Seanan McGuire: Every Heart a Doorway

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

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

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

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

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

No matter the cost.

It’s been awhile since I’ve used this gif for a review, but I need to use it now.

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I’m going to start by acknowledging that this book has an asexual protagonist–and not like “oh, this character doesn’t have sex so we are inferring.” She comes right out and says “I am asexual.” That deserves it’s own applause. So here you go.

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There’s also a transgender character and other queer characters. This is literally a book full of LGBTQA+ representation. ALL THE APPLAUSE.

And that is really the point of the book. This is a marvelous metaphor for those trying to come out of the closet. Their parents keep forcing them back in–sending them away to get help, ushering them away from society, behind closed doors and from the life they truly want to live. There’s a boy who decides he’d rather be “in the light” than face the Nonsense. He can’t live in the darkness so he leaves the school and goes home to be with the normal people again. Everyone else is trying so hard to find their way back to their doorway, to their “real home.”

Because the place where their parents live isn’t actually home, not really. They can’t be themselves there. They want to be in a place where people accept who they are, even places like Nonsense or Logic (those are opposite ends of the compass, of course).

This book ended way too soon for me. I no sooner entered the House for Wayward Children before I was thrust back out again. It’s only 173 pages, and I needed MORE. The world is brilliant, the story is brilliant, the characters are brilliant. I need to be hearing about more people reading this. I’m sure I’ll be throwing at a few people, so look out. It’s coming your way.

Have you found your door yet?

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James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia

On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia-and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history.Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops, friends, and rivals in love with the same woman. But both are obsessed with the Dahlia-driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to capture her killer, to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of postwar Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl’s twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.

Next week is Banned Books Week, and then we have #OwnVoicesOctober. I’m telling you this because I’ve been so disappointed in my reviews this week and hopefully I can get some decent reads after this. Besides Toni Morrison things have been a little rough around here lately.

I’ve been trying to read The Black Dahlia on my phone a chapter at a time and I have just not been having it. I finally gave up. Noir just isn’t my genre, generally. It’s dark and gritty and incredibly sexist. And it’s always got this horrific voice to it. You know what I mean–it’s always the SAME voice. Cocky-ass detective in a floppy fedora talking about some bird with the legs, trying to solve some murder on poor innocent females.

BD is the same exact voice, same exact theme, except it’s true crime, not something made up. Two boxers-turned-cops in the 40s worked a horrific murder. I didn’t get much further than that, mostly because of the voice. I just couldn’t stand it.

So, nope for this one. At least I can mark it off on the Boxall’s list. Making some progress with that!

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Fulfills Boxall #115. This post contains affiliate links.

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Review: The Woman in White

‘In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white’

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

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I’ll be real honest with you. I had no flippin’ idea what was happening in this book for the first half. This was one that I had to Wiki before I could start following the plot! That helped a LOT.

Don’t be afraid to cheat, kids. At least not when reading literature.

Once I did, I realized that Wilkie Collins 1)was a goddamn genius; and 2)probably confused the hell out of every single person in the 1850s. Think about the modern detective novel:  multiple perspectives, multiple narratives, documents as plot devices, and of course redirection. Those things we all expect now, but in fiction written before the turn of the century? I have never seen that before. It’s always written with one narrator, a steady, but pretty predictable plot. There might be some twists and creativity, of course, but The Woman in White does not look anything like a normal 1850s novel.

And that’s why I couldn’t follow it at first. I was expecting the normal classic pattern, and that is not what I was getting.

There IS a fair maiden, trapped in an arranged marriage, in love with someone else. But she’s not even the heroine of the story. She is the victim, and a secondary character. It is her sister–ugly, dark, mustachioed–who plays the femme fatale, with mind instead of body. The men may love fair Laura, but Marian is everybody’s friend and confidante, in on the schemes. She was by far my favorite.

Mental illness plays an interesting role in this as well, especially for the time period. Again, instead of being super stigmatized as it normally would be, the leads try to help the woman suffering instead of sending her back to the horrible asylum where she was kept.

Nothing in this book is normal or predictable. It was long, and hard to read, but once I found the rhythm I found I did not hate it. I can’t say I like it…not yet…but at least I understand it. I am intrigued. It’ll go onto the reread list for someday. I think a second read-through will make everything more clear.

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Fulfill’s #112 on Boxall’s List

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Review: The Shadow of the Wind

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

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This book reminds me of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, in that it feels a lot older than it actually is. It was written in 2005, but as I was reading it, I thought it was actually written decades ago. Of course, it makes sense later, when the epilogue skips to 1960–but the text reads like much older literature than this millennium for sure.

The story itself is extremely complicated, with layers upon layers that build until the climax at the end. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail because there is just too much to discover here on your own, but it’s definitely one of those stories you have to focus on. It doesn’t hurt to take notes either. You never know when something insignificant might come back up again!

These historical fiction mysteries are always good for a brain workout. Goodreads has this listed as Fantasy too, but I don’t see how that is an applicable genre for this book. Definitely interesting, though, and one to pick up if you’re looking for something dark and thrilling, without being gory or overly scary.

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The Drowning Tree

August Penrose created the stained glass ‘Lady Window’ to adorn the chapel of the university he founded for the daughters of the women who worked in his factory, the Rose Glass Works. Depicting his wife, Eugenie, as the Lady of Shallot, it’s a mesmerizing portrait that has come to embody the spirit of the school itself. But now, eighty years after it was created, the ‘Lady Window’ is due for restoration. The task falls to former alumna Juno McKay. She’s restoring it with the help of her friend, Christine Webb, an art historian who is researching the window for her thesis. Christine seems to have discovered some new evidence that suggests that Clare, not her sister Eugenie, was the subject for the ‘Lady Window’. But before Christine can discuss her findings with Juno, she’s found dead in a boating accident that eerily echoes that fate of the Lady of Shallot. But did she drown or was it something more sinister? As Juno starts to make her own investigations into just how Christine died, she learns more about Augustus Penrose and his family. The ‘Lady Window’ was not the only thing the Penroses’ bequeathed to the world. Madness and deception also form part of their legacy.

I am in such a state of emotional shock from this book that I hardly know where to begin. Even the genre doesn’t do it full justice–gothic suspense thriller–no, no no! That is all wrong! It is so much more than that!

Carol Goodman’s plot takes place within the world of academia and art history, as Juno dives into her friend’s research of a local artist’s famous work. The story weaves in and out of myths and poetry, paintings and stained glass, real and still life, past and present. All combine to become a deeply beautiful, moving book that still is able to remain a mystery until the very end.

The setting is rooted not only at the academy, but also within the nearby mental hospital. A few of the characters have mental illnesses, and Goodman has shown this from all angles. Be prepared to see it from the days when it was still called an asylum. Be prepared for stigma and prejudices from institution workers around lobotomies and other such procedures. But there is also plenty of points of view from those who have the disorders, and it’s clear she did her research there. Trigger warning for suicide and drug overdose.

I really loved this book. I read it on a dark, rainy sick day and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect book for that mood. It’s not a happy book, and I definitely have a hangover from it. I’m looking at what is supposed to be next and laughing, because there is no way I can move on to that right now. This was just too good. Add it to your buy list–I sure am!

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Dark Matter

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable–something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

You’ve probably seen this book posted everywhere–it’s been on Goodreads, NetGalley, Blogging for Books. I haven’t seen it in the Tumblrspace yet, but it’s coming, I promise. One of the Goodreads ads has a quote from Lee Childs:  ” I think Blake Crouch just invented something new.” He’s not wrong. I keep trying to come up with something to compare it to, and I really can’t. When I told Nicole at Pure Geekery to pick this up, all I could tell her was it was sciencey, and kind of a thriller about a physicist? How else do I describe it?!

Really the only thing I can think to tell you is that it’s like a choose your own adventure in real life. Only Jason didn’t really get to pick his adventures.They just happened. And they certainly weren’t super cool and awesome–mostly just terrifying, like every anxiety-ridden stress dream I’ve ever had.

I can’t go into any further detail than that without spoiling the book for you. And I really don’t want to do that because it’s awesome. Remember back when I said I didn’t like Sci-Fi? Who was that person? I think I just wasn’t reading the right Sci-Fi. Clearly.

Fans of Peter Clines and Ernest Cline are going to love this. (Which, by the way, are they related? Probably not, but same name, similar genre…something fishy there.) Anyone who loves TRUE sci-fi, like the kind where you actually take a deep dive into scientific principles, like physics–you are going to love this. If you love mind twisters–you’re going to love this. Can I stress any more that YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE THIS?! It comes out today. Click any of the links in this post and go buy it immediately.

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NetGalley and Crown Publishing provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases July 26. All links are affiliate links.

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The Wolf Road

In the remote wilds of a ravaged land, Elka has been raised by a man who isn’t her father. Since finding her wandering in the woods when she was seven, he has taught her how to hunt, shoot, set snares and start fires–everything she needs to survive. All she knows of the world outside is gleaned from whispers of a cataclysmic event that turned the clock back on civilization by a hundred and fifty years and reduced governments and technology to shambles, leaving men at the mercy of the elements–and each other. 

Everything changes when Elka learns that the man she has been calling father is harboring a terrible secret. Armed with nothing but her knife and her wiles, she decides to escape his clutches and sets out on a long journey to the frozen north in the hope of finding her long-lost parents. 

But as the trail of blood and bodies grows in her path, Elka realizes that daddy won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, she’ll have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about what he’s turned her into.

Cold Mountain and Silence of the Lambs are two of my very favorite books…but I never thought I’d see them combined. Then throw in a little Mindy McGinnis post-apocalyptic and you have such a weird combination of civil war era Appalachia meets psychological thriller meets modern ruin. What the heck even is this book?

Brilliant. That’s what this book is. First of all, the voice written into the narrative is unmistakably Appalachia hill country. How she captures that so clearly, I don’t even know. Accents can be super hard to read sometimes but not Elka. I fell into it as naturally as if I were really there.

Secondly, I just reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally loved this story. I don’t even know what else to say about it besides that. You have two very different female leads–think Ruby and Ada from Cold Mountain–fighting across country, saving each other along the way. And guys….THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY. Like, MEN DO NOT SAVE THEM THEY SAVE THEMSELVES. ROMANCE DOES NOT FACTOR IN TO THESE WOMEN AND THEIR STORY. (Until the very end but it’s only a very minor drop in the hat and only as a building block to something else.)

I seriously didn’t even realize that until I wrote that sentence. I’m so used to there being a love story or a hero swooping in to save the day that I didn’t notice. THIS IS A REALLY GOOD BOOK AND YOU SHOULD READ IT.

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Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided a copy for an unbiased review.

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Baby Doll

Held captive for eight years, Lily has grown from a teenager to an adult in a small basement prison. Her daughter Sky has been a captive her whole life. But one day their captor leaves the deadbolt unlocked.

This is what happens next…

…to her twin sister, to her mother, to her daughter…and to her captor.

Let me start by saying I had a very different review planned for this book. And that I really hate it when this happens. Because I honestly liked Baby Doll. It probably would have gotten a 4 from me. Is it “The Next Gone Girl!”? No. But it’s a great thriller, and a solid view of PTSD and recovery.

However, sometimes my “write the review immediately after reading the book” policy will bite you in the ass.

Because this happened in the Epilogue, two minutes before the close of the book:

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There is absolutely no reason to fat-shame there. Zero. It’s completely out of character for Lily. The scene is supposed to prove how strong she is, how far along her path of recovery she has come. She’s also a grown woman. While I understand her abuser degraded her, I still think it should have been shown in another way. That sentence could have been removed completely. Reading that shatters all illusions I have about Lily and the world she lives in.

Nope. Book ruined, just by that sentence. Doesn’t that suck so hard?

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NetGalley and Redhook provided this ARC for an unbiased review.

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Vanishing Girls

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW. You guys, how many times do I say–ALWAYS write the review immediately after the book? I screwed up, ok? It was a beautiful weekend, and we were out on the patio, and I forgot my notebook. Nobody’s perfect.

This was my first Lauren Oliver. HOW? I really thought I’d read her previously to this, but I guess not. Anyway, I’m a bit of a mixed bag of feelings. The story that sort of steady, fun thriller pace that I enjoy. I was constantly entertained, and I read this fairly quickly. I was engaged with the characters through most of the book.

Unfortunately, I found the ending to be very predictable. Maybe it’s because of my prominent choice of reading material, but it just wasn’t a surprise to me. Still, I do feel it was the natural course of the story, and a good choice by the author. I am still very anxious to read more by her.

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Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Liane Moriarty and her deadly good story-telling strikes again. I haven’t seen Women’s Fiction this good since My Sister’s Keeper (really, nothing I’ve read by Jodi Picoult has measured up to that one, although I still have a great many of her books yet to read). Now that I’ve read four in a row, I’ve really seen just how far her reach can go. Every single plot was meticulously mapped from the beginning, and gone over with a fine-toothed comb to match every single detail.

Big Little Lies is now my favorite of the four, perhaps because it has a different mapping than the other three. With the others, we knew what was happening, but the characters didn’t. We were almost omnipresent–watching the characters figure out the details. The stories were far from boring, however, because we still had to pick together the pieces of how everything fit.

In Big Little Lies, however, we know someone has died at school trivia night. We know there has been some huge conflict between the parents, and between the children. We just don’t know who or what yet. The scene is set via Moriarty’s ability to break apart the chapters with both multi-person narration and other writing devices to see outside the box–in this book she uses a journalist’s interview with the parents to get multiple POV.

The story is super thrilling. I mentioned in one of my previous reviews that her books feel like a master laying dominos down, and Big Little Lies is a perfect illustration of that. She waits patiently for us to THINK we know what is about to happen and then *clickclickclick* down they all come.

She also covers a lot of BIG topics in this one. Bullying. Sexual assault and date rape. Domestic violence. PTSD. The sexual trafficking of children. They are wrapped in a women’s fiction/thriller, but Moriarty is making some very clear points here. Don’t let those go unnoticed.

I’ve added everything from her Goodreads page to my TBR, and I’m following her now too. I can’t stand to miss a single thing this woman puts out. It’s bound to be keep me falling off the edge of my seat.

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I received a copy of this book from Berkley Publishing via Twitter Contest.

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