Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “Senlin Ascends”

35271523Book: “Senlin Ascends” by Josiah Bancroft

Publishing Info: Orbit, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action. 

Review: I firstly want to thank Orbit publishing for sending me an ARC copy of “Senlin Ascends”!

For someone who used to work in a historic Victorian house in full Victorian maid’s uniform (and sometimes Victorian style undergarments), I’m surprisingly not in tune with steampunk literature. My only steps in the genre are Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” comic series, and the book “The Clockwork Scarab”. But when Orbit sent me “Senlin Ascends”, it became clear quite quickly that I was going to be jumping right into the deep end of a complex and steampunky world. I will admit that I was a bit overwhelmed at first as I got to know Thomas Senlin, cautious and meek school teacher, and his excursion into a technology ridden and complex Tower of Babel. But as I read on, I got into the groove.

The first thing that struck me was how intricate and creative this alternate world is that Josiah Bancroft has created. The Tower of Babel is an imposing structure from Biblical Mythology, and Bancroft transports it to a Victorian-esque time period in a world that is similar to our own, but not quite the same. The references to Victorian societal norms and fashions within a world of steam blimps and flying ships was very fun, as were the strange puzzles and conflicts within the Tower itself as Senlin moves his way through, hoping to find his lost wife, Myra. From drug dens to maniacal plays to space piracy, Bancroft puts Senlin in a world that he, and the reader, doesn’t see coming. I enjoyed jumping from scenario to scenario, experiencing it through the eyes of someone just as uninitiated as I was. The writing itself to describe this world was lyrical and flowing, reminding me of more classical styles similar to an adventure novel by Verne or Stevenson. It was just another nod to the time that steampunk tends to function in, and it fit the story perfectly.

I also enjoyed seeing the journey of Senlin himself. He starts as a meek and pragmatic school teacher from a small town, who brings is effervescent and new bride Mayra to the Tower in hopes of a vibrant honeymoon. All he knows of the Tower is what he has read in guidebooks, which make it seem fascinating and wondrous. As he comes to realize that it is, in fact, far more dangerous than he was led to believe, he has to confront himself and his own pitfalls and weaknesses if he wants to get Mayra back. To be frank, when Senlin starts out he is naive and privileged, and his transformation to hero is a slow one. It’s one thing if you start out merely naive, but it seems that Bancroft deliberately wanted to make him earn his hero status, as Senlin starts out with maddening cowardice, whose idealism has put his wife in serious danger that he can’t quite confront. I would go so far as to say that Senlin starts out as a rather unlikable character, as he abandons people who are helping him or working with him if he can escape with his tail between his legs. But to start him out this way means that he is going to learn from his mistakes, and by learning he becomes a better, if more hardened, person more equipped to function within the corrupt tower. His rotating companions and allies all have their roles to play in his growth, and I liked meeting them and seeing how he interacted with them.

But there was a glaring issue I took with “Senlin Ascends”, and that is how women have functioned within the narrative thus far. The most important, of course, is Mayra, and while we do get a little bit more insight beyond his here and there, she is very much objectified as a victim to be saved. She disappears within the first pages, and becomes this specter of longing who is merely idealized and not explored as a person, but as an ideal. I’m hoping that she does show up more in the later books and can become more than a beautiful, missing woman in a red helmet (side note: I love the fashions described in this book, and if this is what steampunk fashion is for the most part, I’m down!). Then there was Edith, one of the first people Senlin meets in the Tower. While she has ended up in a pretty cool place by the time he meets up with her again, what we see on page is her being put through the ringer and tortured, and not really any of the triumphs that bring her to final, self actualized state. It’s great she gets there eventually, but it would have meant more to see it. There is Voleta, who is the sister of one of Senlin’s companions, who was forced into performing acrobatics for abusive and corrupt men of power, another damsel in distress. And finally there’s Iren, an insanely strong enforcer who Senlin teaches how to read. While she was intriguing in her storyline, wanting to learn to read and become more that just brute force, she was, again, a woman to be saved in some way. I am going to give all of this the benefit of the doubt for now, as this is book one in a series and there are more books for all of them to come into their own. But I had hoped that women would play more of a role in this book beyond motivation for men.

Those issues aside, I did find “Senlin Ascends” to be a compelling story with lots of really neat ideas.

Rating 7: An exciting adventure novel with an interesting protagonist. I wish that female characters weren’t relegated to victim status, but am hoping in the next book they will get more to do and be more fleshed out.

But there’s more! I am giving away a free ARC of this novel! Given the indie success of this book and the other books in the series, I’m thinking that it will make a splash in the mainstream publishing world! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and will be running until January 23rd!

Enter The Giveaway Here! 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Senlin Ascends” is just getting started and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Steampunk”, and “Best Steampunk and Gaslight Works”.

Find “Senlin Ascends” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “It’s Always The Husband”

31451082Book: “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny. They first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, even though they are as different as three women can be. Twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge . . and someone else is urging her to jump.

How did things come to this?

As the novel cuts back and forth between their college years and their adult years, you see the exact reasons why these women love and hate each other—but can feelings that strong lead to murder? Or will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband? 

Review: On the show “Major Crimes”, one of my favorite characters, Detective Lt. Provenza, has a tag line that he lives by. “It’s always the husband, it’s always the husband it’s ALWAYS the husband.” Of course, on the show it isn’t ALWAYS the husband, but it plays to the sad statistic that when a woman is murdered, the odds are that her murderer is going to be her husband or boyfriend. It probably doesn’t surprise you that when I first heard of the book “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell that this phrase was going through my head. But like on “Major Crimes”, I had a feeling going in that it would be a bit more complicated than the steadfast and all too real adage that Provenza likes to toss about.

The story is told through two time periods that tend to flip flop from one to the other. The first is twenty years in the past, when three women start their freshman year of college at a prestigious school in New England. Aubrey is the girl who got there solely on her brains, and is escaping an impoverished life back in Nevada. Jenny is a townie who has ambitions and hopes to become more than her small town expectations. And Kate is the entitled and rick party girl, who expects life to be handed to her. Their differences were stark and while I had a hard time believing that they would have been as close as the book makes them out to be (specifically Jenny; I just don’t believe that she would have put up with Kate’s bullshit), I felt like they were all well explored and fleshed out. I liked seeing how they changed and shifted in their personalities from their freshman year to the present day, when they have all gone their separate ways and established themselves. I also liked that none of them were all good, or all bad. While Kate was absolutely a wretched and toxic human being, Campbell threw in some background and plot points that humanized her. While Jenny was determined and incredibly competent, and absolutely my favorite of the three main characters, she makes stupid decisions and mistakes that I wanted to smack her upside the head for. And Aubrey is so damaged and innocent that you definitely feel sorry for her, but a dark side lingers there, and when it rears it’s ugly head you can’t help but be a bit freaked out by it. As a reader I cared about all of them in some way, and was invested in how things turned out for all of them, and who it was that ended up on that bridge. It may also be a testament to how good the narrator was on this audiobook, as she varied her voices and inflections for each character wonderfully.

The mystery itself was very well done. The clues to what happened are laid out in both the past and the present, giving hints both in actions and the characters personality traits. This book definitely kept me guessing as it went on, and I never had a complete handle on what the ultimate solution was, which I really liked. My thoughts and opinions shifted in the ways that Campbell probably wanted them to, and I didn’t even mind that I was being led about like a puppet on a string because it was so fun to be taken on this journey. It eventually becomes clear just who it is on the bridge, but even getting to that first reveal was a fun trip to take, and it was even more enticing to find out who put her in that position, and why.

I will say that there were a couple of things that I took umbrage with. For one, there is a storyline with the new Chief of police in town who is investigating the murder, Owen. He goes in completely biased, as he had a VERY short dalliance with the victim before she ends up dead, and I found myself just irritated with everything about him and his motivations. I also found it a bit hard to swallow that an unexpected dinner with a woman who didn’t even give him her real name would affect him so much, no matter how magnetic she was, and it felt like an unnecessary way to throw in some drama. There are plenty of cops who try to fit evidence to a perp as opposed to the other way around without having a personal connection to the victim, so that seemed a bit superfluous. And this book also does that thing that I just cannot stand, in that in the last page and paragraphs of the book a FINAL TWIST is revealed. Man, that made me roll my eyes super hard. But unlike other books that have implemented this strategy in my recent reading, I enjoyed this one enough for everything else that I couldn’t hold it  totally against it. Just know that it’s coming.

“It’s Always The Husband” was a sudsy and compelling thriller that I had a great time listening to. While it had some flaws, overall I greatly enjoyed it. And I think that it would truly get Provenza to rethink his usual mantra.

Rating 7: A fast paced and well plotted thriller with some great revelations and some great surprises. One plot line was a bit tedious and frustrating, but overall I enjoyed what this book had to give.

Reader’s Advisory:

“It’s Always The Husband” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Librarian Recommended Books”, and “Best Twists”.

Find “It’s Always The Husband” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Thrill Club”

176479Book: “The Thrill Club” (Fear Street 24) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: Thrills and chills…

Talia Blanton could scare you to death.

She writes horror stories—stories that often give her friends starring roles.

Everyone loves Talia’s terrifying tales—until they start to come true. One by one, Talia’s friends become Talia’s victims.

Is Talia making her stories come true? Or is someone trying to turn Talia’s real life into a horror story?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: I first want to say that I did some poking around online while reading this book, and a couple sources (aka maybe reckless internet gossip) claim that “The Thrill Club” was written by a ghost writer and not R.L. Stine himself. And given some of the plot points of this story, I find that hilarious. So let’s begin.

Shandel Carter is walking home alone on Fear Street in the dead of night. She and her friend Nessa got into an argument, and so Shandel doesn’t have a ride to take her back to her house. The argument was about whether or not Nessa saw a ghost in the Fear Street cemetary: Nessa said yes, and Shandel said no way. But as she’s walking home, she starts hearing someone, or something calling her name. She runs and sees ghosts rising out of the cemetery, and has her throat cut by one of them…. But it turns out this is just a story, as told by Talia Blanton at their Thrill Club meeting. The Thrill Club is a group of friends who rip off “Are You Afraid Of The Dark” by getting together and telling scary stories. Talia’s tend to star her friends in the club: Seth, her boyfriend; Maura, Seth’s ex girlfriend (until Talia stole him away); Nessa, the kind one; Rudy, the cute one and Maura’s new boyfriend; and Shandel. Who isn’t pleased about being the victim in the story. Oh, and apparently Seth has been the one writing Talia’s stories as of late and she’s been passing them off as her own. She also is always thinking about how ugly Maura is. Talia isn’t terribly likeable, is she? Shandel asks that Talia not use her name in these gory stories anymore, and Maura implies that Talia is getting help from Seth with these stories, but Talia insists that’s not true, and demands that he lie for her. Which he kind of does. Shandel once again asks that Talia leave her name out of it, and in response Talia rushes across the room and stabs her in the chest with one of those fake retractable knife toys. Jesus Christ, this girl is a sociopath. Shandel, not pleased, says that she doesn’t get mad, she gets even.

The club breaks up for the night. Talia goes back to the rec room to find Maura and Seth talking closely, and Talia wonders why she isn’t jealous. Maybe it’s because Seth has been acting so strange since his father died three weeks earlier. Gee Talia, you’re sure right, why is acting so strange when his Dad died THREE WEEKS AGO? Rudy and Maura leave, and Talia and Seth are left alone. She wishes that he would smile more, and I officially kind of hate her. He confides in her that he found his father’s body, and that he was sitting in a chair, just staring ahead, a strange audiocassette playing on a loop. The coroner couldn’t figure out a cause of death either. And now he and his Mom and broke and may have to move away.  He takes Talia up to the study to show her something. Talia looks out the window, and sees Maura in the house next door! She demands what Maura is doing there, and Seth reminds her that she lives there. Doesn’t even know where her friend lives, this girl. ANYWAY, Seth reminds her that his dad was an anthropologist, and tells her that he was working with a ‘primitive tribe in New Guinea’ before he died. HO boy. I can already assure you this is not going to be at all culturally sensitive. He plays the tape for her, and a bunch of chanting starts up. Seth then falls into a weird trancelike state, and Talia’s head starts to pound. She begs that he turn it off, and shakes him out of his trance. On the way home Talia is feeling jumpy and finds herself walking by the Fear Street Cemetery. She suddenly hears pounding footsteps, and freaks out… but then it’s just Shandel playing a trick on her. I call that squarsies. They walk home together, and Shandel tells Talia that it was uncool that Talia broke Maura and Seth up. Talia says it wasn’t her fault, Seth asked HER out. She didn’t break them up! Sure. Shandel tells her that they aren’t a good couple, and Talia is super angry about that. Which is strange, because she knows that Shandel is right and always speaks her mind. So why is she so mad??

The next day Talia is still feeling weird. She goes to school, and wonders what she should do about Seth, stay with him or break up with him? He’s either too needy or too distant, and Talia doesn’t have time for that! In math class, her teacher Mr. Hanson pulls her aside and asks her about the previous day’s homework, and if it was actually her work. Which it isn’t, because Seth did it for her while she watched TV. But she tells him that yes, it’s totally her work, she’s NOT a cheater!

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Mr. Hanson takes her word for it. Talia wonders who could have ratted her out, and thinks that it must be Shandel.

That night at Thrill Club Nessa is pissed because everyone but Rudy is late! Which is odd because Shandel had spoken to her a half hour before telling her how excited she was for the meeting and that she had a secret to tell her. Maura shows up next, and says that maybe Talia is late because the story Seth wrote for her got lost in a disk crash, and Rudy chides her. Maura asks whose side he’s on anyway, and Nessa, being the smartest dummy in this whole group, continues to do her nails and pretend she isn’t there. I am imaging her as Portia from “Search Party” now. Then Seth shows up, and asks where Talia and Shandel are. Nessa decides to call Shandel because she’s sick of waiting, and Talia runs down the basement steps, out of breath and looking harried. Nessa asks where she was, and Talia doesn’t know…. It’s odd, because she left her house twenty minutes ago and it’s only a ten minute walk from her house, so why can’t she remember where the time went? She gives her sweatshirt to Nessa, who’s going to put it with the other coats, and doesn’t remember taking it off. Then Nessa has bad news: she called Shandel’s house, and her mom said that Shandel left a half hour ago, but it’s only a short walk to Nessa’s house! They decide to go looking for her, and Talia gets her sweatshirt back…. and Maura points out a bloodstain on it. Talia has no clue how it got there. They go looking for Shandel, and drive all the way to her house without seeing her. They wonder if she tried to cut through the cemetery. As they are driving, Maura sees something, and they stop the car. They find Shandel’s body strewn in the grass, and her throat has been cut. Just like in the horror story.

Seth drives Talia home from the police station after they are done with the questioning. She is feeling bad about the story he wrote, but he tells her not to blame herself. They make out a bit, and then he stops abruptly and says he has to go. She goes into her house, and goes to change into her nightgown… and finds a bloody knife in her dresser drawer! She keeps this info to herself until the day of Shandel’s funeral, where she tells Seth. She has no clue how the knife got in her drawer, and thinks she is being set up. The Thrill Club meets after the service to mourn and talk. Maura asks Talia about the bloody shirt, pretty clearly accusing her of murdering Shandel. Talia says that it wasn’t even blood, it was ketchup.

A few nights later Talia is waiting for Seth to call, as they are supposed to be going to the movies. He doesn’t make contact, however, so she calls him instead. He tells her that his mother is sick and he can’t see her that night after all, so Talia decides to try and write instead. But before she can start, there’s a knocking at the door. She answers, and it’s the police, asking her why she called Shandel Carter’s mother and confessed to murdering Shandel?

After denying this, at school the next week everyone is looking at her like she’s a murderer. Nessa tries to be supportive, but Maura is flat out convinced that Talia is a killer. She’s feeling out of sorts and exhausted, and walks towards the gym. She runs into Rudy inside, who says that he’s been thinking about her and promises he doesn’t think she killed Shandel. Talia, angry at Seth and feeling the slightest crumb of validation, kisses Rudy! Who kisses her back!! But then they hear the door clatter, and they turn to see someone running away. Who saw them???? They try to catch the person, but don’t. But it was just one kiss, so who cares, right?

Later that week, Talia is still not really eating. She gets to school and sees Nessa flirting with someone. THat someone turns out to be Seth! When she confronts them angrily (seems a bit hypocritical), Nessa says that Talia called her last night and told her that she was breaking up with Seth!! Talia says that she never called Nessa, but Nessa swears she isn’t lying either. Seth says he doesn’t know what to believe. That night she is home alone, and answers the door to find a HORRIBLY DISFIGURED FACE IN THE DOORWAY… But it’s just Seth in a mask, one that his father brought back from Papua New Guinea. He describes his father as a collector, but we all know he probably actually stole these artifacts in the name of science and imperialism. She says that she thought he was going to break up with her, but he assures her that no, he isn’t. They decide to have a nice talk to catch up, and she tells him that she got accepted to Berkeley in the fall!! Seth is visibly bummed by this (maybe he wrote her essay too), but then shows her that he has a new horror story that he wrote for her. This one involves Rudy getting strung up in a noose in his basement. Talia is torn, because on one had she loves the story, but on the other that seems ghoulish creepy to write another story about a friend after Shandel died like the last one. Especially since they think she killed Shandel. Seth convinces her that it’s okay, and that if he did change the name she’d look more suspicious.

At school Talia confirms with Rudy that she is indeed going to the Thrill Club meeting at his house. He is happy to hear it, and tells her to arrive at six. When she’s walking home, Talia is stopped by Maura, who tells her that she’s worried about Seth. Maura can see into his window at night and he spends most nights pacing around and looking through his father’s things. Instead of thinking about what this could mean for Seth’s well being, Talia goes in on Maura, accusing her of being jealous.

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Maura, probably. But definitely my thoughts as well. (source)

Maura suggests that maybe Thrill Club should take a break, but Talia says no, and she’s going to Rudy’s early to help him set up, fully hoping to make her jealous. God she’s such a jerk.

Nessa arrives to Thrill Club at Rudy’s and finds Maura and Seth on the porch. Rudy hasn’t let them in yet, and no one has seen Talia. They let themselves into the open house and go down to the basement. It’s there that they find Rudy hanging from a noose, dead. Nessa, possibly having a mental break, starts to laugh hysterically thinking it’s a joke, but it becomes quite clear it isn’t. Then Talia stumbles out of the shadows with rope burns all over her hands. SO, she’s sent to a mental ward. Seth comes to visit her, and she tells him that her court date is in three weeks but she’s been released into her parents custody and is going home. Though she can’t remember killing them, she concedes that she must have, given the knife in her drawer and the rope burns on her hands. Seth leaves, seeming to have finally turned his back on her, and as she watches him out the window she sees him walk back to his car, where Maura is waiting!!! Did Maura frame her for the murders all to get Seth back?!

Before leaving she hallucinates that Shandel and Rudy have come to kill her but it’s just two other patients and it’s all so superfluous. Maybe the ghost writer had a minimum word count to hit.

Anyway, Seth reads her a new story for Thrill Club that night in which she has taken Shandel and Rudy’s heads as trophies and wants to take his head too. Talia draws the line, saying this is SO distasteful, and Seth leaves her in his father’s study to answer the door. When Nessa and Maura come in, Seth shoots down the idea of the Thrill Club disbanding. He also tells Talia that she absolutely must read the new story she wrote, because it’s so good. Talia, feeling trapped, decides to read it, but try to change the ending on the fly so that instead of Rudy and Shantel’s heads it’s two shrunken heads. But as she’s reading it, she notices two things. The first is that Seth isn’t even listening, but has his Walkman on. The second is that there’s a horrible buzzing in her head, and she can’t make herself change the story, no matter how she tries. So she reads it in its original form, and Nessa and Maura are pissed. But soon a voice is drowning out the buzzing, and it tells Talia to TAKE ANOTHER TROPHY!!! And so she pulls out a HACKSAW and starts to attack Maura!!! She scuffles with both Maura and Nessa, against her will, and the voice keeps telling her to try and kill them. When Maura and Nessa overpower her, the voice says that it will take care of this, and Talia suddenly wakes up from her trance, not remembering what just happened. Maura says that they should call the police, but Seth takes the phone from Nessa and tells them that NO ONE ESCAPES!!!! It was Seth the whole time! You see, the tape that his father had wasn’t just any racist imperial bastardization of a non Western culture: it’s a ‘transfer’ tape. In that if you chant these words, the person will ‘transfer’ their consciousness into another body. Convinced that his father did this to get away from him and his mother, Seth started putting his consciousness into Talia’s body. He knew that she wanted to dump him for Rudy and leave her like his father did, and that she used him and abused him and was going to drop him anyway. He didn’t mean to kill Shandel, as he thought the knife was fake, but Rudy was totally on purpose because he’s the one who saw them kissing. And now he has a new chanting that’s going to kill all of them, somehow….. but then in mid chant, he just says ‘too late, too late’, and he buckles. The girls catch up, and they realize that he’s dead. How? I guess it doesn’t matter.

We end with Talia and Maura hanging out. Talia tells her the charges against her have been dropped, and they say they both miss Seth from before he went totally crazy. They agree to call Nessa and get together soon, and Talia says that she may write another horror story. When Maura asks if that’s a good idea, Talia says “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure this one has a HAPPY ending!” The End.

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Body Count: 3. Gotta say death by racist interpretation of another culture’s ceremony is a new one.

Romance Rating: 2. Maura and Rudy seemed to be happyish, but with Seth trying to kill Talia and everyone else it just takes the romance out of it. Also, so much cheating.

Bonkers Rating: 7. Again, racist interpretation of Papua New Guinea culture being a huge part of this was admittedly out there, but damn was I not comfortable with it. That said, the super meta-ness of a ghostwritten book being about a ghostwriter who tries to kill the writer he’s writing for is GENIUS.

Fear Street Relevance: 6. A lot of the action takes place on Fear Street, but given that the origin of the conflict wasn’t we lose some points.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“‘Talia….’ it croaked. ‘Talia…’

‘No!’ she screamed. ‘No-don’t! Please!'”

… And it was Seth in a mask. And once again it was a racist jab at Papua New Guinea.

That’s So Dated! Moments: To be honest, not much really stood out to me beyond the talk of floppy disks. But just look at the cover! Specifically at who I assume is Shandel based on character descriptions. She is completely serving us Hilary Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”.

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Aka my favorite character on the show. (source)

Best Quote:

As they start to name alphabetical faults of Talia:

“‘Let’s see’ [Shandel] said, playfully scratching her chin. ‘Why don’t we start with A. I think annoying begins with an A.’

‘Hey, she can spell,’ Talia replied sarcastically.

‘I can think of one that starts with B,’ Maura added with a snicker.”

Damn, Maura!! You aren’t wrong!

Conclusion: “The Thrill Club” had the distinct disadvantage of having to follow up “Double Date” and it really faltered because of that. It’s not very interesting and problematic as fuck, but it is bathing in potentially inadvertent meta goodness, so it’s kind of a toss up on whether it’s worth it or not. You decide.

Kate’s Review: “The Marriage Pact”

31748890Book: “The Marriage Pact” by Michelle Richmond

Publishing Info: Bantam, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact, and most of its rules make sense: Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples–and then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life, and The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

Review: Ahhh, marriage. I’ve been married to my husband for eight years, and while it certainly isn’t a perfect marriage, it’s a good one. Probably because we don’t strive for perfection. And because we don’t strive for perfection nor are we perfectionists in any way, I take solace in the fact that had we been approached by a deranged marriage cult we probably would have answered with a solid

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But lucky for us readers, Alice and Jake in Michelle Richmond’s “The Marriage Pact” did not make the same choices that I would make. After all, had they said ‘no thanks’, we wouldn’t have gotten this tense and dark thriller that took me by surprise. As someone who didn’t have any expectations going into it I had no idea what to expect, but I’m thinking that in some ways that worked in the book’s favor. Because after letting it collect some dust on my book stack, I finally picked it up and cursed myself for not picking it up sooner.

“The Marriage Pact” is a slow building thriller that puts the reader in the position of Jake and Alice, newlyweds who find themselves invited to join a prestigious and secret group specifically for married couples. They are both written in such a way that I could definitely see them getting sucked into it: for Alice, her commitment phobia from her past could easily make her nervous about falling out of step with Jake. For Jake, he’s so in love with Alice that he would happily indulge her in her eagerness to try it out. And because it’s seen from their perspectives, we too get to experience the gradual change from fun and quirky hobby to all encompassing nightmare. This point is what struck me the most as I read this book: it didn’t rely too much on major twists or turns to get the thrills into the narrative. While I do love a good thriller with lots of game changing moments, the horror and surprise in “The Marriage Pact” was far more based in the realities of the dark sides of human nature and group think, and how far we can be taken because of cognitive dissonance and denial. It felt fairly real that Jake and Alice would find themselves in a frog in the boiling water scenario because of this. The punishments for breaking the ‘rules’ of the group evolved from minor and silly consequences to full blown horror shows, and by the time we got to that they were in so deep that all you could feel was abject dread for them. The cultist perspective was masterfully done, as while Jake (our narrator) knew that things weren’t right, he also seemed under the spell in some ways, thinking that in spite of the horrific circumstances they were finding themselves in that his marriage to Alice was, in fact, stronger when all was said and done.

I do think that this book was a bit longer than it needed to be. While it was a fast read and an entertaining one too, I did find myself thinking that it was kind of repetitive at times. The various punishments and strange meetings with other ‘Friends’, as the members call themselves, tended to make things drag on a bit more than I would have liked, and I did find myself skimming here and there. I also found a few of the details unbelievable or farfetched, specifically about how much power and money this secret group could possibly have. And finally, given that Alice is a freaking LAWYER at a high powered firm, I REALLY found it odd that she didn’t have any problems with the giant manual of rules that you have to agree to abide by, via non negotiable contract. What kind of lawyer would agree to ANY of that without going through the entire manual bit by bit? But those are minor quibbles when the rest of the story was so creative and outside the box of what I’ve come to expect from thrillers today.

Overall I found “The Marriage Pact” to be a satisfying and compulsively readable novel. And it makes me thank my lucky stars that my husband and I are such lazy non perfectionists, lest we be approached by some crazy marriage cult someday.

Rating 8: A solid and original thriller that slowly burns to a disturbing level, “The Marriage Pact” relied less on twists and turns and more on the dark side of human nature.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Marriage Pact” is included on the Goodreads lists “Follow The Rules and Everything Will Be Okay”, and “Domestic Noir”.

Find “The Marriage Pact” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion”

34690764Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Based on the hit DC Collectibles product line! As World War II rages across Europe, the Bombshells battle new enemies showing up out of the woodwork… and a Bombshell we haven’t seen since the Battle of Berlin shows up to help!
The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 5. Collects #26-29 and the DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS ANNUAL #1.

Review: Ever since I discovered the “DC Bombshells” series, I’ve kind of been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Far too often do I find a comic series that I love, and inevitably have to have that moment of ‘oh, that was kind of lame’. It happens for most series and it’s by no means a bad thing! Sometimes there will be volumes that feel out of step with the others, and I’ve come to expect it and by no means hold it against the series as a whole. But for five volumes running, “DC Bombshells” hasn’t lost it’s step or it’s groove, and now we are at “The Death of Illusion” and I am STILL thrilled with almost everything about it as a whole.

We are now at the point where we can’t cover all of the characters in each volume, as there are too many and the cast is ever expanding. So while Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Renee Montoya, and the Gotham Batgirls sat this one out for the most part (more on that in a bit), we refocussed on a few familiar faces who had been away, some for a long time. Most importantly to me, we see the returns of Ivy and Harley, who are now an established lesbian power couple and leaving Atlantis to try and stop a famine in Russia, as Ivy plans to grow food for them. I already have to gush and geek out about this. I LOVE that in these stories, there is just as much creation as there is destruction. The women in this series are not only fighting to save the world, they are also trying to nurture the world back to life. It’s lovely and positive and a testament to the power of ladyfriends! With this plot line we get to see the less talked about ravages of war, specifically the starvation in Leningrad.

We also get the return of Supergirl, which was both excellent and bittersweet. Kara is still very much in mourning over her sister Stargirl, and she and Steve Trevor find themselves in the clutches of Doctor Hugo Strange. Supergirl teams up with Lois Lane, who has her own reasons for wanting to take revenge on Strange, and they both have to face their pasts and those that they are mourning if they hope to defeat this madman who has violated them both in various ways. I liked that Kara’s trauma regarding Kortni dying is still very present, as it shows that she is very much human as well as Kryptonian. With war comes loss and with loss comes grief, and I love that Bennett is showing that these costs take great tolls, even on the strongest of us all. And along with this plotline comes the first of the two debuts that made me freak out. I don’t really want to spoil it here, because it was a gasp worthy reveal, but…… OKAY FINE,

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SUPERMAN IS HERE, GUYS!! SUPERMAN IS HERE!!! But worry not, because while he has made his debut, much like Arthur Curry he does not step on any toes while doing so. While I’m sure it’s tempting to make him the focus, as he is, after all, the iconic Superman, this is still very much more Kara’s story than his, and he is staying in his lane as of right now.

Our universe expands again in this volume, as we go back to see Amanda Waller, who is one of the leaders of the Bombshells. She is tracking down a reclusive figure, a French woman who was a flying ace during WWI, but then disappeared into the swamps of Louisiana after her lover Luc vanished and was presumed dead. She hires Frankie Charles to go and find this strange woman. And who, is this strange woman?

Guys. Batgirl has arrived.

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I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT!! (source)

And not only is she here, but her storyline opens up a whole new set of possibilities involving her, Waller, Frankie, and The Suicide Squad. That’s right, WE ARE GETTING THE SUICIDE SQUAD!!!!!! I was admittedly hoping a bit for Secret Six (if Scandal Savage ended up in these pages I would absolutely DIE), but this is also excellent.

So yes, the shoe has not dropped yet and “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death Illusion” has only upped the stakes when it comes to this series. It’s flying so high, and while I’m still terrified that it’s going to come crashing down, it has yet to do so. It oozes positivity and girl power, and it continues to be one of the most empowering and fun comics out there.

Rating 9: With the returns of Supergirl, Ivy, and Harley, along with the debuts of some familiar faces, “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” continues the streak of excellence.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” is fairly newish and isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would be good on “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed:

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2017: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! And don’t forget to check out our “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway that may even features a few books from these very same lists! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, five to one.

32075671Pick Number 5: “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

Goodreads Page

Another book that I didn’t review on the blog, though I kind wish that I had, because “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas absolutely lives up to all the hype it has. Thomas tackles the all too common issue of systemic oppression and racism against black people in this country, specifically within police departments. It tells the story of Star, a black girl who was in the car when her childhood friend Khalil was shot to death by a police officer even though he was unarmed. As his death makes headlines, Star starts to feel the pressures of being a witness, the pressures of having to straddle her home life and her (predominantly white) private school life, and the pressures of loss and trauma. This book is necessary, incendiary, and a MUST READ.

28765598Pick Number 4: “The Last Days of Jack Sparks” by Jason Arnopp

“The Last Days of Jack Sparks” Review

It’s been a few months and this scary as hell demonic possession story is still sticking with me! The sheer creativity of this book made it one of the scariest books I read this year, along with one of the most complex and compelling main characters I’ve read in a horror novel. Jack Sparks is a son of a bitch, but I was fully invested in him and his well being after strange things start happening after he laughs during the exorcism of a teenage girl in Italy. This book ratchets up the ‘unreliable narrator’ device, and the hints and pieces fall into place to create a truly scary, and breathtaking, story.

29069374Pick Number 3: “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” by Emil Ferris

“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” Review

This powerful and gorgeous graphic novel left me with my jaw agape at the details, the characters, and the mystery. This coming of age story set in 1960s Chicago was a graphic novel that left a serious mark on me, exploring racism, budding sexuality, prejudice through the eyes of a strange and precocious child named Karen, who really loves and fancies herself as a monster. This book is the pages in her sketchbook and diary, with vibrant and flawless designs. This is just part one, and I cannot wait to see part two, as Karen is so excellent and so genuine, and her need to solve the mystery of her murdered neighbor lets her escape her own tumultuous life. This book is so good and is a prime example of how we have entered a new golden age for graphic novels.

17404078Pick Number Two: “The Disaster Artist” by Greg Sestero

“The Disaster Artist” Review

I will admit that I was kind of surprised that this wacky, strange, and hilarious memoir made it this high up on my list this year, but “The Disaster Artist” was the most fun I had reading a book in 2017. The odd and outlandish story of the making of “The Room” and it’s eccentric and sometimes deranged creator Tommy Wiseau had me laughing hysterically as I listened to it, and it shed a light on some of the more ridiculous things about the Hollywood dream and how far people will go to get it. Greg Sestero chronicles the oddball process of making this terrible movie, but also tells a bittersweet, and sometimes quite upsetting, tale of a friendship that is ride or die, for better or for worse.

32920226Pick Number One: “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward

Review of “Sing, Unburied, Sing”

Jessmyn Ward has done it again with her newest book, “Sing, Unburied, Sing”, and I loved every bit of it. Part family saga, part ghost story, part road story, this book examines the effects of lingering racism and violence in a post Jim Crow American South. Jojo and Kayla have been raised by their grandparents, as their father Michael is in prison and their mother Leonie is an addict. But when Michael is released, Leonie is determined to reunite the family, taking her children on a road trip up to pick him out. Leonie is tormented with visions of her dead brother, but only when she’s high, though Jojo has seemingly inherited the full gift, as he starts seeing the ghost of a dead boy who was the victim of racial violence decades before. This book absolutely blew me away with it’s beauty, it’s power, and it’s dissection of Americana and it’s values.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2017?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2017: Picks 10 Through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! And don’t forget to check out our “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway that may even features a few books from these very same lists! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

30292413Pick Number 10: “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín

“The Call” Review

This was one of the first books I reviewed in 2017 and it managed to hold on for an entire year! This scary and creative book about killer faeries and the teenagers that have to outwit and outrun them, or die, was a great read for this horror fan. Not only did it take a kind of tried and true trope of ‘teens going into a deadly challenge’ and give it a new twist, it also featured Nessa, a fierce protagonist who is also a Polio survivor. A main character with a disability isn’t something you see every day, so that was an added bonus to an already stellar dark fantasy.

29936927Pick Number 9: “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui

“The Best We Could Do” Review

This moving and deeply personal graphic memoir is a beautiful and haunting family history. Thi Bui mostly grew up in the United States, but she was born in Vietnam. Her family fled after the end of the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon, and her graphic memoir was one of the most powerful reads of the year. A narrative that still remains relevant and timely given the current Administration’s anti-Immigrant policies, this is a must-read for anyone and everyone. It’s also a great introduction to the graphic memoir, as the story is easy to connect to and the story sucks you in.

20179777Pick Number 8: “Holding The Man” by Timothy Conigrave

Goodreads Page

Okay, this is one of the books on my end of year list that didn’t make it to the blog. But I would be remiss if I were to leave the lovely, honest, and devastating memoir “Holding The Man” off of it. Timothy Conigrave and his boyfriend John met when they were teenagers and fell in love, but their romance was cut short when they were both diagnosed with HIV during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. This memoir is Conigrave’s tribute to their love, and a memorial to the love of his life. Sadly, it was also the last thing he wrote, as he died shortly after its publication. This book had me sobbing my eyes out as I read it, but if you can get your hands on it, I highly, HIGHLY recommend that you do. Just…. bring tissues.

34066621Pick Number 7: “Strange Weather” by Joe Hill

Review of “Strange Weather”

But of course Joe Hill was going to make this list! His collection of novellas was a wonderful way to pass the time on a sick day, and his four very separate and very well done visions were excellent tales of the strange and unsettling. Short story collections are usually pretty hit or miss for me, but “Snapshot”, “Loaded”, “Aloft”, and “Rain” were all stories that sucked me in and had deep effects on me. Hill does a great job balancing the disturbing themes with the gentle whimsy of others, and his streak of being one of my favorite authors was just reiterated with this collection in 2017.

31624824Pick Number 6: “DC Bombshells (Vol. 3): Uprising”

Review of “DC Bombshells (Vol. 3): Uprising”

Strong women in comic books is pretty much my jam, and DC Comics really has a heavy hitter with it’s “DC Bombshells” series. Over and over and OVER I have greatly enjoyed the alternate WWII history starring all of DC’s best ladies, and “Uprising” has been the best contribution so far. Not only does it have a bunch of great chicks kicking Nazi Ass, it also has a lot of well rounded versions of Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Harley Quinn, and many, many others. And let me tell you, given the recent rise in Nazis and Nazi Sympathizers in the collective consciousness and current events, the satisfaction of seeing these women kick their asses is pristine as hell.

Ten through six down, next time I’ll take on five through one. What have been some of your favorite reads this year? Let us know in the comments!