The Widow // by Fiona Barton

//published 2016//

I usually find it moderately annoying when books told in 3rd person insist on heading each chapter with the name of perspective.  Like yes, I KNOW we’re hearing this from Josh’s point of view because the first sentence is, “Josh turned his head and saw Ellie coming down the hallway.”  I don’t need “JOSH” at the top of the chapter, sheesh.  But in this book, for some reason I loved the way that each chapter stated who it was about – but instead of names, it used their roles:  The Widow.  The Reporter.  The Detective.  While each of these main characters developed into individuals, the truth of the matter was that in this story, their roles were the most important part of who they were.

The Widow is one of those thrillers that I felt like I saw everywhere when it was first published (at the end of the post I’ll link to multiple reviews I read at the time), but since I rarely read ARCs, I’m always a couple of years behind everyone else.  :-D  (But that’s the way I like it…  ARCs are just too much pressure!  I don’t like all those deadlines and feeling bad if I don’t like a book someone sent me.  What I do like is if I feel like reading nothing but trashy Pride and Prejudice variations for a week like I have recently, it doesn’t matter!  No obligations!  Freedom!  :-D)

The pacing in this book was excellent, and was a huge part of why the book worked overall.  We start in June 2010, from the perspective of both the Widow and the Reporter, but after a few chapters, we pick up with the Detective in October 2006.  The Widow’s perspective is first person but everyone else is third person.  It seemed like this should have been annoying, but I actually liked it.  It meant that the Widow’s perspective was still the most biased one, and while I wouldn’t exactly term her as an unreliable narrator, she trended a bit that direction (don’t we all), and I was never exactly sure where the facts ended and her interpretation of the facts began.

At first, there doesn’t seem to be much connection between the case the Detective is working on in 2006 and the story the Reporter is trying to cash in on in 2010.  (Aside:  Don’t worry, everyone has real names in the book, and are only referred to by their titles in the chapter headings.  But for the simplicity of this review, I’m going with titles instead of names.)  But as the two timelines start to merge, bits and pieces come together, and it was done quite well.  I genuinely had no idea if the Husband was guilty or not – like I was pretty sure he was because he’s obviously a manipulative piece of trash, but then something else would come to light and I would wonder if he really was just a victim of circumstance who also happened to be a crappy person.  Why else would the Widow have stayed with him?  I can’t imagine staying with my husband if he was accused of such a crime – unless I was completely certain of his innocence.  Throughout the story, I was never sure if the Widow stayed with him because she knew he was innocent or because she didn’t know what else to do.

In some ways, the Widow was a frustrating person, because she had allowed the Husband to control her for so long.  But  like so many people in emotionally abusive relationships, she just didn’t see what he was doing.  And it’s one of those things – some of what he does isn’t exactly wrong, but then he goes a step too far.  Like it isn’t a bad thing to check in on your loved one and make sure things are alright… but double-checking her stories with other people to make sure they match is a bit creepy.

Pornography is also a big part of this story, and I really, really appreciated that it wasn’t presented as a harmless “private matter” like it so often is.  Instead, the dark truth about pornography was brought forward – how it’s quite addictive, and becomes something that people not only want to see more of, but to see more and more extreme examples of.  I personally feel that pornography is such a huge blot on our society, and it horrifies me how it’s so brushed off as not that big of a deal.  For a modern society that claims to be oh-so concerned about women’s rights, it’s kind of mind-blowing that watching endless hours of women being beaten and raped online is just a “personal choice” that other people shouldn’t get all judgy about, apparently.  While this book wasn’t remotely preachy, parts of this story showed how genuinely harmful pornography can be (and more often than not IS), how the images and concepts that we feed into our brains constantly start to become something that we see as a potential reality.  Anyway, that’s just my interpretation of a thread that’s running through the story, never something that’s explicitly discussed or analyzed in the actual book.

I will say that I felt like the weak point of this book was the actual investigation.  While I liked the Detective as a character, I wasn’t particularly impressed with his detecting skills.  It felt like he just jumped from one random suspect to another without a lot of proof, and there was a witness whose word they took entirely too seriously without any other collaborative proof.  Instead of working through the clues to find a suspect, he would find a suspect and then start trying to make the clues match, and the whole thing made me hope that he wasn’t ever in charge of finding out what happened to one of my loved ones, should I have need of a detective in my future.

Still, for me, this was an easy 4* read.  It was a sad book and in many ways difficult – it’s not a book that I would necessarily read again, but I would definitely be willing to read whatever else Barton brings to the table.  I recommend The Widow if you like your thrillers on the somewhat slow-burn side, examining different sides of a relationship and bringing dark secrets to light.

For some other perspectives, please check out all the reviews from blogs that I follow!  This one was recommended by –

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The Girl With a Clock for a Heart // by Peter Swanson

//published 2014//

This is a book that has been on the TBR since Cleopatra reviewed it in 2016.  As regular readers know, the TBR is a massive thing that continues to grow, rather than shrink, but I do eventually tackle books that have been on there for years, and I’ve started to make more of an effort to note who inspired me to add it in the first place, so that even if it takes a while, I can still give a good review credit!  :-D

I was quickly drawn into this book, and really had no idea where it was heading most of the time.  I finally set aside a bit of time on a quiet Sunday afternoon to just sit and devote myself to reading the last third of this book because I HAD TO KNOW.  In retrospect, this book definitely had some weak points, but it definitely gets high marks for keeping me thoroughly engaged while I was reading it!

Our story opens with a prologue in which George enters a house that has been marked as a crime scene, looking for a message that “she” left for him, some clue that the police would have overlooked as insignificant to their investigation.  He finds a postcard.  And then we go to chapter one.

Basically, throughout this book kept kind of reminding me of something, and when I finished it and was skimming through a few reviews on Goodreads, I came across someone describing this book as “old-school noir” and I realized that that was what I had been thinking of.  In some way, this book reminded me of the Phillip Marlowe books that I read last year – George is the traditional serious, steady guy who gets caught up in circumstances beyond his control because he is drawn there by a beautiful and irresistible femme fatale.

With that in mind, I think this book becomes more enjoyable.  There are, frankly, multiple points in time where I simply could not believe that George would yet again do something crazy for this woman, but I still found myself going with it because even though it’s set in modern times, it had this flavor that felt like they ought to have been in a smoky bar in the 1920’s.

The information throughout the story is revealed at just the right time.  We are following the current events in the present, but also learning of when George first met this mysterious woman – so his reasons for both his loyalty and hesitancy are being presented at critical moments in the current storyline.

In the end, this is a book that I hovered between a 3.5 and a 4.  Ultimately I settled on 4 because I do definitely see myself reading more of Swanson’s books in the future.  While The Girl With a Clock for a Heart wasn’t the most amazing thriller I had ever read, I did find it completely engrossing at the time, and the excellent pacing made me willing to overlook what felt like ridiculous judgments on the part of George.  It was a book that made me race to the conclusion, and then reread the prologue, and then reread random chapters throughout looking for the clues that I had missed now that I had the key.

While I don’t heartily recommend this book, I do recommend it to people who enjoy quick, snappy thrillers that may have a few gaps in character actions.  There was a lot to enjoy here, and I look forward to checking out some more of Swanson’s books in the future.

Under Suspicion Series // by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

  • I’ve Got You Under My Skin (2014)
  • The Cinderella Murder (2014)
  • All Dressed in White (2015)
  • The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016)
  • Every Breath You Take (2017)

A while back I read The Ex by Alafair Burke.  While it wasn’t the best thriller I had ever read, it was solid enough to make me add several of Burke’s other works onto the TBR.  However, when I added this series I didn’t realize that Burke was a co-author.  Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading any of the famous Mary Higgins Clark’s books, so I was actually pretty intrigued to delve into this series.

The first book was written by Clark on her own, and it sets the premise for the rest of the series.  The story opens when Greg, a young doctor, at the park with his three-year-old son, Timmy.  A stranger appears and murders Greg – and only Timmy sees his face.  Timmy remarkably is able to remember that the man had very blue eyes and also that he said, “Tell your mother she’s next, and then it’s your turn.”

Five years later, no further progress has been made on the Blue-Eyed Killer.  Greg’s wife, Laurie, has done her best to move forward with her life, even with the constant threat made by a murderer hanging over her.  Her father, Leo, took an early retirement from his job on the police force in order to help Laurie take care of Timmy.  Laurie works as a television producer, but her last few ideas haven’t done very well and she knows that her next pitch could be her last.

But it’s a doozy – her idea is to have a sort-of reality show that revisits cold cases.  But instead of just talking about them, she wants to pull together all the main players and reenact some of the scenes.  She wants her main focus to be on cold cases where the witnesses are also the suspects – where the fact that the case is still open means that multiple people are still under suspicion – which is exactly what she wants to title her new show.

Although her boss is at first reluctant, she manages to hook him with a cold case that received a lot of media attention at the time, and soon production for the first episode of Under Suspicion is underway.  Meanwhile, the reader is privy to the fact that Blue Eyes is back on the fringes of Laurie’s life – with definite plans for finishing the job he started five years earlier.

I really enjoyed this series a lot, and gave basically all of these books an easy 4* rating.  It felt a little obvious that Clark didn’t originally intend for the first book to be the first in a series – Laurie’s mystery is neatly wrapped up, she’s given a potential love interest for the future, and things overall get tidied – but it works really well as a series nonetheless, with each book being another episode of Under Suspicion.  Laurie is a really likable protagonist, and the other characters grew on me as well.  I was moderately frustrated with the slow speed of her romance with THE PERFECT GUY, but overall that was also a nice thread running throughout.

It did seem as though the endings were sometimes rushed – I especially felt that way with the first book, where things are tooling along and then suddenly ACTION!  DEATH!  MURDER!  SUICIDE!  CHAOS!  And then the end.  Other than that, though, the pacing was good throughout.  The chapters are SUPER short – some of them only a couple of paragraphs long – which I find incredibly addictive.

A new character is introduced in The Sleeping Beauty Killer, and he really brought down my overall enjoyment of that book and the next.  Ryan ended up being THE most stereotyped character in the whole series…  let’s create a male character who is a caricature of every stereotypical negative male trait ever!  It was so annoying, especially since everyone else grows and changes, but Ryan just stays completely stagnant in order to emphasize how EASY it is for men ALL THE TIME, blah blah blah.

But overall these were great thrillers. They had enough twists to keep things interesting, good premises, likable characters (except Ryan), and decent character development over time (except Ryan).  The most recent was just published last year, so I’m hopeful that there may be another addition to the series at some point.  4/5 for the Under Suspicion series on the whole.

April Minireviews // Part 2

I keep thinking that I’m through my blogging funk and am ready to write some solid full reviews… and then I start to write and realize I just don’t wanna!  :-D  So here’s another batch of minireviews from this month…

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

//published 2011//

Before I picked up this book and read the introduction I didn’t realize that it’s actually a book based on a movie.  I’m not completely sure I would have bothered checking it out of the library if I had known that before, as it’s not something I generally enjoy.  And, like other movies-to-books that I’ve read, this one felt a little flat.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, and the third person POV jumped around between characters in a manner that was very choppy and confusing.  There was a lot of potential with this story, but instead it just felt like it dragged on and on and created more questions than it answered.

Why have the villagers been offering sacrifices to the werewolf for years but now all of a sudden decide that it must die?  That was the biggest one for me.  These people have been living with this situation for decades, but all of a sudden it’s this huge emergency/crisis and everyone is flipping out about killing the wolf.  I hated the blend of religion/paranormal in this book, as the “good” guy, who is a bishop or something, is also a total jerk + arrogant + stupid, and goes around proclaiming how he is “working for the power of God” etc etc and it really felt like he could have been the same character minus the constant blathering about God and wouldn’t have been nearly as offensive.  The main character, Valerie, basically sucked and was completely passive and also inconsistent and we had to spend WAY too much time listening to her dither about which guy she should be with; she and everyone else just kind of ran around like a bunch of sheep, making every stupid decision possible.

THEN, the final kicker – there’s no last chapter!  The book just stops!  Apparently, the book came out just before the movie, so they didn’t want the ending spoiled and didn’t post the lats chapter until after the movie appeared.  Now you can go online and read it (and I did, and it genuinely was a terrible ending that STILL didn’t really make the story make sense), but it seems like a pretty obnoxious marketing device to not put the ending in a book.  All in all, a 2/5 for this one – I did want to see how things came out, so I feel like I can’t justify only 1*, but it’s close.

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

//published 1948//

It had been way too long since I had indulged in the sheer joy and relaxation of a Heyer book, and I was excited to read this one for the first time.  I genuinely loved the main character, Gilly, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his ability to get tangled in some genuinely ridiculous situations.  It was funny to read a Heyer that was more about a guy than a girl, but Gilly was so completely likable that I really enjoyed it.  I wish there was a sequel to this book that was nothing except Gilly and his new wife and all of their adventures because I shipped them SO HARD.  4/5.

Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom

//published 1958//

A while back I read the Mountain Pony series by Larom and really enjoyed it, so I checked to see if he had written anything else.  I found a copy of Ride Like an Indian on eBay and took the $5 splurge.  This was aimed at younger readers than the Mountain Pony books – it’s almost a picture book – but it was pretty adorable, even if it wasn’t very exciting.  I enjoyed the reading, but it wasn’t really an instant classic for me.  3.5/5.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup

//published 1988//

I’ve had kind of mixed results from McKillup’s writing.  Everything I’ve read has been good but they have not all been magical.  That was the case with this book.  The story was a pleasant and engaging one, but didn’t have that magic that made me want to add it to my permanent collection.  3/5.

Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

//published 2016//

I read about this book over on Fictionophile’s blog a while back, and thought I would give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed reading it and definitely wanted to see how everything came together, it wasn’t a book that I loved, and it didn’t particularly inspire me to find more of MacDonald’s writing.  For some reason, this book just had a negative vibe for me, and I’m not even sure exactly why.  There is also this weird plot twist where it turns out that two of the characters are actually half-siblings and have been having an incestual relationship.  That was never really addressed as a negative thing and it made me kind of uncomfortable that the conclusion was just that it was basically their business and they should be able to do whatever they feel is right.  Still, that was a minor part of an otherwise decent story.  3.5/5.

The Perfectionists // The Good Girls // by Sara Shepard

//published 2014//

This was my first foray into Shepard’s writing, and also my first experience with this sort of evil YA girls that seems to be a theme nowadays.  But sometimes it’s fun to read something on the edges of where you’re comfortable, and that’s where The Perfectionists was for me.  Even a quarter of a way into the book I wasn’t completely sure that it was for me, despite the immediate action and intensity.  But the further I went, the more hooked I was, and by the end of The Perfectionists I was racing through the pages – and leaped into The Good Girls as soon as I could!

The first book starts with a murder, and the entire premise of the book is centered around the question of whether or not this group of girls killed their classmate, Nolan.  There were five main characters in this book:  Mackenzie, Ava, Caitlin, Julie, and Parker.  It seemed like it should have been confusing, but it really wasn’t, especially since the story was told in third person (past tense! Yay!), which I think always helps – nothing is more confusing than multiple first-person perspectives that all sound the same.  The third-person narrative means that we get to hear the girls’ thoughts and worries, and also get glimpses of other action taking place elsewhere.

The girls manage to be different without being too cliche.  They all attend a “rich kids” school in a Seattle suburb, so at some level are struggling with stereotypical first-world problems, like whether or not Mackenzie is going to get into Julliard and if Caitlin is going to land a soccer scholarship.  But as I got to know the girls better, they had other, deeper problems that were more relatable to not-rich people – one of the girls is struggling with the recent death of a close family member, another is unsure if her long-time boyfriend is still the right person for her, while one has a home life she is desperate to keep hidden from all of her classmates.  Slowly, motives and issues are revealed, and I genuinely had no idea whether or not the girls – or one of them – had killed Nolan.  I had my own personal idea that was proven wrong (and so was idea #2).  The twists never felt contrived, and the information was revealed at a nearly perfect pace.

The ending of The Perfectionists was such a cliffhanger that I honestly knocked it a bit on the rating because of it.  If The Good Girls hadn’t already been published and sitting on my shelf, I would have been pretty genuinely enraged.  Like many duologies, these aren’t two separate stories – they’re two volumes of one story, and I think that publishers need to make that more clear.  For instance, while the cover of The Good Girls says that it’s the sequel to The Perfectionists, I honestly don’t think it would even make sense if you hadn’t read the first book first.

However, I didn’t have to worry about any of that, because I had The Good Girls already checked out the library, thanks to my obsessive insistence on reading all series in order, and I was SO glad!  The Perfectionists ended with another murder, so just when I thought the girls were in the clear, they’re back on the hook for possibly both murders.  These books were kind of interesting because at no point do we get to see how the official investigation is going, or learn any of the clues being discovered and analyzed by the police.  The story focuses entirely on the girls, and I wasn’t completely sure that I could trust any of them!

When I initially read and rated The Perfectionists I only gave it 3.5 stars, partially because of the cliffhanger ending, and also partially because literally every male character in the book was a total jerk – like EVERY SINGLE ONE.  However, several of those characters were redeemed in the second book/had their actual actions and motivations revealed so it turns out they weren’t all jerks, and that was nice.  I was honestly a bit annoyed when I got to the end of The Perfectionists – like are there no decent males left in the world?!  But Shepard did a really good job bringing some of those stories back around to make sense of those secondary characters’ actions, and that helped a lot.

//published 2015//

The Good Girls was incredibly satisfying.  I couldn’t believe how well Shepard brought everything together, and I really, really appreciated the way that she wrapped up a lot of the storylines.  Not everyone got a neat and tidy ending, but they did at least get endings, which is what I want from my fiction.

Usually I don’t really care if I know spoilery kinds of things about books, but in this case I accidentally read a spoiler (my fault, it was clearly marked… I just thought it was going to be a spoiler for another part of the story…) that was for THE big twist in this story.  And while at some level it allowed my mind to be blown while reading the way Shepard was setting everything up, part of me is really sad that I couldn’t enjoy the shock at its full value.  So my advice is – don’t read the spoilers on this one.  For real.

Overall, 4/5 for this pair of books.  There were a few things that kept it from being a full 5* read – the biggest one was a teacher having sexual relationships with students.  And while it wasn’t presented as a positive thing at all, it was kind of presented as just “one of those things” that happen/no actual adults seemed to take it seriously.  I felt like if I was reading this as a young adult and was in a situation like this or knew someone who was, the way it was handled in this book would make me think that it was pointless to bother going to someone in authority about it, because at best nothing would happen and at worst I would be made fun of and not believed.  It felt like that could have been handled better, and it’s kind of a serious topic.

And I realize that this is a personal and nit-picky thing, but a big part of this book is that the girls watched And Then There Were None for their film class, and like that’s a huge part of this book’s plot, and yet Agatha Christie wasn’t mentioned a single time!  I realize they watched the movie and didn’t read the book, but it still felt like Christie should have at least have gotten a nod for creating that incredibly crafty plot, which, in a lot of ways, Shephard built on.

Still, I definitely recommend these books.  I first saw them reviewed over on Heart Full of Books (The Perfectionists and The Good Girls), and their biggest complaint was a similarity between the characters in these books and characters in Shepard’s other book, Pretty Little Liars.  I’ve never read PLL, so I didn’t have that issue, but it was a theme I saw echoed in some of the Goodreads reviews of these books as well.  So maybe these won’t be as good if you’ve read some of Shepard’s other books, but if you haven’t – these are definitely worth the read.

March Minireviews – Part 3

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here, and Part 2 can be found here.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

//published 2012//

I honestly have a lot of mixed feelings about this book.  It was definitely more horror than fantasy, which I wasn’t exactly expecting.  However, it’s still a children’s book so while it was more gruesome than I personally prefer, I personally prefer the most minimal amount of gruesomeness possible, so I may not be an accurate judge.  I think part of my issue with this book was that the central theme seemed to be that the pursuit of perfection is inherently bad, but I’m not sure I agree with that.  If the pursuit of perfection is an obsession that causes you to be cruel or harsh to those around you, then it’s bad.  But I’m honestly a little distressed by a recent trend that I see of taking the “you are wonderful just as you are” to a level that turns it into “you are wonderful just as you are, so don’t bother trying to be better,” and I am not convinced that that’s healthy.

ANYWAY philosophical questions aside, the story itself was engaging from the beginning, although it was slow in spots and had an intriguingly ambiguous ending.  At the end of the day a 3.5/5, and still not completely sure if I would purposely seek out another book by Legrand or not…

I originally added this book thanks to a review by The Literary Sisters, so check their review out for a more overall positive vibe!

The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

//published 2014//

I read another of Bunn’s books not long ago and found it interesting enough that I thought I would give another of his titles a go.  However, The Patmos Deception ended up as an incredibly bland read to me.  The book was very slow in spots and had this strange love triangle that made almost no sense.  Everything fell into place exactly when and how it needed to, and consequently the ending felt unrealistically tidy.  The epilogue was completely pointless, leaving everything even more open-ended than before (including the love triangle).  The plot was disjointed and rather directionless, with smuggling, counterfeiters, stolen artifacts, and a potentially world-changing ancient scroll all muddled together with the economy crash in Greece.  While it earned a 3/5 from me for moments of interest, it definitely wasn’t a book that made me want to find another of Bunn’s works.

Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1917//

I was completely in love with the simplehearted Bill, who just wanted everyone to get along.  This was an easy 4.5/5 – not quite as perfectly funny as some of Wodehouse’s other stories, but still an absolute delight.

Adorkable by Cookie O’Gorman

//published 2016//

This story was a lot of fun, and I always like a good fake relationship trope, especially since Sally and Becks have been friends for so long.  However, Sally’s mom and Sally’s best friend were so obsessed with Sally having a boyfriend that it honestly kind of weirded me out, and I found it really frustrating that they acted like there was something wrong with Sally because she didn’t really want a relationship right then.  Not having a significant other should never be portrayed as meaning you are a less valuable person, especially in high school where I think serious romantic relationships are basically a waste of time and energy anyway.  So even though the romance bit was adorable and fun, I never actually felt like things changed with Sally’s mom and best friend – like it still felt like every time Sally was single in her life, they were going to be hounding her about it, and that was aggravating.

There was also this weird thing about Sally’s dad – like I don’t even know why he was in the story??  She hates him and apparently he’s a jerk, but she never spends any time with him and her parents have been divorced since she was really little, so that felt kind of arbitrary, like the only version of her dad that she has is the one her (presumably somewhat bitter) mother has given her.  I just didn’t get why he was there, he would just pop up every once in a while so Sally could be angsty about him, and then he would leave, and it was kind of pointless.

Even though I’m complaining (like usual) I actually did overall enjoy this story.  While I don’t see myself going out and hunting down more books by O’Gorman, I wouldn’t mind reading one if it came my way.  I originally added this book because of a review by Stephanie, but I have to say that she also felt pretty lukewarm about Sally’s best friend!

Sing by Vivi Greene

//published 2016//

I got this book in a subscription box, and it was so fluffy and devoid of any deep thought that it almost gave me a cavity just reading it.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it definitely was another one that emphasized that necessity of romance in order to make life worth living.  Lily’s character just didn’t really grow or change, and the whole story felt kind of stagnant.  It did have it’s funny, sweet moments and I didn’t hate it, but it’s not one that I’m keeping for my permanent collection.

March MiniReviews – Part 2

Still not feeling the whole blogging thing, so here are some more notes on recent reads.  Part 1 for March can be found here.

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

//published 1872 & 1883//

These are a pair of adorable little stories that follow the very traditional fairy tale format of the good being very good and the bad being very bad.  That said, I still quite enjoyed them, especially The Princess and the Goblin.  There is a lot of adventure here and some fun characters, even if the ending of the second book was a bit abrupt.

I also didn’t realize that these books were so old, because the edition I have is both stories in one volume, which was published around 1970.  But it turns out that the original stories are from the late 1800’s!

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

//published 2007//

This is technically a standalone novel, but I was quite excited to see my old friend Vincent Ruiz from the Joseph O’Laughlin series make an appearance.  Actually, Ruiz is what kept me reading a lot of this book as it didn’t always completely engross me.  For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the sense of urgency, and I didn’t really like Ali all that well.  Also, Ali has been dating a guy named Dave for quite some time when this book opens, and we continue to see a decent amount of him throughout the story.  But Ali tells us when we first meet him that his nickname is “New Boy” Dave (just like that, with quotations around “New Boy”)… and then proceeds to constantly refer to him as “New Boy” Dave for the entire rest of the book.  I can’t explain why this annoyed me, but it did.  Seriously, does Ali always think of this guy she is really serious about dating/is sleeping with/considering marrying as “New Boy” Dave??  It was SO annoying.   I decided to stop by and talk with “New Boy” Dave on my way home.  What.  Even.

Anyway, the story itself was fine.  I feel like it’s really difficult to write a book about immigrants/refugees without becoming somewhat polemic, and because it is such a complicated and nuanced topic, I don’t always appreciate reading books that turn it into something incredibly simplistic (e.g., all immigrants are precious innocents and if you don’t agree it’s because you are a money-grubbing fat cat), but this book handled the topic fairly well.  All in all, a decent read that I did enjoy, but not as much as some of Robotham’s other books.  3.5/5.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

//published 2001//

Velde introduces her slim volume of short stories by outlining what she perceives as the big issues with the classic fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin:  basically, it doesn’t make any sense.  But she then presents five alternative retellings that help make a nonsensical story feel at least slightly more plausible (at least in worlds with fairies and magic).  While nothing earth-shattering, they were fun stories and a quick, entertaining read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

//published 1978//

This is an old favorite of mine that I have reread many times over the year.  It’s such a fun retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of reviewers complain that it’s too slow and that too much time is spent on Beauty’s life before she meets the Beast, but that’s actually the part of this story that I love.  In this version, Beauty’s family is so kind and happy that I would have been perfectly content to spend the entire story just hanging out with them while they adjusted to their new life.  My only real beef with this version is that Beauty spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how plain she is, how ugly, how physically unappealing, etc.  I get really tired of listening to her run herself down, when it’s quite obvious that she just isn’t as stunningly beautiful as her older sisters – probably because she is only fifteen when the book starts and they are in their early 20’s.  Other than that, though, this is a really fun and engaging story, and even if it isn’t action-packed, it has a lot of characters that I love.  4/5.

Rescue Dog of the High Pass by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1958//

This is one of the rare Kjelgaard books that I didn’t devour as a child, probably because the library didn’t have it.  Recently I acquired it as a free Kindle book, and while it wasn’t my new favorite, it was still an interesting story about Kjelgaard’s theory of the origin of the St. Bernard dogs (an event that is actually lost in the mists of time), which of course involves a young hero and his faithful canine companion.  Nothing amazing here, but an enjoying and interesting little story that I would sometime like to land a hard copy of for my permanent collection.