Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories”

35939533Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” by Marguerite Bennett, Aneke (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The ultra-popular statues from DC Collectibles come to life in their own ongoing hit comic book series, now in its sixth and final installment!

The Bombshells face their final battle as a supernatural Nazi invasion begins! On top of that, Hugo Strange unleashes his failed lab experiments on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s circus and Lois Lane has her chance to avenge her family on the villain — will she take the shot? Amid the chaos, discover Lex Luthor’s true colors as he reveals which side he’s really on, and what that means for the future of the Bombshells!

The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 6. Collects DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS #25 and #30-33.

Review: I didn’t realize it when I reviewed our previous “DC Bombshells” Collection that “War Stories” was the last in the first large series within this alternate historical universe starring the awesome ladies of DC. I also didn’t realize that the second series, “DC Bombshells: United” was cancelled about a year into it’s run. Trust me, if I had known these things when we last visited this series, I would have gone on a long rant. In fact I’m pretty sure that I will be ranting before this review is through. But for now I’m going to try and focus on the big finale and pretty solid wrap up that was “DC Bombshells: War Stories”. Let’s see how long it takes me before I start going off. I’ll try to keep my cool.

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Don’t mind me, I’m totally calm. (source)

When we left off, Ivy and Harley were in Russia helping civilians out, Raven had stowed away with them to try and find her father, Zatanna and Constantine were trying to find her, and Kara and Lois Lane had tracked down Hugo Strange and found that he’d used some of Kara’s DNA to make a clone of her, whom he called Power Girl. Also there was another captive they rescued, named Superman. And The Suicide Squad showed up, led by Batgirl and including Frankie, Killer Croc, Enchantress, and Ravager. So in this volume, all of these stories come to a head. Sadly, this means that Wonder Woman, Batwoman, The Batgirls, and Mera are all absent from this final volume in this large arc/first series, and to me that didn’t sit right. I know that all of them are going to have more to do in “DC Bombshells United” as the focus turns to the home front and the ills the American Government commits against it’s own citizenry, but this was a significant end and shift, and I think they should have shown up in some capacity. But the stories here as they are are all pretty satisfactory in spite of this glaring absences. I especially enjoyed the Suicide Squad mission, which took our team into a German Sub in hopes of finding Luc, Batgirl’s long lost paramour. I liked this storyline  because while it continued the themes of Nazi occultism and mystic plotting, we got to see Edward Nygma and a few Lovecraftian-esque threats. Plus, this Suicide Squad is pretty excellent, all of them with a 1940s flair, which means that in my mind Killer Croc has a Mid-Atlantic accent and that just tickles me. Along with this already bonus storyline we get another one involving some of the Batgirl of Burnside characters, mainly Frankie, Qadir, and Nadimah dabbling in some magical mischief. It was a one off and didn’t really add much to the overall plot, but it was still enjoyable and fun to see more characters appear in this alternate timeline.

The climax of this series, however, comes with the Battle of Leningrad, as the Bombshells have to come together to not only fight Hugo Strange, Killer Frost, and the Nazis, but to try and save Leningrad and the people there. I liked seeing all of the ladies come together in one place, and I felt like they all got some decent moments to shine within this final battle. That said, it wouldn’t be a pivotal battle of a series if there wasn’t some sadness and sacrifice, and while it never reaches levels of Stargirl loss here, there are definitely repercussions and moments of sadness for some of our characters, which all were executed with deft emotion and feeling. What I love about this series is that it shows that sadness and pain are not weaknesses in our characters,, and it’s refreshing to see that some characters do get lost in their emotions, both in good ways and in bad ways. But even when it’s in bad ways you never get the sense that these emotions are bad to have, just that they need to be used in less destructive ways. Its a theme we see a lot in these stories and it makes me wonder if a comic that was starring the males of DC would be so bold as to take that stance. I think I know the answer to that, sadly.

And finally, there is a whole new threat that comes from the Russian side and brings more storyline to Kara and her origins: Faora Hu-El from Krypton has arrived once more (seen previously WAAAAAY back when Supergirl and Stargirl were being used as Russian Propaganda), and boy has she brought some serious baggage to our finale. And since I want to discuss it here, this is our SPOILER ALERT moment that almost always pops up in this series. One of the things that “DC Bombshells” has done is made this universe and it’s characters and storylines very female centric, and that has altered some backstories here and there. The biggest alterations to date are pretty Kryptonian centric. Not only is Superman a clone of unknown origins created in Strange’s lab (as far as well know at this juncture), Kara’s own origin story is shaken up with the arrival of Faora, who tells her that she is a perfect being created by Faora, Alura, and Lara. It’s pretty neat and ballsy to reveal within this final battle that Supergirl, the last true Kryptonian (given Superman’s new origin) and most powerful being in the story,  is the product of three women and Kryptonian science. I have this image of ‘well actually’ toxic nerdboys pitching a HUGE fit about this. But that’s what “DC Bombshells” has always been about: it’s about women at the forefront, women supporting and loving and fighting women, and women as the main components of a story, with guys playing the traditional roles that women have played in comics for years. Frankly, it’s genius.

Which is ALL THE MORE REASON THAT IT SUCKS THAT DC HAS PULLED THE PLUG. Representation in comics is so important because representation in all types of media is important. With women being in the lead, women of all races, religions, and sexual orientations, “DC Bombshells” has been one of the best comic series DC has when it comes to representation (especially since apparently “Batwoman” is ALSO getting axed! Sure, I wasn’t a fan, but BATWOMAN IS IMPORTANT)! DC is still going to toss a whole lot of bank into it’s middling AT BEST movies (“Woman Woman” not included, and holy SHIT is THAT ironic given the context of this rant) and keep rebooting Batman and Superman over and over AND bastardize Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” universe for funsies, but it can’t throw a bone to a series where women are at the forefront and aren’t sexualized and objectified through a male-only gaze? IT’S UNACCEPTABLE!!!!

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Hey, I lasted awhile before I full on lost it, right? (source)

Well, regardless, this first arc of “DC Bombshells” comes to a solid close in “War Stories”, and while I know that “Bombshells United” isn’t as long, I’m going to really, REALLY savor it as I make my way through. These DC women continue to create a better world filled with compassion and justice, and I know that even though it’s ending that won’t change the importance of this series as a whole.

Oh, and is Black Canary going to show up in this next series? Asking for a friend.

Rating 8: A solid and mostly satisfying end to the first major arc of the “Bombshells” comics, “DC Bombshells: War Stories” is a wrap up with most of the characters we love, though a few notables were missing and it was very noticeable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2018 Lesbian Releases”, and it would fit in on “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Buried Heart”

29750595Book: “Buried Heart” by Kate Elliott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: In this third book in the epic Court of Fives series, Jessamy is the crux of a revolution forged by the Commoner class hoping to overthrow their longtime Patron overlords. But enemies from foreign lands have attacked the kingdom, and Jes must find a way to unite the Commoners and Patrons to defend their home and all the people she loves. Will her status as a prominent champion athlete be enough to bring together those who have despised one another since long before her birth? Will she be able to keep her family out of the clutches of the evil Lord Gargaron? And will her relationship with Prince Kalliarkos remain strong when they find themselves on opposite sides of a war?

Previously reviewed: “Court of Fives” & “Poisoned Blade”

Review: This review is a long time in coming given how much I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy since we’re coming up fast on a years since it’s been out! But I will blame my audiobook library queue. I had this one almost finished months ago, and then had to return it to the library and had to wait in line patiently to get it back. Yes, yes, I could have just read a physical copy or done any number of things to get it sooner. But my dedication to one format and the library knows no bounds! Even if that leads me to nonsensical places like writing a review months later and then dedicating an entire paragraph to these very trials and tribulations. Anyways, on to the review!

Things are coming to a head in the fight for the future of Jes’s homeland. And not only are her parents on opposing sides of this battle, but her beloved Prince Kal is finding himself more and more likely to be called upon as a leader in these trying times. While Jes’s prowess as an athlete and the star-power she has won for herself there has gotten her this far, what role will she play as events greater than she ever imagined begin to unfurl?

The story picks up immediately following the events of “Poisoned Blade.” I always like books that could be read as one, continuous story, but coming after a long break between reads, it did prove a bit challenging for me to fall back into this world. There is just so much here! After two books already, Elliott has set up not only a complex and believable world, but one that is peopled and driven by two different cultures with very different outlooks on life, and, importantly, history. That’s not to mention the ever growing cast of characters, all of whom have been slowly revealed to have their own motives in the ongoing conflict. Once I caught myself up again, all of these details fell neatly into place and this same complexity reestablished itself as firmly a plus for the series.

Especially the history aspect of the book. Throughout the series, Elliott has done a thorough deep-dive into what it really looks like to have a history that has only been told by the winners. Through all three books we have begun to see just how thoroughly retold and rewashed events of the past have been, and how now, in the third book, people are trying to reclaim these lost bits of history. This also was carefully crafted and presented. There are no easy pathways and correct decisions that can be made to right the wrongs of the past. And Elliott explores how the choices made in the present will continue to play into this narrative as the future of these two peoples continues to unfold.

Jes, as always, is a great character through whom to view this conflict. As a girl from both worlds, we are given front row seats to her own harsh realizations about what actual change would entail. Throughout the first two books and a large portion of this one, Jes’s outlook on the future has been, frankly, pretty naive. Here she is forced to truly confront her own ignorance of the political powers at play and the limitations that exist for even rulers themselves.

The action takes a swing away from the excitement of the court of fives games that has made up much of the other books. With stakes as high as these, there simply isn’t room for these type of trials as often. However, even with that being the case, I was impressed by how neatly Elliott was able to tie this aspect of the story into the greater conflict as a hole. Don’t get me wrong, Jes’s skill as a competitor is still important and relevant to this book, and the few races we saw all had incredibly high stakes and were just as thrilling as always.

However, the real action came back to the conflict itself. We saw more battles, more personal struggles in Jes’s ongoing conflict with Lord Gargaron, and a epic resolution to the entire chain of events that was both heartbreaking and incredibly satisfying. Elliott doesn’t back away from the ugliness that would take place in an overthrow of this kind, even with the most benevolent and wise of leaders at its head. Further, Jes and Kal’s romance does not get the “magic wand” treatment and they, too, much confront the challenges of any future they may have together.

I thoroughly enjoyed this final installment in the trilogy. I did knock it down one point from the previous two, simply because there were portions in the beginning and middle of the book where the pacing seemed off (events would move quickly, only to suddenly lag for several pages). This book had to fit a lot into one story and there were times where I felt like it had a few missteps simply due to the challenges of getting it all in there. But that said, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable read and very gratifying end to a solid fantasy trilogy.

Rating 8: An epic conclusion to a high stakes fantasy trilogy, full of action, heartbreak, and an introspection on what it means for a nation to rediscover its history and reclaim its future.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Buried Heart” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “The Games We Play” and “Best Books About Family Relationships.”

Find “Buried Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Providence”

35226186Book: “Providence” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Lenny, June 2018

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

Book Description: A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.

Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away. 

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity–but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected. 

Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two.

Review: I wish to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

You all know that I love me some Joe Goldberg from the “You” series by Caroline Kepnes. I love how sinister, creepy, and yet hilarious Joe is, as an obsessive stalker and serial killer who takes us into his mind and judges others in both deadly, and incredibly superficial ways. So when I heard that Kepnes had a new book coming out, this one called “Providence”, I figured that it would be similar in tone and execution. True, it wasn’t about Joe and his ongoing adventures in murder, but it was billed as a thriller with Lovecraftian themes. I went in with some very clear expectations of how this book was going to go down, expectations that were not met. But they weren’t met in the best way possible, because “Providence” is my first perfect 10 of 2018.

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This was me as I finished this book. So many happy and sad tears. (source)

“Providence” has sort of framed itself as a dark fantasy thriller, but at its heart it is a story about love and what love can do to a person, be it good or bad. Our three narratives we follow are from the perspectives of Jon, Chloe, and Eggs. I’ll start with Jon and Chloe since they are the heart of the book. Their deep and intense friendship really propels this book, as they truly and totally get and understand each other, even when others may not. So when they are split up because of Jon’s kidnapping, and then the dangerous ‘powers’ he is left with afterwards, the injustice of it all just hits you right in the gut. Their love definitely treads the line between obsession and devotion, but I always found both of them giving equally and taking equally so it was never a problem for me. I also loved seeing their own personal journeys in the novel, from Jon trying to survive and figure out how to reverse his deadly powers without drawing too much attention to himself, or harming others. His captor experimented on him, and driven by an obsession with Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” Jon now is completely toxic to those he physically encounters. His slow realization that he is toxic was so upsetting, and the lengths that he goes to try to reverse it all because of Chloe is so heartbreaking that I just felt my heart breaking for him every step of the way. Chloe, too, has her own difficult road she’s travelling, as she knows that she should forget about Jon (as she’s under the impression that he wants nothing to do with her) but just can’t get him out of her head or her heart. Things become all the more complicated when she turns to her high school boyfriend in hopes that he can help her forget about Jon. It doesn’t help that Car was also one of Jon’s main tormentors, and has always resented her attachment to her long lost friend.

Eggs is the third perspective in this book that I was prepared to find underwhelming. After all, juggling three perspectives and doing them all justice is hard enough as it is, and when you add in the obsessive detective trope it can come off as old hat and unoriginal. But Eggs also had such a rich narrative that I found myself juts as compelled by his sections. They way that he approaches Jon as a threat, and gets fed stories and perceptions that don’t match the actual realities of what happened, just adds to the dread for Jon and also the injustice of it all. But Eggs is no villain. He’s a man who is trying to find sense in senselessness, his motivation partially being because he can’t find the sense in his only child’s autism. This whole aspect of his background, as a father who loves his son but can’t connect with him and therefore stays away from him, gave his backstory the same level of sadness that Jon and Chloe each had. They are all looking for solutions, and none of them can find any.

But there is always hope in “Providence”. The goodness of the protagonists is always apparent and all of their hearts are in the right places, even if they sometimes make mistakes that hurt others and themselves. They are all written in such a way that I completely believed all of the choices that they made, and I understood their motivations. I was rooting for all of them, even if my rooting came in direct conflict with what each of them wanted and needed from each other. Caroline Kepnes had already convinced me that she knew how to write a darkly funny thriller novel with an entertaining monster for a protagonist. Now I know that she can also write people filled with goodness, even if their circumstances may hinder it once in awhile.

I loved “Providence”. It’s my first 10 rating of 2018, and I can see myself revisiting it again and again as I do with the Joe Goldberg series. Caroline Kepnes is amazing, and I continue to be in awe of her story telling abilities.

Rating 10: A powerful and bittersweet thriller about love, friendship, obsession, and fate, “Providence” is not only entertaining and engaging, it’s also touching and emotional.

Readers Advisory:

“Providence” is brand new and not on many GoodReads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Counter-Lovecraft”, and “Star-Crossed Lovers”.

Find “Providence” at your library using WorldCat!

Beach Reads: Summer 2018

Back for 2018, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks:

 22544764Fantasy Title: “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

This book is a few years old now, but I always go back to it when I’m asked about favorite stand alone fantasy fiction. It’s one of those magical unicorns of a book that somehow walks the line between being a fairytale retelling (“Beauty and the Beast”) but blurring the events and twisting things around so thoroughly that by the end of the book, you’re questioning whether this wasn’t just an entirely new fairytale on its own and any similarities were just happen chance. I didn’t have a single criticism of this book when I read it, with its strong main character, beautiful writing, and complex magical world. What’s more, while it is a standalone novel, Novik will be releasing another fairtyale-esque book, “Spinning Silver,” in July and I can tell you right now, that one’s amazing, too!

24100285Science Fiction Title: “Space Opera” by Catherynne M. Valente

I haven’t actually read this title yet, but I have much love for Valente’s “Fairyland” series as has been well documented on this blog. I also have two librarian bookclub friends whose judgement I trust who gave it high ratings, so on with the recommendation! The description of this one is about as wacky as it gets: intergalactic Olympics, but not so much the sports and more singing and dancing. And Earth has just made its first grand entrance. Will there song and dance numbers have enough glitter and air guitar to make the final cut? I don’t even know what more to say, but that the human band is called “Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.” I mean, c’mon, this has to be a hellava ride!

28186322Mystery Title: “A Curious Beginning” by Deanna Raybourn

This was a no-brainer pick for me. I just discovered this historical mystery series this spring, and have absolutely loved the two I have read (the review of the second book to come shortly!). With its light tone, witty leading lady, and grumbly but endearing romantic interest, there’s nothing left wanting for a mystery title to while away the hours outside in the sun. Veronica Speedwell is right up there with Amelia Peabody and some of my other favorite female sleuths. The mystery itself was strong, even if the ending was a bit rushed. But who really cares. I was just there for the snappy banter and blistering romantic tension!

33574143Historical Title: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Technically, this one has magic in it, too. But its such a non-integral part of the story, in my opinion, that I’m throwing this one in here anyways. Mostly, this book has been criminally under-recognized and I want to do my part to bring it to the attention of readers who enjoy British manners and society books. In many ways, it reads the way a modern Jane Austen novel would. The primary crux of the story is one of relationships and the roles that women are expected to play in society in a time period where their options were limited. Here we see two very different women who have chosen different paths. One, giving up one dream of the future in order to conform to the expectations of family and society. The other still rebelling and pushing back against what is expected of her. And between them, one man who is still not sure of his own place in the world. This is a sure hit for fans for historical romances.

Kate’s Picks

7466727Horror Title: “The Amityville Horror” by Jay Anson

So I just want to say straight away that this book is advertised and technically classified as ‘non-fiction’, but it’s pretty common knowledge now that the Amityville Haunting was a big ol’ hoax. It was all a huge distraction and cash cow to make some bank for some people and to provide a legal defense for another (specifically Ronny DeFeo Jr, who killed his entire family with a shotgun). But the story of the Lutz Family moving into the large house on 112 Ocean Avenue is a VERY entertaining read, even if it is a big lie. Anson tells a haunted house story with a certain matter-of-factness and a fast paced vigor, and the now notorious story is truly best on the page. From flies to a ghost pig named Jody to the sounds of a MARCHING BAND stomping through the house, this novel hits all the cliches, and yet feels fun and fresh in spite of it. If you want a quick beach read that is just fluff and fun, “The Amityville Horror” is the way to go when you let go of the illusion that it’s true.

5886881Thriller Title: “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn

So unlike everyone else in the world, I was NOT impressed by the book “Gone Girl”. I didn’t find any of the characters likable, I called the twist early but didn’t enjoy the journey to the reveal, and I hated the ending. So if people ask me what Gillian Flynn I do like, I will ALWAYS say “Dark Places”. Libby Day survived a family massacre that her own brother was arrested for. Her notoriety dried up when media interest went elsewhere, and now she’s worn out and dysfunctional as an adult. But when a group of armchair detectives approach her with the theory that her brother didn’t do it, she is pulled back into her past, and starts to wonder if everything she remembers about that horrible night is actually untrue. This is a fast paced and well done thriller, and unlike “Gone Girl” there are characters here that you can absolutely root for. I remember devouring it in a couple sittings. If you hated “Gone Girl”, this is proof that Gillian Flynn still may have something to offer you.

22040598Graphic Novel Title: “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud

If you are looking for romance, despair, a meditation on artistry, a very readable story, and a beautiful art style, “The Sculptor” will be a good pick for you to take on your vacation this summer. Don’t be daunted by the size; while it is a thick book, it reads very fast just because it’s so engrossing. It’s the story of a struggling sculptor named David who makes a deal with Death: he will be able to use his hands to sculpt and manipulate any kind of material and matter, but he will die in 200 days. David accepts, thinking that’s plenty of time to make his mark on history as an artist. But then he meets Meg, and love becomes a true problem for a man with so little time. While the characters in this are grating (ESPECIALLY David and Meg), the story itself is filled with such emotion and raw expression that I couldn’t put it down when I read it.

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Non-Fiction Title: “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah

If you are a fan of “The Daily Show” you know who Trevor Noah is (and even if you aren’t a fan you probably know too). He’s a very dry, observant, and intelligent comedian who has taken over one of the great satirical platforms of our time. But in “Born a Crime” he goes back to his childhood in South Africa during and after Apartheid. The product of a bi-racial relationship (which was illegal in South Africa at the time), Noah tells stories from his childhood that run the gamut of funny, scary, and very, very devastating. Noah’s voice is quite witty and down to Earth as he recalls these various stories, and his love for his mother is powerful and leaps off the page. Plus, you will probably learn about South African history and culture, as well as a first hand account of what Apartheid did to Black South Africans while it was in place.

What books are you bringing to the beach, the cabin, or the pool with you this summer? Let us know in the comments! 

Serena’s Review: “Burn Bright”

35839437Book: “Burn Bright” by Patrica Briggs

Publishing Info: Ave, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

Review: This is going to be a really challenging review to write. For one thing, I have read all of the other books in this series, but they were all before Kate and I started this blog, so the progression of my feelings for this particular series isn’t already documented. I’ll try to discuss that a bit in the beginning to lend some context to this review. My feelings are also all tied up because a very small moment in this book has a massive effect on not only this series, but also the Mercy Thompson series which I have been reviewing here. I’m still not even completely certain if my ultimate rating is accurate. So with that super clear and stellar intro, let’s get into it, shall we?

This story takes place directly after the events in the last Mercy Thompson book, thus Bran is still away overseas. This leaves Charles and Anna in charge of managing the pack back home in Montana. All seems well until the some of the more dangerous members of the pack, those so wild that they live removed from the others out in the wilderness, begin to report being pestered and attacked by strangers with powerful magical tools. But how are these strangers even aware of these far and removed wolves and what do they ultimately want?

As I said, I’ve been reading this series right alongside the Mercy Thomspon books, as Briggs seems to release one book from either series almost yearly. I’ve had my up and down moments with the Mercy books, but overall, I’ve always enjoyed her as a character and had a fun time with those books. Not so with this series. For some reason, Anna’s more passive character has never seemed to translate well for me, and combining her with the often stoic and reserved Charles does nothing to add any more energy to the story. What’s worse, I’ve felt that the books previous to this have been pretty light on the action over all, leaving most of the story to be carried by characters alone, something that I never felt either Charles or Anna were up to.

So that’s what makes this story particularly hard. For the most part, action-wise at least, I enjoyed this book way more than I have other entries in the series. Particularly the one that came directly before this, “Dead Heat,” which I barely made it through out of sheer boredom. Here, the action takes off almost immediately and the tension and mystery remains interesting throughout the story. While I still did get to a point where I was over halfway through the book and wondering when the main plot was going to get going, I still had had enough action in smaller moments to keep me on board. I particularly liked the addition of a few new wolves in the half-crazed wildlings that live on the periferary of the Montana pack. One in particular, a crux point for the entire story, had a very compelling back story and new take on how one becomes a werewolf and how ones life prior to this change can affect their life going forward.

I also liked the way witchcraft was brought into this story. There were some new magical weapons that were introduced, and an longer story arc was referenced that I could see continuing to play out in exciting ways in both future books in this series as well as in the Mercy series.

Charles and Anna, too, were fairly strong in this one. While I still don’t enjoy them nearly as much as Adam and Mercy, they were interesting enough here. Anna’s passivity still makes her not the most interesting character, but her unique Omega powers were used in a new way that lent some new depths to her character. We also had some ties to her past that reinforced some of the challenges that she still struggles with. Charles was…Charles. Not much changed there, but oh well.

So, with all of that, I would rate this book on its own around a seven. I probably would have rated most of the other books in this series around a 5 or 6, so a 7 is a marked increase for me in general enjoyment. And yet, as you can see, it has a 4.I really can’t discuss the reason for this drastic drop without spoilers. So for those who still want to read this book, spoiler free, just know that there is a particularly conversation that massively retcons a certain character that has, in my opinion, a dire impact on both this series and, maybe even more so, the Mercy series. But for those want to know, spoilers below!

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It’s bad guys, it’s real bad.

Apparently, Bran has had romantic feelings for Mercy since forever. And both Charles and Anna, and probably Leah, and pretty much everyone but Mercy (AND THE READERS) have known about this the entire time. I have so many problems with this, let me list the ways:

  1. First and foremost, we have had ZERO indication that this is the case through two entire series made of 14+ books. That’s a whole lot of writing in which this was never referenced in even the slightest way. Every discussion about Bran and Mercy’s relationship has firmly framed it as a father/daughter relationship. Nothing Bran has done or said has indicated anything else. Nothing Mercy has said or thought has indicated anything else. And no other character, even in passing reference, has even hinted that there is a romantic element to all of this. It’s a retcon in the most clear way.
  2. This is hugely upsetting and pretty much ruins Bran’s character. Up to this point, Bran had been one of my favorite characters in the series. He is supremely powerful, but has hidden it successfully for centuries. His love (fatherly!) for and loyalty to Mercy were always touching moments, especially for a character whose own real parents were largely absent from her life. Now he’s a pedophile. There’s just no way around this fact. Bran sent Mercy away from the pack when she was a teenager, fifteen or sixteen I think. He did this to prevent his own son from pursuing a relationship with her, knowing that the age difference and differing motives (Sam just wanting kids who will survive) made it an almost predatory situation for Mercy. She then spent the rest of her growing and adult years removed from Bran and the pack. So what this entire conversation between Charles and Anna sets up is a horrible, pedophilia-based interest from Bran in Mercy. Charles and Anna discuss that Leah’s poor treatment (abusive in its own right) of Mercy was largely due to her own knowledge of Bran’s feelings for Mercy. From what we know, Leah was terrible to Mercy almost always, meaning that Bran had romantic interest in Mercy from when Mercy was a very young child. Even in the best light (which again, doesn’t work with the Leah timeline), Mercy was only 15 when she and Bran were living in the same pack and had a relationship together. 15!!! And he’s thousands of years old!!! And the entire reason he sent her away in the first place was presumably  because of his own son’s age (and the child stuff).
  3. This entire thing also puts a horrible spin on Leah’s treatment of Mercy. It was always bad and cast probably the darkest shadow (up to this point) on Bran’s character that he didn’t stop it. Again, Mercy was a child and Leah tormented her to the point where Charles, in this book, admits that he followed Mercy when she was alone to make sure Leah didn’t try anything, hinting that he had legitimate concerns that Leah could do something extreme to Mercy. This book proceeds to try and make Leah a  more sympathetic character by setting up this “Bran having feelings for Mercy” thing. As if Leah has some sort of right to be angry AT A CHILD for inspiring wildly inappropriate feelings in her mate, and in some ways Mercy had the bad treatment coming.
  4. Anna, too, is ruined by this, because at one point she says she “understands” Leah and would “feel the same way” had Charles had similar feelings. Anna is supposed to be a character whose empathy and social awareness makes her unique among a species prone to emotional denseness. And this is terrible, to at all relate to essentially a mother who abuses her child (to the point that others fear for the child’s life) because the father has an inappropriate fixation on said child. For Anna to be on the wrong side of this situation, to be casually talking (and smiling!) about it as if no part of it is that big of a deal, other than pack gossip, pretty much ruins what is supposed to be her “super power.”
  5. This is a small thing in the grander scheme of disgustingness that is this entire situation, but we now have almost every male character in this series falling in love with Mercy. It was bad enough before with Samuel and Stephen, but now it’s just gone to a crazy level. As if no man is capable of having a healthy, platonic relationship with her without succumbing to wanting more.

I really can’t say enough about how upsetting this turn of events is. It’s truly going to make it difficult to continue with either series. If taken as fact, it makes Bran a despicable character, a predator in the most base sense, and someone who can only be seen as a villain going forwards. Any interaction between him and Mercy has now retroactively been made cringe worthy to read, and going forward impossible to support. I honestly don’t know how Briggs can fix this or if she even will try. I’ll probably read the next Mercy book just to find out, but I don’t really have any hope for the situation. Other than killing off Bran, I don’t know what can be done. And even that still leaves it very difficult to go back and re-read the other books in the series without feeling incredibly uncomfortable and put off. If I could just tear these pages of dialogue out of the book and pretend I had never read them, I’d be so much happier.

So, that’s my feelings on that. As you can see, I massively downgraded this book because of what is only a short conversation, but one that has dire consequences for this and the Mercy Thompson series as a whole. And it’s too bad, because on its own, I liked this book the best of all the others in this specific series. But if I could, I’d rather have not read it at all and kept my good feelings about Bran and the Mercy Thompson series instead.

Rating 4: Honestly, if you’re a big fan of the Mercy Thompson series, I wouldn’t read this. It does more damage to those books than the good it does for its own series, in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Burn Bright” is a newer title so isn’t on many relevant lists, it should be on this list (like many of Briggs’ other books are): “Best novels with Native American main character.”

Find “Burn Bright” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Little Monsters”

32320750Book: “Little Monsters” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Review: I did not grow up in a small town, but both of my parents did, and they have many stories from their childhoods about small town life and culture. Rumors and gossip were things that spread like wildfire, and get passed down from generation to generation and live longer than anyone imagines they would. I think of the story my Dad tells about a rumor that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the murderers from “In Cold Blood”, stopped in the town limits on their way to Mexico after they killed The Clutter Family. No can prove that they did, but to some people it’s absolute fact. I really enjoy stories that explore the power of rumor and urban legends, especially within small communities. Enter Kare Thomas and her novel “Little Monsters”. Thomas is making her way up alongside Stephanie Kuehn for must read YA thriller authors, as hot off the tail of “The Darkest Corners” she put out another stellar YA thriller and mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and needed to know more. I have her upcoming novel “The Cheerleaders” sitting on my Kindle thanks to NetGalley, and I can tell you that’s going to get priority on my reading list thanks to this awesome read about small town society, and interloper trying to fit in, and rumors and urban legends that take on lives of their own.

Thomas brings us to the town of Broken Falls, Wisconsin as our protagonist Kacey settles into her new life with her father and his family. Kacey is damaged and wary, a teenager whose mother had been toxic and abusive and whose behavior prompted social services to step in. Her transition to a new life from a life where she felt completely unwanted makes for an interesting and complex protagonist, and Thomas writes her pretty well and believably. I totally bought into why she would cling to Bailey and Jade, and also understand why she may not see some of their manipulations for what they are. So, too, is she believable when she makes poor decisions in the face of accusations that she has something to do with Bailey’s disappearance. I found myself feeling to Kacey as well as wanting to shake her whenever she was confronted by a suspicious authority or community member, but at the same time a teenager probably wouldn’t be making the best decisions without guidance from a busy father and loving, but stressed, stepmother. The town of Broken Falls itself, from the physical description to those who populate it, also felt well fleshed out and realistic in the reaction to Bailey’s disappearance. My folks have many a story about the mistrust of outsiders, and outsiders being looked at first when something awful happens because of the false idea that no one from the community could POSSIBLY do such a thing. Such ideas can be very damaging, and to see them play out with a teenage girl at the center kept me on the edge of my seat, especially since Kacey herself dabbles in unreliable protagonist tropes herself.

The mystery itself is told through two POVs: Kacey’s, and then through diary entries that Bailey left behind but are seemingly only seen by the reader. This allowed for a slow burn of a reveal to unravel at a good pace, and I loved seeing the facts come out one by one. I was definitely tantalized by the various clues that would be laid out, and they all come together so neatly and tautly that I was pretty blown away by it. Thomas did a great job of setting this all up, and the payoff was well worth it. I definitely didn’t solve this a moment before Thomas wanted me to, and as the results fell into place I was genuinely caught off guard and then totally satisfied by it. The mystery also does a good job of slowly revealing truths not only about Bailey,  but other people in the story, which make sense going back before they are revealed. And I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m going to leave the mystery at that.

The other component of this book that I REALLY enjoyed, even if it didn’t have as much obvious play, was the urban legend of The Red Woman. Broken Falls has a story about a man who murdered his family and burned down his house, but the body of his wife was never found. Now there is a legend about her ghost being seen on the property of the farm they shared, given the fact no one bought it and it has been left to rot. I LOVE a good urban legend, and Thomas does a really good job of creating a new, believable one that is INCREDIBLY creepy (images of and specters of bloody women running after dark, anyone?) and plays a very key, but subtle, role in the other themes of this book. I would read a book all about The Red Woman urban legend, if Thomas were so inclined to write it.

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‘Nuff said. (source)

So all in all, “Little Monsters” was a fast, fun, satisfying read. Kara Thomas is up there with the other greats of the YA Thriller genre, and I can’t wait to see what she brings us with “The Cheerleaders”, and any other works that she puts into the YA literary world.

Rating 8: A tight and tense thriller with a solid mystery and creepy characters, “Little Monsters” is another winner from YA Thriller superstar Kara Thomas!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Crime and Murder Mysteries”, and “First Draft Interviewee Books”.

Find “Little Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “My Plain Jane”

363010231Book: “My Plain Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Previously reviewed: “My Lady Jane”

Review: I picked up the first book in this series (?) pretty much on a self dare: how could the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey  somehow be turned into a fantasy/comedy YA story and NOT be terrible? Well, I was definitely proven wrong, so when I saw this book coming out, I did nothing more than glance at it, see that it was somehow a Jane Eyre retelling, and instantly request it. Seriously, I didn’t even read the actual book description, because I was surprised as heck that there were two other narrators when I actually started reading, even though it states it right there in the blurb. Anyways, long story short, I loved this book.

Jane Eyre is working as a teacher at the orphanage/school where she was raised, alongside her friend Charlotte Bronte. Their quiet, but not so happy, lives are interrupted with the arrival of ghost hunter extraordinaire, Alexander Blackwell, who sees in Jane a powerful addition to the supernatural services organization for which he works. Jane doesn’t see it the same way and flees to be a certain governess at a certain dark and creepy house with a certain brooding gentleman in residence. Charlotte, on the other hand, is all too willing to prove that she, too, has what it takes to hunt ghosts and gets herself involved, like all good heroines do.

It’s really hard to blurb this book as so much of the plot is caught up in the twists that the authors are constantly lobbing into what is a very well known classic tale of tragic love. And man, I don’t want to ruin the surprises that are in store! In many ways, I enjoyed this book even more than the first book. Other than her terrible end, I didn’t really know anything about the history behind the original Lady Jane Grey and, from what I do know, the story veered from that path pretty early on to allow for our leading lady to have a proactive role, rather than sitting alone and doomed on a throne for a few days.

But here, I am very familiar with the original plot line of “Jane Eyre” so watching the story unfold in a completely unexpected way, artfully tying in characters and events that mirror those from the original but who show up and do things that I would never have guessed was an utter delight. For all that we gain two additional characters, one of whom is the author of the original book in question, it was truly impressive how closely these authors managed to tie it all together with that story. They also neatly explored some of the criticisms that can be thrown at the door of the original, as well.

As characters go, I actually ended up enjoying Charlotte and Alexander more than Jane herself. Charlotte has the go-getter gumption that I like in my leading ladies, and Alexander was appropriately put off but also endeared by her, which I like in my romantic heroes. This all left poor Jane to still have to fulfill the role of the one who falls in love with the very brooding, slightly suspicious Mr. Rochester. Yes, things don’t all turn out as they do in the book, but given the dueling goals of retelling the story while also criticizing some of the peculiarities of its romance, this left Jane in the awkward position of having to mimic some of the foibles (at least they are presented as foibles in this view of the story) of the original Jane as well. But, don’t get me wrong, the book takes a massive turn halfway through the story, and in the latter half Jane gives it as good as she got.

I’m sure this was true of the first book as well, but what stood out to me the most in this one was the bunches of fun I was having simply spotting references to other pop culture memes and moments. I know that “Ready Player One” has come under a lot of fire (I don’t think deserved, save it for the second book!) for being nothing but a loose plot full of 80s references. And while I had fun with that book and those nods, I’m not a pop culture aficionado like Kate, especially not about the 80s, so I’m sure I missed the majority of the more subtle Easter eggs.  Not so here! These are the kind of references that I can get behind. We have “The Princess Bride,” “Harry Potter, ” “Ghostbusters,” “Lord of the Rings” and so many more! They were everywhere, and what made this even better was how artfully they were sewn into the story itself. It never felt like they were shoehorned in, but instead each reference came about in a natural and often very subtle way.

I again loved the way that the authors wove supernatural events into this story. Yes, it’s probably a bit easier to sell a ghost story with actual ghosts for “Jane Eyre” than shapeshifters in a real historical event like with the first book, but there are still a million ways this thing could have gotten away from them. Instead, the entire production felt tightly controlled and masterfully directed the entire time. The characters each had distinct and interesting character arcs, the magic was well thought out and integral to the story itself, and the original “Jane Eyre” was deftly retold and lampooned at the same time. I zipped through this book in one day! If you enjoyed “My Lady Jane” or are up for a good comedy version of “Jane Eyre,” than I definitely recommend checking out “My Plain Jane.”

Rating 9: Adding comedy, magic, and bucket loads of literary references only improves this retelling of “Jane Eyre.”

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Plain Jane” is on these Goodreads lists: “Derivatives of Jane Eyre” and “Brontës in Fiction.”

Find “My Plain Jane” at the library using Worldcat!