ARC Review: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27) by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27)

Author: Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bantam/29 May 2018

Edition: eARC



Barnes and Noble:

With the New Year just around the corner, winter has transformed the cozy Blue Ridge Mountain community of Crozet, Virginia, into a living snow globe. It’s the perfect setting for Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen to build a new work shed designed by her dear friend, local architect Gary Gardner. But the natural serenity is shattered when out of the blue, right in front of Harry and Deputy Cynthia Cooper, and in broad daylight, Gary is shot to death by a masked motorcyclist.
Outraged by the brazen murder, Harry begins to burrow into her friend’s past—and unearths a pattern of destructive greed reaching far back into Virginia’s post-Revolutionary history. When Harry finds incriminating evidence, the killer strikes again.
Heedless of her own safety, Harry follows a trail of clues to a construction site in Richmond, where the discovery of mysterious remains has recently halted work. Aided as always by her loyal, if opinionated, companions, crime-solving cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and Tee Tucker the Corgi, Harry hunts for a link between the decades-old dead, the recently violently deceased—and ancient secrets that underlie everything. And while other deaths are narrowly averted in a flurry of fur, the killer remains at large—ever more desperate and dangerous. The deep-rooted legacy of corruption that’s been exposed can never be buried again. But if Harry keeps pursuing the terrible truth, she may be digging her own grave.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, murder, poison, gun violence, physical violence, racist/xenophobic language, and miscarriage/pregnancy loss.

I had expected better of this book than what I got; though it wasn’t the worst, overall it was quite disappointing. One thing that is less the book’s fault and more my own is that the dual timelines did not work for me at all; though cozy mysteries like this one are usually fine read as standalone books, the historical plot that takes place in the 18th century apparently spans across the book before this one in the series as well as the book following this one. Because of this, the storyline felt incredibly disconnected from the modern-day narrative because it didn’t have anything at all to do with Gary’s murder. What was more odd was that the modern-day storyline read as expected — as if it could be a standalone read out of order even though it’s part of a series. The historical plot was also pretty boring and dry, and I didn’t care for anything that happened during those chapters. Even though reading the books in this series out of order and not getting the previous part of the 18th century narrative from the previous book, I still expect the characters and the narrative to be interesting, and they just weren’t.

The modern-day narrative was self-contained and more interesting, although I wasn’t impressed by it, either. The human characters mostly spent their time bumbling around almost as if they were waiting for the animals to give them clues, and while the animals were snarky and kind of funny when they talked to each other, their scenes were almost entirely consumed by Pewter the cat complaining about a giant spider. I know cozy mysteries often have a very leisurely pace to them, but this was just too slow and repetitive. I don’t mind a book being a leisurely read, but if it’s going to do that then the narrative needs to have enough content to keep my attention. This book felt as if it could have been half the length and still keep its leisurely pace and storylines without sacrificing anything.

Additionally, I was pulled out of the narrative on multiple occasions because of the racism and xenophobia contained in the book. I realize that this book takes place in the south and maybe phrases like “you can pinch a nickle until the Indian rides the buffalo” (9%) might be more commonplace than they are where I live, but it was still off-putting to see in the text. There was also a really weird scene where Harry’s new Black friend, Marvella, basically starts explaining institutionalized oppression to Harry and sort of even tries to turn enduring institutionalized oppression into a “positive,” and it feels really unnatural and weird. This isn’t my lane so it’d be better to seek out opinions of Black readers (or other readers who are PoC for the racism issues as a whole), but these scenes left a funny taste in my mouth.

I was also a bit uncomfortable with physical violence in the book. There is a scene where a “good” character is breaking the bones of a “bad” character in order to keep them in line, and I was cringing through the whole scene because that felt incredibly wrong to me for a number of reasons. It’s just odd to me that something like that would be depicted as acceptable and heroic when it’s pretty terrible and the character clearly has other options or has started doing it just because they can. This just did’t sit well with me.

I found myself really just wishing there was more to this book. It’s pretty average for a cozy mystery and there definitely could have been more to this one. It wasn’t the worst read, but it was underwhelming at best. If you’re a regular Mrs. Murphy reader then you might like this one; otherwise it might be better to look at other cozy cat mysteries instead.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Smoke Thieves

Author: Sally Green

Category: YA Fantasy

Publisher/Date: Viking/1 May 2018

Edition: eARC



Barnes and Noble:

A princess, a traitor, a hunter and a thief. Four teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands. Four nations destined for conflict. 

In Brigant, Princess Catherine prepares for a loveless political marriage arranged by her brutal and ambitious father. In Calidor, downtrodden servant March seeks revenge on the prince who betrayed his people. In Pitoria, feckless Edyon steals cheap baubles for cheaper thrills as he drifts from town to town. And in the barren northern territories, thirteen-year-old Tash is running for her life as she plays bait for the gruff demon hunter Gravell.

As alliances shift and shatter, and old certainties are overturned, our four heroes find their past lives transformed and their futures inextricably linked by the unpredictable tides of magic and war. Who will rise and who will fall? And who will claim the ultimate prize?

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley during LibraryCon LIVE! This book has content warnings for some domestic abuse, violence, and death.

This book was just okay for me — it wasn’t awful, but it really struggled to grab my attention and I felt like I was dragging myself through it without much to hold onto. I didn’t care for most of the characters; the only character I connected with well was Catherine, and her POV chapters were the ones that most easily kept my attention. The other characters bored me to some degree; they were not very interesting and often made decisions that caused me to roll my eyes, and I really don’t like reading characters like that because then I tend to focus on the decisions that they probably should have made and it detracts from the story for me. A bad decision once in a while is one thing; when they’re repetitive I can’t really stand it — and most of these characters were constantly making oddball decisions.

I also struggled with the changing points-of-view in this book. The Game of Thrones comparison is pretty accurate in terms of the book’s structure, but the story hopped between settings with characters that I just didn’t like very much (and not the hate-to-like kind of characters from GoT — just ones that didn’t mesh with me), and that made getting through those chapters to get to the more interesting ones (Catherine’s chapters, primarily) a bit of a drag. The execution could have been better; I felt like I was being jerked around a lot in this book.

The premise of the book was cool and the plot was rather interesting; the characters in the book kind of detracted from that for me, though. It wasn’t a terrible book and I didn’t hate it, but it just wasn’t one that did anything for me. I think this book would work well with some readers, but it wasn’t the right book for me.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Dark Screams: Volume Ten edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Dark Screams: Volume Ten

Editors: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Category: Adult Horror Short Story Anthology

Publisher/Date: Random House (Hydra)/13 March 2018

Edition: eARC



Simon Clark, Clive Barker, Heather Herrman, Wrath James White, Marc Rains, Lisa Tuttle, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch unleash the terrifying truths behind love, loyalty, and obsession in a sextet of twisted tales presented by preeminent horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for violence, war violence, death, child death, gun violence/shootings, and homomisia.

After really enjoying the ARC of Dark Screams: Volume Nine a while ago, I was really looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as I’d enjoyed the previous volume in the series. I feel like this was largely because the first story of the anthology, “Bastion” by Simon Clark, took up a full 50% of the length of the entire anthology, and I didn’t care for it at all. It felt under-developed for its size, and I thought that a lot could be cut out of it without harming the story at all. If it really wanted to be something of a longer length, it could have gotten made into a novel with deeper character development and more worldbuilding. For its size, that story fell really flat with me — I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and there wasn’t enough explanation behind the war that was going on that these children were fighting for me to care. If a story is going to take up a full half of an anthology then it really needs to be something that shines, and this one didn’t do it for me.

I did enjoy several of the other stories; “The Woman in the Blue Dress” by Heather Herrman was a standout for me that was really creepy and connected with me really quickly. Likewise, “Seven Years” by Wrath James White was hard-hitting and powerful, and I really enjoyed it.

I didn’t run across any stories in this anthology that I truly disliked, but there were more stories that I felt ambivalent about than ones that I really enjoyed, and that was a bit disappointing. This anthology is a pretty quick read, and there are several stories that I would recommend. If you don’t like Simon Clark’s story, though, you might feel a bit disappointed with this one.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: I Believe In A Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: I Believe In A Thing Called Love

Author: Maureen Goo

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)/30 May 2017

Edition: ebook



Barnes and Noble:

Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

This book has content warnings for relationship abuse (manipulation).

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved the beginning of it. It was cute, charming, funny… And then Desi went off the rails, and I couldn’t stand it. This wasn’t a bad book, but there were parts that made me feel very uncomfortable and I believe those need to be discussed.

Let’s start with the positives. First off, I LOVED Desi’s dad. Rarely ever is a parent my favorite thing about a YA book, and yet here we are. He adored his daughter, had his own distinctive interests and personality (his reactions while he watched K Dramas were the best), and had his own character arc when it came to his grief over Desi’s mom’s death (not really a spoiler — you know about it within the first couple pages as it happened before the story started) and their relationship history. I don’t think I’ve ever been so genuinely happy when a parent walked back into a scene during a book; he was just so delightful.

I also really loved the idea of taking the typical structure of a K Drama and applying it to real life. As many characters pointed out in the book, the idea of doing that is ridiculous and yet it had so much hilarious potential. For the first few steps in the plan, it was adorable and charming that Desi’s plan to charm Luca was somehow actually working, and I was rooting for her. And then I wasn’t.

I was with Desi up until the point where she literally put her life AND Luca’s life in danger for the sake of the plan. *SPOILER* No matter what, you don’t intentionally crash someone’s car to get them to like you. No. Wrong. Bad. It’s not cute, it’s not charming, and it’s not funny. Someone could get seriously hurt or even killed. And the worst part was I didn’t feel like Desi had all that much remorse for causing the accident. She kind of implied it, but that wasn’t enough. *END SPOILER* This kind of behavior is abuse, and manipulation in relationships is extremely serious.

What made the manipulation worse for me is that Luca had clearly acknowledged that his previous girlfriend had been manipulative and that he didn’t want a girlfriend because he didn’t want to be with someone like that. Yet Desi is being just as manipulative, to the point where she’s messing with people’s lives multiple times, and she gets away with it. I am not okay with this. I am not okay with abusive partners getting away with their abuse.

I felt really frustrated because this was a really fun read, and yet I couldn’t enjoy it to its full potential because of the issues with abuse. I’m giving the book an okay rating because I genuinely enjoyed the bulk of it, but I have to take off two stars for the abuse.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Nevertheless, She Persisted edited by Mindy Klasky

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Book Café Anthology

Editor: Mindy Klasky

Category: Adult Science Fiction (Anthology)

Publisher/Date: Book View Café Publishing Cooperative/8 August 2017

Edition: ARC/eBook

Nineteen stories of triumph in the past, present, future, and other worlds.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Those were the words of Mitch McConnell after he banned Senator Elizabeth Warren from speaking on the floor of the United States Senate. In reaction to the bitter partisanship in Trump’s United States of America, nineteen Book View Café authors celebrate women who persist through tales of triumph—in the past, present, future, and other worlds.

From the halls of Ancient Greece to the vast space between stars, each story illustrates tenacity as women overcome challenges—from society, from beloved family and friends, and even from their own fears. These strong heroines explore the humor and tragedy of persistence in stories that range from romance to historical fiction, from fantasy to science fiction.

From tale to tale, every woman stands firm: a light against the darkness.

I received an ARC via LibraryThing. Content warnings for Mindy Klasky’s short story “Tumbling Blocks” for graphic depiction of rape of a teenager, and for Sara Stamey’s short story “Reset” for graphic depictions of domestic violence.

This anthology was just okay to me. It’s partially that the stories just weren’t to my taste, but none of them really stood out to me in particular as my favorites. I enjoyed many of them while I was reading, but out of nineteen stories I can really only tell you about a couple of them because the rest were kind of forgettable.

I felt largely disappointed for the lack of intersectional perspectives in this collection — while there are a couple of Jewish authors and one of the story featured polyamorous f/f characters (in a story that was just… weird…), as far as my search skills could tell me, all of the authors were white. In fact, there were more stories written by white men in this collection than by women of color (there was ONE story by a white man, but one story by a man is still more than zero by WOC). As an anthology that is marketed as an anthology of stories about women overcoming challenges, there is a huge lack of stories by the women who face the most discrimination in our current society.

I also really want to bring up the racism present in Irene Radford’s story “Den of Inequity.” This is a quote from the story (content warning for child rape mention):

“And these?” Angela spread three more photos in front of us, all men, different ages, different races, different economic groups determined by expense of haircut and clothing.

“Sorry. We get a lot of people through here, regulars as well as strangers. I don’t remember any of these men.” But the ancient Asian man wearing elaborate silk robes brocaded in gold resembled someone who had stumbled through the door and straight into the fire without bothering with a drink. He’d been convicted of raping eighteen children; five of them died. He couldn’t live with his crimes (addiction) any longer and sent himself straight to Hell. Almost a redeeming act, except he’d taken control of his death and not left it to the big man upstairs.

The middle-aged black man in a well-made off-the-rack suit had drunk his fair share of special beer, sobbing about the people he’d made homeless by embezzling their mortgage payments to the bank he worked for. Gabe had set him straight and told him how to set up a trust fund to repay those he’d duped.

Ariel had taken care of the blond man with slightly up-tilted eyes suggesting Slavic origins, who’d fallen into the trap of selling drugs to young teens. She’d found the right rehab and job training for him and ordered him into volunteer work helping the people he’d lured into the downward spiral of drug addiction and escalating crimes to pay for them. (44%)

First of all, it’s PRETTY obvious how the white man is treated here compared to the “Asian” man (whose actual race is never specified) and the Black man. The white man here had “fallen into [a] trap” while the men of color are responsible for their crimes. The white man is obviously not at fault here, according to the story, while the men of color are clearly fully responsible. The contrast here is stark and it pulled me out of the text.

Here’s a fun fact: this “Asian” man and Black man are the only “Asian” and Black characters in the entire anthology that are specified as such. Not just men. All characters.

The men aren’t the only ones who are treated like this in this story; a Mediterranean woman is described as having “olive skin and dark, exotic beauty” (45%). Considering women of color to be “exotic” is a common Western maneuver to “other” them, as they are essentially being told that they are strange compared to “non-exotic” (read: white) women. This minor character, as far as I can tell, is the only non-white woman present in the anthology outside of the “Past” section, which are all stories set centuries in the past.

When you’ve got nineteen stories in an anthology about empowering women, your only depictions of people of color should not rely on negative depictions and stereotypes. As individual stories, many of these stories are quite good; “Unmasking the Ancient Light” by Deborah J. Ross and “After Eden” by Gillian Polack (both of whom I believe are Jewish — kind of shows how much I felt intersectionality was needed in this collection) were clear standouts to me.

The individual stories in this anthology themselves, for the most part, were not the problem for me. The problem I had was how the collection was presented together. It’s not a bad thing for a feminist anthology to have stories about white characters; it is a bad thing when almost all of the characters are white. This anthology rang a little too “white feminist” for me, and it could have been done better.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars