Review | Tinfoil Butterfly

Tinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton

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Emma’s trying to forget the past and finds herself recklessly hitchhiking across the U.S. with a guy named Lowell who has gone from harmless and dumb to a creepy potential serial killer.

Just outside the Badlands of South Dakota, Emma decides to make a run for it and ends up stranded in an abandoned town with a loaded gun and a snowstorm creeping in.

Emma takes shelter in an old diner where she meets Earl, an odd young boy wearing a tinfoil mask.  Earl creeps her out but she’s desperate to find gasoline to get her out of town before the snowstorm hits.

Before long, Emma is pulled into Earl’s isolated world that quickly spirals into a house of horrors.  Confronting the boy’s demons, both real and imagined, brings Emma’s tragic past to the surface and the two make a choice to survive.

Tinfoil Butterfly is a tough book for me to rate.  It’s a horror story so obviously I was willing to suspend my disbelief for a chilling story.  I found myself several times saying out loud, “Nooooo, why would you do that?  Who does that?” when there were major red flags / creepy vibes.  (I’m that person throwing popcorn during a movie and yelling my frustrations at the screen.  From the comfort of my own home of course.)
*Yells at book* Get out of there girl!  I’d rather take my chances walking to the next town in a blizzard!

Emma has a terribly sad and over-the-top disturbing past that readers learn in a series of flashbacks.  Earl’s current situation is also over-the-top and heartbreaking.  I liked that the two characters found kindred spirits in each other but it felt rushed.

Overall, this read like an average horror movie:  I was entertained and appreciated the disturbing atmosphere but was never invested.

And finally, this book is billed as “The Shining meets About a Boy” and that is completely inaccurate.  The comparisons stop at boy in an isolated location.

I’d mention this book to readers who enjoy horror with metaphysical elements.

Thanks to MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.  Tinfoil Butterfly is scheduled for release on September 10, 2019.

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Review | The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

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An epic mash-up of Victorian horror classics including The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, and The Island of Mr. Moreau with the beloved characters detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant/roomie Dr. John Watson set during the infamous Whitechapel murders in London’s East End.

Theodora Goss manages to successfully pull off this mash up with multiple characters and plot points while adding doses of humor and feminism in Victorian England.

Mary Jekyll is penniless following the death of her mother.  She has no idea how she’ll make ends meet when she meets with her solicitor who advises he’s learned her mother had been paying a monthly sum for “the care and keeping of Hyde”.   Mary remembers Edward Hyde, an accused murderer presumed dead, who was once friends with her late father.

Mary consults with Sherlock Holmes on her search for Mr. Hyde but discovers his teenage daughter Diana instead.

Mary and Diana learn through letters about Beatrice Rappaccini, known as The Poisonous Girl thanks to the experiments performed by her father.  Dr. Rappacini once belonged to a secret society called the Societe des Alchimistes, along with Mary’s father.  They contact her in hopes of learning more that could lead to Hyde’s capture.

Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes is investigating the Whitechapel murders when a connection to the society is found at one of the crime scenes.  Mary knows the society was experimenting on young women—is it possible there are members still left in London who are murdering women to continue their experiments?

Catherine Moreau soon contacts Beatrice and introduces the group to Justine Frankenstein.  Catherine and Justine were both created through terrifying experiements performed by scientists.

Together, the women unite to investigate the secret society and solve the Whitechapel murders.
Hyde manages to escape but there are still many questions to answer about the society:  who are the current members? Why were they intent on creating female monsters? How can they be stopped?

I hope we find the answers to those questions in the second book in the series, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, which I can’t wait to read!

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a fun book and I especially enjoyed learning the back stories of the “monsters” Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine!  They’re all interesting enough to warrant their own book honestly.
The plot is clever and weaves multiple classics into something entirely fresh and moves at a fast pace that keeps things interesting.  I loved that the characters interrupt the story from time to time with witty back and forth banter.  While this could’ve been an extremely dark and serious book like the classics it’s inspired by, it’s instead full of humor and girl power.

I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy Victorian era historical fiction, alternate versions of classic literature, fantasy/sci-fi, and modern retellings.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter was published in June 2017 by Saga Press. I’m thrilled my local library had a copy to loan!

Review | The Long Call

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

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Detective Inspector Matthew Venn is standing uninvited outside of his father’s funeral when he receives a call that a body has been found on a nearby beach.

Setting aside his personal grief, he begins his investigation into the murder of Simon Walden.  The case becomes personal when he discovers that the victim had recently began volunteering at the Woodyard, the community center run by Venn’s husband Jonathan.

When a vulnerable woman goes missing from the Woodyard after Walden’s death, the cases at first appear unrelated.  Venn’s superior investigating skills are put to the test as the case hits even closer to home when his mother who disowned him and the evangelical community that he left behind become involved.

The Long Call is an excellent police procedural.  It’s the beginning of a new series from Ann Cleeves and serves as a great introduction to Matthew Venn and his colleagues.  This slow burn mystery kept me invested and clues were revealed at a decent pace.  Nothing is as it appears and Venn and his team piece together the truth in a smart and believable way.
The best part of this book was the complex relationships and I’ll pick up book two to learn more about Venn!

Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Long Call is scheduled for release on September 3, 2019.

 

Review | River of Teeth

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

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Bizarre true story:  The U.S. government once considered importing hippopotamuses into the Louisiana marshland to breed and slaughter for a meat source.  Luckily for us, it didn’t actually happen.  Also lucky for us, Sarah Gailey decided to write an alternate history novella where it did.

Winslow Houndstooth was the most successful hippo breeder in the United States until a hired hand burned the ranch to the ground.  Houndstooth has spent years plotting his revenge and his opportunity has finally arrived.

A man by the name of Travers owns much of the marshland where the feral hippos roam and he relies on the vicious beasts to keep gamblers in line aboard his riverboats.
The U.S. government has decided to hire Houndtooth to rid the trade route of ferals so they can tear down the dam and reopen the river to trade boats headed for the Gulf.

Houndstooth is somewhat compelled by the money to do this but he also knows his old ranch hand Cal is working the gate for Travers and the job will give him the perfect opportunity to deliver his revenge.

Houndstooth assembles a rag tag group of criminals to pull off a caper that’s all completely above board, thanks to the government.  We have Archie, the resourceful con woman; Hero, the poison/munitions expert; Cal, the disloyal ranch hand who knows both Travers and the river well; and the very pregnant assassin Adelia.

This was such a fun novella and I read it in one sitting.  There is modern and diverse character representation here, all with amusing personalities.  The alternate history is weird and entertaining with a Magnificent Seven style Western vibe.  While Gailey does a fantastic job of bringing these characters to life, the story is compact so there wasn’t a chance to develop them or their relationships.

I adored this unique story and its quirky cast and am so excited there is a sequel, which I’ve already put on hold at my local library!

I recommend River of Teeth to readers who enjoy alternate history, fantasy, and diverse character representation.

Review | The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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“You can hide a lot in an acre, in the dirt.”

Elwood Curtis is a bright kid looking forward to high school graduation and college classes.  His grandma has raised him to be a hardworker who plays by the rules and flies under the radar though he yearns to join the civil rights movement.

When an opportunity to further his education arises, Elwood finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time—a very dangerous thing for a young black man in the Jim Crow era South.

The misunderstanding lands Elwood in The Nickel Academy: a segregated reform school that would like the community to believe they’re educating young offenders to become honorable citizens with valuable training in a trade or skill while providing community service to earn their keep.

In reality, Nickel is a horrific prison for young boys and there are only four ways out:  serve your time or age out of the system, court intervention, death, or make a run for it.

“In here and out there are the same, but in here no one has to act fake anymore.”

Elwood struggles with morality as he witnesses the horrors at Nickel and suffers at the hands of those in charge when he tries to stand up for his beliefs.  Elwood’s friend Turner may be cynical and distant but he tries his best to keep Elwood out of trouble.  The two form a powerful bond that will impact their lives forever.

The Nickel boys knew all too well about the unmarked graveyard out back and how you’d end up there if you caused too much trouble.  It isn’t until after the school closes that the world learns of its existence and the bodies that are unearthed finally share their stories.

Elwood knows it’s time to tell his story.  It’s time to make his first visit back to Florida in forty-three years and share what really happened.

The Nickel Boys is a powerful historical fiction novel based on the real Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida and what the world has learned about it in recent years.
Whitehead has given readers the earnest Elwood Curtis to explain the painful journey, outlining his hopes and dreams and giving us a window in to his suffering.

As the story progressed I felt a growing distance from Elwood.  I considered that it could be the character detaching himself from his suffering; a defense mechanism for the reader to witness. Instead of feeling I was part of his internal monologue of thoughts and feelings, I became simply an observer of the events.
The frustration I felt at becoming distanced from Elwood was erased after reading the final chapter and understanding an unexpected piece of the story.

Whitehead discusses the brutal beatings, sexual abuse, and corruption without graphic or gratuitous detail. In fact, what is left vague or unsaid makes the story even more horrific.

Some readers have complained that Whitehead writes this story in an emotionally detached way but I felt that his restraint and ability to get to the heart of the story made a huge impact.  This was life in the Jim Crow era and he shared a story based on actual events in a matter of fact way.  No one was batting an eye about these horrors in the time that they occurred and that is the spirit in which this story is delivered.  That delivery created a huge sense of unease for me, especially considering the fact that these horrors weren’t occurring in a far distant past but just a brief fifty years ago.

The Nickel Boys was published by Doubleday on July 16, 2019.  Thanks to my local library for loaning me their copy.

Review | Rebel Girls

Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan

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It’s 1992 and Athena Graves is figuring out who she is in her Baton Rouge, Louisiana Catholic high school.  She has feminist views, a love for punk rock, and an appreciation for the up-and-coming riot grrrl movement after hearing a Bikini Kill demo while visiting her mom in Washington state over the summer.

Athena is shocked to hear a rumor spreading that her younger pro-life sister Helen had an abortion over the summer.  While the sisters know it didn’t happen, Helen is embarassed and stunned when the guidance counselor removes her from the clubs she participates in based on the accusation.  How can a girl be punished for a vicious rumor and zero proof?

The sisters work together, despite their different views on abortion, to fight the unfairness of the situation.  The title implies rebellion but these girls are not rule breakers and they’re still young enough to fear consequences, even if they feel they’re standing up for what’s right.  They work within the boundaries of the school’s rules to speak out against the injustice in vague but obvious ways while holding back anger against the authority figures who are allowing the problems to continue.  In other words, the characters are completely realistic.

“I knew what the riot grrrl ideals were. Support girls around you. Don’t be jealous of other girls. Avoid competition with them. Being loud and crying in public were valid ways of being a girl. Being a girl didn’t mean being weak or bad. Claiming your sexuality, no matter what that meant to you, was a good thing. And the revolution was open to anyone.” *

The story is genuine and it will offer nostalgia for readers who grew up in the 90’s.  The atmosphere was perfect for the time period and the events are historically accurate.

Rebel Girls is a YA novel that looks at both sides of the abortion debate within an ultra-conservative and religious state.  It does so in a way that will be highly relatable for teens because it focuses on peer reaction and makes an honest effort to fairly portray each side without being preachy or political.
While the guidance counselor and the main “mean girl” could at times be caricatures of the controvery, it didn’t go completely overboard.  There is some romance that didn’t add to but also didn’t overshadow the story.

My favorite thing about Rebel Girls, other than the copious amounts of riot grrrl references, is that it focuses on girls supporting girls.  We do not have to share the same beliefs in order to lift one another up and encourage each other.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy contemporary YA and feminism that looks at timely / controversial topics in fair and relatable ways.

Thanks to Inkyard Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Rebel Girls is scheduled for release on September 10, 2019.

*Quote included is from a digital advanced reader’s copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Nature of Life and Death

The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace by Patricia Wiltshire

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The Nature of Life and Death is a mish mash of autobiography, science, and true crime following the life and career of Patricia Wiltshire from college professor to forensic ecologist.  Wiltshire has helped police solve numerous crimes with the help of nature.  Plants, animals, and pollen have all been key in locating corpses and exonerating innocent people. Her accuracy has been so astonishing its made her one of the most in-demand police consultants in the world.

Sounds compelling, right?  Unfortunately this book could not hold my attention.  It jumped around in time and exciting stories would grin to a halt for massive info dumps.  Pollen suddenly became super exciting for me until five pages later I was bored to tears.  Needless to say I ended up doing a lot of skimming.

The information is fascinating but its delivery is lacking.  I enjoyed learning the author’s personal history which is randomly sprinkled throughout.  The cases she discussed are all interesting — until entire pages were spent describing the act of stooping over a microscope for hours at a time to analyze a pollen spore.  I understand her curiosity and need for accuracy but I would’ve appreciated a breakdown of the process for the average person in a conversational way rather than a student lecture.

I’d probably attend a lecture by the author because again, her story is genuinely fascinating, but this book was all over the place for me.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss for providing a DRC in exchange for my honest review. The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace is scheduled for release on September 3, 2019.

Review | The Second Chance Supper Club

The Second Chance Supper Club by Nicole Meier

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Julia Frank has reached a level of success she’s always dreamed about in broadcast journalism.  The problem is she didn’t realize there would be so much pressure to maintain it.
After a risky on-air claim against the mayor, Julia finds her reputation in ruins and she’s forced off the air while the station does damage control.  Too embarrassed to stick around the city, she hastily boards a plane for Arizona to visit her sister, leaving her fiancee James to figure out what’s going on.

Ginny Frank was once a successful chef in NYC, working in the most elite restaurants and earning a Michelin star.  That all came to a grinding halt when her parents died suddenly in a car accident.  Her sister Julia couldn’t be bothered to leave the city and fly back to Arizona to tie up all the loose ends.  Ginny and her daughter Olive stayed in Arizona after taking care of the estate and started their own secret supper club, Mesquite, around their dining room table.

The sisters haven’t spoken in three years when Julia shows up on Ginny’s doorstep.  Ginny holds a lot of unresolved hurt and resentment against Julia and would love to shut the door in her face but with her underground business barely able to make ends meet, she puts Julia to work.

Together the sisters start over in their relationship and in their careers proving it’s never too late to start over.

The Second Chance Supper Club is a heart warming story about sisters, second chances, and some amazing food served around a table in the Arizona desert.  The story unfolds at a fast pace with everything falling into place for a happy ending.  This is a quick and cozy read- a perfect palate cleanser between heavy reads.

Thanks to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Second Chance Supper Club is scheduled for release on September 10, 2019.

Review | She Rides Shotgun

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

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Nate McClusky is looking forward to an early prison release when he runs into trouble with the powerful gang Aryan Steel.  It isn’t until the night before release that he’s tipped off that there’s a greenlight on him—and everyone he’s ever loved, including his eleven-year-old daughter Polly.

Polly is wise beyond her eleven years.  While it’s been years since she’s laid eyes on her dad, she recognizes him when he pulls up outside of her school in a stolen car.  She knows immediately that something is terribly wrong.

Uncertain at first of what to do, Polly soon determines she’s safest with Nate and the estranged father and daughter create an unbreakable bond against the world trying to break them.  Nate begins to teach Polly how to defend herself while pulling heists to put pressure on Aryan Steel in an effort to get the greenlight lifted.

As time runs out, Nate goes to rival gang La Eme to work out a deal to make sure Polly is safe.  What he doesn’t understand yet is that Polly will do anything to save him.

“He could have laughed at how fucked up life was. That soon as you found something to live for, you found something to die for too. But he guessed in the end if was a good trade.”

She Rides Shotgun is dark, gritty, and full of violence.  You would think that the plot wouldn’t work with an eleven-year-old girl but it does; in fact, it puts a spin on a common story that makes it down-right compelling.  (If you watched the movie The Professional back in the mid-90’s, you know what I mean.)

The relationship between Nate and Polly feels authentic, the danger feels real and palpable, the atmosphere as they travel across California is rich and cinematic.  The violence is not gratuitous, it is part of the plot and adds to the high stakes.

She Rides Shotgun is a fantastic novel I read in two sittings!  I didn’t want to put the book down as the stakes were raised and the relationship between Nate and Polly grew.  I recommend this book to anyone who loved The Professional and readers who enjoy gritty thrillers that shake up the genre a bit.

Review | To the Bones

To the Bones by Valerie Nieman

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Government auditor Darrick MacBrehon stops for gas off an isolated West Virginia exit and ends up in a mine crack for his trouble.  He wakes up disoriented in the hole surrounded by skeletal remains and crawls out in search of answers.

Lourana Taylor is ready to close up the local Redbird, West Virginia sweepstakes for the Thanksgiving holiday when a man staggers in with a bloody head wound.  She doesn’t want any part of his trouble until he explains that he woke up in a mine.
Lourana’s daughter Dreama has been missing for 18 months and she knows that it has something to do with Dreama’s employer, Kavanagh Coal.  Almost everyone in town is employed by the company and willing to turn a blind eye to the river running orange with acid.

“Outsiders say we’re fatalistic, or backward. That we keep mining for the money, even when it’s destroying our land. What they don’t get is the pride part. For a man to go under the earth like his daddy and earn a good living for his family. So yeah, we know that the mines poison the rivers, tear up the roads, wreck our lungs. Nobody knows that better or feels the pain of it worse. We ain’t stupid. You’d be surprised how many guys with college degrees are running the longwalls. It hurts to see the damage, but it’s worse when the mines close and there’s no place to work, and families slip away one at a time till there’s not half a town left.”

Lourana is certain her daughter didn’t up and leave without telling her, which is the only reason why she’s back in Redbird: to find Dreama.  What happened to Darrick is obviously the work of the Kavanaghs, which means it could be tied to Dreama’s disappearance too.

Lourana and Darrick search for answers with the help of deputy Marco DeLucca and journalist Zadie Person.  Marco is an old friend with a soft spot for Lourana and he knows he’s close to finding answers when the sheriff pulls him off Dreama’s case.  Zadie is investigating the acid mine spill and its connection to several disappearances, including Dreama’s.

The powerful Kavanagh family founded Redbird and controls the land and effectively its people. They feed off the hard work and dependence of the miners and take advantage of their faith.

Lourana and Darrick think they’ve discovered what the Kavanaghs are hiding but the deeper they go, the more secrets (and bodies) are revealed.

To the Bones is a strong novel that manages to be an honest portrayal of a small town dependent on the coal industry while also including horror, mystery, and supernatural elements without sending the story over the top.  All of the elements work together to make a plausible and compelling story that is a metaphor for modern day Appalachia.

Thanks to West Virginia University Press for sending me a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.  To the Bones was released on April 25, 2019.