Review | Saga: Book Three

Saga: Book Three by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples (artist)

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I had no idea when I picked up the first volume of Saga in 2015 that I was going to become so invested in the series!  I read comics as a kid, sure, but this is not your average comic and it’s certainly not kid-friendly.

While Saga is full of sex and violence, it’s also a beautifully illustrated tale of family and acceptance with social commentary on the pulse of current hot button topics.

Readers follow Alana and Marko, two soldiers from different planets in a long war to destroy each other.  Alana (from Landfall) and Marco (from Wreath) are in love and on the run from both Landfall and Wreath for betrayal of their own kind.  Once their daughter Hazel is born, they’ll do anything to protect her.

The family collect friends like Izabel, the ghost of a girl killed in the war who is bonded to Hazel; and foes, like the assassin known as The Will who is never more than a step behind.

Along the way, Hazel and her grandmother are captured and held in a Landfallian prison while Alana and Marko maintain an uneasy alliance with one of their biggest enemies, Prince Robot IV.

Alana and Marko are eventually reunited with Hazel and it isn’t long before the couple realizes they’re expecting a second baby and settle for a time on the comet, Phang.

Saga: Book Three collects volumes 7-9 (issues 37-54) and let me just say I was not emotionally prepared for the heartbreaks endured.
While Alana and Marko should be enjoying their reunion with Hazel, they face a miscarriage after a dramatic exit from the comet Phang.
Old foes return and the family must make decisions about their future but are interrupted by an enemy’s arrival.
A shocking cliffhanger leaves readers stunned and in need of the next issue immediately …only to find that creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are taking at least a year long hiatus from the series to recharge.  Vaughan promises they will return because the story is not over yet, with plenty more major events.

Saga has been going since 2012 and has built a community of faithful readers emotionally invested in the lives of the characters.
All of the characters, from the family members to their pursuers, are well developed and genuine; each adding to the storyline in compelling and necessary ways.

Hazel is a fantastic and honest narrator giving readers are given a candid look at war with all its prejudice and violence, but also an assertive look at family, love, and devotion.

If you appreciate innovative stories, whether you’re a regular reader of graphic novels or not, Saga is a series worth checking out.  It’s a wildly creative sci-fi/fantasy covering contemporary issues.

Thanks to Image Comics and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Saga: Book Three is scheduled for release on June 4, 2019.

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Review | The Vinyl Frontier

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott

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In 1977, NASA approved a team led by Carl Sagan to create a message representing Earth and humanity that would travel into deep space on the Voyager probe.  The message would contain a playlist of music, sounds, and pictures; essentially it would be a mixtape introduction to Earth for any extraterrestrials that may discover the probe at some point in time.

“When a group of scientists, artists and writers gathered in Ithaca, New York, to begin work on the Voyager Golden Record, they were attempting to capture the soul of humanity in 90 minutes of music.” *

One of the first decisions to be made was how the message would be delivered as it needed to be preserved for a long period of time in the harsh elements of space.  A record would allow a great deal of information to be preserved in a compact space and the groove could carry not just sound but also encoded photographs.

Next, there needed to be some basic criteria for selecting music and images.  An important early decision was to avoid politics and religion (which would confuse extraterrestrials) and to skip artwork entirely; the music would be the art and the photographs would be the facts.  Concerned that images of war and violence could be seen as a threat, the group decided to leave this part of history out of an introduction to extraterrestrials and instead promote Earth as seen “on a good day”.

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is a fascinating look at the group who created the record with insight into the music and photographs that were selected.  The author conducted interviews with those directly involved in selecting the content on the Golden Record and compiled many facts from the testimony of the Voyager team found in Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, written in 1978, just months after the probe launch.

There is some “info-dumping” with scientific explanations that are at times overwhelming and/or confusing for readers with little-to-no background in the field (*ahem* that would be me!), Scott does an excellent job of discussing the facts in an entertaining and conversational way.

While The Vinyl Frontier focuses primarily on the music, it also gives readers a brief look into NASA’s opinion of the record and its message (and the one thing they didn’t want to send to ETs that could offend the American people… *spoiler alert: it was the female anatomy*) and what the U.S. government added at the last minute (*spoiler alert: it was a list of names of officials …because ETs will totally understand and appreciate four pages of names!*)

The Voyagers 1 and 2 both contain a copy of the Golden Record; a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk with an aluminum cover electroplated in uranium-238, which has a half life of almost 4.5 billions years.
I like to imagine extraterrestials finding the record sometime in the next billion years, understanding the mathematical instructions to play it, and hearing Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode for the first time in deep space.

Both Voyagers served us well, gathering data from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Nepture throughout the 1980’s.  Now, they’re cruising in deep space, carrying a message that may someday be heard by intelligent life we cannot even begin to fathom.

“Both spacecraft are still beaming back information about their surrounding through the Deep Space Network. We are still receiving readings from these amazing machines, almost half a century after their launch, with instruments aboard enabling technicians and astronomers on Earth to study magnetic fields, investigate low-energy charged particles, cosmic rays, plasma, and plasmas waves. Both Voyagers are expected to keep at least one of their functioning instruments going into the mid-2020s.” *

If you’d like to see a list of all the images, music, sounds, and greetings on The Golden Record, along with photographs of its manufacturing, visit the link here.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Sigma and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is scheduled for release on May 21, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Furious Hours

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

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I was fascinated with the character of Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird when I was a kid.
When I re-read the novel for my high school lit class, I was in awe of the layers of the story and its topics that are only complicated by growing up.  Scout kept it honest and that’s what made her the perfect narrator; the adults are what complicated matters.

I knew Harper Lee had never published another novel but when I decided to look into work she’d done in the following years, I immediately hit a dead end in the age of Google.  Lee valued her privacy above all else and stepped out of the spotlight almost immediately after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, which brought with it instant wealth and fame.  While she was quick to reply to letters from readers, she rarely gave interviews or attended events.

I wondered if she’d written TKAM and decided it was her one and only masterpiece and put down her pen, if she’d written privately for years but never shared because she feared or resented the spotlight, or if she simply became overwhelmed at the thought of a follow up to such an important novel.

After turning in her final draft of TKAM to her publishers, Lee accompanied her life-long friend Truman Capote to Kansas where she assisted in researching the shocking murder of the Clutter family.  The notes taken by the pair later became the true-crime novel In Cold Blood, which is considered Capote’s masterpiece.

Little did I know that Lee learned about a serial killer in her home state of Alabama and a case that was so compelling she decided to write her own true-crime novel which she tentatively called The Reverend.

Lee (as far as we know about the secretive writer) didn’t write that true-crime novel but now author Casey Cep has pieced together the facts of the case that Lee spent years researching in the upcoming novel Furious Hours.

Readers are given the history of the small Alabama town where rural preacher Reverend Willie Maxwell grew up and what little is known about his early life.  Then, things take a curious turn.  Five of Maxwell’s family members die over a short period of time, all under highly suspicious circumstances, while Maxwell holds multiple life insurance policies on each.  With the help of lawyer Tom Radney, Maxwell is found not guilty of the murder of his first wife and manages to collect large sums from the life insurance companies who were refusing to make payment because of the blatantly obvious crimes.  In each case, the police never gather enough solid evidence to charge Maxwell with murder.

At the funeral for his last victim, Maxwell is shot dead by Robert Burns in front of hundreds of witnesses.

Robert Burns is aquitted… with the help of Tom Radney, the same lawyer who had previously defended the Reverend.

Writer Harper Lee is sitting in the courtroom during the trial, taking notes on what she hopes to be her next novel.

When Lee sat down to figure out how to write The Reverend, she realized she needed a protagonist, and set her sights on lawyer Tom Radney, who worked both sides of the curious case for years.  Radney was willing to help Lee in any way he could to get the book written and more importantly, he was an ideal morally complex character.  Radney had kept Maxwell out of prison and profited from the multiple insurance litigations and then in a surprising turn of events went on to win an aquittal for Maxwell’s murderer.

The problem was that Radney wasn’t a reliable narrator.
Lee wanted accuracy and it was maddening to find that her protagonist misremembered events of both the case and his own life.
Looking into the early life of Maxwell was equally troublesome because there were so few records of his life before the murders.

Short on facts, worried about the writing process and possible implications, Lee’s writing floundered.  While those close to the private author knew never to ask what she was working on, she had offered information through the years on The Reverend, and the vague details given turned into myth as people have attested to wildly different levels of its progress.

Furious Hours is divided into three parts: The Reverend, The Lawyer, and The Writer.

Casey Cep gives us the solid facts on the life of the Reverend, from the sparse details of his beginning to his dramatic end at the funeral of his final victim.

Next, we learn the facts of Tom Radney’s life leading up to his work in the cases involving Willie Maxwell.  Cep was able to gather a wealth of information about Radney, who passed away before she began researching this book, thanks to the help of his family.

Last but certainly not least, Cep sticks to the facts of Nelle Harper Lee’s notoriously private life.

The mystery surrounding Lee’s life and work has fascinated me to no end since I was a teen so when I learned last year that someone had taken the time to research both and that at the center of that mystery was a true crime story, there are no words for the level of excitement I experienced.

Casey Cep did an exceptional job of researching the case of Willie Maxwell and Harper Lee’s surprising involvement.  Lee did not write the true-crime novel she set out to but thanks to Cep’s research, the dramatic case has finally been placed into the hands of readers with what I believe to be the same fair and accurate reporting that Lee would’ve given.

Both a fascinating true crime story and a candid look at Harper Lee’s life and effort to write a second novel, Furious Hours is a compelling novel that does justice to both stories told.

I have been anticipating this novel for months.  I cannot possibly thank Knopf Publishing Group and the First To Read program enough for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee is scheduled for release on May 6, 2019.

Review | Dreaming Darkly

Dreaming Darkly by Caitlin Kittredge

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Ivy Bloodgood is aged beyond her seventeen years thanks to a rough childhood with a mentally ill mom with a transient lifestyle.
Ivy is shocked to learn after her mother’s suicide the surprising secrets that were kept from her; most of all that she has an uncle Simon on Darkhaven, an island off the coast of Maine, living in the crumbling Bloodgood mansion.  Her mother’s childhood home will now become her own.

As soon as Ivy steps foot on Darkhaven there is a sense of foreboding.  The creepy housekeeper Mrs. MacLeod doesn’t exactly make a great first impression and is quick to lay down some ground rules:

“This island is seven miles long, but for your purposes the road ends at three and a half. You stay on the Bloodgood side of Darkhaven, am I clear? The Ramseys don’t like trespassers, and the state of Maine gives them ample right to shoot you if you cross the property line.” *

The Ramsey family has lived on Darkhaven as long as the Bloodgoods though there is a serious feud between the two that spans generations.  Of course Ivy immediately wanders the island without considering its property lines and runs into Doyle Ramsey, the resident cocky high school guy and sworn enemy of her family.

It’s Doyle who begins to share with Ivy the history of the Bloodgoods and the Ramseys, which includes some cold-blooded murder and a good old-fashioned curse.

Ivy begins an uneasy friendship with Doyle while trying to get her uncle Simon to open up with the truth about the family curse and her mother’s illness.  Simon seems to be just as skilled as her mother with keeping secrets so she enlists the help of Doyle to find out the truth… and quickly, because Ivy fears she’s beginning to battle the same inner demons as her mother.

“And it was clear to me there was something dark about my family’s island, something that gathered tragedy to it like a magnet. Thirty years ago four people had vanished without a trace. My great-grandfather had massacred the Ramseys. My mother had gone mad there. And now Neil Ramsey was dead, and near as I could tell, somebody was following me, on Darkhaven and now the mainland.” *

Dreaming Darkly was an impressive YA gothic mystery full of family secrets, curses, and rumors that had me glued to my reading chair!  I loved the atmosphere and the mystery.

I’m going to sound like a broken record here if you’ve read several of my previous reviews in the YA genre:  my only complaint is that the story suffers slightly because of the fast pace and lack of character development.  We get a lot of history since it’s important to the plot but would’ve been even better with more detail.  Also, the instant attraction between Ivy and Doyle is believable but the trust Ivy immediately places in Doyle is tough to believe because of her past; I would’ve appreciated further character development.  I adore that the author didn’t give us a romance because it would’ve been completely out of place in this story.

If you need a creepy gothic mystery in your life, this book is worth picking up!

Thanks to Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Dreaming Darkly is scheduled for release on April 9, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Mera: Tidebreaker

Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige, Stephen Byrne (Illustrator)

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Mera: Tidebreaker is a YA graphic novel that offers up the origin stories of DC characters Mera and Aquaman.

Xebel princess Mera is tired of living under Atlantean rule and under the watchful eye of her father.  The King wants nothing more than to protect his daughter and see her marry her childhood friend Larken who can rule Xebel and protect Mera.

The King gives Larken orders to find the lost Atlantean prince Arthur and bring back his head.  When Mera overhears this, she decides she’s going to find the prince herself and earn her right to the throne.

When Mera reaches land she makes immediate contact with Arthur. She’s too weak from surfacing on land to kill him but he’s kind enough to bring her back to his home to recover, no questions asked.

Once she regains her strength, Mera puts off killing Arthur because he’s so… well, nice. It’s obvious he has no idea that he is heir to the throne of an underwater kingdom.  The war between Xebel and Atlantis has nothing to do with Arthur.
Mera struggles with her determination to rule Xebel and overthrow Atlantis and laments the fate of the innocent Arthur.

If Arthur learns who he truly is, can the two change the fate of their kingdoms?

This read more like a middle grade graphic novel than YA for me.
If this is meant to be an introduction for young readers to the characters Mera and Aquaman, I think it should’ve given some back story on why the kingdoms of Xebel and Atlantis are at war.

Also, it is not explained beforehand that the prince of Atlantis is in hiding and doesn’t even know who he truly is.  It seemed like Mera left the ocean and chose the first Arthur she happened to meet.

Annnnnd… the instalove.  I know this is YA and because it’s a graphic novel the plot is more brief but I’m so tired of characters falling in love after two days and the love becoming the main focus.

Although there are plot holes or what feel like plots holes because of vague or missing explanations, the story still started strong:  Mera wants to rule her kingdom and be a strong warrior like her mother was and she isn’t going to stand by and let other people decide her future.
When she takes her future into her own hands, she immediately falls in love and all those fierce beliefs take a back seat to Arthur, causing the story to suffer and the ending to be anticlimactic.

Overall, this was a decent graphic novel that targets middle grade/YA readers to introduce the characters Mera and Arthur (who will later become Aquaman).  I would’ve appreciated more of the story and a much stronger conclusion but this will appeal to young readers interested in the DC Universe.

Thanks to DC Ink and NetGalley for providing me an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Mera: Tidebreaker was released April 2, 2019.

Review | Gimme Some Sugar

Gimme Some Sugar by Molly Harper

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I am not a romance reader at all but the Southern Eclectic series is so charming I can’t help but return to the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop.

“Most people had nightmares about mortuaries. They didn’t spend Christmas in one. But he was proud that the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop was a Lake Sackett institution. Or the McCready’s belonged in an institution. It was a thin line.” *

I reviewed book two, Ain’t She a Peach?, here on Roots & Reads last year.

Book one, Sweet Tea and Sympathy, followed the story of Margot and her place within the hilariously dysfunctional McCready family as well as her romance with elementary school principal Kyle Archer.

Book two, Ain’t She A Peach?, introduced us to Frankie, the funeral home embalmer/county coroner who fell in love with new sheriff Eric Linden.

In the third installment of the series, Lucy Brewer leaves behind city living in Texas after the sudden death of her husband to return to her hometown of Lake Sackett, Georgia with her young son Sam.

Lucy’s working hard to open her own bake shop, Gimme Some Sugar, though her overbearing mother-in-law Evie seems to be working against her.  Evie seems to think Lucy should be lying in bed grieving instead of starting a business.  Not to mention the fact Lucy has put Sam in a preschool instead of letting his grandmother watch him while Lucy works. It’s safe to say Lucy and Evie do not see eye to eye on anything, which causes a lot of friction.

It isn’t long before Lucy reconnects with Duffy McCready, the boy she fell in love with as a kid.  They were best friends through high school until everything changed.  Duffy never had the guts to ask out Lucy and after getting his prom date pregnant, he did the honorable thing and married her right after graduation.  Lucy decided to marry her high school beau Wayne and follow him to Texas.

No one knows that Lucy’s marriage to Wayne essentially ended long before he died unexpectedly and yet she feels guilty at the thought of moving on so quickly.

Duffy offers to help Lucy out by building cabinetry for her bakery but soon their easy friendship is complicated by their history.  Their budding romance has Duffy’s ex-wife and Lucy’s mother-in-law determined to ruin their second chance.

Molly Harper has created such a genuine cast of characters; the Southern charm and humor is so entertaining and I fall back into this quirky small town and laugh out loud with every book.

What I love about this series is that the romance is not lovey dovey and is secondary to the character-driven story that follows the McCready family.  Gimme Some Sugar is lighthearted and fun and another cozy read in the series.  While I enjoy starting a series from the beginning, each book has enough brief back story that you can pick up anywhere without feeling lost.

Thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Gimme Some Sugar is scheduled for release on April 2, 2019.

*Quote included is from a digital advance readers copy and is subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Invited

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

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The Invited is described as “a chilling ghost story with a twist”, which captured my attention completely!

Helen and Nate are tired of their comfortable yet exhausting life in suburbia.  When Helen inherits money after her dad passes away, she and Nate decide to build their dream home – with their own hands – in rural Vermont.

As luck would have it, there is a highly motivated seller ready to unpack a forty-four acre property.  When Helen and Nate place a low offer, they’re surprised when it’s quickly accepted.

Helen becomes fascinated with local history, namely the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman suspected of being a witch who lived and died on their property almost a century ago.

“This land–their new home–was meant to be; it had been waiting for them, calling to them. But the thought was not entirely a warm and comforting one; no, it was more like a prickle on the back of the neck. It both drew her to the place and made her want to get in the car and race all the way back to their condo in Connecticut.” *

While building their home, Helen and Nate discover that a local teen named Olive believes Hattie Breckenridge left behind buried treasure near the bog on their property.  Olive has been trying to scare away the new owners with some creepy late night antics but once caught, she offers to help with work on the home to pay back damages.

We learn through alternating chapters that Olive’s had a rough home life recently because the small town gossip mill is churning out stories about her mom’s disappearance.  Everyone thinks she ran off with an unknown man she was rumored to be having an affair with.

Olive introduces Helen to her aunt Riley, a local historian who knows quite a bit about the history of Hattie Breckenridge.  While the two women are researching the mystery of what happened to Hattie’s daughter, Helen is searching for locally sourced building materials for her home when she finds a header beam at the salvage yard that is connected to the story of Hattie Breckenridge.

“She reached up, touched the header beam in the doorway. She imagined it had a pulse like a living thing. A living thing with a memory of its own. And maybe, just maybe, the power to call someone back. A historical artifact turned talisman. What if objects didn’t just hold memories, but held traces of the people who’d touched them, threads that connected them still?” *

With each new item she brings into the home they’re building, Helen seems to be conjuring Hattie, who is leading Helen to something …or someone.

“How could she explain it? This feeling she had, uncovering little pieces of truth about these women and the lives they led. It was like Hattie wanted her to find them. Hattie was guiding her, helping her to bring them all together like this, these generations of Breckenridge women. And now, to save one of them.” *

Helen is building a haunted house that gets her closer to finding out what Hattie wants while Olive is searching for clues into her mother’s disappearance. They are seeking answers that could lead them to each other in surprising and unexpected ways.

The Invited was not what I expected but in a great way!  I was expecting a horror story about malicious spirits in a creepy house and was surprised to get a paranormal mystery covering several generations of women.

When Helen began to collect the “talismans” for her home, I was rolling my eyes and thinking, “Oh Helen, what are you doing?  Bless your heart, you’re just asking to be haunted and possessed.”
Imagine my surprise when I realized that was definitely not the direction this story was headed after all!

While most of the plot twists were obvious, I was unsure of one until the very end.  This was an atmospheric gothic mystery that held my attention from start to finish.  The history of the Breckenridge women was compelling and the present day stories of Helen and Olive and how they tied into the past were well done!

Thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Invited is scheduled for release on April 30, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | The Book of Flora

The Book of Flora (The Road to Nowhere #3) by Meg Elison

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Meg Elison’s sci-fi dystopian trilogy began with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife.  A fever has spread, killing the majority of woman and children and making childbirth deadly.  In the aftermath, the world is a dangerous place to be a woman.  Men roam in packs searching for surviving females, a valuable commodity in post apocalyptic America.
An unnamed woman travels from California dressing as a man and using different names; she describes her journey in a notebook.  She’s searching for a safe community where she can teach others what she knows about medicine, preventing pregnancy, and assisting in birth.  Her greatest hope is that both a woman and infant will survive childbirth.

In The Book of Etta, Etta is raised in the town of Nowhere.  Women are still in danger of becoming slaves or dying in childbirth.  In Nowhere, mothers and midwives are sacred, and so is the book of the unnamed midwife.  Etta dresses as a man and goes by the name Eddy to scavenge surrounding areas for useful objects from the past while dodging slave traders.  When Nowhere and the people she loves become the focus of a dangerous and powerful man, Etta risks everything to create an epic uprising and maintain her freedom.

The Book of Flora picks up where book two left off.  The surviving residents of Nowhere have found shelter in the underground Mormon city called Ommun.
The people from Nowhere clash with the leader of Ommun on almost everything and the main characters (Eddy, Alice, and Flora) set out in search of a new home.
The journey is told by Flora, a trans woman we met in book two who fell in love with Eddy.  She explains her past, from her childhood to how she ended up in Esteil in book two.
On their journey to find a new home, Flora finds Connie, a child who doesn’t identify as either gender.  Connie eventually leaves when their beliefs clash and Flora grieves the loss at the same time Alice becomes a mother to a living child.

The Book of Flora was all over the place for me.  While it’s a continuation of the first two books and it’s necessary to read those in order to truly understand what’s happening in book three, this felt very different.  It remains focused on gender identity and equality but an evolution theory that is hinted at throughout and is confirmed at the end of the book left me scratching my head.  It felt as if it was introduced as an afterthought and solely to create tension between two characters, leading up to what could be a dramatic ending that honestly fell completely flat and unresolved.

The character Connie wasn’t fully developed so their beliefs and motivations made no sense to me.  Their return at the end of the book, which had been building suspense, was rushed and lackluster.

Book one, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, could be read as a standalone; in my opinion it was the strongest book in the trilogy and definitely worth reading for fans of sci-fi/dystopia.

The Book of Etta was a decent continuation of the world we were originally introduced to with brand new characters.

The Book of Flora fell apart for me.  I was looking forward to following the characters we met in book two but it felt as if the author was trying to build a dramatic conclusion that was a letdown for me personally because it was unfocused.
We followed Flora’s life and feelings and were only briefly introduced to her child, Connie.  Connie’s return at the end because of a discovery they made just wasn’t compelling.  If it was supposed to be shocking or dramatic, Connie should’ve been more central to the plot rather than a footnote.

Thanks to 47North and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  The Book of Flora is scheduled for release on April 23, 2019.

Review | Little Darlings

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

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Lauren Tranter is exhausted.  She’s given birth to twin baby boys, Morgan and Riley, and suffered a postpartum hemorrhage.  She has barely slept (thanks to the hospital’s lame rule that doesn’t allow fathers to stay overnight), her nipples are raw and cracked from breastfeeding, and she’s beginning to worry.

“She was still waiting for the rush of love. That one you feel, all at once the second they’re born, like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. The rush of love that people with children always go on about. She’d been looking forward to it. It worried her that she hadn’t felt it yet.” *

From the other side of the curtain in the maternity ward in the early morning hours, a woman is singing a creepy song.  When Lauren asks her to stop, the young woman explains that she too has twin babies, though hers are cursed.

“‘Let’s deal,’ hissed the horrible woman, bringing her face up close to Lauren. ‘What’s fair, after all? We had everything taken, you had everything given. Let’s change one for another.'” *

This is when Lauren finally feels that rush of love; she will do everything in her power to keep her boys from harm.  As the woman continues her raving, Lauren escapes with Morgan and Riley to the locked hospital bathroom and calls for help.

“‘Choose one,’ said the woman, ‘choose one or I’ll take them both. I’ll take yours and you can have mine. You’ll never know the difference. I can make sure they look just the same. One’s fair. Two is justice done.'” *

When hospital security respond to her call, they find no evidence that a stranger gained access to the locked ward and cancel the police assistance.

Detective Sergeant Jo Harper sits down the following morning at her desk and scans the calls from night shift.  She’s intrigued by the call and though police assistance had been cancelled she decides to visit the hospital to follow up anyway.

Hospital staff have decided that Lauren’s exhaustion caused a hallucination of the terrifying woman.  When Harper asks Lauren what she believes, she says that she isn’t sure she can trust her thoughts.

Once Lauren is safely home with the boys, they begin to settle in.  The problem is that her husband Patrick is a grade-A asshole.  He decides that both of them shouldn’t lose sleep at night so he sets himself up in the spare bedroom.  His logic is that if he sleeps well at night he’ll be better able to help during the day.  Also, Lauren should really get used to taking care of the boys alone since he’ll be returning to work. (I have so much to say about this but for the sake of this review, lets just all agree Patrick is an asshole.)

Though struggling through sleep deprivation and anxiety over the horrible scene at the hospital, Lauren finds herself in the newborn stage where time loses all meaning; days pass in the blink of an eye and yet you live hours in a span of five minutes.

When she finally works up the nerve to leave the house with Morgan and Riley after weeks indoors, her worst fear is realized when she falls asleep on a park bench by the river and wakes to find the stroller she’d parked next to her is missing.

The police are immediately called in, DS Harper is on scene searching the riverbank where she’s spotted tire tracks thought to be from the stroller going into the water.  Several minutes later Harper finds a woman down the trail and it appears she’s pushing the stroller into the water.

The woman is arrested and the situation looks even worse when it becomes obvious she’d been having an affair with Patrick (remember what I said: asshole).  It seems to Harper that this woman had obvious motive to stalk Lauren and abduct the twins.

When the boys are brought back to Lauren, she’s inconsolable.  They are not her boys.  The evil woman had taken her boys are replaced them with her own.  She remembers a story about changelings from a book called Twin Tales.  The only way to get her boys back is to throw the changelings into the river.  Grabbing the stroller, Lauren runs for the river.

Now Lauren is placed on a mental health hold that lasts three days. She realizes people will think that she’s crazy if she tries to explain that the real Morgan and Riley have been stolen away. She has no choice but to find a way out of the facility and back to the river where she can exchange the changelings for her own.

Little Darlings really messed with my emotions.  I remembered all too well those exhausting days with a newborn:  all the worries, exhaustion, overwhelming love and fear, the time warp of sleep deprivation, the emotional rollercoaster and of course trying to both mentally and physically recover from childbirth.

I rooted for Lauren as the story unfolded, knowing how easy it is to feel like you’ve lost touch with reality in those first weeks after birth.  I was mad at myself when I began to doubt her!  That final scene gave me all the feels and made me wonder if we’ll get a second book — but don’t worry, it’s not a cliffhanger!

I loved that this psychological thriller was inspired by the folklore about changelings; it’s not only creepy but also preys on a mother’s worst fear, making the main character extremely relatable for me.

I liked the small bit of history we receive on DS Jo Harper, it gave me a better understanding of her persistence on the case. My biggest complaint is that the history of the creepy woman and her twin boys was explained at the very end of the book and it was really only a brief mention.  There was potential for some great detail and back story that would’ve taken this book to the next level in my humble opinion.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Little Darlings is scheduled for release on April 30, 2019.

*The quotes included are from an advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

Review | Sherwood

Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

sherwood

A retelling of Robin Hood where Maid Marian becomes the hero?  Why yes, I absolutely need to read that!

Robin of Locksley, loyal to the crown, dies in Jerusalem saving his king.  His betrothed, Lady Marian, receives the news from Guy of Gisborne, who has arrested the brother of her maid.

Leaving behind no heir, Robin’s land will soon belong to Gisborne, who upholds the law for the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Gisborne wants to wed Marian, explaining to her that it may make the transition easier for the people of Locksley.  Marian believes he only wishes to possess everything that Robin once had.

When Marian finds out that Will (her maid Elena’s brother) is being hunted in Sherwood Forest, she doesn’t have time to think about her actions:  she dons Robin’s cape in an attempt to disguise herself from Gisborne and his men and saves Will from the executioner’s hood.

“Robin’s spirit was not at rest, but it wasn’t Sherwood Forest he haunted — it was Marian. She carried him in her thoughts, and she would carry out his will with her own hands.” *

Marian returns to Sherwood the following day where she meets Little John and Alan, who advise that Will had been eventually caught by Gisborne, though not before telling them the spirit of Robin of Locksley had returned and saved him.

Marian continues to don the cape of her beloved Robin and, with the help of her merry men, sets in motion a daring plan to save Will, feed the poor who are becoming poorer thanks to the greed of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and outwit the cold and calculating Gisborne.

“‘Merry men,’ Alan muttered, sounding a bit sour. ‘Gisborne called me merry. How is that meant to be awe-inspiring, in the centuries to come when our tale is told and retold?'” *

Gisborne believes that Marian may be helping the caped hero now called Robin Hood, or at least hold some sort of loyalty to him.

“The name of Robin Hood was everywhere, in the jokes told by the guards, in the whispers of the servants, and in the conversations over needlepoint and music in the solar.” *

The closer Gisborne becomes to discovering the real identity of Robin Hood, the more Marian’s hatred for him draws her closer to him.  He may uphold the law but she will uphold justice.

In a tense sword fight in Sherwood Forest, Gisborne will learn the truth. What side will he choose?

This was a highly entertaining retelling of Robin Hood.  I adored Marian becoming her own hero while honoring her beloved.  It includes some great action scenes but mainly focuses on her ever-changing perspective of Robin and the testing of her loyalties.  The complicated relationship she had with Guy of Gisborne was surprisingly one of my favorite parts.  I appreciated Marian’s character development and her flaws.
While I would’ve loved a little more backstory (we get some great but too-brief flashbacks between chapters) and the romance to have more time to naturally progress (it felt a bit too forced), this was a beautifully written story that focuses on the strength and badassery of Maid Marian.

If you enjoy classic retellings and the original Robin Hood, this is a great book to pick up!

Thanks to HarperTeen and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  Sherwood is scheduled for release on March 19, 2019.

*Quotes included are from an advance readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.