Serena’s Review: “The Other Side of Midnight”

The Other Side of Midnight Book: “The Other Side of Midnight” by Simone St. James

Publishing Info: NAL Trade, April 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: Audio book from the library

Book Description from Goodreads: London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she’s been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.

Ellie doesn’t contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can’t refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria’s secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.

As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria’s life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria’s circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it…

Review: This book had many things going for it that fit into my preferences. Mystery: check. Historical time period: check. Dash of romance: check. All in all, right up my alley. And, for what it was, it met these expectations. It didn’t blow me away, but I enjoyed it.

Right off the bat, this book has been marketed as a gothic, ghost story. I’m not sure that’s right. This is a mystery. Yeah, there are some ghosts in it, but if you’re expecting horror, you’re going to be disappointed (also, it’s Kate’s job to read those so I don’t have deal with the nightmares!) But as a mystery novel, it does succeed. Ellie is a unique narrator and detective. She doesn’t start out with the goal of becoming an investigator and falls into the role purely from chance. But it becomes clear that she has a natural inclination, and her decisions are smart and she deals with the challenges thrown her way in a believable manner.

Often, mystery novel investigators fall into the category of “the next Sherlock Holmes.” They make wild leaps of logic, and their deductions are impossible for the reader to follow. We’re meant to just go with it and realize that we couldn’t possibly follow the thought process with our normal brains, which is what makes the author’s main character such a special investigative snowflake.Sometimes this can work. I love me a Sherlock Holmes esque character, believe me.

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Preach, Rob Lowe!

But, at other times, it comes off as lazy writing and a way for the author to avoid laying down the clues necessary for the reader to follow the mystery appropriately. This book, however, succeeds very well in this regard and provides just enough to keep the reader guessing without feeling completely lost.

I really enjoyed the psychic angle for the story. While this could fall under the category of “easy outs” like I was just ranting about a second ago, I gave this book an pass for it because of the attention given to this portion of the story. It is as much about how these different women have chosen to handle being given this gift as it is about the murder mystery. Ellie, her mother, and Gloria all handle this power in very different ways. [Insert Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.”] The isolation of this gift is fully explored, especially in the context of the time period when operating as a businesswoman alone without a husband would have been isolating on its own, psychic abilities aside. There is a fascinating bit where Gloria discusses her role as a woman in society and what it means that out of everyone, three women were given this amazing ability.

With all of these details, however, the story did feel a bit bogged down in the middle. There are frequent jumps back in time to explore Ellie’s relationship with her mother and Gloria. And while these scenes are necessary to flesh out the story, there comes a point where I just wished we could move on with the real mystery. A killer was lurking in the city! Get a move on!

I also liked the romance included in the story. It felt a bit rushed towards the end, but I was impressed by how fully the author was able to explore James’ PTSD and experiences from the war without the the ease of an omniscient third person narrator. There were moments when James edged into “protecting the little woman” territory, but I appreciated how quickly and effectively Ellie stomped down on this while remaining true to the perspective and realities of a woman living in the 1920s.

As far as the audiobook goes, I enjoyed the narrator quite a lot. They got a British narrator for the story and the inclusion of a variety of London accents helped flesh out the many characters. Full marks for the audiobook version!

Rating 7: Good mystery novel. Not doing anything super new, but the psychic angle and time period made it a very fun read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Other Side of Midnight” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Fiction set in the 1920s” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “The Other Side of Midnight” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six: Villains United”

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Book: “Secret Six: Villains United” by Gail Simone, Dale Eaglesham (Ill.), and Brad Walker (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Collecting the series that led into INFINITE CRISIS! Six of justice’s deadliest enemies band together to start a revolution. Together, they want to take a stand to stop the super-heroic community from tampering with their minds and to prove how deadly they can be! But not everyone agrees to this agenda. Six rogues are recruited by the enigmatic Mockingbird, charged with opposing the Society and given assignments to thwart their rivals and even help their enemies. Who is Mockingbird? Could it be one of the six? The status quo is rocked by the Society’s formation and the revelations along the way make certain that when the Secret Six are done, nothing in the DCU will ever be the same!

Review: Remember how I screwed up when I started reading the Secret Six trades? Remember how I jumped into “Unhinged” and felt like I’d missed something, and came to understand that I had missed the entire backstory comic miniseries “Villains United”? Well guess what! I went back and read not only the prequel series, but two other prequel arcs that were included inside the collection “Secret Six: Villains United”. Let me tell you, so many things make so much more sense now. And being reintroduced to these characters in their original introductions was a bit surreal, though very helpful.

Like the summary says, the Secret Six was originally formed in opposition to Lex Luthor’s group the Secret Society of Supervillains. The recruits included Scandal Savage, Deadshot, Ragdoll, Parademon, and Cheshire. Catman joined after Luthor had his pride of lions killed. The group isn’t exactly doing this of their own volition, as Mockingbird is using blackmail as a weapon against them. Secret Six has to help their enemies as ordered by Mockingbird, and has to contend with the fact that they may all betray each other. As far as a set up series goes, I liked “Villains United” for what it was. Sometimes it felt muddled when it came to motivations, and the plot got a little bloated for a six issue arc. But the fact of the matter is that this story was far more about the characters and less about the mess that surrounded them. Finding out why each of these villains joined made me love many of them even more. I was probably biased going in, given that the team has switched up between this story and “Unhinged”. I unapologetically love the current line up, and when the line up didn’t involve them, I stubbornly refused to be on board (mainly because I just love Jeanette, and Cheshire didn’t do anything for me outside of irritate me. Yes, I know that Jeanette didn’t even get introduced until “Unhinged”, but I never said I was rational).

But I really liked Catman again. Seeing his pretty tragic backstory and seeing why he would be so resentful for his current situation shed some serious light on his character. I like that he’s a villain, but is also very conflicted about being one. I doubt that he will become a hero by any means, but he’s a breath of fresh air in how sarcastic and crabby he is, while having a good heart that he resents. I also liked seeing Scandal’s own back story, from her love story with Knockout to her broken relationship with her assassin father who is ashamed that his daughter is a lesbian, and wants her to produce an heir to their line. Deadshot is still just a snark machine who makes questionable decisions, and Ragdoll is definitely the quirky weirdo that I loved in “Unhinged”, but this time he has an adorable friendship with Parademon, who is convinced that he’s a clown that must be protected AT ALL COSTS. Their friendship even got my misty-eyed at one point, a sign of Simone’s writing skills. She does such a good job of humanizing these villains while still making them, ultimately, villains. I just wish that it hadn’t been so convoluted at times.

Just to note as well, Doomsday showed up, and I’m still not totally over “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, so I was both happy to see him and also suffering teary flashbacks.

Now that I’m all caught up in Secret Six I’m going to charge on through the series. Simone has a great group of characters, and a lot of heart and humor with edgy stories.

Rating 7: A good origin story with fun characters, but sometimes felt a little bloated and muddled.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six: Villains United” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Current DC Titles”. Yep, that’s it. You can find more on my initial “Secret Six” post here.

Find “Secret Six: Villains United” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Reviews: “Magic Shifts”

"Magic Shifts"Book: “Magic Shifts” by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.

So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected.

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece…

Review: So, now that we’re all caught up with the “Kate Daniels” series, let’s jump right in to her next challenge! Life in the suburbs! I feel ya, Kate. Shockingly, Kate and Curran are not exactly ideal neighbors now that they’ve chosen to abandon living at the Pack fortress and have bought a home and property in suburbia. Curran’s habit of turning furry and huge and Kate’s late night excursions are most unwelcome.

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Ew. Shapeshifters.

Curran seems to have been helping Kate with her usual tasks of cleaning up the city. Even more of a chore, now that she has “claimed” Atlanta as her own territory in an attempt to save it from her power-mad father, Roland. But, of course, something must go wrong and their friend, werebison Eduardo (I told you every creature that was ever imagined is in this series!) has gone missing and some new big bad is in town with a score to settle.

After having taken a break from this series for about a year and now jumping back in, I kind of forgot what a madhouse this world is! I mean, this book is comprised of not only a werebison, but the family drama of a werebison/werebear relationship, evil unicorns, a pegasus, and, count them, three giants! What is this book?! Fun, that’s what it is.

Kate is her usual snarky, badass self which is always the primary joy for me with this series. It was also fun seeing Curran outside of his role as the Beast Lord. In a lot of ways he was the Robin to Kate’s Batman in this book, which was a fun change from the usual Pack politics drama that he had been tied up within from the last few books. At the same time, it seems like he will now be running the Mercenary Guild, so he might fall back into the same type of position, just with another group. This probably makes sense for a character like this. Too much Robin is no one’s favorite thing. One book of it was probably enough!

Several of my favorite characters were noticeably light in this book, which was too bad. Saimen and Derek barely showed up. But we did get to meet Martha, a werebear who is the alpha of Clan Heavy. She was only there for moments, but I love her already. There was also a delightfully awkward family dinner with Kate, Curran, Julie, and Roland.

Roland’s all: “Family bonding time!”

Kate’s all:

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As far as the villain goes…meh? It was another new creature, and all in all it was an interesting concept. But at the same time, now that Roland’s on the scene, stories like these feel more and more like filler. And, not only did we not get a real showdown there or much progress beyond an info-dump at Applebee’s (Roland’s restaurant of choice??), Kate didn’t seem to even enhance her abilities in any way that could be read as progress towards that inevitable clash. So that was too bad.

That said, I still enjoyed this book for what it was: a quick foray into a messed up Atlanta that I’m sure as heck pleased NOT to live in. Though, I’d take the pegasus.

Rating 7: On par with my rating of the series over all

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Magic Shifts” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Badass Female Leads” and “It’s All About The Swords!”

Find “Magic Shifts” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Dear Daughter”

 

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Book: “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little

Publishing Info: Viking, July 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: I own it.

Book Description from Goodreads: As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I’m not.

LA It Girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?

Review: Two years ago, Serena and I (and a few of our near and dear library friends) took a trip out to the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many happy memories, valuable lessons, and crazy stories to whip out at cocktail parties were cultivated there, but one of the best aspects was having access to many, many books. And a number of these books were ARC copies of upcoming (as of June 2014) publications. In the flurry and excitement, I got a copy of “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little. And then it sat on my bookshelf until, oh, three days ago. It was always there, waiting patiently, and I knew that I was going to get to it eventually. Which I finally did.

Boy oh boy is Janie Jenkins an unlikable person! That’s the first thing I noticed about this book. Janie joins the ranks of anti-heroine protagonists who have started flooding thriller fiction, who have more baggage than a fully booked Boeing. This time we have Janie, who has just been released from prison on a technicality. She was convicted of murdering her mother ten years prior, and even though she’s out no one actually believes that she’s innocent. After all, she spent a lot of her teenage years making headlines for courting controversy while her nouveau riche mother just let it happen (usually with cutting insults and cruelty). She’s earned the chip on her shoulder, but then, it sounds as thought she’s always been this way, even before her stint in the slammer. I suppose that I should be happy that we are getting more realized female protagonists who neither virgins nor whores, but the trope is kind of overstaying it’s welcome. That said, I did like Janie, at least for how entertaining that she was and how delightfully bitchy she was. Sometimes I like watching a crazy train wreck character, usually if he or she makes me laugh.

I was pleasantly surprised that I liked a lot of the side characters almost as much as I liked(?) Janie. I feel like it’s sometimes really easy to just have side characters fulfill minimal plot progressions, or be people that the main character can bounce off of, especially in thrillers like this one. But many of the side characters were enjoyable, and I liked getting information about all of them. It’s true that sometimes they were a little two dimensional, but the small town connections meant that everyone had some association with each other and made way for good interactions. One character I especially liked was Leo, the town cop that is on to Janie as she makes her way through the town history in an effort to figure out who she is. He was certainly abrasive, and probably would be considered problematic in how they interacted with each other, but I liked that he gave Janie a run for her money when it came to her nastiness.

This book also could be classified as partially epistolary, as some of the story is told in texts, news reports, blog posts, and other forms of correspondence, which really worked in this book. The notoriety of Janie Jenkins in this world makes her a prime target for gossip sites and bloodthirsty news organizations, and getting that whole other side of the story as the paparazzi closes in on her was great and effective at building the tension. For me the best mystery was the identity of one of the obsessed and relentless bloggers that was hounding Janie and convinced of her guilt, as the way that he was harassing her and practically stalking her made me very uncomfortable. I like being uncomfortable when I read books like this.

My main critique with this book is some of the dialogue that Little gave to Janie, be it outward or inner monologue. There were a number of times that I actually rolled my eyes because it went from being slick and snide to overdone and overcompensating. I’m sure that it was very over the top to show just how snarky and wicked she is, and that was hard to stomach because of the ham fisted way that it skewed a good amount of the time. I get it. She’s unpleasant and mean but vulnerable too. No need to oversell the point.

“Dear Daughter” was a book that I practically couldn’t put down, and I really wish that I’d thought to pick it up sooner. I hope that Elizabeth Little keeps writing thrillers, because this was a zippy read that I would definitely recommend to those who like books in the genre. Consider me a Janie Jenkies supporter through and through, and I think that I wouldn’t be the only one.

Rating 7: A solid mystery and an interesting protagonist, but sometimes on the nose and unsubtle with its dialogue.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dear Daughter” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Books for Serial Podcast Lovers” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’, You Might Also Like…”

Find “Dear Daughter” at your library using WorldCat!

Movie Review: Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

As much as we like books, sometimes we like to check out the movie world as well. Today we reviewed “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Watch the video to find out all about Superman’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and why Batman’s theme song should be “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” Stay tuned at the end for our book recommendations if you liked this movie. (Titles also posted below).

Kate’s Recommendations:

"The Dark Knight Returns"

“The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller

 

 

 

"The Secret History of Wonder Woman"

“The Secret History of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore

 

 

 

Serena’s Recommendations:

"Lois Lane: Fallout"

“Lois Lane: Fallout” by Gwenda Bond

 

 

 

"Steelheart"

“Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson

Serena’s Series Review – “Kate Daniels” Series

Kate Daniels SeriesA couple of years ago, I went on an urban fantasy binge. Urban fantasy, as a genre, has been very hit and miss for me. On paper it looks like something I would love. In reality? Most of what I’ve read has been fairly “meh.” There are a couple of series, however, that have caught hold and Ilona Andrews’ “Kate Daniels” series was one of them. Her newest book, “Magic Shifts” was published last August with the next in the series is coming out this September. I’ll be reviewing “Magic Shifts” soon and definitely have her newest on my mental list of books to look forward to this fall. But there are like 7 books in this series before this point! In lieu of an exhausting, and frankly, likely boring, review of each and every one of these books, I’m going to combine them all into a mega series review! We’ll see how this goes!

Books: “Magic Bites,” Magic Burns,” “Magic Strikes,” “Magic Bleeds,” Magic Slays,” “Magic Rises,” and “Magic Breaks” by Ilona Andrews*

Publishing Info: Ace, 2007, 2008,  2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014

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

Review: This series takes place in post-Shift Atlanta sometime in the near future. The Shift, a near apocalyptic event where magic suddenly re-entered the world, occurred years before and humanity is still adjusting to what this means for the world order. Suddenly there are shapeshifters, vampires, ghouls, and who knows what else running around the world wreaking havoc on the ordinary folk. The government has adjusted accordingly and attempted to set up systems to maintain order. One piece of this system is the Mercenary Guild. Its name is self-explanatory. Some creepy critter shows up, people can hire a mercenary to take care of it. Kate Daniels is one of the best, and this series is her story.

Throughout the series, Kate explores the mysteries of her past, while saving the day and forming close relationships with a ragtag group of other mercenaries, shapeshifters, vampire controllers, mages, etc, etc. Basically, she knows everyone in Atlanta. And, per typical urban fantasy requirements, there is a strong romantic element in her growing relationship with the Beast Lord, Curran, who is a werelion and the alpha of the Atlanta shapeshifter pack. Steaminess ensues.

What makes this series stick for me in ways that other urban fantasy series did not is our heroine, Kate. The spunky, snarky, warrior woman in these kinds of books is a well-trodden trope. However, Kate stands out not only in her consistency and general ability to avoid making ridiculous, self-sacrificial, dramatic decisions (per other frustrating heroines in series-that-shall-not-be-named), but also in the genuine evolution of her character throughout the books. While there are weaker books in the series than others, and there are moments where she falls into these stereotypes, overall, Kate learns from her mistakes, accepts who she is, and doesn’t devalue those around her, their feelings, or what they can contribute to her cause.

Curran, also, works well as the romantic lead. There are times, especially in the early books, where he plays a bit too much into the classic “alpha male” role which didn’t rub me the right way. But over the course of the series, he, too, evolves as a character and becomes a strong partner for Kate. And, even at his worst, he still acknowledges Kate’s independence and does not interfere in her adventuring ways.

There does come a point towards the last two thirds of the series where I call relationship shenanigans. Up to this point there had been the usual relationship set-up drama, but at this stage in the story, Kate and Curran were firmly an item and had worked through many of their issues. And then. And then!

Enough, I'm tired of your shenanigans

The wedge that was used to insert drama into their relationship felt very contrived. Both Kate and Curran behaved out-of-character, in my opinion, and it was all highly disappointing for a series that had handled its core relationship so competently up until this point. Luckily, this gaffe only lasted through the one book and things have returned to normal since. During this section in the series, it felt like Andrews was coming up against a sort of wall, having gotten her couple together and fleshed out many of Kate’s familial mysteries. She did recover, however, and I am happy to report that the next few books were on par once again.

When I said earlier that Kate knows everyone in Atlanta? Yeah, I meant everyone. There are so many characters in this series! And most of them are tons of fun. A few of my favorites are Aunt B, a werehyena, Andrea, a sharpshooter merc, Julie, a street kid with magical flare, and Saiman, a….who knows what really? But he snarks at Kate and makes her uncomfortable and is fun all around. And there are many, many more! This is both a plus and a minus. As the series continues, it becomes impossible to spend enough time with all of these great characters in each book. One book will spend extra time with one or two and only have brief appearances from the others, and vice versa. So, depending on which characters you like, and how much page time they get in each book, there can be a dramatic difference in your enjoyment of one book in the series as compared to another. Luckily, if you’re just there mostly for Kate, like I am, you’re good to go the whole time.

Each book also seems to live and die by its villain. Some are stronger than others. There are some genuinely creepy magical beings in these books. But, in general, the creativity of the world and how civilization has adapted to all of the craziness is what makes this series so fun. I burned through the first 3-4 books in this series in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach, as aspects of the stories became a bit too familiar from one book to the next. But it can’t say anything too bad that I was invested enough to fall into that trap in the first place. If you like urban fantasy, definitely check out this series, and look out for my upcoming review of “Magic Shifts” where Kate beats up on some giants!

*Can we take a moment to ask why urban fantasy novels have such terrible names and covers? I mean, look at those things! Sigh.

Rating 7: Fun urban fantasy lark. You know what you’re getting, but it’s the good kind.

Reader’s Advisory: Since this is a series, it’s not really on a list, per se. If you liked this series, however, I would recommend the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs and “October Daye” series by Seanan McGuire.

Find the first book in this series, “Magic Bites,” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology”

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Book: “Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” by J.H. Williams (Writer & Ill.), W. Haden Blackman (Writer), Amy Reeder (Ill.), Richard Friend (Ill.), Dave Stewart (Colorist)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, June 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Batwoman’s new series finally begins! The creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman launch the ongoing Batwoman series, as Batwoman (a.ka. Kate Kane) faces deadly new challenges in her war against Gotham City’s underworld–and new trials in her personal life.Who or what is stealing children from the barrio, and for what vile purpose? Will Kate train her cousin, Bette Kane (a.k.a. Flamebird), as her new sidekick? How will she handle unsettling revelations about her father, Colonel Jacob Kane? And why is a certain government agency suddenly taking an interest in her? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this long-awaited series!

Review: Batwoman is a character who has gone through a lot of changes since her introduction in the 1960s. When she was first introduced, her alter ego was Kathy Kane, heiress and love interest for Batman (because DC felt that there were too many people joking that Batman and Robin were gay lovers). She was more of a thorn in Batman’s side than an equal, as she was his competition, but wasn’t terribly competent at being a superhero. Not to mention Kathy only donned the cape and cowl so she could woo Batman. She kind of disappeared as time went on, making occasional appearances but not having much to do beyond her original intention. So when she came back for Infinite Crisis, she was given quite the makeover. She was darker and grittier. She was the daughter of a military man and was at West Point for some time. That is, until she was kicked out because she is a lesbian (before the death of DADT). The New 52 decided to give her her own series, and while it was eventually cancelled in 2014 (noooooooo!), Batwoman lived on her own terms an in her own series. I wanted to give Batwoman a try because I’d read enough peripheral comics to get a taste of her, and “Hydrology” seemed to be the next logical step in my exploration.

There were multiple strengths about this story arc that I greatly enjoyed. Of course I love where they have taken the character of Kate Kane, as back in the sixties when she was Kathy Kane she was a sexist stereotype of womanhood who was fawning over Batman like no tomorrow. So obviously I love that not only are she and Batman on tenuous terms at best, she has no romantic interest in him because she is a lesbian. I also liked her relationship with Maggie, a no nonsense detective who is trying to figure out who the mysterious Batwoman is. Maggie and Kate have a tentative romance going at first, and I enjoyed seeing them interact. As a huge fan of the La Llorona myth, having an iteration of it being the antagonist (as a ghost that is kidnapping the children of Gotham) was a neat change of pace and really intrigued me. La Llorona was legitimately scary, but also sympathetic in her own way. The other major plot line involves a mysterious group, and while it hasn’t been completely explored, it’s been set up pretty well, enough so that I’m quite interested in how this is going to develop. The artwork is also very beautiful, with lots of vibrant colors and different styles for different scenes with different tones about them. It isn’t very often that I am awestruck by artwork in comics and graphic novels, just because I don’t have an eye for art. But with “Hydrology” I was consistently impressed, sometimes having to pause just to take it all in.

My one complaint with this story arc had mainly to do with Flamebird, aka Kate’s cousin Bette. I feel that the plot line of ‘sidekick with something to prove who ultimately gets in over their head’ is one that is overdone. Bette is fine, but I had little patience for Kate underestimating her, and then Flamebird in turn overestimating herself out of anger, so when she found herself in a perilous situation I wasn’t so much worried as I was irritated. Why is it that when sidekicks have to impulsively prove themselves, it invariably goes wrong? And why did the “Batwoman” story have to go down this route when it is so original in other ways?!

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Alexa said it, we were all thinking it.

I was especially frustrated because there was a weird juxtaposition between Flamebird’s peril and a romantic interlude between Kate and Maggie. Couldn’t we have just had a lovely romantic scene without tossing in some pretty gritty and upsetting violence? It just didn’t work for me, and seeing that as of now I have no investment in Flamebird outside of Kate’s affection for her, this storyline didn’t do much for me and took me out of the book.

But overall I think that the Batwoman series is going to be strong. It’s a bummer that it ended, but I think that means that I will be able to follow it to its completion. Definitely looking forward to more Kate Kane in my reading life!

Rating 7: Beautiful artwork and coloring, and a solid start for the new and improved Batwoman. It could probably remove some of the drama with her cousin, though. 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Batwoman (Vol. 1): Hydrology” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels with GLBTQ Themes” and “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Batwoman (Vol.1): Hydrology” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Morning Star”

Morning StarBook: “Morning Star” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, February 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.

Unavoidable spoilers for “Red Rising” and “Golden Son.”

Review: This is it! The final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. For me, from past experience with YA trilogies, the last book is what makes or breaks the series. And sadly, more often than not, they fall in the category of “breaks.” I’m looking at you “Allegiant” and “Mockingjay.” But not so with “Morning Star.” It’s good, guys, it’s really good!

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Yes! Nailed it!

“Morning Star” picks up pretty much where “Golden Son” left off. Darrow has been betrayed and captured by his enemies. Cue pain and suffering. It goes without saying that eventually he is rescued, otherwise there would be no book here, so I don’t think I’m spoiling much by acknowledging that yes, he does eventually escape. But only after his confidence has been shaken. This book is the culmination of Darrow’s journey towards leadership. One of my complaints from “Golden Son” was Darrow’s tendency towards over-confidence and arrogance. In this book he has to re-make himself and discover what it is that he really has to contribute to the uprising. It’s no longer as simple as “Darrow: magical leader fighting guy.” His journey through this book is so incredibly satisfying.

All the right character beats are hit exactly. And moreover, not only do we get more time and character expansion for favorite characters from past books (Sevro, Victra, Mustang) but yes, even more awesome characters are added, like the Queen of the Obsidians. I can’t write this review without dedicating at least a few sentences to my girl, Mustang. This series has come so far from its roots where I was skeptical as to the treatment of the few female characters. In this, Mustang comes into her own as equally important to the success of the revolution as Darrow. They’re the definition of a power couple.

Believe it or not, the world building expands even further in this final book. It’s incredibly impressive how creative, well-thought out, and organized this massive world is. We get to spend time in a variety of new settings and, specifically,  the politics of the Obsidians and Moon Lords are more fully explored.

The most impressive part of this story, for me, is the fact that Brown doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of a revolution of this nature. Darrow is forced to make heartbreaking compromises and, in the end, his “rising” looks much different than the one he imagined as the idealistic sleeper spy from book one.

My few criticisms of the book: I mentioned in my review for “Golden Son” the odd balance Brown strikes between writing shocking revelations and dealing with the boundaries of a first person narrative. There was some improvement in this area, but ultimately, I still found some of these reveals a bit awkward in the context of how the reader is viewing the story. I’m starting to think that Brown could also make it as a screenwriter given this tendency. There are also several grand speeches (ala “Independence Day” style) throughout the book which are easy to picture going over well in a summer blockbuster. Perhaps a few too many, honestly. However, it is ultimately saved by a couple of self-aware jabs at Darrow’s tendency to speechify which play well for humor’s sake.

Ultimately, I think that Brown nailed the landing on this one. While the end was slightly predictable, Brown’s complex world, engaging characters, and talent for writing fast-paced, exciting action scenes make this book (and series) a must for sci-fi lovers.

Rating 8: Highly enjoyable. Am waiting for the movie announcement to come any day! How could it not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Morning Star” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “Best Grimdark.”

Find “Morning Star” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Perfect Days”

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Book: “Perfect Days” by Raphael Montes

Publishing Info: Penguin Press, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.
 
Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers.

Review: I honestly could not tell you what gave me the idea to pick up this book. I think that I saw it on a list on upcoming thrillers and when I perused the description I thought ‘sure, let’s give that one a go’. I’m also always on the look out for works that are of a more diverse kind, so when I saw that the author, Raphael Montes, is from Brazil, I was extra intrigued. But thriller? This is listed as a thriller? Because to me, as a woman, this is pure, unbridled horror. So I am going to call this book as such, this is a horror novel. This is a book where a crazy man, WHO IS THE MAIN PERSPECTIVE WE GET, stalks, kidnaps, and holds a woman prisoner in hopes that she will fall in love with him. Who decided this is a thriller? Lies. False. Now I’m someone who can take a lot of messed up twisted nonsense in her books. Hell, I read “A Clockwork Orange” when I was fourteen years old, not to mention a LOT of the Stephen King catalog at that age as well. But even this book gave me lots of moments of pause, and one moment where I just had to set it down and walk away after yelling out in pure, unadulterated unsettlement.

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This was basically me for about 2o minutes after the fact.

Teo is the worst, and he is supposed to be the worst, so Montes got his point across. But as much as he was worst and as much as reading this book gave me a serious case of the icks, I really, really appreciated what Montes did with it. Nay, I would go so far as to say that I even liked it. I liked it a lot. It wasn’t a pleasant experience reading it by any means, but it was visceral and it was scary as hell, and I really see what Montes was doing with the whole thing. Bully for me, I guess. What I liked about this was that by seeing this all through the eyes of Teo, we see his perspective and what he’s thinking and why he’s thinking it. But, along with that, Montes does it in such a way that you never, EVER, feel anything but disgust and contempt for him, and for everything he does to Clarice, the supposed girl of his dreams. I feel the need to put out there right away that what he does to her is awful and extensive, so I am going to set out a TRIGGER WARNING for violence against women and men alike, and a rape scene. You’ve been warned. Clarice, however, is a very interesting character even when seen through the unreliable eyes of Teo. She’s certainly a victim of a horrible crime and unspeakable acts at the hands of a psychopath, but what I liked about her was that she wasn’t merely a victim; she has moments of manipulation, moments of power, moments of getting the best of Teo and the upper hand. While initially I was worried that she was going to be one of those ‘I’ll save you with how interesting I am’ characters, and while she was at first, she very early on made herself her own person who is not anyone’s sex object, be it through the eyes of a blatant stalker sociopath like Teo, or even through just a nice guy who needs a jolt in his boring life. The brilliance of this was that Teo completely bought into the idea that she was going to be the one to save him from his dull life (A life, I might add, that involves spending waaaaaay too much quality time with a cadaver at his medical school. That he has named GERTRUDE), and exposes this ‘wonderful interesting savior girl’ fantasy for the harmful and misogynistic nonsense that, at its heart and in its most extreme form, it is. I would even go so far as to say that Montes rips it to shreds. The moment that clicked for me, my mind was blown and I had to have another moment of stepping away for a short while. I saw Clarice through Teo’s eyes, but I also saw her through my own, and the character that I got from her was very, very satisfying and someone that I cared about. I think that had this been a two hundred-some page book of her just being abused, I would have had to put it down. But there were a lot of mind games going on and power plays that simmered below the surface, which gave me hope that somehow she would eventually, totally, find that moment of empowerment and revenge.

I need to talk about that ending though. Without spoilers, of course. But I need to talk about it because I’m not really certain what to make of it. A lot of the reviews and notes I’ve read about this book say that the ending is incredibly, poetically unjust. And while part of me is inclined to agree with that, another part of me wonders if there is a bit of a glimmer of hope to it. I’m waxing poetic here, I realize, but there was one thing thrown out there that, if my own personal theory/interpretation is right, could completely turn the meaning on it’s head. I don’t know if it’s because I need to cling to hope in a book that is basically hopeless, but I see something there that makes me think that all isn’t what it seems by the time we turn the final page in this book. I think that Clarice is going to surprise Teo one last time, even if we as the readers don’t get to see it.

“Perfect Days” was a difficult read, and I wouldn’t recommend it willy nilly to just anyone. But while it made me feel gross and upset and deeply disturbed, I really, really liked it. Raphael Montes, I’m going to keep my eye on you.

Rating 9: A very well plotted and scary book, but not for the faint of heart. Trigger warnings all over the friggin’ place. Skip this unless you are prepared to be very upset.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Perfect Days” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Amazon Best Books of February 2016 – Combined Fiction” and  “What Women Born in the 90’s Have Read in 2016”. (Note: Okay let’s be real, it’s not on many lists yet. Tell you what, if you liked ‘Misery’ this will probably be reminiscent.)

Find “Perfect Days” at your library using WorldCat!

April 2016 Highlights

Hey everyone! It’s the start of the month, and that means that a bunch of new books are going to be published across many genres. Because of that, we have decided to share with you the books that we are the most excited about, across our favorite genres.

Serena’s Picks

Flamecaster Book: “Flamecaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publication date: April 5, 2016

Why I’m interested: I read and loved Chima’s “Seven Realms” series. That story featured dual protagonists, a young woman and a young man set in a creative fantasy world. This book takes place in the same world following the stories of Ash, a trained healer with a tough of magic, and Jenna, a young woman with a mysterious past. This series is set a generation after the original, so I’m looking forward to returning to this world and seeing what’s what!

 

Every Heart a Doorway Book: “Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

Publication date: April 5, 2016

Why I’m interested: What happens when you return from Oz? Or tumble back out of the wardrobe? In this novella, Seanan McGuire explores what’s next for children whose magical experiences have come to an end and they’re back in the boring, old, regular world. I haven’t read too many novellas, but I have liked the first few books in McGuire’s “Toby Daye” urban fantasy series. Will definitely be checking this one out.

 

The Raven King Book: “The Raven King” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publication date: April 26, 2016

Why I’m interested: This is one of those series that everyone raves about, to the point where you almost want to not read it just because you want to save the whole experience. At least, that’s been my approach. I have absolutely loved the first two books in this series and have intentionally been pacing myself reading the third one waiting for this to be published in case of any unbearable cliff hangers. But it’s almost here! Stiefvater’s beautiful examination of friendship and family make this series an amazing read. The magic is just the topping on the cake.

Kate’s Picks:

26030697Book: “Fellside” by M.R. Carey

Publication Date: April 5th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: I actually wasn’t that impressed with M.R. Carey’s last book, “The Girl With All The Gifts”, his take on a zombie story. While the zombies were interesting in their origin story, the plot itself didn’t thrill me. But it sounds like his newest book, “Fellside”, is a ghost story, one that takes place in a women’s prison. I’m really happy that the ghost story is coming back into fashion, and I’m hoping that he’ll bring an original twist AND bring a really spooky story.

 

28204534Book: “Paper Girls (Vol. 1)” by Brian K. Vaughn

Publication Date: April 5th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Let me get this straight. Brian K. Vaughn, writer of both “Saga” and “Y: The Last Man”, has another comic collection coming out? And that comic collection is about a bunch of paper girls in 1988 who uncover a huge story that sets off a lot of drama and mysteries? I am SO in!!!!

 

 

25241697Book: “Wonder Woman Earth One (Vol. 1)”

Publication Date: April 6th, 2016 (expected)

Why I’m Interested: As a huge fan of Wonder Woman, and still feeling pretty good about her most recent film debut in “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” (but more on that later), I am really having high hopes for this newest Wonder Woman comic collection from DC. I wasn’t a fan of her New 52 run, so let’s hope that this time around she’s going to have some fun stories that are actually about HER, and not about some random person she has been assigned to protect.

 

What books are you guys excited for that are coming out this month? Let us know in the comments!