Mini Reviews: Dear Killer, Strands of Bronze and Gold, and Conversion
A while ago, I noticed a trend in my reading habits. I would fall in love with a book, want to review it and proclaim my love to the world, but not have enough material to do so. I could only think of an aspect or two to praise, and while I loved those aspects intensely, they could not carry an entire review. To solve this problem, I am trying something new today—mini reviews. My thoughts may not be as elaborate or descriptive as my full reviews, but they will still provide my honest opinions on the novels in question.
To start out, I am reviewing three stories that are perfect for this time of year—those wonderful few weeks as summer heat starts to give way to crisp fall winds carrying leaves and chills and happiness.
Novel: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell | Goodreads
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two—Be careful.
Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.
Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five—The letters are the law.
Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life—the only way of life she has ever known.
But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there.
Katherine Ewell’s Dear Killer is a sinister psychological thriller that explores the thin line between good and evil, and the messiness of that inevitable moment when life contradicts everything you believe.
Scrolling through this book’s reviews on Goodreads, I encountered an onslaught of negative reviews, a series of angry one star ratings clogged with GIFs describing every emotion from boredom to confusion. This is a shame because Dear Killer is one of the most original, inventive novels I have read in quite a while. Before picking up Katherine Ewell’s debut, I had never before read a story about a moral nihilist, and I loved the way the author handled the protagonist’s characterization. While she may never be a traditional “good guy,” Kit morphs immensely throughout the story, giving readers plenty to dissect. Ewell’s exploration of morality made me ponder my own definition and even understand Kit’s viewpoint.
However, I do agree with this book’s negative reviews on one point—the story does require some suspension of belief. Kit’s signature involves leaving a bleeding body with the letter that led to his or her death, and most of the letters clearly incriminate the person who employed the assassin. I struggled to believe that many people would reach out to Kit if they knew their identity would be revealed. This plot hole is especially frustrating when Kit kills a man because his wife wants his life insurance—how does the wife expect to receive any money when the insurance company knows she hired an assassin?
Despite my dash of annoyance, I still adored Dear Killer for its original concept and gorgeously assembled words. I would not recommend it to a reader who needs every single detail to align with reality, but I would highly recommend it to anyone else.
Novel: Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson | Goodreads
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.
Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.
Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.
When I finished this book, I had no idea what had hit me.
The plot begins in a relatively unassuming manner, with Sophia traveling to stay with her godfather. She enjoys basking in his opulent wealth at first, but soon his actions begin to grow stranger and stranger and she becomes less and less comfortable. Jane Nickerson builds tension bit by bit, writing languid first chapters that crescendo into a conclusion that will have readers tearing through pages. Never having read the Bluebeard fairy tale, I was entirely unprepared for the eerie atmosphere, the uncertainty, and eventually the heart-pounding danger this story would contain. Nickerson has proved herself as an incredible writer and a master of mood, and I cannot wait to read her next novel, The Mirk and Midnight Hour, a retelling of the ancient fairy tale Tam Lin.
Novel: Conversion by Katherine Howe | Goodreads
Release Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.
First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.
Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .
Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?
Despite having read many retellings of classic books during my years as a YA reader, Conversion is the first retelling of a historical event I have encountered. I finished it with two hopes: that I will soon be able to find another historical retelling, and that if I do, it will live up to this one’s stunning precedent.
Conversion is told in an atmospheric dual-narrative—from the point of view of modern-day high schooler Colleen as well as real-life Salem Witch Trials instigator Ann Putnam—and I loved each story equally. In the historical section, the plot follows Ann as she confesses to pretending to be bewitched, just as she did in real life. It was fascinating to watch Howe explore why Ann and the other girls who sparked the Salem Witch Trials made the choices they did—at first, they only pretended to be sick to get out of work, but soon they became so caught up in their charade that they almost convinced themselves that it was real. As a history and psychology enthusiast, I was enthralled.
At first, the most powerful thing about the modern-day section is its mood. The high-pressure school environment gives the story an intense feeling, and the search for the epidemic’s cause gives the story a chaotic and eerie atmosphere. However, my favorite part about reading the present-day chapters was picking out all the parallels between 1600s America and 2000s America. In both stories, something strange and seemingly inexplicable is happening, and while the modern people obviously react in a more scientific, less violent manner, they still display traces of the hysteria their colonial counterparts exemplified. This comparison will make readers think about how far society has come, but how the past can still repeat itself, producing modern situations that are more similar to history than we would like to believe.
What do you think about mini reviews? Should I post more of them? Let me know in the comments.