Kate’s Review: “Lovecraft Country”

25109947Book: “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff

Publishing Info: Harper, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description: The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

Review: As a fan of horror literature, it’s no surprise that I do have a fondness for the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Last year my husband got me the complete annotated Lovecraft for our anniversary, and it sits on my shelf in it’s huge and daunting glory. Cthulhu is also one of the most badass literary monsters out there. But here is the thing about Lovecraft: He was an unrepentant racist and white supremacist. People can trot out the ‘man of his time’ argument, but that doesn’t matter at the end of the day. I don’t think that there is a problem enjoying his works and his writing, but to deny that other side of him is inherently dishonest and problematic.

And that brings us to “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff. Ruff takes the works of Lovecraft and pays homage to them while simultaneously exploring and exposing American racism. He splits this book into multiple parts that all have their own little twists on Lovecraft stories or Lovecraft themes, and while they could probably stand alone, they all combine into an overarching narrative. While all of these stories have magical elements, from a haunted house to a magical cult of sorcerers to a magic elixir, all of these elements are connected to race. The haunted house does house a ghost, but the creaks and bumps in the night may also be the neighbors who are angry that a black woman has moved in. The sorcerer cult hopes to use Atticus as a vessel, as his ancestor was a slave who was raped by her master and started his recent familial line. The magical elixir gives a black woman the ability to turn white when it would be beneficial to her. They all reek of Lovecraft, but are so much more.

Our protagonists, led by Atticus Turner, are all members of an African American family in Jim Crow Era America, but their hardship and experiences of violent racism are by no means limited to the Deep South. Atticus has his uncle’s “Safe Negro Travel Guide” (based on “The Green Book”) to tell him what areas are or aren’t safe for him and George to be in, but that doesn’t keep him immune or safe from non-magical threats such as racist cops and locals who threaten or even give chase to them. It was pretty clear from the get go that the greatest threats in this book were not going to be Cthulhus or ancient ones, but White America and the hatred and bigotry that it stewed in during the time period of the novel. On the cover of this book, designed to look like a pulp novel, there are a number of things that show you just what you’re getting into. The blurb that sticks out says ‘America’s Demons Exposed!’, and right below it there are images of ghostly figures that look a whole lot like the Klan. This book is less about Lovecrafts works, and more about Lovecrafts thoughts, thoughts that were shared by people in all parts of America. And I think that Ruff did a great job of using this theme to talk about the ugliness that still haunts us today, even though we as a country are so uncomfortable thinking and facing that. America’s demons indeed.

And plus there were definitely some really creepy parts in this book. My favorite section was that of the Haunted House, “Dreams of the Which House” (a play on Lovecraft’s “Dreams in a Witch House” in both title and theme). The story concerns Letitia, Atticus’ childhood friend who had accompanied him on his road trip. She is looking to buy a house, and the one that Letitia settles on is in an all white neighborhood. It’s also very cheap because it’s haunted. So when Letitia is spending time in this house, there are strange and scary things that the ghost does. But then, there is an even bigger threat from the neighbors, who have started to harass Letitia just as much as a ghost might. I liked this one the best because I liked Letitia, I liked how she interacted with the ghost, and I liked how she made a stand in her house against ghost and Klan alike. Ruff also did a very good job of addressing racism in housing and property rights in this chapter, and microaggressions faced in day to day living (with Letitia and Atticus both being assumed to be ‘the help’ in her own home by white characters).

And I should say that while I think that Ruff did a good job, my perspective is that of a white woman, so if there are issues that POC have with this interpretation of racial oppression and bigotry, please do let me know.

“Lovecraft Country” is a book that I hope Lovecraft fans will read. I hope that many people will read it, as it explores themes that we simply can’t ignore.

Rating 8: A very well done horror story on both supernatural and realistic levels.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Lovecraft Country” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Quality Dark Fiction”, and “Best Weird Fiction Books”.

Find “Lovecraft Country” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Unspoken”

10866624Book: “Unspoken” by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publishing Info: Random House, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

Review: I’m not sure how this book ended up on my TBR pile. I’ve read some Sarah Rees Brennan in the past, but it has been a while since I picked up one of her books. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I was browsing the library shelves (Goodreads app in hand to check against my to-read lists) and found this book right there waiting for me and didn’t have a lot of pre-existing expectations set in place going in. And it was good! Brennan manages to balance many classic YA tropes with a fresh voice and perspective that allows them to grow past their typical, clumsy restraints.

From the get go, I liked Kami Glass. She’s pretty much a half-Japanese, British born, Lois-Lane-in-the-making. And we all know how much I love Lois Lane. Full of spunk, wit, and drive, Kami pursues her goals with an energy that can’t help but draw in those around her. And in a testament to the author’s creative ability, the cast of characters who surround Kami are as diverse as they are typical, without falling over the stumbling block stereotypes often found in young adult literature. Kami has a female best friend, Angela, who is very clearly her strongest support system (stereotype avoided: lack of female friends for the female protagonist so as to cement her “difference” from “other girls”). There is even a third female friend, Holly, one of the more popular girls at school (stereotype avoided: “mean girls”). Angela has an older brother who is a healthy, non-romantic male friend of Kami’s (stereotype avoided: meet-cute with the boy-next-door who is a love interest). Kami has a very stable, loving family complete with two parents and two younger brothers (stereotype avoided: nonexistent/absent parents, lack of siblings or poor relationship with a distasteful, often older, sibling).

And, while there are the makings of a love triangle, this too is waded through carefully and with respect to the emotional struggles that would exist due to the situation. In fact, the way the relationship between Kami and Jared was portrayed was one of my favorite aspects of the story. Each honestly believed the other was a made-up character in their own head. Discovering at age 16 that your imaginary friend is not only real, but here in your own town, going to your own school, would have dramatic affects. This is not a romantic, blissful situation. Suddenly the closeness and emotional vulnerability becomes real and, perhaps, invasive. Kami begins to question where she leaves off and Jared begins. Physical contact is uncomfortable to the extreme.

I can’t say how much I appreciated the author’s handling of this situation. What could have so easily been twisted into a silly, romantic plot device is instead highlighted as intensely unhealthy, especially when Kami and Jared attempt to build a real friendship/relationship with their fully existing selves. In a book notable for its witty dialogue and punchy descriptions, Kami spends a significant amount of time analyzing independence, a sense of self, and what a healthy relationship should look like.

The mystery and fantasy elements of the story were also strong. The history of the Lynburn family and this small, British town was chilling and the book does a good job setting up this conflict for the remaining two books in the series. My one point of real criticism is the location for the book. It is set in England, however, the language felt very Americanized. Not being natively British, I’m not sure if maybe my expectations are out of sorts or whether this is an actual failing. But I routinely forgot that this was set in England at all. The lack of British terms and turns of phrase in the dialogue felt odd. Other than creating a “manor family” legacy for the Lynburns and the town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, this setting felt underutilized and perhaps even disingenuous with regards to the other narrative decisions.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and have already placed a request at the library for the second one!

Rating 7: Very good, though a few questionable decisions with regards to underutilizing its setting.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Unspoken” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best YA Books with Non-White Protagonists” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

Find “Unspoken” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “The Vampire Lestat”

43814Book: “The Vampire Lestat” by Anne Rice

Publishing Info: Knopf, 1985

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Once an aristocrat in the heady days of pre-revolutionary France, now Lestat is a rockstar in the demonic, shimmering 1980s. He rushes through the centuries in search of others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his terrifying exsitence. His story, the second volume in Anne Rice’s best-selling Vampire Chronicles, is mesmerizing, passionate, and thrilling.

Review: When I was in high school, like many teenage girls who didn’t feel like they fit in anywhere, I went through a few identity explorations. I was a hippie, I was a rocker, I was a punk, and I was, mostly at the heart of myself, a goth. Black lipstick, black nail polish, dog collar, I had all of that and a sullen attitude and an obsession with the macabre. Though not as extreme, I was kind of Molly Shannon’s character from the “Goth Talk” Saturday Night Live skit.

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Though my best friend was more of a flannel and Minnesota Wild merchandise kind of guy. (source)

I also had a serious love for vampires. This was before “Twilight”, so my objects of obsession were “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles”. I read “Interview with the Vampire”, “The Vampire Lestat”, and “Queen of the Damned”, but quit the series once I figured out that it was super different from the movie “Queen of the Damned”, which was probably where my true heart was in regards to that that universe. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, as that movie was all about vampire bad boy goth rocker Lestat and his swagger.

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I’m not sorry. (source)

So one night my husband and I decided to watch “Queen of the Damned”, and the next day I decided to pick up “The Vampire Lestat” at work. Call me inspired. It wasn’t long after starting, though, that I realized just how much that movie bastardized the book, the characters, most everything from the Anne Rice stories. I guess I’d blocked that out.

Picking up after “Interview with The Vampire”, “The Vampire Lestat” is the origin story of that book’s antagonist, Lestat de Lioncourt. We knew he was a snarky snippy bad boy in “Interview”, so now we get his side of the story in “The Vampire Lestat”. Unlike “Interview”, “The Vampire Lestat” is a book about a vampire who has few to no regrets about who he is at the end of the day. What I had forgotten from my high school years is that Lestat is not only a brat and an egoist, he also probably has too many emotions and feelings about those around him and those he cares about, which ultimately screws him over again and again. I like that Rice gave him the same problems as other angsty vampires of that trope, but instead of being gloomy and sulky, he turns it into armor. Lestat is definitely a cruel and destructive character by the end of this book, but seeing why he is that way is the kind of story I am a huge, huge sucker for. I especially liked his relationship with his friend and lover Nicky, a sensitive soul who isn’t cut out for the vampire life. It lays groundwork for why Lestat is so drawn to Louis, in spite of their clear differences. The descriptions of the decadent life of pre-Revolutionary France were sumptuous and rich, and Rice took me to every single place that she wanted to. While her writing can tread into the melodramatic at times, I love how she can really transport the reader into her world.

I also like the brass balls that Rice had in writing an openly bisexual character (knowing some of his love interests down the line I say bisexual instead of gay) to be her protagonist. While I’m sure in the 80s it could have been written off as ‘he’s a vampire and therefore some kind of twisted creature’, the love that Lestat has for Nicky and Louis both is never portrayed as anything other than real and all encompassing. True, they aren’t the most healthy of relationships (at all), but in the subtlety and banter and tenderness of these characters, Rice wrote up a story far more romantic than the movie version of “Queen of the Damned” did when they forced Lestat into a monogamous and hetero relationship with Jessie (not that I’m not a fan of that too, because I am, but it seems so sanitized compared to this book. And that came out in 2002! This book was written in 1985 for God’s sake!). And tragic. So very tragic. Lestat has vulnerability in this book that I had completely forgotten about, but it doesn’t compromise how ruthless he is. If anything the fact that he can love so much and be so cruel and vicious makes him all the more intriguing to me.

But then there are the not as good things. This book suffers from serious  fantasy bloat, as while it is supposed to be Lestat’s story we also get some background for other characters that doesn’t feel like it fits. I love Marius and I like Armand, but I wasn’t here for their stories, I was here for Lestat’s. Unfortunately, these backgrounds were shoehorned in, and I found myself skimming those parts, which is too bad because that mythology is definitely interesting. I just didn’t feel that it fit in this story. There was also the uncomfortable relationship that Lestat had with Gabrielle, his first vampire fledgling who also happens to be his mother. While nothing was explicit and while Lestat was more preoccupied with Nicky, the weird erotic undertones between these two were a bit off putting. I want to like Gabrielle, because there is a lot of depth there. She has her place as a woman during the 1700s, so becoming a vampire gives her a new freedom that she never could have experienced when she was alive. So it’s really unfortunate that her presence was a bit more uncomfortable than it should have been given the potential that was there.

Overall, re-reading “The Vampire Lestat” was a fun endeavor if only because I appreciated it a bit more this time around. I will probably re-visit “Queen of the Damned” (the book) at some point, but for now I’m content with the bastardized movie and thinking about Lestat, Louis, and Nicky.

Rating 7: I love Lestat to death and his voice is snarky, bitchy, and dark. His story, however, is a bit convoluted and sometimes loses him as the main character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Vampire Lestat” is included on these Goodreads Lists: “Rooting for the Bad Guy”, and “Best Gay Vampires” (you knew this was coming. Lestat and Louis FOREVER!).

Find “The Vampire Lestat” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Book Club Review: “Warm Bodies”

9475392We 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: “Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion

Publishing Info: Atria, October 2010

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got the audiobook from the library

Book Description from Goodreads: R is a young man with an existential crisis–he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse. Just dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a burst of vibrant color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that R lives in. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world…

Serena’s Thoughts:

I read this book several years ago, and watched the movie right when it came out, so when bookclub decided to do a “book/movie” theme, this was an easy choice for me! I hadn’t re-read it since, and with the movie version being the more recent version I had experienced for the story, it was fun reviewing the original material and seeing the difference from the reverse perspective as well.

I think this book flew beneath the radar for quite a while before it was announced as a movie, and then when it was, everyone dismissed it as “zombie romance.” Which, really, shouldn’t that intrigue people, not put them off? But alas, judgement arose. And given that the new editions of the books have been released with the movie cover (a whole post could be committed to the subject of how much I hate movie-covers for books), I can’t even blame people who pass this over with that thought. I mean, look at this thing!

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Can you get any more teen-pop-stereotypical-romance-looking than that? No, the answer is no. And this is a tragedy, because the story is not that at all. Sure, there is some romance, but it’s sad to see what is a very philosophical book be overlooked simply because of that inclusion.

R is such an intriguing narrator. For a character whose actual dialogue is limited to brief syllables, he’s quite verbose as a protagonist. While much of the changing that he goes through can be attributed to his run in with Perry’s brain (the teenage boy he eats on one scavenging trip) and Julie, the living girl he befriends, R is clearly a force of change himself. With brutal honesty, he evaluates zombie society, humanity, and the force of human will.

With so many pop-culture representations of zombie-hood currently, Marion’s version is very intriguing. Zombies are often just stumbling, groaning, beasts. But here, they have, at the most basic sense, a world of their own. Their attempts to re-create life through human constructs such as marriage, school, and religion, all while bereft of the inner feelings that accompany them is not only sad but deeply disturbing. Further, Marion succeeds at something that the poor, struggling writers of “The Walking Dead” tv series have been attempting for so long: connecting the dots between the living and the zombie-fied. “We are the walking dead,” and all of that, but done in a subtle and truly impactful manner (unlike certain shows…).

I haven’t spent much time talking about Julie, and I think she was the biggest surprise for me when I re-read this book. The first go around, I didn’t really put much thought into her as a character. This time, looking more closely, I appreciate the fine line that Marion walked when writing her. She could so easily fall into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl category. But for all of her snappy lines and crafty bedroom design (cuz of course, she’s a teen girl, then obviously she must paper mache her room!), Julie’s background is dark. Much darker than I had remembered. These struggles help round her out as a character and allow her to offer a unique perspective into the world of the Living, without getting too caught up in the super sweet, “hope is all you need!” naivety that she could have been reduced to.

All in all, I had a really fun time returning to this book!

Kate’s Thoughts:

Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that it wasn’t me who picked the zombie book for our bookclub, but our dear Serena. But that should just go to show that this book isn’t just for fans of the horror and zombie genre. I think that the nice thing about the zombie genre, when done well, is that it’s usually far more about humanity and the human psyche than it is about marauding monsters. The few exceptions I can think of are “Dawn of the Dead” (the original), in which zombies are drawn to a mall because of a instinctual need for the routine of their past lives, and “Day of the Dead,” in which Bub the zombie starts to relearn various human emotions and actions, and feels affection for the man who has “created” him in a way. So “Warm Bodies” kind of took that concept and ran with it. Marion takes it even further though, and deconstructs just what makes humanity in a person, and gets way existential about it. Which kind of surprised me in the best way possible.

It took me a little while to warm up to R, as I did, admittedly, have a hard time with how he just kind of took Julie under guise of keeping her safe, and hid from her that he had, uh, eaten her boyfriend. But as he went on, he really, really grew on me, and I became very fond of him and his journey of self discovery. His rumination about what it means to be human, and his descriptions of the zombie culture and how it functions on indifference and complacence, were so thought provoking and tragically beautiful that I was completely enraptured with his voice and narration. I love the idea that zombies aren’t really totally lost if they look for connections and seek out beauty in life (because of R and Julie and their own connection).

Julie too makes for a very good character, like Serena said. She never rang false and never felt like she was too perfect, or too understanding and good.  I really, really loved her relationship with R. Their connection grew and progressed in a natural way, and I never felt like it was unrealistic or forced as time went on. It was also very complicated and had many layers, as R did, indeed, kill and eat her boyfriend, Perry. But even that was resolved and reconciled in a way that I found believable, and I was thinking that there was no way that I was going to be satisfied with that whole thing. Joke’s on me, I guess.

And I also want to say that M, R’s best friend, was exactly the kind of pal that I aspire to be. Snarky and sarcastic (even as a zombie) but ultimately loyal, and pretty damn great. I also liked Julie’s best friend, Nora, who is pragmatic and thoughtful, but never feels like she’s just a second fiddle. It goes to show that Marion took great care when crafting his supporting characters as well.

I greatly enjoyed “Warm Bodies.” I am so glad that I finally got to it with Serena’s good taste in book club books!

Serena’s Rating 9: Really great, even better the second time around.

Kate’s Rating 9: Such a complex and enjoyable love story, and a very deep look at what makes a human a human.

Book Club Notes and Questions:

“Warm Bodies” came out a couple years ago, nearing the end of the paranormal romance phase of teen movies and right in the midst of the rise of dystopia as the new theme. As a film, it’s a bit more light-hearted than the original source material, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t a good adaptation. Nicholas Hoult plays R, a casting choice that makes almost perfect sense. First of all, his eyes are huge and expressive, and can convey so much emotion as R, even when he is still in the midst of being in his limited zombie phase. He is nuanced and subtle in his acting, and makes a believable zombie who is slowly evolving. Theresa Palmer plays Julie, and also brings justice to that role. Her back story isn’t as dark and depressing, at least it isn’t explored as much, and while it’s nice that things worked out a bit better for her, it’s too bad that we lost that character exploration. It’s also too bad that the decision was made to cast Nora, in the book a biracial woman, as a white woman. It’s not that Analeigh Tipton didn’t do a good job, because she is pretty great, but it’s a sad reminder that Hollywood is still fully into white washing characters.

1. Zombie stories have always arose from what seems to be society’s own existential fear. What is your perspective on the unique version of zombies and human society that is presented in this book?

2. It is never made quite clear what the “Bonies” are in this world. The human equate them almost to aliens and the zombies themselves almost fear them. How do you think they came to exist? Did they have their own inner society? Own goals and agendas?

3. The movie lightened up the story a lot and there were a few significant changes. What changes did you like? Were there ones you wished they hadn’t changed?

4. What notable differences between the book and movie did you see in the portrayal of the main characters (R, Julie, Perry, Nora, and M)?

5. Music, writing, and art are discussed a lot in this book. Does the story have anything to offer on the impact these things have on humanity? And the more fun question, if you were a zombie and had a favorite song, what would it be?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Warm Bodies” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Not your normal zombie!!!” and “Living On Their Own/On The Run (Teens/Young Adults).”

Find “Warm Bodies” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two”

17261183Book: “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, October 2013

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

Book Description from Goodreads: September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

Review: Can my whole review just be this gif?:

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No? Ok, fine, but I have to say, with this, the third installment in Valente’s “Fairyland” series, my love of these books has only continued to grow and my coherence for a reviewing them continues to deteriorate. But onwards we go in my now usual fashion for this series: blatant and unapologetic quoting!

September is growing up. We spend the longest portion yet in this series with September home in the “real world” waiting, wondering, and, now as an older girl, preparing for her trip to Fairyland. And with this growing up comes feelings, so many feelings! Fear, sadness, worry, and, suddenly, the thought that one must hide all of these feelings away. September has been practicing her “stern” face.

“It is such hard work to keep your heart hidden! And worse, by the time you find it easy, it will be harder still to show it. It is a terrible magic in this world to ask for exactly the thing you want. Not least because to know exactly the thing you want and look it in the eye is a long, long labor.”

But finally her traveling companion and escort to Fairyland arrives in the form of a very grumpy Blue Wind and she’s away! In the previous story, with September’s adventures in Fairyland Below, we spent a lot of time with the shadow versions of her companions, the wyverary A-Through-L, and the madrid Saturday, who were not quite the same as the true versions of themselves. So, as a reader, I could sympathize with September’s reflections on missing friends and loved ones and the complex feelings that arise from being reunited with those we care about after years of grieving their absence (though I am a spoiled reader who only had to wait until the next book to find my beloved characters again).

“September laughed a little. She tried to make it sound light and happy, as though it were all over now and how funny it was, when you think about it, that simply not having another person by you could hurt so. But it did not come out quite right; there was a heaviness in her laughing like ice at the bottom of a glass. She still missed Saturday, yet he was standing right beside her! Missing him had become a part of her, like a hard, dark bone, and she needed so much more than a few words to let it go. In all this while, she had spent more time missing Saturday than seeing him.”

The breadcrumbs that had been laid out in past books regarding the slow build relationship between September and Saturday come to a head in this story. Fully ensconced in “teenagedom,” September and Saturday struggle with the everyday challenges of first love while also dealing with the very-not-everyday-challenges of dating a madrid whose experiences with time as a river that can be traveled up and down with ease puts uncomfortable truths in the forefront. September had a glance of what could be her and Saturday’s daughter in the very first book, and a few run-ins with an adult Saturday in this story just further highlights her discomfort with fate, love, and choosing.

“But the trouble is, I do want to be surprised. I want to choose. I broke the heart of my fate so that I could choose. I never chose; I only saw a little girl who looked like me standing on a gear at the end of the world and laughing, and that’s not choosing, not really. Wouldn’t you rather I chose you? Wouldn’t you rather I picked our future out of all the others anyone could have?”

And per what is typical of these books, September’s adventures through bizarre and magical lands, meeting nonsensical and wonderful creatures, is all peppered with philosophical ponderings that speak to deeper truths. A few of my favorites include:

“Marriage is a wrestling match where you hold on tight while your mate changes into a hundred different things. The trick is that you’re changing into a hundred other things, but you can’t let go. You can only try to match up and never turn into a wolf while he’s a rabbit, or a mouse while he’s still busy being an owl, a brawny black bull while he’s a little blue crab scuttling for shelter. It’s harder than it sounds.”

and

“It’s Latin, which is an excellent language for mischief-making, which is why governments are so fond of it.”

and, of course,

“All Librarians are Secret Masters of Severe Magic. Goes with the territory.

I don’t think I have mentioned it in past reviews, but these books come with beautiful illustrations by Ana Juan. I listened to this book on audiobook (read by the author herself, and she was very good), so I missed the illustrations here. I nabbed a copy of the printed version to peruse them and they are beautiful, as they were in the previous books. Yet another plus to the series as a whole!

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by Ana Juan

Rating 10: The perfect balance of beautiful and poignant.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two” is included on this Goodreads list: “Books You Wish More People Knew About” and Beautifully Written Books

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Previous Reviews: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” and “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.”

 

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol.6): The Darkest House”

12138927Book: “Secret Six (Vol.6): The Darkest House” by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, January 2012

Where Did I Get This: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: As a member of the Secret Six is determined to bring back a loved one from the Gates of Hell using a ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ card stolen back in the first arc of the series. Meanwhile Bane must face his inner demons and make some crucial decisions regarding his future with the Secret Six!

Review: And here we are. We have reached the end of The Secret Six arc, pre- New 52. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, really. I put it off as long as I could. But the time has come to say goodbye to my favorite mercenary super villains (who are not really all that villainous). Which sucks all the more because it was a very indefinite goodbye, with little closure for really any of the characters I have come to love. In their final arc we go back to the beginning, bringing back the much fought over ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ card that was so coveted in Volume 1. I’m sure you can probably guess who wants to use this card. After all, Scandal Savage hasn’t really gotten over Knockout, even though she’s dating the very lovely Liana. But when she decides to use it, she finds that someone has backstabbed her and taken the card for themselves. Our next arc involves a Hail Mary attempt for the Six, with Bane deciding that it is time to try and take out his long held enemies once and for all.

I don’t know how I feel about the end of this. It was annoying that there was one last bit of backstabbing. I thought we were past this, guys. So much about this storyline left me feeling a bit cold. For one thing, Scandal, darling, you have a lovely, LOVELY companion in Liana. So why are you deciding NOW that you need to go get Knockout back from hell? I had thought that she had moved on and was very happy with her and Liana, as I feel that Liana is far more interesting than Knockout is. It didn’t help that Liana was put in a very precarious situation and Scandal was too busy trying to get her old lover back to really assist her until it was almost too late. THIS DID NOT SIT WELL WITH ME. It just felt weird to bring Knockout back right at the end of things. And maybe they didn’t know it was the end. But it feels needless.

I also am frustrated that Bane just decides that they are going to take out Batman’s allies, which in turn leads to their downfall as a team. This also felt like a weird plot choice to me! Especially since I thought that he was doing pretty well with this group of people, and was possibly done with this Batman obsession. But what do I know? I guess they just needed to end it somehow and so WHY NOT END IT WITH THE GODDAMN JUSTICE LEAGUE TAKING THESE POOR LOSERS OUT? I was pleased that Huntress was there to critique and criticize the whole concept of heroes and what makes a hero. Because let’s be honest, the thing that I like about Secret Six is that they are kind of ambiguous, and could be good if they really wanted to be. And not only could they be good, they are so inept at being totally bad (outside of MAYBE Bane) that there was no way they stood any kind of chance.

All of this said, there were things in this that I liked. More sweet moments between Jeanette and Deadshot (and her being very dominant when kissing him just made me grin from ear to ear) and a sweet scene between an isolated Ragdoll and Scandal were great, and when they were in Hell I was especially satisfied by what Catman got to see, given that his father was such a horrible person and has, indeed, ended up in this awful, torturous place. My favorite arc, however, was a date that Bane went on with Liana’s friend and fellow dancer Spencer. He took her to a carnival, guys. A CARNIVAL.

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(source)

This was everything I ever wanted.

So, while I was ultimately disappointed with the end of the series, I still loved “Secret Six” as a whole. I loved all of these characters. I loved Simone’s writing. I wish that there was more. I may have to see how the New 52 Secret Six are. But I feel like the originals will always hold the key to my heart.

Rating 7: A somewhat weak end, but Bane going on a date is so good. I’ll miss the Six.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol.6): The Darkest House” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Greatest Graphic Novels”.

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Previous reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”, “Danse Macabre”, “Cats in the Cradle”, and “The Reptile Brain”.

Serena’s Review: “The Keeper of the Mist”

25739099Book: “The Keeper of the Mist”

Publishing Info: Knopf, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Keri has been struggling to run her family bakery since her mother passed away.  Now the father she barely knew—the Lord of Nimmira—has died, and ancient magic has decreed that she will take his place as the new Lady. The position has never been so dangerous: the mists that hide Nimmira from its vicious, land-hungry neighbors have failed, and Keri’s people are visible to strangers for the first time since the mists were put in place generations ago.

At the same time, three half-brothers with their own eyes on the crown make life within the House just as dangerous as the world outside. But Keri has three people to guide her: her mysterious Timekeeper, clever Bookkeeper, and steadfast Doorkeeper. Together they must find a way to repair the boundary before her neighbors realize just how vulnerable Nimmira is.

Review: I have read a few other titles by Rachel Neumeier, and I’m beginning to come to a bit of a conclusion about her work. She has great ideas and the book summary is always amazing, but the actual execution somehow makes even the most thrilling concept seem tedious.

Everything about this book description is right up my alley. Features a strong leading lady, set in a unique fantasy setting, aided by her friends with a dash of romance, and out to save a kingdom. And it all started out well. Keri, an outcast in her own town given the questionable nature of her birth, is attempting to run her recently deceased mother’s bakery on her own when her life is turned upside down. She is suddenly the new heir to the small, but economically wealthy, country of Nimmira and the invisibility spells that have protected it for so long from its vicious and greedy neighbors are failing. With the help of her childhood friends, Tassel and Cort, she must set out to right what is wrong before her country falls.

Unfortunately, for what sounds like an action-packed start, the story quickly falls into several pitfalls right off the bat. Firstly, Tassel and Cort, for as little page time as they get in the beginning of the story, are each intriguing characters. Keri’s character is itself rather bland, but when played against the more flamboyant Tassel or the stern, responsible Cort, her character is seen in the best light. Unfortunately, both characters, especially Cort, are absent for large chunks of the story, leaving us with Keri at her most pale.

Further, with magical protections failing, a new kingdom to run, and the arrival of questionable neighbors with perhaps evil intentions, you would think there would be a lot of room for the story to move. Instead, we spend pages and pages with characters just talking and planning on what to talk about next, and who should talk to who, and on and on. And look, I’m all for detailed storytelling and character building, but when huge portions of the book are simply characters rehashing the exact same subject over and over again I lose my patience. There was one line about a neighboring country perhaps not realizing that Nimmira was vulnerable that was repeated at least 5-6 times throughout the book. It would have been laughable, if it wasn’t frustrating.

What makes many of these factors all the more irritating is the strong premises, like I mentioned. The author has created a unique magic system, but then fails to explain how it works. With almost any fantasy novel, there is a level of basic acceptance that readers are expected to go in with, but unfortunately this story pushed past this point. Keri, Tassel, and Cort all come into their new roles and discover their own specific brand of magic. However, the limits, boundaries, or rules of each of their abilities is never explored. There were several points where one or another character would conveniently discover just the right ability at just the right time to get them out of whatever scenario they were stuck in. This is not a magic system, this is a plot magic.

And sadly, the romance was not what I had hoped for either. It’s odd that I’m usually complaining about instalove relationships in  young adult books, and while this was definitely not that, it was equally unsatisfying. Cort is absent for large portions of the book, which means that any progression of feelings (Keri starts off respecting Cort but very definitely not interested) isn’t based on any interactions between the characters, but more a “realization” towards the end of the story that she had always felt that way. Similar to the sudden magical abilities that were never hinted at before, this was sudden love feelings that we are shown no examples of, just merely told are suddenly there, on both characters’ part. It was very disappointing.

All in all, while there were strengths to this story (a creative world, an interesting idea for a magical system, and the beginnings of good characters), none of these strengths were ever fully realized, and it was ultimately a frustrating and disappointing read.

Rating 5: For having such a strong premises, the story and characters never felt fully fleshed out or sure of themselves.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Keeper of the Mist” is included on this Goodreads list: “Upcoming 2016 sci-fi/fantasy novels with female leads or co-leads.” 

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