Kate’s Review: “The Lost Village”

Book: “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, April 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened. But there will be no turning back.

Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice: They are not alone. They’re looking for the truth… But what if it finds them first?

Review: Awhile back I was perusing the titles on NetGalley, and I kept stumbling upon a book called “The Lost Village” by Camilla Sten. Every time I would see it I’d ask myself ‘why haven’t I looked into that?’, but then I’d look again and the description was the key. You have me at “Blair Witch Project”, but you lose me at “Midsommar” (sacrilege? Maybe. I just didn’t like that movie). But eventually I decided that I needed to give it a go. So I bought it, and as soon as I started it I never should have waited as long as I did.

Me contemplating the time I wasted. I dislike the movie, but love this meme! (source)

“The Lost Village” is a slow burn horror story that (absolutely) has similar elements to “The Blair Witch Project” and “Midsommar”, but stands very well on its own. The story is told through various channels. The first and most prominent follows Alice and her film crew in the modern day, as they start to explore the abandoned village of Silvertjärn. Alice’s grandmother was a resident who had left before the disappearance, and who lost her entire family. Alice is obsessed and determined to make a documentary about the town in hopes of getting answers, but there is tension in her crew due to messy histories and secrets. In this timeline strange things start happening, and the crew slowly starts finding themselves in danger. The second channel follows Elsa, Alice’s great grandmother who is seeing her town slowly become seduced by a new pastor, whose zealotry is manipulating everyone and leading them down a dangerous path. The third is through letters between Elsa’s daughters Margareta and Aina, which slowly shows Aina becoming more and more entranced with the new leader. All of these pieces come together to tell a well thought out horror story that slowly builds the dread and terror. I liked the back and forth through the narrative, as each storyline contained clues about the others, and the ultimate fate of Silvertjärn. The strongest was the modern day perspective, as not only did it have some of the scariest moments, it also had the most interesting characters. Alice is a flawed but interesting protagonist, and her interactions with her compatriots (particularly with Emmy, an ex-friend that Alice harbors some bitter resentment towards) are realistic as the situation turns from intriguing to dire. I found myself invested in them, so when the stakes are raised, the fallout has true weight. Sten makes you care about these characters, and that ultimately amps up the horror aspects.

And let’s talk about the horror aspects. Because they are spot on and very, very disturbing. The more obvious is that of the feeling that the crew is being watched in the abandoned town, and the slow build of paranoia as strange things start to happen, and one of the members of the crew starts acting strange as well. Some of the images that Sten brings forth in the narrative really messed with me in this regard, from descriptions of a corpse on a post to a shadowed silhouette staring towards Alice and her crew in the dark. The other horror, of course, is set firmly in the past storyline, as a town of generally decent people start to form a cultish devotion to a sociopathic con artist who twists religious fervor to suit his own needs. You eventually kind of see where this is all going, knowing that eventually Silvertjärn’s population just vanishes without a trace, but it still made me tense and completely horrified as people fell under his spell and terrible things came about because of it. The horrors of real life are put on perfect display here, and boy oh boy does it pack a wallop.

Fans of horror stories absolutely need to read “The Lost Village”. I cannot, CANNOT wait to see what Camilla Sten comes out with next.

Rating 9: Tense and ultimately horrifying, “The Lost Village” is sure to disturb any avid fans of horror in all the best ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Village” is included on the Goodreads lists “Haunting Reads”, and “Books Set in Sweden”.

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

Kate’s Review: “When No One is Watching”

Book: “When No One is Watching” by Alyssa Cole

Publishing Info: William Morrow Paperbacks, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised. When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

Review: While it doesn’t happen often these days, between chores, day to day commitments, and a rambunctious toddler to chase after, there is very little more satisfying, reading wise, than sitting down and reading a book in one go. Being able to consume a book in one sitting can leave my brain a little soupy, but overall I love feeling that engaged with a story, even if I rarely make it happen. When I sat down on a Friday evening with Alyssa Cole’s “When No One is Watching”, I figured I’d probably start it and make may way through it that weekend. What actually happened was that I didn’t put it down until I finished the very last page. So yeah, I guess you could say that this thriller really took me on a ride in all the best ways!

“When No One is Watching” is a suspenseful thriller that uses the genre to make an effective social commentary on the harm and damage that gentrification, corporate greed, and systemic racism has on minority communities, specifically the Black community in Brooklyn. While a lot of people have been comparing it to “Get Out”, I think that a more direct comparison is that of “Vampires vs The Bronx” (though not as funny, but that’s by design). We have two perspectives in this book: Sydney, who is a Black woman who has just moved back to her childhood home after leaving an abusive marriage, and Theo, who is a white man who has just moved into the neighborhood with his white girlfriend Kim (though their relationship is in shambles). Both of them serve their own purposes for the reader besides being two narrative roads. Sydney is experiencing the frustration, anger, and pain that comes with a gentrifying Brooklyn as white people move in, prices go up, and Black residents start to move out for other options (or are they? We’ll get to that). She is also an unreliable narrator as the story starts to have suspense moments, as her former husband was a gaslighting abuser, and now she has anxiety attacks and questions her sanity when seemingly outlandish things start happening. Theo, on the other hand, is the well meaning but clueless and ultimately complicit white guy who doesn’t see himself as a racist, but also has never had to think about what gentrification and White Supremacy do to Black communities, and his own role in those systems. He’s likable enough, and has many lessons to learn as he and Sydney are put together when he volunteers to do the research for her burgeoning Black History of Brooklyn walking tours. But he too has some things from his past that he’s trying to move past, and while Sydney is understandably easily frustrated with his cluelessness, he is also genuine in wanting to learn. Both voices worked well for me, and I was invested in both of them.

In terms of the plot, “When No One Was Watching” has a lot of slow burn build up which I personally liked. I like a steady creep of dread as a story goes on, and as more and more things that just aren’t right keep happening to Sydney, and Theo too, the more suspense I felt until I was ready to break from the tension. Since we have two perspectives, we have two different ways of seeing clues laid out, as well as having a third device of a continuing online conversation on a “Next Door”-like website. As more white businesses and people start to move in, Sydney’s neighbors, some of whom have been there for years, abruptly leave, with rumors of them moving on to other neighborhood after being outpriced, or needing a change of scenery. But the more the story goes on, the more reasons we find to believe that maybe that isn’t really the case. Because no matter how much Sydney doubts her senses, something is very not right. Admittedly, the pacing is a LITTLE stunted, as the slow burns turns into a VERY fast and action heavy finale that feels rushed. But overall, I highly enjoyed the mystery and the big reveal, no matter how bananas some of the reveals felt.

The strongest part of “When No One Is Watching”, however, is the stark social commentary on gentrification, capitalism, and systemic racism in housing in urban settings. White it’s true that this book takes it to conspiracy theory laden extremes, the heart of the problem is very real. Sydney and her Black neighbors have to deal with over-policing, as well as the entitlement of their new white neighbors who deal out micro-aggressions to flat out racist acts. Kim, Theo’s girlfriend, is the main antagonist in this case, as we see a litany of familiar actions from her. Be it complaining about noise, to threatening to call the police on her Black neighbors for any little thing, to using not so coded language when talking about them, she is racist white womanhood at its worst. But we also get to see systemic predatory behavior of real estate companies, to the disparities in healthcare, to the historical racism of Brooklyn in all forms. This book is very much about the dangers of White Supremacy, and as satire it’s biting as well as educational for those who may need to become familiar.

I quite enjoyed “While No One Is Watching”. Fiction can teach readers about very real issues, and this one does that as well as being genuinely thrilling.

Rating 8: The twists and turns are well done and the main characters are likable. The ending is a little bananas, but overall “When No One Is Watching” is a fun, suspenseful read with some good satire and social commentary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“When No One is Watching” is included on the Goodreads lists “Tales of New York City (fiction and nonfiction)”, and “Horror/Thriller Books by Black Authors”.

Find “When No One is Watching” at your library using WorldCat, or or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake”

Book: “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” by Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli (Ill.), Jon J. Muth (Ill.), & Charles Vess (Ill).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: When a Dream ends, there is only one thing left to do…


In which the repercussions of the Death of Lord Morpheus are felt, and, in an epilogue, William Shakespeare learns the price of getting what you want.

This is the tenth and final volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, described by author Mikal Gilmore in his introduction as “nothing less than a popular culture masterpiece, and a work that is braver, smarter and more meaningful than just about anything “high culture” has produced during the same period.”

Review: When I’m coming to the end of a series that I’ve spent a lot of time with, I almost always feel melancholy. It’s like saying goodbye for a comfortable friend. The interesting thing about “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is that we have already reached the crux of the ending of the story, and said goodbye to that friend. After all, at the end of “The Kindly Ones” Morpheus, aka Dream, died. For many stories, that would be the end. But Neil Gaiman knows that true closure means that there is a need for a wake. And that is what this final volume gives us: a moment of goodbye, some ruminations on the memories and the people that Dream has left behind, and the promise of moving on. It’s a volume that serves as an epilogue. And it’s beautiful.

Pretty much my entire being during this final re-read. (source)

As mentioned above, the real climax of the story was in the last volume, and now we get to see the fallout in the form of an actual wake for Dream, attended by not only his siblings, his friends, and other dieties, but also by mortals he encountered throughout the series (though they attend through their dreams, of course). I loved the quiet and gentle tone that this story took as we see those who loved Morpheus mourn and come to terms with his death, the most effective being that of Matthew, his messenger Raven, who is now lost without his master and friend. I haven’t really talked about Matthew in this re-read. He’s always around, ready to provide some insight or a sarcastic remark, but I found his journey to process Dream’s death to be the most bittersweet moment in this volume (well, it may be a tie, but more on that later). But his ambivalence ties into the other aspect of this whole plot point, and that is that, since Dream is Endless, and Endless are ideas and concepts, Dream isn’t really gone. Morpheus is. But now Daniel, Lyta’s son, has transformed into a new version of Dream, as the Endless are, well, Endless. As the other siblings say goodbye to Morpheus, they have to contend with meeting their new sibling, and Daniel!Dream (this is how I’m going to refer to him going forward) has to contend with starting over as someone new, even though he has elements of Morpheus still. It all connects back to the conversation that Morpheus and Delirium had with Destruction in “Brief Lives”, and it all ties up so wonderfully because of it. Daniel!Dream continues on, and nothing ever really ends.

There are two more stories in this volume which both serve as epilogues. The one that the book truly ends on has to do with Shakespeare, as earlier in the series we see the creative relationship and connection he has to Morpheus. But the other one, and the one that I think really works better, involves Hob, Morpheus’s immortal friend whom he meets up with at a pub ever century. Hob’s final bow is him with his current girlfriend, going to a Renaissance Festival, looking at how the life that he literally led at one time has now become re-enacted in modern times. It’s so poignant, knowing what he’s been through, what he’s seen, and seeing him meet up with Death and getting confirmation about Morpheus just feels like the right way for this series to end. I loved this story, as it has all the best things about Hob; his grumpiness, his sarcasm, and his deep love and respect for his friend.

I am so happy that we have “The Wake” to process the end of a truly magnificent series. “The Sandman” is so influential, so engaging and ambitious, and it changed comics as we know them. It doesn’t feel a need to go out in a huge and dramatic fashion, and instead opts for something more bittersweet, and it just fits perfectly. I’ll miss Morpheus. and Delirium, and Death. But luckily, I can always go back and start over again.

Rating 9: A lovely, sad, and hopeful ending to a truly remarkable and transformative series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels that Rocked My World”, and “Mythic Fiction Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.10): The Wake” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Other Black Girl”

Book: “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Publishing Info: Atria Books, June 2021

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

Book Description: Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

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

Satire and horror go together like cheese and crackers as far as I’m concerned, and I’m always looking for some good commentary in the horror stories that I consume. When I came across “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris on my Twitter feed, I was immediately interested. Described as a mix of “Get Out” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, I went to see if I had access to a copy on NetGalley, and downloaded it post haste. I’m always one for workplace drama thrillers, but even more important it’s always great to see more diverse voices have space in genres that can feel very white a lot of the time. And if you’re going to say “Get Out” as a descriptor, well, I’m almost certainly in.

“The Other Black Girl” definitely lives up to the pop culture descriptors, though I would also throw in the horror movie “Bad Hair” as well, as “The Other Black Girl” takes on not only racism and microaggressions, but specifically Misogynoir in a work place that doesn’t think it has a racism problem, and weaponized tokenism. Our main character is Nella, an editorial assistant at the prestigious Wagner publishing house, and is the only Black woman in her department. Her job is exhausting enough on its own, and having to maneuver a work place that is filled with seemingly well intentioned white people who are constantly tossing microaggressions her way just makes it all the more isolating and tiring. Harris does a really good job of establishing the work environment and culture of Wagner, and how it bogs Nella down. Nella is a sympathetic and relatable protagonist, who is really hoping for success at Wagner, but is also insecure in her wants and needs to be accepted by a workplace that doesn’t really give her a chance. From the jump, you understand Nella, and her characterization is drawn in a way that her choices down the line make sense.

So when Hazel is hired on, Nella’s relief and excitement is palpable that she may at least have a companion in this difficult sea to navigate. Of course, nothing is ever that easy, and what seems could be a racist and sexist industry making two Black women feel like they have to be pitted against each other, is actually something far more insidious. What that is, we don’t know, but Harris is more than happy to slowly unpack and reveal darker and more far reaching dangers for Nella, all of it satirizing and critiquing white industries and how they treat their Black employees, and how these power structures can in turn make these employees feel the need to outgun each other, or conform to racist mores in order to succeed. Especially if those employees are women. And while these themes may be taken to outlandish places within this story (I’m holding this all close to the vest, though, as I think you need to go in with little idea of where Harris is going to take you), as satire is works really, really well.

And as a thriller novel, I’d even go so far as to say horror novel, “The Other Black Girl” is completely effective. I was totally sucked in right away, wondering who was trying to intimidate Nella, wondering what Hazel’s motivation was, and wondering how everything connected. Especially since early one, we see that there are other players who are a part of this story, some of whom we don’t know how they connect to Nella’s situation. I loved how Harris slowly established settings, timelines, and players, and then carefully and slowly brought them together. While sometimes the structure could be a little confusing (there were moments where we’d go into an extended flashback in the middle of an action point, which caused a little whiplash), overall I felt that all the pieces fall into place when they need to. On top of that, there is also a lot of humor in these pages, most of which comes from Nella’s close friend Malaika, who is a bit more confident and willing to give Nella some hard truths with wit and sarcasm. All of these things make this book not only a biting social commentary, but also super entertaining and a page turner until the very end.

“The Other Black Girl” is a buzz worthy and propelling horror-thriller that has a lot to say about Misogynoir and racism. If you like satire in your horror like I do, absolutely do not miss this.

Rating 9: A suspenseful an satirical horror-thriller about race, identity, and the workplace, “The Other Black Girl” has bite and hard truths, as well as some genuinely funny moments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Other Black Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “Well-Read Black Girl Book Suggestions”, and “Horror/Thriller Books by Black Authors”.

Find “The Other Black Girl” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)”

Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” by Sina Grace & Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Box, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: NO ONE EVER SAID THAT THE AFTERLIFE WOULD BE THIS WAY! Daphne Walters is loving her new life at Rycroft Manner with her ghostly roommates – but trouble is right around the corner! Rycroft’s got new resident – the musician Zola – and she’s getting close to Daphne…and causing friction amongst the residents! Meanwhile, Daphne and Kristi, best friends since high school, might just be the ones who can’t find their way back to each other. And since trouble comes in threes, Daphne’s former college roommate Michelle threatens to cause trouble for Rycroft….because no one said moving to L.A. would ever be easy! From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes the next chapter in the hit series about friendship, love and living your (after)life to the fullest.

Review: So even though I enjoyed the first volume of the ghostly series “Ghosted in L.A.” by Sina Grace, I managed to completely miss that not only did the next two volumes come out, but they also wrapped up the series. Talk about being totally oblivious. But now is as good a time as any to catch up/complete this quirky series, so I bought the entire run and jumped right into “Volume 2”. You know the old saying.

Something like that. (source)

When we left off in Volume 1, the Rycroft Manor had just been thrown into a few drastic changes. The first was that after Maurice attacked Daphne, Aggi pretty much exorcised him from the premises. The second was that almost immediately a new ghostly resident arrived, a musician named Zola who was famous before her untimely demise. And that’s about right where we pick up. Zola is still coming to terms with her new afterlife, and as she keeps the other ghosts at bay, she and Daphne start to become close. In this arc we see Daphne relating to Zola while also fangirling over her a little bit, and while her friendship with Kristi is starting to really come apart at the seams, she’s starting to fall into another potentially unhealthy relationship with Zola. As a character Zola has a real chip on her shoulder, and as of yet hasn’t really wowed me (and with only one more volume to go I’m not convinced she’s going to get much more interesting, though I’m eager to be proven wrong). On the other ghost topics, Bernard is getting closer to Daphne’s ex Ronnie, and Shirley is starting to want to move on from Rycroft Manor. This was definitely a cool storyline thread, as we got to see a little mythology as to how ghosts function in this world, as well as a hint to a mysterious door in the manor that may be causing issues. Again, we only have one more volume to wrap it up, but I’m more confident in this thread than the Zola one.

What kind of caught me by surprise is that it wasn’t really the ghost stuff that connected with me the most in this volume, but the growing pains aspects of Daphne’s friendship with Kristi, her high school best friend. We knew in Volume 1 that they had a huge fight that stemmed from Daphne choosing to go to school in L.A. instead of staying closer to Kristi. In Volume 2, we see them try to repair their friendship when Kristi comes to visit, but it manages to only make things worse. I felt that Grace perfectly captures the angst and pain that comes with old friendships having to either evolve or die, and seeing it from both Daphne’s and Kristi’s perspectives gives the conflict a bit more grounding. It would have been easy to just make one or the other completely at fault, but given that that isn’t how things work in the real world, I appreciated the nuance that was brought to this side plot. Growing up and apart from those important to you in your youth is hard, and Grace depicted that really well.

And I still really like the artwork. It’s dynamic and vibrant, and it can also shift that vibrancy when it needs to convey something a little sadder, or more distant in the timeline. And I still love the design of the ghosts.

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” has set up some questions going into the final volume. I’m sad that we have such a short run with all these characters, but I’m enjoying the ride and am glad that I jumped back into it!

Rating 8: A fun and intriguing continuation of a story about self discovery and ghosts, “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 2) is enjoyable and clever.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” isn’t on many specific Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Comics + Graphic Novels To Read for Halloween”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.2)” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “While Justice Sleeps”

Book: “While Justice Sleeps” by Stacey Abrams

Publishing Info: Doubleday, May 2021

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

Book Description: Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together–excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn–the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases–has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court–a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.

As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth. While Justice Sleeps is a cunningly crafted, sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters. Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.

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

Back in November of 2020, when it was clear that Georgia was going to go into a run off for their senate seats in January of 2021, my parents were expressing hesitance that Georgia could possibly go blue. While I didn’t want to get my hopes up, of course, I just kept saying ‘don’t underestimate Stacey Abrams’. I then got to tell them that not only is Abrams a political dynamo, but that she is also a published author of romance novels (as well as a fan fiction writer too, because she is also a great big nerd, which is great). Shortly thereafter, I saw that Abrams had a new book coming out, but this time it was going to be a thriller. I was VERY interested in seeing what that was going to be like, and assumed that at the very least it would be well written and entertaining, as well as a fun read given how well versed in the ups and downs of the political world she is.

Abrams takes it even further than I anticipated, and what I found was a very complex and intricate legal and political thriller. Given that I don’t usually gravitate towards thrillers that involve politics (sometimes I’ll go the legal route, if it’s soapy enough), “When Justice Sleeps” was a fairly new experience for me. I’m glad that it was Abrams’s vision and story that took me down this road, because I think that had it been in anyone else’s hands I may have given up. But the biggest strength for this story for me was our protagonist, Avery Keene. For one, it’s always nice to see a woman protagonist in stories that perhaps have gravitated more towards male characters in the past. For another, Avery is a biracial woman whose merits and talents are sharp just as her personality and personal life have relatable highs and lows. Watching her have to not only deal with her boss and mentor be suddenly thrown into a coma, but also have to deal with the scrutiny of being a young, biracial woman thrown into the spotlight because of being named his power of attorney, was riveting in and of itself. She is very easy to root for, and works well as an entry point for the reader to take on some really complex issues in the legal world, the political world, and the medical world.

In terms of the plot and the mystery that Avery has to take on, it’s a doozy. We have a lot of different components, from corporate mergers to the reaches of the Supreme Court to genetics testing to the White House to chess metaphors. As mentioned above, I wasn’t expecting it to be as complicated as it is, and keeping all of the moving parts in order was, at times a little hard for me to do. But Abrams always veers us back on track, bringing in reveals at the right times and finely connecting all of the puzzle pieces, no matter how far flung they are from each other. For someone like me, who doesn’t usually take on this kind of carefully and masterfully woven conspiracy thriller, it was a lot, and it led to brain overload on more than one occasion. But for someone who loves these kinds of wide reaching and well oiled conspiracy thrillers that dabble in lots of themes (like my Dad, for instance)? This will probably hit all the right notes for that kind of reader. I am considering looking into some of her romance work, because my guess is that it is also super well done, which just solidifies the point that Stacey Abrams is an amazing human being who can really do just about anything.

I definitely recommend giving “While Justice Sleeps” a go if you like political and legal thrillers. If you’re like me and are not as versed, you will still find things to like, even if you have a hard time keeping up. Now which of her romance novels should I try on for size?

Rating 7: A complex and intricately crafted thriller that has a deep conspiracy theme, “While Justice Sleeps” was a little too serpentine for me, but almost assuredly will be a hit for political and legal thriller fans.

Reader’s Advisory:

“While Justice Sleeps” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mysteries/Thrillers by BIPOC Authors”, and “Reading Women Challenge 2021 #17: Women in Politics”.

Find “While Justice Sleeps” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Later”

Book: “Later” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Hard Case Crime, March 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King’s classic novel IT, Later is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears. 

Review: I’ve spent twenty plus years of my life reading Stephen King, and I imagine that I will keep on going for another however many years he continues to write. He rarely lets me down (even when I come across the occasional clunker I still feel like it was generally worth my time), and it’s even MORE exciting when he tries out other genres beyond his usual horror fare. This brings us to “Later”, his most recent work and also his most recent title he’s done with Hard Case Crime, an imprint which tends to focus on gritty crime fiction. Hey, sign me up regardless, but one thing that I can count on when it comes to King is that he is probably going to throw SOME kind of supernatural spin into most of his books. “Later” is no exception, and King melds the hard boiled crime and supernatural horror paths seamlessly.

“Later” is a fast paced crime tale told through the perspective of Jamie Conklin, a young man who has had the ability to see and speak to ghosts ever since he was a kid. This story focuses on his youth, from how he first realized he had this power (told in a gruesome scene involving a dead bicyclist), to how his power scared but also helped his single mother Tia, to how it was exploited by Liz, Tia’s onetime girlfriend and NYPD detective. King has always had a true talent for capturing the minds and personalities of kids, and while narrator Jamie is an adult, the story is his childhood, and boy does it feel realistic in its voice. Like other kids in King’s works, Jamie is slightly precocious but not too forced, and his childhood interactions with his mother, his friends, and the ghosts that he sees range from the charming to the heartbreaking to the terrifying. I’m a true sucker for any story that has to do with people who can speak to the dead, and Jamie’s story really hit all of the notes that I like in this trope. I also liked how we get to know Tia through Jamie’s eyes, with King throwing in enough details about her that their relationship is well thought out and quite lovely. Our antagonists, primarily Liz and a spectre named Therriault (maybe a sly reference to Roch Thériault? SUPER creepy if so!), are menacing in their own ways. For Therriault it’s the obvious, being a malevolent spirit that has started to harass Jamie whose stalking and description will surely send chills up anyone’s spine. But Liz is far more insidious, as she is a corrupt cop who uses her power, her charm, and her authority to manipulate, and hurt, those around her. Her renegade nature could have been used to prop her up as an anti-hero, as some hard boiled detective stories do. But King just shows us what so many of these ‘renegade’ cops are: super, super dangerous.

And as we’ve learned, King has a real delight in calling back to some of his previous works (and also the works of his son, Joe Hill, those easter eggs are especially fun to spot). For some people this may seem hokey, but I eat it up and revel in it whenever it happens. And this time, King pulls out a heavy hitter, one that I didn’t expect from a story that has been published with a crime imprint. SPOILER ALERT HERE!!! Skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know! I won’t go into TOO much detail, but if you know, you know (and thanks to a certain recent film franchise, you probably know): One of the characters asks Jamie if he’s ever heard of something called “The Ritual of Chüd”. THIS IS IN THE “IT” UNIVERSE, FOLKS!!!

I can assure you, the amount of excited screeching I did was copious. (source)

Like I said, I don’t want to give too much away, but King takes a concept that feels like it couldn’t work outside of “It”, and applies it to this story without it feeling too forced or hackneyed. I mean, he made a revisit to “It” work in “11/22/63”, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he made it work here as well. And none of this is to say that you have to have read “It” for this entire aspect to work. You don’t. King gets you caught up to speed quickly, and it feels like its own thing in these pages. It totally works.

If there is a qualm I had with this book, there is a quick curveball thrown in at the end that made me go ‘wait, WHAT?’. It doesn’t derail anything or totally throw the entire story out of whack, but it was a momentary blip that felt unnecessary. Superfluous may be the better word. But overall, I found “Later” to be enjoyable and unsettling. For a fast read with a kid who can talk to ghosts, this is the book to check out!

Rating 8: A fast paced and at times very creepy thriller, “Later” has a hard boiled feel to it while harkening back to one of King’s most beloved stories.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Later” is included on the Goodreads lists “I See Dead People”, and “Books About People with Strange Powers”.

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

Kate’s Review: “Bury the Lede”

Book: “Bury the Lede” by Gaby Dunn & Claire Roe (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Boom! Studios, October 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Twenty-one-year-old Madison T. Jackson is already the star of the Emerson College student newspaper when she nabs a coveted night internship at Boston’s premiere newspaper, The Boston Lede. The job’s simple: do whatever the senior reporters tell you to do, from fetching coffee to getting a quote from a grieving parent. It’s grueling work, so when the murder of a prominent Boston businessman comes up on the police scanner, Madison races to the scene of the grisly crime. There, Madison meets the woman who will change her life forever: prominent socialite Dahlia Kennedy, who is covered in gore and being arrested for the murder of her family. The newspapers put everyone they can in front of her with no results until, with nothing to lose, Madison gets a chance – and unexpectedly barrels headfirst into danger she never anticipated.

Review: As I continue to try and up my graphic novel stats after a few months of a whole lot of novels, I found “Bury the Lede” by Gaby Dunn on a list about dark graphic novels with LGBTQIA+ themes and characters. Both wanting to get out of the fantasy realms of graphics, and always wanting to read more books by LGBTQIA+ authors about LGBTQIA+ characters, I found it at my library and placed it on hold. When it came I was a little shocked to see how short it was, but hey, a story about a young wannabe reporter getting close to a potential murderer in hopes of solving a baffling case? That could be covered in a trade paperback collection sized graphic, right? Right. Then it was too bad that “Bury the Lede” had far more plot points and aspirations than just that, because it’s a lot to cram into one thin book.

In terms of what did work for me, there were some really cool ideas in this book. I love the concept of a budding journalist wanting to prove herself getting in a bit over her head. I really liked the sapphic obsessive relationship that our journalist, Madison, starts up with accused murderess and socialite Dahlia. On paper it sounds very “Silence of the Lambs”, with a prisoner perhaps manipulating an investigator, but also leading them to a much bigger case nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed every scene that Madison and Dahlia had together, the weird sexual chemistry oozing and crackling when you aren’t exactly certain if this is something you’re supposed to be cool with. That works so, so well. I also enjoyed the ‘ripped from the headlines’ character of Raquel Stief, a woman in an education position that is being considered for a place in the President’s circle of advisors and administrators, and who is CLEARLY based on that demon Betsy DeVos. There may have been some living vicariously going on here as I read, given that one of the true monsters in this story is Stief, and Madison is hoping to take her down. And hell, I liked that there was a broader conspiracy afoot, because something like that is a really good idea that has a lot of potential to explore. And as mentioned earlier, this book does have numerous LGBTQIA+ characters and themes, and any time we get some diversity in graphic novels written by Own Voices authors, it’s going to be positive.

But oh, the stumbles within the good ideas and broad themes. While the idea of a sweeping political conspiracy theory with implications that could go all the way to Washington D.C. is very interesting, this isn’t a very long book, and it all feels like it goes VERY fast. Madison uncovers connection after connection at break neck speed, and it gave very little space to breathe by the time we get to the big reveal and climax of the book. And while the book pulls you in with the mystery of Dahlia, the murder of her husband, and her missing child, by the time we do get to the revelations involving that whole thing, it feels like a bit of a cobbled together afterthought. So does the connection that Dahlia has to Stief. By the end it feels more like Dunn wanted to have an “All the President’s Men” kind of story, but thought that the only way to get people to read such a thing in graphic novel form was to throw in a nice carrot on a stick in the form of murder. And by the end, neither aspect felt wholly explored. Hasty plot points aside, in terms of the characters, there really isn’t anyone to root for. I like that Madison is determined, but not only do we really only get to see this one side of her, she is also wholly, WHOLLY unethical in her journalistic ways. I’m sure that it was meant to establish her as a morally gray character whose drive to do ANYTHING for a story is damaging, but that’s not exactly a new theme to stories about journalists. And if anything, she left the morally gray area and went into straight up villain territory (mild spoiler alert: she roofies someone to get information out of them. Like, holy shit.), but it never seemed to be treated as such.

But, I did like the artwork and the character designs. Claire Roe uses some effective shadows and colors to establish mood, and it definitely felt neo-noir in her illustrations.

I had expectations for “Bury the Lede” that weren’t met. Though it had glimmers of really cool ideas, the execution didn’t get off the ground.

Rating 5: Definitely has a well conceived plot with some good ideas, but it just felt like it was executed a little too quickly with not enough focus. Throw in unlikable characters, and it’s just meh.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bury the Lede” is included on the Goodreads lists “Journalists, Photographers, Etc. in Comics”, and “Novels with Bisexual Protagonists”.

Find “Bury the Lede” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Arsenic and Adobo”

Book: “Arsenic and Adobo” by Mia P. Manansala

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, May 2021

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

Book Description: The first book in a new culinary cozy series full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer….

When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…

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

I’ve said in the past few months that I’m trying to expand my literary experiences this year in terms of genres. First that meant that I was going to read more romance. And then after our Book Club read “The Widows of Malabar Hill” I thought that perhaps I would give more cozy mysteries a try. Admittedly my preconceived notions of cozy mysteries usually involve crafting or baking themes, and also usually star white women. Whether these were accurate notions or not, they were the notions I had before Book Club opened my eyes. And then I stumbled upon “Arsenic and Adobo” by Mia P. Manansala on NetGalley, and I decided that it was time to finally dive in. And what better way to do it, but with a story that takes place in a Filipino restaurant in small town America?

The premise is pretty simple: our protagonist Lila has returned to her small town after a bad break up that made her flee Chicago. She rejoins her Tita Rosie, as well as her grandmother and her meddling but well meaning aunties, and is helping at Rosie’s restaurant. Things get sticky when Lila’s old boyfriend Derek dies after eating the food at the restaurant, and also after arguing with Lila. So Lila has to clear her name, as well as help save the restaurant from going under. Simple stuff, but Manansala writes with such joy and verve that it’s just a fun story to read in spite of some of the more simplistic aspects. Lila is a fun character to follow, as she is a good balance of a bit self absorbed and frazzled, but also clearly cares about her family and her friends. She’s the perfect amateur detective for a story like this, getting into trouble but charming her way (or sometimes bumbling her way) through her investigation. I also liked the other supporting characters, from her loving Tita Rosie to her busy body aunties. My favorite, however, was definitely her high school best friend Adeena, who is both spunky and yet sensitive, and provides a good foil to Lila both in positive and negative ways. Really, the entire cast is fun, it’s diverse, and we are getting ideas as to what parts they are going to play as the series goes on.

As for the mystery itself, it’s entertaining and perfectly alright. The stakes are high, given that Lila’s freedom and her aunt’s business are both threatened, but it never feels like things aren’t going to work out, one way or another. I know that’s one of the things that appeals about cozy mysteries, but as someone who reads some pretty dark shit I’m not as used to it, and it was a bit refreshing. There are a wide array of suspects and some red herrings, but when all is said and done it was pretty predictable as to what was going on and who was guilty if you knew what to look for. I guessed the culprit long before I was supposed to, but since the journey with the quirky characters was enjoyable I wasn’t too frustrated by that. And it was well done enough that I will probably be seeking out the next book in the series.

Also, RECIPES! I’m sure that there are many cozy mystery series that have recipes and crafting instructions and such if those are the themes, but that didn’t make it any less delightful when I saw that we get some really delicious and simple recipes in the back of this book! I am fully intending to try my hand at a few of them. If the COVID-19 Pandemic has taught me anything it’s that I can distract myself with a recipe and experimenting with new ones is fun as hell!

I can now make bagels, challah, and a mean green bean casserole, and can’t wait to add some Filipino recipes to my three ring binder. (source)

“Arsenic and Adobo” is super fun, and I’m glad that this is the cozy mystery series I decided to take a chance on. Whatever Lila is up to next, I will surely be on board. I can’t recommend stretching your genre comforts, guys. I’ve been having a ball.

Rating 7: A fun mystery with enjoyable characters, “Arsenic and Adobo” was a little predictable, but a good time. Also, recipes!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Arsenic and Adobo” is new and not on many relevant Goodreads list, but I think it would fit in on “Filipino Authors”, and “Culinary Cozy Mysteries”.

Find “Arsenic and Adobo” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Empire of Wild”

Book: “Empire of Wild” by Cherie Dimaline

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A bold and brilliant new indigenous voice in contemporary literature makes her American debut with this kinetic, imaginative, and sensuous fable inspired by the traditional Canadian Métis legend of the Rogarou—a werewolf-like creature that haunts the roads and woods of native people’s communities.

Joan has been searching for her missing husband, Victor, for nearly a year—ever since that terrible night they’d had their first serious argument hours before he mysteriously vanished. Her Métis family has lived in their tightly knit rural community for generations, but no one keeps the old ways . . . until they have to. That moment has arrived for Joan.

One morning, grieving and severely hungover, Joan hears a shocking sound coming from inside a revival tent in a gritty Walmart parking lot. It is the unmistakable voice of Victor. Drawn inside, she sees him. He has the same face, the same eyes, the same hands, though his hair is much shorter and he’s wearing a suit. But he doesn’t seem to recognize Joan at all. He insists his name is Eugene Wolff, and that he is a reverend whose mission is to spread the word of Jesus and grow His flock. Yet Joan suspects there is something dark and terrifying within this charismatic preacher who professes to be a man of God . . . something old and very dangerous.

Joan turns to Ajean, an elderly foul-mouthed card shark who is one of the few among her community steeped in the traditions of her people and knowledgeable about their ancient enemies. With the help of the old Métis and her peculiar Johnny-Cash-loving, twelve-year-old nephew Zeus, Joan must find a way to uncover the truth and remind Reverend Wolff who he really is . . . if he really is. Her life, and those of everyone she loves, depends upon it.

Review: I missed Cherie Demaline’s YA dystopia novel “The Marrow Thieves” when it first came out, and still haven’t really rectified that. Honestly, it’s on my list! But it took me a couple moments to realize and make the connection that “Empire of Wild”, a book I ordered during the height of the 2020 timeline of the pandemic and then let sit on my shelf for far too long, was by the same author. Having let another book of hers miss me again, I decided that it was time to fix at least part of my problem. “Empire of Wild” caught my eye because of the phrase ‘werewolf-like creature’ in the description. Feeling like I need to read more werewolf fiction, I went in excited to see what that could mean. But let me tell you, this isn’t your average werewolf story. The folklore, mythology, and symbolism go to more interesting and unique places than that.

The plot is both deep and yet very simple. Joan is a Métis woman who left her small, fractured town in Canada, and came back with a husband named Victor. He was the love of her life, but one night after a fight he left and disappeared. Joan has been mourning the loss for almost a year, and while everyone around her thinks he’s left her for another woman, she is convinced she can find him. So when she stumbles upon Victor one day, but he’s a Reverend of a Tent Revival group and says his name is Reverend Wolff and has no clue who she is, things get interesting. And then her grandmother, one of the elders in the town where there are few left, is killed by a wild dog. Or perhaps a wolf. What you think you’re going to read is not what you’re going to read. Dimaline finds layers of loss, grief, generational trauma, and love within this story, and you so desperately want Joan to find Victor, and when she does, but doesn’t, you are invested in how it’s going to turn out for her. It’s mostly following Joan on her journey, though we do get chapters interspersed in of others. The most significant are the chapters from Victor’s POV, as we slowly find out what happened to him in the woods the night he disappeared from her life, and it’s written in such eerie, surreal exposition that it slowly builds up the dread. There are also some chapters that follow various antagonistic forces, which never really get explored too much, but that’s okay. Because this is Joan and Victor’s story.

It’s also the story of a rogarou, a folk tale that has been seen in numerous cultures and can be compared to werewolf stories. A rogarou in the Métis lens in this story is a wolf like creature that haunts roads, searching for people to devour. From the get go we see that there is, indeed, some kind of threat like this, as Joan’s grandmother, Mere, is killed by some kind of canine early in the story. She also happened to be one of the few people who knew how to deal with rogarou. Joan eventually turns to another elder named Ajean for help, and Dimaline uses this opportunity to show aspects of the folklore and how it relates specifically to the Métis people. I really liked how this was woven into the story, and thought that it fit well.

But the most striking theme at the very heart of “Empire of Wild” is the insidiousness of colonialism, and the violence it has committed (and continues to commit) against Indigenous people. The fight between Joan and Victor that sent him into the unknown was based on him wanting to sell the land that she inherited from her father, as developers are constantly looking to buy Métis land, which has led to a fracturing of an already fractured community. The tent revival group that Joan finds Reverend Wolff leading has an explicit motivation to convert Indigenous people to Evangelical Christianity, and therein take more of their culture from them as well as taking them away from the devotion they have to their land (and therein allowing developers to take it and profit from it). The loss of culture and family is seen in many ways, from the land loss to the shrinking number of elders, to Joan’s nephew Zeus who is slowly losing his connection to his identity and turning his back on traditions as the story goes on. Even the Métis version of the rogarou myth has angles about people being devoured not just in body but also in spirit. If Victor has, indeed, been the victim of a rogarou, the focus is more on the mind and identity that has been erased as it takes on his body. All of this comes together in ways that directly challenge imperialist and colonialist motivations, and how Indigenous pain is profited upon over and over again. I loved this searing commentary.

“Empire of Wild” is unique and suspenseful, and filled with a lot of heart and ardor. If you want something a little different from your average werewolf story, this is where you should look for it.

Rating 8: A truly unique dark fantasy tale about love, loss, the violence of colonialism, and wolves, “Empire of Wild” is a haunting read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Empire of Wild” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated Literary Reads For Readers of Color 2020”.

Find “Empire of Wild” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!