Pretty Little Killers by Daleen Berry

Genre: nonfiction crime
Secondary genre: contemporary history
Format: audio
CW: violence, drug use
Rating: planchet-4

What drives two teenage girls to commit murder?

Even more shocking, what would drive them to stab their best friend over a dozen times?

This book delves into the disturbing case of Skylar Neese, a teen girl who vanished in 2012. She was missing for five months before one of her best friends finally confessed: Skylar was murdered the same night she went missing.

Starting with the background of how the girls met and the society they grew up in, the story tracks the three girls as they finish middle school and start high school, and the complex and warped turns their relationships take. Could the crime have been prevented? If people had been more willing to come forward, or paid more attention, would Skylar still be alive? If the police had been more careful, would her killers have been caught sooner?

It sounds strange to say I “enjoyed” this book, but it was a very compelling read, and extremely thorough.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classics
Secondary genre: romance/drama
Format: audio
CW: infidelity, antisemitism, suicidal ideation, suicide, emotional and financial abuse
Rating: planchet-4

**This review contains spoilers**

Are you in the mood for a surprisingly modern classic novel that weighs roughly the same as a small child? Then have I got a book for you!

All joking aside, even on audio this book took me a good long time to work through. I had to start out with the narration on a slower (for me) speed (1.4x) while I adjusted to the Russian naming conventions (Russian names are weird. Familiarize yourself before you start reading Russian lit or you will be very confused as every has 3-4 names). About a third of the way through I was able to up it to my usual 1.8x.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this this book. Infidelity is one of my hot button issues; I will frequently DNF a book if it comes up. It drives me crazy for reasons I won’t get into here. But, despite being written by a white dude in the 1870s, it was refreshingly feminist (Spoiler: the feminism ends abruptly when Anna commits suicide because she can’t stand being scorned, separated from her son, or the fear of her paramour leaving her). Though society maligns our titular character for carrying on an affair and leaving her husband, the author questions why Anna is an outcast in society while her brother, who is a serial cheater and ends up abandoning his wife, is still welcome in all the best drawing rooms in St. Petersburg, leaving her to the mercy of her sister and brother-in-law.

At one point, there’s even a really great conversation about the working rights of women and if they should be allowed to own property, hold public office, or even vote. While the conversation ends on a sour note, I was surprised to hear the pro arguments presented by male characters in a novel from this time period.

There are also great arguments–both for and against–communism, education, religion, and the meaning of life.

I’ve never read any Russian literature before, but I did really enjoy Tolstoy’s writing (okay, it was in translation, but still. Really good), and I’m planning to listen to War and Peace over Christmas break.

An English Boy in New York by T.S. Easton

Genre: YA contemporary
Secondary genre: knit lit
Format read: ebook
Series: Boys Don’t Knit (in Public) vol 2
Content Warnings: mentions of weight/diet, sexism
Rating: planchet-3

I read the first book in this series ages ago, but my library never purchased the 2nd book. Thankfully, now that I live in Seattle, I have access to a whole other library system!

I can’t tell you too much about the plot without giving away book one, but suffice to say that our main character, Ben, is a British-born teen knitter, who has won a trip to New York City. Traveling with his parents (who are hilarious, by the way), and a friend, Ben is in and out of trouble all week–and accidentally sets himself up for failure when he claims to knit faster than a machine…during a radio interview.

This whole series is funny and light, but my biggest pet peeve is that it is NOT well researched. You can’t knit a whole sweater in one piece on straight needles. You can’t buy yarn and needles at Bloomingdales (American department stores are very different from UK/European department stores), and you can’t knit a men’s sweater in 1 hour, even if you are using size 10 needles.

I do, however, like the way that Ben subverts tropes and expectations. He’s still a pretty typical teenage boy, he just happens to knit. He’s also super sweet (and he needs better friends).

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

Genre: Detective/Police fiction
Format read: ebook
Series: Rizzoli & Isles vol 9
Content warnings: violence, racist slurs, child abuse, violence against children
Rep: Asian American (multiple)
Rating: planchet-3

I started reading this series ages ago because of the tv show, though the two are vastly different. Since then I’ve fallen out of love with the show, and I think my love for this series has pretty much run its course, though this was a really good book. It just failed to grip me.

When an apparent hit woman turns up dead in Boston’s Chinatown, Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case. Working with ME Maura Isles, her partner, Dave Frost, and newcomer Detective Tam, the team set out to track down who the woman is, who she’s after, and how it all connections.

What they uncover is a 19 year old apparent murder-suicide in a Chinese restaurant. But further digging shows it might not be as straightforward as all that. But with the closed-off nature of Chinatown, how can Rizzoli get anyone to talk about it?

The story in this was great, but I’m just not crazy about the characters anymore. I’ve never liked the book version of Rizzoli very much, and Maura isn’t much better. If you are fan of female-centric detective stories, then I do definitely recommend the series–I think it’s up to 12 books and counting?–I’m just not in love with it anymore, sadly.

Books I DNFed

As I wrap up my first ever reading journal, I thought it might be interesting to go through the books I set out to read and then didn’t finish.

Twenties Girl

As much as I loved Finding Audrey, I couldn’t stand this book. I hated the main character,  hated her friends, hated the ghost of her grandmother, found the 2nd hand embarrassment so intense I kept having to put it down, and finally drew the line when Lara started lying to the cops. I stopped listening to the audiobook about 25% of the way in.

Falling Kingdoms

I could not keep track of this story. It jumps between so many different characters and places so fast that I couldn’t keep up or get any of the straight. I might have done a little better with a physical book (provided the book included a map), but when a huge political infodump happened I was just so lost I put it down. I also really disliked the narrator for the audiobook. The story seemed to be set in a pseudo-historical version of Italy, but he gave everyone fake English accents. I didn’t like any of the characters. There was a chapter where literally NOTHING happened. And then we get to the boy who is in love with his sister. But it’s okay! She’s not really his sister! Except he doesn’t know that!

Nope. Hard pass.

90 Church

This one I actually did a review for before I decided to stop reviewing DNFs.

War and Peace

To be fair, I do plan on going back to this one. I’m listening to Anna Karenina right now and really enjoying it, I just wasn’t in the right headspace for this one at the time.

The Bluest Eye

I stopped listening after 10 minutes. The first chapter is obnoxious, written like a Dick & Jane book. And in the 2nd chapter we find out that the main character, a little girl of (I think) about 10, is a psychopath who wants to dismember and mutilate little white girls.

Nope. No thank you. I don’t think I’ve ever put down a book that fast.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business

I was hoping this would be helpful in my writing business, but it turns out it’s too outdated. The book was published in 1997 and was just far too basic. Check publication dates on your nonfiction, kids.

What makes you stop reading a book?

Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: scifi
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Madman’s Daughter vol 2
Rep: chronic illness, autism coding
CW: graphic violence,
Rating: planchet-4

The second book in the series, you can find my review of book one here.

After fleeing her fathers secret island laboratory as it burned, Juliet is back in London. She has, surprisingly, found a new family for herself, and is beginning to build a life, though the struggle of keeping her mysterious illness and her “oddities” to herself is beginning to wear.

But when murders begin happening in London, Juliet begins to see a pattern the police have missed: all the victims are people who have wronged her in one way or another. Chilled to the bone, she begins to suspect she’s not the only one who escaped the island.

But when Montgomery turns up in London, too, things begin to look up. Surely the two of them can solve the murders and save her life if they work together, can’t they?

Drawn from Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this book continues Shepherd’s retelling of dark, classic literature with a scifi twist.

I really enjoyed this book, though I did have a few things about it that bothered me, as with the first volume. It is definitely problematic in more ways than one, but I still find myself looking forward to the third book, which I believe is the conclusion of the series.

Have you read this series yet? What are your thoughts?

A Backpack, A Bear, and 8 Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

Genre: Memoir
Secondary genre: Modern history
Format read: Audio
Content warnings: bullying, racist slurs
Rep: Ukranian/Russian, Jewish (racial), refugee, immigrant/1st gen American
Rating: planchet-4

In the 80s, the Russian government was in flux. After a period of anti-Jewish legislation, Mikhail Gorbachev open the borders briefly, allowing Jews and other “undesirable” people to flee. Among them was Lev Golinkin and his family: his parents, older sister, and grandmother.

Tracing his time growing up in what is now Ukraine, through their flight to Vienna and eventual immigration to the US, this book tells a heartbreaking story of the world as it existed around the time when I was born. Littered with humor, it’s an ultimately hopeful tale, but still makes us look at the world we live in today through a different lens. How much has changed since then? How have we really progressed? Are things better? These are questions Lev asks himself as an adult, returning to Vienna to interview the people who made his immigration possible.

As with most of the nonfiction I’ve read, it’s hard to summarize the story into something as short as a blog post without giving away the details. But it’s a wonderful book and one that I highly enjoyed listening to on my commute. If you are curious about the 1980s, international politics, immigration, or Eastern Europe, then this is a definite pick.