Review: The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

Published: September 3, 2019 by Harper

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Synopsis: Rósa has always dreamed of living a simple life alongside her Mamma in their remote village in Iceland, where she prays to the Christian God aloud during the day, whispering enchantments to the old gods alone at night. But after her father dies abruptly and her Mamma becomes ill, Rósa marries herself off to a visiting trader in exchange for a dowry, despite rumors of mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death.

Rósa follows her new husband, Jón, across the treacherous countryside to his remote home near the sea. There Jón works the field during the day, expecting Rósa to maintain their house in his absence with the deference of a good Christian wife. What Rósa did not anticipate was the fierce loneliness she would feel in her new home, where Jón forbids her from interacting with the locals in the nearby settlement and barely speaks to her himself.

Seclusion from the outside world isn’t the only troubling aspect of her new life — Rósa is also forbidden from going into Jón’s. When Rósa begins to hear strange noises from upstairs, she turns to the local woman in an attempt to find solace. But the villager’s words are even more troubling—confirming many of the rumors about Jón’s first wife, Anna, including that he buried her body alone in the middle of the night.

Rósa’s isolation begins to play tricks on her mind: What — or who — is in the attic? What happened to Anna? Was she mad, a witch, or just a victim of Jón’s ruthless nature? And when Jón is brutally maimed in an accident a series of events are set in motion that will force Rósa to choose between obedience and defiance — with her own survival and the safety of the ones she loves hanging in the balance.

Review: I picked up this book on a whim. I found the cover spectacular and the synopsis piqued my interest. In all my years I don’t believe that I have read too many books set in Iceland. 1600’s, newly Christianized, Iceland to boot. This caught my attention and made me want to read it.

I loved the premise of this story. Iceland as a whole is caught in this transitional period of being newly Christianized but a lot of the community are finding it difficult to give up the old pagan ways. So while they know that their local pastor will accuse them of witchcraft for it, they can’t seem to let it to entirely. That makes for a very interesting scenario. Rosa is one of those people. She has embraced the new Christian faith but still finds a lot of comfort in the runes and sagas from her youth. Her father has passed away and in an effort to ensure that her mother doesn’t follow him to the grave she makes an advantageous marriage to Jon.

Jon was an all around interesting character. He doesn’t say much but toward the end of the book we get a few snippets of his narration of the story. He was also caught. He grew up poor. He scraped and scrabbled his way to being the leader of his village. Unfortunately that means he is that the heart of every rumor and his name is on the lips of every troublemaker. And the local pastor doesn’t like him too much and so is very eager to find something he can pin on him.

These two were not my favorite however, that honor is reserved for Petur. He is Jon’s right hand man. No one is quite clear on why he’s so committed to protecting Jon but he is an unstoppable force. Rumors have abounded about him since he first stumbled out of the frozen woods as a child. Everyone seems to want to hate him. He was so funny and witty. And tough as nails. I loved him endlessly.

The actual plot was a good one. A young woman suddenly finds herself living with her new husband, whom she doesn’t really know, and quickly finds herself often alone. Jon is often traveling or out in the fields, leaving her alone in the house for extended periods. She thinks she hears noises. Scrabbling, scraping, sometimes whispering from the attic. But she can’t investigate because Jon keeps it locked and has forbidden her to go up there. It quickly sparks her paranoia about the rumors regarding the fate of Jon’s first wife. Could it be her in the attic? Her ghost perhaps? Some spectre coming to haunt Rosa for stupidly agreeing to this marriage? It was wonderful.

My biggest complaint was Rosa’s character. While I understood her fear initially, eventually it started to wear on me. She kept flinching away from Jon like a beaten animal and didn’t dare speak in his presence. She took every single thing that he said in a threatening manner, even when it wasn’t clear that there was any threatening intent. And he had never even been physically intimidating to her and never actually hurt her in any way. So initially the fear of an unknown husband with a ferocious reputation made sense. But as time went on I couldn’t felt thinking “Wtf are you flinching from woman? He has never done a thing to you. Grow some ovaries, gods.”

The other thing that brings this book down for me was the author’s note at the end. I was curious to read it because I wondered where the author got her inspiration from for this story. It was so wonderfully rich and unique. I know there are some who will find it unfair for me to add a judgment of the book on the author’s note but it aggravated me too much to overlook. The author signs off on her author’s note saying that she identifies with Rosa….and experiences similar struggles. That she has had the experience of quaking in fear because of the presence of a man, felt powerless to his authority. She hoped that her sons wouldn’t grow up to feel entitled to the world because they are men. And hopes for a day when her nieces don’t have to “put on their armor just to leave the house.” What the actual fuck is this woman talking about? Is she legitimately comparing the power dynamics in gender between the United States in 2020 and 1686 Iceland? She feels it’s an apt comparison between her irrational fear of a man’s very presence and a society where the mark of a good husband is that he doesn’t beat you? I have never had to put on armor to leave the house, not once in all my life. And hopefully she’s not raising her sons to be jerks, or else they’ll inevitably end up as jerks. I found it so tiresome. It detracted from the book and left a bad taste in my mouth.

Review: Hella by David Gerrold

Hella by David Gerrold

Published: June 16, 2020 by DAW

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Synopsis: A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

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

I went into this book with a mixture of expectations and unfortunately it didn’t really meet any of them. On the one hand, I would have been happy if this was a B-movie style Creature Feature. But it wasn’t. And on the other hand it comes to me from David Gerrold. I have not read Gerrold before but I know him from being the writer of the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek and writing The Man who Folded Himself. A highly acclaimed writer in the sci-fi landscape and so I would have been happy with a wonderful sci-fi adventure from a practiced hand. Unfortunately it wasn’t that either.

The world was built in a convincing way, even if the descriptions were not that great. I liked hearing about the trees that weren’t really trees, and the creatures so large that they have their own small ecosystem. The settlers on this planet seem to have a structure similar to that of the show Stargate. Half military, half scientific exploration. You have the head of the expedition who is called Captain and there is largely a military like structure to a lot of the colonists activities. And they are there for the express purpose of conducting scientific exploration of their new home to figure out how to exist there with minimal impact on the natural environment. Why then are we naming things “bug-things” or “bat-things.” Our narrator, Kyle, is highly scientifically minded and he tells us that all of these things have scientific names…..so why are we calling them stupid things? They even have a giant salt flat that is called, no joke, “Oh my God!” because that’s all anyone could think of saying when they discovered it. It was really lame and annoying. I mean, they named the planet Hella because everything is “hella big”. Eye roll.

Kyle was a great character. He has some kind of “syndrome” that they never actually name but many have speculated is supposed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He was volatile and aggressive as a young child and so got a chip implanted in his brain to help him suppress his emotions. I loved how Kyle transitioned and changed throughout this book. He starts as a boy who feels that he doesn’t fit in and the only person he can talk to is his brother, Jaime. He relies on Jaime for just about everything. Throughout the events of the book Kyle decides to explore his emotions and build himself a more expansive support system. It was really great character development.

The author also introduced us to some really intriguing concepts in this society that I really wanted to learn more about, the government structure of the colony and the evolution of how society understands sexuality and gender. The government seemed to be a ruling committee that is guided by their Charters in making decisions for the good of the whole colony. I wanted to know what the ramifications would be when one of the committee decided to put themselves over the needs of the colony. Unfortunately we never really spend much time on that.

This is also a society that can change gender at will. Kyle’s brother, Jaime, was born a girl and decided to change. Kyle was also born a girl and decided to change because Jaime did. Later Kyle and his boyfriend have a discussion about whether the boyfriend would prefer Kyle to be a girl and he’d change back. It seemed that most people had changed genders at least once and technology has evolved to a point that the change can fully make you the other gender. Kyle’s mom was a girl, switched to be a boy for awhile, then went back to being a girl so she could experience pregnancy and childbirth. But it just seemed so casual. People are changing out of curiosity, just because, pressure from romantic interests, etc. But we never actually met someone who wanted to change their gender because they wanted to be their authentic self. It was more like choosing a new hair color. I wanted to see some depth to that discussion, but that never comes either.

This book was also way too long. At 448 pages I didn’t expect to be bored. But literally nothing happens for about 260 of those pages. The last half is very action packed. But literally NOTHING happens before then. Nothing. So overall, the whole thing left me feeling underwhelmed.

Audiobook Review: Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault

Mill Town: Reckoning With What Remains by Kerri Arsenault

Published: September 1, 2020 by Macmillan Audio

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Synopsis: Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most townspeople, including three generations of Arsenault’s own family. Years after she moved away, Arsenault realized the price she paid for that seemingly secure childhood. The mill, while providing livelihoods for nearly everyone, also contributed to the destruction of the environment and the decline of the town’s economic, moral, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.”

In Mill Town, Arsenault undertakes an excavation of a collective past, sifting through historical archives and scientific reports, talking to family and neighbors, and examining her own childhood to present a portrait of a community that illuminates not only the ruin of her hometown and the collapse of the working-class of America, but also the hazards of both living in and leaving home, and the silences we are all afraid to violate. In exquisite prose, Arsenault explores the corruption of bodies: the human body, bodies of water, and governmental bodies, and what it’s like to come from a place you love but doesn’t always love you back.

A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and a moral wake-up call that asks: what are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

Review: ***I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Macmillan Audio and Netgalley!***

I’m not entirely sure where this book went wrong for me. Maybe I am not the right audience for it. Perhaps I should have read it versus listened to it. Perhaps I had the wrong expectations. I can’t say for sure but it was just boring.

The author of the book did the audiobook and that was the wrong choice. The entire book is read in deadpan. There is absolutely no life in it, no passion, no excitement. I was bored to tears listening to it and struggled to focus on what was being said.

The book had some interesting pieces to it. And I could tell that the author has a lot of strong feelings about how the story of her hometown relates to a larger picture of environmental irresponsibility, lack of corporate accountability and the deceit of the general public. Unfortunately that is way too large of a scope for a single book. So while the author makes some interesting points about these topics there is no depth or exploration of the idea.

There are also a LOT of tangents in this book. All of the material focusing on the town and the struggles and effects of the paper mill were really riveting. But there were also whole chapters on the town’s founding, her own family tree, her travel experiences and lots of other things. It detracted from the main story. Frankly, at times it self like a memoir of her family and that just wasn’t something I found interesting or compelling.

I got to about halfway through the audiobook before I couldn’t stand it any longer and stopped. I am sure this story will find its audience but I was not it.

Review: Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

Expected publication: February 16, 2021 by Flux

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Rating:

Synopsis: Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

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

This book was originally scheduled to be released in May and because of COVID got pushed back to February. So for once I am doing an ARC review very early. But I didn’t want to wait too long to write the review lest I forget what happened.

This one took me by surprise. I was intrigued by the cover but honestly it’s a pretty standard YA sci-fi/fantasy cover. The blurb sounded interesting but not anything I haven’t read before. I prayed that there wouldn’t be the typical YA love triangle, and there wasn’t so that was nice. I expected it to be a very typical YA book and nothing more. I was wrong.

Ren was a pretty good main character. She was a bit one-sided at times in that she she insisted that all she cared about was the money when it was clear from her actions that she cared for a lot more than that. That got annoying. It was mostly like she was trying to convince herself that she didn’t care. But I did like her spunk and enjoyed following her through the story.

Darek was probably the most useless character in the book. He was the stereotypical tall, dark, handsome, brooding YA male lead. He doesn’t break any of the models here and fits the character well but wasn’t very compelling.

I adored the relationship between Adley and Lesa, and I loved them separately too. At times I was horrified by them and other times I was overcome with sympathy for them. I wanted their story to have a happy ending so badly.

Kellen was a delight to the story. I expected him to be the typical charming, sarcastic Prince who didn’t want to be. And in some ways he was but he also displayed a lot more depth than that.

The worldbuilding in this book was spectacular. The world was created with so much detail and depth, I could picture every inch of it. The politics, classes, social structure, all of it was rendered in beautiful detail.

What ultimately clinched this book for me was the ending. I was shocked. I was completely taken by surprise. In hindsight I can see the blocks that were put in place for this ending and I should have seen it coming. But I was enjoying other parts of the story so much that I didn’t pay enough attention and missed the clues. It was wonderful and I hope there’s another book planned. I need to know what happens next.

Review: Walking in Beauty by Phoenix LaFae

Walking in Beauty: Using the Magick of the Pentacle to Bring Harmony in Your Life by Phoenix LaFae

Published: July 8, 2020 by Llewellyn Publications

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Synopsis: Using the pentacle and its five points as a magickal framework, this inspiring book presents techniques and exercises that help you manifest joy, discover your inner and outer beauty, recognize blessings, and bring balance to your life. Phoenix LeFae presents a revolutionary approach based on the five points of the pentacle–Beauty, Devotion, Desire, Creativity, and Expression.

Walking in Beauty awakens you to the magnificence of the world; it is both a meditation tool and a key to greater awareness. Through exercises, rituals, affirmations, and beauty acts you can take out into the world, this marvelous guide shows you how to run the energy of the pentacle through your body and clear any blocks that keep you from living a fully engaged and beautiful life. 

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

The concept of this book was really appealing to me. One of the first ideas that you learn in paganism and witchcraft is that the points of the pentacle symbolize the five elements and the circle represents all of those elements working together in harmony, toward a greater goal. LaFae takes this concept and applies it to the concept of beauty. Beauty of the self, beauty of the soul, beauty of the world. Our society is severely lacking in an appreciation of the small things and that is what this book is about. Everyone gets too busy to notice small, beautiful things in the world but this is ultimately detrimental to your magick and to your soul.

I loved the layout of this book. It has sections where it asks you to journal all of your feelings or revelations about the portion that you previously read. Some of the assignments are to find a beautiful thing and add it to your beauty notebook. This book is definitely going to be added to my personal collection. Reading it for the purpose of a review, I didn’t get a chance to work through some of the assignments but I want to. So I will be going through this more thoroughly later.

The rituals were also pretty good. They are not beginner rituals (as the books points out it is not a beginner’s guide to magick) in that it doesn’t cover the basics like grounding, casting a circle, releasing a circle, setting up an altar, that kind of thing. The rituals are beautiful in their own way and I can’t wait to try them out.

The ultimate goal of the beauty pentacle is to use the newly positive view that you develop and spread that beauty outward. To use small acts in your community to spread the power of the pentacle ever wider. I love that idea. If everyone did that the world would be a much more positive place.

Review: The Swap by Robyn Harding

The Swap by Robyn Harding

Published: June 23, 2020 by Gallery

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Synopsis: Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging…that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.

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

This was the first book I have read by Robyn Harding but it will not be the last. This book was such a deliciously dark guilty pleasure. If you need to have a likeable character in your books then this one might not be the one for you. A LOT of people really hated everyone. I kind of liked Low but I think it was because I empathized with her from my own experiences at that age.

Low is a girl who is searching for something to call her own. She has a polyamorous family, both of her parents have other partners on a regular basis and occasionally on a short term basis. She doesn’t have many friends in school because the other kids look down on her because of her weird family and because she is rather strange herself. She goes by Low because her hippy dippy parents named her Swallow (after the bird) because….well they are idiots. They prove how idiotic they are over and over again. Low finds herself attracted to Freya and she struggles to try and figure out why. Is it a friend thing? A romantic thing? A sex thing? She isn’t sure and wants desperately to just have a friend that is all hers so she can figure that out. I empathized with that coming of age struggle. As a result, she got a lot of leeway from me for some of the terrible thing she did. Yes, she did those things. Yes they were wrong. But she is a dumb kid that got taken advantage of and betrayed by the adults around her.

Freya was just delightfully devious. I could never really get a read on her. Was she evil? Or just rather self absorbed and selfish? It was hard to tell and her character made me feel constantly off balance. She utilizes both Jamie and Low as weapons against each other, ruthlessly pitting them against each other in a competition for her affection.

Jamie took me by surprise. Her character was largely boring. Then suddenly when her friendship with Freya was threatened she exploded into action and it was wonderful! Her husband though was as boring as watching paint dry.

The twists and turns kept me wondering what was going to happen the entire book. But looking back none of the things that happened come out of nowhere. They were the logical journey of the story but I didn’t see it. I could not put this book down. It was delicious.

Review: Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawaii Strong Washburn

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawaii Strong Washburn

Published: March 3, 2020 by MCD

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Synopsis:Sharks in the Time of Saviors is the story of a family, a people, and a legend, all wrapped in one. Faith and grief, rage and love, this book pulses with all of it. Kawai Strong Washburn makes his debut with a wealth of talent and a true artist’s eye.” –Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling

In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.

Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods–a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai’i–with tragic consequences–they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.

Review: I finished this book well over a week ago and I find that I still don’t know quite what to make of it. It was fascinating, interesting, confusing, head scratching, and magical. So in the end I come to a high three star rating, probably closer to 3.5 stars.

I thought that I was going into a book about a boy who is saved by sharks and develops magical powers. And the struggle of his family and larger community to come to terms with the scope of those powers and what they mean. To an extent, this was accurate. But the book was also not about that at all. It was about Noa’s family. The struggle of his mother and father to survive the ever increasing cost of survival in Hawaii while trying to get their three kids to better themselves and their lives. The struggle of a brother and sister who feel overshadowed by their magical brother and cope with that stress in entirely different ways.

I really was drawn in to this family. I was rooting for them and cared for them deeply. I also loved the weaving in of the myths and magic of Hawaii. I could tell just how deeply the author feels connected to his Hawaiian heritage and it was beautifully done. This was a book about things that divide us and the things that mend those divides.

The only problem I had with this book is that it dragged in places. It was a heavily character driven plot but sometimes the only thing the characters seemed to want to do was complain for chapters at a time. When I got past those parts the story swept me up in its magic in an instant. But getting through some of those sections was hard. This book felt like it needed one more good pass by the editor’s scalpel to be utterly perfect.

Review: The Holdout by Graham Moore

The Holdout by Graham Moore

Published: February 18, 2020 by Random House

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Rating:

Synopsis: In this twisty tale from Moore, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, young juror Maya Seale is convinced that African American high school teacher Bobby Nock is innocent of killing the wealthy white female student with whom he appears to have been involved and persuades her fellow jurors likewise. Ten years later, a true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, and Maya, now a defense attorney, must prove her own innocence when one of them is found dead in Maya’s room.

Review: This book was both very good and also very average. The author is clearly a skilled screenwriter, this comes through in the depth of the dialogue and characterizations throughout the book. I had zero complaints with either of these aspects. The characters were all unique and likeable/unlikeable in entirely different ways. The dialogue between them painted the picture of their relationships in a real and meaningful way.

The plot was well structured and I enjoyed the pacing too. We alternate between the present, where Maya is being accused of the murder of one of her fellow jury members, and flashbacks of the original trial from each of the jury members POV in turn. This gave a really good view on how each of the different people had viewed the case and the individual reasons why they ended up being swayed to vote not guilty. It was also interesting to hear the snippets of testimony from the Bobby Nock trial and I could not help coming to my own conclusions. Obviously the plot touches on racism and classism a bit, but it was well balanced and not heavy handed.

I have two complaints with this book that kept me from rating it higher than three stars. First, I don’t understand why the not guilty vote was so hard to convince everyone of. From what we were presented about the testimony there was multiple reasons for reasonable doubt. All of the jury members were intelligent people, how exactly did only one of them come to the conclusion that the prosecution hadn’t made a compelling case? The defense thought they had made their case so thoroughly they didn’t even call a witness. That was the right call because they shredded the prosecution’s case every time we heard testimony. I found it hard to believe that Maya was the only one with doubts and that she had to convince everyone else.

The other part I was thrown off by was the ending. I knew that there would be a twist from the fact that the author wrote about admiration of Agatha Christie plot twists (so much admiration that he spoiled the twist to three different Christie novels). But this one came out of left field. There wasn’t even a tiny hint that this person could have been the killer of the juror. There were several very good suspects so I am not sure why we went that route except for the “twist”. The resolution to where Bobby Nock was actually guilty was not surprising, I knew it would be something to that effect early on.

Overall this book was very compelling, I found that I couldn’t stop listening to it. I wanted to know what came next and listened to the whole audiobook in about 27 hours. But I wasn’t completely satisfied with the answers I got.

Review: Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Published: March 3, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

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Rating:

Synopsis:

The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Review:

I have never read a Mindy McGinnis book before this one but from reading reviews she seems to be a love it or hate it author, often from the same reader. A huge fan might love one of her books and hate the next. I looked forward to reading it based on the synopsis but I didn’t know quite what to expect.

Most of this book is narrated in Ashley’s head, because she’s alone in the woods for most of it. I worried that this might be a bit overplayed and turn out boring. Girl alone in the woods, we’ve all read it and seen it plenty of times. But I liked Ashley. We had some tropey “I’m not like all the other girls” going on. She doesn’t care about makeup or her hair, she hunts, she lives in a trailer, she drinks beer. But apart from the tropes, I liked her. She was funny and very frank, even in her own head. There was no sugarcoating going on from herself or anyone else. That was great, it make the novel feel very gritty. Although I do have to note that Ashley made some pretty rookie mistakes. Anyone who has gone camping knows that if you get lost the first thing you do is stay still, because people coming to look for you are going to start at the last place you were seen. And Ashley is a very experienced woodsman. But no, Ashley chooses to wander off, thinking she’ll find her own way. Rookie mistake. But without that mistake, we wouldn’t have had a book so I can forgive that.

The pacing of the book was just right for me. We had a lot of flashbacks and Ashley going over her life in her head, and I liked that. It took me away from the gritty grossness long enough to see another side of her and then get plunged back into the grossness. I can also honestly say that the author left me wondering if Ashley would make it out of this alive. Most of the time you can intuit that the single narrating character must live to the end because without that character then the narrative is over. But the way it was written, I could imagine Ashley giving us a posthumous play by play of her final days. That left me not knowing what to expect for the end of her journey.

This was a good book, I enjoyed it. And I will likely pick up the author again in the future. My only complaints is the minor tropes and some rookie mistakes that didn’t make sense from the character.

Review: Master Class by Christina Dalcher

Master Class by Christina Dalcher

Published: April 21, 2020 by Berkley

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Rating:

Synopsis:

Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

And she will do the unthinkable to make it happen.

Review:

I went into this audiobook with only mild expectations. The synopsis caught my attention and sounded like it could be a great dystopian novel. Then I noticed that this was from the same author that wrote Vox, which got very mixed reviews. As many people loved it as hated it. This one just wasn’t that good, but at least it was pretty short at only 8 listening hours.

The book started off well. We were introduced to Elena, who is married to the guy who came up with the Q system. Anne is her oldest daughter and exactly like her father, whom Elena hates. And then Freddy, who has always been an anxious child that struggled to keep up to the high demands of the Q system. Elena tells us how much she hates her husband all the time, it’s the main thing we hear about besides the history of their courtship and marriage.

I soon realized that I was not going to like Elena. She does nothing but complain, about everything. She also does absolutely nothing about anything else. She hates her husband, but doesn’t do anything except complain. She has concerns about the Q system, she complains. People tell her disturbing things about the system, she complains that she doesn’t think it’s that bad. She complains about feeling like a bad mother. She complains about the tests. She complains about someone offering to help her with a heavy bag, because he’s male and while she didn’t want to carry it she doesn’t need his help. But then she also complains when men don’t treat her as a piece of ass either. She actually says that most women want a husband who loves her for more than her body, but she just wants to be wanted for her body. Elena and I did not get along.

I also don’t buy how an educated woman (she has a doctorate degree) wasn’t suspicious of this system that she helped put into place. It never struck her as odd that the Q rating is supposed to be a combination of IQ, test scores, attendance, attitude, participation, etc but you could have a test of your baby’s Q rating before they were born? It never struck her as odd that the company who administers those tests is named Genics (Genix, however it’s spelled)? It didn’t strike her as odd that she kept seeing kids who were highly intelligent all of a sudden drop to the lowest rating and get shipped off to the state schools? It didn’t strike her as odd that her husband wan’t desperate to help their daughter when she failed her test? She must not be very bright, because I knew where these things were going immediately.

None of the characters in this book are nuanced at all. The bad characters do bad things all the time, seemingly just to be evil. They aren’t even doing bad things out of good intentions. Good characters do only good things all the time. That is boring and lazy writing at its best.

This book also didn’t know who it wanted the scapegoat to be. From everything I’ve heard her first book, Vox is a complete demonization of Evangelical Christian men. But at first this seemed to go the opposite way. Once Elena starts questioning the true nature of the Q system (only after it affects her of course) she talks at great length about how this all started with the liberal intellectuals in places like California, New York and Connecticut. Which makes sense when you know the country’s history of eugenics. But then she randomly throws in bits about how men are always favored over the wife in this system, and all of Washington DC has a day off on Sunday for church. So, I have no idea what she was going for.

The ending was completely inexplicable. We’re expected to believe that no one else in government has sussed out the problems with this Q program except the ones who are in on it. It’s entirely a secret operation being borne out by the Department of Education and once the rest of government hears about it they are shocked and appalled! That is just so nonsensical. You are running a eugenics program on America’s youth and sending some of them to labor camps and no one knows about it. No one from the President, the House, Senate, state governments? No one. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

This was a story with so much promise but it was poorly executed and poorly constructed.