Review: When the Serpent Bites by Nesly Clerge


This is the first indie book I received in exchange for an honest review that has made it to a review on the blog.

Excuse two posts in a day, but I wanted to be as timely as my book review policy promises.

I want to start by saying while I do enjoy a thriller, this is not the usual kind of book that I would pick up. It sucked me in.

This book teased and danced with my curiosity. Honestly, I had a hard time liking any of the characters save for a few because they are mostly crazy wealthy, entitled, privileged and self centered. But I wanted to know what happened went down to get these people to where they were now, with Frederick Starks, (Starks) a guy in prison after confronting one of his estranged wife Kayla’s lovers, the estranged wife pregnant with some other guy’s kid, and a best friend Jeffrey caught in the middle.  Clerge teases you with snippets of the backstory through conversations between characters and in therapy.  Therapy is a great way to expose teasers of backstory because only parts of the story are revealed, and of course only the self serving ones, in the beginning.  And then, as the true story starts to come together, he throws in a big twist that puts the final nail in the coffin of the old Starks.  The book ends as the new Starks is transforming.  I am curious about where the story came from but also where Starks is planning on going from here.

I also liked the use of the prison setting.  The constant drama, the dubious and shaky alliances, always at the brink of eat or be eaten, both from the other prisoners and the guards. It seemed realistic, not that I have ever been in prison to know, but it seems that the author found a way to do his research about this setting to make it work.

A word about Starks:  I kept mixing him up with Tony Stark from IronMan and seeing him in my mind’s eye as Robert Downey Jr. It could have been intended.  I went back and forth between liking him and not.  He has redeeming qualities:  he is generous and kind.  He is meticulous, orderly, and tidy.  He is a born leader but learns from getting knocked down a peg. Where I struggled with Starks was his rigid views and double standards between women and men. He is very entitled.  He can do what he wants, but his wife is supposed to sit in her pretty castle twiddling her thumbs and going to pilates while he has his affairs with whomever he pleases. He is controlling and sets ultimatums:  he will only supply her with her phone if he can go through it at any time.  I may be weird but my husband has never looked through my phone and it is locked because I work where kids could get their hands on my phone. I don’t touch his phone either. If that changed I would re assess my marriage.  Anyway. He has a pretty new girlfriend but it is not okay that his estranged wife has someone else in her home. She is supposed to be a virgin and his claim on her this way is unapologetic.  I don’t like that at all. Not that his wife Kayla is a sympathetic character though either. I found her less appealing, but the story does not go into her head in this volume.  She tells people her version of what went on and their relationship is reported from Starks’ perspective, but not yet hers.  I wonder if that is coming.

Favorite character?  His third cellmate. No spoilers though.

I also have been wondering if the details of the assault that led to the sentence will also be forthcoming.  See what I said?  I am still wondering.

A final note is that I like how he portrayed the therapy sessions in the book. As a therapist I struggle when the dialog is stilted or stereotyped in media. Communication can sound stilted in a therapy session, because there is a degree of educating going on, but I am glad the therapist is a regular guy who cares and makes mistakes too that he is accountable for.  He pushes Starks a lot in session to examine his role in the marriage, which sometimes Starks starts to admit and take responsibility for his part, but sometimes when he is pushed in session, he does not.  The therapist pushes more than I generally do, but realistic text from early therapy sessions is sometimes slow and not useful to plot development.  A guy like Starks probably needs a lot more sessions of denial and justification of his actions before he could get to where he is in the story in his sessions.

I see from Amazon that the second installment, When the Dragon Roars, is already available. I can’t pick it up immediately because I may have over committed myself to completing three reading challenges.

Comments/Likes/Shares are always appreciated!

Halloween Reads: Ghosts


This could almost have counted under houses, but the houses post a few weeks ago were houses that wanted to own the residents inside.  These are houses that have ghosts but do not want the characters to join their ranks.

I feel like the leaves have been changing more slowly this year. I feel like usually they have peaked by the time I am writing this post (Oct 8 if I must be honest) and this year it seems that they are still working up to full glory.

Okay.  Ghosts today.  One book I am talking about today is decidedly Gothic while the other is closer to horror and being scary.

The Gothic read:

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Miramont’s Ghost, Elizabeth Hall

This story focuses on how Miramont got a ghost in the first place, and not really what she does when she becomes a ghost.  It is based on an unsolved historical mystery, which I think is really cool when someone takes a story and fills in the blanks.  Much like my love Phillippa Gregory.   I guess if someone has become a ghost then she has lost her battle somehow, but she does not go down fighting and I wish she did.  A young beautiful woman who has secluded herself from the world is ensnared by the evil machinations of an older relative, an aunt this time, to protect some family secrets.  I still was not clear really how the protagonist needed to be involved in the secrets the aunt and cousin were guarding.  it was Goth entertaining, and I thought it would be a bit more ghosty but there were some other supernatural elements at play.  It was like something Ann Radcliffe would have cooked up, but her endings are happier. Bonus:  It came with 1.99 audio. Perfect accompaniment to charity knitting.

The scary read:

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What the Dead Want, Norah Olson

This is a YA scary novel.  A fifteen year old girl, Gretchen, is asked by her eccentric aunt to come down and take possession of the family property she has inherited with little other preamble.  It is the summer and Gretchen’s mother has mysteriously disappeared years before. Gretchen she comes up from the city to help her aunt and maybe solve the mysterious disappearance of her mother. The story starts off as eerie but there is the part where it gets pretty real that is scary. I don’t think it is giving too much away to say that the souls are in torment from the memory of the treatment of black people in the Civil War era.  The story talks about white privilege and the freedoms once denied women.  These pieces can be a little heavy handed, but maybe only to an adult who has had coursework and seminars on this topic and don’t need it spelled out the way a typical teenager might.  My privilege when I was fifteen was not really evident to me, or how much I would really enjoy the modern freedoms allowed women until I was an adult and reveling in them.  What? An influential career and my own money? The ability to leave my husband whenever I please? Not that I want to, but it is a wonderful thing to not be trapped.  This one has ghosts and some demon like creatures, just to add to the freaky. Good YA read. And you do find out what the dead want, by the way.

Keep reading the scary! Halloween is only a week away!


Halloween Reads: Witch-tastic


I agree with the articles I have been seeing that reads for this season do not have to be necessarily horror, just moody. This is absolutely a moody, nuanced season. It can be dark without being horror.  I have been stealing that idea a little when I have been choosing the reads I will feature this month as I am scrambling to catch the rest of my challenge reads.

The two books today feature witches! Because this is not a nuanced season without magic and spiritualism.

Let’s start with a cozy mystery.  Fall is also cozy, in it’s best form:

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A Spell of Trouble, Leighann Dobbs and Traci Douglass

The quintessential cozy. I might be so in love with this genre that I can pick out the elements of a cozy as I am blowing through it.  The setting is in a mostly paranormal populated New England town, which I am realizing is a popular setting for many of the books I pick up.  Most of the characters have supernatural abilities and use them under the noses of the non paranormals, and then we have a love interest who is out to determine the main character’s innocence who is not sure that he believes in magic.  And there is a rule about mixing paranormals with non in romance and how it does not work.  (Reminds me of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, which is never a bad thing).  And this guy who rolls in from a secret division of the FBI to investigate is bewitching to boot, despite his skepticism, if you will excuse the pun. There is a real murder of a meddling witch in the course of the plot, but as this is set up to be a series, the love affair clearly will last past the mystery of who used dark magic to kill the mean witch and sifting through the many possible motives.  A cozy does not exist without a cat-and-mouse love affair with bursts of intermittent reinforcement to keep us going, even if we know they will end up together.  This is fun and light.

But then there was my other witchy read:

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The Witch of Painted Sorrows, M.J.Rose

Absolutely darker and more nuanced than A Spell of Trouble.  And very sexy.  I don’t tend to read books with a lot of sex, which wouldn’t surprise any readers who have seen that I tend to post on classics, historical fiction, YA, and the challenges that work me out of these.  And cozies, which focus more on the tension and the buildup than the actual affair. But it makes sense that a witch book would be sexy, as sex was one of the few ways that women could have any power, and I think men resented them this endemic source of power and sought to remove it by having any woman in power accused of witchcraft.

A woman, Sandrine, flees her unhappy marriage when her father dies unexpectedly to take refuge with her grandmother, a famous courtesan in Paris in the late 1800s.  When she finds that her grandmother has moved out of the house the family has had for generations and takes up a separate residence,  Sandrine becomes curious and returns to the house despite her grandmother’s warnings, getting drawn into a generations old family curse that she is ambivalent about breaking free from.  Some of the curse involves having mind blowing sex and incredible talent at painting and a respectable career as a painter, so I am not sure who would really want to give that up after being trapped in marriage to a scheming man who essentially rapes her as their marital relations.  Like, for real.

Of course I love All Souls, and that would be a sweet trilogy to devour during the month of October, too.  It is a good season to get involved in such a series.

I started The Witches of Eastwick, as that is a TBR hanger, but I needed it on audio to get swept into Updike’s prose and I was being lazy about getting it.  It was a hard style shift between that and The Fountainhead, which I was tackling at the time.

Comments/questions/shares are always appreciated!

Halloween Reads: This House Wants You


Haunted houses!

There could possibly be two parts to this post because haunted houses abound in the scary literature.

This is the centennial year of Shirley Jackson’s, author of The Haunting of Hill House, birth.  As so Amazon was kind to have it somewhat discounted, but beyond that, all the TBR blowing up lists of must reads usually features this book somewhere. So it had to be added to my arsenal.

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Paranormal research, to my particular delight, is all over the television, but it is not a new idea.  This book came out in 1959 and features a researcher and people he invited to stay with him as a part of conducting research on the paranormal.  The two women invited both have some kind of interaction with the paranormal in the past and the particular protagonist, Eleanor, comes chock with vulnerabilities from her own recent past.  Although she is in her early thirties she has thus yet spent her adulthood caring for an ill mother and resides with a sister and her husband, for whom she cares little.  As such she is still fanciful and childlike and full of traumatic memories.  She is ripe for the execution when she comes to the door of the house.

This book is scary, if somewhat understated and subtle.  The characters sarcastic joking around and banter got a little tiring and I couldn’t tell what was real and what were jokes played all the time, but that is probably a big piece of the appeal.  Not knowing what is real and what is not is, at least to me, what freaks me out.  Stephen King’s It got me like that.  I am dying to see that new movie of it even though I know what it will do to me.

I read a more modern take on this as well, more modern even than The Shining:

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The Haunting Season, Michelle Muto

Muto takes Jackson’s book, makes it feature young adults, and ups the demonic and research plots.  Gone are some of the understated subtleties and unmoored adults of the 1950’s, these kids have real powers and are headed to college after this summer project of participating in research is over.  They are a little more dynamic than amorphous and sad Eleanor who is trying to figure herself out now that her life is her own.  Of course, just because they are more dynamic does not mean they are not coming in with their soft spots to be devoured, because what haunted house can really get to a fully intact individual?   Actually, I don’t want to ask that one.

Muto develops the demonic a little more than Jackson does.  The negative forces have more of a backstory and are personified more. The scary moments are more dramatic. The ghosts manifest and speak. Hill House has its moments where supernatural elements manifest in less direct ways, but in this one, ghosts just roll up without a lot of preamble.  Which is fine, because the point isn’t to find out if there are ghosts, it is more to discover something that is vastly more sinister about why they are ghosts and what they want.

Muto had two plots going and went with developing the one more with the kids banishing the evil from the house, or trying to.  Just like with any book about conducting controversial research, it goes off the rails.  She could have expanded the real reason the kids had been chosen to be part of the research but developing both completely likely would have made this book a little cumbersome.

I liked it.  I would have liked it more had I read it when I was the target audience age.  I wish YA had been as much of a thing when I was in that demographic as it is now. I have so much YA on my kindle that I have not read yet and I think it does such great things for kids awareness and empathy in a world that still needs it. I try to recommend books to some of my kids who do and do not read.

These books are both about scary houses that want you.  I am upset that I already talked about The Shining in a previous reading challenge post because I would have added it here. I want to read Gillian Flynn’s short The Grownup and see if it has the same idea of a house wanting someone.  Maybe some Poe.

Other good haunted house stories out there?  I like suggestions.  Even though I already noted in a previous post that I can be somewhat glacial in getting to them.


Halloween Reads: Gothic Romances

roots at rogers

I believe I have admitted to my readers that I once loved autumn.  I loved it when the months of snow following did not challenge my ability to see family and friends as much as I wanted to.

But despite my wizened, potential snowbird state, I can enjoy the scary season for all the scary books that it involves and am dedicating these five Sundays in October to scary reads:  Gothic, haunted houses, demons, and the like.

When I did my Basic Gothic Reader post I knew that I would want to follow up with more Goth reading.  Today features two Gothic novels, both mentioning in the subtitles that they are “romances”.  I would agree that one is actually a romantic story while the other is absolutely not.

This is not a romance.  I repeat, this is not a romance:

Product Details

The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis

The cover I have here does not have the fateful subtitle of “A Romance” but some editions do. This book is not about love.  It is about lust, rape and meaningless sexual conquest in the main storyline.  The protagonist goes from a pillar of virtue, free even from temptation to vice, into the most base of creatures.  It is a classic Gothic cautionary tale, although the forces of good and evil are usually balanced out just a smidge more than they are in this one, which focuses on evil.  There is another side story that has a little bit more of the good and valiant.  And yes, the good wins in that one.

The Castle of Otranto still predates this 1796 book, and like Castle, The Monk has all the elements of the genre:  the supernatural, prophecies, good and evil, castles, heaps of scandal, wicked actions leading to bad consequences, some demons and the devil, and ghosts.  And, true to the genre, the women in this book have three purposes: to be ornamental, to remain virgins for marriage, and to get bossed around by scheming men.  There is seriously a character in here, who after she is raped, knows that the best way to continue to live her life is hidden away from society so others will not be exposed to her sinful nature.  All marriage prospects are ruined because she was raped.

But maybe in her confining roles a woman can be happy:

a sicilian romance

A Sicilian Romance, Ann Ward Radcliffe

I was not going to leap into another Ann Radcliffe right after The Mysteries of Udolpho, which was good, but had copious irrelevant backstory and was so treacherously long.  I don’t mind a hefty tome but sometimes I struggle when I am wondering where the story is in my twenty first century brain. This one was better because it was a lot shorter.  It was published four years before Mysteries so maybe she was just warming up!

This one is a love story because a pair discover that they are in love and have to dodge obstacles to be united forever in love.  Purely Gothic obstacles, of course: Julia’s scheming father, evil stepmother, a big castle that they believe might be haunted in a neglected and crumbling spot, sinister fiance, packs of raiding banditti, convent drama (it does exist). External, high drama obstacles, stakes heightened because Julia is just a pawn of the men around her and she must get to be with the one who cares about her thoughts and feelings.  Not like, Julia gets accepted to Yale Law but Hippolitus is going to be backpacking through Europe and wants her to take a year off with him to find himself and can’t promise fidelity if he is alone overseas. And of course Radcliffe makes an explicit statement at the end to drive it home that virtue is always rewarded. Ms. Radcliffe is a woman after my own heart, being a woman who wrote to entertain herself.

I do want to do The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, which I was going to do first but then read A Sicilian Romance  so I could post two Gothic romances together in my five scary themed blog posts for October. I had already read The Monk for a reading challenge category of a book more than a hundred years older than me, and I wanted to count Don Quixote in the longer category.

Stay tuned for a month more of posts about scary reads for the apple picking, bonfiring, hot drinking, hoodie wearing, corn mazing, costume wearing season.


Reading Challenge: Recommended

the girl on the train

Another way to read more widely is to read what others ask you to read, however begrudgingly.  I rarely, if ever, ask for recommendations, although I am the first one to blow up some poor shmuck’s comment feed on Facebook when they are fool enough to canvas hundreds of people at a time as to what they should read next.  I will keep in mind what someone wants me to read but it has to depend on my mood when it actually gets cracked.

That is likely why MMD and Popsugar this year want you to pick up a book that someone else thinks you should.

A Book Recommended by Someone You Just Met (Popsugar):

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The Assassins Apprentice, Robin Hobb

A coworker that I trained with and become friends with recommended this one.  The pace at which we meet new people, and especially make personal friends, slows considerably in the establishment of adulthood.  So I am counting this because she harassed me until I read it and I have only known her for two years. I also read it because she read The Martian when I was talking about it at work.  Yeah, I am exciting in real life, too.

The cover of this book is atrocious and I cannot discuss it’s merits until that is said. I find I need so much more encouragement (other bloggers praise, Amazon stars, listed for book awards and dangled in front of me by the publishers I follow) to pick something up if the cover is cheesy.  I showed it to my husband and he said, “sweet deer on the front.”

Hobb writes trilogies and I probably will at some point read the other two of the Farseer Trilogy. The story is good but I am glad there is more to it because I feel like the ending is anti-climactic, on top of the fact that the main character continues to be lonely at the end. He has some reprieves from loneliness but nothing permanent due to the belabored point of his bastard birth. Without a specific origin to assign him a place in the world, he ends up being the projects of a few people. He does not even really have a name throughout.  It is an interesting story and you root for the protagonist as he passes through the many sets of hands who are trying to shape him.  He definitely will need more permanent and stable relationships in the other two books to keep me wanting to follow his story, so hopefully his lack of origin is resolved.

A Book Recommended by a Family Member (Popsugar):

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The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

I didn’t expand an awful lot with this one, even though my sister, who reads mainly nonfiction books, wanted me to pick this up.  It went on crazy ebook sale last year grouped with a bunch of other popular books I was all too eager to gobble up.  Being such a hit, it had already made it to my TBR.  She just got it moved up due to having joined the ranks of those who just could not put it down.  I think she even said she stayed up to read it, which I don’t think is like her with a book.

This book is a page turner from the perspective of an unreliable narrator and a decent twist to it, which made it a huge bestseller in England. I found Gone Girl harder to put down than this one and I would recommend that first, but I would also recommend this as a thriller.

A Book Recommended by Your Local Librarian/Bookseller (Modern Mrs. Darcy):

Murder on Astor Place: A Gaslight Mystery by [Thompson, Victoria]

Murder on Astor Place, Victoria Thompson

I have the pleasure of knowing the library director in my small town, so naturally I cornered her (at an annual local soup contest, no lie) for this recommendation.  Her blanket recommendation is usually Outlander, and seeing as I read Outlander last December as a vacation read to accompany me through binge exercising/crafting, she switched it up for me.  (sidebar:  I have not continued reading the Outlander series because I heard the later books have less sex and more anxiety provoking situations for the characters and she couldn’t deny this fact and she has read the series through at least twice).  But then she was like, what about historical fiction/cozy mysteries and I was like yes and yes.  And I can’t deny I like that the cozies run a few dollars cheaper.  This one is about a midwife in 1920’s New York City who figures out who murdered a society girl who was living under cover in a boardinghouse. I would read more of these, even though sometimes the history exposition woven into the plot seemed to be a little stilted at times.  I mean, I do like the trend of the setting being an active and relevant part of the story, so if it is a little stiff at times, I suppose I could handle that.  I would recommend Rhys Bowen’s Murphy’s Law possibly first, if you are okay with the fact that Bowen’s heroines always struggle to find a consistent place to live and a steady stream of income.  Both Molly Murphy and Georgianna Rannoch of her Royal Spyness series are always living at the brink of ruin.  At least Sarah Brandt in Murder on Astor Place has a consistent and reliable base for life and independence.  And the distinct advantage of straddling between the world of the poor, in the clients she serves, as well as high society, from which she comes.   I am also eyeballing The Yard by Alex Grecian.  But I have more reading list challenges to scale before that.

I am glad that all three of these books were placed in my path with very little soliciting.




Putting on Eyres

gothic window

My boss is lovely. Usually.  And although he may not agree he is not so much of a man that he would balk at the assignation.

We experienced a rift in our almost eight years of employer and subordinate relationship when he listened to an NPR piece on the movie adaptaion of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and while trying to remember what it was called said, “you know, that famous novel by Jane Eyre.”  He furiously tried to backpedal when he saw my face, from which I ordered a swift correction that it was Jane Austen, as Jane Eyre arguably never existed save for the written word.

Even though she was never real she is very real as one of our classic Gothic and bildungsroman (coming of age, not belonging, questioning conventions) heroines.  I regrettably did not read Jane Eyre until graduate school when over the summer I began to fill in the gaps of my classic literature exposure (because being a doctoral student the other ten months of the year clearly was not enough).  And I nearly abandoned it because it was so depressing, which I think I noted in a my previous post about getting into Gothic lit, save for one of my favorite humans on the planet who promised me that dead halfway through it would pick up. She also convinced me to stay in grad school on a particularly dark day in my life when I was ready to pick up my toys and go home.

Any good story is worth retelling, and for this post I explored three Jane Eyre inspired stories.

reader I married him

Reader, I Married Him, Tracy Chevalier

This is a collection of short stories commissioned by Chevalier with the prompt being the last line of Jane Eyre: Reader, I married him.  And she amasses a good list of names:  Francine Prose, Audrey Niffenegger, Emma Donoghue, and Evie Wyld, just to name a sampling.  (Sadly I never got such an invitation.  She must have had my email address incorrect or something).  Some of these stories had a link to the classic novel more clearly delineated:  Mr. Rochester’s perspective, a modern take on Jane’s relationship with her friend Helen, Grace Poole’s story, Mr. Rochester effectively gaslighting his hapless bride, a wedding of an unlikely pair, some of the stories I struggled to see the connection.  However, despite how far any writer spun from the original idea, these stories are entertaining and wonderfully written.  Unlike a story collection by one author, this offered different themes and characters and tones. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who claims to be a fan of Jane.

This one came out this spring.  Let’s go back to what I think is the quintessential Jane Eyre other side of the story:

wide sargasso sea

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

Who doesn’t really want to understand the perspective of Bertha Rochester and how she came to be spirited from her native tropical island to be locked away in the top of a British manor?  Flavorwire actually turned me on to this prequel to Jane Eyre. We learn that she used to be the beautiful Antoinette, and if you must know, Mr. Rochester is as much of a pawn in the dastardly scheme to unload her in marriage before the fatal truth of a predisposition to illness ignited by a trauma manifested as Antoinette is. She’s an unfortunate impediment to Mr. Rochester’s marital availability, but it is not her fault, and the book brings to light the grief she feels over being taken from her beautiful warm home into a cold and barren one, with little company, floating in and out of lucidity.  Surprisingly, Rochester is also made more appealing, made him a little more worthy of Jane’s ministrations and love (not so self sacrificing as Bronte heroines have had occasion to be) and better explains why he finds our plain Jane so appealing as well.  He has already been singed by the mysterious island flame and is content with a steady, intelligent and kind, if a little self righteous at times governess (although one of the stories in Reader I Married Him will have you believe that Rochester’s love for Jane has lost its luster when finally she returns and assumes the burden of his care, just to make the ending more depressing).  I agree this is a beautiful classic.  I read it in the dead of winter amongst other atmospheric books while crafting and it felt good to be taken from my snowy reality for a time.

Another modern take:

Jane Steele

Jane Steele, Lindsay Faye

I would consider this a spinoff more than a retelling.  Jane has some awareness that she shares similarities to our Gothic heroine, but unlike the first Jane, she is much more apt to color outside the lines.  Her passions urge her to kill, whereas the original Jane would just pack up and disappear.  She is not a serial killer in the traditional, cold blooded and remorseless and senseless killings arising from a neglectful childhood.  Jane’s childhood was neglectful but not in the way that would turn her into a Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dalmer.  She is searching for redemption for her crimes of passion, not crimes of premeditation and cool calculation.  The love interest, Mr. Thornfield, has his own secrets but is a warmer and more lovable character than the at times icy and enigmatic Mr. Rochester.

I found a new author love of Lindsay Faye.  Her razor sharp and hilarious prose, drew me in and I was outright laughing at some of the things that Jane Steele said and observed in her living on a shoestring world.  Gods of Gotham has made it onto the lengthy wish list because it is old school NYC and I want to see if Faye is just as witty, poignant and appealing as she was in Jane Steele.

Other re-tellings that deserve a read?

Comments/shares/likes are welcome!