No one in the town of Lobo’s Nod wants to believe that the dead girl in the field was the victim of a serial killer.
Jazz knows better.
Spying on the cops and crime scene tech gathering evidence, his father’s words echo in Jazz’s mind.
Most of these guys, they want to get caught. You understand what I’m saying? I’m saying most of the time, they get caught ’cause they want it, not ’cause anyone figures ’em out, not ’cause anyone outthinks ’em.
Anything that slows them down—even if it’s just by a few minutes—is a good thing, Jasper. You want them nice and slow. Slow like a turtle. Slow like ketchup.
Always check the hands and feet. And the mouth and ears. You’d be surprised what gets left behind.
And Jazz is sure that, despite the sheriff’s insistence otherwise, Lobo’s Nod has another serial killer on its hands. After all, Jazz knows the signs, knows how serial killers think—because his father was the most notorious serial killer of the century, and Billy Dent liked to share his wisdom with his young son.
Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers is one twisted, yet morbidly compelling, book. (Especially for one that was “accidentally” created!) The mystery aspect of tracking down the serial killer is very good, but what really elevates the book is Jazz and all his contradictions. He has a couple of troubling, misogynistic thoughts, yet it’s easy to see why, with Billy Dent as his father and teacher, he might think in such a way. Jazz knows how to read people and how to manipulate them, and takes advantage of this—just like his father. Even though he fears that most people think he’ll end up like his father. And deep down, he’s afraid they’re right.
Other readers have compared this book to the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsey (which I haven’t read or watched) and Dan Wells’ John Cleaver series (only read the first book), but I really think I Hunt Killers has a ton of appeal to fans of Chelsea Cain’s Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series. (Speaking of which, Cain’s newest book, Kill You Twice, is coming out next month.) I mean, the charisma of Billy and Gretchen, the grotesqueness of their crimes and their perverse genius, Jazz and Archie’s inner turmoil and the fact that their connection to Billy/Gretchen is public knowledge…
But getting back to I Hunt Killers, many of the crimes are gruesome and disturbing, and described as such. Not in a sensational way, but serving in part to emphasize how Jazz’s childhood—brainwashed into being an assistant of sorts to his serial killer father—continues to affect him.
Book source: public library.
Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.
Stacked has been running an awesome So You Want to Read YA series over the last couple of months, with bloggers, authors, and editors writing about the books they’d recommend to readers who are unfamiliar with YA fiction. (Did you see that epic flowchart from the ladies of The Readventurer?) I was invited to contribute and, in what should come as absolutely no surprise to readers of this blog, I think I wrote one of the longest guest posts thus far.
If you’d like to see what books I picked, head on over to Stacked.
I should probably preface this review by saying that A Girl Named Digit is basically a YA spy thriller with a female lead, and I’m a sucker for those. But even though I’ll automatically pick up this kind of book, I tend to be extremely nitpicky once I actually start reading, probably because my hopes are always so high that it’s easy to be disappointed. While Annabel Monaghan’s debut YA novel includes many elements I adored, there were nearly as many things that didn’t work for me.
Farrah has spent years trying to pass as normal. She’s succeeded so well that now, as a high school senior, her best friends are the four most popular girls at school and no one knows Farrah is a major math genius who was nicknamed, derisively, Digit in middle school. While watching television with her friends one night, Farrah sees a string of numbers on the bottom of the TV screen. The same thing happens the next two weeks, but Farrah, desperate to keep geeky Digit in the past, doesn’t mention it to anyone. Once Farrah realizes it’s a code, however, she is compelled to decode it. The dates encoded seem to point to a terrorist attack. Only, by the time Farrah finishes decoding the message, the attack has already happened.
Farrah goes to the FBI with the message, where she is interviewed by an extremely young agent who initially doesn’t believe a thing she says. Soon it’s obvious that Farrah is on to something and she must work with the John, the FBI agent, to catch the terrorists.
So, again, I really wanted to like this book. I mentioned the spy thriller thing before, but it’s also about a female math genius. I was never that good at math myself, and didn’t exactly like the subject, but I will read a YA novel about a girl good at/interested in STEM subjects any day. And there were a lot of individual parts that I did like, such as Farrah’s relationship with her family, John’s pride in Farrah’s abilities, the way Farrah realizes she ignored hints about her friends’ real interests. Plus, a couple of sections I really appreciated after reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
Although there was some infodumping at the beginning and a romance I wasn’t invested in, my biggest problem was that the story required more suspension of disbelief than I was capable of (maybe I shouldn’t have read it immediately after Fake Mustache?). To name just a couple things, I found it hard to believe Farrah was able to keep her past as Digit and all of her mathematical accomplishments a secret, and that a rookie agent would be assigned to protect/assist Farrah instead of someone more experienced. Even trying to read it as a spoof didn’t make suspending my disbelief any easier, or successful.
Despite these criticisms, I’d still recommend A Girl Name Digit, with the caveat that, even for its genre, it’s on the more implausible end of the spectrum. But ultimately for me, the parts that worked made up for the overall shortcomings.
Book details: published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (ISBN: 9780547668529).
Book source: public library.
Originally read and reviewed during the 48 Hour Book Challenge.
I didn’t listen to audiobooks when I was a teen, back when they were only available on cassette tapes or CDs. Technology has changed since then, and now there is also much more variety in terms of titles available to listeners.
Basically, it’s a great time to be an audiobook fan.
Audiobooks extend the reading experience. A good narrator can draw you in to a story that you struggled with in print, or highlight nuances that you may have missed while reading the book. A great narration (and production) can make a good book even better, a funny book even funnier.
But maybe you haven’t tried an audiobook before. Maybe you don’t think it really counts as reading. Maybe some free audiobooks will change your mind?
Sync is a FREE promotion, giving away two audiobook downloads (a recent YA book and a classic) each week. This summer’s first set of downloads has already expired, but a full schedule of upcoming titles is available. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud is coming up later this week, then Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood the following week, and Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant near the end of the summer, to name just three of the books that will be available.
For more audiobook suggestions, try the Audies and the Odyssey Award lists, or the monthly AudioSynced roundups at Stacked and Abby (the) Librarian. And don’t forget to check out your public library’s audiobook collection!
As for what I’ve been listening to, Susan Duerden’s narration of Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook is excellent (I blogged about the print book earlier this year). Also, with the last(!) Artemis Fowl book coming out next month, I’ve been revisiting the audiobooks, read by Nathaniel Parker. Except for his pronuncation of the name Nguyen in the first chapter of book one, I love Parker’s narration. He gives each character a distinctive voice, using a variety of accents, and he really captures both the humor and adventure of Eoin Colfer’s books.
If you already like audiobooks, what have you been listening to?
Y.S. Lee is the author of the Mary Quinn historical mystery series. The books skilfully blend historical detail, feminism, mystery, romance, and more. Needless to say, I’m quite the fan. So I was pleased to be able to interview Ying and ask some of my burning questions.
I know you have a PhD in Victorian Literature and Culture, but how did you become interested in the era in the first place? What is its primary appeal to you?
I am, first and foremost, a sucker for its fiction: Charles Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontës. But as a student, the more I learned about the period, the more I became entranced by its many contradictions. It’s an era we feel confident stereotyping (repressed, rigid, stuffy, blah blah blah), yet there are dozens of exceptions to each rule. And it’s a time of immense social and technological change, when people often felt that the world was really coming unmoored. You know how people now like to talk about our fast-paced society, how technology has never changed so rapidly, how our lives are moving at light speed? That’s exactly how the Victorians felt, too.
The Victorian era lasted for so long, why set The Agency books specifically in 1858-1860 (so far)?
It was really hard to narrow it down. But (you guessed it, in Q3!) when I read anecdotes about the Great Stink of 1858, I knew I had my setting. What’s not to love about a perfect storm of mega-pollution, heat wave, and the great public health panic of urban London?
If it has anything to do with the Great Stink, is this why you made James an engineer?
In part, yes; engineers are so useful. I also chose a professional background because I wanted James to be smart and quite well-educated, but simultaneously struggling to define himself and make his own way. He’s worlds away from Mary’s background, but not light years.
Anyway, the Victorian period seems to be *cough* fertile ground for mysteries. (I feel like I should be making some kind of night soil comment here…) Is there something about the period that makes it so conducive to mysteries? (Wilkie Collins, Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper, et al.? Scotland Yard? Something else?)
Well, there are all the social contradictions and complications I mentioned in the first answer, which are so useful when building labyrinthine plots. It’s also the period in which the modern mystery novel was born. You mentioned Wilkie Collins, in your question. He and his good friend Charles Dickens invented the genre, between them! Also, I love night soil jokes. You deserve a prize just for musing about one.
Ooh, a prize!
One of the things I like best about your books is how you balance feminist elements without making Mary seem too modern, as well as the historical detail that doesn’t overwhelm or slow down the story. How do you go about trying to achieve this balance?
Thank you so much! I hope this answer doesn’t make you roll your eyes, but I don’t consciously know how I do it. I work hard to make Mary’s thoughts and actions historically realistic, although her stance is far from mainstream. Even so, she’s definitely a part of her culture – just a politically radical part. As for the historical detail, it’s already there in my head. Imagine stepping into a room and noticing the furniture – that’s kind of what I do, when I’m noting period details.
How much planning/pre-plotting do you do, both in terms of individual books and the overall series? Did you already know the plot of book three before writing book one?
I do very little planning, apart from the historical research and setting. I wasn’t even sure who the villain would be when I started writing A Spy in the House! It’s certainly not the most efficient way to write (I’d love to be one of the super-organized, who know exactly how many scenes will be in each chapter before writing their first paragraph), but it hasn’t been too disastrous so far. The main advantage in writing this way is the frequent delight I feel when I work out a plot problem or stumble across something too good to leave out.
Yay, I’m so glad there will be a fourth book in the series! Can you give us any hints as to what it’s about?
I’m so excited about this! I’ve been dying to write about the British Museum, which finished a huge renovation in 1857. Since Rivals in the City is set in 1860, the Museum is still a new and shiny space for Mary and James – and, as you can imagine, it holds one or two things worth stealing. Mary and James will also meet some familiar faces, including an audacious criminal from one of the previous novels.
Warning! If you haven’t read A Spy in the House yet, you may want to skip this next question!
Because I’m dying to know: will Mary (and readers) ever find out contents of letter her father wrote?
Yes and no. She’ll learn more about her father (and her extended family) in Rivals in the City. But that cigar box of documents she found in the Lascar’s Refuge is gone, gone, gone.
Thanks again to Y.S. Lee for the interview. The other SBBT interviews today are with author/illustrator Timothy Dekker at Chasing Ray and blog friend/author Tanita Davis, whose Happy Families I really want to read, at The Happy Nappy Bookseller.
I read and reviewed the first book Y. S. Lee’s The Agency series, A Spy in the House, when it came out a couple of years ago, but never got around to discussing its sequels, The Body at the Tower and the recently published The Traitor in the Tunnel. Since I’m interviewing Y. S. Lee as part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour (the full schedule is up at Colleen’s), well, what better time to remedy the situation?
This series, I have to admit, features so many of my favorite elements that I was predisposed to enjoy the books. It’s historical fiction with a vividly depicted setting; featuring a strong female protagonist; solid mysteries that involve, to varying degrees, issues of feminism, class, and race; a satisfying romantic element; and is just plain enjoyable to read. The history is seamlessly integrated so it doesn’t weigh down the story, the feminism doesn’t feel out of place or too modern, the mysteries are plausible, and there’s a lot of chemistry between Mary and James. I was so happy to pick up the first book and discover that it surpassed my expectations, and the same with the following books, as well. Seriously, how often can you say that?
We first meet Mary Quinn in A Spy in the House. Her first assignment for the all-female investigative firm known as The Agency is to work undercover as a lady’s companion to Angelica Thorold. Angelica’s father is suspected of smuggling, and while searching Mr. Thorold’s office one night, Mary bumps into James Easton, a young engineer who has his own reasons to want to look into the Thorolds’ affairs.
One year after the conclusion of the Thorold investigation, Mary and James cross paths again in The Body at the Tower. This time, after a construction worker is killed under mysterious circumstances, Mary goes undercover disguised as a boy on behalf of The Agency. James, meanwhile, is recently returned from India, recovering from malaria and a harsh dose of reality that stymied his hoped-for growth of Easton Engineering.
It’s hard to describe the plot of The Traitor in the Tunnel without spoilers for the previous books, so let’s just say that Mary is working as a maid at Buckingham Palace in order to find a thief, but the original case quickly takes a backseat to a murder few want investigated in detail.
In each book, the mystery Mary must investigate forces her to revisit aspects of her past that she’d prefer to avoid. It’s not just her work for The Agency that she must keep secret from James, but also her own background as a convicted thief and her parentage. Basically, Mary is in the position of having to lie to a man she’s drawn to, or at least keep major secrets from him. But Lee depicts Mary so sympathetically, and gives readers enough insight into her background and motivation, that it’s hard to fault Mary for not wanting to tell James the truth about herself.
Yet for all that I appreciate Mary, one of my favorite things is how James evolves over the course of the series. From the start, he’s honorable and respects Mary’s intelligence and ability, but to see how he changes because of his growing relationship with Mary is wonderful.
Unsurprisingly, I cannot wait to find out what happens in the next book. I mean, all this stuff I love, an author I trust, plus the British Museum!? (I’ve never been there, but if I ever travel to England, the British Museum would be my first stop. Well, maybe the second, after the V&A.) I don’t know when Rivals in the City will be published, but you can bet I’ll read it. And you can find out a bit more about it in my interview with Ying.
Book source: The Body at the Tower from the public library, The Traitor in the Tunnel from NetGalley.