Serena’s Review: “The Bright and the Pale”

Book: “The Bright and the Pale” by Jessica Rubinkowski

Publishing Info: Quill Tree Books, March 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Valeria is one of the only survivors of the freeze, a dark magical hold Knnot Mountain unleashed over her village. Everyone, including her family, is trapped in an unbreakable sheet of ice. Ever since, she’s been on the run from the Czar, who is determined to imprison any who managed to escape. Valeria finds refuge with the Thieves Guild, doing odd jobs with her best friend Alik, the only piece of home she has left.

That is, until he is brutally murdered.

A year later, she discovers Alik is alive and being held against his will. To buy his freedom, she must lead a group of cutthroats and thieves on a perilous expedition to the very mountain that claimed her family. Only something sinister slumbers in the heart of Knnot.

And it has waited years for release.

Review: Of course this new YA fantasy was marketed as similar to Leigh Bardugo’s work. If it’s not the Grisha series, it’s “Six of Crows. This nonsense has gotten completely out of hand. At this point, that comparison has been used so often (and so poorly) that it’s essentially meaningless. But, alongside the Leigh Bardugo comparison, this book was blurbed as being for fans of Katherine Arden’s “Winternight” trilogy, an all-time favorite series of mine recently. So that did the trick in getting me to pick this one up. Unfortunately, the book really doesn’t deserve either comparison…unless we’re back to the meaninglessness of the Leigh Bardugo spin where all it really signifies is that the book you’re about to pick up is a YA fantasy, which, then, yes.

To this point, Valeria’s life has been nothing but loss. First she lost her home and everyone she loved to a deep freeze. And later, after finding refuge in the Thieves Guild, she loses her best friend Alik to a brutal death. But she is also a survivor, eking out an existence beneath the very nose of the Czar who is out to silence anyone who has survived the freeze. Her life takes a turn, however, when she discovers that Alik is alive. Alive, but changed. To save him, she must venture back to the very place she fears most, the mountain that claimed her town to its cold power.

To get it out of the way from the start, this wasn’t a favorite read of mine. But the one thing I did enjoy, overall, was the world-building involved. Most especially, perhaps, the gods called the Bright and the Pale were very interesting. I liked the idea that neither is inherently good or bad, therefore choosing to follow one over the other doesn’t necessarily speak to any overall world-view or intent on an individual’s part. I also enjoyed the general world-building. It was easy to picture the frozen landscape and the ominous presence of the mountains and the magic that lurked there. The atmosphere itself worked very well for what the story was trying to accomplish.

However, I struggled to enjoy this book. The pacing was difficult, with a slow start that took quite a while to become engaging. This beginning was also hindered by a style of writing that too often veered into telling rather than showing, with information feeling squeezed into dialogue and in the narration in ways that felt unnatural and ponderous. The writing itself was rather clunky, and it took me several chapters to realize that part of the reason I was struggling with the book was the fact that I needed to re-read several sentences to try to piece together what the author was actually getting at. Hopefully, as I was reading an e-ARC, some of this will be cleaned up in edits (there were words missing from sentences even, though the sheer number of times this seemed to happen makes me think it might have just been a very poor writing style choice??).

Valeria was also not a character to write home about. There was nothing obviously wrong with her, and the attempts at giving her a dark back story with the loss of her home suited well enough. However, she still simply felt like every other YA heroine with “a past.” There wasn’t enough distinction to her voice or character to make her stand out from the increasingly crowded set of leading ladies in YA fantasy.

I also didn’t care for the romance or some of the twists in the story. I felt like most of the reveals were telegraphed way too early and too obviously to provide any sort of weight when they finally landed. And the romance struggled against some of the unlikable aspects of Alik’s character. There was too much time spent on him saying horrible things and then later apologizing for those same horrible things. From there, it just followed the typical YA romance arc without adding much or creating any real sizzle between these two.

Fans of Russian-inspired fairytales may enjoy this read, but I do think it has enough marks against it to not earn a strong recommendation. It definitely wasn’t for me, and I think there are likely better examples of similar works to read if one is looking for books like this. Katherine Arden’s “Winternight” series, for sure, and Naomi Novik’s “Spinning Silver,” come to mind.

Rating 6: A disappointing read that had promise but seemed to lack some of the writing proficiency needed to really pully it off.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bright and the Pale” are on these Goodreads lists: Monsters and Magic Society and 2021 Young Adult Debuts.

Find “The Bright and the Pale” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Untamed Shore”

Book: “Untamed Shore” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Agora Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A coming-of-age story set in Mexico quickly turns dark when a young woman meets three enigmatic tourists.

Baja California, 1979. Viridiana spends her days watching the dead sharks piled beside the seashore, as the fishermen pull their nets. There is nothing else to do, nothing else to watch, under the harsh sun. She’s bored. Terribly bored. Yet her head is filled with dreams of Hollywood films, of romance, of a future beyond the drab town where her only option is to marry and have children. Three wealthy American tourists arrive for the summer, and Viridiana is magnetized. She immediately becomes entwined in the glamorous foreigners’ lives. They offer excitement, and perhaps an escape from the promise of a humdrum future.

When one of them dies, Viridiana lies to protect her friends. Soon enough, someone’s asking questions, and Viridiana has some of her own about the identity of her new acquaintances. Sharks may be dangerous, but there are worse predators nearby, ready to devour a naïve young woman who is quickly being tangled in a web of deceit.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most exciting voices in fiction, and with her first crime novel, UNTAMED SHORE, she crafts a blazing novel of suspense with an eerie seaside setting and a literary edge that proves her a master of the genre.

Review: It is probably becoming clear to all of you that this blog is very much a Silvia Moreno-Garcia Stan page. Given that she has been dipping her toes into all kinds of genres, there are things for both Serena and myself to love. This time I’m taking on a good old fashioned crime thriller novel called “Untamed Shore”, which promises suspense, secrets, death, and sharks. All while also being a coming of age story in 1970s Baja, Mexico. I mean my goodness, everything about this just screams ‘YOU SHOULD BE READING THIS KATE, AND HOW DARE YOU MISS IT THE FIRST TIME AROUND?!’

Me to my reading tastes. Also, holy “Detroit Rock City” gif, Batman! (source)

Something that has become very clear about Moreno-Garcia is that she can genre hop with ease, and that her stories will always be incredibly strong no matter what kind of themes that they take on. This is something that I have seen not very often with authors I like, as they either stick to one thing, or if they do branch out it doesn’t work as well. But for Moreno-Garcia, she makes it look easy. “Untamed Shore” is both a crime novel and a bildungsroman about Viridiana, an eighteen year old living in small town Baja who dreams of more for herself. She’s smart, she’s feisty, she’s misunderstood due to her ambition and her background, and she’s also naive, due to her youth and her lack of worldliness. All of these things make for an easy to root for character, and she’s well rounded and tenacious and everything I like to see in a female protagonist at that. You completely understand why she would be drawn to Ambrose, Daisy, and Gregory, three American tourists with money, privilege, and a somewhat dark dynamic that Viridiana sees when she becomes a live in assistant. Ambrose is cold, Daisy is magnetic and unpredictable, and Gregory is charming and seductive, and I love how we get a sense for all of them through Viridiana’s eyes, but also through the behaviors that she sees but may not quite catch. It’s Gregory’s wooing of Viridiana that feels the most dangerous, as her pie in the sky romantic nature and hopes for better things makes their romance feel sinister, even as she is led to believe that it’s real. So our suspense is ratcheted up because Viridiana may be in serious danger the closer she gets to them, and yet as the story goes on Viridiana takes a very interesting journey in which she adapts, grows, and makes moves of her own. Bottom line, I loved Viridiana, and her growth was fascinating to watch. Especially when she has to start figuring out if she has alliances to her supposed friends/the man she loves, or to those who may want to take her supposed friends down.

Moreno-Garcia has also set her story in a place that, once again, feels unique to me and my reading tastes. When I think of crime novels, I tend to think of New York, Los Angeles, maybe somewhere in Europe or MAYBE Asia. I am always trying to expand my horizons, however, so the setting of 1970s Mexico was very enjoyable. I felt like I knew the ins and outs of Desegaño, the small fishing town that is becoming more and more suffocating to Viridiana as days go by, and that doesn’t see TOO many tourists (which means the three she falls in with are all the more compelling). The setting is compelling, and it also is the perfect way to explore the way that American tourists take places like this for granted, thinking that they can waltz in, throw their weight around, and use the locals in whatever way they feel like. Ambrose, Daisy, and Gregory have their own preconceived notions about Viridiana, because of her youth and her ethnicity/nationality, and it all feels like a very ugly but apt metaphor that I greatly enjoyed.

And oh, the suspense! It’s pretty clear to the reader what happened when one of the Americans ends up dead, so the story there on out is wondering if Viridiana is going to realize what exactly she has been pulled into, or if she is going to be so desperate to leave Desegaño and so desperate to believe that she and Gregory are in love that she will believe anything that the two left alive will tell her. Her desperation is palpable and understandable, and I was barreling through to the end not necessarily wanting to know if all the garbage the Americans did would come to light, but if Viridiana would come out okay.

Overall, I loved “Untamed Shore”. I ran the gamut of emotions and am now even more excited to continue on my Silvia Moreno-Garcia journey.

Rating 9: A sizzling and suspenseful crime thriller with a likable, if not a little morally ambiguous, protagonist and a fun backdrop.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Untamed Shore” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mysteries/Thrillers by BIPOC Authors”, and “Historical Fiction Set in Latin America”.

Find “Untamed Shore” at your library using WorldCat, or or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Book Club Review: “Red at the Bone”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Outside the Genre Box”, in which we each picked a book from a genre or format that we don’t usually read.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Red at the Bone” by Jacqueline Woodson

Publishing Info: Riverhead Books, September 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Genre/Format: Literary Fiction

Book Description: Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

Kate’s Thoughts

Although this genre doesn’t tend to make it onto the blog, I am not really a stranger to literary fiction. If a literary novel has a topic that sounds interesting, or has a lot of hype around it, I will probably pick it up, and a lot of the time I enjoy it as a genre. But somehow I missed “Red at the Bone” by Jacqueline Woodson when it came out, so when book club picked it as the Outside the Genre Box book I was eager to dive in. I read it in the course of an afternoon, as the family saga theme is one that I’ve always been a sucker for.

“Red at the Bone” is an emotional look at a family that has gone through a lot through the generations. We start with the society coming out celebration of Melody, a sixteen year old Black teenager living in New York City in 2001. She is wearing the dress that her mother Iris was supposed to wear before her, but her pregnancy at 16 cancelled the event. We look at the entire family, jumping through time, perspectives, and themes, and learn how Melody came to be, how her relationship with Iris has become what it has, and how the influence of her other family members, and the influences of their experiences, has affected her, and all of them. Woodson takes a good hard look at class differences, the way that parents have hopes for their children that don’t always mesh, and the way that trauma can be passed down through family lines, even if the later generations weren’t there to experience the initial traumatic event (for example, there is a lot of attention paid to the Tulsa Massacre, and how that horrible event has lingered down the family line). I found the different perspectives of different family members to be powerful, and Woodson gave all of them a lot of attention even in the comparatively lower number of pages. I was especially moved by the way that Woodson looks at mother and daughter relationships, and the difficulties that can be found there (I’m probably a bit biased in that regard, but I have no doubt that anyone will find it emotionally resonant as Woodson is so good).

I really liked “Red at the Bone”. It’s a quick read, but it hits in all the right ways.

Serena’s Thoughts

Unlike Kate, I really and truly don’t read a lot of literary fiction. Pretty much rules me out of being an adult librarian (rather than YA/children’s, which what I was trained for)! But I have read one or two here and there, usually upon recommendation, and often enjoyed them. I typically want more magic and unicorns in my reading, but if the writing and story are strong, I can get behind ordinary life as well.

I knew nothing about this author before reading this. Or, really, anything about what the story was about even. So I picked it up with no real preconceptions. And then I didn’t set it down until it was finished. Yes, it is a shorter book as well, but it was also compulsively readable. The layers of family history and personalities perfectly layered one on top of the other to weave together an intricate tapestry of lives lived through various trials and tribulations. We see the many ups and downs of everyone’s lives and how these experiences shape not only the character whose head we are in currently, but how these traumas, joys, choices ripple out to affect everyone else around them and following them.

Like Kate, I was particularly interested in the story of motherhood that is at much of the heart of this story. While I have two boys instead of a daughter, I am, of course, a daughter myself. It was heart-breaking and yet completely relatable to experience the fierce love and fierce hurt that can exist within this unique relationship. I also very much related to the sudden, sometimes harsh, reality of what parenthood looks like.

My own experience was very different, behind older, married to my husband, and both hoping for this outcome. But there were also moments of very real, very dark places in the actual experience of become a mother, too. The idea that overnight your entire identity seems to be sucked into this new born baby. It’s the first thing people ask you, it’s almost all you are to people for so long. And, you know, the baby isn’t even grateful! Just screaming and crying and demanding food all the time! Little punk. I kid, but it is also very hard. I can’t even imagine going through it as a young teenager and trying to find some way to be a good mother while also retain some part of a life for yourself that you hadn’t even had a chance to start.

There were so many incredible themes that resonated in this book: family, identity (both sexual and racial), history and legacy. For such a short book, it would be easy to write several essays covering different topics broached in this story. Fans of literary fiction, especially those focused on family and identity should definitely check this one out.

Kate’s Rating 8: An emotional and lyrical family saga, “Red at the Bone” is a quick and powerful read.

Serena’s Rating 8: Beautiful and heart-breaking, a must-read for fans of stories focused on family.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the structure of the narrative? Was it easy for you to follow?
  2. Did you have a character that you liked the most, or wanted to learn more about beyond the story that they had in this book?
  3. What did you think about the way that Woodson presented this family and the dynamics within in?
  4. There is a lot of family trauma and grief that this family has gone through over the years, as well as hope for future generations. What did you take away from this story in terms of trauma that passes through family lines, as well as aspirations for legacy?
  5. Iris and Melody are the central relationship within this story. Do you think that their relationship has hope to evolve into something new beyond the end? Do you think that it needs to?

Reader’s Advisory

“Red at the Bone” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2019”, and “Popsugar 2021 #33: A Book Featuring Three Generations”.

Find “Red at the Bone” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer

Serena’s Review: “The Brass Queen”

Book: “The Brass Queen” by Elizabeth Chatsworth

Publishing Info: CamCat Books, January 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: In 1897, a fiery British aristocrat and an inept US spy search for a stolen invisibility serum that could spark a global war.

Miss Constance Haltwhistle is the last in a line of blue-blooded rogue inventors. Selling exotic firearms under her alias, the ‘Brass Queen,’ has kept her baronial estate’s coffers full. But when US spy, Trusdale, saves her from assassins, she’s pulled into a search for a scientist with an invisibility serum. As royal foes create an invisible army to start a global war, Constance and Trusdale must learn to trust each other. If they don’t, the world they know will literally disappear before their eyes.

Review: I haven’t reviewed a lot of them, but that’s because I don’t really see them around that much, but I do really enjoy a good steampunk fantasy when I can find it. It’s a neat, little quirky subgenre in fantasy fiction that is kind of bizarre in the specific elements that are seemingly expected from the genre: must involve steam-powered machine, often set in the Victorian period or some historical-feeling setting, has a decent overlap with Manners period pieces, etc. Those are all things I typically enjoy, so combine them well, and you’ve probably got a winner for me! Ah, but combining them well….

Constance must marry. Her family home is in danger, and with an absent father and no other recourse before her, the marriage market is her only way forward. Of course, she must find a husband who can either ignore or not see the other identity that Constance keeps under tight wraps: her position as the “Brass Queen,” a well-respected, underground weapons dealer. All is going exactly not to plan when her debut ball is interrupted by thieves. She quickly finds herself caught up in an elaborate plot that extends past Britain’s own borders. Not only that, she’s paired up a ridiculous U.S. spy whom she’s not sure she can even trust. What could go wrong next?

Like I said, I generally enjoy steampunk fantasy stories, and this one in particular had some interesting things going for it, like our heroine’s secret life as the Brass Queen. I also liked the way the author explored the idea of this imagined version of England with its machines and mechanized creations. The very first scene sees Constance opening a ball in a room overseen by towering animatronic suits that can be piloted by riders within. Constance’s own alternate identity gives the reader a direct line into the ins and outs of how this type of weaponization has and could be used. There was a lot of creativity here and elements to pique one’s interest.

But other than these aspects of the world-building, I struggled with this story. Constance, for one thing, was a walking, talking contradiction whom I could never quite understand or believe in as a living, breathing person. On one hand, she’s this weapons dealer who works with great power players all of the time. And yet in the very first scene, we’re supposed to believe that she’s been bumbling around the ball room this entire time and is about to fall to pieces over a simple speech? Someone who runs an underground weapons dealership would surely have a firm hand on proper decorum and behavior and much experience talking to strangers, likely to even more important people and with greater stakes at play. This contradiction continued throughout the book. I just had a hard time buying a lot of Constance’s actions when set against the idea that she was supposed to be this powerful, underground operator (as many characters remind us).

I also felt like the romance was a bit off the entire time. I’m not sure if this was because I was constantly distracted by Constance, or what exactly the problem was. I think part of it was Trusdale had a very “American cowboy in Britain” thing going on that I also had a hard time taking seriously. The book was clearly trying to incorporate a good amount of humor, and some the bantering between these two was actually quite good. But the balance was just slightly off and some of the humorous moments early on made it hard for me to take either of these characters too seriously or care overly much about their romance as a whole.

I also struggled with the writing in general. I had a hard time picturing some of the elements of the story, never a good thing for a fantasy book. And the story sometimes had jarring jumps between one scene and another. The formatting on my Kindle e-galley didn’t help with this. Hopefully the finalized version will have better page breaks to distinguish these scenes a bit better.

Overall, I had a fairly middling response to this book. There was nothing that I really disliked, but I also didn’t care about the story that much. The writing wasn’t quite strong enough to support some of the more fantastical elements, and the characters weren’t complicated enough to add any weight to the action. If you really enjoy steampunk fantasy stories, this might be worth checking out, but it wasn’t quite all I had hoped it would be.

Rating 7: Fun enough at times, but not all I had hoped it could be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Brass Queen” is on these Goodreads lists: Gaslamp Fantasy and 2021 Swoony Awards.

Find “The Brass Queen” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Whisper Down the Lane”

Book: “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: Inspired by the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, the critically acclaimed author of The Remaking delivers another pulse pounding, true-crime-based horror novel.

Richard doesn’t have a past. For him, there is only the present: a new marriage to Tamara, a first chance at fatherhood to her son Elijah, and a quiet but pleasant life as an art teacher at Elijah’s elementary school in Danvers, Virginia. Then the body of a rabbit, ritualistically murdered, appears on the school grounds with a birthday card for Richard tucked beneath it. Richard doesn’t have a birthday—but Sean does . . .

Sean is a five-year-old boy who has just moved to Greenfield, Virginia, with his mother. Like most mothers of the 1980s, she’s worried about bills, childcare, putting food on the table . . . and an encroaching threat to American life that can take the face of anyone: a politician, a friendly neighbor, or even a teacher. When Sean’s school sends a letter to the parents revealing that Sean’s favorite teacher is under investigation, a white lie from Sean lights a fire that engulfs the entire nation—and Sean and his mother are left holding the match.

Now, thirty years later, someone is here to remind Richard that they remember what Sean did. And though Sean doesn’t exist anymore, someone needs to pay the price for his lies.

Review: Thank you to Quirk Books for sending me an eARC via NetGalley!

As a person who has very, shall we say, passionate feelings about certain topics, there are a few subjects that will send me off on rants, be they happy or angry or what have you. One of those topics that is of the ‘angry’ variety is that of Satanic Panic, a period in American History during the 1980s and early 1990s in which people started to believe that there were hidden Satanists all over who wanted nothing more than to molest children and sacrifice them and do other things horrible things all to please Satan. This led to a hysteria fueled by Evangelicals, unethical psychologists, manipulated testimonials, and daytime talk show hosts, and in turn led to a lot of people being unfairly accused of horrific things that didn’t happen, and it wrecked peoples lives. It is a subject that makes my blood boil (and it sure doesn’t help that with the rise of QAnon we are starting to see a new breed of secret Satan conspiracy theories in real time). This brings me to “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman, which takes the infamous McMartin Preschool Trials and makes a novel about a man who, when he was a child, told lies about his Kindergarten teacher, and is now as an adult having lies told about him. I steeled myself, ready to be pissed as hell as I read. And reader, boy was I.

This very phrase uttered numerous times, but quieter as not to wake the sleeping husband beside me in bed. (source)

As “Whisper Down the Lane” is probably supposed to get you riled up, as a story it works. BOY does it work. We get to see a frustrating and also unsettling narrative about Richard, who has tried to forget that he is actually Sean, a boy who told many awful lies about his Kindergarten teacher Mr. Woodhouse, because he liked the attention and because he thought that he was doing what his mother wanted. The mystery of who has started stalking Richard as an adult and has started to try to ruin his life in the same way he ruined Mr. Woodhouse’s is a promising and enticing storyline, as the question is is someone after him, or is this a manifestation of his own repressed guilt? This in turn leads to some very creepy moments, and it also does a fantastic and cathartic dressing down of Satanic Panic and how it preyed upon the misguided fears of a lot of people, and in turn did a lot of damage. Instead of portraying Richard’s/Sean’s mom as a zealous true believer, we got to see a fairly normal single mother with understandable anxieties swept up into something that is untrue, as it take advantage of those anxieties. I didn’t LIKE her as a character, but I don’t think you are supposed to. But I also liked that Chapman gave her some grace, showing that it was this horror of something happening to her son, and then the horror realizing that something HADN’T, that had some tragic fallout. Chapman does draw some really insightful parallels to Satanic Panic of the 80s and the whackadoo and dangerous conspiracy theories that we are seeing today (not just Q shit but also School Shooting False Flag shit).

But there was a big issue I had with “Whisper Down the Lane”. The same grace that is afforded to his mother isn’t REALLY afforded to Richard/Sean. One of the really awful things about Satanic Panic (in a real soup of MANY AWFUL THINGS) is that this strange obsession with Satanists preying upon children in turn led to many children being manipulated to not only tell lies, but also to start believing the lies that some really HORRIFIC things happened to them. While Richard’s/Sean’s actions absolutely fueled what ultimately happens to Mr. Woodhouse, I don’t feel like enough attention and culpability was put upon the adults who fed him that narrative. Sure, that means his Mom, a bit anyway, but what about the authorities? What about the crackpot psychologist who bullies him into lying in the first place (these were the worst parts for me, the transcripts of the interviews)? What about the talk show host who propped him up AS A CHILD as an arbiter or truth and justice and added even more lies into it? While we feel a true amount of anger towards them, I felt that there was definitely too much of Richard blaming himself, with no pushback against that thinking whatsoever. I don’t need a long and winding speech about ‘you were just a child, Sean!’. But I also don’t want to see that perfectly reasonable ‘you were LITERALLY FIVE’ argument be tossed aside as not good enough. It just felt a little too much like ‘and now you’re getting some just desserts’ in a situation where just desserts shouldn’t be sent his way. At least not to the extent they are. And had I not been able to see where this entire thing was going from pretty early on, this may have been a little forgivable. But the mystery itself wasn’t that shocking or surprising. True, some red herrings get thrown in here and there, but they weren’t explored enough to make me feel like they were actual contenders for a solution.

“Whisper Down the Lane” missed the mark for me. It’s very possible it is because this is a topic that really touches a nerve for me, so I don’t necessarily want people to write it off. As an examination the horrible things Satanic Panic did, it’s very effective. I just wish it had been a little more discerning in where to place the lion’s share of blame, because as it it feels more like a morality tale than the multi layered tragedy it could have been.

Rating 6: A lot of promise, but a somewhat obvious solution and misdirected blame made “Whisper Down the Lane” a let down for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Whisper Down the Lane” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases”, and it would fit in on “Satanic Panic”.

Find “Whisper Down the Lane” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Dustborn”

Book: “Dustborn” by Erin Bowman

Publication Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, April 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it—even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her. 

Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted—perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.

Review: This book was marketed as appealing to fans of “Mad Max.” That was probably enough for me right there. The cover also worked perfectly for this description, luring me in even further. It is super unique, kind of creepy, and sets a perfect tone for the type of brutal, wasteland existence the book’s description references. I hadn’t read anything else by this author, which is also exciting. And it all worked out perfectly for me here, as I ended enjoying the heck out of this book.

Delta has always been distrustful. On her back she carries a deadly secret, one that she’s been warned to always hide. But luckily for her, this distrust of strangers is not a great weight to carry as there are so few strangers in the first place. Her pack is barely surviving on the barren wastelands, anxiously watching their only water supply slow shrink back. When Delta returns from a brief mission away to find her home destroyed and her pack abducted by a powerful man calling himself the “General,” she knows she was and the secret she carries were the likely target. Now she must venture out into the wasteland to decrypt this ancient secret before it’s too late for those she loves.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this story. For one thing, the world-building is very strong. I was immediately able to picture the wasteland that Delta lives in and the powerful storms that plague it instantly felt like a viable and fearful threat. The story touches on many of the small elements of life that would be challenging living under these circumstances that the reader might not immediately think of. It made the entire thing feel very lived in and tangible. The ever-present dust, the constant underlying fear of running out of water, the emptiness stretching out in every direction. Too afraid to move, but unable to stay where you are. Delta’s descriptions of this all are matter-of-fact and blunt, occurring organically as the story rolls out.

Delta herself was very sympathetic, partly for just how hardened and rough she was with those around her. She’s definitely a product of the life she’s been raised into, one full of difficulty but with the added layer of fear surrounding the secret map on her back. Her story is one of learning to trust, sometimes against reason. It’s also one of faith, how one can lose it and how sometimes hope and faith are needed even in the face of terrible odds. I really liked Delta’s ponderings on truth and faith, and her attempts to strike the appropriate balance between the two.

I also really enjoyed the side characters. Asher was a fairly predictable love interest, without a lot that made him stand out from the pack. But there were a bunch of surprise side characters that the general description doesn’t even mention who play, arguably, even a bigger role than Asher does in Delta’s journey, both her physical trek across the waste and her personal journey of self-discovery. I don’t want to spoil any of the elements of the book, since these characters continue to pop up throughout the book, even fairly late into the story and each surprise is as good as the last.

Speaking of surprises, while I can definitely see the comparisons to “Mad Max” and I think that is an apt sum-up of the story, this is book is definitely its own thing. There was a really big surprise towards the end that I didn’t see coming at all. I always love when I come across books that can truly shock me with a twist like this. You don’t even realize how many elements have been laid down pointing towards this reveal until it suddenly comes.

Overall, I had a blast reading this book. It was action-packed, fresh, and had a tough-as-grits heroine to lead us through the story. It strikes the perfect balance between post-apocalyptic and country western, varying between its themes of hope in the face of terrible odds and the go-get ’em attitude of our leading lady. Fans of “Mad Max” and post-apocalyptic stories are sure to enjoy this one!

Rating 9: Dive into the dusty landscape and make sure to have a glass of water on hand. Not only will it help with the prevalent worry over water throughout the book, but you may not be able to put down this page-turner for quite a while!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dustborn” is on these Goodreads lists: [ATY 2021] – Related to Past, Present, Future – FUTURE and Best Traveling Vicariously.

Find “Dustborn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “You Love Me”

Book: “You Love Me” (You #3) by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Random House, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Joe Goldberg is done with cities, done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now, he’s saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.

He gets a job at the local library–he does know a thing or two about books–and that’s where he meets her: Mary Kaye DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won’t meddle, he will not obsess. He’ll win her the old fashioned way . . . by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they’ll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.

The trouble is . . . Mary Kaye already has a life. She’s a mother. She’s a friend. She’s . . . busy.

True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He’s ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kaye will do the right thing and make room for him.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Long have I waited for Caroline Kepnes to continue the story of Joe Goldberg, my favorite literary psychopath/hopeless romantic/obsessive stalker. When I first encountered Joe back in 2016, in which I read “You” and “Hidden Bodies” almost in direct succession of each other, I was hoping we’d get more, but didn’t want to hold my breath lest I be disappointed. Well thank you, Netflix, for picking up the show “You” starring Penn Badgely, and making it a bonafide hit. Because now we are DEFINITELY getting more Joe stories, and the newest one is “You Love Me”. When I saw that I was approved to read it, I could have cried I was so happy (I may have a little bit, actually). I waited for five years, and it was pretty much worth the wait.

Hello again, creep. Oh how I’ve missed you. (source)

I missed Joe. And diving back into his mind was both fun and a bit jarring. “You Love Me” has similar traits to the previous books; we still have Joe obsessing, we still have a cast of over the top scumbag characters he encounters, and we still have the eerie and voyeuristic sensation of watching him as he stalks someone and worms his way into her life. But we also get some more complexity to Joe, complexity that certainly doesn’t let him off the hook for his misdeeds, but makes him a bit more semi-tragic than he was back in the early days of “You” and “Hidden Bodies”. Kepnes really dives into the darkness of his character here, and keeps mining out disturbing things, though at the same time she’s letting him grow in other ways that I found really interesting. I suppose it would be too repetitive to just keep him static, and that’s kind of a ballsy move given that this is a man who victimizes basically everyone he encounters. Even when he doesn’t mean to.

Since it’s from his POV again (and we’re back to the second person perspective in the unique way that Kepnes does it, in that it actually WORKS), we have to surmise that a LOT of what we’re getting from him is unreliable. But at the same time, I felt like that I did get a sense for many of the new characters this time around, from Mary Kay to her daughter Nomi (or “Meerkat” as Joe calls her), to Mary Kay’s obnoxious friends, to other thorns in his side. While I don’t know if anyone was going to live up to Love Quinn in my mind (more on that in a bit…..), Mary Kay felt like the exact kind of nuanced and complicated person that Joe would be drawn to. Kepnes manages to make all of these characters feel real, even though they are all a bit exaggerated just because of who the narrator is. 

The story itself has some of the same stumbling blocks that the previous books have. There are some moments or arcs that feel a little hastily tacked on to keep Joe a few steps away from his ultimate goal. There are a couple deus ex machinas. There are a couple of REALLY nutty moments of peril for Joe. My biggest issue was how the story wrapped up the L.A. storyline, as while I know we had to have Joe be able to move on to a new object of obsession, it felt VERY rushed. When we did revisit Love she felt a little stilted and out of character for my tastes, which was a shame because I felt like there was a FOUNT of depths, mostly dark, that we could have explored, so that was a disappointment. But ultimately these shortcomings I can pretty easily put aside, because it’s Joe. I read these books not for the believability of them, or to see how a plot will keep itself together, or to avoid over the top craziness. I read them because Joe Goldberg is scary, hilarious, and in some ways (not the killing ways) very relatable.

I don’t know where we’re going to go from here. I do know that a fourth book is going to happen. “You Love Me” is a welcome return to Joe Goldberg and his twisted obsessions. I’m happy to see him again.

Rating 9: A soapy, creepy, and funny return to one of my favorite series of all time, “You Love Me” brings Joe Goldberg back to freak us all out, and it goes splendidly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Love Me” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Releases” . That said, this is not a horror novel but it’s the ONLY list that is at all specific to theme. I may add more if more pop up that are more specific.

Find “You Love Me” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Highlights: April 2021

Birds are chirping, rain is falling, the air smells great, and in Minnesota people around us are leaving their homes for outdoor activities (while being safe, of course). Just get some vaccines in everyone’s arms, and it will be a great spring indeed! Until then, we have some books that we are hoping will help pass the time.

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Dustborn” by Erin Bowman

Publication Date: April 20, 2021

Why I’m Interested: First things first: I absolutely love the cover art for this book. It’s kind of creepy, but also sci-fi feeling, and definitely post-apocalypitic. Which is perfect for a book that is being marketed for fans of “Mad Max.” Well, I’m that fan, so here I am! The story is that of a young woman who’s grown up in a water-less wasteland. Every day is a struggle, tormented by dangerous dust storms that can strike at any moment. For Delta, these everyday struggles are made all the harder by the dangerous secret she carries burned into her very skin: a map to the one oasis left in his deserted place. But no one can read it. When her entire family and tribe is captured by a maniacal tyrant, Detla is left with no choice but to venture out into the unknown in search of this mystical place and the secrets locked in her own history. Very excited to check this one out!

Book: “The Helm of Midnight” by Marina Lostetter

Publication Date: April 20, 2021

Why I’m Interested: A heist book that isn’t be touted as the next “Six of Crows” in all of the marketing promotions! Mostly because it’s not YA, I think. But the combination of heist story and serial killer/murder mystery sounds very intriguing. Add in some steampunk fantasy elements and an adult fantasy story, and I’m all in! When an ancient mask is stolen, the thieves unwittingly release the spirit of a deadly, serial murderer from long ago. Now terror wanders the streets and death strikes again. But there is a pattern and motive behind these killings, and it is up to a wily group of individuals to crack the code and uncover the dark mystery at the heart of their deadly foe. There’s not tons to go on from the description, but in some ways that makes it all the more appealing. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to get. But I’ve been hankering for a good mystery story, and if fantasy comes along with it, all the better!

Book: “The Light of the Midnight Stars” by Rena Rossner

Publishing Date: April 13, 2021

Why I’m Interested: I really enjoyed “The Sisters of the Winder Wood” with its creative, lyrical style of writing and the Jewish folk stories woven throughout the atmospheric story. So I was really excited to see another book by this author coming out this spring. In many ways, it sounds a lot like the first books. Instead of two sisters, this time there are three, each with their own special kind of magic. When they and their family begin to fall under suspicion for these abilities and for their religious beliefs, they must strike out into a new world. There, each sister must confront her own unique challenges and find her own path through this perilous world. On one hand, there’s a lot here that may be too similar to the first book. But on the other hand, I really liked that one? So, do I really care?? We’ll find out soon!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Even though it is a topic that is sure to send me into the white hot rage of 10,000 suns, the Satanic Panic period in our culture, aka when people were convinced that devil worshippers were hiding in plain sight all over the country, is deeply fascinating to me. So when the description for “Whisper Down the Lane” by Clay McLeod Chapman ended up in my email box, along with a download link, I was on board. Even if I knew it was going to be an emotional read. Richard is starting a new life as a husband, stepfather, and teacher at an elementary school. He’s trying to forget the days that he was Sean, a five year old who found himself enmeshed in accusations towards his Kindergarten teacher of Satanism and dark rituals, which led to his teacher’s suicide. But now, a mysterious notes and calls are being sent Richard’s way, and someone is starting to accuse him of terrible things. Or is it just his guilty conscience?

Book: “The Forest of Stolen Girls” by June Hur

Publication Date: April 20, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Given how much I liked June Hur’s previous historical mystery, “The Silence of Bones”, I snatched up the opportunity to get “The Forest of Stolen Girls” from NetGalley. And one again, Hur takes a historical setting I’m not as familiar with (1400s Korea) and gives it a timeless feel, as well as a dive into a dark history that still echos today. Hwani is returning to home village on Jeju Island after years of being on the mainland. A few years earlier, she and her sister were found unconscious in the forest, not too far from the horrific murder scene of another girl. Their father has made it his mission to find out what happened to her, along with other girls who went missing…. but then he too disappeared. Hwani teams up with her estranged sister in hopes of finding their Dad, but stumbles upon a far reaching and dark web of murder, disappearing women, and a man in a mask. This all sounds right up my alley.

Book: “You Love Me” by Caroline Kepnes

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Why I’m Interested: Because it’s Joe Goldberg, that’s why. Okay, I will expand upon that. I have loved Caroline Kepnes’s “You” series ever since I read “You” and “Hidden Bodies” in 2016, and I was hoping, HOPING that she would write more stories about Joe, the obsessive and creepy (but incredibly funny) psychopath. And now, five years later, it has finally happened. Joe has left Los Angeles, left his criminal charges behind, and is once again unattached (as things with Love blew up after the whole accused of murder thing). Now he’s in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, volunteering at a library and trying to live more on the straight and narrow…. Until he meets Mary Kay, the friendly librarian. Joe is in love again, and you know what that means… Nothing good will follow. I’m so, so happy that we have finally come back to this awful, and awfully funny, character.

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Monthly Marillier: “Heir to Sevenwaters”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Heir to Sevenwaters” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc, November 2008

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The chieftains of Sevenwaters have long been custodians of a vast and mysterious forest. Human and Otherworld dwellers have existed there side by side, sharing a wary trust. Until the spring when Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters finds herself expecting another child? A new heir to Sevenwaters. Then the family’s joy turns to despair when the baby is taken from his room and something…unnatural is left in his place. To reclaim her newborn brother, Clodagh must enter the shadowy Otherworld and confront the powerful prince who rules there.

Review: Marillier wrote several other books between her first three “Sevenwaters” entries and this, the first of a second set of three. I’ll get to many of those books later, but I thought it might be nice to review all of the “Sevenwaters” books straight out in order. Reading this the first time, I remember being concerned that Marillier was returning to a world and story that had largely felt contained and completed in the first trilogy. But this was a strong outing for the second set and started this next trilogy out on the right foot.

Set during the same generation as Fainne from “Child of the Prophesy,” this second trilogy shifts its focus to the Lord of Sevenwaters, Sean’s, children. The well-ordered life of Sevenwaters is disrupted in the best way with the birth of the first boy in the family, Finbar. But this joyous arrival is soon cut short when Finbar is stolen away. Only Clodagh recognizes that something magical is afoot, seeing the sticks-and-stones baby that was left behind as a living, breathing magical infant and not simply the cruel, inanimate doll the others all see. She sets out on a dangerous mission to exchange this magical creature for the return of her baby brother. With her travels Cathal, a young man with his own mysteries and a distinctly rude take on Clodagh and her life, but who has his own connections to the Fae world and could help her rescue baby Finbar before his loss tears Clodagh’s family and world apart.

There’s a lot to love about this return to the Sevenwaters world. But there were also elements of this story that began to frustrate me in their similarity to hiccups I had with the previous books. But we’ll start with the pros, as always!

Marillier’s writing and creativity with the magical elements of the story are as strong as ever. She has a beautiful way of painting scenes on the page that feel just as real as they do magical and whimsical. In this story, Clodagh and the reader travel into the wonderous world of the Fae themselves, and here Marillier’s masterful portrayal of magic with an underlying sense of danger was on point. As beautiful and mystical as this world and its beings are, it is also clear that it is a distinctly inhuman place and the rules and dangers are not of the sort that are immediately clear or rational to a human mind.

I particularly loved description of the Fae infant that is left behind in Finbar’s place. The bond that grows between this baby and Clodagh was beautiful and heart-breaking. Frankly, I was almost more invested in this relationship than I was in the building romance between Clodagh and Cathal. But man, reading this book as a mother now made some elements of it very difficult to get through. There was more ugly crying than I care to admit.

I also enjoyed Clodagh as a main character. However, she was also very similar to some of the leading ladies we’ve seen in the past, particularly Liadan. They are both described as very domestic and happiest at home. But when faced with challenges and the obstinance of their families, each chooses to make their own choices and way in the world. So while I like Clodagh, just as I liked Liadan before her, I wish there had been a bit more variety to her characterization that would make her stand out as distinct in her own right.

I also struggled to connect to Cathal. While there are several interesting reveals to his character later in the story, and the eventual romance is very sweet, he comes across as a bit too rude and harsh in the beginning. I enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers romance as much as the next person, but it’s a delicate balance to strike, and I think Cathal veered a bit too far in the rude direction initially (and for too long) to fully recover in my opinion as the story went on.

The book also takes quite a while to really get going. This is also a standard feature of Marillier’s works and something that only bothers me now and then. I think if the main character and tertiary characters are strong enough, I don’t notice the slow starts. But this one had weaker characters in Clodagh and Cathal, so I felt myself beginning to become impatient that we get this show on the road. This wasn’t helped by my incredible frustration with the entire Sevenwaters clan other than Clodagh herself.

In “Son of Shadows,” we see the Sevenwaters family’s awful treatment of Niamh. The explanations that come later don’t do much to rectify this treatment of a beloved daughter. And then here, again, we see Clodagh, a young woman who, to this point, had been completely trusted and relied upon, suddenly dismissed as crazy and irrational when she draws attention to the Fae characteristics at play in Finbar’s disappearance. She’s spoken to quite badly at points. It’s pretty shocking treatment towards a young woman who’s given no prior indications to being prone to flights of fancy. And shocking to have it come from a family who has more experience with magical beings and enchantments than most could say. Something is definitely wrong with this family and its treatment of supposedly “beloved” daughters.

Overall, however, I enjoyed this return to Sevenwaters. The magical elements, in particular, felt unique and interesting. The main character is endearing, if familiar, and her bond with the Fae baby is quite lovely. Fans of Marillier’s work and the previous Sevenwaters trilogy are sure to like this book.

Rating 8: A return to a familiar world brings some new magical elements, but also a few familiar tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Heir to Sevenwaters” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Australian Fantasy Reads and The Best Books about Elves or Faeries.

Find “Heir to Sevenwaters” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol. 8): Worlds’ End” by Neil Gaiman, Mike Allred (Ill.), Gary Amaro (Ill.), Mark Buckingham (Ill.), David Giordano (Ill.), Tony Harris (Ill.), Steve Leialoha (Ill.), Vince Locke (Ill.), Shea Anton Pensa (Ill.), Alec Stevens (Ill.), Bryan Talbot (Ill.), John Watkiss (Ill.), & Michael Zulli (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Caught in the vortex of a reality storm, wayfarers from throughout time, myth and the imagination converge on a mysterious inn at WORLD’S END. In the tradition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, as the travelers all wait out the tempest that rages around them, they share stories of the places they’ve been, the things they’ve seen… and those that they’ve dreamed.

Review: We’ve entered the last fourth of my “The Sandman” re-read, and after the strong note that we ended on at the end of “Brief Lives” I was, admittedly, disappointed to see the number of illustrators coming into “The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End”. That many illustrators can only mean one thing: we’re getting a number of stand alone short stories. This has been something we’ve seen Gaiman tinker with as the series has gone on, but given that I haven’t remembered many of them as I’ve gone through this re-read, it kind of goes to show that for me these moments of pushing boundaries of storytelling aren’t as effective as the main plot of Morpheus and his siblings. I figured that the same would be said for “Worlds’ End”, and for the most part I was right. Except for one significant moment near the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Worlds’ End” is an homage to “The Canterbury Tales”, as a number of travelers have found themselves at a mysterious tavern that seems to meet at the nexus of dimensions. There are humans, creatures, entities, and spirits, and all have wound up at the Worlds’ End Tavern due to a strange ‘reality storm’ that has thrown all of them out of their home planes. We arrive with Brant Tucker and his travel companion Charlene, after he crashes her car in the middle of a snowstorm that happens to be occurring in June. Clearly something is up, and as he and Charlene take shelter, the other travelers engage each other with stories to pass the time. As someone who hasn’t read “The Canterbury Tales”, I wasn’t lost, per se, but I was wondering if I was missing something because of my ignorance. The stories range from fantasy to surrealist to creepy. Two really stood out for me in the stand alone stories list. The first is “Hob’s Leviathan”. For one, it brings back fan favorite and Morpheus friend Hob Gadling, but it doesn’t center him at the heart. Instead it focuses on “Jim”, a girl who has disguised herself as a boy to travel on sailing ships. As Jim and Hob travel, their ship encounters a humungous sea serpent. Jim wants to tell the world; Hob knows that the world won’t listen. I liked this one for two main reasons. The first is the reintroduction of Hob. I love Hob! He’s a fun character and it was fun seeing him through the eyes of someone else. The other is Jim, as any tale that has a woman trying to extend past societies expectations is a-okay in my book.

The other story I really liked was “The Golden Boy”. At one point during DC Comics’s Bronze Age there was a character named Prez Rickard, who was a teenage president of the United States. In “The Golden Boy”, Gaiman expands and adds complexity to this concept, following Prez as he maneuvers as President through multiple crises of 20th Century America, which is very clearly a country that has burned brightly but on the verge of starting to burn out. While Prez is never swayed by corrupting influences (specifically an otherworldly entity called Boss Smiley, who looks like the Smiley Face Icon from the 1970s), the ills of the world beat him down and he fades slowly out. It’s a strange and bittersweet but also hopeful story, and one that was VERY weird to read in the America that we’re living in right now.

The other original stories in this collection didn’t really connect with me. But there is one final story that is by far my favorite in its power, its emotion, and what it shows is on the way. The last tale is that of the travelers at Worlds’ End who are still waiting out the storm, and wondering what has caused this strange event, as it certainly must be something significant and ghastly to do such damage to reality. And then, across the sky, they see a funeral procession. They don’t know what they are seeing. We as readers don’t really know what we are seeing. But we do see various Endless in the procession, with Delirium and Death trailing behind at the end. Brant describes the entire thing in a sorrowful and yet dreamy way, and once we get to the end and see Death and the look on her face…. Guys, I wept. I think that in part it’s because I know what’s coming. But it’s also such a beautiful moment filled with poignancy and loss. This story was my favorite, and if shifted my perception.

The artwork in this collection is, as you may imagine, incredibly varied (LOOK AT ALL THE NAMES AT THE TOP OF THIS POST). Gaiman says in an afterword in my edition that he wanted to showcase all these different artists talents, and he does. But my favorite was definitely Gary Amaro, who created the funeral procession with such celestial grace and dejection that it just cuts me to the bone.

“The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End” is the last of the standalone story collections in the series. I’m glad to move on to the rest of the main storyline and characters, but I will say that the end of this one is probably the most powerful moment in the series for me. I’m glad to have been reminded of it.

Rating 7: Another collection of unrelated stories shows off Gaiman’s creativity and the illustrators’s talents. But after a strong previous story arc I was a little underwhelmed, outside of a powerful moment of foreshadowing…

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.8): Worlds’ End” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Vertigo Comics”, and “Books for the INFJ”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.8) Worlds’ End” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: