Aubiobook Review: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

 

The feisty, fiery Kopp sisters are back in another unforgettable romp by international bestseller Amy Stewart.

Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges of waywardness, incorrigibility, and moral depravity. The strong-willed, patriotic Edna Heustis, who left home to work in a munitions factory, certainly doesn’t belong behind bars. And sixteen-year-old runaway Minnie Davis, with few prospects and fewer friends, shouldn’t be publicly shamed and packed off to a state-run reformatory. But such were the laws — and morals — of 1916.

Constance uses her authority as deputy sheriff, and occasionally exceeds it, to investigate and defend these women when no one else will. But it’s her sister Fleurette who puts Constance’s beliefs to the test and forces her to reckon with her own ideas of how a young woman should and shouldn’t behave.

Against the backdrop of World War I, and drawn once again from the true story of the Kopp sisters, ‘Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions’ is a spirited, page-turning story that will delight fans of historical fiction and lighthearted detective fiction alike.

My Thoughts:

The third book in the Kopp Sisters series is another terrific adventure starring Deputy Sheriff Constance Kopp and her sisters. In this installment, the main trouble is young girls looking for freedom and purpose, and the fear the authorities seem to have at the prospect of “waywardness”. Blameless girls can be scooped up and put in jail at the request of their parents, simply for leaving home without permission. Constance becomes convinced that there has to be another way, and does her best to find it.

I love the characters in these books. Amy Stewart does an amazing job of bringing to vibrant life these audacious, unusual women, and shows us the incredible biases they faced on a daily basis. It’s great fun knowing Constance was a real person, and I couldn’t help but admire her devotion to her principles and her job, even while being scoffed at for doing “men’s work”.

Book #3 isn’t perfect, though: The plot itself is a tad flat compared to the previous two books, which featured dangerous criminal cases, pursuits, threats, and imminent risk to the Kopps. Here, it’s a quieter sort of story, as the plights of Minnie and Edna are interwoven with Fleurette’s own escapade. The story is never dull, but it lacks the adrenaline and speed of the previous two.

Still, it’s absolutely worth reading. The characters continue to be delightful, and it’s interesting to see how the looming involvement of the United States in WWI begins to cast a shadow over the events in the story. I definitely want to see what happens next!

A final note: I listened to the audiobook, and it’s wonderful! Narrator Christina Moore has a gift when it comes to these characters, making each sister distinct, as well as the rest of the characters, whether working class New Jersey girls or New York cops or traveling vaudeville stars. Their voices are sharp and funny and full of personality, just like Amy Stewart’s characters themselves.

If you have had the pleasure of reading the Kopp Sisters books yet, start with Girl Waits With Gun, and then keep going!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 4 minutes
Printed book length: 365 pages
Genre: Detective story/historical fiction
Source: Audible download (purchased)

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

2017: My year in books

As 2017 comes to an end, it’s time to take a look back at the year’s greatest hits in books! It’s been another great reading year, with so many new favorites and new authors to swoon over. Here’s a summary of what I read, and what really stood out for me during a year of some truly excellent reading.

[Note: Click on the links to see my reviews if you’re interested!]

Goodreads stats as of 12/31/2017:

Give In To The Feeling is a novella by a wonderful writer and blogger — check it out, people!

I think I’ve gotten more generous with my ratings over the years — or else I’m getting better and better at choosing books that I’ll end up loving.

Star rating used most often: 5 stars (78 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (7 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)
DNFs: 2 – I only put aside two books this year: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones. Two very different books, but I just couldn’t get through either one.

First and Last on Goodreads:

Bests & Other Stuff of Note

Note: Not necessarily published in 2017 — these are the books I especially enjoyed reading in 2017!

Best young adult: Geekerella by Ashley Poston and Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Best contemporary: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Best fantasy: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Best historical fiction: Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Best book club book: The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza – A come-from-behind surprise. This light and breezy book wins for being a great way to wrap up the year and for generating a really fun conversation.

Best new volume in an ongoing series: I’m always thrilled when Patricia Briggs releases a new book. In 2017, it was Silence Fallen, the 10th volume in the Mercy Thompson series, which I just love to pieces. Another glorious new book in a favorite series was Less Than a Treason, the 21st Kate Shugak book by Dana Stabenow, starring my favorite private investigator in one of my favorite settings (Alaska). 

Best start of a new series: Binti  and Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor. The third and final book, The Night Masquerade, is due out in January.

Best end to a great series: End of Watch by Stephen King — the final book in the Billy Hodges trilogy.

Best in ongoing series: I love the Themis Files books by Sylvain Neuvel, and can’t wait to get my hands on #3 in 2018.

Best return of old friends: Unequal Affection by Lara S. Ormiston, an under-the-radar reimagining of Pride and Prejudice that surprised me in all the right ways.

Best use of illustration to tell a story: Thornhill by Pam Smy is an eerie, haunting story told in words and pictures. I borrowed it from the library, but really need a copy for my own shelves.

Author of the year: Georgette Heyer! I’ve been hearing about her for years… but finally decided to give her a try. Two audiobooks, two paperbacks, and I’m hooked! I’m looking forward to reading lots more in the years to come.

High volume award: I read 28 volumes of The Walking Dead comics this year, pretty much all in a row, right after starting my binge of the TV show. That’s a LOT of zombies.

(Non-zombie) most read: I went through 7 works by Philip Pullman and 8 works by Gail Carriger, and loved every moment.

Best classic read: My two favorite classics both came to me via Serial Reader this year: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. My nervous expectations were far exceeded… I loved them both!

Around the world in a book: My reading took me to some amazing places this year…

globe-32812_1280Nigeria: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Russia: The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
England – Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs, #2) by Jacqueline Winspear
Ireland – The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
India – Prudence by Gail Carriger
Egypt – Imprudence by Gail Carriger
Kenya – West With the Night by Beryl Markham
Scotland – The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Israel – Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Norway – The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Antarctica – South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

 

Best speculative/science fiction: The sci-fi works I enjoyed most were:

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Six Wakes
by Mur Lafferty

Grab the hankies: I cried my eyes out over Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello and 180 Seconds by Jessica Park.

Oh, the horror! I adored the terrifying killer mermaids of Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.

Best use of animals in unexpected roles: River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow feature feral hippos in the American South. Simply amazing.

 

Best bookish TV events of 2017:

Most eye-catching covers:

 

Quirkiest titles:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Makenzi Lee
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Best non-fiction: True stories that I enjoyed immensely:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Spaceman by Mike Massimino
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede

Bookish delight, all year long:

All the many, many books which, for whatever reason, I can’t quite categorize but still really enjoyed (plus a few that are probably better off forgotten). It’s been a great year of reading. I can’t wait to see what treasures I’ll discover in 2018!

What were your favorite books of 2017? What surprised or excited you the most? Please share your top reads and recommendations in the comments!

Book Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter


Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a moving, disturbing, and vibrant story of a girl trying to find her own way while under the out-sized pressure of family expectations, poverty, and inner city life.

Julia is a gifted student whose dream is to become a writer. Thanks to the mentorship of a dedicated English teacher, she may have a shot at college — anywhere, so long as it’s away — and a full scholarship.

But Julia’s parents just don’t understand, and since Olga’s death, Julia is reminded over and over again that she’s not what her parents want her to be. She’s not content to be at home, and chafes under the harsh curfews and ceaseless surveillance of her life. Julia’s mother cleans houses of rich people and her father works a fatiguing job in a candy factory. Both undocumented, they crossed the border from Mexico before their daughters’ births, so while the girls are both US citizens, the threat of deportation hangs over the family every waking moment.

The descriptions of the family’s poverty are heartbreaking, and so is the despair Julia feels over the lack of freedom and trust she experiences on a daily basis. She yearns to break free, to pursue her education, to be something and someone different — but she faces constant punishments and groundings every time she steps out of line, and finally gets to a breaking point.

This book deals with the pain of family secrets — everyone in Julia’s family has something they’ve chosen not to share. As she learns more about her parents and her sister, Julia discovers that the bland or hard surfaces hide painful pasts and secrets that could be truly destructive if brought to life. Julia’s understanding of her own family deepens as she learns more, and she starts finally to understand where the harshness and rules and need for control really come from.

I thought the book was very well written, with a sense of immediacy conveyed through Julia’s narrative. We see the world through Julia’s eyes, and understand how the world affects her own sense of self. The way she’s viewed by outsiders because she’s poor and Mexican, the way the boys at home and at school look at her body rather than looking at her as a person, the way her parents see her as untrustworthy because she doesn’t fit the image of a “perfect” daughter the way Olga did — all of these drive Julia’s suffering and the damage to her self-image.

There’s a section of the book that’s set in Mexico, as Julia is sent to visit her relatives there, and while the descriptions of the village are colorful, this interlude felt like it meandered a bit to me. Still, if the point was to show that even in situations that seem cheerful and safe on the surface, there is still darkness underneath, then it’s effective as well.

Overall, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a powerful read that really moved me, even while making me very uncomfortable in many parts too. It’s definitely not like anything else I’ve read, and Julia’s distinctive voice is a delight. Touching on subjects such as economic disadvantage, cultural insensitivity and prejudice, sexual health, and mental health, it’s an ambitious book packed with heavy topics, but manages to still keep rays of hope alive as Julia finds her way forward. I’m so happy that I made time to read this book, and definitely recommend it.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Author: Erika L. Sánchez
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 17, 2017
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction

Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of the 1970s and ’80s . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate! Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. It’s an affectionate, nostalgic, and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of two iconic decades, complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles. You’ll find familiar authors, like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, and many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Plus recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.

 

A must for horror fans. This book traces the history of all sorts of insane horror trends from the 70s and 80s, and makes some fascinating connections between the crises of the times (inflation, environmental issues, HIV/AIDS) and the rise and fall of horror publishing themes and crazes. The author’s commentary is often snarky and truly funny — but the real highlight of Paperbacks from Hell is the amazing assortment of cheesy, disgusting, disturbing book covers. Some are iconic (Jaws, The Omen, Flowers in the Attic), and some just head-shakingly awful — but put them all together, and it’s a truly entertaining look back at horror’s not-so-distant past.

Take a look at just a small sampling of the amazing books featured in Paperbacks from Hell:

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk
Publication date: September 19, 2017
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Horror/non-fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk Books

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: 180 Seconds


Some people live their entire lives without changing their perspective. For Allison Dennis, all it takes is 180 seconds…

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

In 180 Seconds, we experience Allison’s life through her first-person perspective. She has a wonderful adoptive father, Simon, and a best friend Steffi, but apart from these two, Allison travels through life alone. After her years as a foster child, she’s built sturdy walls around herself, and feels safest when those walls are intact. Even with Simon, Allison keeps a distance. He’s warm and loving and supportive, but after all she’s been through, Allison has a hard time trusting that it won’t just all go away suddenly. Better to never let someone close than to risk it and then get hurt.

Steffi, though, is Allison’s soul-sister. They met in a foster home, and over the years, even though separated by circumstances outside their control, they’ve never lost their bond. Steffi, never adopted, attends college on the West Coast while Allison is in Maine, but they keep in constant contact. Steffi is outgoing, bubbly, and mama-bear fierce when it comes to protecting Allison from anyone and everything that might hurt her.

When Allison meets Esben in that fateful 180-second experiment, she’s shattered by the experience. During those three minutes, her walls come crashing down and she and Esben connect in a way that’s immediately shocking and intimate. Of course, being the age of technology, those 180 seconds make her internet-famous, and Allison finds that her private bubble has been blown apart and the world wants in. And then too, she has to figure out Esben — did he feel it too? Is this connection real?

As Allison and Esben finally meet for real and begin to talk, Allison finds herself opening up for the first time in her life. As she comes out of her shell, she and Esben begin a gentle development of a relationship that’s unlike anything she’s ever experienced, and the positive energy she feels lets her take risks, shut off the white noise in her earbuds, and actually reach out and let the world in.

What I liked:

The characters are really wonderful. Allison is fragile and introverted to the point of unhealthiness — but it’s understandable based on what we learn about her childhood and the amount of rejection she experienced growing up. It’s hard to see her keep Simon at a distance. He’s an amazing person who just knew Allison was meant to be his daughter, and he provides her with a safe and nurturing home and so much unconditional love, asking nothing in return. I loved seeing their relationship deepen as Allison’s ability to trust and accept love expands over the course of the novel.

Steffi is a strong, kick-ass young woman, but even she has vulnerabilities that she tries to hide. Steffi’s secrets because central to the plot in the latter part of the book, and I won’t say anything to divulge them here, but just be warned that boxloads of Kleenex are imperative for this book.

Allison’s blossoming is believable and well-written. You can practically feel the glow spreading within her as bit by bit, her relationship with Esben allows her to open up to life and its possibilities and to start believing in herself.

Minor quibbles:

There’s nothing I actually didn’t like about 180 Seconds, but I do have just a couple of minor issues with the book.

My major issue is that Esben is really too perfect. He’s a lovely person, but there are times when it’s just too much. He’s always sensitive, always respectful, always exactly what Allison needs — plus he’s super hot and sexy and has a heart of gold. This is a guy who uses social media for good, so when he finds out that a little girl’s birthday party is going to be a bust, he takes to social media to make sure she has a birthday princess extravaganza. He’s just SO GOOD all the time, and it makes him seem not quite human at times.

My other complaint is that for the first half or so of the book, it feels pretty episodic, without much dramatic tension or building plot. In each chapter, Allison has some new situation to confront or an event to participate in with Esben, and they deal with it, and she learns something, and it’s all good. None of it is boring or pointless, but it starts feeling like just one nice interlude after another.

Wrapping it all up:

I started 180 Seconds as an audiobook, but when I got within about 2 hours of the end, I had to switch to print so I could move faster and get through the rest of the story. Plus, I’ll be honest — this is another one of those audiobooks that probably should not be listened to in public. I got to a certain part and was taken completely by surprise and began seriously ugly crying… while I was driving my car. Not good!

I’m really not going to go further into the plot or explain my ugly crying jag or anything that happens in the last third. It’s heartbreaking and yet also quite heartwarming… in other words, it gives your heart a work-out!

180 Seconds is a lovely book filled with sympathetic, enjoyable characters and complex relationships. Highly recommended.

Also by this author: Flat-Out Love

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: 180 Seconds
Author: Jessica Park
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication date: April 25, 2017
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: Future Home of the Living God

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

My Thoughts:

While often disturbing, this book doesn’t flesh out its dystopian vision well enough to make a true impact. The concept of evolution running backwards isn’t really explored or explained. True, the story is told through the eyes of its main character, Cedar, and she can only tell what she herself knows — but that narrow viewpoint limits the reader’s ability to grasp the outside events and understand how the world could change so dramatically in so short a time. Within mere months, pregnant women are hunted, tracked, and imprisoned, forced into reproductive centers with no choice but to bear and then lose children.

Meanwhile, Cedar’s exploration of family, roots, and faith meander and lack coherence. The book is at its best during its most harrowing sections, when Cedar is on the run or in the midst of an elaborate escape plot. Her inner monologues and writings on religion take away from the building tension.

It’s a shame, because the big-picture concept could be intriguing if we had more information on why it’s happening, or really, a better view of what actually is happening. Instead, it’s a little bit Handmaid’s Tale but without the urgency or connection of that classic. Overall, I walked away disappointed by a book I’d been so eager to read.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Future Home of the Living God
Author: Louise Erdrich
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: November 14, 2017
Length: 267 pages
Genre: Speculative/science fiction
Source: Purchased

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

My Thoughts:

What fun! The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is part silly adventure story, part surprisingly moving look into the life of a young man of privilege who suffers the constant abuse and humiliation of a cruel father and who can never fully pursue his true love, who just happens to be his best friend. Most of all, this is a light-hearted romp through Europe as our trio of heroes are pursued by highwaymen, pirates, alchemists, and other assorted bad guys during an accidental misadventure. Along they way, they each learn to share their inner hopes and fears, and dare to start envisioning a life other than the one planned out for them.

The characters are quirky and engaging, the narrative flows nicely, and the plot itself is quite tasty and exciting. And while there are some deeper thoughts on the role of women in that society, the lack of a place for people outside the norm, and the devastating impact of parental disapproval, there’s also bravery and sacrifice and love and romance, and it all makes for a delicious read.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication date: June 27, 2017
Length: 513 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Library

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: The Marriage Pact


Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact, and most of its rules make sense: Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples–and then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life, and The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

The premise of this book sounded intriguing: A mysterious, secretive club, with complicated rules and requirements, dedicated to enhancing and strengthening marriage. Alice and Jake join the Pact mostly on a whim — they’re amused by the sense of formality and ritual during the initial sales pitch, and sign the contract without a moment’s hesitation. After all, if they sign now, they’ll be just in time to attend the big fancy party coming up.

Uh oh. Never sign without reading the fine print! Alice, a lawyer, really should know better.

Alice and Jake soon learn that there’s a dark side to the Pact. First tip should have been the manual — a huge volume containing endless rules about how to behave in the marriage — and long lists of punishments, graded misdeamenors to felonies — for marital infractions big and small. The couple simply doesn’t take any of it seriously. They act like it’s a silly game. No one actually MEANS any of this stuff, right?

Wrong.

They realize quickly enough that crimes like lack of focus on the marriage carry a penalty, such as relatively benign mandatory counseling sessions with a more senior Pact member, or required early-morning workout sessions with a trainer when one’s weight falls outside the prescribed limits. Yes, there are weigh-ins. Shudder.

The penalties escalate with the severity of the crime against the marriage, and before they know it, Alice is being manacled and shackled and carted off to a prison facility in the Nevada desert. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Too late, Jake and Alice realize that the Pact is not a game at all… and that there’s no way out.

What I liked:

The premise is certainly different, I’ll grant the book that. It’s intriguing at the start to wonder about the true agenda of the Pact. As each consequence become harsher than the previous one, the suspense ratchets up. The book moves quickly, and the tension continues to mount as the book proceeds. Who can be trusted? Where can they turn? Is the danger real? There’s definitely a lot to keep us going.

I liked Alice and Jake as characters, although I need to counter that by saying that they’re way too smart to end up in the situation they find themselves in.

And stretching for anything else positive to say — well, I did like the author’s use of the San Francisco setting. Every time Jake describes which route he took from his house, I can picture the turn-by-turn directions, and I enjoyed seeing “my” beach, Ocean Beach, feature into the plot.

 

What I didn’t like:

Oh, where to start?

My biggest issue, and the one that will pretty much keep me from recommending this book, is that it pretty quickly changes from being dark to being outright sadistic. Yes, people, the punishments include all sorts of sadistic, painful torture and humiliation, and that is so NOT what I thought I was signing up for. The book became frankly unpleasant by the last third. I don’t mind creepy thrillers — but this isn’t that. The Marriage Pact gets into detailed descriptions of horrible acts involving pain and loss of control and cruelty for the sake of cruelty.

Beyond the awfulness of those parts, the plot itself doesn’t hold together. I made light of it earlier, but really, these are two well-educated people who should absolutely know better than to sign contracts on the spot, as if they’re buying a timeshare that they’ll regret later. There’s every indication right from the start that they’re getting involved in something big and scary, and they just ignore the warning signs and sign on the dotted line. Sheesh.

Also, hate to say it, but the Pact just never made sense to me. It’s filled with rich and powerful people, the implication being that if you ever try to leave or expose the Pact, they have the power and the reach to destroy your careers, your reputations, and possibly even your chance of staying alive. But why? The Pact is dedicated to the preservation of marriage. Fine. But what drives all these people to enforce it and be loyal to it? It’s not about money or power — it seems to be only about dedication to the Pact itself. The rituals of punishment, coupled with the loyalty of Pact members, just doesn’t add up.

 

Wrapping it all up:

Reading The Marriage Plot is like watching a train wreck. It’s a horrible sight, but I had a hard time looking away. I did want to know what would happen next and whether Alice and Jake would find a way out. Also, the truly sadistic, torture-ific parts don’t come until later in the book, and by that time I was too far in to walk away without finishing. I guess not everyone will be as bothered by those parts as I was, but that’s definitely not what I thought I was signing up for when I started this book.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Marriage Pact
Author: Michelle Richmond
Publisher: Bantam
Publication date: July 25, 2017
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Library

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Top Ten Tuesday: My top ten books of 2017

snowy10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Top Ten Favorite Books Of 2017.

According to Goodreads, I gave a 5-star rating to 76 books in 2017. SEVENTY-SIX. That’s a lot. So how to narrow down my top books to just 10? Here are the books I consider the best of the best from my 2017 reading — not necessarily books published in 2017; simply the books I read this past year that I loved the most. (And okay, I cheated a bit and snuck in more than 10!)

Note: If you want to know more about any of the books mentioned here, click on the links to see my reviews.

1) Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant (review)

2) La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, #1) by Philip Pullman (review)

3) The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (review)

4) A whole bunch of books by Gail Carriger! (reviews here and here)

5) How to Stop Time by Matt Haig (review)

6) Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (review)

7) Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford (review)

8) Leviathan Wakes (review)/Caliban’s War/Abaddon’s Gate (review) by James S. A. Corey

9) A first introduction to the world of Georgette Heyer (reviews here, here, here, and here)

10) Two classics that I finally tackled (and adored):
(Great Expectations reading update here)

 

What were your favorite reads of 2017? Please leave me your link!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

The Bear and the Nightingale was one of the most lovely and original books of 2017. I reviewed it back in January when it was released, and have been raving about it ever since. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to get my hands on the sequel!

The Girl in the Tower picks up where the first book leaves off. Vasya has fled her home and her village, someplace she’s never left in her entire life, after the death of her father. She knows she cannot stay in a place where she’s suspected of witchcraft and distrusted by almost all. In medieval Russia, girls have really zero choices in their lives, and there are only two paths available: Marry, produce children, and run a household… or don’t marry and go instead to a convent.

But Vasya is a free spirit who sees and communicates with the chyerti, the spirits of Russian folklore who inhabit the forests, the hearth, and all aspects of the natural and man-made world. However, the people have become blinded by the edicts of the Church and no longer tend to the chyerti as they should, and now consider them to be demons and devils to be feared and cast out. Vasya chooses a different path for her life, and leaves on her beautiful horse Solovey. As she rides through freezing forests, she is occasionally accompanied by Morozko, the frost-demon who cares for her, with whom she has a mysterious bond.

Meanwhile, bandits have been raiding villages in the area near Moscow, slaughtering the villagers, burning the towns to the ground, and stealing their young girls to sell as slaves. Vasya’s brother Sasha, a fierce warrior and a monk, brings word to Grand Prince Dmitrii, and they set out to track down the bandits and stop them, while also fearing the threat of a Tatar invasion.

Paths converge, as Vasya shows up with children rescued from a burned village and seeks shelter at Sasha’s monastery, but she’s traveling in disguise as a boy, and must maintain the fiction in order to be allowed to fight and defend Moscow from the forces that threaten their world. In Moscow society, women live their lives in their towers and are not permitted on the streets or to mingle with men, so Vasya’s masquerade is a huge breach that, if revealed, will end in disaster for her, as well as for her brother and sister Olga, a princess of Moscow.

That’s the gist of the plot in The Girl in the Tower, and I won’t go into further detail, because this book really should be explored and appreciated with fresh eyes.

Once again, author Katherine Arden paints a picture of a time and place where harsh societal strictures limit women’s options, and yet at the same time, a world where magic is fading but isn’t quite gone. Reading this book, I could practically feel the freezing temperatures of the forests, and wondered at the forces keeping Vasya live when she should have frozen to death.

The traditions and daily routines are vividly described, especially the role of the bathhouses and the terem, the secluded dwelling areas for upper class women. A glossary at the back of the book provides a key tool in gaining a fuller understanding of the terms used throughout the story — reading through this section is a must, either during or after reading the book itself.

The books starts a little slowly, and it’s not until we get a bit further into Vasya’s adventures that the story truly picks up. Once it does, it’s impossible to put down.

Vasya, as in the first book, is a marvelous character. She’s brave and defiant, but with inner doubts and wounds. She knows that her society has no place for her, and all she dreams of is escape, riding off with her horse to see as much of the world as she can. Getting drawn into the intrigues and dangers of Moscow is not a part of her plan, but she can’t walk away when people she cares about are in danger, and displays her courage again and again.

As the second book in a trilogy, The Girl in the Tower doesn’t have the incredible newness of The Bear and the Nightingale. It’s definitely a middle book, continuing on with the world introduced in the first book, rather than focusing so much on world-building and the introduction of the beliefs, superstitions, and traditions of the time. The story is much more action-focused, and lacks the sense of wonder evoked in the first book as we meet the chyerti and see Vasya coming of age with her sight and her strength.

Still, The Girl in the Tower is an engaging and moving read, and does what it needs to do in terms of moving the story forward and showing the next chapter of Vasya’s life, as she leaves behind the village girl she once was and sets out to find a new path. This book is a transition from the start of Vasya’s story, laying the groundwork for what’s to come.

Now that I’ve read The Girl in the Tower, I cannot wait for the third book! Vasya is an amazing character, and her journey to become her true self is inspiring and thrilling. The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower are must-reads. Check them out!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Girl in the Tower
Series: The Winternight Trilogy, #2
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: December 5, 2017
Length: 363 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save