Kate’s Review: “Daddy Dearest”

28223107Book: “Daddy Dearest” by Paul Southern

Publishing Info: Self Published. Available on Amazon and Smashwords, June 2016.

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a free ARC edition of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description from Goodreads: An estranged father’s weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her – with devastating consequences. Daddy Dearest is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.

Review: I thought I had this book all figured out when I read the description. What is it that Han Solo says? “Don’t get cocky”? I got cocky. I never should have assumed that I knew everything going into this book, because it ended up making me feel very sheepish indeed. I went in with preconceived notions, and “Daddy Dearest” proved me wrong. I like being proved wrong, folks, especially if it works out in my favor, ultimately. I think that part of it is that I’ve read so many thrillers as of late that have big crazy outlandish twists, I am always on the lookout for curves and swerves, and while “Daddy Dearest” does have some twists and turns, I didn’t guess any of them. So BRA-VO, Paul Southern.

I feel that while I would like to keep some of the major plot points tucked away, there are themes that I want to address in this review that could be seen as spoiler-y. So fair warning.

At it’s heart, “Daddy Dearest” is a character study of a man who is grappling with a lot of stress and problems in his personal life. Our unnamed narrator and his unnamed daughter have a pretty decent relationship, one that seemed fairly realistic given the circumstances. He’s divorced from her mother, she only seems him every once in awhile, and he is clearly quite terrified of losing her. While this manifests in a fear of her getting caught in an elevator (or lift in the book, as it takes place in the U.K.), the fear is far broader than that. When she disappears behind those doors, it makes all of his fears a reality, as it seems that she has disappeared from his life without any way to get her back. Our Narrator is an interesting conundrum in and of himself, as while he loves his (also unnamed) daughter very much it becomes clear from early on that he does not like, or at least respect, women as a whole. I honestly had a hard time with some of the ways that he would describe women in this book, and how he would interact with them as well. It took some time to peel back the layers of our narrator, and the more we peeled back the more disturbing he became. At first, when I went in thinking that Our Narrator was going to be a heroic type trying to save his daughter from some unknown threat, I thought that the writing was very sexist and was having a hard time with it. As I kept going, however, it slowly became apparent that all was not as it seemed, and I have to say that it was achieved in a clever and satisfying way. I can’t say that I liked Our Narrator, but I was very invested in how things shook out for him and his missing daughter.

Sometimes when I was reading it I would get tripped up over some of the phrasing. While the story itself was pretty well done and kept me interested, there were times that the writing felt a little choppy or awkward. There were a number of times that I would get hung up on a sentence because of the language that was chosen to convey it. It doesn’t break the book, but it did take me out of the story whenever it did happen. I usually saw what their effect was supposed to be, but mostly they just didn’t quite bring me to where they were meant to. There were also a couple of tangential moves in the story that were a little bit confusing for me, and even after trying to go back and discern what had happened, I was still left scratching my head. I also did, ultimately, have a hard time wrapping my head around the women characters in this book. I know that we were seeing them through the eyes of Our Narrator, who has a lot of contempt for women in general, but I had a hard time understanding the motivations of those who were present, at least when it came to having a relationship with him. This was the most apparent with Our Narrator’s ex-wife. Sure, we know that she got out of the marriage, but I never really understood why she got in it in the first place. I should mention that it’s a first person narrator who is unreliable at best, so this could be me nit picking, but I wanted to see some idea as to why she would have had associated with this man, much less had a child with him!

I was pleasantly surprised by “Daddy Dearest”. I think that if you are a fan of thrillers and can overlook some fumbling writing quirks, this may be one to check out. It definitely left me guessing, which is really what one wants in a book like this.

Rating 6: Though the writing is a bit clunky at times and some of the characters a little flat, the plot is well paced and did keep me guessing. A solid mystery with some good twists.

Reader’s Advisory:

As of this writing “Daddy Dearest” is not on any lists on Goodreads. However, I think that you will find similar stories on “Popular Unreliable Narrator Books”, and “Popular Missing Persons Books”.

Though “Daddy Dearest” is not available on WorldCat as of this writing, you can find it on Amazon and Smashwords on June 1st.

June 2016 Highlights

Hey everyone! So with June just around the corner, it’s about time to talk about the books that we are most looking forward to in the next month. So many books, so many things to be excited about!

Serena’s Picks

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

Publication Date: June 7th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: This book is (not at all factually) based on the life of Lady Jane Grey, who ruled England for nine days only to be be-headed for her trouble. It has been compared to “The Princess Bride” for its farcical and humorous take on the story and history. How you turn a tragic stay locked up in the Tower of London only to then be executed at a young age into a “romantic comedy” is the true question. I’m excited to find out though!

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Book: “Age of Myth” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publication Date: June 28th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: I haven’t read any Michael J. Sullivan as of yet. But he’s become widely popular in the fantasy reading community and is often compared to favorite authors of mine like Brandon Sanderson. I’ve also noticed that stories involving slain Gods or fallen Gods have become a bit of a thing in the last few years (two of my favorites with this topic are the recently reviewed “City of Stairs” and N.K. Jeminson’s “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.”) Am curious to read Sullivan’s take on the subject!

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Book: “And I Darken” by Kiersten White

Publication Date: June 28, 2016

Why I’m Interested: This story features Lady Dragwyla and takes place in the Ottoman empire…so…it’s about a female Vlad the Impaler? What an intriguing concept!  I mean, this is a line in the book description: “The first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.” Sign me up! Sign me up right now!

Kate’s Picks

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Book: “End of Watch” by Stephen King

Publication Date: June 7th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: It would be very easy to just say ‘because it’s Stephen King, duh’, but there is a bit more to it than that. King has started experimenting with his writing styles and genres in recent years, and it’s no surprise that he can write a whole lot more than horror (Hell, “The Body” and “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” should be enough proof of this). This is the final book in his Bill Hodges Trilogy, which is a bit more mystery/thriller than horror. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have some horror elements to it. I love this series, and am ready for the conclusion.

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Book: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay

Publication Date: June 21st, 2016

Why I’m Interested: Last year I read Tremblay’s “A Head Full of Ghosts” and could not put it down. He took an exorcism story and turned it into a tense family drama, a mix of “The Exorcist” and “Ordinary People”. It was one of my favorite books last year, and when I heard that he had a second one coming out I was totally on board. And a story about a boy disappearing under strange circumstances is definitely right up my alley.

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Book: “The Girls” by Emma Cline

Publication Date: June 14th, 2016

Why I’m Interested: A book about a girl who is so enamored with a cool and popular older girl that she gets sucked into the Manson Family? I’m interested!!! As someone who has been very fascinated by Charles Manson and his cult, the sudden interest in him in pop culture (from the TV show “Aquarius” to the “You Must Remember This” Podcast devoting all of last summer to an ongoing series about him) enters the literary world with Cline’s “The Girls”. It’s going to be weird and upsetting and I can’t wait.

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

Serena’s Review: “These Broken Stars”

13138635Book: “These Broken Stars” by Aime Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: Disney Hyperion, December 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Luxury spaceliner Icarus suddenly plummets from hyperspace into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive – alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a cynical war hero. Both journey across the eerie deserted terrain for help. Everything changes when they uncover the truth.  

Review: For all the proliferation of young adult fantasy novels, there is a distinct lack of young adult science fiction. I’m not quite sure why this is the case as the two genres are so often combined into one “fantasy/sci-fi” due to the vast number of similarities. Further, if there was ever a saturation point for readers, I have to think we’re reaching it with the number YA fantasy series out there right now. In this way, “These Broken Stars” stands out. Not only is it distinctly science fiction, but it is also a book that can be read as a stand alone! Both of these aspects were a refreshing change, and while there were some weak points in the story, for the most part “These Broken Stars” left me very satisfied.

Heiress and socialite Lilac LaRoux and war hero Tarver Merendsen have a typical meet-cute: plummeting towards a planet aboard a malfunctioning escape pod from an exploding spaceship. But really, the ship was called the “Icarus,” what did they expect? Why would anyone, ever, get on a ship named the “Icarus”?? There’s your first mistake. After crash landing, the two discover they are the only survivors of the wreck and must trek across an unknown planet in the hopes of discovering some means of sending a distress signal and escaping alive.

This is a solid plot. I appreciated the fact that Kaufman and Spooner didn’t pull any punches with the realities of a disaster of this magnitude. Not only do Tarver and Lilac have to deal with the challenges of their maroonment, but gruesome details of the crash and its aftermath are not shied away from. There are no easy outs. Injuries, starvation, dehydration, the confusion of a new environment, the grief and fear of a situation so fully out of one’s control: these are all painted with deft strokes. At one point, Tarver and Lilac reach the main wreck of the ship and the practicalities and horror of the situation is fully explored. Often, young adult novels can have a tendency to go easy on the realities of the story in favor of focusing on character drama. It can be very disappointing and also distracting. (Why is that character fretting between her love interests when an army is invading her kingdom?!?!) Not so, here.

And that’s not to say the characters in this do not experience their own drama. It’s only that their drama seems more grounded in the situation they find themselves in and their own biases and preconceived notions of the individual they have been forced to experience this trial alongside. The love story feels earned with its two characters going through misunderstanding, frustration, and anger, before building mutual understanding, respect, and care.

There were a few points where Tarver and Lilac fell a bit too closely into stereotypical characterizations. Or, more like, their “shocking reveal” anti-stereotypical characterizations. Of course Lilac isn’t just a socialite, but also a wiz at mechanics! However, each time I was about to roll my eyes at some overdone character moment, the authors would surprise me with a bit of realism that was enough to draw me back in. Lilac may be a wiz at mechanics, but she still struggles with her situation. So, too, Tarver, who could easily be written as the character more fully in the know and the right with his judgements of his companion, is also given flaws that make him more relatable and believable. Their physical and emotional journey is surprisingly balanced.

The mystery was also surprising. I enjoyed the reveal, and the final challenge in the third act of the story came completely out of left field. Also, while loose ends remained, the story also wrapped itself up in a way that was satisfying. Again, in young adult fiction where trilogies, cliff hangers, and dangling romantic plot lines that are drawn out through at least three books are the norm, I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciated this respite.

There are two more books in this “series.” However, they each seem to focus on a new pair of individuals. This is a unique framing technique for what I’m guessing will be the larger conflict that was begun in this story. I’m curious to see how it will all pan out!

Rating 7: A solid outing for a young adult science fiction novel!

Reader’s Advisory:

“These Broken Stars” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Teenagers . . . IN SPACE!” and “Space Opera Romance”.

Find “These Broken Stars” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Paper Girls, 1”

28204534Book: “Paper Girls, 1” by Brian Vaughan, Cliff Chiang (Ill.), Matthew Wilson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Review: Though my book club, and other people in my life like my sister, swear by the series “Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan, I haven’t picked it up and am not really in much of a hurry to do so either. I know that Serena is probably side eying this review right now. Sorry, girl. That said, I have read Vaughan’s other really huge series, “Y the Last Man”, and that one I really enjoyed. I think that the difference is that “Saga” is big Space Opera sci-fi, while “Y the Last Man” is post apocalyptic, and of the sci-fi subgroups I much prefer the latter. So I don’t really know why I was surprised when I picked up “Paper Girls, 1” and it was another science fiction story. But “Paper Girls” fell in the middle of those two subgroups, and at it’s heart is more a coming of age, bildungsroman-esque story.

To give a bit more of a summary: The morning after Halloween in 1988, Erin the paper girl begins her route, joining up with other neighborhood paper girls Mac, KJ, and Tiffany in hopes of steering clear from the local bullies. But when their walkie-talkie is stolen by some mysterious guys in robes, they stumble upon a strange craft in the basement of a local house. Then people start disappearing, and more strange creatures appear. So the Paper Girls get pulled into a strange, end of world-like situation. While it may sound kind of simple, the way that Vaughan tells it is very real and very engrossing. Though I felt that KJ and Tiff wren’t given much to do thus far, Erin and Mac really shine, being portrayed as very three dimensional girls with complex, and in Mac’s case, difficult, backgrounds. Mac, the cigarette smoking tough girl, is pretty much Bender from “The Breakfast Club”, and Vaughan isn’t afraid to make her at times very unlikable (I was rather shocked by her entrance, as she calls one of the neighborhood bullies a ‘faggot’ and ‘AIDS-patient’. I realize that in 1988 it was Reagan’s America and there was a lot of scorn directed at the GLBT community, but realistic or not, it set my teeth on edge right out he gate). Erin is far gentler than Mac is, but that doesn’t make her any less fascinating or fascinating. She’s by far had the most exploration of their situation, and given the cliffhanger that we were left on in this volume it’s pretty clear that this is, ultimately, her story. And I’m one hundred percent okay with that. Hopefully Tiff and KJ will be given more to do as the series goes on, though the little snippets we got of them were fine and enjoyable.

I suppose that I should say that I was sort of disappointed that this is as sci-fi as it is. I guess when I read the descriptions I found online I was thinking it would be more “Blue Velvet” or “Twin Peaks”, but it is what it is and I did like the sci-fi elements for what they were. I highly enjoy the alien beings (if that is indeed what they are) and their kind of tenuous grasp on the English language. I also liked how there were symbols for dialogue for a few of the characters when they were conversing amongst themselves, and that the read has to figure out what is going on based on the visual cues that are being presented. This sort of device works VERY well in graphic novel form, as one can imagine, and given the prevalence both in and out of story, I want to learn more about these glyphs.

I also want to give a shout out to the gorgeous artwork in this comic. Cliff Chiang has done some other artwork for DC over the years, his most well known probably being some “Wonder Woman” for the New 52, which was incidentally one of the only things I LIKED about the new Wonder Woman arc. It looks simple at first glance, but the more you look at it, the more details you see. I think that he’s really making the characters and the story pop, and it’s a good match for the writing and story that Vaughan has given us. The cover alone just looks like an 80’s electric color bubblegum dream.

“Paper Girls, 1” has me hooked, and I’m sorry that I can’t just binge my way through it like I did “Y: The Last Man”. Fans of Vaughan’s work need to check this newest series out.

Rating 8: A fun sci-fi comic with some good characterizations. Some of the paper girls need to be explored more, but they are off to a good start. Plus the art is very funky and leaps off the page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Paper Girls, 1” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Graphic Novels (Released in ) 2016”, and “Cover Buys”.

Find “Paper Girls, 1” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Flamecaster”

Flamecaster Book: “Flamecaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. The son of the queen of the Fells, Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told the mysterious magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

Review: I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Chima’s “Seven Realms” series, so I was very excited to hear that she was returning to that world for a second go with a new cast of characters from the next generation. From past experience, series that are set in the same world, but later in time, can be very hit or miss. It’s hard to not want to spend time with the characters I am already familiar with and the jump in time can come with some nasty surprises. While I enjoyed “Flamecaster,” I did fall prey to this type of disappointment when comparing it to the last story and featured characters.

Right off the bat, I was reminded why I enjoyed the first set of books. Chima’s world building is solid, and it was very easy to slip back into this time, place, and culture even with the years that have passed since I finished the last book. Much of this book is set in the kingdom of Arden, now ruled by the tyrant King that Raina, the Wolf Queen of the Fells and one of the main characters from the first series, refused to marry 25 years ago. Things have not improved since. He’s still busy rounding up, burning or collaring the magic users of his kingdom while conducting  a long, drawn out war with the Fells. It hasn’t been going well, but he is anything if not persistent.

Here enters Jenna, a coal miner, orphan, and rebel with a personal vendetta against the King. Unfortunately, rebel!Jenna is the most interesting part of her character and we get very little of that in this book. Her secret and forgotten past play a large part in driving this story, but we only get a few tidbits of answers towards the end of the story. And in the meantime, she is largely a pawn stored away in a dungeon through significant chunks of the book. For a character with mysterious abilities and a penchant for blowing things up, I wish we had gotten more from her.

Ash, the other main character mentioned in the description, is the son of Raina and Han, our protagonists from the first series. His story starts off with the type of tragic happenings that I always dread from next-generation-stories. But as a character, he was fairly enjoyable. His magic and personality are distinctly different than his father’s, which is important in a character who could have easily read as Han 2.0. We spend more time with Ash and that alone makes his story line more enjoyable than Jenna’s. Though, here too, I didn’t feel like he was as fully fleshed out as either Raina or Han were from the first series.

What wasn’t mentioned in the book description and what surprised me as I read is the fact that Jenna and Ash are not the only protagonists of this book. Lo and behold, there are two other characters whose perspectives are given a decent amount of page time: smuggler and quick witted, Lila, and Destin, a mage and spymaster working for the King of Arden. Destin only has a very few chapters, so I don’t have much to say about him. He serves his purpose, but didn’t add a lot to the story, in my opinion. Lila, however, is by far my favorite character in the book. She is the most action-oriented, we see her weaving in between all of the other characters with ease and skill, and her personality reads the strongest on the page. In all honesty, while events at the end of this book make it clear why Jenna will be serious player in the future, I finished this story kind of wanting Lila to me our main female protagonist.

So, while I enjoyed aspects of this book, there were some disappointments as well. As I’ve highlighted a bit here, many of the main characters simply weren’t as engaging as I would have wanted. I remember that the first book in the “Seven Realms” series also seemed a bit lackluster only to vastly improve with the three following books, so I’m hopeful that that will prove true with this series as well. However, while I love the addition of Lila, I’m concerned that balancing four perspectives and characters may ultimately weaken my attachment to each. I finished this book not really caring about Destin or Jenna, and mildly interested in Ash (and a lot of that interest still has to do with his connection to the characters from the previous book.) Still love Lila, though.

The other major detractor that has to be mentioned is a very, very unfortunate bout of instalove. If I was going to mention one thing that made the “Seven Realms” series stand out to me amongst the plethora of YA fantasy series, it would be the solid characterization and slow build of its main romantic pairing. Each book read as a solid step in Raina and Han’s relationship, from mere acquaintances who really know nothing of the truth about one another even at the end of the first book, to casually dating with the struggles that come with that, to a serious relationship by the end. And here, in this new series, we get one of the worst examples of an instalove relationship that I cam remember. And I’ve read a lot, so that’s saying something. Again, part of me hopes that there will be some explanation for the rush of this in the first book, perhaps they’re not meant to be together and things will get switched up (go Lila!)? I’m not sure. But if this relationship is supposed to read as a main fixture in the story, this was not a good start.

All in all, this wasn’t the strong return to this world that I was hoping for. However, there were enough elements to keep me reading, and my previous experience with the slow start of the other series leaves me hopeful that this will grow in much the same way.

Rating 6: Decent, but some of the characters were disappointing and the instalove was maddening.

Reader’s Advisory:

This book isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I would highly recommend reading the “Seven Realms” series by the same author. It isn’t necessary to appreciate this book, but I loved it and would recommend it simply for its own worth.

Find “Flamecaster” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

 

Kate’s Review: “The Fireman”

25816688Book: “The Fireman” by Joe Hill

Publishing Info: William Morrow, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I bought it!

Book Description from Goodreads: From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author ofNOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.

The fireman is coming. Stay cool. 

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Review: Joe Hill is easily my favorite writer out there at the moment. I haven’t read a piece of work of his that I haven’t really enjoyed. His comic “Locke and Key” is one of my all time favorites, and his novel “NOS4A2” was my favorite book I read in 2014. When he first announced his most recent novel, “The Fireman”, I had to wait a long while before it was actually published. I waited not that patiently, and then put it on pre-order so I could get it and start it the day that it came out. And then a few days later (aka this past Saturday), I had the opportunity to see him in Minneapolis reading from this book. My friends and I were treated to a lovely evening of Joe Hill reading an excerpt, a sing along, and a great Q and A session.

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I was also chosen to play the kazoo during the singalong. Watch for my kazoo album, coming never!

It took me four days to read this 700-some page book, and let me tell you, I had a very hard time putting it down. While “NOS4A2” remains my favorite of Joe Hill’s novels, “The Fireman” is a very close second. There are many reasons for this, which I could probably write a dissertation on, but I will try and keep the fan-girling to a minimum.

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To. A. Minimum.

Hill has always been praised for his amazing character development, and “The Fireman” has an entire slew of characters that reinforce this praise. While the book is named after John Rookwood, the avenger who dresses like a fireman and can manipulate his Dragonscale to control the fire inside, this book is solidly about Harper Willowes, the pregnant nurse who just wants to survive so her can have her baby. When we first meet Harper, she is a sunny and optimistic school nurse who is very good at keeping things positive for those around her. But when a man stumbles upon the playground and bursts into flames, Harper’s world starts to crumble, so her resolve in this regard is tested. While Harper does, of course, have to adapt to her new surroundings, her strength is always apparent and she does not have to sacrifice her core personality to this bleak landscape. I LOVED that. It would be so easy to turn her into a cynical, bitter shell of her former self, but Hill instead keeps her character very Mary Poppins, therein reinforcing that women can be strong in many, many ways and don’t have to fit a certain mold to survive. By the end of this book I was worshiping at the altar of Harper Willowes, and put her up there with my other favorite Hill female characters. The holy trinity for those interested are Georgia from “Heart Shaped Box”, Vic from “NOS4A2”, and now Harper. I loved how she interacted with all of the other characters, especially her slow progression from damsel, to ally, to equal when paired up with Rookwood. She knows that he’s messed up, cares for him all the same, but does not put up with any of his nonsense.

Harper is also very loving and maternal not just to her unborn child, but to other children at Camp Wyndham, the sanctuary she finds herself at. Her relationships with Allie and Nick, the children of Rookwood’s dead girlfriend Sarah. Allie is angry and very, very flawed, while Nick is sweet and introverted. Harper approaches them in ways that are never patronizing. She doesn’t put up with Allie’s crap when she is at her worst, but always lets her know that she is, ultimately, loved. And Harper goes out of her way to learn sign language so she can communicate with Nick, who is deaf and therefore always feels very much like The Other at the camp. Harper treats them both with respect and kindness, and never patronizes them.

John Rookwood in turn was always at his best when he was interacting with Harper. As he is so inclined to not be the optimist, they played off each other and helped each other see other sides of things, and never really belittled each other for their opposing outlooks. I was afraid that he was going to merely be there to say ‘I told you so’ when things went wrong, but it never felt that way. He served as a contrast, because if Harper is caring, he is vengeful, and they helped each other find those parts in each other when it was necessary. Plus, his powers are just cool. I mean, he can throw fire and make giant fire birds. It was also very cool to see him in contrast to Harper’s husband, Jakob. While Jakob started out as this kind of mellow, caring, intelligent guy, the moment that Harper got sick he showed his true colors and revealed himself to be a despicable, terrifying antagonist. Rookwood sort of had the opposite transformation, as he, while never terrible, did start out as coarse and a bit harsh. But Dragonscale, and Harper too, empowered him and made him a better person who was more inclined to become part of something bigger than just himself and his grief for Sarah. It was very interesting seeing these two very different men react to their surroundings and situations, and see how they are changed by the illness that is destroying civilization.

And it can’t be a pandemic story without human beings totally falling apart, so while it was no surprise that Camp Wyndham became a freaky violent cult, it was still very upsetting to watch. While other pandemic stories usually jump right to the cult once it’s already been established as such, “The Fireman” lets the reader see how Camp Wyndham went from a loving sanctuary with many loving characters, to a horrific example of group think run amok. When Harper meets them, she finds a group of people who have Dragonscale who have learned to control it, and harness the goodness of it. Calling this The Bright, they’ve discovered that singing all together can make them all glow, and give the community a sense of euphoria and belonging. It really does start out as a safe haven for people who are being hunted down and killed by Cremation Squads, led by a bigoted radio shock jock calling himself The Marlboro Man. And because we got to see the characters at their best before, and understand why they are afraid, seeing them at their worst was especially heartbreaking. While it would be very easy to have them be dangerous cultists from the get go, Hill has no interest in letting the reader take the easy way out when it comes to this group. And boy, does that hurt.

I do think that this book went on a little longer than I wanted it to, but that’s really the only qualm that I have with it. With a sudden shift in setting after a situation that would have made a perfectly great climax, it started to drag a little bit, but I totally get why the choice was made. The ultimate ending, however, was absolutely beautiful, and I was openly weeping as I read through to the VERY last page of the book. And I mean the very last page. That’s a hint, from me to you.

I absolutely adored this book. Joe Hill continues to be my favorite author writing today, and “The Fireman” shows off his talents in all of their red hot burning glory. Also, see him speak if you have the opportunity. He’s a joy.

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TO A MINIMUM!

Rating 10: Another fabulous dark fantasy/horror story from Joe Hill. I loved every bit of this book, from the characters, the themes, and the writing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Fireman” is a brand new book and not on many lists yet. But the themes are similar to the books found on “Popular Pandemic Books”, and Harper would be right at home on “Girls Who Kick Ass”.

Find “The Fireman” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

X-Men: Days of Future PastWe are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

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

Book: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” by Chris Claremont and John Bryne

Publishing Info: Marvel, 1981

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Relive the legendary first journey into the dystopian future of 2013 where Sentinels stalk the Earth and the X-Men are humanity’s only hope… until they die! Also featuring the first apperance of Alpha Flight, the return of the Wendigo, the history of Cyclops… and a demon for Christmas!?

Serena’s Thoughts:

I have a bizarrely expansive knowledge of the X-Men and a very limited list of actual comic stories that I have read featuring them. I’ve always loved the X-Men and I have strong preferences for certain characters and a fairly thorough knowledge of its history, but when it came to actually sitting down and reading them? Not so much. That made this month’s book club pick, courtesy of book club friend and fellow librarian, Alicia, a great opportunity for me to delve into the actual comics themselves.

As per the world of comics, the actual collection we read was an assortment of different issues that were combined in such a way as to provide background and further character insight into the cast most heavily featured in the prominent story line, the titular “Days of Future Past.” This being the case, a few of the actual separate issue stories were rather hit and miss for me. While I understand why they were all included, there were times in the first half of the story where I was skimming through a lot of exposition about who/what/where things are in the world of the X-Men at this specific point in time. So, too, we take a bizarre trip up to Canada at one point and fight a Wendigo?? Again, with some thought, it becomes clear why these issues were chosen, specifically the ones that introduce Kitty Pryde, but they were also a bit off putting in their disconnection to each other. I enjoyed them all, but I was very excited by the time we got to the main story arc.

“Days of Future Past” was definitely the highlight of the collection, which is only fitting. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, particularly the fact that Kitty Pryde was our protagonist. While many comics (and comic movies as this very one proves) heavily feature male heroes, it was a breath of fresh air to see this story unfold under the guidance of a young, female character. Further, at this point in time, Storm is leading the X-Men and Mystique is heading up the “Group of Evil Mutants” (yes, the villains’ team name is something stupid like that). So, woman power all around!

Storm has always been one of my favorite characters, so it was fun reading about her in this role. While she questioned her abilities in comparison to Cyclops one too many times for my liking, she did give Wolverine a lovely smackdown later on which fully made up for it. Mystique, on the other hand, is decidedly more interesting in the movie version than in the comic. This largely comes down to the fact that the movies have re-worked Mystique’s whole backstory and Jennifer Lawrence is awesome at anything she does. In the comic story, however, she does very little other than stand in the background saying things like “I’ll get you, my pretties” and then running off at the end shouting “Never mind, I meant I’ll get you next time!”

All in all, I very much enjoyed finally sitting down and reading this comic book. The art was colorful and fun and definitely felt like a trip back in time, considering when it was published and the styling used at that point. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in X-Men comics or for those wanting to know the basis for the movie.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Like Serena, I have a pretty good working knowledge of The X-Men universe and many of its idiosyncrasies. I haven’t read many of the comics, but I’ve seen most of the movies and I’ve read a lot about the characters and how they connect to each other. So going into “Days of Future Past,” I was familiar with all of the characters and what makes them unique. But actually reading an X-Men comic is kind of a new thing for me! I was very stoked when Alicia picked it for book club, and was totally engrossed by it once I opened it up.

I definitely think that the main arc of this story, the “Days of Future Past” arc, was the strongest of the collection, though there were others included as well. I think that my favorite one outside of the main arc was the one about Nightcrawler’s Birthday party and then his descent into Hell, mostly because I love Nightcrawler as a character. But also because book club pointed out the ridiculous pile of presents that he gets, including a glamour shot of Wolverine?

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We couldn’t agree if it was a egotistical gift from Wolverine, or if Nightcrawler asked Storm to get him a picture of Wolverine. Either option is perfect.

I also want to mention that the Canadian Wendigo looked more like a Yeti. I understand that this collection chose these comics to help bolster the characters that we focused on (specifically Kitty) or to give context, but I wasn’t used to having the lack of linear storytelling that many comics collections have now. This distracted me quite a bit, sadly, and made it hard for me to get on board fully until we got to the main event.

So let’s get back to “Days of Future Past.” Much like the movie, it’s about the X-Men trying to prevent a dystopic future by going into the past and stopping one bad moment from happening (specifically the assassination of a Senator which bolstered anti-mutant sentiments), which in turn led to large mechanical Sentinals to be created to kill mutants, and anyone with super powers (goodbye, Avengers, it was nice knowing you). The thing that I liked best about this storyline was the fabulous and amazing Kitty Pryde. I was shocked when I read this and it was HER, and not Wolverine, to go back in time and try to save the future. I loved seeing a teenage girl get the hero spotlight in this story, and really this entire collection. Kitty Pryde was given so much to do, which was a breath of fresh air. Storm was also given the spotlight to shine in, as the leader of the X-Men at this point in time. While she had her moments of self-doubt, I liked that she was supremely badass throughout the stories that we saw her in, while still being portrayed as a relatable and genuinely cool person. I do think that it was a shame that they felt a need for her self doubt to be manifested in ‘Boy, I sure wish that Cyclops was here because HE would know what to do.’ Not because I don’t want Storm to have humanizing moments, but because I didn’t really care for it being like ‘a white dude could do this better.’ Luckily, she showed herself to be very powerful and a great leader, so I will give it a pass.

I was sad to see that Mystique had such a small, two dimensional role. I know that it’s mostly the movies that gave Mystique more to do, but she has always been my favorite character in the X-Men universe, so seeing her reduced to a “I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling mutants!” caricature was hard for me. I like my Raven conflicted and filled with angst. I did, however, like that little exchange between her and Nightcrawler, given their actual connection in the mythology (and if they do it in the new X-Men movie “Apocalypse” I will be so happy).

Serena’s Rating 7: Very good, though some of the issues that were chosen to support the main story weren’t my favorite.

Kate’s Rating 7: Highly enjoyable, but the two dimensional aspect of the villains were frustrating while the additional storylines sometimes felt out of place.

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We’re still going strong with the Movie theme in our book club at the moment, so we watched the 2014 film “X-Men: Days of Future Past”. This was a strong second outing for the prequel X-Men cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. And as you can’t have an X-Men movie nowadays without Hugh Jackman, the biggest change to the story line was swapping out Kitty Pride for Wolverine. This switch was heavily discussed at book club, and while we all understood the reason for the change in the movie landscape (how can you NOT use Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine every chance you get??), we also mourned the loss of a strong, young, female protagonist as the story’s lead. Peter Dinklage is also a fun addition, and people are still talking about the amazing Quicksilver scene.

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The game already happened, and it didn’t end well for you, “Age of Ultron” Quicksilver! (source)

1. How do the other issues included in this collection add to the primary storyline? Did you enjoy any one particularly and why? Was there one that could have been left out?

2. Did you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

3. How did you feel about the character of Mystique in this story? How did she compare to how you think of Mystique as she has been in the film universe, or in more recent comics?

4. There are significant character/storyline changes between the movie and the comic. Which of these changes did you appreciate and which would you have changed?

5.  How did the swap from Kitty Pryde to Wolverine affect the story? Which did you prefer? What additions or detractions did each character’s perspective bring to their version?

Reader’s Advisory:

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is included on these Goodreads lists: “The Best of Kitty Pryde”, and “Essential X-Men”.

Find “X-Men: Days of Future Past” at your library using Worldcat!