Book Description:In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.
In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.
But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…
Review: Another book that I had on my highlights post for Septmeber that finally showed up a week or so ago! I wasn’t familiar with the original Russian fairytale that inspired this book, so I came into it with very little idea of what it was going to be. Magic in Brooklyn and a Baba Yagga villain. Sounded awesome.
And large parts of it were! The general worldbuilding was very interesting. Your mileage with this will largely depend on how willing you are as a reader to “just go with it” as far as explanations and magic systems. There’s really no explanation for why and how magic exists in this area of the world. Further, the type of magic that is presented is much closer to the nonsense magic seen in “Alice in Wonderland” than to a more outlined and rule-bound magic like “Harry Potter.” That being the case, there is a lot of things popping up here and there with no rhyme or reason and then disappearing just as quickly. Some of these things I particularly enjoyed, like a group of swans that Vassa befriends, and a pair of sinister hands that operate as Babs’ henchmen, essentially.
Other parts felt a bit contrived, however, and as if Porter was simply trying too hard. Particularly some of her efforts to involve nonsense word-play (similar to the Fairyland books I had just read). And maybe having just come off those which were almost the perfect example of nailing this writing style, I was a bit biased against Porter’s attempts here. But I also feel that it was simply not executed well. While nonsense writing can be very insightful, this was clunky and actually confusing. At several points I had to re-read section to try and understand them and then, more often than not, came away with the conclusion that this was just another unexplained element. And while some of these unexplained magical oddities were enjoyable, it didn’t translate here. Dialogue and descriptions needs to be clear, regardless of how little you as an author are providing insights into other magical elements.
Vassa was a very strong protagonist. Her voice was unique and interesting, and I especially enjoyed her relationship with her sisters, especially her elder sister. As I’ve said, I always like sister stories! And, of course, Vassa’s primary partner in crime: Erg, the animated doll. I was both creeped out by and intrigued by Erg. I don’t think I was supposed to be as creeped out as I was, but there were certain elements of her and Vassa’s relationship that was confusing to me. Erg is definitely an intelligent individual with her own opinions, motives, and outlooks on life. So it was very strange switching from her and Vassa debating what do do about some problem or another to Vassa petting and nuzzling her the way you would a kitten. It was strange. But, as I’ve said, so was the whole book.
Ultimately, this book was stronger as a concept than it was as an actual story. There were almost too many weird things thrown in at every moment which prevented me from ever becoming fully invested in the story. I was too busy being confused by some of the writing choices and bouncing from one thing to another to really be able to draw a connecting line throughout the book or form real attachments to characters. There were random chapters inserted here or there attempting to provide some background information that only opened up more doors and left more dangling plot lines (Vassa’s father’s storyline was one of these). While this book is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual dark fairytale set in an urban setting (vs. most urban fantasy which often is the usual, generic, vampires and witches and such in an in every other way normal city), it was too weighed down by its own concept to every really take off.
Rating 6: A unique concept and interesting worldbuilding places too much burden on a confusing plot.
“Vassa in the Night” is a new book and isn’t included on many Goodreads lists. However, it should be on “Dark Fairy Tales.”
Book: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Image Comics, June 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Kyle is faced with the most emotional exorcism he’s performed yet… as he begins to learn more about his abilities and what’s really happening around him. Secrets are revealed that will change everything.
Review: If Volume 1 was set up and Volume 2 was getting the wheels into motion, “Outcast: This Little Light” is the pay off, and boy does it pay off and then some. Kirkman has always done a good job of taking a well worn trope (be it zombies in “The Walking Dead” or superheroes in “Invincible”) and breathing new, unique life into it, and “Outcast” is doing the same for the demonic possession story. I’ve said it before, I’m not as scared or disconcerted by demonic possession stories, but “Outcast” is exceeding my expectations.
When we left off in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, Kyle and Anderson had the daunting and heart wrenching task of performing an exorcism on Kyle’s sister Megan. What could have been a frustrating and emotionally manipulative scene was actually done very well, as Megan’s danger didn’t feel like solely a way to get at our male protagonist. Given how these demons work, and given that this plot point is resolved pretty darn quickly and opens up some new plot paths, I was willing to give it a pass. Megan is a character that I am very fond of, as even though this happens to her, she bounces back and remains the tough and awesome sister that I really, really enjoy (yeah yeah, spoiler alert, but it needs to be said). It also opens up more for her to do because of some of the consequences of her temporary possession, especially in regards to her and her husband Mark. Mark is another really well done character, as while he could have easily been the skeptical and cruel brother in law who only serves to doubt Kyle, he’s taking an interesting turn as well. His and Megan’s relationship is one of the more well done and honest portrayals of marriage I’ve seen in a comic, and it serves as a nice counterbalance to the star crossed relationship between Allison and Kyle. While Kyle and Allison may be the couple that you are supposed to root for and invest in, with demons and misconceptions keeping them apart, I am far more invested in the one between Megan and Mark.
We also get a bit more insight into what exactly is going on with the demons regarding their motivations and their weaknesses. Kirkman continues to move the mythology out of the solely Judeo-Christian realm, giving us a bit more to chew on and getting a bit more creative. This, of course, is only adding more tension between Kyle and Anderson, as Kyle is pretty convinced that it has little to do with God, while Anderson is clinging to the belief that it has everything to do with that. It may be easy to say that I’m biased when it comes to this, as yes, I am an agnostic, but I think that by opening up the potential in demonic possession does a few positive things for the narrative. The first is that it makes it unique to other possession narratives. Adding your own spin to a classic story or device is going to make it stand out more, and “Outcast” is definitely standing out against other similar stories that I’ve seen in the past few years. It’s not just the demon mythology either, I am also very interested in what an ‘Outcast’, like Kyle, is, and how it all plays into this mythology. Another is that there’s lots to be said for being inclusive in stories like this, and by opening up more possibilities of explanation, Kirkman is speaking to a wider audience who may be reading this book and hoping for a more relatable evil to vanquish, and a more relatable way to combat it. And finally, at least for me, it’s scarier this way. Without going into specifics, I think that this kind of demonic force is hitting closer to my own personal fears. I like being scared, and this is giving me some serious willies.
“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” left on a pretty hardcore cliffhanger, and now that I have fully succumbed to this comic I am definitely itching to see what happens next. Don’t keep me in suspense too long, Image Comics! When does Vol. 4 come out?
Rating 8: Now that the story is in full swing, “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is doing new and interesting things with the demonic possession trope. It’s still a bit weak in some areas (Kyle and Allison), but it’s thrilling in most others.
While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!
As has been maybe, once or twice, a few times mentioned on this blog, both Kate and I are much more familiar with DC than Marvel, as far as comics goes. And Doctor Strange is by no means the best known character for Marvel either. All I really know going in was magic, “looks like ‘Inception,'” and Benedict Cumberbatch. And…that’s pretty much what it was, though much better on all three counts. I loved the introduction of magic into a current Marvel line up that is feeling a bit tired at this point what with its millions of super-powered beings. The special effects were amazing. Seriously, go to this in 3D if you can, it’s one of the few movies where the extra money would be worth it. And Benedict Cumberbatch was very good. For many people, that’s probably a given. But, while I like him generally, I’ve never bought into the “Cumberbatch worship” fully. In this movie, however, I feel like he proved that he wasn’t a one trick pony (though yes, that trick is very good) showcasing a surprising talent for humor combined with action. Definitely check this out if you have a chance!
Trailer: “Beauty and the Beast”
Kate and I may have spent a whole Facebook chat essentially “squee-ing” over this one. We have both been obsessively following the complete production of this movie, getting way more excited than 30 year olds really should over things like casting announcements, first look images, and teaser trailers. But here, with the first full length trailer, our excitement seems justified. This looks amazing, especially Emma Watson’s Belle. She feels so perfect for this part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified that they will somehow mess this one up. But…so far…I’m cautiously optimistic? I would say that my only concern still has to do with the CGI, but it’s also hard to get a sense of that from a trailer. All I have to say is that they better be including all of the songs!!
Netflix series trailer: “A Series of Unfortunate Events”
I promise that in the future I won’t just pick trailers, but I couldn’t not include this one as well. I confess to having not read the entire series, somewhere at about the 7th or 8th book I became a bit burnt out watching these poor kids just get the wrong end of the stick every time! That said, I loved the first few and the premises’ wacky tone and crazy characters are perfect for a televised series, especially on Netflix which has proven it has the chops to handle just these types of projects (“Stranger Things”/all of the Marvel series). I also wasn’t in love with the movie with Jim Carey. I don’t know, I think I just don’t prefer Carey’s comedic style in general, though I know that he was widely loved for his portrayal of Count Ofal. But Neal Patrick Harris? Love him! I’m really excited to see how this turns out!
In anticipation of the new adaptation that aired on PBS this past Thanksgiving, I watched both “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel” (and no, I don’t count the odd third movie in the series as being canon). These movies are so perfectly cast, with Megan Follows playing the very best Anne, but also Colleen Dewhurst as a sufficiently exasperated Marilla and Johnathan Crombie as a DREAMY and earnest Gilbert Blythe. Each and every single character has depth and heart, and it stands the test of time. When I need a serious pick me up, these movies do the trick! And as much as I love Martin Sheen (aka the New Matthew), no one will play Matthew as well as Richard Farnsworth. Ugh. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
Trailer: “Beware The Slenderman”
I can get in on this trailer stuff too! Mainly because I’m really looking forward to an HBO Documentary that is coming out early next year, and have watched this trailer a few times. “Beware the Slenderman” is the documentary about two girls who stabbed another girl multiple times, and blamed in on the Internet made urban legend Slenderman. As a fan of the Slenderman lore and a fan of true crime documentaries as well (this should surprise no one), I am very much looking forward to this. Plus, it should be an interesting examination of childhood and Internet culture as well.
As someone who considers herself a quasi-Anglophile, I really do love reading about and following the Windsors in England, and really do like Queen Elizabeth II for her pluckiness and toughness. “The Crown” is a new series on Netflix that is about her rise to power, and the scandals that accompanied the Windsors around that time (oooh, Princess Margaret!). Claire Foy plays Elizabeth in this series, and shows her vulnerability along with her dignity and grace. You see the misogyny and sexism that she had to confront when she was heir apparent and then queen as well (even from her own HUSBAND), and it astounds me that Queen Elizabeth has weathered so much in her life because I would have probably cracked pretty early. Plus, you have John Lithgow as WINSTON FREAKING CHURCHILL, which my GOD, isn’t that amazing? I really do enjoy the series thus far and it makes me want to go back to London….
Book: “Shades of Milk and Honey” by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publishing Info: Tor Book, August 2010
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description:“Shades of Milk and Honey” is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: “Pride and Prejudice” meets “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.
Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.
Review: As a fan of Jane Austen, I routinely find myself picking up books that have any hint of similarities. And as the description with this one promised a mix of Jane Austen PLUS fantasy, I knew I would have to read it immediately.
In many ways, Jane lives in typical Regency England. Manners, gentlemen and ladies, balls, and lots of sitting in breakfast rooms gossiping about one’s neighbors. Except, to be a proper, accomplished lady, alongside skills in embroidery, painting, and music, one must also master the art of glamour. Described as folding and weaving light, a glamourist is able to create magical scenes and movement, often for the purposes of impressing one’s neighbors at dinner parties. It seems equivalent with hiring a master painter to create unique portraits for one’s family, essentially. And while Jane’s sister Melody received the looks and charm of the family, Jane is the sister skilled in this specific art.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of this glamour magic. It is such a unique idea and seems to have endless applications. It’s curious seeing it primarily as an art form, as I would imagine there would have to be many other more practical uses for something like this, other than just decorating rich people’s houses. But, like many historical “manners” stories, we are mostly focused on the very privileged lives of our gentry main characters, so I guess seeing it mainly as a form of art makes sense. The whole idea is fascinating and the descriptions of the process of weaving light and the end results were engaging.
As for characters, they were fairly typical fare for a book that is purporting itself as a “Jane Austen read-alike.” It was an interesting mix of storylines and character types from both “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” For fans of Jane Austen’s work and those two books specifically, it was fun spotting the tie-ins. Jane, herself, was a likeable heroine, if perhaps lacking some of Elizabeth Bennet’s spunk. Vincent, too, plays the role of the broody leading man effectively. His backstory was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about his character and motivations.
There were a few problems with the writing itself. For the most part, the language is descriptive and elegant. However, there were times where it seemed that the author couldn’t decide how fully to commit to the language of the time. Words would go back and forth from being spelled in the traditional manner to the modern. And there were even a few words of the time that it seemed the author didn’t fully understand. She used the word “droll” in place of the word “dour” it seemed, several times using “droll” to describe a character who was behaving in a gloomy and stern manner. This was frustrating to see in what was otherwise a very competent novel.
All in all, language quibbles aside, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the next one. As all of Jane Austen’s stories were one-offs, it will be interesting to see what the author does with this story, now that we are beyond the point that any of those books cover.
Rating 7: A very unique magic system, if only marked down for some peculiar language mistakes.
Publication Info: Grand Central Publishing, May 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.
With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations–all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.
The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.
Review: For the past couple of years I have been OBSESSED with the FX show “Fargo”. I love the movie, but the show has knocked it out of the park the two seasons it has been on, with a third coming up in the nearish future. I seriously can’t wait because I LOVE this show, and I love how it portrays the deep and violent underbellies of Minnesota life. While still being so damn Minnesotan.
Little did I realize that Noah Hawley, the showrunner for that series, is also an author. I didn’t realize this until after I had checked out his most recent novel “Before The Fall”, and once I did I was pretty damn excited and even more intrigued by it. Hawley has a skill for writing and creating complex and nuanced characters, as seen in Bear and Peggy and Molly and Lorne Malvo on the show he’s in charge of. It shouldn’t be much surprise that he brought that same skill and nuance to a number of his characters in “Before The Fall”. Well, a few of them anyway.
Since the cast is characters is pretty big and their fates sealed from the get go, Hawley only has to really show a little bit of motivation for how each person got on this ill fated plane, and what role, if any, they played in it’s crash. Much of the focus, however, is on former addict and down on his luck painter Scott, an artist with a need to try and understand tragedy and accidents even before he survives a plane crash. Scott is by far the most interesting character in this book, because it is mostly through his eyes that we see the aftermath of such a tragedy. I liked Scott as a character, a pretty good guy trying to figure himself out who finds himself the center of a tragedy, and the person that everyone is trying to get answers from. He wasn’t necessarily a hero in a stereotypical sense; he did what he could in an emergency and was able to save himself and J.J., the four year old lone survivor to a media fortune. But of course the fact he isn’t perfect or the ideal heroic figure, that works against him in the eyes of some, which was a fascinating angle to take. He is a wonderful foil to Eleanor, J.J.’s aunt through his mother, who has been thrust into motherhood while in intense grief. Both Scott and Eleanor care very deeply about J.J., but neither of them really know how to adjust to their new roles that have been heaped upon them, be it hero or mother. It seemed kind of on the nose that Eleanor’s husband Doug was just the worst, more interested in dollar signs than his wife or nephew as they navigate their grief, but he just goes to show that Eleanor is strong, and deep. Perhaps his two dimensional characterization is just there to bolster her when she can stand on her own two feet, but I liked having a clear person to hate, so that’s fine!
And along with that, we see how the world tries to make sense, and tries to point fingers towards blame, and how the media (especially media with vested interests in outcomes) can drive a narrative. The media has been accused of influencing people’s opinions a lot lately, especially in the sense of putting info out there that isn’t totally true, or is flat out false. “Before The Fall” focuses a lot on this plot point, as one of the victims, David Bateman, was the head of a Fox News-esque network that is very controversial because of how it spins things or emphasizes sensationalism over facts. The face of the network, Bill Cunningham, is both incredibly stereotypical and yet one of the more intriguing character in the book, as his need to know what happened to his friend and mentor completely clouds his already super cloudy professional judgement. This of course leads to a very bloodthirsty Witch Hunt that his viewers, and other media, partake in. On one hand you feel for him because he’s very clearly in mourning, but on the other he’s such a bastard for exploiting this tragedy for ratings that you can’t help but hate him as well. So yeah, a bit stereotypical, but at the same time you kind of have to wonder about him. He never really gets a full exploration like many of the other players, but isn’t just flat and boring in his wretchedness like Doug. Friggin’ Doug.
I enjoyed how this book slowly revealed the backstories of the victims of the plane crash, showing the things happening in their immediate lives right before their deaths, or in some cases the events that REALLY put them on this path. I do think that it was kind of a fizzle out in some ways, however, as while we get all this background, so much of it doesn’t really end up being totally relevant to the plot and the outcome. But then, that in and of itself is kind of perfect, because that’s the point. Sometimes things happen, randomly, coincidentally, and these things may not actually matter in the long run, at least at the end of all things. These things may just happen but other things outside of your control can change your destiny. That’s the problem Cunningham never quite figures out, and while some may find it to be pointless, I find it poignant as all get out. And so very “Fargo”.
So while it ended up taking me on a long chase and sometimes superfluously, I did end up really enjoying “Before The Fall”. The twists and turns were a fun ride, and I liked how it ended even if it wasn’t what I have come to expect from thriller mysteries such as these. I say check it out.
Rating 8: A well characterized thriller with a lot of interesting plot paths. Though some characters are flat and obvious, many are very intricate and fascinating, and the ideas the book explored were very good.
Book Description:Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.
Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…
Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…
Review: I had this book pre-ordered on Amazon, so it showed up the day after it was released, and I was ready. Door closed. Husband, I’ll see you later. I’m going to READ THIS BOOK NOW.
Per the usual, Blackthorn and Grim’s lives are once again caught up in the mysteries of their neighbors. These two never get any peace! This time it comes in the form of a neighboring landholder, Tola, his daughter, a mysterious stranger, and a fantastical heartwood house that Grim is recruited to help build. After befriending the outcast and half-crazed builder, Bardan, Grim begins to suspect a dark secret lingering between the builder and the lord Tola. Blackthorn, for her part, befriends Tola’s daughter, Cara, whose fears of failure and disapproval severely impact her ability to speak to others, but who has a fey-like connection to the woods of her home in Wolf Glen and the birds that inhabit it.
This book follows the established format laid out in the first two stories. Chapters alternate between Blackthorn and Grim’s perspectives, as well as that of a third party character. Here, we have both Cara and Bardan’s perspectives, though Cara is given more page time than Bardan. His own narrative being one filled with confusion, amnesia, and a prevailing madness, Bardan’s chapters only begin to become clear as the story and mystery unfolds, making this uneven allotment more understandable. Cara’s chapters were very enjoyable, over all. Her character is one who is crippled by anxiety, and she represents a unique voice in a story like this, providing insight into challenges that many people face outside of a fantasy setting.
In the first two books, my main criticism (not that it was a strong one or that there were many to begin with) was with these side narrators. Oran was, quite simply, rather boring in the first book. And in “Tower of Thorns,” Geiléis revealed herself as a slightly unsavory character right from the beginning. With both of these, their chapters often felt frustrating, leaving me wanting to rush through to get back to Blackthorn and Grim. Here, Bardan, but especially Cara, are much more enjoyable characters on their own, alleviating some of this tension between page time given to their own stories and that of our main characters.
The mystery itself was a bit easy to guess. I’ve read a lot of Marillier’s books, so this could be simply due to the fact that I am very familiar with her storytelling and the ties she creates between the tale being told in the book itself and the mini folktales often sprinkled within. That being said, I still very much enjoyed watching things unfold, and there were still a few unexpected twists thrown in at the end.
Blackthorn and Grim are, of course, the main selling point of this entire series and that remains true in this book. I didn’t go through and count pages, but I felt that Grim’s narrative was more prominent than Blackthorn’s in this story. At the very least, he’s closer to the action. But given the events of the last book, most notably the emotional revelations that came through on Grim’s part, I felt like this book needed to give Blackthorn more space from the action to reflect on herself and her own feelings and relationship with Grim. So, while this may have left her a bit more disconnected from solving the mystery itself (though she definitely plays a large role, don’t get me wrong), I was very satisfied to follow her more introspective story arc.
My one criticism of this book comes down to outside factors beyond the story itself. Marillier’s publisher only signed a contract for a three book series, though the author set up the books to be a longer-running series. With that in mind, she needed to write this book in a way that it could stand either as the end of a trilogy or as a middle point in an ongoing series should the publisher decide to pick it up for more. This created a very awkward position for the book to inhabit. Parts of the story felt rushed, particularly with regards to Blackthorn’s ongoing vendetta against the high lord who did her such wrong in the past. And, even, the progression of her relationship with Grim, while still very satisfying, did at times also feel that it might have benefited from an additional book to properly complete the slow-burn approach laid out in the first two novels.
The ending does its job though. It can serve as the final part of a trilogy, but does leave the door open for sequels, should the publisher so choose. Obviously, I would love to read more of this series. Blackthorn and Grim are both very unique narrators to the genre, both being older, more broken individuals than are commonly seen. Either way, however, this book did not disappoint, and I will happily shelve it right next to all of the other Marillier books I have bought (which is all of them).
Rating 9: Loved it! The only mark against it is its need to serve as two things as once, both the final third of a trilogy or the middle book of a series.
Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1998
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description:After years of self-imposed exile from a civilization rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job that he hates and a city that he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd Century surroundings. Combining black humor, life-threatening situations, and moral ambiguity, this book is the first look into the mind of an outlaw journalist and the world he seeks to destroy.
Review: I’m going to be honest, readers. I was utterly dismayed and ashamed of the way that our Presidential Election ended up. And angry. And as I woke up the next morning and confirmed the news, on friend Kevin had a post on his Facebook wall involving “The Smiler” from the comic series “Transmetropolitan”. More on him as the series goes on. And in that moment, I knew that I needed to re-read that series. Be it inspiration, perfect timing, or personal therapy, I went to my book shelf and grabbed “Back on the Street”. I needed Spider Jerusalem in that moment. And re-discovering him and his strange, obscene, and digitized future that’s drenched in filth, insanity, greed, and cynicism, was a small comfort. Because God, did I miss Spider.
“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” throws us into a future scape where humans have evolved technologically, but have fallen into absolute indifference, moral squalor, and a very divided society. Spider Jerusalem is a journalist who is in self-imposed exile up in the mountains. And he doesn’t even come back because he wants to make the world a better place, or to bring the ethics and integrity of journalism back to the forefront in a corrupt society. Oh no. He comes back because he owes his publisher some books he hasn’t written and he doesn’t want to get sued. Boy is he resentful of this fact. And that is the heart of Spider Jerusalem. He hates the society that he has been forcefully thrown back into, and even though he is at his heart a good person, he is so cynical and bitter and pissed that he doesn’t even like the fact that he’s a good person. He has a drinking problem, he has a drug problem, and he has a foul mouth and a sour attitude. But he is by far one of the most endearing comic book characters I have ever encountered in all the years I’ve read comics. Though in Volume 1 we haven’t quite gotten into the heart of the series, it is already giving hints as to what to expect while still speaking for itself. “Back on the Street” is an arc that could easily stand on its own two feet, and give us a story and a moral that we could get behind and be comfortable with. I love Spider and I love how snarky and Hunter S. Thompson-y he is (I mean, it’s pretty common knowledge that he’s an homage to that amazing Gonzo journalist), and he makes me smile and laugh just as much as he makes me think. He is a hero that this world needs, a madman who is just mad enough to take on the madness of the world that he lives in. His shining moment is when he exposes the police violence towards a group of disenfranchised people called Transients, people who have taken on mutated Alien qualities who are trying to live their lives in peace in one small part of the city. As the police rain down violence upon them, Spider jumps in and broadcasts it to the world, speaking up and fighting for their right to exist, in his own brash and evocative Spider way. You cannot help but stand up and cheer as you read his musings against politics corruption, and the media. He is so well written and so well rounded, a flawed but inspirational character with a lot to say about the world he lives in and the world we live in too.
Spider aside, the setting that Ellis has created is so damn perfect and layered. The City (no further name given so that it can be any city) is filled with so many different and strange people, all of whom are frantic and overbearing. It’s dirty and anxious and you get a sense of unease being in it. Ellis’s City is really a character in and of itself, a personality that is basically unbearable within a place that I would never, ever want to live. Ellis has also made a number of really great supporting characters that manage to shine through past Spider and his grandiosity. You have his greedy and opportunistic boss, Royce, who takes Spider onto his team, albeit nervously. There’s Spider’s Cat, a two faced mutant feline with just as bad an attitude as Spider. But my very favorite this far is Channon, Spider’s assistant whom he met when he took shelter in a strip club while covering a volatile story. Channon could have easily been the butt of jokes at her expense, being a former sex worker and the straight man to Spider’s antics, but she is a force to be reckoned with who provides an anchor to him and a voice of reason he must listen to. Channon is the best and I love the balance she brings to the story. If it was just Spider being crazy, yeah, it would probably get a bit old. Channon humanizes him, but doesn’t neuter him. It’s a great dichotomy.
And finally I need to talk about the art. I LOVE the style that Darick Robertson brings to this story. His pictures of The City are so fraught with confusion and insane details, you can see so many different stories nad messages in just one frame.
I mean, holy crap. Just look at this. There is so much to see, and there is so much going on, but it never really crosses the line into too much. I love the style because it feels like it matches the content. Over the top and edgy, but filled with a lot of heart.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the introduction of our first main antagonist: The Beast, aka the President of the United States. Just one question for Warren Ellis: are you a soothsayer, sir?
So I bet you can understand why I felt a need to go back and re-read this book.
“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is the beginning to an amazing series, and I had totally forgotten just how fun it right from the very start. It’s just what I needed. It’s vulgar and it’s brash and over the top, but it’s so darn therapeutic. And it’s a classic. Welcome back into my life, Spider Jerusalem.
Rating 10: A biting and hilarious satire of politics and journalism, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is a wonderful start to a classic and tremendous series. Spider Jerusalem endures.
Though we do tend to read different genres, there is sometimes overlap in the books that we pick up and devour. When this happens, we decide to do a joint review, giving our thoughts through our own personal lenses of what we look for in reading material. When we were putting together our October Highlights post, we discovered that we each had picked this book. Obviously, a joint review was in order!
Book: “One Was Lost” by Natalie D. Richards
Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, October 2016
Where Did We Get this Book: the library!
Book Description:Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Are they labels or a warning? The answer could cost Sera everything.
Murder, justice, and revenge were so not a part of the plan when Sera set out on her senior camping trip. After all, hiking through the woods is supposed to be safe and uneventful.
Then one morning the group wakes up groggy, confused, and with words scrawled on their wrists: Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Their supplies? Destroyed. Half their group? Gone. Their chaperone? Unconscious. Worst of all, they find four dolls acting out a murder—dolls dressed just like them.
Suddenly it’s clear; they’re being hunted. And with the only positive word on her wrist, Sera falls under suspicion…
Whelp, I knew going in that this book was either going to be a great hit or potentially a big miss for me. A little background: I grew up in a very, very rural part of northern Idaho. I’m talking “only had an outhouse/had to sno-mobile 5 miles in during the winter/wood stove for heat and cooking/solar power/etc” type of remote. That being the case, I spent large portions of my childhood running around in the woods with my sister. So, for one, the woods aren’t a natural “fear factor” for me. And for two, I grew up learning a lot about how to survive in these types of situations. All of that said, because of this, I always find myself gravitating to books like these that focus on the experiences of others in the woods, just because I love the setting. But that also means that I approach these types of stories from a hyper critical standpoint, which isn’t the book’s fault. So I have to spend a lot of time balancing my personal reaction to a book like this against that of the average reader. But, since we’re joint reviewing this, Kate will be here to give her perspective as the non “woodland wild child” reader!
But first, I don’t want to give the impression that this book was a complete failure for me. I feel like the main cast of characters were very likable. They were a diverse group (if perhaps a bit too stereotypical), and I liked the attention that was spent addressing the difference challenges that each of these teens had faced in the typical highschool experience. Sera herself was a very good narrator. While the writing and voice were rather simplistic, she was likable and for the most part I was fully on board with her as a protagonist. There was an interesting backstory with her mother and with the impact that this relationship has had on Sera’s own life and sense of self. I wish there had been even more on this, as the ending felt a bit rushed with her ability to resolve what has to be a huge, ongoing personal conflict. There was also a romance that, while I still don’t feel that it was necessary and had an overly dramatic backstory that proved to be a let down when it was revealed, wasn’t as terrible as I first suspected. Just wish there was less of it.
But, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I had some very specific issues with this book, and what frustrates me the most is that much of it comes down to poor research on the author’s part. Look, I know this book is about teens out in the wilderness and that, due to this, they aren’t going to know all the ins and outs of wilderness survival. However, they make SO MANY WILDLY BAD DECISIONS!
About a third of the way in, after they wake up with the words written on their wrist, there are a few chapters that are made up of just one bad decision after another. There’s the very basics that most people know: never wander off. If you’re completely lost, stay put. Here, not only are they not lost, but they have a perfectly good trail with only a three days’ walk out, which in the grand scheme, really isn’t much. So it’s a million times more stupid to instead go wandering out into the wilderness with the hope that you might not get turned around and you might find the road and maybe rescuers will find you even though you are now putting miles between yourself and where they would know to look.
Then there are more specific things that are just common sense. Obviously, water is your most important priority (after not wandering off! And not fixating on food, which they do. Obsessively. For the record, you can live three weeks without food and do not, in fact, start feeling massive effects after ONE DAY). And maybe, maybe, river water is a safer bet than water that is being left for you by a madman who has ALREADY POISONED YOUR WATER ONCE! Any bacteria in a river (if there even is any, fast moving water is usually a safe bet as long as it’s not draining directly out of a cow field) is going to be curable once you’re found. And if you’re not found…you have bigger problems.
And then, just because you shouldn’t camp near a river that may flood, this does NOT somehow make it too dangerous to follow (civilization is found near water). Like, what do they think is going to happen? The river is somehow going to instantaneously flood enough to take them out in seconds if they’re walking along it? Walk a ways above the water line, for crying out loud.
The story was much stronger when it simply focused on the thriller aspects and left aside any survival choices. After this initial string of events ends, the mystery/thriller aspects picked up again and I was able to shut my brain off for a good portion. And if it had maintained this until the end, I might have given the book a pass. Unfortunately, near the end, it lost me again with what was the last straw for me as far as poor research goes. Sera has a cut hand. They find peroxide to put on it. And then there are several paragraphs about how horribly painful it is applying the peroxide….
Peroxide is painless. The author clearing didn’t do one iota of research and simply failed to spend the time differentiating between rubbing alcohol and peroxide. Which, look, I get that it’s a small thing. But after all the rest, it was the final straw to my patience with this book. If you, an author, are going to write a survival story about teens in the woods, it is not too much to ask that you do basic research. And I, the reader, expect more. There was some more nonsense about finding a 4 wheeler but not leaving immediately because “Omg, cliffs!”…as if headlights aren’t a thing. And the fact that they find a RV along with the 4 wheeler, but somehow there are no roads (how did it get there??) necessitating said wandering in the woods. And…I was done with the book at this point.
And then there’s me, City Girl Kate! I was raised in the city, by two parents who grew up on farms and decided that nature just wasn’t their bag once they could escape it. So nature isn’t MY bag either! And therefore, I went into “One Was Lost” with less knowledge about what the dos and don’ts are when it comes to wilderness trekking and survival. While some of the obvious mistakes jumped out at me, most of the others Serena mentioned went right over my head. I’d probably die in the woods, because I’m pretty clueless.
So I guess I was kind of able to go in with less critical eyes in my head, at least when it came to the survival skills trope. HOWEVER, when it came to horror tropes and thriller plot points, I too had a harder time swallowing “One Was Lost”. I was hoping for some kind of “Blair Witch Project” story (For crying out loud, the cover alone is a nod to it), but sadly it didn’t quite live up to the expectations that I placed upon it. Perhaps unfairly, but placed upon nonetheless.
I did like the characters that we followed, I want to make that perfectly clear. Sera was a relatable and interesting protagonist, whose baggage is kind of unique when looking at YA protagonists. I liked her backstory and I thought that it was believable enough to explain some of her reasoning and decisions she made down the line, as well as parallel some of the revelations as they were exposed. I agree with Serena that the romance she had with Lucas was a bit unnecessary, though I did like Lucas and the foil he provided when verbally sparring with Sera. Emily and Jude were also interesting enough, though we didn’t get to see as much of either of them so they fell a bit more into their stereotypes (Emily as the quiet victimized girl, Jude as the spoiled and privileged adoptee. Side note, I think Jude could have been VERY interesting being a transracial adoptee of two gay men, but that wasn’t focused on at all). I think that their introductions were a little rushed, as we pretty much hit the ground running. As the plot kept going and as they all found themselves in worse and worse situations, I got a pretty good idea as to what was going on, at least in terms of who was probably harassing them and stalking them. Maybe not in the bigger picture as to motive, granted, but I called who the culprit was long before the big reveal. I know that I’m a horror girl and a thriller girl, and I know what to look for. But there were things that tipped me off and they are things that have been seen in many, many other stories of both genres.
I also found myself rolling my eyes when the urban legend/ghost story that was told had to do with “Cherokee Spirits” living in the woods. Jeeze. Why is it that sometimes these stories feel a need to trot out Indigenous stories while totally butchering them? It was uncomfortable for me, especially given the recent dust up with “The Continent”. Luckily this was kept to a minimum, but really, it shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.
So for me, “One Was Lost” was also a disappointment, though I did like Sera and the personal journey that she went through. I just wish that this book had done more, because the potential really was there, and I wish that some choices that were made had been taken out before publishing.
Serena’s Rating 5: A strong premises and lead character, all foiled by very poor research that kept kicking me out of the story.
Kate’s Rating 5: I liked the characters and I liked the backstory, but the plot was a bit too predictable for me, and some of the storytelling devices were a bit aggravating.
Book: “The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home” by Catherynne M. Valente
Publishing Info: Feiwell and Friends, March 2016
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description:Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…
Review: I delayed it for a few months, but here we are at last, woefully at the last book in the “Fairyland” series. But there are two things bolstering my spirits after finishing this series. 1.) It ended on such a great note! Always a concern that somehow something so good will be bungled and tarnished forever by a whiff on the ending. And 2.) now that it has been finished, and finished so well, I can happily go out and purchase the entire series and re-read them to my heart’s content!
Per my usual review method for this series, I’m going to include some of my favorite quotes from the book. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: the writing in this series is so beautiful and has to be its biggest selling point.
“One of the awful secrets of seventeen is that it still has seven hiding inside it. Sometimes seven comes tumbling out, even when seventeen wants to be Grown-Up and proud. This is also one of the awful secrets of seventy.”
We’ve watched September grow up throughout these books. If the theme of the entire series could be summed up, it would be: growing up is a terrible, onerous process and then once you get there, you realize it was all kind of a hoax to begin with. Throughout all of the books, I very much enjoyed Valente’s razor sharp views on childhood. It’s all too easy to let childhood morph into a time and place of wildflowers and carefree days, and as adults forget the truly awful parts about it. The helplessness, the lack of freedom, the unassuredness, the constant changes both in yourself and in how the world see/treats you.
“We have all of us got it jumbled up. You never feel so grown up as when you are eleven, and never so young and unsure as when you are forty. That is why time is a rotten jokester and no one ought to let him in to dinner.”
New to this book, we meet Septemeber’s parents and her Aunt more fully! The interlude chapters document their journey. It was particularly enjoyable reading about their experiences, both in Fairyland and as the ones who were left behind by a wandering September. We always hear about the kids who get swept off to magical lands, but nothing about the poor parents who are left missing their children. Further, the reminder that these same parents and adults were once children and had adventures of their own.
“The Land of Parents is strange and full of peril.”
While Hawthorne and Tamburlaine do play a role in this story, it was again September’s story and her friends that we follow throughout the book. However, Blunderbuss, the combat wombat, plays a much larger role than I had expected and it was awesome. She is by far the best new addition to group from the last few books. Her acerbic wit and blunt way of speaking often provided the most hilarious bits of the story. And her contribution to the ending was as surprising as it was welcome.
“You gotta be nice to strangers even when they are the worst, because they don’t know you well enough to understand how shut your big face can mean I’ve missed you more than the whole world can know.”
And, finally, I cannot end this review without talking a bit about my darling pairing of September and Saturday. I have to say, this was my biggest concern about the story and one of the reasons I held off reading this book for so long. How could this be resolved in a way that wasn’t going to be heart breaking somehow? And, while the ending wasn’t anything like I could have expected, it was so, so satisfactory. So, go forth dear readers without fear on this account!
“The tales lovers tell each other about how they met are hushed and secret things. They change year by year, for we all meet many times as we grow up and become different and new and exciting people–and this never stops, even for a minute, even when we are ninety.”
I really can’t rave enough about this book. While “The Boy Who Lost Fairyland” was very good, it did feel like a step away from the Fairyland books that I had come to love. So I was a bit concerned when starting this one that maybe the magic had worn off just a little. But this book comes roaring back, and I would say it most closely rivals my love of the first book in the series. When/if I have children, this series will definitely be making an appearance on the must-read-aloud list. If you like fantasy, especially of the sweet and nonsensical kind, ala “Alice in Wonderland,” don’t miss out on this series!
And with that…
“Endings are rubbish. No such thing. Never has been, never will be. There is only the place where you choose to stop talking. Everything else goes on forever.”
Rating 9: An amazing story on its own, but also an unexpected and poignant ending to the series as a whole.
Book Description:Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.
When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.
Review: Halloween seems like it was so long ago, and yet I’m still digging into the books that I put on my list for Horrorpalooza that didn’t quite make the cut, timing wise. True, it was a long list so that’s to be expected. The next one that didn’t quite get the timing right is “The Women in the Walls” by Amy Lukavics. Lukavics wrote one of my favorite horror stories last year, “Daughters Unto Devils”. It was one of the scariest books I read last year, and it was a reminder that YA horror can have serious chops if you get the right writer. Seriously, horror fans need to check it out and how. So I was very excited when I found out that she had another one coming out, and digging into it was something I was very much looking forward to.
I think that there were a couple of mitigating factors that made this book not as engrossing as “Daughters Unto Devils” was, specifically that I was reading it during Election Week. And hey, let’s be honest, given how I felt about how that all went down, it would have taken a SERIOUSLY engrossing and charismatic read for me not to be totally distracted and brought down while reading it. But at the same time, “The Women in the Walls” just didn’t quite hook me the way that “Daughters Unto Devils” did. True, I can’t be sure if the extenuating circumstances had any blame, but as I read this book I wasn’t as scared or enthralled as I’d hoped to be. To begin, I didn’t feel as much of a connection to Lucy, or protagonist, as I wanted to. I understood her plight and sympathized for her, of course, but I didn’t feel like there was much heart to her through actions as much as her narration told me why there was heart to her. That is one of the perils of first person narration. I didn’t want Lucy to tell me that she was close with her aunt Penelope, or that she was best friends with her cousin Margaret, or that she resented her Dad because he was keeping secrets from her. I wanted to see it through action. I also just wasn’t as empathetic to her as I was probably supposed to be, and some of her character traits seemed a bit trite and just there to foster sympathy as opposed to give her actual depth.
But, the good news is that this book does have a lot of really scary and creepy moments and themes in it. Lukavics still doesn’t hold back when it comes to putting some upsetting imagery in her stories. Be it a desolate cemetery in the middle of the woods, a faded blood stain on an attic floor, or a bag full of human teeth, there were many moments where shivers were sent up my spine. She took a few old hat tropes and made them fresh and interesting, which is definitely a plus for me. She also does a very good job of building dread and letting unsettling moments slowly evolve into something that is so far beyond what you’d expected. There are definitely some parts of this book that made me squirm, and I don’t squirm that easily. So as a pro-tip, I would just suggest that if you have a thing about insects, well….. tread carefully.
I love that Lukavics has the guts to put some Stephen King levels of fear and shocks into her books for teens, because I think that some teens (especially seasoned horror fans) want to have scarier and grittier stories. I would have loved to have these books when I was a teen, as seeing teen girls in horror literature wasn’t something that I was used to back then because if I wanted horror, I had to go to the adult section. To be fair, YA literature wasn’t as prominent when I was that age, but even these days a lot of the teen horror is pretty tame and wouldn’t have satiated me even then. By having books like Lukavics’ available it says that this is a genre that can be for you too, ladies. Okay, soapbox moment here. Horror as a genre is still kind of a Boys Club in a lot of ways, so getting women writers in there to write books that teen girls are going to read really brings me great joy. Even if some of the stuff in this book also had me totally yucked out. I know it’s strange, but to me that’s a good thing.
So I guess that while I wasn’t as invested in this story as I had hoped I would be, I still did enjoy quite a bit about “The Women in the Walls” and what it gives to the genre as a whole. I’m definitely still considering myself a fan of Lukavics’, and I will be seeking out whatever books she puts out there. This is the kind of YA horror I want to see.
Rating 6: Though I wasn’t too fond of the main character and though it sometimes was too on the nose, I enjoyed the scary and horror moments of “The Women in the Walls” quite a bit.
“The Women in the Walls” isn’t really on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on the following lists: “Haunted Houses”, and “Gothic YA”.