My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 49. Book title starts with the same letter as your first name

Other Possible Prompts: 22. An unlikely detective, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 50. A person of color as the main character

I know this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but I just didn’t dig this one. The art style, the flow of the story…none of it was for me, though clearly it’s not bad – as evidenced by the thousands of positive reviews and ratings.

10-year-old Karen comes home from school one day to find that her upstairs neighbor, Anka, has been murdered. Anka didn’t entirely have her wits about her, having experienced a great deal of trauma during the Holocaust, but when her death is ruled a suicide, even Karen knows there’s something afoot. Now, with her mother sick and her brother acting strangely, monster-loving Karen sets out to discover the truth about what happened to her neighbor.

This book takes a long while to settle in. The story gets there eventually, and becomes easier to follow, but I really felt like I jumped into something from nowhere. I think Ferris also makes a lot of unnecessary comparisons and analogies both through her text and her art that do not contribute much to the story. It’s an twisting narrative to try and track, that’s for sure. And unfortunately, once I finally sunk into it, it was over: the big secret is not revealed, the story not complete, with a second novel to be released (looks like it’ll be out September 22, 2022…five whole years after the first publication!). Sadly, I don’t think it held my attention well enough to have me waiting for volume two with bated breath.

I really didn’t enjoy this art style. I can 100% acknowledge the talent – the pen and lined-paper drawings are nothing short of impressive, but it really didn’t do it for me. Based on the cover, I was kind of expecting more of a dots/comic book style, which I might’ve preferred, especially in this noir/crime/horror genre. Still very impressive, but notably not my cup of tea.

Anka’s story is the most riveting piece of this book, and I do believe it was always intended to be the focal point. Her life history and her story in Berlin is wildly interesting to follow and includes some of my favorite illustrations throughout the book. The point of tracing her steps is, of course, to find motivation and suspects for her suspicious murder. Anka lived a troubled life, to say the least, and there are plenty of people in her story with motive. I would read this snippet as a full novel, easily. It’s Karen that kind of ruins it for me.

I know Karen is supposed to be representative a lot of things; her narrative is supposed to connect the past and present – but I just don’t like her very much. While she’s pitiable, she’s not relatable. She’s passing through life rather than living, which makes her a better vehicle for telling Anka’s story. I feel bad for saying it, though.

It’s really hard to criticize this book in a way that makes sense, because I think a lot of people are going to be like, “Well that was meaningful because…” – and I don’t disagree. That’s the hard part: I can see what Ferris was trying to do here, I just didn’t really like it. I guess that’s what I’ve been getting at this whole time. I can see why people enjoyed this, but I can also see all the reasons why I didn’t. It was 100% not what I was expecting, and I’m definitely upset that I’m in it for two books if I want the full story (that was unexpected, and I’m very sorry for the books original 2017 readers!!).

So no, I’m not recommending this one today. I hope I have a better review for you next Tuesday! Enjoy the rest of the week, friends!

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 48. Redo one of this year’s prompts but with a different genre (41. Involves a second chance)

Other Possible Prompts: 22. An unlikely detective, 25. A wealthy character, 36. Recommended by a favorite author (Moreno-Garcia), 41. Involves a second chance, 52. Published in 2022

Simone St. James does it again! Silvia Moreno-Garcia hit the nail on the head when she says it “oozes atmosphere”. I was absolutely transported by this multi-timeline novel of murder and buried history.

Haunted by her near-kidnapping at age nine, divorcee Shea Collins lives a sheltered life running her blog, The Book of Cold Cases, that focuses on the theories and evidence behind America’s cold case murders. After a chance encounter at her workplace, Shea gets the opportunity to interview Beth Greer: the elderly woman from her town of Claire Lake acquitted of two grisly murders in the 70s, referred to as The Lady Killer Murders. While many believe Beth is undoubtedly guilty, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, and now Shea has the chance to ask every burning question to blow the case wide open. Piece by piece, Shea unearths more than anyone ever knew about The Lady Killer Murders, and the alluring Beth Greer that was the evil face of them.

Atmospheric is a darn good word to describe this novel. The setting St. James builds spins worlds around you as you listen. I can see the town, the house, every dimly-lit scene in my head. This was absolutely one of my favorite components of The Broken Girls as well, but in The Book of Cold Cases, St. James ramps up the plot as well. It’s dark and mysterious, and each passing page illuminates just a little bit more of the story we’re unraveling. It’s masterful.

I liked Shea most of the time, but she is a bit flat as a character. She’s kind of like eggs. She is a vehicle for other, better foods, but she by herself isn’t necessarily bad, just bland. I know she had the whole background trauma of being abducted as a child, and that helped her take shape a bit. I feel bad writing about her trauma like it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but honestly it kind of didn’t. The abduction of her childhood explained her fascination with cold cases and murder, but it was otherwise a very unimportant component of the story, in my opinion. Shea’s investigation into the Lady Killer murders just breathes life into the other characters, past and present, as we learn the ins and outs of the case. She is a vehicle for telling their story, not so much her own.

Beth Greer, in contrast, shines. I loved her steely confidence through the 70s, her brash and mysterious demeanor of the current day. Her story is wildly interesting and her character brings in a lot of questions of morality to the story. I won’t spoil anything, but the ending is really designed to make you call everyone’s character into question, to decide what’s wrong or right. Personally, I’m team Beth all day long. She gets the ending she deserves, I think.

Also much like The Broken Girls, The Book of Cold Cases has an unexpected paranormal element to it that I just absolutely love. It’s tasteful without being overdone. It draws on the chilling subtlety of a Stephen King haunted house, where you still know the true evil lies in the truth itself. This is an excellent crime novel, thriller, and ghost story wrapped into one.

My biggest complaint here is that there are small inconsistencies in the characters or their motivations that niggled while I read. They clearly weren’t intended to be clues; moreso oversights I believe. Something a good editor could’ve caught and asked why?

I absolutely devoured this book – just two days, and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. I’ve been in a thriller/crime novel mood and this hit the spot, really breaking through all the “meh” books I’ve read lately. This sold me completely on another Simone St. James novel. I’ll need to read The Sun Down Motel now (borrowing from the library as we speak)!

Enjoy the rest of the week, friends!