Advance Review: The Need

★★☆☆☆

A mother alone with her two children, settling in for the night as her husband is abroad. An intruder who knows them intimately, lurking in their home. The Need is eerie and gripping from the very first page.

This is the first of Helen Phillips’s books that I’ve read, and I was thrilled with the captivating quality of her writing, especially her raw portrayal of motherhood. The pacing is quick, with frequent changes of scene, bouncing between the present and days earlier. I tore through the first half of the book, but found myself beginning to lose momentum as the plot progressed further. The Need became more dreamlike and ambiguous and ultimately ended this way. The final act of this book was unsatisfying and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, but this was an interesting read nonetheless. Continue reading “Advance Review: The Need”

Review: Magic for Liars

41555947★★★★★

Magic for Liars isn’t what I expected it to be. I had impressions from other early readers that it would be along the lines of a murder-mystery in Hogwarts, which turned out to be less-than-accurate. Instead, Magic for Liars is about the lies we tell ourselves, and each other. It is about the disastrous things that result from these lies, no matter how well-meaning they were, or how innocent they seemed.

It begins with the gruesome death of a staff member at The Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. After an investigation by the authorities concludes the death a suicide, the heads of the Academy are unsatisfied. Enter Ivy Gamble, PI. Ivy isn’t like her sister- she isn’t magic like Tabitha and she doesn’t want to be. Though she spends most of her days following cheating spouses or investigating insurance fraud, she is reluctantly convinced (namely, by a large sum of cash) to re-investigate the death at Osthorne.

Ivy Gamble is a hot mess and an absolutely fascinating character. She is morally grey from head to toe and maybe a little bit out of her depth, but at her core intelligent and trying her best. The story unfolds entirely from her perspective as she sleuths around Osthorne, allowing herself to slip in to Tabitha’s world. There is some time given to the magic in this world as Ivy peaks into classroom and gets to know staff,  but there isn’t a deep dive into its limits and intricacies. This seemed to be a sticking point for some readers, but I never found myself bothered by it. The narrator of this story is non-magical, so it felt right that we only had topical glances at the various subjects via Ivy’s encounters with them.  Their relationships and interactions drive this plot forward without losing any of the atmospheric tension you’d hope for in a good mystery. It beckons you forward page after page and doesn’t let go until the very end. I found myself hanging on as I came approached to the conclusion thinking there was no way it was possible, skimming through previous pages making sure I hadn’t misread the the final discoveries because I couldn’t fathom how it could be. This book doesn’t give you that feeling of satisfaction that comes at the end of a typical mystery novel: the evil-doer unmasked, justice is served, our grizzled protagonist reflects with contentment on another case solved. No, the end of Magic for Liars is fucking devastating. It is devastating and brilliant.

While this book sits firmly in both the realms of mystery and fantasy, it subverts both. The evil in this book does not manifest in the form of a sadistic killer, nor is it a dragon to be slain. Ivy Gamble is not our hero, nor is this the story of her redemption. She arrives at Osthorne Academy as a deeply flawed person, and eventually departs in similar form. We don’t get to see her redemption. The choices she makes throughout her investigation are not always good, sometimes even amoral, and some of them will even make you uncomfortable. You might even see a little of yourself in their choices. Continue reading “Review: Magic for Liars”

Review: Some Choose Darkness

41735371★★☆☆☆

Some Choose Darkness has stolen the title previously held by Andy Weir’s Artemis: Most Disappointing Read of 2019.

Throughout the story we follow Rory Moore, a forensic reconstructionist at the top of her field. In the midst of a personal hiatus her father suddenly passes, leaving to her all of the clients of his one-man law firm. As she sorts out his affairs Rory discovers that for years her father has been handling the assets of the notorious serial killer known as The Thief. Unable to pass his case off to anyone else, Rory is forced to see a convicted him through his parole, struggling to unpack why her father remained so close with a vicious killer as she pieces together the mysterious death of the woman who brought The Thief down.

I was incredibly excited to begin this book, but I was never hooked in. Instead, I pushed on with hopes that the story ended strong, but I was ultimately let down. 

From the beginning, this story drags. For several short prologues and a whole chapter the author plays the pronoun game before finally introducing us to the protagonist. From there, it doesn’t get much better. More than anything, this book felt like the victim of poor editing. For the first 100 pages very little happens, I assumed these little threads would eventually come together in the end, but unfortunately most only contributed to small epiphanies or twists that failed to shock. Donlea’s writing style only made this a greater burden. In these introductory chapters, he has a strange habit of breaking up action or dialogue with huge paragraphs reminding the reader how special and smart Rory Moore is. I feel like I was unable to connect with her because more often Donlea tells the reader about how incredible Rory Moore is as opposed to showing the incredible things she is capable of. So many of these writing quirks grated on my nerves throughout the entire story, but that wasn’t enough to ruin the experience. On top of it all, the resolution was rushed and Rory’s final actions felt completely out of character. Seeing other reviewers rave about this book, I’m left wondering what I missed.

Die-hard thriller fans, this book probably isn’t for you. I dip into the genre on occasion and even I could see the twists coming from a mile away. But don’t leave disappointed just yet, let me instead point you in the direction of one of my favorite books of all time: The Crow Girl. Continue reading “Review: Some Choose Darkness”

Review: Birthday

★★★★★

39863399This is a difficult book for me to review. Not because I have mixed feelings, but because there is so much I loved that I only hope I can do it justice. Birthday is the story of two best friends, born on the same day, in the same hospital. On the night they were born a freak snowstorm struck the area and stranded their families together. From then their fates were sealed: friends for life. Their story is told in snippets, starting on their 13th birthday and continuing until they turn 18.

By 13, Morgan has realized that something is wrong. Between the loss of her Mom, a struggling with a distant relationship with her father, and being the subject of her rural town’s torment, Morgan can’t imagine losing her best friend. She’ll play it safe, even if it means hiding here true self from the person she cares about most.

When my copy of Birthday arrived I picked it up with the intent of skimming the first few pages to get an idea of Meredith Russo’s style. I read a page, and then a couple more, and then all of a sudden I was 100 pages in. Without exaggeration, this is easily the best YA book I have ever read, and certainly one of my favorites of this year. This own voices story is equal parts powerful, uplifting, and heartbreaking. I have so much appreciation for the way Morgan, a trans girl, is represented in this book and I cannot wait to pick up Meredith Russo’s books in the future.

Going off initial impressions I don’t think I would’ve picked this for myself, but I couldn’t be more thrilled that I did. Even if you’re on the fence, give Birthday a try. Let it surprise you in all the best ways.

Continue reading “Review: Birthday”

Advance Review: Waves

40744544★★★★☆

Waves is a brief and poignant story of the world-shattering loss of a child and a young couple’s life in the aftermath. Chabbet weaves their tale of recovery, based on her own experiences.

It’s hard to say that I enjoyed this story in the typical sense. My heart ached at every page during their journey of learning to cope with the reality of losing their son as I was touched by Carole Maurel’s gorgeous illustrations. My only qualm with Waves is that it left me wanting more.

 

Continue reading “Advance Review: Waves”