversation….seemingly in order to remind me that they were the book’s representation of other ethnicities and cultures.

Now let’s talk about the technicals of the writing. It was bad. It was the single most confusing book that I have ever read. There are SO MANY narrators. Everywhere (yes the forest is a narrator), Goldie, Scarlet, Bea, Liyana, Leo, Wilhelm, Liyana’s aunt….and I am pretty sure there were a few others in there that I’m forgetting too. Between these narrators, some of them are told in first person, some in second person, and some in third person. And the narrator changes approximately every page and a half. With me so far? Now let’s throw in some chapters in the past for some extra fun so that we have past tense, present tense, and future tense. It was so difficult to read. It gave me a headache when I actually tried to concentrate on who was speaking and what time period we were in.

I also don’t appreciate what the author did to poor Vali. He was a nice guy. And despite the book’s message of empowerment, all Bea did was belittle the poor guy. She called him fat, called him all sorts of other names, made fun of him for being a virgin and then ultimately killed him! Then she has the nerve to get upset about him dying because she didn’t mean to. Way to go Bea, you bullied him to death. The author did him dirty and I am still mad about it.

I finally gave up on this book after 245 pages. My brain couldn’t handle it anymore and I found that I really didn’t care how it ends. Leo is not going to kill Goldie, Goldie will probably choose good. Liyana and Scarlet will probably die because they were entirely expendable in the rest of the book so why not? And Bea will probably live and choose evil. Or maybe all four of them survive and choose good in order to challenge their father. But really, who cares? The author hasn’t made me care about their upcoming battle or told me why the outcome matters, so why should I spend any more of my time finding out?

Review: Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

50921705._SX318_SY475_Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

Published: April 7, 2020 by SoHo Crime

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Synopsis: In June of 1940, when Paris fell to the Nazis, Hitler spent a total of three hours in the City of Light—abruptly leaving, never to return. To this day, no one knows why.

The New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc investigations reimagines history in her masterful, pulse-pounding spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris.

Kate Rees, a young American markswoman, has been recruited by British intelligence to drop into Paris with a dangerous assignment: assassinate the Führer. Wrecked by grief after a Luftwaffe bombing killed her husband and infant daughter, she is armed with a rifle, a vendetta, and a fierce resolve. But other than rushed and rudimentary instruction, she has no formal spy training. Thrust into the red-hot center of the war, a country girl from rural Oregon finds herself holding the fate of the world in her hands. When Kate misses her mark and the plan unravels, Kate is on the run for her life—all the time wrestling with the suspicion that the whole operation was a set-up.

Cara Black, doyenne of the Parisian crime novel, is at her best as she brings Occupation-era France to vivid life in this gripping story about one young woman with the temerity—and drive—to take on Hitler himself.

Rating: 2 star

Review: The premise of this story was good, and I tend to like historical fiction, but this book just didn’t grab me. Full disclosure, I stopped reading about halfway through. It wasn’t interesting enough to make me keep reading.

SPOILER ALERT: Though this review will be brief, the reasons I stopped reading do contain spoilers.

Kate wasn’t a very interesting character. All I knew about her in the first half of the book was that she lost her husband and daughter and could shoot really well. Apart from that she displayed no other personality at all. The German detective who is hunting her down after her failed mission was the same. I have no idea who he is and he showed not a single glimmer of a personality.

The story also told me all the good parts by about page 70, when we have a chapter between Kate’s handler and some of the other spies when he basically just says that they expected her to fail and it was her mission to fail. The Fuhrer will be too busy trying to catch her after the botched assassination attempt to not see the real assassination attempt happening. Yawn. So I am supposed to sit though 230 more pages of Kate trying not to get caught when the only reason she was sent there is to get caught? Wait, I think I know how this ends…she uncovers the nefarious plot to throw her under the Gestapo bus and miraculously escapes.

Speaking of getting caught, in the portion that I read, Kate should have gotten caught at least three times. She gets stopped by German soldiers on three separate occasions (when they know they are looking for someone in the vicinity who shot at their leader) but no one searches her bag? They search her. They look under the bag. One of them even remarks on the heaviness of the bag….which contains the rifle she used to attempt the assassination. But no one actually looks IN THE BAG. No wonder the Third Reich was defeated, they had a bunch of morons working for them.

Also, why does Kate keep the rifle? Her handler was specific that she needed to keep it (you know, to properly frame her). But she realizes that it’s incredibly stupid to not ditch it. And yet, she still doesn’t ditch it. Why? Is she as stupid as the soldiers who should have searched her? She even says that she might have been abandoned by her handlers and still doesn’t ditch it.

I just couldn’t get into the story. It annoyed me more than it interested me. I had no desire to keep reading and so, I didn’t.

Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

51024058The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Published: April 7, 2020 by Orbit Books

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Synopsis: Harriet Bishop, descended from a long line of witches, uses magic to help women in need — not only ordinary women, but also those with powers of their own. She must intervene when a distant cousin wields dangerous magic to change the lives of two unsuspecting young people… one of whom might just be a witch herself.

Frances Allington has used her wiles and witchcraft to claw her way out of poverty and into a spectacular marriage with one of New York’s wealthiest new tycoons. She is determined to secure the Allingtons’ position amongst the city’s elite Four Hundred families by any means necessary — including a scheme to make a glorious aristocratic match for her headstrong and reluctant step-daughter, Annis, using the same strange power with which she ensnared Annis’s father.


To save Annis from this dark magic, Harriet reveals to her Frances’ misuse of their shared birthright and kindles in Annis her own nascent powers. Together, Harriet and Annis must resist her stepmother’s agenda, lest she — and the dashing young lord she suspects she could come to love — lose their freedom, and possibly their lives.

Rating: 3 star

Review: This book started as a 4-star book, then dropped to a 2-star book and finally by the end is an “it was fine” 3-star. The writing of this book was lovely. I found myself entranced by the prose and would look up to find that several hours had passed. Just last night I was so enthralled with the plot and the writing that I stayed awake reading until 2 a.m. It’s not surprising that the book only took me 3 days to finish.

I love books about witches, probably because I am one. I love books that explore the role of witchcraft in history and how women have historically used this knowledge to empower themselves. The characters were rich and I enjoyed them all. The basic premise is that Harriet and Francis are descended from a witch named Bridget Bishop. Bridget was executed in the 1600’s for witchcraft. Harriet’s side of the family tree has adopted the gentler side of the craft, using it mainly for herbalism and assisting locals with their various ailments and ills. Francis’ side of the family tree had adopted the “bad” side of the craft, manipulating and magically forcing others to do their bidding in order to gain power for themselves. Annis is a young girl from the family tree who is just coming into her powers and for whom Francis has nefarious plans. Harriet endeavors to stop this plot and it culminates in a clash between the two witches with Annis as the prize.

This book was a slow burn with not a lot of action to it, and I was fine with that. The information being presented was largely interesting and once we did get the showdown between Harriet and Francis it was really refreshing and exciting. That portion is what kept me up most of the night.

***Spoiler alert:*** From this point on there will be spoilers.

The biggest problems I had with the book are the ending and that this book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

Is it the story of Annis? A girl ahead of her time, bucking the norm, and determined to make her own way with her newfound powers. Is it the story of a 200 year old battle between two sides of a family to ultimately decide if they are bad witches or good witches? Is it a story of the temptations of good and evil and the blurry gray area in between? Unfortunately it could have been all of these things, but ended up being none of them. None of these things are explored in any depth and I was really disappointed by that.

The ending was very plain. James and Annis decide that they didn’t just have feelings for each other because of magic, they actually do love each other and want to get married. How boring. How predictable. And then we are subjected to a very long lecture about how James might seem like a good man, but we should keep his manikin around just in case he decides to start behaving like an ass later. Because he’s a man after all, so you just never know and a woman can’t be too careful. Why can a novel not show us strong women without equaling telling us about how all men are asses? Even ones who aren’t asses but they might decide to be later because….well they’re a man. I am weary of it. It is possible to tell a story about strong, empowered women without demeaning men. I promise it is.

There was also an unintended moral problem in the story. We are told early on that good witches use their powers to help, bad witches use their powers to compel. Bad witches will always succumb to darkness and be lost to a lust for power. But on at least 3 occasions the “good” witches use their magic to persuade people to give them things. A horse, money, and then more money. All for their own benefit. So while those people may not have been harmed, the man was reimbursed for the horse and the money was plentiful and wouldn’t be missed, does that make it okay? What is the difference between magically persuading someone to give you something and just outright forcing them to give you something? Unfortunately, I don’t think the author intended for this issue to be presented and so we never get the answer to that question. In the end, even evil magic can be tucked away in a corner for safekeeping…just in case, and one will still be a good witch.

Review: The Silent House by Nell Pattison

49943005._SX318_SY475_The Silent House by Nell Pattison

Published: March 5, 2020 by Avon Books

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Synopsis: If someone was in your house, you’d know … Wouldn’t you?
But the Hunter family are deaf, and don’t hear a thing when a shocking crime takes place in the middle of the night. Instead, they wake up to their worst nightmare: the murder of their daughter.

The police call Paige Northwood to the scene to interpret for the witnesses. They’re in shock, but Paige senses the Hunters are hiding something.

One by one, people from Paige’s community start to fall under suspicion. But who would kill a little girl?

Was it an intruder?

Or was the murderer closer to home?

Rating: 4 star

Review: ***I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Avon Books!***

There are not many books out there that feature main characters who are deaf or hearing impaired. That is what initially drew me to this book. I took a few years of American Sign Language in my younger years and had interest in becoming an interpreter at one point, so I spent a lot of time within the community. It’s a completely unique perspective on the world so I was interested to see a murder mystery done from this viewpoint.

The author did not disappoint. It was very apparent that she is highly familiar with the deaf and hearing impaired community. She is aware of how the community is viewed in society and the ways that people believe they might be helping butthey are actually hindering communication. I was very impressed with how well the author translated those ideas into the book..

The story was also very well told and nicely paced. I enjoyed the alternate viewpoints of various suspects prior to the murder followed by some chapters in the present with the investigation. This helped me to start coming to some conclusions about what I thought happened, while progressing with the investigation too. All of the suspects were given plausible reasons for why they could have been the murderer. Frankly, even though I had my own idea about who it was, I would have found any of the suspects believable if I had been wrong. I did end up guessing the murderer correctly, but not the twist. That shook me. I was stunned. I stayed up far later than my bedtime to finish the book because I had to know the rest. That’s how much it shocked me.

The only flaw with the story is that I felt we paid too much attention to Paige personally. Following her difficulties with men and her personal struggles with the investigation hindered the rest of the story at certain points.

Overall it was an engaging story that is told from a unique perspective. I loved it.

Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

46158562._SY475_The Deep by Alma Katsu

Published on March 10, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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Synopsis: Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.

This is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the ship from the moment they set sail: mysterious disappearances, sudden deaths. Now suspended in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone during the four days of the liner’s illustrious maiden voyage, a number of the passengers – including millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, the maid Annie Hebbley and Mark Fletcher – are convinced that something sinister is going on . . . And then, as the world knows, disaster strikes.

Years later and the world is at war. And a survivor of that fateful night, Annie, is working as a nurse on the sixth voyage of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. Plagued by the demons of her doomed first and near fatal journey across the Atlantic, Annie comes across an unconscious soldier she recognises while doing her rounds. It is the young man Mark. And she is convinced that he did not – could not – have survived the sinking of the Titanic . . .

Rating: 5 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons!***

I loved this book. I really, really loved this book. Anyone can tell you that I am a sucker for a story about the Titanic. I am one of those people that went and saw the movie fifteen times and cried just as much the last time as the first time, who still cries at the thought of the movie. And I have read pretty much every book written on the topic and watched every documentary I can get my hands on. Titanic holds a very dear place to my heart. That is what drew me to this book in the first place and I was not disappointed.

Annie was a very good character. She was charming, humble, smart, if a bit naive. I felt like I was seeing the Titanic from a fresh view, one that hasn’t been explored often. Her character also did a lot of changing and growing over the course of the book. She went from being a naive girl running away from home to a woman set on discovering the truth of her past trauma and confronting it without blinking. That was a wonderful transformation.

The story is told from Annie’s viewpoint in both 1912 and 1916, from both the Titanic and Britannic, in alternating chapters. The two storylines were seamless next to one another. You covered the journey of the two ships almost simultaneously. Annie boards Titanic in one chapter, Britannic in the next. Disaster strikes in one chapter and then again in the next. I liked that method of telling the story. For someone like me who already knows the fate of both ships intimately it left me on the edge of my seat. I knew what was coming, but I also knew the story would be different since we were adding the paranormal aspect.

The horror part of this book was creepy without being too scary. It didn’t really have any traditional jump scares. It was much more psychological. Your brain starts putting the pieces together and you delve deeper into horror and dread. And I loved speculating on what was going on. Was it something in the sea, like mermaids or sirens? Was it a ghost? Was it someone on the ship who was possessed? I enjoyed watching the pieces fall into place with ever greater dread as we went deeper into the mystery.

I am trying really hard to avoid spoilers, so I should probably leave it at this before I sink into a spoiler-laden fangirling over this book. Read it. It’s fabulous!