Serena’s Review: “As the Shadow Rises”

Book: “As the Shadow Rises” by Katy Rose Pool

Publishing Info: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, September 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: The Last Prophet has been found, yet he sees destruction ahead.

In this sequel to the critically-acclaimed “There Will Come a Darkness,” kingdoms have begun to fall to a doomsday cult, the magical Graced are being persecuted, and an ancient power threatens to break free. But with the world hurtling toward its prophesized end, Anton’s haunting vision reveals the dangerous beginnings of a plan to stop the Age of Darkness.

As Jude, Keeper of the Order of the Last Light, returns home in disgrace, his quest to aid the Prophet is complicated by his growing feelings for Anton. Meanwhile, the assassin known as the Pale Hand will stop at nothing to find her undead sister before she dies for good, even if it means letting the world burn. And in Nazirah, Hassan, the kingdom-less Prince, forms a risky pact to try to regain his throne. When the forces of light and darkness collide in the City of Mercy, old wounds are reopened, new alliances are tested, and the end of the world begins.

Previously Reviewed: “There Will Come a Darkness”

Review: I wasn’t a huge fan of the first book in this series, as my review above with testify to. But it’s hard to resist returning to a series when the sequel is so highly praised (but then again, so was the first one, and we saw how that turned out). But this book currently has a 4.25 star rating on Goodreads, which is definitely not something to turn your nose up at. So I requested it and tried to be open to what others are seeing in this series that I didn’t. Sadly, I still don’t see it.

Our main characters are spread far and wide. And while the Last Prophet has been identified, the world still seems to be burning around them. Hassan has lost his country to his scheming Aunt. Jude returns in disgrace having let his feelings get ahead of his mission time and again. And our favorite assassin wanders the land looking for her self-destructive, undead sister. Not to mention the doomsday cult that only seems to have gotten started. As their paths weave in and out of each other’s stories, the way forward begins to look more and more complicated and challenging. If there even is a way forward.

Well, I will say that I liked this one better than the first. With so many POV characters, the first one had to devote a huge chunk of its page time introducing each of its characters and attempting to instill equal importance and interest in them all. For me, this last part wasn’t successful, but there was no avoiding the first part. One could make an argument for this being why multiple POV books should probably be much more rare than they seem to be at the moment. But for all of those reasons, the first book didn’t have much of a plot until the last quarter of the story where it did, finally, kick into gear. Here, the story was able to take off much more quickly for all that work already being done. Our threats have been better identified, the world-building better established, and it all results in a book that has much better pacing and action than the first.

I also liked the fact that the story is leaning into the darker, twisty aspects of the story. The first one I thought was pretty predictable and what were meant to land as big shocks were easily seen chapters ahead of time. Here, I was pleased that I was only able to predict a few of the twists and turns with more of them taking me genuinely by surprise. So if you enjoyed that aspect of the first book, this one is sure to satisfy.

Unfortunately, for me, most books live and die on their characters. And that was my biggest problem with the first, and that feeling only intensified with this one. There’s a combination of problems here, really. With so many POVs, there will always be favorites. This happens even with books/authors who can handle a large ensemble cast well. But here there are really only one or two characters whose stories I’m really invested in. For the others, there’s a combination of boredom by some and then dislike of others. Both of these feelings, I’m sure, are unintentional. Boring, for sure. And the dislike? I’m not quite so sure, but I think that we’re still meant to like most of these people. And it’s not even the morally ambiguous ones (assassins always are!) that are always the unlikeable ones here! I didn’t like Hassan much in the first, and he really doesn’t improve here. And while Jude has an interesting story, I’m still cringing over his complete failure to live up to what we’re meant to believe is rigorous training he went through his entire life. He has similar struggles here.

I did like the moments when the characters crossed paths with one another. That was a favorite part of the first book, too. It’s nice to see a story that doesn’t just get all of the characters together and then leave them that way. Here, like there, we see people come and go from each other’s stories, making the fact that they are all individuals with very different goals and objectives stay at the forefront of the mind. While they have different connections and interests in one another, they are not a team like we often see in other ensemble books.

Overall, I think this was an improvement on the first book. I liked that the story took me more by surprise. And the fact that so much of the introduction leg work had already been gotten out of the way really helped the pacing and action of the plot. Unfortunately, my problems with many of the characters only intensified and at times it felt like a real chore reading some of their chapters. However, if you were a fan of the first book, I’m sure you’ll like this one. And if your problems with the first one had to do more with its introductory nature more than anything else, this might be an improvement for you as well! Just expect more of the same, character-wise.

Rating 7: An improvement on the first, but I still found myself skimming through certain characters’ chapters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“As the Shadow Rises” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, weirdly, but it is on Books with Red Covers.

Find “As the Shadow Rises” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep”

Book: “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” by Lauria Faria Stolarz

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, March 2021

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

Book Description: Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with a thrilling novel where an eighteen-year-old girl’s search for answers lands her in one of the most terrifying situations imaginable.

Four days…Trapped in a well, surrounded by dirt, scratching at the walls trying to find a way out. Four days of a thirst so strong, that when it finally rains, I drink as much as possible from the dripping walls, not even caring how much dirt comes with it.

Six months… Since my escape. Since no one believed I was taken to begin with – from my own bed, after a party, when no one else was home… Six months of trying to find answers and being told instead that I made the whole incident up.

One month… Since I logged on to the Jane Anonymous site for the first time and found a community of survivors who listen without judgment, provide advice, and console each other when needed. A month of chatting with a survivor whose story eerily mirrors my own: a girl who’s been receiving triggering clues, just like me, and who could help me find the answers I’m searching for.

Three days…Since she mysteriously disappears, and since I’m forced to ask the questions: will my chance to find out what happened to me vanish with her? And will I be next? 

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Back at the beginning of 2020 I reviewed the book “Jane Anonymous”, in which a kidnapping survivor has to readjust to her life after returning home. I thought that it did a great job of combining legitimate thrills with a realistic and responsible take on trauma. So when I saw that Laurie Faria Stolarz had written a new book within that same universe, “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep”, I was pretty interested! I really like the idea of a series that gives stories to different characters who are on the Jane Anonymous blog and support chat board that was established at the end of the first book, so I was really eager to jump into this one to see what story was up next. But unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to the high hopes I had for it.

I do want to say right off the bat that I think that Stolarz does her due diligence to portray mental illness and the effects of trauma on a person in realistic and non-romanticized ways. Terra has two big, horrible things that she has to deal with: the traumatic death of her parents, who died in a house fire that she survived, and being kidnapped and held captive for days, only to escape and have people not believe her. These two things would of course weigh on anyone, and the crap that Terra has to deal with, be it the disassociation, the PTSD, the fugue states, etcetera is only exacerbated by people who either can’t handle her very difficult behavior, or are openly hostile towards her or wary of her. Sometimes I think that mental illness can be portrayed in ways that doesn’t do it justice in the sense that it can be VERY hard for the person suffering, and it can be constant and repetitive. That was all well done. The problem, however, is that when you have a character going through these kinds of things in realistic ways, it can make for a plot that feels like its spinning its wheels or repeating itself. “Jane Anonymous” was able to balance both the trauma themes and the plot progression, so it was disappointing that this one couldn’t quite manage it.

And in terms of the plot progression, we have two mysteries at hand. The first is the mystery that is always in the air, and that is what happened to Terra when she was abducted, or if she was abducted at all. As the story goes on Terra has pretty much stopped trying to convince people of what happened to her, as she is met with those who think she’s flat out lying, or those who think that her previous trauma of losing her parents has led her to a psychotic break of sorts. There are moments of her looking for proof, and scenes of her maybe seeing clues that she is still being watched, though she lets it fall by the wayside a bit because she just doesn’t really know how to approach it lest she be met with derision. The other, more active mystery is what happened to her online friend Peyton, someone she met on the Jane Anonymous support boards, who has been talking about her own trauma of being kidnapped, and is worried that her kidnapper is stalking her again as well. After Peyton disappears, Terra is motivated to try and find her, and therein perhaps find the man who took her, as their stories have similarities. The problem with this storyline is that the action doesn’t pick up until we are more than halfway done with the book. I kept waiting for it and waiting for it, as it’s in the description that this is the main plot line, but it was very late, in my opinion a little too late in the progression. And by the time we do get to the big climax, which I won’t spoil here, there were things that just felt wrapped up a little too quickly, or too conveniently, and then the plot lingered a little too long post climax. Ultimately, it felt muddled and haphazard.

Given that I still think that there is a lot of potential for more books within the “Jane Anonymous” world that looks at different survivors and their stories, I’m not writing off the series as a whole. But “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” was a bit of a let down that couldn’t quite find a good balance between important messages and captivating story.

Rating 5: Though I had hopes for this sequel to “Jane Anonymous”, “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” was a repetitive and muddled follow up. That said, the candid look at how difficult mental illness and trauma could be was well handled.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sweet Vicious”, and “YA Suspense/Thriller/Mystery”.

Find “The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: “Jane Anonymous”

Diving into Sub-Genres: Literary Fantasy

We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

Literary fantasy is a hard sub-genre to even wrap your head around. Many of the other sub-genres of fantasy (portal fantasy, epic fantasy, steampunk, urban) have very distinct elements that are easily recognizable even from a short blurb about the book. Literary fantasy…not so much. It’s tempting to say that literary fantasy is simply contemporary fantasy where the story is simply light on fantasy altogether. But this writes off historical works which would also fit this category. So perhaps it is simply the light fantastical elements? But even that I don’t think is correct (you’ll see that a couple of books I’ve included here have fairly extensive magical elements).

Instead, I think it’s largely contained in a certain style of writing that is often found in these books. Literary fantasy is often just as focused on a beautiful turn of phrase as it is on describing a magical spell’s effects. There’s often an elegance to the writing, a compulsion to appreciate the words themselves rather than fully immerse oneself in the book to the point that the reader forgets they’re reading. Indeed, knowing that one is reading is half of the joy of these types of books, with more focus given to descriptions and omniscient narrator musings than action-packed set pieces. In many ways, I’m essentially describing “literary fiction” but with some fantastical element involved. However, I think that “literary fiction” typically includes other notable elements that don’t necessarily rely on a style of writing as strongly as literary fantasy does (often tragic, more experimentation with word-play and style of writing).

So with that in mind, here are a few examples of favorite books of mine that I would file under literary fantasy.

“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue”

This was actually the book that inspired this entire review series, after one of our readers commented on my labeling it as “literary fantasy” and asked about other titles that would fit in that sub-genre. So here we are! This story, that of a young woman who strikes a deal to live forever but to never be remembered by anyone she meets, fits the criteria in a few ways. It definitely has fantasy elements, what with the main character living forever and all, but the themes of the book are much more focused on identity, one’s own history, and what it means to exist in a world made up of so many other people living out their own journeys. There’s also a big focus on art and how it expresses the lives of both the artist and the subject of art. Between these themes, much of the story taking place in a standard contemporary/historical setting with very little magic involved, and the beautiful style of writing, it definitely meets the criteria for literary fantasy.

“The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

If “The Invisible Lie of Addi LaRue” was the inspiration for this post, “The Starless Sea” was my immediate answer to the question posed by our blog reader for another example of literary fantasy. I could also include Morgenstern’s first novel, “The Night Circus,” under this category, but as this is the one I’ve read and loved most recently, I’ll include it here. It’s also an example of a book I would classify as literary fantasy but one that includes many, many fantasy elements. If anything, it walks right up to the line of what I would classify as fairytale fantasy or portal fantasy. The story is a winding affair of exploration and mystery throughout time and space, all held together by a mysterious library that exists right through a doorway, if one is only brave enough to open it. There’s much reflection on love and passion, but half of the magic is the sheer whimsy of the entire thing. Behind every door is a new wonder, and the writing seems to wrap you up in a warm blanket of delight and you’re left wondering if you perhaps travelled to this magical world after all, simply through the process of reading this book. It is this lovely style of writing and the effortless feel of the magical elements involved that classifies it as literary fantasy.

“Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

This book walks even closer to the line of fairytale fantasy than the last, in that it’s largely inspired by Russian myth and the Russian folklore character, Kuschei the Deathless. But again, it’s all in the style of writing. I debated including one of Valente’s “Fairyland” stories, which I think skirt this sub-genre fairly well themselves. But I think “Deathless” hits the mark a bit better with its supposition of fantastical creatures and myths over almost all of the important events of the 20th century in Russia. Of course, knowing even a little of Russia’s history during that time period, it’s a safe guess that the story, while beautiful, has its fair share of tragic moments, as well. Valente expertly wields her magical elements in such a way as to shine new light and new insights into some of the better (and lesser) known parts of the country’s history. Anyone who has read a book by her before can also testify to the unique and beautiful style of her writing. She’s definitely an author whose stylized sentences and combinations of thoughts often makes the reader stop and re-read certain sections just to revel in her use of words.

“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

This is another literary fantasy novel that is at least as much concerned with delving into its real-life, historical themes as it is in exploring the two magical creatures who are the story’s main characters. Yes, our two leads are the titular golem and jinni, but their story is much more than that. Instead, in many ways, the book is more concerned at looking at the experience of immigrants in the early 1900s and life in New York City during this time period, in general. Not only are both of our characters origins not of the United States, but each, of course, is even more “other” in that they aren’t human. But at the same time, each has such core human traits that define them, that their experiences and struggles feel almost amplified for it. This is a long book, and one that definitely takes its time carefully depicting the details of the place and time as much as it does the history of the golem and jinni. It’s the kind of book that could fairly easily be recommended to straight-up historical fiction fans as well as fantasy readers.

“Tigana” by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay is another author who’s entire catalog of books would likely fit in this sub-genre. My favorite books by him, “The Fionavar Tapestry” quartet, definitely meet the criteria for style of writing, but they fall closer to portal fantasy, in my opinion. But I could have easily put “The Lions of Al-Rassan” or “Children of Earth and Sky” or many others on this list. I selected “Tigana,” however, because it’s probably, universally, one of his most beloved and well-regarded novels. Gavriel Kay’s books are also unique to this category in the fact that they are entirely set in alternative worlds. The settings and events are often inspired by real-life countries and events, but the worlds are still entirely fantasy-based, ultimately. This story touches on themes of war, love, and the tangle that politics makes of it all. It is expansive and marvelous, and, too many, set a higher bar for what readers can expect from fantasy fiction and specifically literary fantasy.

“The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

Lastly, I wanted to include the first book in a trilogy of books that would all fit well in this category. Like some of the others, “The Bear and the Nightingale” has a definite fairytale vibe to the story. But the slow build of the story, the attention spent on developing atmosphere, and the beautiful, lyrical style of writing all fit perfectly for literary fantasy. The sharply beautiful description of the Russian winter landscape are particularly poignant, and the themes regarding religion, magic, and one young woman’s journey to carve out a place for herself in a world that doesn’t have a place for women who don’t fit a certain type of mold. What starts out on a fairly small scale expands across the three books until Vasilisa’s story starts to encompass the entirety of Russia itself. I loved this entire tirlogy and would recommend all three (though they can’t be read separately, other than the first one, perhaps) to fans of literary fantasy.

What fantasy books would you categorize as literary fantasy? What are some of your favorites? Share in the comments below!

Serena’s Review: “Wild Sign”

Book: “Wild Sign” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace Books, March 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: In the wilds of the Northern California mountains, all the inhabitants of a small town have gone missing. It’s as if the people picked up and left everything they owned behind. Fearing something supernatural might be going on, the FBI taps a source they’ve consulted in the past: the werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham. But Charles and Anna soon find a deserted town is the least of the mysteries they face.

Death sings in the forest, and when it calls, Charles and Anna must answer. Something has awakened in the heart of the California mountains, something old and dangerous — and it has met werewolves before.

Previously Reviewed: “Burn Bright”

Review: If you go back and read my review of the previous book in the “Alpha and Omega” series, you’ll see that I was…less than thrilled with that entry. My concerns from that book spanned both this series as well as the “Mercy Thompson” books. But as my review earlier this week demonstrated, that series managed to sidestep the implications of the events in “Burn Bright.” But I was always a bit more concerned with how the next book in this series would do, given that Bran is more of a main character here. And, well, Briggs tries to walk it back a bit, I guess. But unfortunately the distraction offered in the main plot just introduces another frustration of mine.

Old things live in the dark wilds of the forest. And if you stay on the path, maybe you’ll miss the dangers lurking there. But when an entire town’s worth of people go missing, what lurks in the shades of the trees leaves a mark to big to ignore. Anna and Charles are called into action to track down the mystery. Where do you start, though, when all of the victims seem to have vanished into the air leaving behind no trace? Clues exist however in rumors of a powerful force that once lived there centuries before and may have faced werewolves before.

So, I did like this book overall. It’s hard, however, to write a review without taking up tons of wordcount on how this book deals with the fallout of the previous one. Or getting sucked into a long commentary piece on my frustrations with one particular aspect of it that I’m beginnig to struggle with more and more. So…I’ll try to write a fairly general bit before getting into any of that.

Overall, I liked the villain at the heart of this story. Its powers and backstory were very unique and interesting and left me guessing for much of the story. I was able to piece a few bits together early on, but there were a number of genuine surprises throughout that really helped build towards the final conflict. The action and threat-level felt high when it needed too, and there was a underlying sense of doom that pervaded the book in a really nice, creepy way.

I also liked what we got from Charles and Anna. Brother Wolf, the personified version of Charles’s wolf half was given more to say/do here and it was almost like having an entire third character. Might be a bit unfortunate, though, when your wolf character is more interesting than the two humans. Not that Charles and Anna are bad characters, but they still seem a bit dull and one-note, especially in comparison to the characters in the Mercy Thompson series.

The book also introduces a few chapters from Leah’s perspective. On the surface, this is a good thing. The story largely has to do with events in her history, and it’s great seeing inside the head of a character who has been at the heart of so much conflict earlier in the series and even in the “Mercy Thompson” series. It seems clear that by doing this Briggs is attempting to respond to the criticism of the previous book. Her history is such that Bran’s actions in her life are highly criticized by both Charles and Anna. Briggs also seems to try to build up a more true relationship between Leah and Bran with Bran needing to deal with his own past actions and open up to Leah more. It’s all well and good, I guess, but, really, it just makes the previous book’s “reveal” about Bran’s feelings for Mercy feel more about of place. This book not only doesn’t address that but seems to want to just paint over that with some alternative history in which Bran does care for Leah and that whole Mercy thing…never happened.

But when diving into Leah’s history, Briggs steps right into another big problem that I have. I’ve already struggled with the fact that both of Briggs’ leading ladies has a history of being a rape victim. Several SFF authors have written about how pervasive this particular trauma is within the genre and how unfortunate that fact is. Here are two of my favorite pieces, one by Seanan McGuire and one by Sarah Gailey. Each tackles the topic much more thoroughly and eloquently than I can.

Unfortunately, this book not only includes another rape attempt on our main character, but gives the only other POV female character we have a history of rape as well. Now all three POV female characters we’ve had in both series have experienced this particular trauma. Beyond that, the topic is placed firmly at the center of the conflict in this book. I wouldn’t have a problem with that fact on its own if it wasn’t for this established history of using it for our two other main characters. It not only begins to feel a bit much, but Briggs is falling into the exact trap that McGuire and Gailey discuss in their pieces: that somehow rape and sexual assault are almost necessary traumas that female heroes must go through in the ever-chased goal of “character development” and “added depth.” And in Leah’s case, particularly, it almost seems to be used as a way to excuse her abusive treatment of Mercy in the past. The entire thing reads as lazy and uninventive at best and as exploitative at worst.

So, there you go. Another book in this series that’s hard to evaluate based only on the merits of the story itself, but instead gets stuck in challenging topics that outweigh much of the rest. At this point, I’m sure I’ll still continue to read this series if there are more to come. But I’m on high alert now with this author and if these topics continue to come up in this manner, it might be time to throw in the towel.

Rating 6: A solid story is marred by the unfortunate, recurring use of sexual assault as a character-building tactic.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wild Sign” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on this funny-titled one: My Vampire Book Obsession Book Boyfriends

Find “Wild Sign” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Girls Are All So Nice Here”

Book: “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, March 2021

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

Book Description: Two former best friends return to their college reunion to find that they’re being circled by someone who wants revenge for what they did ten years before—and will stop at nothing to get it—in this shocking psychological thriller about ambition, toxic friendship, and deadly desire.

A lot has changed in the years since Ambrosia Wellington graduated from college, and she’s worked hard to create a new life for herself. But then an invitation to her ten-year reunion arrives in the mail, along with an anonymous note that reads “We need to talk about what we did that night.”

It seems that the secrets of Ambrosia’s past—and the people she thought she’d left there—aren’t as buried as she’d believed. Amb can’t stop fixating on what she did or who she did it with: larger-than-life Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, Amb’s former best friend, who could make anyone do anything.

At the reunion, Amb and Sully receive increasingly menacing messages, and it becomes clear that they’re being pursued by someone who wants more than just the truth of what happened that first semester. This person wants revenge for what they did and the damage they caused—the extent of which Amb is only now fully understanding. And it was all because of the game they played to get a boy who belonged to someone else, and the girl who paid the price.

Alternating between the reunion and Amb’s freshman year, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a shocking novel about the brutal lengths girls can go to get what they think they’re owed, and what happens when the games we play in college become matters of life and death.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Having gone to a large public university (two, really, as I transferred after freshman year from one U of MN campus to another) and having only lived in the dorm for one year, I didn’t really find myself caught up in any dorm drama or scandals. Perhaps my dorm was just boring, or perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough. The closest I got was having a roommate with whom I initially bumped heads (but even that doesn’t really count because now she’s one of my dearest friends). But I guess that I can believe that such things do happen. And “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is steeped, and I mean STEEPED, in the poisonous shenanigans that some college kids get up to while living on campus. I’ll admit that I was just picturing Danielle from “Happy Death Day” as I read the description. And while I wasn’t too far off, it didn’t rise to the occasion that I was anticipating.

Danielle and Tree play my expectations when they’re smacked back to reality. (source)

“The Girls Are All So Nice Here” has some pretty good hits, and a few glaring misses. I’ll start with the hits, however, as there were definitely things that worked really well. We have ourselves a mystery at hand. Our narrator, Amb, has done her best to leave her college days behind and forget about them. She has a kind husband, lives in New York, and has cultivated a scandal free life. But when her college reunion looms, she starts getting strange messages from an anonymous person saying that they need to ‘talk about what they did that night’. The story is Amb going back to the school to find out who is sending the messages, and we as the readers slowly get to find out what it is she did, through flashbacks and the present day reunion weekend. It’s a device that we’ve seen before, but it works well here as Flynn carefully peels back the layers of Amb’s freshman year, and her relationships. Specifically those she had with her then best friend Sully, the resident mean girl, and Flora, Amb’s sweet and well loved roommate. I will say that what we find out is pretty damn upsetting, with mean girl bullshit spiraling out of control, jealousy and pettiness getting the best of people, and the entitlement thinking one deserves more than they have leading to very bad things. I’m being vague deliberately, because the plot itself is well done. When I thought a character couldn’t stoop lower, she did. When I thought that a twist was one thing, it ended up being something else. A couple reveals felt a bit convenient, but ultimately I was enjoying the ride enough that it didn’t put me too off.

What didn’t work as well for me were the characterizations of the various players in our toxic soup of a story. I definitely understand having garbage people being at the forefront in a story like this, and I don’t have a problem with following an unreliable narrator who is also an unlikable and nasty person. But I think that if you are going to do that, I would like a little bit of exploration as to what it is that makes them that way, or at least make them wickedly entertaining in their nastiness. With Amb, we get a lot of telling that she is insecure, that she is jealous of Flora and how easy it is for ‘girls like her’, but there wasn’t really much in Amb’s background that we see that made me fully see the complexities that go with this kind of dangerous coveting and jealousy that leads to very bad things. Sully, too, is just nasty with no reason or exploration into her nastiness. We just see she’s horrible and that’s all we get from her, and she isn’t interesting enough to even make it fun to hate her. Perhaps one would think that Flora may get a bit of depth here, given that she is the one who is hurt the most by Amb and Sully, but no. Flora is your two dimensional really nice girl that is there to be a martyr. Even when she talks with Amb or other characters talk about her with Amb in the past and the present, all we know about Flora is SUPER sweet which, sure, makes your blood boil when Amb and Sully treat her like crap. But that only gets me so far.

So while the plot was engrossing and had some genuine tricks up its sleeves, “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” was a fairly run of the mill thriller about women behaving badly. It gets the job done, but it probably could have done more.

Rating 6: A twisty thriller with some fun surprises, “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” will keep you guessing, but doesn’t have anyone to root for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girls Are All So Nice Here” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2021”.

Find “The Girls Are All So Nice Here” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Smoke Bitten”

Book: “Smoke Bitten” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: I am Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman. My only “superpowers” are that I turn into a thirty-five pound coyote and fix Volkswagens. But I have friends in odd places and a pack of werewolves at my back. It looks like I’m going to need them.

Centuries ago, the fae dwelt in Underhill–until she locked her doors against them. They left behind their great castles and troves of magical artifacts. They abandoned their prisoners and their pets. Without the fae to mind them, those creatures who remained behind roamed freely through Underhill wreaking havoc. Only the deadliest survived.

Now one of those prisoners has escaped. It can look like anyone, any creature it chooses. But if it bites you, it controls you. It lives for chaos and destruction. It can make you do anything–even kill the person you love the most. Now it is here, in the Tri-Cities. In my territory.

It won’t, can’t, remain.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

Previously Reviewed:“Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” and “Fire Touched” and“Silence Fallen” and “Storm Cursed”

Review: This series has probably been the longest-running Urban Fantasy series I’ve read. With a series that has run for so long and includes so many books, it’s assumed that there will be highs and lows. There was a period a few books back that had me worried, with several underwhelming entries in a row. But the last one was super dark and very good, so it was with a refreshed interest in the series that I picked up this latest book. And while it wasn’t my favorite, it at least didn’t backslide into the low points that had come before.

All is not well for Mercy Thompson. Her husband, Adam, has been withdrawing from her for the last few months, clamming up when asked and shutting down the magical bond between them. On top of this, another werewolf pack is attempting to move in on their territory and the magical creator Underhill has created a doorway to her realm in Mercy’s backyard. And a door goes both ways, letting thins in…and out. Not a powerful magical creature is on the loose, taking over people and making them murder to fuel its terrible power. But so is the life of one Mercy Thompson: full of madness and danger. Will she, Adam, and their pack be able to tackle this most recent threat?

This book was kind of hit and miss. There were several things I really liked about it, and then some that I didn’t care for as much. For the positives, I like that we’re back to the trend of having Mercy as our one and only narrator. Some of the weaker installments were the ones that deviated from her and included POV chapters from Adam. He’s great as a romantic interest, hero type. But it was pretty boring being in his head. Mercy’s voice remains strong and compelling, lending needed animation to even the less exciting mysteries and villains.

I also really liked the action in this book. The fight scenes were fast and thrilling, and the aspects of the fight that existed on a more magical element were also interesting. I liked the increased exploration of how the pack’s bonds and Mercy and Adam’s bond work and affect each other. Mercy’s own background and heritage adds an extra level of interest into how she deals with magical threats and powers. There was also the return of a fairly beloved element of her magic, which was fun to see.

I also liked the story regarding Adam and the reasons behind why he was pulling away from Mercy. At first I was concerned that it was going to be some sort of silly melodrama, especially with the return of his ex-wife’s meddling early in the book. But luckily it went a different route and even tied back to some of the challenges that we know Adam has faced throughout his long life. There was also an unexpected sense of real danger to this particular problem. If anything, it was almost the bigger threat than the actual villain of the story.

And that I didn’t love as much: the main villain and the threat he/she/it presents. For one thing, I was able to very quickly guess who/what they were dealing with, which just made the delay for the final reveal to read as boring at best and frustrating at worst. It’s implied that Mercy figures it out around the time that I did, so at least it doesn’t dumb her down in the process. But I still felt like the build-up itself didn’t work and the story would have done better without it. A few more jokes and references would have been way more fun than the false tension.

There were also a few story elements and subplots that I didn’t think were needed. The book wasn’t super long, so maybe these were used just to pad out the wordcount. But I think that speaks to problems with the main plot that needed to be tweaked anyways. Not only did these subplots not add anything to the overall story, but they drained out some of the tension when they popped up again here and there throughout the story.

That said, I still enjoyed this book overall. It could be a bit slower than I’d prefer at times, but I still found the characters compelling, especially the evolving relationship between Adam and Mercy. Fans of the series will likely be pleased with this installment.

Rating 8: Not as good as the one that came before it, but still much better than the low-points of the series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Smoke Bitten” isn’t on too many Goodreads lists, but it is on I checked it out of the library!

Find “Smoke Bitten” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York”

Book: “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” by Elon Green

Publishing Info: Celadon Books, March 2021

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

Book Description: The gripping true story, told here for the first time, of the Last Call Killer and the gay community of New York City that he preyed upon.

The Townhouse Bar, midtown, July 1992: The piano player seems to know every song ever written, the crowd belts out the lyrics to their favorites, and a man standing nearby is drinking a Scotch and water. The man strikes the piano player as forgettable. He looks bland and inconspicuous. Not at all what you think a serial killer looks like. But that’s what he is, and tonight, he has his sights set on a gray haired man. He will not be his first victim. Nor will he be his last.

The Last Call Killer preyed upon gay men in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s and had all the hallmarks of the most notorious serial killers. Yet because of the sexuality of his victims, the skyhigh murder rates, and the AIDS epidemic, his murders have been almost entirely forgotten. This gripping true-crime narrative tells the story of the Last Call Killer and the decades-long chase to find him. And at the same time, it paints a portrait of his victims and a vibrant community navigating threat and resilience.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

As someone who has had a deep fascination with psychopaths and serial killers since she was a kid, it sometimes takes some digging for me to be completely caught off guard by a story that I’ve never heard of. But the sad truth is that in the cases I’ve never heard of it, a lot of the time is because of the fact that the victims fall into the ‘less dead’ category (aka marginalized groups, such as POC, drug addicts, sex workers, LGBTQIA, etc) and because of that, it’s not as publicized. This is basically what I ran into when I learned about “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” by Elon Green. My initial though was ‘why haven’t I heard of this?’, and then I realized that if a serial killer was preying on the gay community in 1990s New York City, it was going to get muffled for a myriad of reasons. So I decided I needed to read it.

“Last Call” is about Richard Rogers, aka the Last Call Killer, a man who murdered gay men after interacting with them at a piano bar in New York City in the early 1990s. This time period was tumultuous for the LBGTQIA community, as violence, HIV/AIDS, and prejudice were constant threats to a group whose safety wasn’t really a high priority for law enforcement officials. Green does a really good job of capturing an contextualizing the time period and the place, breathing life into a New York City that has been transformed from that time, though for both better and worse depending on what angles you decide to approach it by. The socio-political context is incredibly important to this story; there was still a lot of fear and stigma around gay men because of misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, as well as their sexuality, so for gay men to be targeted in this way wasn’t exactly focused on or considered a priority. While some detectives were dogged in their investigations, you get the overall sense that there wasn’t much urgency in spite of the fact dismembered bodies with similar M.O.s were being dumped like trash on the outskirts of the city. Green really sets all of this up well, and as he tracks the case as time goes on and explores how things began to change in the city, he shows how it all is connected. Throw in a lot of really helpful notes and research information at the end, and you have a well researched true crime story that’s brimming with historical context! Which I love.

But the other thing about this book that I really liked is that Green is very careful to shine a light on each of the victims that Rogers murdered. Given that true crime does have a problem with exploitation and salacious framing as it strives for ‘entertainment’, Green wants to be sure that each of the people who Rogers murdered has a voice and is depicted as more than a victim, especially given how forgotten this whole thing was. There are sections devoted to each victim’s background, from their childhood, to how they were faced with prejudice and turmoil because they were gay, to the friends that they made and the found families that the crafted while living in New York City. Along with this we see the resilience and determination of a community that is having to contend with so much strife and trauma. As if it wasn’t enough that prejudice and threats of general violence and an epidemic were threats that the LGBTQIA community was having to think about at the time, a serial killer that the police weren’t exactly gunning for was another horrible reality.

And Green is also very dogged in his investigation into Rogers as a person. Though Rogers didn’t cooperate with this book (and whatever, that’s fine, there’s no need to give the guy a platform), Green still does a deep dive into his life and psyche, building a compelling argument that there were undoubtedly more victims that we never heard about, even going further back into his history to reveal that there had been ANOTHER murder he had committed even before the Last Call murders (but the record was sealed due to various circumstances). It’s impressive and thorough journalism.

“Last Call” is bleak and sad, but it gives voice to horrible crimes that deserve to be remembered, for the sake of the victims. It’s a deep dive with a lot of notes, and while it’s a hard and tragic read, I think that true crime fans should make note to read it.

Rating 8: An impactful and haunting book about a forgotten killer and his forgotten victims, “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” shines a light on how some true crime stories are lost due to society’s prejudices.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” is included on the Goodreads list “Can’t Wait Nonfiction of 2021”, and would fit in on “Tales of New York City”.

Find “Last Call” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Book Club Review: “The Right Swipe”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Outside the Genre Box”, in which we each picked a book from a genre or format that we don’t usually read.

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

Book: “The Right Swipe” by Alisha Rai

Publishing Info: Avon, August 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: I own it.

Genre/Format: Romance

Book Description: Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:

– Nude pics are by invitation only

– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice

– Protect your heart

Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears. Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

Kate’s Thoughts

Though I tend to stick to a few genres that I tackle on this blog, in my overall reading habits I try to be varied and open minded when it comes to what book I decide to pick up. But like most people, I do have my blind spots in genres. My goal this year is to try and read more romance because of this. So the fates were lining up when I decided to take on the Outside the Genre Box book for February. After all, our book club meeting was going to be on Galentine’s Day, the day before Valentine’s Day. Obviously picking a romance was going to happen. I decided on “The Right Swipe” by Alisha Rai for a couple of reasons. 1) It had some good reviews and solid hype. 2) I saw that it had a diverse cast of characters, and 3) I’m not quite ready to jump into Regency era bodice rippers, so something contemporary felt just right.

And I really enjoyed “The Right Swipe”. I liked our main characters, Rhiannon and Samson, whose one night stand could have turned into something more, had Samson not ghosted on Rhiannon before their second date. It’s a pretty typical premise, and I was expecting it to be fairly obvious in execution of the plot (they meet again, it’s frosty at first, then it gets hot, then it gets cold, then it ends up okay in the end). But that may have just been my preconceived notions of the genre, because it didn’t go in ways that were expected for me. I liked both Rhiannon and Samson as characters, as they both had their flaws and their strengths, and all of that felt realistic. Their chemistry is palpable, and it’s very easy to root for them because they are both good people who clearly are right for each other. But you also understand why Rhiannon is reluctant to give him another chance with her past relationship traumas, and why Samson has his own insecurities and hurt from past experiences. They just click, but aren’t perfect, nor melodramatic.

But what really struck me was that Rai brings in some really relevant and meaty social issues into this story that both Rhiannon and Samson have to deal with. For Rhiannon, it’s the fact that she is a social media mogul on the rise, but has to work twice as hard and be twice and brilliant because she is a Black woman in a white dominated industry, and has an unearned difficult reputation because of a vindictive white man whom she used to be involved with. You see her drive and her hunger, as well as the emotional labor and pain that comes with the constant roadblocks because of her race and her gender. For Samson, his history of being a professional football player from a family of football greats is darkened by the very real issue of CTE. While he himself doesn’t have it, people he cared about suffered and deteriorated because of it, and while Rai doesn’t overtly call out the NFL for how it has ‘handled’ the issue, the commentary is very much there.

And yeah, it’s definitely steamy. It lives up to all my expectations of the genre in that regard, and that is a compliment to be sure.

I really liked “The Right Swipe”, and I am definitely going to continue on in Rai’s series. I’m expanding my literary horizons, people, and it feels good!

Kate’s Rating 8: A cute and steamy romance with some really good social commentary, “The Right Swipe” is a fun read, and a great place to begin if you want to check out the romance genre with little experience within it.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of Rhiannon and Samson’s relationship? Healthy? Unhealthy?
  2. What were your thoughts on Rhi’s personal rules for dating? Did you find the rules too stringent? Not stringent enough?
  3. Both Rhi and Samson have some pretty significant back stories. What did you think of them? Did you like one more than the other?
  4. What were your opinions on the CTE subplot? How aware were you of CTE before this book?
  5. Rhi has a number of roadblocks she has to deal with being a Black woman in the dating app industry. Did you think that Rai did a good job balancing these themes with the plot?
  6. This is the first in a series. Assuming the next books are going to follow side characters, whose story would you like to hear in the coming books?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Right Swipe” is included on the Goodreads lists “Radical Romance”, and “2019 Romance Books by Authors of Color”.

Find “The Right Swipe” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Red at the Bone” by Jacqueline Woodson

Monthly Marillier: “Child of the Prophecy”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Child of the Prophecy” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, June 2003

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Magic is fading… and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core.

The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them… as well as great sorrow.

It is up to Fainne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fainne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done.

Will Fainne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?

Review: Several years after the events in “Son of the Shadows,” we meet Fainne, the daughter of Niamh, Liadan’s lost sister. Growing up in practical isolation, and with the loss of her mother early in life and a reclusive father, Faine’s life has been one of quiet and seclusion. In many ways, Faine feels that she and her father aren’t simply hiding from his cruel, sorceress mother, Oonagh, but they are hiding from their own dark potential. But when the currents shift and Faine is forced out into the world and finds herself in her mother’s ancestral home of Sevenwaters, Faine must begin to make choices about her own future. Will she follow in her grandmother’s footsteps? Or will she choose a new way like her aunt and maternal grandmother before her?

By the time I got to this book, I’d actually read a few of Marillier’s other works. This was probably for the best as this is one of my less favorite of her books. It’s kind of surprising, because overall, I think her Sevenwaters series has been one of her biggest draws to her fantasy readership. But for me, something felt off about this book almost from the start. However, let’s talk about the things I liked, first off.

Marillier’s writing is almost freakish in its consistency. If you read a lot of her books, you’ll soon be able to immediately recognize her unique style of lyrical prose and straightforward storytelling. There’s a sense of wonder and comfort in much of her work, even as she touches on some dark topics. Every word feels delicate and intentional. There’s no denying the craftmanship of her work, and that was all on display here, especially when working with a character like Faine who is very different than the leading ladies who came before her.

I also liked seeing some familiar faces again. I, of course, really enjoyed Liadan and Bran’s story, so it was great seeing them again. It was also interesting to see side characters who had grown into roles they had just begun in “Son of the Shadows.” Sean, for example, has now been leader of Sevenwaters for over a decade. We also see Aisling, his wife, in her role as the lady of Sevenwaters. And, most jarring but also best of all, we get to see a grown Johnny balancing his role as heir to Sevenwaters and presumed fulfiller of the much-debated prophesy that has sat at the heart of the story from the start.

The problem with all of this, however, is that these side characters, both the very familiar, like Liadan and Bran, and the less so, like Johnny, are more intriguing than Faine. Much of Marillier’s work lives and dies on the strength of her characters. Most of her books are slow on the action and heavy on the introspection. So that main character has a lot of heavy lifting to do. And unfortunately, Faine just isn’t up to it. To some extent, I appreciate the challenges that Faine represents. Liadan and Sorcha were almost perfect women, so it’s refreshing to see Marillier tackling a heroine who faces challenges both physical and emotional. Faine walks with a limp, and due to her reclusive lifestyle, she struggles to form connections and maintain relationships. These parts of her character I thought were very well-drawn, and it was interesting watching her learn to piece together human interactions with people who are family in name only to her.

Unfortunately, her naivety turns into almost willful stupidity at points. Her concern of the darkness within her drives her actions past the point of reason. It’s hard to be sympathetic at points when events around her and those who would seek to use her are less than subtle. She does some pretty bad stuff for some pretty weak reasons. And much of her motivation seems weak and more told to the reader than shown in any way that would make it truly threatening feeling.

I also really disliked the romance. It’s not that it was bad, and the hero had his charming, appealing moments. But in comparison to the deep, well-drawn relationships that came in the books before, this one just feels shallow and uninteresting in comparison. I never felt any real chemistry between these characters, and there was very little tension in the proceedings. Some dramatic events happen towards the end, but even then, what should have been heavy hits felt fairly removed for me. I just didn’t care that much.

Of the original trilogy, this book is the weakest by far. It had a really interesting premise, featuring a character who has grown up more on the fringes of Sevenwaters and its stretching legacy, but several aspects of the book just felt a bit off. Faine wasn’t nearly as compelling as Sorcha and Liadan. And the romance felt stilted and thin. It’s still worth reading, however, if you’re a fan of the series as some pretty significant events occur and many of the mysteries laid down in the first two books are resolved. Events that occur here will also be referred to loosely in the second trilogy in the series.

Rating 6: Underwhelming after the flashes of mastery that were the first two books in the trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Child of the Prophecy” is on these Goodreads lists: Great Celtic Fiction and Myth and Folktale Retellings.

Find “Child of the Prophecy” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.7): Brief Lives”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol.7): Brief Lives” by Neil Gaiman, Jill Thompson (Ill.), & Vince Locke (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Dream’s youngest sister, the loopy Delirium, convinces him to go on a quest for their missing brother, Destruction. But Dream may learn that the cost of finding his prodigal sibling is more than he can bear.

Review: This was the storyline in “Sandman” that I was most looking forward to revisiting. My love for Morpheus’s younger sister Delirium knows no bounds, and I remembered that the story that has so much to do with her was the one that touched me the most on my first read through of this series. Her childlike innocence and whimsy, which is also steeped in the darkness of her past, has always been so utterly charming and lovely, and “Brief Lives” puts her at the forefront as she gets in her mind the idea of finding the long lost Endless Sibling, Destruction. When both Desire and Despair say no, she turns to Dream, who is mourning the end of a romantic relationship and decides to go. What comes next is a story that sets the wheels in motion for where this series eventually ends. As well as a road trip tale between the unlikeliest of companions, Delirium and Dream. And I LOVE a good road trip.

Someday we will road trip again! (source)

I, of course, loved “Brief Lives” thanks mostly to Delirium, whose character and design is just a joy as well as a little sad. She is very clearly not in her right mind, gravitating towards those who are in the same boat, so seeing her and the stoic and matter of fact Dream is both quite amusing and bittersweet. It is interesting, however, that she is the Endless that is so determined to find Destruction, who left the family and disappeared three hundred years previously. We see flashbacks of Destruction interacting with some of his siblings, as well as the moment that he decided to go, foreseeing that the Age of Enlightenment and a move towards reason across humanity would bring forth things that would almost make him a bit pointless. Delirium is the perfect sibling to want to find him, as one must only seek Destruction if they were in a similar place as she is. I hesitate to say ‘crazy’. It’s far more complex than that. We get some great moments of humor with her and Dream on this trip, as her driving a car or interacting with nonplussed humans is really great fun.

We also get to see that she didn’t start as Delirium, but as Delight, and that the change she went through was in part thanks to Destruction. This change or multi faceted characterization is a HUGE theme in this tale, especially for the dysfunctional siblings; Destruction talks about how the Endless are two sided coins and aren’t just one thing, but also the inversion of that thing. Delirium is insane, but also one of the most clear headed of her siblings. Death brings, well, Death, but is also the kindest. Desire is both filled with want, but also incredibly vicious. And so forth. I loved seeing these concepts explored as Dream and Delirium go on their journey, inadvertently causing destruction on their quest to find Destruction. This is probably the arc in which we get to see the intricate relationships between The Endless, who are both otherworldly beings with scope and metaphysical attributes that tie into humanity, but also a dysfunctional family group with shifting alliances, petty grievances, and old hurts that siblings know far too well.

And finally, we do get a final visit to the relationship between Morpheus and his son Orpheus, who, cursed with immortality, is just a head being cared for by a family on an island off of Greece. As we saw in “Fables and Reflections”, Orpheus begged his father to kill him, as he is really the only one that can grant him that wish, and Dream turned his back on his son. Now Morpheus has to confront that decision, and to face the child that he abandoned for reasons that Orpheus does not understand. I don’t really want to spoil how this all plays out, but it’s significant and sets the course for what is going to happen next in the series. Also, it made me weep.

And finally, once again, the artwork is lovely. I haven’t gushed enough about Delirium’s design, which is excellent and cheerful and creepy at once. But there was one particular panel that really stuck out to me near the end that just sums up the vast, ever-changing realities of The Endless and their worlds.

Source: Vertigo

“Brief Lives” is a significant story arc and is still my favorite thus far. It really captures the philosophy, the humor, the pathos, and the wonder of the entire series.

Rating 10: A lovely story arc about family, grief, and change, “The Sandman: Brief Lives” is my favorite tale in the series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.7): Brief Lives” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mythic Fiction Comics”, and “Death Gods and Reaper Protagonists”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.7): Brief Lives” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

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