Serena’s Review: “Grave Mercy”

9565548Book: “Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2012

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

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Review: Our bookclub theme this go-around is books that have been on our TBR list for over two years. And there are a lot. My lists is somewhere in the mid-300s though, so cut me some slack! But while going through it, I tried to match up a few titles with ones that are currently available at the library in audiobook format and I struck across “Grave Mercy” and thought “Why not? Killer nuns sounds pretty neat.” And here we are. Sadly, killer nuns were not, in fact neat. But one could argue that the story wasn’t really about that anyways, so some other author could still cash in on what sounds like a cool idea.

Just as Ismae’s life is taking a distinct turn for the worst (an arranged marriage, said husband being an abusive jerk, etc. etc.), she’s caught up by a mysterious organization., a convent that follows an old god, one who calls upon his followers to take out evil in the world. The convents train in these deadly arts to carry out this work. With a new route before her, Ismae excels in her new life and role. But when the straight-forward plan of killing targets gets caught up in a much more murky world of courtly politics, Ismae finds herself out of her depth. Add in some romantic feelings, and she’s in a real mess.

To start with any pros, the best thing this book has going for it is the cool premise. I was excited to pick up this book, as assassins always seem like they would be good for an action-packed story full of potentially interesting moral quandaries. Unfortunately, the book itself fails to follow through on this premise, so even that is a pretty luke warm pro.

My biggest problem with this book comes down to the writing itself, both the style of sentences construction as well as the numerous plotting issues. I’m not personally a fan of first person present tense writing, and this one definitely falls prey to the weaknesses of this tense. The voice is often wooden and off-putting. Her emotions are conveyed using a handful of cliches that do nothing to really show us Ismae’s feelings, rather just informing us of them, as a matter of fact. I’m not sure I would have loved the character of Ismae had she been presented in another way, but this definitely didn’t help.

The other big problem with the writing is the way numerous writing crutches are used. The story opens with Ismae’s abusive first day of married life, quickly moves on to her being taken in by the convent and informed, succinctly, of their role in the world. Then two seconds later Ismae’s all on board and we have a time jump. Suddenly, she’s now this badass assassin out on her first mission. It all happens too fast and readers are left to just swallow it all, no questions. There is far too much telling and no showing. We never see Ismae gain any of these so-called skills, and with the introduction of a magical knife that kills with just the barest touch, we’re left wondering why any training is needed at all.

Frankly, it feels as if the author did the barest amount of work in the beginning of her story to get to the part she really wanted to write about. Which, fine. But if that’s your goal, just skip it all together and introduce these pieces of history as the current story plays out. This method would have worked much better and solved several of these problems.

I also struggled with the romance. It’s pretty much just what you would think, so I don’t really need to even bother explaining any of the details. But given Ismae’s early marriage (which, by the way, seems fairly valid and never is addressed again) and the abuse that came with it, I would have hoped for a more nuanced approach to her love story. Instead, we have generic googly eyes at the hawt guy and, again, a long list of cliched descriptions and emotions.

Assassin books are a strange thing for me, now. I feel like I really like them. But when I try to think of examples of books with this theme that I’ve enjoyed, there are really very few. And on the other hand, a rather long list of books with this plot that I’ve absolutely hated. It makes sense: how do you write about something as brutal as assassination without also taking the time to really address the moral issues at the heart of it? Far too many authors simply want the badass points of it all without the latter responsibility to the emotions and decisions behind it. So we end up with books like this, where we’re told that our main character is a badass and then proceed on to a pretty bland love story that is more focused on court politics that assassinations, anyways.

Rating 4: The weak writing really killed this one for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Grave Mercy” is on these Goodreads lists: Books With Heroes/Heroines Who Are Assassins and Young Adult Books Without Love Triangles.

Find “Grave Mercy” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Lock Every Door”

41837243Book: “Lock Every Door” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley!

Book Description: No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

While the combined phrase of ‘urban Gothic’ may seem like it contradicts itself, it’s a genre that can be really effective when done well. One example that comes to mind is “Rosemary’s Baby”, about a woman who has been isolated within the confines of a luxury apartment building in the middle of New York City (and she happens to be carrying the devil’s baby, but that’s neither here nor there for this comparison). The ability to make a character feel completely alone in the Gothic sense in the middle of a huge metropolis like Manhattan can take some finagling, and I’m happy to say that like Ira Levin before, Riley Sager has tapped into this theme with his newest thriller “Lock Every Door”. And while there’s no devil baby to be found, strange things are still afoot within the narrative and within the walls of the luxury apartment building The Bartholomew.

“Lock Every Door” follows Jules, a woman who has found herself nearly flat broke and without housing, so it’s natural that the strange offer of ‘apartment sitting’ in a glamorous building off of Central Park would be snatched up by her, odd rules be damned. We slowly learn that Jules isn’t just a naive woman who willfully ignores strange warning signs; she’s literally desperate. Being without a job, without housing, and with a dwindling bank account means that twelve thousand dollars is going to be worth more than rigid, downright draconian rules she has to abide by. I liked Jules a lot because she ISN’T foolish; she feels like she’s in a corner and has no choice. Because of this I had huge sympathy for her and wasn’t as fast to want to shake some sense into her. And she hasn’t necessarily willfully isolated herself for the most part; outside of her friend Chloe, she is basically alone in the world, as her parents are dead and her sister has been missing for years. For her these rules are very easy to live by simply because she is already isolated, even within a large metropolis. She is a complex and also tragic main character who I liked following, if only because of the believability with her in all aspects of the story. While some have suggested that she should have at least been more willing to ditch out as soon as the bad things start happening, I still maintain that sunk cost fallacies, desperation, and the constant gaslighting by modern society towards women and their anxieties made this believable to me. There were also well done supporting characters, from the helpful doorman Charlie who has personal pain of his own, and Chloe, who wants to support Jules in any way she can, but whose generosity can come off as condescension. 

But the strongest aspect of “Lock Every Door” was the incredibly suspenseful plot and setting of a gorgeous, but perhaps insidious, luxury apartment building. Described with intimidating architecture and disturbing gargoyles, and a tainted past to boot, it felt like a healthy mix of The Cecil Hotel and the Shandor Building in “Ghostbusters”. We know that something is happening inside and that the residents and realtors are hiding something, but Sager did a good job of keeping the details pretty close to the vest. Harkening back to Ira Levin and “Rosemary’s Baby”, the question of whether everyone is out to get your or you are just paranoid is prevalent in this book, as a vast conspiracy of neighbors simply couldn’t be possible in Jules’s mind. At least at first. The clues are dropped and the pieces are set out at a meticulous pace, and by the time we did find out what was going on I was pleasantly duped, and could also see how we got there, even if I didn’t notice it. The pacing was such that I had a very hard time putting this book down, and I needed to know what was going to happen next at the end of each chapter.

“Lock Every Door” was a creepy and nervewracking read, and another well done book by Riley Sager. The paranoia and tension will make this a great book to take on vacation this summer, but perhaps reading it alone at night would be second guessed.

Rating 8: An addictive thriller with shades of Hitchcock and “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Lock Every Door” will put you on edge and keep you guessing until the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lock Every Door” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery and Thriller 2019”, and would fit in on “Fiction that Features NYC”.

Find “Lock Every Door” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Shadows of Self”

16065004Book: “Shadows of Self” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Books, October 2015

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

Book Description: “Shadows of Self” shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.

This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.

Previously Reviewed: “The Alloy of Law”

Review: This is another series that I’ve been reading in audiobook format, and as such, am at the mercy of a more limited holds list at the library. But oh well! Not only is the narrator of Sanderson’s books excellent (I’m pretty sure he does them all), but I also have my own weird thing about switching formats halfway through a series. Yes, I know, I’m a freak. Anyways! My hold finally came through and it was on to the next installment in this second trilogy in the Mistborn world featuring our favorite lawmen, Wax and Wayne!

A year after the events of the first book, Wax and Wayne are still doing their thing, solving crimes in the city of Elendel. All the while, however, Wayne is having to balance his crime-solving with also be the lord of his house and planning a wedding with his fiance. The latter takes a back-burner position in priorities when a new enemy appears on the scene, one who seems to be able to predict their every action and disappear into any crowd. Wax and Wayne struggle to keep up, but also to put together a possible motive and endgame for this mysterious villain. Marasi, working as a more official officer of the law, joins the action, and soon enough they all find themselves caught up in a conspiracy that is set to rock the entire city.

While this story still is very much Wax’s, one of the things that stood out to me the most in this book was how I felt it was improved by giving Wayne his own chapters as well as Marasi. I’ve always liked Wax, but I also don’t feel super drawn to his character. I think this is because he’s essentially Batman in the Mistborn world. Wealthy, powerful, fighting crime, and, of course, brooding. Just as Batman isn’t my favorite superhero for this reason, I don’t feel a lot of draw to Wayne in the same way. But I do very much like Wayne and Marasi. Both seem a bit more complicated, with internal struggles and story arcs that seem ripe for more exploration. Wayne, of course, is a very amusing narrator, though here I do wish that some of the clever lines would give away more often to the actual heart of the matter (something that, conversely, he is very good at identifying, unlike Wax at times). And I appreciate Marasi’s journey to prove herself worthy of working along the famed Wax and to carve her own place in the police force, one that she earns through her abilities and not through her connections to her notable family or Wayne himself.

I very much enjoyed the story itself. This entire trilogy so far has been tending much more towards Westerns and thrillers than fantasy (take out the fantasy elements and the stories themselves would hold up pretty easily). Neither of those are really favorite genres of mine, but this one counterbalances that with the introduction of a very compelling villain. The villain has really great abilities that truly challenge Wax (similar to Batman, it’s tough to create a villain that poses an actual threat when you’re hero is so established as a badass). I really liked how it wasn’t clear what the motivation or connection was behind the villain’s actions throughout the book as well. So not only are readers caught up in the fast-paced action, but there is a legitimate mystery at the heart of it all. And the best part is the incredible shock at the end of the story. Obviously, I won’t spoil it. But it’s not only huge for this book, but for the series as a whole. I’m excited to see how things play out from here!

My one criticism of the book (other than my own personal hang-ups on Wax’s character) has to do with some of the action scenes. I’m not really sure how to articulate the issue I had. It was by no means large, but it was almost as if there were times when some of the action read as a bit cheesy, with Wax pulling stunts that seemed a bit too similar to the likes of what you may see in the “Fast and the Furious” or some other corny action movie. Many of these scenes read well and the cool magic system that Sanderson has built up for this world continues to entertain. But there were just a few moments that walked the line of “cool for coolness-sake” a bit too closely for my taste.

Overall, however, I very much enjoyed this book. The ending itself with the surprise reveal probably helped bump the book up a whole point in my estimation. And it’s the kind of reshuffle that will have lasting impact, so it creates added interest for the next book in the series.

Rating 8: Some action points were a bit much at times, but some incredible twists and the addition of a viewpoint for Wayne made this a fun read.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Shadows of Self” is on these Goodreads lists: “Most Action-Packed Books” and “Best Steampunk Books.”

Find “Shadows of Self” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Killing November”

35053980Book: “Killing November” by Adriana Mather

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It’s a school completely off the grid, hidden by dense forest and surrounded by traps. There’s no electricity, no internet, and an eye-for-an-eye punishment system. Classes include everything from Knife-Throwing and Poisons to the Art of Deception and Historical Analysis. And all of the students are children of the world’s most elite strategists—training to become assassins, counselors, spies, and master impersonators. Into this world walks November Adley, who quickly discovers that friends are few in a school where personal revelations are discouraged and competition is everything. When another student is murdered, all eyes turn to November, who must figure out exactly how she fits into the school’s bizarre strategy games before she is found guilty of the crime…or becomes the killer’s next victim.

Review: Adriana Mather is one of those authors whose books I am probably always going to pick up no matter what. I so enjoy the “How to Hang a Witch” series, and when I saw that Mather had a new book that started off a new one I was a little bummed that I had to wait a bit longer before she revisits Samantha and Elijah, but excited at the prospect of a new series with new characters. And, lo and behold, this new series takes place at a BOARDING SCHOOL WITH A SHADY SET UP!! Bring on the drama! I will gladly bask in all of it!

“Killing November” is definitely more focused on being a thriller and mystery that Mather’s previous series, and I think that this is both a strength and a weakness. The reason it’s a strength is because of the character of November herself. We know that her father has been involved with some espionage and secret government work, so when she awakens in a strange room and at a strange school she’s never heard of, we know that while she’s heard of shit and seen some shit in theory, she will still have some adjusting to do. November is a fun protagonist, because she’s both pragmatic in her personality (aka I completely believed her as being a bit more cynical and world weary thanks to her family background), and yet still in the dark enough that she has HUGE adjustments to make at this new, bizarre school that focuses more on combat, violence, and duplicity than your average educational institution might. November finds herself having to learn about knife throwing, poisons, and psychological warfare, without being given any kind of background, so she is the perfect stand in for the reader in terms of learning everything she can, with severe consequences if she can’t catch on fast enough. Because of this gulf between her and the other students, watching connections and friendships form was more unique than we might usually expect from a story with a similar premise, mostly because of the inherent distrust between the students based on social structures and the violent skills they’re learning. November’s closest ally is her roommate Layla, who is astute and sharp and cunning, but doesn’t hold friendships at the same value level as November, and therefore the readers, do. Because of this, watching their social interactions (along with the social interactions between November and Layla’s brother Ash, who may or may not be hiding his own motivations) was fascinating and rewarding as they slowly unfolded, in spite of the inherently distrustful setting of the school. Along with that I liked how the underlying social structures of this school worked. It’s a bit of a spoiler to go into it in too great of detail, but think of it like Hogwarts Houses, but revved up rivalries to deadly degrees. Throw in some good old fashioned blood feuds and you have for a plot line that I could sink my teeth into.

I think that the biggest drawback, however, is that while Mather is great when it comes to building these foundations and relationships, the main question of who is trying to hurt November and why didn’t pull me in as much. I cared about her as a character and wanted her to be safe, but I didn’t feel all that invested in who the killer at the school was, and why they would be going after November specifically. It wasn’t even that the ultimate solution was bare boned or too predictable; it was well plotted out and I found it to be believable as well as a surprise. It was just that ultimately, this plot wasn’t where the storytelling was richest for me. I liked the characterizations and the world building far more than the main plotline of this first book. My hope is that, should this series continue, in the next books with all the world building and November’s alliances and trustworthy cohorts established (as of now), I will be more interested in the twists and turns that are thrown into whatever adventure she and her classmates go on next.

“Killing November” has some very solid promise to be a fun new series from Adriana Mather. And while I’m still waiting for the next “How To Hang A Witch” book, I can now add the next “November” book to my list of anticipated reads!

Rating 7: With interesting characters and a compelling background story for the school, “Killing November” has promise, even if the main mystery didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Killing November” is included on the Goodreads lists “Months of Days in the Book Title”, and “March 2019 Book Releases”.

Find “Killing November” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: June 2019

The weather has still been somewhat mercurial, with days of super hot sun and then returns to the 60s with rain. But we’ll take what we can get. If only the bugs would disappear. (We can find something to whine about during every season, just you watch.) And yes, we both should probably get outside more to appreciate the long days, but…oh well! Here are some things other than books that we’ve enjoyed this last month!

Serena’s Picks

mv5boti5y2m3nmqtndg5zc00otq0lwezogytmjm4zjg0yzy0m2i0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjkwnzewmzu40._v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Amazon Prime Show: “Good Omens”

Confession: I haven’t read the book this was based on. But I’ve read a good number of other works by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, so I feel like it should count. In all honesty, however, my all-abiding love for David Tennant was the real draw behind my immediate interest in this show. While the subject matter (an angel and a demon team up to try to prevent the end of the world) would always be a pretty big appeal for me, Tennant is just one of those actors whose work I will always check out. There were a few moments where the complete absurdity was a bit too much for me, but overall, I loved heart of this story that is built up in the lovely relationship between said angel and demon. Overall, I really enjoyed it.

mv5bmdeyn2u1ytitndy1zi00yjljlwi5yzitnwu3ywviyjhiztgxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjg4nzayota40._v1_sy1000_cr006661000_al_TV Show: “Elementary”

I actually fell a bit behind on this series and ended up binging season six earlier this fall. As usual, I quite enjoyed it. And, with doing no further research, I assumed the show was over. The ending of that season certainly implies as much with Sherlock and Watson both relocated to 221B Baker St, London and waxing poetic about how it feels as if they are where they’re meant to me. But, much to my surprise, while dinking around on the Internet I discover that there is in fact a season seven! And it started up only a few weeks ago! This is only a short, half season but it seems like it is confirmed to be the last, so I’m super excited to see what they’re going to do with it. Fingers crossed for a return of Moriarty! And let’s hope that they don’t ruin what could have been a perfectly satisfying end with the final episode of the previous season.

maxresdefaultYouTube Series: “The 100 Baby Sims Challenge”

This is super weird and I know it. But hey, a girl’s got to do something with all of those hours spent feeding a fussy baby. And what’s better to do when you baby boy is being a little idiot than watch someone play the Sims and have a character deal with raising 100 of these little monsters. There’s something bizarrely cathartic about it, I’ve got to tell you. Maybe it’s of particular interest to frustrated new mothers, but I do think it’s pretty hilarious to watch all on its own, too. Especially if you’re just looking for a good 20-30 minute distraction here and there.

Kate’s Picks

2b8401198-77d6-4651-b1951c330d84a8b1TV Show: “Pose”

When “Pose” first aired last year I had every intention of watching it, but never got around to it. I mean, my goodness, it covers themes and settings that I absolutely love: the New York City Ball Culture, the 80s, glamour, self actualization. When I saw that Season One was on Netflix, I decided to finally start it… and then proceeded to binge all of it in the course of two days. “Pose” takes place in 1987, and follows the rising House of Evangelista, led by Blanca, a trans woman who left her previous house and mentor to start a house of her own. Not only does “Pose” have great music, great characters, and a strong grasp of what was going on in the Ball and LGBTQ communities in the 1980s (with a very real and upsetting look at how the AIDS virus was affecting said communities), it also has a cast that is mostly trans actresses of color, reflecting the people whose stories they are telling. And Billy Porter is AMAZING as the snarky emcee Pray Tell. On top of all that, Season 2 has started, and there’s no way I’m missing it in real time this time around.

rocketman_28film29Movie: “Rocketman”

This will undoubtedly surprise no one, but I love Sir Elton John for his flamboyance, passion, and catchy/heartfelt tunes. When I first saw a trailer for “Rocketman” I turned to my husband and said ‘YOU NEED TO TAKE ME TO THIS’. And, good sport that he is, he did so once it came out. This movie is part musical fantasy, part biopic about John and his rise to fame and the hardships he had to overcome, from lonely childhood, to mental health issues, to addiction. Taron Egerton is remarkable as John, not only nailing his look and mannerisms, but performing his songs with zeal and gusto. He did so well that there were moments where I had to blink and squint because I could have SWORN John himself had slipped into the scene. But one of my favorite depictions on the screen was the friendship John has with his longtime writing partner, Bernie Taupin. Taupin is played by Jamie Bell and he and Egerton have such magical chemistry, really bringing their partnership and friendship to the screen. If you do go see this movie, bring tissues. Well all know things worked out for John, but man, the road was rough, and this movie has the emotional punches that come with it.

mv5bmtgwnja4mdkwnl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmje3ntgwodm40._v1_TV Show: “NOS4A2”

Even though I have an unabated love for just about anything that Joe Hill writes, as of now my favorite of his novels is “NOS4A2”. It’s about Charlie Manx, a vampire-like being that kidnaps children. He takes their essences to keep himself forever young, and traps them in an ‘inscape’ (a supernatural alternative plane he can manipulate) he calls Christmasland. But he meets his match when he runs into Vic McQueen, a teenage girl who can create her own inscapes, and may have the power to stop him. I was very interested to see what AMC was going to do with it when I heard that they were going to make it into a TV show. And let me tell you, thus far I am VERY happy with what they are doing with it. I knew that I was going to be one hundred percent satisfied with Zachary Quinto as Manx, but was worried about any portrayal of Vic, as she is one of my favorite literary characters. But Ashleigh Cummings is FABULOUS, bringing the spunk and vulnerability that the character needs. And, most importantly, the show really achieves the creepy and unsettling tone that this story requires. It’s suspenseful and eerie, and I’m eager to watch as it unfolds.

 

Serena’s Review: “Black Powder War”

91989Book: “Black Powder War” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, May 2006

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

Book Description: Picking up where book two left off (in China, Macau) Captain Will Laurence and his extraordinary dragon, Temeraire, are ordered to retrieve and escort a precious cargo of valuable dragon eggs from Istanbul to England. They take the Old Silk Road from China to Istanbul, crossing deserts and mountains. En route to England, they help the beleaguered Prussians battle Napoleon.

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade”

Review: Trucking along with this series! Once you get me started, there’s no stopping me! Well, the waiting list at the library for the audiobook does hold me up…mostly because I love the narrator for this book so much that I refuse to read it in any other format now. So really, it’s my own pickiness that is holding me up. But really, it’s also probably for the best, as it’s always nice to have a solid series on the back burner that one can return to if ever caught in the midst of a string of bad luck reads. That’s not the case right now, really. I just couldn’t resist.

Lawrence and Temeraire are anxious to return home to England and rejoin their fellows in the war against Napoleon. They are also tasked with picking up a few dragon eggs on their way home. After a few unfortunate events, a sea voyage ends up being off the table as means of travel, and they’re forced to prepare for an over-land expedition. Along the way they face challenges of terrain, both mountain and desert, as well as rogue dragons and shady political figures. They also eventually find themselves caught up in the war itself on the continent, pulled before dueling loyalties: their honor to the foreign allies and the urgency to deliver the dragon eggs before they hatch.

As my reviews indicate, the first two books in this series took me a bit by surprise. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting into when I started the series (many books that feature dragons have clear tropes, none of which were found here), and the second book went in a new direction even from that. But now I think I’m starting to settle in and it all comes down to a similar theme: Lawrence and Temeraire go on adventures! Not only has each book taken place in very different locations and featured very difference challenges, foes, and comrades. But within each book are a series of mini adventures that the two friends must navigate.

In this one, we have another travel adventure for the first half of the book, as the pair and their crew leave China and make their way across Asia towards their home. Along the way, they must battle the elements, getting into some dire circumstances in the mountains and in a sandstorm. I was also excited when they ran into a group of feral dragons. As the series has progressed, it’s become clear that Lawrence and many people in general, don’t truly understand dragons and what they are capable of. There have been a lot of preconceptions that Temeraire has proved false, about dragon intelligence and individuality. Throughout it all, we’ve often heard about feral dragons as those that can’t be tamed or made to work with people. I very much enjoyed the way they were worked into the story and the foibles of the mini dragon society we see here.

I was also excited to see a return to the military aspect of the story. The first book had a brief battle scene towards the end of the book, and the second one had very little in this regard. But half way through this book, we really dive into the military tactics of dragons. I like the way Novik highlighted how different countries have had different approaches to how they use their aerial corps, a detail that continues the heighten the believability of dragons fighting in the Napoleonic wars.

Further, we began to see how dragons themselves can contribute to these types of military strategies, with Temeraire putting to use his knowledge for formations and strategy for in-air battle. I also really liked the way we see Napoleon use his dragons in very clever ways, making his military brilliance transfer just as well to this fantastical element. We also see how the presence of dragons could influence the outcome of some of these historic events in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate.

The ending did seem to kind of come out of the blue, however, with things building up to a climax and then quickly ending. I’m not sure the pacing of the story overall was quite right, in this regard. But other than, I’m still thoroughly enjoying this series!

Rating 8: I particularly enjoyed the return to the military aspects of the story in this one.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Powder War” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Alternate History Novels and Stories” and “Dragon Books NOT ROMANCE.”

Find “Black Powder War” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Lady from the Black Lagoon”

34993030Book: “The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick” by Mallory O’Meara

Publishing Info: Hanover Square Press, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Lady from the Black Lagoon uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick—one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters.

As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

A true-life detective story and a celebration of a forgotten feminist trailblazer, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon establishes Patrick in her rightful place in film history while calling out a Hollywood culture where little has changed since.

Review: As someone who loves horror movies, I’m actually not very well versed in a lot of the Universal ‘Monster’ Flicks. Though we watched all of Karloff’s “Frankenstein” and parts of Lugosi’s “Dracula” in a college class, I am dreadfully uneducated when it comes to the lion’s share of the film canon. That said, I have seen “Creature from The Black Lagoon”, and it’s one that has a special place in my heart if only because The Creature, or Gill-man, or what have you, is such a tragic figure in this “Beauty and the Beast”-esque tale. As opposed to his Universal Monster counterparts, Gill-man looks more sad and lonely than frightening and foreboding. As the weird girl in middle and high school who had her fair share of crushes on more popular guys, I feel that longing and loneliness the Gill-man kind of has.

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Not that I kidnapped the objects of my affection, however… (source)

What I hadn’t realized was that The Creature was designed by a woman named Milicent Patrick, so when “The Lady from the Black Lagoon” by Mallory O’Meara came upon my radar I was immediately interested in learning about her story. What I wasn’t ready for was how personal this part biography, part investigation story would be, for O’Meara AND for women in Hollywood AND horror.

O’Meara is the perfect person to tell Milicent’s story, in that not only has she been invested in Patrick’s life’s work since she was a teenager, but she herself has certain parallels to Patrick. Like Patrick, O’Meara is a young woman working in Hollywood, specifically as a producer of horror films. And like Patrick, O’Meara has faced rampant sexism and misogyny in her day to day life at her job, from people assuming she isn’t a producer based on her age and gender. So this story isn’t just an interesting biography of a woman whose contributions to horror have been lost, but also an investigation into her life led by another woman who still sees the same problems within the industry. While Patrick’s life is undoubtedly fun to read about (for example, she was one of the ink and color animators for the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment in Disney’s “Fantasia”, which has ALWAYS been my favorite sequence in one of my favorite Disney movies!), it’s also a familiar and frustrating look into how women were treated in show business during this time period… and how they still are treated today. Patrick was ultimately black balled from design after Bud Westmore, a famous designer who was  jealous of her success, insisted that she not be given credit for the monster that SHE CREATED. Even recently people still argue that she wasn’t the actual creative mind behind it, in spite of the evidence that she was. O’Meara successfully takes it upon herself to get her legacy out there, and the reader not only gets to read about the life of a pretty neat woman, but the time, effort, and experiences of what it took to uncover the story. From Hearst Castle to Hollywood to Las Vegas, Patrick’s life is laid out because of O’Meara’s hard work and diligence.

But the part of this story that I found I was the most invested in, and the most galling, was the sexism and misogyny aspects of this story, both experienced by Patrick AND O’Meara. It’s not a big secret that Hollywood can be incredibly toxic for the women who work there, but that doesn’t make both Patrick’s AND O’Meara’s experiences any less upsetting. Though O’Meara hasn’t lost her job due to jealous male colleagues, she has her own personal stories to tell of others mistreating her, the most glaring being a story about an actor working on one of her movies making sexual innuendos about her in a ‘does the carpet match the drapes’ kind of way (and I did a little digging and have a theory as to just who this actor was, as she left his name out out of fear of retaliation. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me if I’m right). Given that women are STILL shut out of so many opportunities when it comes to film and television behind the scenes, especially genre films like horror and fantasy, hearing that those who ARE there get treated like this is very upsetting, especially as a lady horror fan. While O’Meara’s experiences certainly aren’t unique, that is the exact reason that these experiences need to be shared.

“The Lady from The Black Lagoon” was a very interesting and rewarding read for this horror fan. I definitely think that horror fans everywhere really ought to give it a go, if only so Milicent Patrick can continue to finally get her due long after it was stolen from her.

Rating 8: A thorough, eye opening, and emotional book that tells the story of a forgotten creative mind, and how the problems she faced in her industry are far from fixed.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lady from the Black Lagoon” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Old Hollywood”, and “Los Angeles (non-fiction)”.

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