ARC Review: Odd & True by Cat Winters

Title: Odd & True
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: September 12th 2017
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.
      In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

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Cat Winters’s novels are some of the best, but underappreciated historical fiction I’ve ever read. Od and Tru grew up with stories about their mother and her siblings’ bravery. They grew up believing in the paranormal, that monsters exist and it was their family’s responsibility to protect the world from them. But life has taken many things from both Od and Tru. Their father disappeared when they were young and their mother hasn’t been in their life. Even their beloved Uncle Magnus hasn’t been seen for years. After being sent away, Od shows up at her sister’s window, begging her to come away with her and to accept their family’s legacy. But Tru no longer believes in monsters. Still, her love for his sister Odette will take them far from the safe haven of their aunt’s house and into a dangerous, unknown world. Using dual perspectives and shifting timelines, Cat Winters crafts a tale of two sisters whose lives are full of loss, but also perseverance.

At the heart of this story are two sisters who hold very different views of the world. As the oldest, Odette has always felt that she needed to protect her younger sister. Her stories of monsters and the heroes that slay them have been the only way in which she has been able to help shield her sister from the realities of life. What goes unsaid is that Odette is also in need of these stories. Being older has exposed her to the flaws of the adults in her life and it’s been easier to embrace a story about these people than to accept who they really are. Unlike her sister, Tru no longer holds fast to these myths. Ever since her sister was forced to leave her aunt’s home, Tru has grown up to resent these tall tales and the letters from her sister that speak of harrowing travels. While life with her Aunt Viktoria has been stifling, Tru isn’t sure she’s brave enough to step outside into the great unknown. Though she’s suspended any belief in the paranormal, she’s taken to reading tea leaves in secret because a part of her still wants to believe in her sister’s stories.

Odd & True takes its time separating fact from fiction as the girls embark on a hunt for Leeds Devil which has been terrorizing the people of New Jersey. From the cover and synopsis, I expected an action-packed novel about monster hunting, but instead was treated to a slow-paced narrative about a flawed family, two sisters who survive despite injustices done to them, and the power of a story to weave magic if only one takes a leap of faith and believes.

4/5

★★★★

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The Friday 56: The Steep & Thorny Way

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join us every Friday and share an excerpt from a book you’ve been reading.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Be sure to leave a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“On the bedside table a candle flickered. Beeswax wept down the yellowish sides and pooled onto the pewter rim of the candlestick, and the air smelled of fire and honey. I reached out and touched the hot puddle, just to experience a sensation aside from the sting of distrust.”

This week I’m spotlighting Cat Winter’s The Steep & Thorny Way, a historical novel about a girl trying to find the truth behind her father’s death, while also dealing with the racial prejudices of 1920s Oregon. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this author, I highly recommend her. You can read my full review here. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

Goodreads Synopsis:

      “1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.
      The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

**Side Note: August sign-ups for the Comment Challenge are now open. I’m co-hosting this challenge with Lonna @ FLYLēF. For this challenge, we’re pairing you with another blogger and all month long you will be commenting on the each other’s blogs. If you’re interested, you can find all the info here.**

The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Title: The Steep & Thorny Way
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: March 8th 2016 

      “A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.
      1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

      The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a ‘haint’ wandering the roads at night.”

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“The nighttime forest glowed in a strange haze of gold, and the fat trunks and green awnings soured high above, as if I were nothing more than a spider scampering through a window box.”

Cat Winters’ The Steep & Thorny Way is an engaging historical fiction novel with an interesting paranormal twist. With vivid writing, Winters brings to life an era in American history where prejudice is not only tolerated, but celebrated. While many of us associate the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, with the South, I found it really interesting that Winters chose to set her story in 1920s Oregon. I didn’t know how strong an influence this particular group had outside of the South and reading about their widespread impact is equal parts interesting as well as terrifying. Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and black man, has known her whole life that people look at her differently because of the color of her skin. In the tight-knit community where she grew up in, her exposure to racial prejudice has been limited, but as she’s gotten older, the influence of groups like the KKK has increased and people are much more open to showing their intolerance, including friends she was once close to. Winters does a really good job of showing just how difficult it must have been for someone like Hanalee, who is subjected to discrimination at every turn, to grow up in such an unfair time.

Winters’ novel deals with many subjects from racial prejudice to homophobia. It never escapes my notice when authors approach certain subjects in historical fiction in an almost idealistic way. While it’s a nice sentiment to believe that their characters are not as bigoted as the times in which they are brought up, I often find it unrealistic for these characters to always be immediately accepting of different sexual orientations besides heterosexual when history tells a different story. Winters does no such thing when it comes to her characters. When Hanalee learns that someone she knows is gay, her reaction is much more in line with the times. She doesn’t quite understand and makes a rather insensitive remark; that being said, she is never consciously vicious as her views come from a place of ignorance not hate.

While not a strict retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep & Thorny Way is focused on the death of Hanalee’s father and how she deals with learning that he might not have died the way everyone believes he did. Paranormal elements come into play when Hanalee is told that her father’s spirit has been wandering the town. She isn’t sure how to react to such a story and is made even more unsure when she finally encounters his ghost herself. Hanalee is determined to find the truth, even when her search puts her in the crosshairs of some dangerous people. While I did find the mystery aspect of the novel interesting, I did wonder at Hanalee’s methods. She often threw caution to the wind and started voicing her suspicions without first investigating. While I do think this makes sense for who her character is, I think the unraveling of the mystery would have felt more engaging if she had been more sly in her search for answers.

I highly recommend Cat Winters’ The Steep & Thorny Way for those who enjoy historical fiction, especially novels that explore subjects like discrimination throughout American history.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

The Friday 56, #85: The Uninvited

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join us every Friday and share an excerpt from a book you’re been reading.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Be sure to leave a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“I know who you are, Ivy. Scrubbing away all those bloodstains will never, ever erase what they did.”

Aw, this is the last Friday 56 of October. So in honor of Halloween tomorrow, I’m sharing an excerpt from Cat Winters’s The Uninvited, a novel about a women cursed with a ghostly gift. Happy Halloween to everyone! Cover is linked to Goodreads.

From my review:

“It’s 1918 and the flu epidemic is spreading. When Ivy Rowan recovers from the sickness, she discovers that her town of Buchanan, Illinois has been struck hard. Adding to the grief is her brother’s death in the war overseas. In a fit of anger, her father and younger brother beat a young German to death. Sickened by their behavior, Ivy leaves home for the first time. She reaches out to the victim’s brother, hoping to escape the guilt, but Ivy is haunted by the ghosts of loved ones, apparitions that only appear when someone close to her is about to die.” See my full review here.

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

Title: The Uninvited
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A

It’s 1918 and the flu epidemic is spreading. When Ivy Rowan recovers from the sickness, she discovers that her town of Buchanan, Illinois has been struck hard. Adding to the grief is her brother’s death in the war overseas. In a fit of anger, her father and younger brother beat a young German to death. Sickened by their behavior, Ivy leaves home for the first time. She reaches out to the victim’s brother, hoping to escape the guilt, but Ivy is haunted by the ghosts of loved ones, apparitions that only appear when someone close to her is about to die.

“Before we reached the last row of cots, I witnessed a little boy bleeding from his ears, as well as his nose, and he cried tears of red.”

Cat Winters paints a grizzly picture in The Uninvited of 1918 America where the war in Europe has bred unrest at home. Immigrants, especially those originating from Germany, are regarded with suspicion. Prejudice has given way to discrimination and even murder. Making matters worse is the deadly influenza pandemic, which has taken a disproportionate number of young. Ivy is one of the lucky ones, having recovered from the sickness, but her father and brother take part in a crime that forever changes her life. Having spent her whole life at her family’s farm, even after graduating from school, Ivy’s life has been ruled by the needs of her family and particularly her brothers. Wanting to protect them, she has sacrificed having her own life and as a result isn’t quite sure how to adjust to the real world that she chooses to enter for the first time at twenty five. Ivy must learn to put her own needs, the ones she’s neglected her whole life, first.

The paranormal element to The Uninvited is really interesting. Ivy, as well as the other female members of her family, has an unusual gift. Ivy sees the ghosts of family members long dead. These apparitions though benign, function as a warning. They are harbingers of death, for death always follows their appearance. When Ivy begins to see visions of her dead brother, she fears for those she cares about. As she grows closer to the brother of the man her father and brother murdered, Ivy fears that she may inadvertently cause his death even as she tries to make amends for her family’s crime.

Cat Winters’s The Uninvited is great for those who enjoy historical fiction. It has a rich setting and a powerful narrative about embracing life before it passes you by.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys Edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys by April Genevieve Tucholke

Title: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys
Editor: April Genevieve Tucholke
Authors: Various
Series: N/A

Ghosts, murderers, and death bring plenty of frights in this horror anthology. Inspired by various mediums from films to classic horror novels to music, these fourteen short stories are filled with thrills, twists, and trepidation. And just when you think you have a story figured out, the surprises are fierce yet strangely satisfying.

“After a while, Richard started getting the distinct impression that someone was watching him sleep. There was a strange weight in his room, as if the furniture or the walls weren’t aligned quite right, and sometimes he would feel that weight press against his chest like a stone.”

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is a great collection of horror stories perfect for October. I’m familiar with most of the authors in this anthology, having read books by a large majority of them. Authors like Nova Ren Suma and Jonathan Maberry are sure to bring their personal brand of the strange and thrilling, but I was most impressed by authors like Marie Lu. Best known for her Legend series, Lu weaves together one of my favorite short stories in this book. The Girl Without a Face takes something as simple as a closet that won’t open and turns it into a tale that had me glancing at my own several times, hoping it was empty. April Genevieve Tucholke’s The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh takes you for a ride where you end up rooting against key characters. This is my first reading experience with this author and it won’t be my last.

There were several stories in this anthology which were so good at introducing intriguing characters and exciting storylines that I found myself wanting the authors to turn them into full-length novels. Jonathan Maberry’s Fat Girl with a Knife would make a perfect introduction to a novel about an unlikely heroine battling for survival.  Jay Kristoff’s Sleepless starts off like a cheesy horror-movie where you’re screaming at one of the characters to be smarter, but ends up pulling the rug out from under you and begging for more in the end.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is fantastic for those looking for a quick scare during this Halloween season. While ghosts and killers may be the obvious choice for a horror story, many of these authors select more unconventional characters and what results is a really diverse blend of frightful tales that will surely delight horror fans.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★