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Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Things She's Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina | review

Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored review, though this book was sent to me for review consideration purposes. All thoughts and opinions are honest and my own. Affiliate links used where possible. Thanks for helping support this site!

The Things She's Seen, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Australian fiction, Austrailan YA, Aboriginal fiction, Aboriginal young adult, mystery books, surrealist books, magical realism, book review

The Things She's Seen by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Mystery/Paranormal/Contemporary/Surrealist/Magical Realist, 189 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nothing's been the same for Beth Teller since the day she died.

Her dad is drowning in grief. He's also the only one who has been able to see and hear her since the accident. But now she's got a mystery to solve, a mystery that will hopefully remind her detective father that he is still alive, that there is a life after Beth that is still worth living.

Who is Isobel Catching, and why is she able to see Beth, too? What is her connection to the crime Beth's father has been sent to investigate--a gruesome fire at a home for troubled youth that left an unidentifiable body behind? What happened to the people who haven't been seen since the fire?

As Beth and her father unravel the mystery, they find a shocking and heartbreaking story lurking beneath the surface of a small town, and a friendship that lasts beyond one life and into another...

"I'm not telling you what happened to ask for help," she said.

"Then why are you telling it?"

Catcher drew her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. "To be heard."

Clocking in at less than 200 pages, The Things She's Seen can easily be read in a day. But even if it were a longer book, it'd likely still be a one-sitting read for a lot of people; once the ball gets rolling, the mystery and the dual narratives are so compelling that most readers will want to gobble it right up in one go. Especially short books — much like especially long books (or even not especially long books; I've talked before about my antipathy for books of the "I like big books and I cannot lie" variety...) — are often a risky venture. Many a micro-book has started strong, but ended up leaving me wanting, and just wishing that the author had filled the story out a bit more — after all, it's not like they are going to blow their printing costs budget on adding in those few extra pages, when you're talking about a book that comes in 100+ pages under the norm. It's a rare gem when I find a short book that packs in all it needs to economically, without sacrificing story, development, or style. The Things She's Seen is spare prose that doesn't leave you wanting. Nothing needed to be added to this. Nothing needed to be fluffed. Everything felt purposeful and fully realized, and I have to tip my hat to the Kwaymullinas for that achievement.

It's difficult to say exactly why this is or what I loved about it, because frankly, I don't want to give away any bit of the mystery or spoil any of the impact of the reveal. There were times I was hesitant in the beginning, especially with the shift in styles between the two narratives, but as a whole, the book is resonant and impactful in a way a lot of books try to be, but fail. In very short order, The Things She's Seen tackles high concept and/or tricky offerings, like surrealism / magical realism, speculative dead-MC narration, dual POVs, grief, rape culture, racism and colonialism, among others, and makes them not only harmonious, but refrains from being heavy-handed or preachy. The storytelling feels emotionally realistic, and the grief and mystery at the heart of the story(ies), while dark, is limned in hope. It's an impressive feat.

I think readers' enjoyment of the story does probably hinge on the character and narration of Catching, though. Stylistically, it's not a book to universally please. Readers may be frustrated by confusion and extensive use of symbolism, or feel there are gaps that need to be filled. But I think there also may be frustration in how her story is told, in the text itself — short, sharp sentence fragments is not a style to win everyone over (myself included, though I grew to like it in this case, and it does help to keep Catcher's story distinct from Teller's, as well as heighten the surreality of her narrative.) To be fair, the book itself is not a book to win everyone over. It pushes you and tests you and makes you second guess; it challenges you, and sinks its teeth into the shared pain of the past; it hurts you. That may make it sound like work, but it's a story that flows and drags you along with it. Most readers will probably know pretty quickly whether it's a story that will work for them, stylistically, but for those who remain unsure, I highly encourage you to stick with it and try something that may be out of your comfort zone. I think you'll find it a worthwhile push outside your boundaries.

For those reader-types who aren't put off by any of the things mentioned above, I definitely recommend picking this one up, tearing through it, and then mulling it over for a few days to come. I have a suspicion it's the type of book to be just as affecting, and maybe even more so, upon a reread, and it would also make great book club discussion fodder. And I know I'm a dork, but all of those things are good things, as far as I'm concerned.

Side note: This book is also known as Catching Teller Crow, which I don't love as a title on its own (it seems very typical), but having read the book, is sort of perfect.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

2 DNFs + 2 UN-DNFs

My DNF-hammer has been feeling a little heavy lately, and I basically Do. Not. Hesitate. to abandon books that aren't doing it for me anymore. But recently, I gave 2 of them a second chance. Did it work out?


Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale 

Rule #1 - Never fall for a summer boy.

Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.

And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had - to never fall for a summer boy?

The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee

For as long as the Vickery twins can remember, Lee and his mother have served Memory, while Felix and his father assist Death. This is the Agreement. But one Halloween, Gretchen Whipple smashes her way into their lives. Her bargain is simple: If the twins help her solve the murder of local girl Essie Hasting, she'll help them break the Agreement. The more the three investigate, however, the more they realize that something's gone terribly wrong in their town. Death is on the loose, and if history repeats itself, Essie's might not be the last murder in Poplar Wood. Simultaneously heartwarming and delightfully spooky, The House in Poplar Wood is a story about a boy's desire to be free, a girl's desire to make a difference, and a family's desire to be together again.

An Affair to Dismember by Elise Sax

Three months has been Gladie Burger’s limit when it comes to staying in one place. That’s why Gladie is more than a little skeptical when her Grandma Zelda—who is more than a little psychic-- recruits her into the family’s matchmaking business in the quaint small town of Cannes, California. What’s more, Gladie is also highly unqualified, having a terrible track record with romance. Still, Zelda is convinced that her granddaughter has her clairvoyant “gift.” But when the going gets tough, Gladie wonders if this gift has a return policy.

When Zelda’s neighbor drops dead in his kitchen, Gladie is swept into his bizarre family’s drama. Despite warnings from the (distractingly gorgeous) chief of police to steer clear of his investigation, Gladie is out to prove that her neighbor’s death was murder. It’s not too long before she’s in way over her head—with the hunky police chief, a dysfunctional family full of possible killers, and yet another mysterious and handsome man, whose attentions she’s unable to ignore. Gladie is clearly being pursued—either by true love or by a murderer. Who will catch her first?

Southern Spirits by Angie Fox

One simple mistake…
For a girl who is about to lose her family home,
Releases the ghost of a long-dead gangster,
And opens Verity Long’s eyes to a whole new world.

When out of work graphic designer Verity Long accidentally traps a ghost on her property, she’s saddled with more than a supernatural sidekick—she gains the ability see spirits. It leads to an offer she can’t refuse from the town’s bad boy, the brother of her ex and the last man she should ever partner with.

Ellis Wydell is in possession of a stunning historic property haunted by some of Sugarland Tennessee’s finest former citizens. Only some of them are growing restless—and destructive. He hires Verity to put an end to the disturbances. But soon, Verity learns there’s more to the mysterious estate than floating specters, secret passageways, and hidden rooms.

There’s a modern day mystery afoot, one that hinges on a decades-old murder. Verity isn't above questioning the living, or the dead. But can she discover the truth before the killer finds her?

Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored video!  All thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.

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