Kate’s Review: “The Invasion”

35292343Book: “The Invasion” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: David Pickling Books, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: After so much danger, Nessa and Anto can finally dream of a happy life. But the terrible attack on their school has created a witch-hunt for traitors — boys and girls who survived the Call only by making deals with the enemy. To the authorities, Nessa’s guilt is obvious. Her punishment is to be sent back to the nightmare of the Grey Land for the rest of her life. The Sídhe are waiting, and they have a very special fate planned for her.
 
Meanwhile, with the help of a real traitor, the enemy come pouring into Ireland at the head of a terrifying army. Every human they capture becomes a weapon. Anto and the last students of his old school must find a way to strike a blow at the invaders before they lose their lives, or even worse, their minds. But with every moment Anto is confronted with more evidence of Nessa’s guilt.

For Nessa, the thought of seeing Anto again is the only thing keeping her alive. But if she escapes, and if she can find him, surely he is duty-bound to kill her…

Review: I was so very pleasantly surprised by Peadar Ó Guilín’s novel “The Call” that when I found out that it was getting a sequel I was on pins and needles for it to be released. His take on a malevolent and violent faerie world was something that I hadn’t seen before in such brutal and disturbing fashions, and it definitely took the concept of faerie worlds and put it in a dark reality, all while making their rage somewhat understandable. I also loved our protagonists Nessa and Anto, friends and would be boyfriend and girlfriend who beat the odds when they were ‘called’, Anto being a pacifist and Nessa having a disability because of childhood polio. Plus, the concept of humans being the actual monsters at the heart of that book (in the form of violent misogynist Conor) is a theme that I always enjoy. It combined into one of my favorite reads of that year. So when “The Invasion” showed up in my holds, I waited a little bit to savor the anticipation of revisiting Nessa, Anto, and the Sídhe of the Grey World.

Perhaps I put too much anticipation into it, because ultimately, I was kinda disappointed with “The Invasion”.

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Why have your forsaken me? (source)

I do want to give “The Invasion” credit where credit is due. Ó Guilín is relentless in his portrayal of war and violence, and the price of war for those who are part of it. While Nessa and Anto think that perhaps they can live their lives out together and have a happy ending, the Irish Government has other ideas for both of them. Anto is recruited to fight against the invading Sídhe (against his will), even though he has survived the Call with a disfigured, giant arm and is a pacifist at his heart. And Nessa is assumed to be a traitor, because they don’t believe that a girl whose legs were weakened because of childhood polio could have POSSIBLY survived The Call without making a deal with the enemy, and so she is carted off to a life in prison, and then to be sent to the Grey Land as punishment. While it was a super bummer to see that these two are probably not going to get their happy ending together, I appreciated that Ó Guilín doesn’t try to sugarcoat how a reality these two are living in would actually be. He still keeps the violence and disturbing imagery and themes up to a solid eleven, and there were many times that I pretty much squirmed in my seat while reading this book. I also liked seeing Aoife have more of a role in this book. In “The Call” she is merely the mourning girlfriend to Nessa’s best friend Emma. In “The Invasion”, she is with Anto and other classmates of their old school, and she is becoming a warrior out of necessity, even though she is questioning so much. Her character arc was very satisfying to see. We also get to see more of the flora and fauna of The Grey Land itself, beyond the evil faeries. I liked Ó Guilín’s world building here and found it to be as creative as it was messed up.

But there were so many things about this book that didn’t make it feel as satisfying as I wanted it to be. As much as I appreciate that realistically Nessa and Anto are going to have obstacles, I wanted to see them together. I wanted to see them adjusting to life after The Call, but they really didn’t have much interaction outside of the two of them pining for each other. And I found myself frustrated with Anto’s storyline, Aoife aside. Yes, I appreciate Ó Guilín portraying war the way that it should be portrayed, I just didn’t care about Anto and his compatriots fighting on the front lines. ESPECIALLY since some things happen with Liz Sweeney, the mean girl from the first book who is still pretty much awful. And Nessa herself didn’t get as much credit this time around. She got some cool accolades and I did like her new adventure in The Grey Land, but I felt like she didn’t really get much to do. And she deserved so much more than she got.

Overall, “The Invasion” probably ended Nessa’s and Anto’s story realistically, wrapping it up and pretty much tying all the loose ends up as well. But it felt abrupt, and I wanted more, and not in a good way. I appreciate choosing the end that he did, but wish it had felt more like a worthy successor to “The Call”. I’ll definitely give another book by Peadar Ó Guilín a try, but I had wanted more from this.

Rating 6: A sequel that focuses on the price of war and how it tears people apart, “The Invasion” is a not as satisfying conclusion to “The Call”. While it didn’t live up to the first of the two, it was a realistic follow up.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Invasion” isn’t VERY new but isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason. But I think it would fit in on “Books About Faery”, and “Best YA Fantasy Series About The Fae”.

Find “The Invasion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “The Call”

Kate’s Review: “Give Me Your Hand”

29569206Book: “Give Me Your Hand” by Megan Abbott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown, and Company, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book:  I received an ARC from NetGalley

Book Description: A mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever…or tear them apart. 

Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane’s academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them. 

More than a decade later, Kit thinks she’s put Diane behind her forever and she’s begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol. Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.

Review: I want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of the book!

Megan Abbott is one of those authors that I want to call a sure thing, but can’t quite do so as of yet. While I loved her book “The Fever”, I wasn’t into “Dare Me” at all in spite of the fact that there were a number of bitchy mean cheerleaders at the center of it. Then I read “You Will Know Me” (reviewed HERE),and I was once again into her soapy and thrilling narrations of bad people making worse choices. I do love books like that, after all. So when I requested an ARC of “Give Me Your Hand”, her newest book, I was hoping that “Dare Me” would officially become a fluke and that I could hands down count her as someone I will always read no matter what. Unfortunately, we still aren’t quite there, as “Give Me Your Hand” just didn’t quite get there for me.

I will first start with what I did like about “Give Me Your Hand”. I liked that we had two separate narratives going on in this story, with a “Then” narrative (taking place when Kit and Diane were in high school), and a “Now” narrative (taking place when they are adults). Megan Abbott uses this structure to her advantage, as we slowly get clues presented to us in their time and in their place and at a pace that I found to be manageable. Abbott also did a good job of making the teenagers feel like teenagers, as sometimes thriller authors don’t really grasp teendom in an authentic way. Abbott would be a good crossover author to a YA audience because of this, as while the time spent with Kit and Diane as adults might not be as relatable, the time as teens certainly feels like it would be. I also liked that Abbott comments on how hard it can feel for a female working in a STEM environment, and how this inherent sexist and misogynistic culture can make women feel desperate and potentially drive them to do not so good things in order to get ahead out of feelings of necessity. Kit and Diane are both ambitious and driven, and wanting to impress their idol Dr. Severin and end up on her research team, but because they are the only women in the running in a field where male presences are seen as the norm and women are there to fill a quota, the competition is there, and boy is it deadly.

But these things aside, overall this book left me a bit underwhelmed. While I did like it more than “Dare Me” (therein assuring that I will definitely pick up the next Meg Abbott book, albeit not as desperately), I didn’t find much to root for in any of the characters. I appreciated that Kit was ambitious and beaten down by her knowledge of Diane’s secret, and that those anxieties weighed on her in realistic ways, but she was grating to follow. Diane was your run of the mill antagonist in this book, and while there were moments of trying to round her out they didn’t really come until it was too late. In fact, there weren’t really that many likable characters at all, outside of Serge, one of Kit’s colleagues who is a huge animal lover and takes no nonsense. I also was bummed that basically once Diane’s secret was out in the teenage timeline, we didn’t really spend much more time there and were left to deal with something of an unbelievable catalyst event that brought the drama to present day. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say that when it happened it didn’t have much emotional oomph behind it. I didn’t feel high stakes or fear for the fallout when it came to Kit and Diane, and was more just thinking ‘okay, so that happened…. Now what?’ If I’m not invested, it’s not really going to be suspenseful, and I think that had I not been on an airplane as I read this (and therefore a captive audience of sorts) I may have put it down a lot more often.

“Give Me Your Hand” wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t really doing anything to stand out from novels of similar themes and thoughts. I like Megan Abbott, and I’m going to keep reading her, but I will go in with my hopes more evenly tempered the next time I read something by her.

Rating 6: While it had it’s merits and some good build up, ultimately “Give Me Your Hand” left me wanting more, and not in the way I like.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Give Me Your Hand” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Page Turners of Summer 2018”, and “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”.

Find “Give Me Your Hand” at your local library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “All the Beautiful Lies”

35230481Book: “All the Beautiful Lies” by Peter Swanson

Publishing info: William Morrow, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.

Review: If you ever said to yourself “You know, I think that I would like a book that is ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Double Indemnity’ with a little bit of ‘Black Widow’ for good measure,” then I have some good news for you. “All the Beautiful Lies” is what you may be looking for. Once again Peter Swanson has written a book that sat my butt down and gave me very little reason to stop reading unless it was absolutely necessary. Which rendered me basically couch ridden for an entire morning when there were other things I needed to be doing.

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File footage of my productivity failing to escape the clutches of an engrossing thriller. (source)

I liked that this book is told between a number of third person perspectives, and through a couple different points in time. The most pertinent perspectives are those of Harry, the newly orphaned twenty something who returns home when his father dies in an accident, and Alice, his young stepmother who has an air about her that sucks him in, just as it did his father. While Harry’s story is focused directly in the ‘now’, Alice’s is focused mostly in the ‘then’, two timelines that do eventually converge in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and which gave insight into both their characters. While I did enjoy the slow burn of the mystery of Harry’s father’s death, and whether it was an accident or not (and who the mysterious Grace is and how she factors into it all), I was definitely more interested in Alice’s story. We know that she is enticing and mysterious, and has a pull over Harry even though he doesn’t know her very well. It’s very fun to see how she eventually becomes the person that she is. Her story is complicated and doesn’t hold back in it’s complication; Alice is many things that may seem like contradictions, but hold together believably. Swanson has always been good at making complex characters with dubious to sketchy morals, and you can put Alice up there with Lily Kintner when it comes to ambitious and dangerous, albeit fascinating, morally suspect femme fatales.

Swanson is also someone who knows how to take a twist and really pull it off. Part way through this book, a huge shift came along and totally shocked me. Not only that, Swanson recalibrated and brought in two NEW perspective points that caught me off guard and knocked me off kilter for a little bit. While a less deft author might have bungled the pass off (and thoroughly frustrated me in the process), Swanson tied it all together while still expanding the scope, bringing more much needed clues to the forefront. And he is so good at slowly revealing his hand that I never reached any conclusion before he wanted me to; no matter how many times I tried to keep a few steps ahead, I never was. The burn may be slow, but I was so desperate to find out what happened next that it felt like an emotional rollercoaster until the very last page. Which managed to throw one more curveball in, with master level skill.

And the tone is just creepy at times, for lots of reasons. Sexuality is weaponized, seduction borders on the nerve wracking, and because you know things that other characters may not you just kind of have to sit back and watch it, totally unsettled as it all unravels. The constant sexual tension between Harry and Alice is just icky because she’s his stepmother, as is another relationship in the book which is even worse (but no spoilers here), and watching these relationships slowly unfold because of a predator casting a web will give you the serious, serious willies. But Swanson is also careful to show just how calculated these predators are, and how they can make their prey not feel like prey at all. But at the same time, it never falls into the bounds of bad taste: it’s not titillating or sexy, it’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable and upsetting.

All in all, “All the Beautiful Lies” is another winner from Peter Swanson. If you haven’t given his books a try yet, now is the time and this would be a good one to start with.

Rating 8: Another solid and salacious mystery/thriller from Peter Swanson, “All the Beautiful Lies” sucked me in and held my interest until I had reached the last page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Beautiful Lies” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “All the Beautiful Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Dread Nation”

30223025Book: “Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Review: Zombies have been a genre trope of choice for awhile now in horror fiction. They are usually used to show that in a world of zombies, humans are still the real monsters, and that’s a theme that I enjoy no matter how often it is invoked. But the thing is, zombies are starting to feel a bit stale. With “The Walking Dead” hemorrhaging viewers and post apocalyptic horror movies choosing to go other routes, the zombie story has needed a jolt for awhile now to, uh, revive it. So that is probably why I enjoyed “Dread Nation” so much. “Dread Nation” definitely breathes new life into the zombie story, quite possibly because the zombies are not the focus, nor are they the ultimate bringer of the end of the world. Zombies pale in face of the true enemy in this book, and that enemy is racism in American society. So that means fans of “Lovecraft Country”, this might be the next  book you should add to your list.

Justina Ireland has created an alternate timeline history of America, the divergence happening during the Civil War when the Undead (or Shamblers, as they are called in this) suddenly rose from the ground. The alternate history is so rich and new, and yet so familiar, that it definitely feels like this how things would have worked out had this occurrence actually happened in American History. Jane is our protagonist, and she is a true delight as a YA historical fiction/horror/thriller heroine. She has some character similarities to other greats in the genre (Katniss Everdeen comes to mind), mainly because Jane doesn’t necessarily seek out being a leader or a rabblerouser and just wants to live life by her own rules. But unlike books like “The Hunger Games” series, which have a vague and malleable version of oppression and dystopia, the one in “Dread Nation” is right out of the history books: Jane is a black girl living in a racist society, and the injustices that she deals with are still relevant in real world American in 2018, not limited to an alternate history of this nation. Jane, like other kids of color her age, has been sent to a school to learn how to fight the zombie hordes so the white people in society don’t have to, and while she is learning to be an Attendant (a more prestigious position in some ways, as she learns not only to fight but also trains in etiquette to serve a rich white woman) it’s still a subservient place in society. Much like the modern wars of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, it’s the minorities who are on the front lines giving up their bodies while the white elite sit by and live their lives blissfully unaffected. Jane faces systemic racism and oppression from positions of authority because of her skin, but those aren’t the only themes that still apply today. Jane’s classmate/frenemy Katherine is a white passing black girl, and while her skin means she can shield herself from racism, she doesn’t feel like she has a place in the black community or the white community. Ireland does a great job of bringing these themes (and more) to the forefront, and making them feel relevant today even though the story takes place two centuries ago.

(Note: There has been some criticism of “Dread Nation” regarding how it discusses and portrays the Native characters and themes, most prominently from Debbie Reese. While I did like the book for the most part and think that it does a good job with its portrayal of racism in America, these criticisms are important to see and think about.)

But what about the zombies, you may be asking. As a zombie aficionado (even as they start to feel a bit played out), I can say that I really liked Ireland’s take on them. The action scenes with them never failed to disappoint, and the mythology that Ireland has built around them feels fresh because this isn’t a fallen society, but a society that is trying to coexist with these things. That is a narrative that you don’t see often, and given that I’ve always wanted to see it explored more I was so happy that Ireland went in that direction with the Undead world building. I also felt like she integrated it enough into actual events in American History and changed some of the outcomes or paths in response to it that it felt believable that this is how society would have reacted. Because of this, it always does feel like Civil War Era America, even with a zombie uprising. The Undead storyline, too, finds ways to  bring forward social justice topics on race that still concern society today and back then, with science, medicine, and research being done at the expense of black lives and bodies.

“Dread Nation” was a great read that has re-energized my love for the zombie genre. Ireland has given it so much more meat, and I hope that people who read it will think about all of the things she’s trying to say, even if they just came in for the Undead.

Rating 8: A tense and unique historical fiction/horror novel, “Dread Nation” not only tinkers with the zombie story, it also uses it to examine modern issues of race and racism in America.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dread Nation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Lives Matter Library Ideas”, and “Zombie Apocalypse by Black Authors or w/ Black Main Characters”.

Find “Dread Nation” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Last Time I Lied”

36750068Book: “The Last Time I Liked” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton Books, July 2018

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

Book Description: In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

If you remember, last year I was very excited about a book called “Final Girls” by Riley Sager. Sager kind of came out of nowhere with that book, an homage to the Final Girl trope from horror movies. So you can be sure that when I saw that he had a new one called “The Last Time I Lied” I was going to need to get my hands on it ASAP. The moment I sat down and started it, I was immediately sucked in and had a hard time putting it down, just like “Final Girls” the summer before. So thank you, Riley Sager, for taking me in and refusing to let me go until I found out what happened. AND for making it take place at a summer camp with a scandalous past. Because now I get to use “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Sleepaway Camp” references while I gush about this awesome mystery thriller, as is tradition when dealing with a story about summer camp.

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Me as I think of all the GIFs I could use… (source)

If “Final Girls” was a homage to slasher films, “The Last Time I Lied” is one to Nancy Drew. There are teenage and adult female detectives alike trying to figure out mysteries from missing people, to a mysterious village that may have disappeared, to rumors of a once operational mental asylum. Granted, these mysteries are a bit more amped up in stakes than Nancy Drew ever was, but the parallels are certainly there. This story is told in two separate narratives (this is a really popular narrative form I’m realizing). There is the present day, where our protagonist Emma is a damaged adult who is haunted by her one summer at Camp Nightingale, and thirteen year old Emma while she is attending the camp during that fateful summer where her bunkmates Vivian, Natalie, and Allison disappeared. We see what a mess present day Emma is, and as we explore both timelines we not only get clues about what may have happened to the girls, but what has happened to Emma as well in the years after. Sager did a great job of using this plot structure to its full effect, as there were clues to all the various mysteries across both timelines, some obvious and some not so obvious. As you all know I liked trying to guess what is happening as I read along (more like I can’t help it), and I’m pleased to say that in “The Last Time I Lied” I was pretty much caught unawares, and the moments that I did guess part of a solution, I was missing vital pieces. Sager is even good at pulling off a last moment epilogue twist without supremely pissing me off, and THAT, as you know, is a feat that few an accomplish. I think that Sager did it so well because he knows that you have to set up a foundation for it, and definitely put it all in there even if I didn’t notice it. So when I got to the end I was definitely enthralled.

But on top of an excellent mystery, Sager also writes great characters who feel very real. Emma is such an interesting protagonist because she could fit the usual tropes of ‘damaged woman has to confront her dark past’ that we so often see in these stories, but she rises above them in almost every way. She’s a mess, but she’s not unlikable; on the contrary, she’s very easy to root for. She’s also realistic in how she behaves both as an adult and as a teenager. I found out about halfway through this book that Sager is a man (Riley Sager is a pen name, and the identity behind it was kept close to the vest for “Final Girls”), and I was surprised if only because DAMN does he know how to write teenage girls. I related hard core to thirteen year old Emma, with her shyness, insecurities, and awkward crush on Theo, the oldest son of the camp director, Franny. In fact, every teenage girl that Sager wrote reminded me of girls I knew in my teenage years. It’s a serious talent to know how to genuinely channel the minds and ways of teenagers, and Sager has proven that he has that talent.

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Almost as much talent as THESE GUYS! (source)

In fact, all of the characters are given moments to shine and feel like fleshed out individuals. From Emma’s friend Marc (acting as a faraway Nancy Drew in his own right) to high strung camp counselor Mindy, all of his characters are given moments of humanity and expression, and it makes it so you don’t want ANY of them to be the culprits of the eventual stalking that Emma becomes victim of, and perhaps something even more sinister as well.

“The Last Time I Lied” was an awesome mystery thriller, and Riley Sager is one of the best in the business. If you haven’t already checked out his work, this book could be the place to start. Just be sure that any fond memories of camp you may have are kept safe and far far away. And if you have bad memories of camp, well, perhaps this can give you the perspective of ‘it could have been worse’.

Rating 9: A thrilling and exciting mystery from a stellar voice in horror thrillers, “The Last Time I Lied” kept me guessing, kept me going, and lived up to my high expectations and then some.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Time I Lied” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists yet. But I would definitely put it on “Boarding, Private Schools, and Camps”, and “Best Wilderness Horror Stories”.

Find “The Last Time I Lied” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Cabin at the End of the World”

36381091Book: “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: A friend let me borrow it!

Book Description: The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense that recalls Stephen King’s Misery, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Jack Ketchum’s cult hit The Girl Next Door.

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

Review: Paul Tremblay, you fucked me up again.

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Though I don’t know what I expected because it always comes to this. (source)

I knew that this was going to happen, because he has done this twice before. First with “A Head Full of Ghosts”, a book about a family dealing with a teenage girl’s possible possession, and then with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, a book about a family dealing with a boy’s disappearance. Now he came for me and his readers with “The Cabin at the End of the World”, a book about a family dealing with the threat of a home invasion and an impossible choice they may have to make. As you can see, Paul Tremblay likes to put families through the ringer, and that makes his books not only all the more scary, but it also makes them deeply emotional reads with characters whose pain you feel in the very pits of your stomach. The emotional connection to the characters is one of the things that sets Tremblay above many other horror authors today, and has him up there with Joe Hill, Stephen King, and Caroline Kepnes when it comes to horror and thriller fiction. CLAIM YOUR RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE OF AGONY, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD.

This time our family is comprised of Wen and her fathers Eric and Andrew. Wen is an eight year old trans-racial adoptee who is generally happy with her two dads, but has a nagging identity crisis that she can’t quite shake. Eric is an anxious person who has a healthy but somewhat hidden Catholic Faith, and he loves his husband and daughter even though he’s always worrying about her. Andrew is the more easy going of the pair, though a past trauma is always in the back of his mind even as he tries to be as pragmatic and logical as possible. So when they are cornered by a doomsday cult during their cabin weekend, a group of people who all came together by shared visions of the end of the world, they are suddenly forced into a dangerous situation that none of them are at all equipped for. The intruders believe that to prevent the end of days, this family needs to sacrifice one of it’s own. Eric, Andrew, and Wen are all complex characters who make realistic decisions based on who they are as people, from an eight year old child to a man consumed by nerves to a man trying to keep complete zen control of himself. I liked that while we didn’t see much interaction in the present outside of the home invasion, we are told through flashbacks and little hints and interactions just how much they mean to each other. I also appreciated that Tremblay did address the complex intricacies for families with transracial adoptees. While Eric and Andrew definitely do their very best to help Wen connect to her heritage (as she was adopted from China), there are still hints and references to her feeling out of place in her surroundings. It’s a narrative that isn’t seen much in adoption stories, and it was refreshing to show her multilayered feelings on her adoption and life with Eric and Andrew. Eric and Andrew were also well explored in their relationship and their own anxieties about parenting and living as gay men in a world where there is still stigma, no matter how much progress has been made. It was especially interesting exploring Andrew, who encourages Eric to be more relaxed but is still affected by a hate crime that was committed against him years before.

And the antagonistic group itself has some depth and complexity. Leonard, the leader of the doomsday group, takes no joy in the task he thinks he is sent to do. You can tell that he is pained by his ‘mission’, but he is also blinded by his own zealotry and it means that he can’t see the pain that he is causing. There is certainly an ambiguity there with him and his followers/fellow members; Tremblay makes sure to leave a lot of ambiguity about whether the world is actually coming to an end or not, and lets the reader decide if the signs that Leonard is seeing are real, or just coincidences as Andrew believes. But in the same token, it’s hard to know what the greater horror would be: that the end of the world may be coming, and only a terrible sacrifice can stop it…. Or that Leonard and his followers are just out of their minds, and that all of the suffering and torment that falls upon Eric, Andrew, and Wen is just for nothing. The story line and plot is tense as hell, and it wound me up as each new development happened. The brutality that Leonard and his group brings is unrelenting, but never feels tasteless of exploitative. You can see the motivations and fears on both sides, and as some characters begin to question what they are  believing on both sides, the reader also begins to wonder just what is real and what is not. I loved that. Even if it messed me up. Don’t go into this book looking for straight up answers and conclusions: it is more a meditation on faith, family, and zealotry than your run of the mill end of the world tale. And I closed the book and just had to stare at the ceiling for a bit.

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And I mean this in the BEST way possible. (source)

Paul Tremblay is one of our best horror writers out there because he can find the horror in the extreme, and the horror in the all too ordinary. He taps into fears of loss and injustice, and the unknown, and his words will linger with you long after you close the book. He can terrify and devastate you, and if you are anything like me you will look forward to it every single time. “The Cabin at the End of the World” was well worth the wait.

Rating 9: Paul Tremblay has created another disturbing and heart wrenching tale of family, faith, paranoia, and love that scared me and made me cry. “The Cabin at the End of the World” is another winner from a horror maestro.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cabin at the End of the World” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “This Is The End….”, and “A Walk in the Woods”.

Find “The Cabin at the End of the World” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories”

35939533Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” by Marguerite Bennett, Aneke (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The ultra-popular statues from DC Collectibles come to life in their own ongoing hit comic book series, now in its sixth and final installment!

The Bombshells face their final battle as a supernatural Nazi invasion begins! On top of that, Hugo Strange unleashes his failed lab experiments on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s circus and Lois Lane has her chance to avenge her family on the villain — will she take the shot? Amid the chaos, discover Lex Luthor’s true colors as he reveals which side he’s really on, and what that means for the future of the Bombshells!

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. 6. Collects DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS #25 and #30-33.

Review: I didn’t realize it when I reviewed our previous “DC Bombshells” Collection that “War Stories” was the last in the first large series within this alternate historical universe starring the awesome ladies of DC. I also didn’t realize that the second series, “DC Bombshells: United” was cancelled about a year into it’s run. Trust me, if I had known these things when we last visited this series, I would have gone on a long rant. In fact I’m pretty sure that I will be ranting before this review is through. But for now I’m going to try and focus on the big finale and pretty solid wrap up that was “DC Bombshells: War Stories”. Let’s see how long it takes me before I start going off. I’ll try to keep my cool.

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Don’t mind me, I’m totally calm. (source)

When we left off, Ivy and Harley were in Russia helping civilians out, Raven had stowed away with them to try and find her father, Zatanna and Constantine were trying to find her, and Kara and Lois Lane had tracked down Hugo Strange and found that he’d used some of Kara’s DNA to make a clone of her, whom he called Power Girl. Also there was another captive they rescued, named Superman. And The Suicide Squad showed up, led by Batgirl and including Frankie, Killer Croc, Enchantress, and Ravager. So in this volume, all of these stories come to a head. Sadly, this means that Wonder Woman, Batwoman, The Batgirls, and Mera are all absent from this final volume in this large arc/first series, and to me that didn’t sit right. I know that all of them are going to have more to do in “DC Bombshells United” as the focus turns to the home front and the ills the American Government commits against it’s own citizenry, but this was a significant end and shift, and I think they should have shown up in some capacity. But the stories here as they are are all pretty satisfactory in spite of this glaring absences. I especially enjoyed the Suicide Squad mission, which took our team into a German Sub in hopes of finding Luc, Batgirl’s long lost paramour. I liked this storyline  because while it continued the themes of Nazi occultism and mystic plotting, we got to see Edward Nygma and a few Lovecraftian-esque threats. Plus, this Suicide Squad is pretty excellent, all of them with a 1940s flair, which means that in my mind Killer Croc has a Mid-Atlantic accent and that just tickles me. Along with this already bonus storyline we get another one involving some of the Batgirl of Burnside characters, mainly Frankie, Qadir, and Nadimah dabbling in some magical mischief. It was a one off and didn’t really add much to the overall plot, but it was still enjoyable and fun to see more characters appear in this alternate timeline.

The climax of this series, however, comes with the Battle of Leningrad, as the Bombshells have to come together to not only fight Hugo Strange, Killer Frost, and the Nazis, but to try and save Leningrad and the people there. I liked seeing all of the ladies come together in one place, and I felt like they all got some decent moments to shine within this final battle. That said, it wouldn’t be a pivotal battle of a series if there wasn’t some sadness and sacrifice, and while it never reaches levels of Stargirl loss here, there are definitely repercussions and moments of sadness for some of our characters, which all were executed with deft emotion and feeling. What I love about this series is that it shows that sadness and pain are not weaknesses in our characters,, and it’s refreshing to see that some characters do get lost in their emotions, both in good ways and in bad ways. But even when it’s in bad ways you never get the sense that these emotions are bad to have, just that they need to be used in less destructive ways. Its a theme we see a lot in these stories and it makes me wonder if a comic that was starring the males of DC would be so bold as to take that stance. I think I know the answer to that, sadly.

And finally, there is a whole new threat that comes from the Russian side and brings more storyline to Kara and her origins: Faora Hu-El from Krypton has arrived once more (seen previously WAAAAAY back when Supergirl and Stargirl were being used as Russian Propaganda), and boy has she brought some serious baggage to our finale. And since I want to discuss it here, this is our SPOILER ALERT moment that almost always pops up in this series. One of the things that “DC Bombshells” has done is made this universe and it’s characters and storylines very female centric, and that has altered some backstories here and there. The biggest alterations to date are pretty Kryptonian centric. Not only is Superman a clone of unknown origins created in Strange’s lab (as far as well know at this juncture), Kara’s own origin story is shaken up with the arrival of Faora, who tells her that she is a perfect being created by Faora, Alura, and Lara. It’s pretty neat and ballsy to reveal within this final battle that Supergirl, the last true Kryptonian (given Superman’s new origin) and most powerful being in the story,  is the product of three women and Kryptonian science. I have this image of ‘well actually’ toxic nerdboys pitching a HUGE fit about this. But that’s what “DC Bombshells” has always been about: it’s about women at the forefront, women supporting and loving and fighting women, and women as the main components of a story, with guys playing the traditional roles that women have played in comics for years. Frankly, it’s genius.

Which is ALL THE MORE REASON THAT IT SUCKS THAT DC HAS PULLED THE PLUG. Representation in comics is so important because representation in all types of media is important. With women being in the lead, women of all races, religions, and sexual orientations, “DC Bombshells” has been one of the best comic series DC has when it comes to representation (especially since apparently “Batwoman” is ALSO getting axed! Sure, I wasn’t a fan, but BATWOMAN IS IMPORTANT)! DC is still going to toss a whole lot of bank into it’s middling AT BEST movies (“Woman Woman” not included, and holy SHIT is THAT ironic given the context of this rant) and keep rebooting Batman and Superman over and over AND bastardize Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” universe for funsies, but it can’t throw a bone to a series where women are at the forefront and aren’t sexualized and objectified through a male-only gaze? IT’S UNACCEPTABLE!!!!

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Hey, I lasted awhile before I full on lost it, right? (source)

Well, regardless, this first arc of “DC Bombshells” comes to a solid close in “War Stories”, and while I know that “Bombshells United” isn’t as long, I’m going to really, REALLY savor it as I make my way through. These DC women continue to create a better world filled with compassion and justice, and I know that even though it’s ending that won’t change the importance of this series as a whole.

Oh, and is Black Canary going to show up in this next series? Asking for a friend.

Rating 8: A solid and mostly satisfying end to the first major arc of the “Bombshells” comics, “DC Bombshells: War Stories” is a wrap up with most of the characters we love, though a few notables were missing and it was very noticeable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2018 Lesbian Releases”, and it would fit in on “Diverse Heroes in Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” at your library using WorldCat!