Review: The Curses by Laure Eve

Continuing the story of the intriguing, mysterious Grace family…4/5

I eagerly read the sequel to the Graces on January 25-31, 2019 and my waiting was rewarded. The Curses was released in the beginning of this year and I waited for it to be my last read of the month sort of to pleasurably torture myself. And because I know the clock resets to waiting for the next book.

From GoodReads:

Picking up the pieces after the chilling events of the previous year isn’t easy, but the Graces are determined to do it. Wolf is back after a mysterious disappearance, and everyone’s eager to return to normal. Except for Summer, the youngest Grace. Summer has a knack for discovering the truth—and something is troubling her. After a trail of clues leads her to what could be the key to both her family’s mysterious past and the secret of Wolf, she’s determined to vanquish yet another curse. But exposing secrets is a dangerous game, and it’s not one Summer can win alone.

At Summer’s behest, the coven comes back together, reluctantly drawing their erstwhile friend River back into the fold. But Wolf’s behavior becomes unpredictable even as Fenrin’s strength fades, and Summer must ask herself whether the friend she so loves is also planning her family’s ultimate, cursed demise.

This riveting sequel to The Graces is saturated with magic, the destructive cost of power, the complications of family, and the nature of forgiveness.

I loved being in Summer’s head. As much as I enjoyed River in the first book she was seeing everything from a place of disbelief and the unknown. Summer has just as much of the unknown to face, but the unknown isn’t magic – it’s herself and other people. In the first book I never entirely understood why the Graces were drawn to River, and it seemed that River needed them so much more than they needed her. It can feel like that when you’re in a friendship that is deep and powerful – that you’re the needy one. It was interesting to see the same friendship from Summer’s side and find that she felt the same about River. What you don’t see about Summer in the first book is that she is so damn lonely. Some of it is her age and position within her family, and some of it is the nature of her power isolating her from others. By the end of the book the relationship between Summer and River isn’t repaired, but it’s starting to be fixed.

The theme of this book is definitely desire, and the things desire can drive us to do both for good and for bad. I like that it doesn’t treat desire as a negative thing, because so much does. Desire is a motivation to focus intention, and tracing desire revealed how the magic within the Graces universe works. While some of the language on that gets a little gray and confusing, it’s in line with the fact that despite how confident they seem to outsiders, the Graces are still just barely getting a grip on magic themselves. This book was definitely a reminder that they are still kids – full of dreams, imagination, immaturity, and without restraint when it comes to some of their emotions. When you’re a frustrated, confused teenager and then you add powerful magic to the mix there’s no way things will always go right.

The ending of the book was tense, heartbreaking, and super dark. The first book was dark and broody but the Curses crossed even further into that territory. Magic has a dark side more than a light one in this universe, and it is so easy for that power to corrupt people. It’s also a sign that parents need to be open with their children because that definitely led to some of the drama in this book. There was one point during the height of the tension when I actually said, “noooo” out loud because part of me wanted the happy ending. You don’t really get a happy ending to the Curses, but you get a much less miserable one than the end of the Graces.

I’m left with a lot of questions and I’ll be interested to see how they evolve as more of the Graces story is told. Are the Graces actually cursed? Can people be cured from magic?  Are Thalia and Marcus going to be a thing again? What kinds of love trigger the curse? WHEN WILL I GET ANOTHER BOOK!?

This was 4/5 stars from me – I loved the continuation of these characters and I think it was even stronger than the first. The first was a mystery, the second was an emotional flaying that tested the bonds of these characters and gave them space to grow.

Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

Back in the Buffyverse – 4/5 stars!

I read Slayer by Kiersten White on January 20-24, 2019. The year is already turning into a KW heavy year and I am totally fine with that.

Slayer is complicated to talk about, considering it’s place in a much wider universe. While I’ve watched all of the series, I have not kept up with the expanded universe of graphic novels and comics. The good news is that you don’t have to – the question is if this satisfies your further Buffy needs.

From GoodReads:

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.” [emphasis mine]

This was a fun dip into the world of the Watchers. They are somehow stuffy, endearing, infuriating, and fascinating. Their numbers were destroyed, so a handful of people of a variety of ages are all that remains of a society that lasted millennia. They are keepers of knowledge and some of it’s totally useless now. Magic is gone, but the evil remains. They are a people without a purpose now that Slayers have rejected their oversight. The novel does a fascinating and thorough job of interrogating the power dynamic between Watchers and Slayers. Slayers are imbued with immense power, but they were also young women basically sacrificed to save the world in a decision made by a bunch of dudes. The idea that Slayers only get out of their job by dying is repeated. The Watchers’ power is knowledge and magic – but when those things are mostly irrelevant…who are they?

Oh Nina and Artemis. Ultimately, Artemis is the kind of character who drives me insane – she’s strong and powerful and dead effing silent. If you put the whole world on your shoulders, and refuse to give it up even though it hurts and others try and take on some of the burden but you won’t let them, well I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you. I am excited to see how she turns out for the rest of the series, because currently I want to grab her and shake her. She’s being bad to herself, and ultimately bad to everyone around her.

Nina. Athena. Precious little Watcher-Slayer. It was enjoyable to see her get more confident and powerful as the book went on. Being inside her head provided perspective to the reader – she was so much more than she could see. Nina was so negative about herself not just because that’s being a teenage girl, but because until shit started hitting the fan no one took a moment to tell her she had value just being herself. It’s the lesson she starts to learn in the events of the novel, and it was so poignant.

Now, one of the most important themes in the Buffyverse is friendship. Slayer definitely tackles the subject and honestly, there’s a moment between Cillian and Nina where he is just a great friend, and knows exactly what to say to Nina even though he has no idea that’s what he’s doing. I loved it so much. It was fun in those moments to see how themes and work I associate specifically with Kiersten also fit into a pre-existing universe. It was moments like that which showed me how well-chosen Kiersten was to write this series. A lot of the things that matter in Buffy are things I know already matter to her, and can be woven sincerely into the work. It’s not an effort, she’s not told to add those things, it’s things she would write about anyway.

There’s also some really interesting things going on about motherhood in Slayer as well. There’s a trinity of moms that on the surface appear very different from one another – Helen Jamison-Smythe (the girls’ mom), Wanda Wyndam-Price (Honora and Wesley’s mom), and Eve Silvera (Leo’s mom. We aren’t even going to talk about Leo.) Helen comes off as cold, Wanda comes off as a helicopter, and Eve comes off as the perfect parent. All of them are different than they appear on the surface, and all of them have different expectations for their kids. And frankly, different expectations of themselves as parents. Having just become a parent myself it was interesting to see how what they wanted for their kids overshadowed what the kids wanted for themselves, and the myriad ways in which that dynamic damaged all of them.

From reading other reviews I think this book is getting the short end, probably because there’s too much comparison. And a lot of people are forgetting that the characters are TEENAGERS. So let’s keep that in perspective.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. It was life or death for a teenage brain and literally life or death for the Watchers. I can’t want to see Nina continue to embrace her identities and become who she’s meant to be. With lots of chaos and heartbreak along the way. It was 4/5 stars for me!

Review: Daughters of Eve

My favorite podcast is Teen Creeps – a podcast that reads classic YA pulp fiction like Christopher Pike, LJ Smith, and a host of other stories that we definitely found in our school libraries. The hosts, Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai, are hilarious and have definitely gotten me excited to go back and read some old favorites. They have covered multiple books by Lois Duncan, who I read a ton of back in the day, but they didn’t inspire me to pick LoDunc back up until they did Daughters of Eve.

I was OBSESSED with this book in 8th grade. I thought there was something supernatural about the bond between the girls in the club, and liked the idea of invoking powerful words to create an unbreakable circle of secrets. Like any teenager, of course.

From GoodReads:

The girls at Modesta High School feel like they’re stuck in some anti-feminist time warp-they’re faced with sexism at every turn, and they’ve had enough. Sponsored by their new art teacher, Ms. Stark, they band together to form the Daughters of Eve. It’s more than a school club-it’s a secret society, a sisterhood. At first, it seems like they are actually changing the way guys at school treat them. But Ms. Stark urges them to take more vindictive action, and it starts to feel more like revenge-brutal revenge. Blinded by their oath of loyalty, the Daughters of Eve become instruments of vengeance. Can one of them break the spell before real tragedy strikes?

Now, I had a copy with the original text but I have no idea what happened to it. My current copy that I read is updated to match the times and I can’t help but be disappointed by that. The context of the struggle between the sexes from the late 70s did not entirely ring true now. It made every male in the book infinitely worse if the entire town was still treating women the way they did. There was barely a redeeming male in the books purely because of the modern context. It makes the men evil and the women psychotic. No joke. In the original context, they are all much more sympathetic.

Part of what makes this story so good though is focusing on who the real enemy is – the system. The girls, led by a very fucked up teacher, begin to focus on individuals. That’s when things go off the rails and it becomes a thriller. How far will they go? Will they hurt someone else because they are also hurt? What is too far, and will they keep secrets?

This is a fantastically campy read and a classic LoDunc novel. I enjoyed it again as an adult, having experienced both the deep bonds of female friendship and desire to fight for one another, as well as the wonderful worlds of both casual and violent sexism. It’s both a critique of fake feminism as well as a fantasy of vengeance. I remember not liking Ms. Stark the first time around because I felt that I could not trust her – Tammy had been my favorite character and I trusted Tammy’s instincts. This time around, Ms. Stark made me actively angry. The kind of person that I would actively fight against in the real world for hurting progress, and would basically renounce as the worst kind of white feminism, especially when she talks about the school she worked at in Chicago (for all her updating, LoDunc is the WORST about race – it is a legitimate critique of her work.)

For me it’s 4 stars when viewed from it’s original publication time because it’s a time warp, and a lesson. It’s one of her best books though, and I recommend it to any YA pulp fan.

Also, please please please, listen to Teen Creeps. Or join their Patreon. They are the BEST.

Thoughts On: Timekeeper by Tara Sim

A damaged clock can fracture time, it’s Danny Hart’s job to prevent that from happening. A review of Timekeeper by Tara Sim (4/5)

Timekeeper by Tara Sim was published on November 8, 2016 and I read it on December 3-4, 2017. There’s emotions.

A summary, from Amazon:

“In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.”

Reading is powerful because it allows us to experience lives that are different than our own, or experience a resonance because we realize that we are not alone. That’s kind of how I felt about Timekeeper, but it was unexpected.

All through the book the narration and other characters talk about Danny as “weird” because he’s quiet or reserved; he doesn’t see the need to make small talk, or even necessarily to form bonds, with the people he works with. Danny is mostly okay inside his own head, and focuses on the things he cares about rather than the things people tell him to care about. I think it’s what gives him a cool head in the crisis that comes from falling for a clock spirit. I identified with this – keeping work and non-work life separated. I’ve been…criticized [this is the nice word] because I don’t tend to become besties with co-workers and like to run circles in my brain on my work before talking to other people about it. Danny is just outwardly chill with a chaos brain and I related to that HARD.

To start, I thought the concept of Time in the book would bother me, but the blend of religion and science helped. I also appreciated that there wasn’t an exhaustive amount of exposition explaining the way the world functioned. If there was too much detail I think it would make more holes and pieces to pick at than telling the bare minimum. Sim makes some excellent authorial choices in how she has the mythology develop across the book and what she spends page time on. I think it’s way more important to understand how the fibers of time work for Danny than it is to understand how the fibers of time work in general. I have a vague notion of the magic that runs the world, but at it’s heart I need to know how the world impacts Danny. That’s who I’m invested in.

I’m hoping in the next book, Chainbreaker, we get more of Cass and Daphne (especially Daphne – I have SO MANY QUESTIONS.) They are both intriguing and fiery and could probably beat Danny up really easily. I like that the more masculine/physically fierce characters in the story are the women. It was fun to see how Victorian London was bent to Sim’s vision, and how that opened up fun explorations of sexuality and gender roles.

I gave this book 4 stars because I think there’s more here, and I think I’ll get it in the next one. If you like alternative worlds, sad boys, angry boys, a LOT of justifiable drama, big scary moral dilemmas, and crazy tension leading to resolution – this is definitely the book for you.

Chainbreaker comes out January 2, 2018 – consider reading Timekeeper and picking it up!

Review – Every Heart a Doorway

What happens when children come back through the door from a magical world to this one? Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (5/5)

I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging and doing reviews because I was dreading doing them. It made the reading less fun, and that’s always going to be a priority.

That should also tell how much I loved this book that I am breaking my break to write about it. Be warned that this is going to be a semi-spoilery review so if you haven’t read this or have an interest in reading it, gimme a like and get outta here!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was published in 2016 – I read it on the night of November 4, 2017 in about 2 hours. 1) I read very quickly, and 2) it is very compelling. It was the way I gave my brain a break after finishing Stephen King’s 11/22/63 both of which are sort of portal fantasies, ha! (I would argue that going down a staircase that leads to the past and the possibility of an alternate time stream is both portal and time travel)

A summary, from Amazon:
“Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.”


I’m just going to tell you that this book is a murder mystery. And it’s a good one. One of the biggest struggles I have with murder mysteries, especially the whole – it’s one of us in this isolated group murder mysteries – is that they take too damn long. It’s not that hard! There’s obvious things everywhere! This book is so small but you get so much out of it, and part of it is that once you are fully introduced to the existential horror of these young people’s lives, you are then smacked in the face with the fact that there are still real horrors on this side of the doorway, and that people are selfish dickwads and just because they are chosen does not mean they are good.

The book lays out the concepts of the worlds on the other sides of the door, and it leaves you with a lot of questions (is each world unique to each child? why do some children go to the same world and some never do?) but at the same time the labels for the worlds are so much more helpful than coming up with names – Nonsense v. Logic, Wicked v. Virtue, etc. I loved the idea of identifying the worlds by “directions” versus trying to figure out what they were like based on names, or having to hear too much description. It’s not really the worlds that matter in the story, it’s what the worlds did to the children.

Also, I am in love with Kade as a character that exists. If Seanan does not write his story at some point in the fullness that it deserves, we’re gonna have words. And she’s one of my favorite people this year because 1) this book is very good and 2) a post of hers that I saw got me to read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan which is the last book I broke hiatus for and one of my favorite reads of the year.

Back to the story.

Nancy is a good character because she’s different, and not easily labelled. Nancy likes people and she’s good and kind and wants to do the right things, she just needs stillness. Sometimes we all do. I also loved that in Nancy’s world, compared to some of the other kids especially, she’s not the savior or the princess or whatever. She’s working to earn her spot, and she has to make choices. There’s no Nancy the Chosen, there’s Nancy the person who belongs in the world that she found through the door. It was important to follow a character in that position rather than one of the “special” kids because her choices were what mattered – it wasn’t about understanding her position in the world, it was about understanding herself. Which is the coming of age aspect of the novel.

I cannot say enough about the efficiency of story in this novel. It’s short but it is PACKED, and I felt like I understood things quickly. Some books rely on the reader to take leaps of understanding, or rely on prior knowledge the reader may have, and I think EHaD does that in the best way. There is shorthand to understand the worlds that allows the reader to take the leap to understand why each character is the way they are and why they were meant for that world.

I did not know much about this book going in, and had vaguely heard that there were more books connected to this one. About halfway through I paused and looked that up. I am hoping to acquire the next book as soon as possible because I have so many questions, and I am excited that this time we are going to be on the other side of the door. The third book comes out in January 2018 and I am sure I’ll end up pre-ordering.

This was a five star read for me on both a plot and technical execution level. It’s not a happy book for the most part, and it’s hella violent and gory in some parts, as well as a reminder that people are shitty. Definitely read it.

 

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarcastic Elliot crosses the wall to the Borderlands, but it’s not like the stories he’s heard before. IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan (5/5)

You don’t even need to read this review, you can stop right now and get your hands on IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan as soon as possible.

IN OTHER LANDS was published on August 15, 2017 and I read it August 23-24, 2017 after reading a Twitter thread posted by Seanan McGuire that fully convinced me I needed to read this book.

Tell me you wouldn’t be totally curious – and the rest of the thread further justifies my feelings. I bought the book based on the thread and tried to put off reading it until I was done with my library books, but I was too intrigued and I totally disappeared into the book. I stayed up until almost midnight on the 23rd to finish it, and actually got up when my alarm went off on the 24th so I could read for a bit before work. I would have picked reading this book over eating food. Luckily, I could do both at the same time.


From Amazon, another (modified) summary:

Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands. 
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world. 

Random things I liked:

-I laughed. A lot. Loudly, awkwardly. I disconcerted people. Elliot is so fantastically sarcastic and snarky, so you definitely laugh with him. However, being inside Elliot’s head you know what he’s not seeing or realizing as he goes through his life that sometimes, you are definitely laughing AT him. IOL also handles the way some portal fantasy ignores technology and the advancement beyond it’s borders to hilarity and explosiveness (literally) – but the native Borderlanders trying to understand Elliot is hilarious. When you get to the scene when Luke tries to describe what computers are, it’s somehow the most incorrect and most accurate description of the internet, possibly ever.

-I pretty much could not stop myself from reacting out loud in general. There was gasping and “oh no!” and some annoyed snorting because in both patriarchal and matriarchal societies, people can be extremely stupid. Xenophobia and cultural difference are the big, obvious themes of this novel right from the beginning. It provides a gentle reminder in the safer context of a fantasy world that it is okay to challenge norms and prejudices, and that it is easier than you think to stand up to them. The kids in this book aren’t just brave because they fight in battle. They are brave because they refuse to let prejudice define their relationships.

-But the relationships and interactions between the teenagers are the most real I’ve ever read, that were tense and emotional without being melodramatic. The tangled webs and impulsive decisions felt so true to high school. Sometimes you kiss someone because you like them. Sometimes you kiss someone because the person you want to kiss does not want to kiss you. Sometimes you kiss people because you know it will hurt someone else. I was simultaneously annoyed with Elliot and also completely sympathetic to some of the decisions he made.

-The world of the Borderlands is big enough to be dangerous, but not so big as to be confusing. And I like that there’s history to the creation of the Border Guard but not a million pages spent trying to explain the existence of the Borderlands. The point of this story is that there is not one Big Bad, one chosen kid who will fix the whole world to exist in peace forever; so ultimately, how the Borderlands were created is irrelevant. The story is about how then got them to NOW, and dealing with the bad things that are happening in the now. I also appreciate the message that peace is delicate, and it takes constant upkeep.

-I was genuinely surprised that someone as verbally brutal as Elliot was a pacifist, but I also think his reasons for being so are clear without him actually explaining how he came to that stance on things. We are given the pieces and can put them together.

-Nothing is perfect. This sometimes gritty world felt more real than some contemporaries I’ve read because even in the best circumstances there are failures, stupid things said, people who don’t care or don’t love, people who do worship violence and do not want peace. People lie and cheat and take things they have not earned. And it questions the most irritating of all occurrences in novels where kids are whisked away to magic school: WHY DOES NO ONE USE PENS?!!?!?! Because honestly, Harry Potter was too damn lazy to be that excited about quills, color-changing ink be damned, and Ron would have adopted that Muggle tool in a hot minute. I defy you that anyone as bookish as Hermione didn’t have a freaking pen and stationery collection. In this instance, Elliot is better than Hermione by a long shot. You heard me.

-This is definitely a book for the people who found themselves agreeing a little bit with Eustace Scrubb. Who found his “WTH?!” reaction perfectly rational. We want to believe we’d be a Lucy, but face it – more of us are Eustaces.

There are so many more things that I liked but I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say…Sisters, the first Break Up, Being that Person that Is Oblivious to Others Crushing on Them So Often Its Embarrassing.

Anyway, IN OTHER LANDS is absolutely a 5/5 read for me. Get this book, fall in love with it, buy it for everyone you know.

Back to back 5/5 reads for me recently, as I started reading it right after finishing The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. These were excellent books to read back to back as both deal extensively with cultural differences and basically not being a disrespectful boob.

 

Review – Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. And that’s just the beginning. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (4/5)

I read Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson was released on January 24, 2017 and I read it on July 8, 2017 – in a single day. I stayed up late to finish it, and it’s taken me a week and a half to try and review/react.

The number one thing I need you to remember when reading this book is the evergreen wisdom of Dr. Gregory House:

EVERYBODY LIES.

Every person in this story is broken and/or jaded and/or unwell and no one is honest about anything, either with others or with themselves.

A synopsis from Amazon:

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

Part of what drives the tension of this novel is that you don’t know the truth, and you gradually become aware that Mary is not a reliable narrator; even less reliable than your average teenager due to both who she is as a person and the trauma that she has experienced. This book is full of awkward, painful encounters and conversations, and relationship dynamics that are more about the benefit to the parties rather than actual emotion or connection. It’s hard because you want Mary to connect or have the opportunity to connect so badly, but at the same time her walls are justifiable. Mary has lived a ridiculous life – and I don’t mean that in the pejorative, I mean absurd. Darkly, darkly absurd. Like a clown car of terrible things and sometimes you’re not sure which parts are true.

The thing I want you to believe is true: this is the worst case of how the system works, but it is in fact accurate to the system. Jackson mentions in her acknowledgments the young women that she interviewed – please remember that when you read this book. This is not an example of the extremes used for drama in a novel – it’s part and parcel normal. The craziness is the individual case, not that the system has so catastrophically failed the young men and women in this novel – it’s the most realistic piece. Also, next time there’s a wild story I want you to consider how media affects court cases and the opportunity to have a fair trial. None of Mary’s experience with the system surprised me, and almost further justified her behavior while I was reading.

I saw some of the twists coming, and I’m not sure how intentional that was for some of them. However, it didn’t effect my engagement with the story because it made me wonder more how the revelations or changes would change the course of events, or if Mary would get what she wanted. It also makes you question if you want Mary to get what she wants. I’d be curious to talk to people who have a positive impression of literally any character by the end of this book. You don’t hate all of the characters by any means, but if you finish the book and aren’t upset, uncomfortable, or full of pity or empathy for these characters you need to read it again.

There is a pretty big revelation in the last pages of the novel. This is not surprising. What was surprising is that the reader spends the entire novel inside Mary’s head – some of the things revealed feel totally out of nowhere, or not setup as much as I would like them to be earlier in the story. However, given that Mary is unreliable and we are simply another audience that Mary is performing to, maybe I am just struggling with being caught off guard so currently it’s not a negative comment so much as my brain is still going “WTF?!?!?!” It felt like there were two Mary’s at the end, and I am still sorting through the pieces of the story in my brain and resolving them into a coherent picture.

I had some really fun conversations with my mother-in-law when I finished as well – she’s a court reporter so she’s definitely seen some shit, and I work in Title IX so I’ve seen plenty myself.

In conclusion, this book will scare the shit out of you and I highly recommend it. I enjoyed Mary’s voice as well as the tension and frustration I felt while reading. It was a new emotional experience for me – I think a lot of books lean toward heartbreak and make me cry – and this was not that kind of emotional experience. I was definitely emotional, but I was almost…furious? exhausted? I’m not sure, but I wish more books would do this. 4/5 stars for me, and definitely adding Tiffany D. Jackson as someone to track their next release.