Kate’s Review: “Fellside”

26030697Book: “Fellside” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Will she listen?

Review: My husband and I would consider ourselves ‘casual’ fans of the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black”. Casual in that we like it, but we never actually finished season 3 but will probably just dive headfirst into season 4. I’m a big enough fan that when I read about “Fellside” for the first time, my thought was ‘Oh wow, it’s like OITNB but it’s like a haunted prison or something!’ I will be the first person to admit that I wasn’t terribly impressed by M.R. Carey’s other novel, “The Girl With All The Gifts”, but given that I love me a good ghost story and the women’s prison setting sounded intriguing, I knew that “Fellside” was going to be on my list of must reads. There are a lot of things you can do with a prison setting in terms of storytelling, and I was hoping that it would be ripe with possibilities in this book. I wasn’t completely wrong, but I also found myself sort of falling into the same trap as I did with “The Girl With All The Gifts”.

I want to give a little more background to this story than the Goodreads description did. Jess Moulson is a heroin addict who has been sent to Fellside Prison because she was convicted of starting a fire that killed a little boy named Alex. While in Fellside, she starts hearing the voice of a little boy who says he is Alex. She wants to atone for what she thinks she did, but then starts to find out that maybe it wasn’t her who was responsible for Alex’s death. Meanwhile, the prison system around her is festering with corruption, and a fellow inmate named Grace is basically running the joint through intimidation and violence. So you not only get a sad and gothic ghost story, you also get the thrills and fears of a prison drama. And I really do mean gothic. One of the things that I really liked about “Fellside” is that it does ready like a gothic novel, with a protagonist who is in an isolated setting in a large new environment (which is located on the goddamn moors for crying out loud), who may or may not be haunted. In terms of giving a new twist to a gothic tale, I think that Carey did a fabulous job. I also did like the prison setting for the most part, as it gave opportunities for a lot of very disturbing, and pretty darn political, truths about prison life. The violence inside, the way that the justice system fails some people who have no business being in such a place (there is one character named Naz who was a victim of human trafficking but ended up inside because she was basically seen as more a perp than a victim, and her story ends VERY tragically), and the way that those in power don’t care or purposely abuse their power are just a few of the themes that this book touched upon.

I think that one of the problems I had with this book was that some of those side stories didn’t do much for me as a whole. I wasn’t as invested in reading about how the warden was blackmailing the prison doctor into doing his bidding. I didn’t really care about the nurse who hates Jess for being a supposed child killer and yet has to care for her as dictated by her profession. I also didn’t understand the point of having one of Jess’ lawyers be in love (but more likely savior complex lust) with her, as I think that even without his romantic attachment to her he could have wanted to help his client. I thought that some of the supernatural systems, like Alex showing Jess how to leave her body and walk through other people’s minds and dream-scapes, weren’t as intriguing as I had hoped they would be. I think that had it been limited to Alex being able to do that instead of giving Jess that ability too, I would have been more okay with it, but as it was I just found that aspect to be the weakest of the ghost storyline.

For the most part I enjoyed my experience reading “Fellside”, as it did creep me out and it did surprise me. I liked it more that “The Girl With All the Gifts”, and it has convinced me to keep picking up books by Carey when they come out. I wonder if “Orange is the New Black” would consider ever adding a supernatural storyline. I mean, obviously not, but if they DID, they should look at “Fellside” for a good how-to guide.

Rating 7: A spooky read with some very political and important themes, but some of the side stories and mythology left me feeling a bit cold.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fellside” is included on these Goodreads lists: “2016 Horror Novels”, and “Upcoming Books of Note: Horror”.

Find “Fellside” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The Last Mortal Bond”

The Last Mortal Bond Book: “The Last Mortal Bond” by Brian Staveley

Publishing Info: Tor, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all–Valyn, Adare, and Kaden–come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

Spoilers for the first two books in the series.

Review: As I said in my review of the previous books (see end of post for links), Staveley went to great lengths to create a tangled mess of misunderstanding, dueling motivations, and confusion with his first two books. And my question was simple: how? How was he going to resolve all of these dangling threads in a way that stayed true to what has been a compellingly honest, complicated but realistic story up to this point? My doubts have been rested, and sign me up for the Brian Staveley fan club. “The Last Mortal Bond” exemplifies nailing the landing in epic fantasy, by no means an easy feat.

Continuing my pattern from my review of the first two books, it is easiest to review this book by checking in with our main characters, the royal siblings, Adare, Valyn, and Kaden and Kettral leader, Gwenna.

Let’s start with Gwenna, shall we? I love Gwenna. She only had a few chapters in the last book, and there at first it felt a little strange to be in the head of a seemingly random second tier character. She still plays the same role in the narrative, as a character with an exciting, but largely insular, story arc. Between all the politics, magic, secrecy, and anger going on between the royal siblings, Gwenna’s chapters were a breath of fresh air. A problem was presented, the downfall of the Kettral training islands, and Gwenna and her team were deployed to solve it. I really enjoyed returning to this aspect of the story. In the first book, when Valyn was still in training, we learned a lot about the Kettral and the role they play in the Empire. However, in the second book, they and their giant falcons, were largely absent. It was thrilling to return to the islands, especially as seen through the eyes of Gwenna, a warrior who did not grow up with any expectations of leadership, but has had it thrust upon her and is more than capable of rising to the occasion. And the giant falcons were back. Always a plus.

It’s interesting how Staveley has set up different levels of stakes for his three main characters. Kaden’s story has been one with the highest level of stakes (the war to save humanity), Adare’s has been on the second level (the war to save Annur), and Valyn’s on the most insular level (the war to avenge himself and his family).

Kaden’s story continues to be the one that I have had the hardest time predicting. While throughout the story Adare has been focused on the greater good of the Empire, and Valyn has had a tendency to get caught up in the inner dynamics of whatever group he is in in the moment, Kaden has floated along the periphery, gathering knowledge and making unexpected decisions. For example, his decision to suddenly turn the Empire of Annur into a Republic in the last book. What a huge thing to decide, and so suddenly! I appreciate that Staveley didn’t try and make any political commentary here, which I was concerned with at first. This isn’t our world, and it becomes clear pretty early on in this book that while Kaden might have started from a very idealistic place, the powerful lords and ladies of Annur are not ready for the responsibility of truly ruling, instead focusing on power grabs and becoming mired in debate. So, too, in this book, Kaden’s journey is unexpected. Allying with Triste, who is understandably bitter and resentful of the role she has been thrust in, Kaden makes a desperate journey across the Empire in an effort to both contain the Gods who are walking the earth and also save them from the csestriim out to kill them, and thus, cripple humanity.

Adare remains my favorite character. As before, her practicality, ability to face tough choices, and general pizazz in face of it all, makes her a blast. Kaden could be frustrating with his idealism (come on, we all knew that handing over power to bunch of whining aristocrats was never going to be a good idea) and Valyn could get too caught up in his missions to take a step back and realize the larger implications of his decisions. And it makes sense that it would be this way. Valyn and Kaden grew up largely disconnected from the Empire. Adare, on the other hand, grew up at the foot of her father, by all accounts an incredibly successful ruler. But Adare’s failings are not swept away either. Her misjudgements come to bite her in the butt big time, specifically her choice to save the csestriim general il Tornja by stabbing Valyn.

Valyn’s story was a stumbling block for me, this time around. He started as my favorite character in book one, was still highly entertaining in book two, but then seems to have taken an abrupt change of course in this book. I understand that his wounds were detrimental at the end of the last book, but his decision to isolate himself from his remaining Kettral Wing friends and sink into darkness came a bit out of left field. The reader is constantly told how dark, gritty, and angsty he has become, but it feels unearned. Out of the three siblings, Valyn was the one trained to believe in teamwork and reliance on others, so for him to be the one to sink so quickly into despair and reject human connection felt out of place. He suffers the most physically, it is true. But what has been the strength of the series, its ability to highlight the impossible choices they all have made, makes Valyn’s descent into self-loathing less palatable when compared to the other characters who are facing their own challenges, rather than running away and hiding. I felt myself often growing frustrated with him and wishing that the Flea would show up to slap some sense into him.

“The Last Mortal Bond” does an incredible job of wrapping up this series. I highly recommend it, and the whole “Unhewn Throne” series, to any reader who enjoys epic fantasy. Especially those looking for a series that wraps up nicely in only three books, which is practically unheard of at this point and is frankly a relief!

Rating 8: Great conclusion to a great trilogy! There were a few stumbling blocks, particularly Valyn’s odd character decisions, but other than that, I love it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Mortal Bond” is very new so is on very few lists. As I particularly highlighted my love of it as the conclusion to a series, it is included in this Goodreads list: “End of Series in 2016”

Find “The Last Mortal Bond” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “The Empire’s Blades” and “The Providence of Fire.”

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre”

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Book: “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” by Gail Simone, John Ostrander, Jim Califiore (Ill.), Peter Nguyen (Ill.), and Doug Hazlewood (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, December 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: John Ostrander, the co-creator of the SUICIDE SQUAD, teams with fan-favorite writer Gail Simone for this epic team-up between the SECRET SIX and the SUICIDE SQUAD. Amanda Waller and her Suicide Squad capture Deadshot to try to force him to rejoin their ranks, but his current teammates in the Secret Six don’t see that happening any time soon. As the two groups begin to go toe-to-toe, the Black Lanterns show up and force the teams to join forces and put aside their differences in order to defeat the heroes and villains that have risen from the dead.

Review: One of my bigger apprehensions about getting into a long series or comic arc is that the story lines will start to lose their sustainability. Sadly, this has started to happen for me and the Secret Six. The good news is that it is still a very strong comic, and I’m hoping that it just had a little hiccup. But I want to talk positives first. It was really neat to see Amanda Waller show up in this arc. For those who may not know (but many of you may know by summer’s end), Amanda Waller is a decidedly shaded grey character from the DC universe who is also in charge of The Suicide Squad. Since Deadshot has done time with them as well, she comes into the storyline in hopes of poaching him back. Of course, his current teammates have opinions on this, and they are not going to let him go without a fight (even if there is some infighting going on amongst the Six as well, what with Bane the self appointed new leader and replacing Scandal with Black Alice).

While it was fun seeing a cameo from The Suicide Squad (specifically Waller, a badass boss who knows what she wants and is super awesome), there was another cameo of sorts that, when combined with the OTHER cameo, made this story less about the Six and more about the DC Universe as a whole at the time of it’s writing. That is The Blackest Night arc, in which Black Lanterns (not Green nor Red) arrive on the scene and start resurrecting the dead, a huge problem when faced with a bunch of dead antagonists. I know this was one of those large spanning plots that DC likes to do from time to time, but seeing as I am not familiar with Green Lantern and his mythos, nor have I read Blackest Night in any form, I found myself more irritated that Secret Six got pulled into this whole thing than excited about the crossover. Maybe if I knew more about the Black Lanterns things would be different. But I’m not convinced.

I am also very done with the unnecessary drama of betrayal and mistrust. Can we go one arc without The Six having issues with each other in one form or another? I am legitimately frustrated that Bane and Scandal are on the outs as of now, because I just want this group to have a good dynamic. I do believe that villains can, in fact, have good partnerships, and if they were able to have good partnerships it would make these already very interesting and rewarding characters all the more interesting and rewarding. Instead we get a group of people who, yes, thus far have come together in dark times and crisis. But I feel like it’s building up for a break in the team, and I don’t want that because 1) it’s kind of an obvious drama play, and 2) I just want them all happy and cooperative, okay? There also wasn’t really a funny little side moment in this one, as the standalone story was about Deadshot and how bitter he is. Not a lot of belly laughs in that one, guys. And that was a serious detriment to the collection. I’m hoping that isn’t a sign of what is to come in the last three volumes…

I remain mostly optimistic about the Six, as we are getting back to the base plot and we may be seeing more of Amanda Waller along with our misfits. As of this writing I am still waiting for Volume 4 from the library, so there may be a gap before I can continue the adventures. Here’s hoping for more Jeanette, more Catman, and more unity!

Rating 6: While there is still strength and creativity, sidetracks to Blackest Night and some repetitive storytelling made this the weakest volume in the series thus far.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Graphic Novels for Adults and Young Adults” and “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”

Find “Secret Six (Vol. 3): Danse Macabre” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”

Joint Review: Our Favorite Movie Adaptations!

Happy Monday, everyone! As summer looms ever nearer, the movie season is charging forward. A number of the movies that are out or coming out have their origins in books, and because of this we thought that it would be fun to talk about our favorite movie adaptations of books. Be it because the adaptation was truthful, captured the spirit, or outdid the book altogether. So without further ado, here are our top five favorite book to movie adaptations!

Kate’s Picks:

5. Jaws (1975)

I’ll be frank. The book “Jaws” isn’t very good. But that is why the movie is so fabulous. Spielberg took some so-so source material and turned it into a taut and scary suspense film with some really great performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, who blows the film out of the water with the amazing U.S.S. Indianapolis Speech.

4. The Silence of The Lambs (1991)

“The Silence of the Lambs” is easily one of my very favorite thrillers of all time. The movie adaptation brings the story to life, and I would argue even improves upon it much like “Jaws” did. You are so invested in Clarice Starling’s journey, played to a T by Jodie Foster, and you can’t help be repulsed yet mesmerized by Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. And Ted Levine is extremely underrated as the twisted Buffalo Bill. A great film from a great book.

3. Carrie (1976)

“Carrie” gave this social pariah a fun revenge fantasy to indulge in when she was in middle school, though I didn’t see the dePalma movie until high school. While I feel that the newest remake captures more of the essence of the book, Sissy Spacek is the perfect Carrie White, both a victim and then (arguably) a monster. I mean, who hasn’t seen or heard of the notorious prom scene where Carrie gets her revenge on Chamberlain High? Team Carrie, though. Forever.

2. The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003)

Maybe I’m cheating, but I am putting all three “Lord of the Rings” films into this because, let’s be real. “The Lord of the Rings” is a huge epic, and is meant to be one story. Peter Jackson undertook a daunting task with a beloved fantasy, arguably the greatest high fantasy epic of all time, and made it into a fabulous film series. From the casting to the music to the special effects and plotting (Gollum in particular being incredibly revolutionary and tragically fleshed out), everything was done with care. “The Lord of the Rings” is my favorite book of all time, and I was pleased with what he did with it (Arwen stuff aside).

1). Clueless (1995)

“Clueless” is one of my all-time favorite movies, and believe it or not it is based on one of Jane Austen’s books, “Emma.” And even though it takes place in 1990s Beverly Hills as opposed to Regency Era English countryside, “Clueless” is considered to be at its heart the most faithful adaptation of the novel. Cher Horowitz is a three dimensional heroine who you want to root for, and she is so very Emma even if her concerns are less about English manners and society and more about high school, popularity, and her frustrating step brother Josh. Easily my favorite movie adaptation of a book, even if it isn’t all that conventional.

Serena’s Picks:

5.) Life of Pi (2012)

Kate mentioned “Life of Pi” in our movie review of “The Jungle Book”, but it has to be included in this list, too. This book was said to be “unfilmable” for years, and I can understand why. In the hands of the wrong director, the beautiful inner journey and poignancy of the narrative could have been lost in place of a cheesy, shipwreck movie with a tiger for added flare. Ang Lee not only captures the tonal resonance of the book, but his film is absolutely gorgeous.The isolation, beauty, and drama of the story is perfectly captured while also retaining the deeper messages about life and faith from the book.

4.) Contact (1997)

Jodie Foster’s second appearance on this list! Apparently she knows how to pick her book/film adaptations! I read this book in highschool, after having already seen the movie, one of the few times I’ve read/watched in this order as I make it a general rule to try and read most books before their movie adaptations. But in this case, the order worked fine! While there are some changes between the book and the movie, additional characters and such, the tone of the book is captured perfectly in the movie. Again, an impressive feat considering that the more subtle aspects of discovery and humanity could have been easily lost in translation.

3.) The Princess Bride (1987)

Ah, “The Princess Bride,” my first love. My younger sister and I would watch this movie obsessively. It wasn’t until several years later that I even realized there was a book! What an exciting discovery! And then to find that it was even more hilarious and awesome than the movie. The fact that I had Cary Elwes as a mental image for Wesley already just helped matters. Much of the success in translation comes down to the fact that the author, William Goldman, also wrote the screenplay for the movie. So while the story is shortened and adjusted for film, the parody, tone, and witty dialogue match exactly.

2.) Jurassic Park (1993)

Like almost every kid, I had a dinosaur phase, and the fact that “Jurassic Park” sat firmly in the adult section at the library did nothing to dissuade me. I’ve re-read it since, which is good since most of the science went completely over my head as a kid, and it’s still a fun adventure. However, this is one where I would say the movie is even stronger. The book is much more interested in the science and technology of the park, and the characters, while interesting, were a bit flat. It’s the perfect structure for a movie,however, and it’s easy to see how the film was built upon this strong foundation. But with a re-focus on action and markedly more fleshed central characters, the movie surpasses the book and is one of my all time favorites to this day.

1.) Pride and Prejudice (1995)

I think it should be noted that both Kate and I listed a Jane Austen adaptation as our number one pick completely independent of each other. But really, is anyone surprised? Jane Austen is my hero. Also, this could be considered a bit of a cheat since the BBC version is a 6 hour miniseries rather than a true film adaptation. But if Kate got “Lord of the Rings,” I get this. So, given its length, this film basically is the book on screen. Much of the dialogue is directly lifted, almost all of the significant scenes and characters are included, and other than rushing the ending a bit, in my opinion, it is practically perfect in every way. Colin Firth is universally acknowledge as the definitive Mr. Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle should not be forgotten as my hands down favorite onscreen version of Elizabeth Bennett. She captures Lizzie’s spunk and wit, without losing the propriety and grace of the character (something that Kiera Knightly’s take completely lacked, in my opinion, and a balance the character needs to truly represent Lizzie as a woman worthy of admiration and esteem in her era).

So, there you have it! What are your favorite film adaptations based on books?

Serena’s Review: “Doomsday Book”

Doomsday Book Book: “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis

Publishing Info: Bantam Spectra, July 1992

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

Book Description from Goodreads: For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.

Review: This book has been on my list for a long time. Connie Willis is regularly mentioned as one of the top women authors for science fiction, and “Doomsday Book” shows up on lots of “must-read” lists. So, when I spotted it as available when browsing my way through the library’s audiobooks a couple of weeks ago, it was as if the stars had aligned and it was finally, finally time for me to get to this one. And for the most part, it was ok? Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to all of my expectations.

For one, the story is told with alternating perspectives between Kivrin in the Middle Ages and her mentor, Dunworthy, in Oxford in 2054. My usual problem with this storytelling method was highlighted again here. One story almost inevitably is much stronger and more interesting than the other. While Dunworthy learns very quickly that something (he doesn’t know what) has gone wrong with Kivrin’s trip to the past and works to find answers while also handling a sudden mysterious disease crippling the city, there’s just no way for him to compete with Kivrin’s story, stranded in the past, with her carefully laid plans crumbling around her.

So, too, there were aspects of Dunworthy’s story that were incredibly frustrating as a reader. It’s hard to know whether, as a longtime reader of sci-fi/fantasy, I’m more familiar with the trail of clues laid out in these types of stories and can anticipate the final destination from long practice, or whether these clues have simply become more standard in the genre all together in the 20 plus years since this book was initially published. Either way, Dunworthy’s progress learning what had happened to Kivrin was so drawn out. At certain points in the story, the character would outright ask another character a basic question and then, bizarrely, the other character would change the subject or, what, pretend not to have heard him? It started to feel really contrived, and by about two thirds of the way through the book when he was still struggling to get basic answers to simple questions, I started doubting my ability to finish all together.

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Only, it was an audiobook, so there was no flipping, just sad, sad listening.

Unfortunately, this forced confusion carried over to Kivrin’s narrative as well. While the a large part of the story revolves around the incompetence of the current director who even allowed Kivrin’s trip to the Middle Ages (an era of time that had previously been rated a “10” on the “too dangerous to travel to” scale), Kivrin herself would at times come across as equally incompetent. I have to imagine that this was not intended.

Things go wrong for Kivrin from the beginning, and it becomes clear why time travel to this era was going to be a bad idea for a young woman traveling alone. Beyond the obvious factors, things that Dunworthy pointed out from the beginning in his effort to stop her from going, the fact that a woman in this time period has almost zero agency seems to be an obvious reason to avoid this. If everything had gone right, how was Kivrin, a young, unmarried woman, supposed escape the household she was in? Women didn’t go anywhere by themselves, let alone walk miles into the wilderness along strange roads! Kivrin’s struggles in this area seemed easy to anticipate. The book even discussed two-person drops in time, and I never felt like there was an adequate explanation for why things moved forward as they did. Like I said, a lot revolves around the new director being an idiot. But for something as important as time travel, it was a bit hard to swallow that a disaster like this could so easily happen due to one man’s ego and ignorance.

Here too, Kivrin’s confusion and inability to catch on to simple clues didn’t feel right for a character who was presented as supremely thorough in her preparation for this trip. She seems genuinely confused at one point to discover that a 13 -year-old girl is engaged to  a much older man, after many, many clues to this have already been lain out. This kind of bizarre storytelling was very distracting. I feel like Willis was trying to build tension in these choices, but all it did was make me question the sanity of her characters and wish things would just start happening already.

That said, Kivrin’s story was still a very interesting read. I would recommend this book for fans of history, however, rather than sci-fi fans. Time travel aside, the majority of the story is an intricate look at life in the Middle Ages. This is where Willis shines. Not only did the characters feel exactly right, highlighting the various challenges of people’s different roles, but the small details of the challenges of every day things were touched upon in a way that felt incredibly natural. What could have come across as a history lesson, instead felt like catching a glimpse into a beautiful painting of a small slice of time. But this glimpse is entirely honest, and with that honesty comes a lot of tragedy. This book was very hard to read towards the end, but I appreciate that Willis didn’t shy away from the realities of the world she brought Kivrin into.

All in all, there were parts of “Doomsday Book” that I really enjoyed, however, I also felt like the story could have used a heavy dosage of editing. It was’t a short story to begin with, and the continued delay of basic facts that readers could guess on their own, only made it feel longer. It was not a light read, but if you enjoy history and a richly detailed story, I would recommend “Doomsday Book.”

Rating 6: I enjoyed the historical aspects, but I also wanted to knock the characters’ heads together a few too many times to fully get behind it.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Doomsday Book” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Time Travel Fiction”  and “Books for a Pandemic.” 

Find “Doomsday Book” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

20821614Book: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler books, September 2014

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

Review: When I first picked this book up, I had an ‘uh oh’ moment. Having read “Perfect Days” fairly recently, I was worried that “You” was going to be so similar to that one that I wouldn’t be able to give it a fair shake. And on paper, they definitely sound like the same book; it’s from the perspective of an obsessed, sociopathic guy who is stalking an effervescent and flaky artist-type girl. But I am happy to report that the similarities end there, as while “Perfect Days” goes right into the kidnapping and torturing consequence of that, “You” is more about the stalking.

I’m not selling this book to a good chunk of people with my description, and that’s fine, because if you have a problem with reading a book that’s about themes like this, “You” isn’t for you.

One of the most striking things about “You” is that it is told in a strange first and second person perspective. Joe is the narrator, talking about his experience, but it’s as if he’s telling the story to Beck, the object of his obsession, and is addressing the reader as if he or she is Beck. So it’s always “You are”, or “You didn’t”, etcetera etcetera. I was worried that it was going to be awkward at best and unreadable at worst, but it actually worked very, very well.

This is going to sound strange, but I liked reading it from Joe’s perspective, mainly because I liked that we got to see just how disgustingly weird and threatening he is. Kepnes makes it very clear right out of the gate that this guy is a predator, and worse still he’s a predator who doesn’t know that he is one. In his mind he’s just a nice guy who has fallen in love with the perfect woman, and he will stop at nothing to be with her. I also appreciated that while Kepnes was definitely pointing out the mistakes that Beck made (after losing her phone she didn’t deactivate it, she has no security settings on her social media and talks about her life in full, among other things), at no point do you feel like she is being blamed for any of the under the surface victimization that is happening to her. It did, however, make me double check my privacy settings on my accounts and confirm that all of my devices are locked. It was very unnerving to watch how Joe tracked and stalked Beck, all the while inserting himself into her life and romancing her as well. You could see how, without seeing the dark and insidious side to how this relationship began, Beck would find him utterly charming, and also underestimate him. Scary, scary stuff.

While this book was mostly engrossing and totally thrilling, there were a couple of things that did come off as unrealistic, so unrealistic that I had trouble suspending my disbelief. My main beef is that Joe starts to go see Beck’s therapist, Dr. Nicki. Joe gives himself a fake name to do this, and as someone who has been in therapy before, I’m pretty sure that it’s not that easy to do that and get treatment. You’d think there’d be questions about health insurance, checking accounts, or why a person would be paying with flat out cash if the first two issues are to be circumnavigated. None of this, however, is ever addressed, and for whatever reason it just irritated me. Everything else was so meticulous when it came to how Joe achieves what he does, and this seemed more ‘because I said it worked’ than actually feasible. Which was too bad, because until then everything had be saying ‘yes of course this is how it would happen tell me more’.

Nit picking aside, I really enjoyed “You”, and I think that those thriller fans who think they can handle it ought to try it out. It had me in suspense and tied up in knots up until the end. It takes a lot of guts to tell a story from the perspective of a predatory character and make that character easy to read and interesting to read. I can’t say that I ‘liked’ Joe, per se, but I enjoyed experiencing his darkness. Make no mistake, he is pure darkness, but it’s a creepily entertaining darkness.

And, there is a sequel called “Hidden Bodies” that is currently on my nightstand, just waiting for me to start it. I’m not quite ready, but I know that I will be soon. I’m coming back for you, Joe Goldberg, you creepy and awful sonnuvabitch.

Rating 8: Incredibly dark and incredibly screwed up with a very strong voice and a very voyeuristic feel to it. I just wish that a few of the less realistic aspects hadn’t taken me out of the moment.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You” is included on in these Goodreads lists: “Dark and Deep Books”, and “Most Messed Up”.

Find “You” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Providence of Fire”

The Providence of Fire Book: “The Providence of Fire” by Brian Staveley

Publishing Info: Tor, January 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.

Having learned the identity of her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy.

Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire’s most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.

Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

Spoilers for the first book “The Emperor’s Blades”

Review: The second book in Staveley’s “Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne” series is like one of those scenes that starts zoomed in a on kid playing, and then zooms back and the kid is in large park, and then zooms back and the park is in a huge city, and so on and so forth. What I’m saying is that the world building goes from complex to wait…what now?? But Staveley’s control of his narrative, world, and characters never stumbles under this added mythology. If anything, the strength of this series only grows with the additional challenges and complications thrown in the mix.

What is the most impressive about this series is Staveley’s ability to handle his three main characters. Kaden, Valyn, and Adare have a more equal balance this time, as far as page time goes. Each is traveling such a distinctive path. Kaden’s is a cerebral journey pealing back the mysteries of the Shin, the portal-like doorways of the kenta, and the history between the Csestriam, the gods they sought to kill, and humanity caught within a struggle between power players completely out of their league. Valyn’s journey continues as the most straight forward. He is a man of action, and action itself becomes his motivation. While Kaden and Adare spend much of their time balancing the intricacies of the pieces on the world-sized board, Valyn sets a goal and moves towards it, even if reaching that goal means aligning with the Urghul, the savage enemies of his own Empire. Adare, the politician, is forced to re-evalutate her own role in this crumbling world. Betrayed by her own general, Adare is driven out of her city in desperate attempt to gain allies and a find new foothold to combat the roving Urghul armies heading her direction.

What is so amazing about this balance is also what is so frustrating. Kaden, Adare, and Valyn all are seeing limited parts of the story and reacting in ways that are consistent to their worldviews and preferred operating methods. But these choices and stories conflict, setting the three up against each other with misunderstanding and suspicion. While reading each chapter, I could completely understand and sympathize with each character’s decisions. But then once I switched to the next chapter it became clear that no, this other character had the right idea about things.

As the story progresses, each character made decisions that made me want to shake them. However, I see this as a strength of the story. Staveley’s characters are flawed and limited by the knowledge they have and their own personalities and tendencies that lead them towards one decision or another. It was perhaps more uncomfortable if only because I think many fantasy readers are accustomed to our heroes and heroines quickly evolving into specific tropes. Kaden should be all-wise, calm, and reasoned. Valyn should be completely heroic, using violence in only the most esteemable ways. And Adare should be clever, easily wrapping her foes around her finger and springing elaborate traps. When they fail to behave as we expect, it’s frustrating, uncomfortable, and frankly, awesome.

This book also made a lot of strides to improve upon the last as far as page time and use of its female characters. Adare is given an equal portion of the story; in fact, hers becomes my favorite of the three siblings. And a new character, Gwenna, a member of Valyn’s group of Kestrel fighters, gets her own sprinkling of chapters. This was particularly welcome. As I said, the three siblings become very caught up in the increasingly complicated web that is the Empire, and it was a relief to read chapters from the very straight-forward thinking Gwenna. She was brash, sympathetic, and highly entertaining. So, too, Triste’s role in the story is greatly increased.

And, as I mentioned, the amazing world building cannot be over emphasized. Most epic fantasy relies on a complex historical past for its world. In this book, it becomes more and more clear that this history is not as understood as it was thought to be. Not only that, but history is still unraveling even in the present. The Csestriam, the old gods, the new gods, the mad, power-hungry leaches of centuries past, the Atmani. They all weave in and out of the story in completely unexpected ways. By the end of the book, I was left questioning everything I thought I had understood from the first book.

All told, “The Providence of Fire” only improved on what was an amazing fantasy epic to begin with. The added complexity of the world and the characters left me constantly guessing and re-evaluating my opinions. While the previous book had slow sections, particularly in the beginning with Kaden’s chapters, this story moves at full throttle from beginning to end. “The Emperor’s Blades” laid out the threads of each storyline, and “The Providence of Fire” tangled them all up into such a mess that I have no idea how Staveley is going to wrap this all up. But I do know that I’m looking forward to finding out!

Rating 9: So good! So worried about what’s coming next!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Providence of Fire” is included in this Goodreads list: “Must Read Epic Fantasy.”

Find “The Providence of Fire” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Review of “The Emperor’s Blades”