Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light”

29277919Book: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle is faced with the most emotional exorcism he’s performed yet… as he begins to learn more about his abilities and what’s really happening around him. Secrets are revealed that will change everything.

Review: If Volume 1 was set up and Volume 2 was getting the wheels into motion, “Outcast: This Little Light” is the pay off, and boy does it pay off and then some. Kirkman has always done a good job of taking a well worn trope (be it zombies in “The Walking Dead” or superheroes in “Invincible”) and breathing new, unique life into it, and “Outcast” is doing the same for the demonic possession story. I’ve said it before, I’m not as scared or disconcerted by demonic possession stories, but “Outcast” is exceeding my expectations.

When we left off in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, Kyle and Anderson had the daunting and heart wrenching task of performing an exorcism on Kyle’s sister Megan. What could have been a frustrating and emotionally manipulative scene was actually done very well, as Megan’s danger didn’t feel like solely a way to get at our male protagonist. Given how these demons work, and given that this plot point is resolved pretty darn quickly and opens up some new plot paths, I was willing to give it a pass. Megan is a character that I am very fond of, as even though this happens to her, she bounces back and remains the tough and awesome sister that I really, really enjoy (yeah yeah, spoiler alert, but it needs to be said). It also opens up more for her to do because of some of the consequences of her temporary possession, especially in regards to her and her husband Mark. Mark is another really well done character, as while he could have easily been the skeptical and cruel brother in law who only serves to doubt Kyle, he’s taking an interesting turn as well. His and Megan’s relationship is one of the more well done and honest portrayals of marriage I’ve seen in a comic, and it serves as a nice counterbalance to the star crossed relationship between Allison and Kyle. While Kyle and Allison may be the couple that you are supposed to root for and invest in, with demons and misconceptions keeping them apart, I am far more invested in the one between Megan and Mark.

We also get a bit more insight into what exactly is going on with the demons regarding their motivations and their weaknesses. Kirkman continues to move the mythology out of the solely Judeo-Christian realm, giving us a bit more to chew on and getting a bit more creative. This, of course, is only adding more tension between Kyle and Anderson, as Kyle is pretty convinced that it has little to do with God, while Anderson is clinging to the belief that it has everything to do with that. It may be easy to say that I’m biased when it comes to this, as yes, I am an agnostic, but I think that by opening up the potential in demonic possession does a few positive things for the narrative. The first is that it makes it unique to other possession narratives. Adding your own spin to a classic story or device is going to make it stand out more, and “Outcast” is definitely standing out against other similar stories that I’ve seen in the past few years. It’s not just the demon mythology either, I am also very interested in what an ‘Outcast’, like Kyle, is, and how it all plays into this mythology. Another is that there’s lots to be said for being inclusive in stories like this, and by opening up more possibilities of explanation, Kirkman is speaking to a wider audience who may be reading this book and hoping for a more relatable evil to vanquish, and a more relatable way to combat it. And finally, at least for me, it’s scarier this way. Without going into specifics, I think that this kind of demonic force is hitting closer to my own personal fears. I like being scared, and this is giving me some serious willies.

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” left on a pretty hardcore cliffhanger, and now that I have fully succumbed to this comic I am definitely itching to see what happens next. Don’t keep me in suspense too long, Image Comics! When does Vol. 4 come out?

Rating 8: Now that the story is in full swing, “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is doing new and interesting things with the demonic possession trope. It’s still a bit weak in some areas (Kyle and Allison), but it’s thrilling in most others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is still not on any lists on Goodreads. Again, try “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”. Oh, and for another intriguing take on possession, give “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” a whirl too!

Find “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol. 1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”, “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”.

Kate’s Review: “Before The Fall”

26245850Book: “Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley

Publication Info: Grand Central Publishing, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the passengers disappear into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy: Was it merely dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations–all while the reader draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth.

The fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Review: For the past couple of years I have been OBSESSED with the FX show “Fargo”. I love the movie, but the show has knocked it out of the park the two seasons it has been on, with a third coming up in the nearish future. I seriously can’t wait because I LOVE this show, and I love how it portrays the deep and violent underbellies of Minnesota life. While still being so damn Minnesotan.

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(source)

Little did I realize that Noah Hawley, the showrunner for that series, is also an author. I didn’t realize this until after I had checked out his most recent novel “Before The Fall”, and once I did I was pretty damn excited and even more intrigued by it. Hawley has a skill for writing and creating complex and nuanced characters, as seen in Bear and Peggy and Molly and Lorne Malvo on the show he’s in charge of. It shouldn’t be much surprise that he brought that same skill and nuance to a number of his characters in “Before The Fall”. Well, a few of them anyway.

Since the cast is characters is pretty big and their fates sealed from the get go, Hawley only has to really show a little bit of motivation for how each person got on this ill fated plane, and what role, if any, they played in it’s crash. Much of the focus, however, is on former addict and down on his luck painter Scott, an artist with a need to try and understand tragedy and accidents even before he survives a plane crash. Scott is by far the most interesting character in this book, because it is mostly through his eyes that we see the aftermath of such a tragedy. I liked Scott as a character, a pretty good guy trying to figure himself out who finds himself the center of a tragedy, and the person that everyone is trying to get answers from. He wasn’t necessarily a hero in a stereotypical sense; he did what he could in an emergency and was able to save himself and J.J., the four year old lone survivor to a media fortune. But of course the fact he isn’t perfect or the ideal heroic figure, that works against him in the eyes of some, which was a fascinating angle to take. He is a wonderful foil to Eleanor, J.J.’s aunt through his mother, who has been thrust into motherhood while in intense grief. Both Scott and Eleanor care very deeply about J.J., but neither of them really know how to adjust to their new roles that have been heaped upon them, be it hero or mother. It seemed kind of on the nose that Eleanor’s husband Doug was just the worst, more interested in dollar signs than his wife or nephew as they navigate their grief, but he just goes to show that Eleanor is strong, and deep. Perhaps his two dimensional characterization is just there to bolster her when she can stand on her own two feet, but I liked having a clear person to hate, so that’s fine!

And along with that, we see how the world tries to make sense, and tries to point fingers towards blame, and how the media (especially media with vested interests in outcomes) can drive a narrative. The media has been accused of influencing people’s opinions a lot lately, especially in the sense of putting info out there that isn’t totally true, or is flat out false. “Before The Fall” focuses a lot on this plot point, as one of the victims, David Bateman, was the head of a Fox News-esque network that is very controversial because of how it spins things or emphasizes sensationalism over facts. The face of the network, Bill Cunningham, is both incredibly stereotypical and yet one of the more intriguing character in the book, as his need to know what happened to his friend and mentor completely clouds his already super cloudy professional judgement. This of course leads to a very bloodthirsty Witch Hunt that his viewers, and other media, partake in. On one hand you feel for him because he’s very clearly in mourning, but on the other he’s such a bastard for exploiting this tragedy for ratings that you can’t help but hate him as well. So yeah, a bit stereotypical, but at the same time you kind of have to wonder about him. He never really gets a full exploration like many of the other players, but isn’t just flat and boring in his wretchedness like Doug. Friggin’ Doug.

I enjoyed how this book slowly revealed the backstories of the victims of the plane crash, showing the things happening in their immediate lives right before their deaths, or in some cases the events that REALLY put them on this path. I do think that it was kind of a fizzle out in some ways, however, as while we get all this background, so much of it doesn’t really end up being totally relevant to the plot and the outcome. But then, that in and of itself is kind of perfect, because that’s the point. Sometimes things happen, randomly, coincidentally, and these things may not actually matter in the long run, at least at the end of all things. These things may just happen but other things outside of your control can change your destiny. That’s the problem Cunningham never quite figures out, and while some may find it to be pointless, I find it poignant as all get out. And so very “Fargo”.

So while it ended up taking me on a long chase and sometimes superfluously, I did end up really enjoying “Before The Fall”. The twists and turns were a fun ride, and I liked how it ended even if it wasn’t what I have come to expect from thriller mysteries such as these. I say check it out.

Rating 8: A well characterized thriller with a lot of interesting plot paths. Though some characters are flat and obvious, many are very intricate and fascinating, and the ideas the book explored were very good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Before the Fall” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Books of Secrets”, and “What She’s Reading This Summer”.

Find “Before The Fall” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate Re-Visit Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”

22416Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1998

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: After years of self-imposed exile from a civilization rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job that he hates and a city that he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd Century surroundings. Combining black humor, life-threatening situations, and moral ambiguity, this book is the first look into the mind of an outlaw journalist and the world he seeks to destroy.

Review: I’m going to be honest, readers. I was utterly dismayed and ashamed of the way that our Presidential Election ended up. And angry. And as I woke up the next morning and confirmed the news, on friend Kevin had a post on his Facebook wall involving “The Smiler” from the comic series “Transmetropolitan”. More on him as the series goes on. And in that moment, I knew that I needed to re-read that series. Be it inspiration, perfect timing, or personal therapy, I went to my book shelf and grabbed “Back on the Street”. I needed Spider Jerusalem in that moment. And re-discovering him and his strange, obscene, and digitized future that’s drenched in filth, insanity, greed, and cynicism, was a small comfort. Because God, did I miss Spider.

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” throws us into a future scape where humans have evolved technologically, but have fallen into absolute indifference, moral squalor, and a very divided society. Spider Jerusalem is a journalist who is in self-imposed exile up in the mountains. And he doesn’t even come back because he wants to make the world a better place, or to bring the ethics and integrity of journalism back to the forefront in a corrupt society. Oh no. He comes back because he owes his publisher some books he hasn’t written and he doesn’t want to get sued. Boy is he resentful of this fact. And that is the heart of Spider Jerusalem. He hates the society that he has been forcefully thrown back into, and even though he is at his heart a good person, he is so cynical and bitter and pissed that he doesn’t even like the fact that he’s a good person. He has a drinking problem, he has a drug problem, and he has a foul mouth and a sour attitude. But he is by far one of the most endearing comic book characters I have ever encountered in all the years I’ve read comics. Though in Volume 1 we haven’t quite gotten into the heart of the series, it is already giving hints as to what to expect while still speaking for itself. “Back on the Street” is an arc that could easily stand on its own two feet, and give us a story and a moral that we could get behind and be comfortable with. I love Spider and I love how snarky and Hunter S. Thompson-y he is (I mean, it’s pretty common knowledge that he’s an homage to that amazing Gonzo journalist), and he makes me smile and laugh just as much as he makes me think. He is a hero that this world needs, a madman who is just mad enough to take on the madness of the world that he lives in. His shining moment is when he exposes the police violence towards a group of disenfranchised people called Transients, people who have taken on mutated Alien qualities who are trying to live their lives in peace in one small part of the city. As the police rain down violence upon them, Spider jumps in and broadcasts it to the world, speaking up and fighting for their right to exist, in his own brash and evocative Spider way. You cannot help but stand up and cheer as you read his musings against politics corruption, and the media. He is so well written and so well rounded, a flawed but inspirational character with a lot to say about the world he lives in and the world we live in too.

Spider aside, the setting that Ellis has created is so damn perfect and layered. The City (no further name given so that it can be any city) is filled with so many different and strange people, all of whom are frantic and overbearing. It’s dirty and anxious and you get a sense of unease being in it. Ellis’s City is really a character in and of itself, a personality that is basically unbearable within a place that I would never, ever want to live. Ellis has also made a number of really great supporting characters that manage to shine through past Spider and his grandiosity. You have his greedy and opportunistic boss, Royce, who takes Spider onto his team, albeit nervously. There’s Spider’s Cat, a two faced mutant feline with just as bad an attitude as Spider. But my very favorite this far is Channon, Spider’s assistant whom he met when he took shelter in a strip club while covering a volatile story. Channon could have easily been the butt of jokes at her expense, being a former sex worker and the straight man to Spider’s antics, but she is a force to be reckoned with who provides an anchor to him and a voice of reason he must listen to. Channon is the best and I love the balance she brings to the story. If it was just Spider being crazy, yeah, it would probably get a bit old. Channon humanizes him, but doesn’t neuter him. It’s a great dichotomy.

And finally I need to talk about the art. I LOVE the style that Darick Robertson brings to this story. His pictures of The City are so fraught with confusion and insane details, you can see so many different stories nad messages in just one frame.

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I mean, holy crap. Just look at this. There is so much to see, and there is so much going on, but it never really crosses the line into too much. I love the style because it feels like it matches the content. Over the top and edgy, but filled with a lot of heart.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the introduction of our first main antagonist: The Beast, aka the President of the United States. Just one question for Warren Ellis: are you a soothsayer, sir?

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Too real. (Vertigo Comics)

So I bet you can understand why I felt a need to go back and re-read this book.

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is the beginning to an amazing series, and I had totally forgotten just how fun it right from the very start. It’s just what I needed. It’s vulgar and it’s brash and over the top, but it’s so darn therapeutic. And it’s a classic. Welcome back into my life, Spider Jerusalem.

Rating 10: A biting and hilarious satire of politics and journalism, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” is a wonderful start to a classic and tremendous series. Spider Jerusalem endures.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Best of Cyberpunk”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Women in the Walls”

28367592Book: “The Women in the Walls” by Amy Lukavics

Publishing Info: Harlequin Teen, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

Review: Halloween seems like it was so long ago, and yet I’m still digging into the books that I put on my list for Horrorpalooza that didn’t quite make the cut, timing wise. True, it was a long list so that’s to be expected. The next one that didn’t quite get the timing right is “The Women in the Walls” by Amy Lukavics. Lukavics wrote one of my favorite horror stories last year, “Daughters Unto Devils”. It was one of the scariest books I read last year, and it was a reminder that YA horror can have serious chops if you get the right writer. Seriously, horror fans need to check it out and how. So I was very excited when I found out that she had another one coming out, and digging into it was something I was very much looking forward to.

I think that there were a couple of mitigating factors that made this book not as engrossing as “Daughters Unto Devils” was, specifically that I was reading it during Election Week. And hey, let’s be honest, given how I felt about how that all went down, it would have taken a SERIOUSLY engrossing and charismatic read for me not to be totally distracted and brought down while reading it. But at the same time, “The Women in the Walls” just didn’t quite hook me the way that “Daughters Unto Devils” did. True, I can’t be sure if the extenuating circumstances had any blame, but as I read this book I wasn’t as scared or enthralled as I’d hoped to be. To begin, I didn’t feel as much of a connection to Lucy, or protagonist, as I wanted to. I understood her plight and sympathized for her, of course, but I didn’t feel like there was much heart to her through actions as much as her narration told me why there was heart to her. That is one of the perils of first person narration. I didn’t want Lucy to tell me that she was close with her aunt Penelope, or that she was best friends with her cousin Margaret, or that she resented her Dad because he was keeping secrets from her. I wanted to see it through action. I also just wasn’t as empathetic to her as I was probably supposed to be, and some of her character traits seemed a bit trite and just there to foster sympathy as opposed to give her actual depth.

But, the good news is that this book does have a lot of really scary and creepy moments and themes in it. Lukavics still doesn’t hold back when it comes to putting some upsetting imagery in her stories. Be it a desolate cemetery in the middle of the woods, a faded blood stain on an attic floor, or a bag full of human teeth, there were many moments where shivers were sent up my spine. She took a few old hat tropes and made them fresh and interesting, which is definitely a plus for me. She also does a very good job of building dread and letting unsettling moments slowly evolve into something that is so far beyond what you’d expected. There are definitely some parts of this book that made me squirm, and I don’t squirm that easily. So as a pro-tip, I would just suggest that if you have a thing about insects, well….. tread carefully.

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I have a thing about insects…(source)

I love that Lukavics has the guts to put some Stephen King levels of fear and shocks into her books for teens, because I think that some teens (especially seasoned horror fans) want to have scarier and grittier stories. I would have loved to have these books when I was a teen, as seeing teen girls in horror literature wasn’t something that I was used to back then because if I wanted horror, I had to go to the adult section. To be fair, YA literature wasn’t as prominent when I was that age, but even these days a lot of the teen horror is pretty tame and wouldn’t have satiated me even then. By having books like Lukavics’ available it says that this is a genre that can be for you too, ladies. Okay, soapbox moment here. Horror as a genre is still kind of a Boys Club in a lot of ways, so getting women writers in there to write books that teen girls are going to read really brings me great joy. Even if some of the stuff in this book also had me totally yucked out. I know it’s strange, but to me that’s a good thing.

So I guess that while I wasn’t as invested in this story as I had hoped I would be, I still did enjoy quite a bit about “The Women in the Walls” and what it gives to the genre as a whole. I’m definitely still considering myself a fan of Lukavics’, and I will be seeking out whatever books she puts out there. This is the kind of YA horror I want to see.

Rating 6: Though I wasn’t too fond of the main character and though it sometimes was too on the nose, I enjoyed the scary and horror moments of “The Women in the Walls” quite a bit.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Women in the Walls” isn’t really on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on the following lists: “Haunted Houses”, and “Gothic YA”.

Find “The Women in the Walls” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”

25570825Book: “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin” by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Image Comics, October 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle Barnes has been plagued by demonic possession all his life. In light of recent revelations, he finally feels like he’s starting to piece together the answers he’s looking for. But while he feels a new sense of purpose… is Reverend Anderson’s life falling apart?

Review: In the last collection of “Outcast”, it was pretty clear that the first few comics in this series were laying the groundwork for everything that was going to come after. I was willing to be patient for Volume 1, but I hoped that Volume 2 we’d start seeing more than a brooding Kyle, an earnest and somewhat zealous Anderson, and those around them. I’m pleased to say that “A Vast and Unending Ruin” definitely put it’s characters into the thick of it’s first story arc. The set up is done and we are seeing how it’s all fitting together! Which is a good thing, because I’ll be honest, it was getting a little tiresome to have so much set up in Volume 1 without seeing that much payoff.

One of the biggest developments in “A Vast and Unending Ruin” is that while Kyle and Anderson are definitely on the same side in this battle between themselves and the demons that are possessing those around them, it’s made very clear that they have very different opinions of how to handle and proceed. While Anderson is thinking in the terms of good vs evil and God vs Satan, Kyle isn’t totally convinced that it’s as clear cut as that. Anderson thinks that any of the consequences are going to be positive so long as the person they are trying to help is freed from the demonic grasp, a narrative that is very prevalent in your typical demonic possession story. While there are some vessels that do end up okay in the end (a la Regan McNeil in “The Exorcist”), there are others who do not (a la Emily Rose in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”). While sometimes these stories would make you think that so long as they are no longer possessed, everything is okay, because they are now being welcomed into heaven and their soul is saved. But Kyle doesn’t buy that, as he has seen those who haven’t turned out okay, like his mother. It’s easy for Anderson to say that all is well, but Kyle’s mother has been in a catatonic state for years now. So how can he agree with that? This conflict between the two main protagonists is going to be interesting as time goes on, especially since Kyle isn’t totally convinced that this is just a Biblical kind of situation. It’s an interesting theme to tackle, and hopefully it’s sustainable for awhile, at least until the next big conflict comes.

I also think that it’s important to talk about the women’s roles in this one since I touched on it the review of Volume 1. I’m happy to say that there was some expansion when it came to the lady characters in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, as we finally got to see Allison interact with Kyle in person, not just with him calling and hanging up. Allison is torn, as she still loves her ex husband, but believes that he attacked their daughter, Amber, and nearly killed her. The ultimate tragedy of this whole situation is that it was actually Allison who attacked Amber while in a state of possession. Kyle took the fall for this, as his whole life demons have been hurting those he loves most, and the only way to keep Allison and Amber safe is to keep them away from him. This interaction gave Allison more depth, as she is neither the wife who is all forgiving, nor it she portrayed as a shrew or a bitch. I felt that her conflict of emotions, fear for their daughter and anger at Kyle versus her emotions for him that linger, made perfect sense based on what she believes to be true. I knew it would be hard to portray that conflict she’s facing, but Kirkman did a very good job writing it. We also got to see a bit more with Mildred and her connection to Sidney (who continues to be fairly mysterious, though we are starting to see some of his motivations), which just raises more questions. But the person that I’m most concerned about, character wise, is Megan, Kyle’s sister. Remember how I said that she didn’t seem like someone who needed to be rescued, despite her back story? Welllllll, I take that back now, given one of the plot points that happened in this collection (no spoilers here, though I’ll probably HAVE to talk about it come Volume 3, so keep that in mind). I’m one of those people who definitely takes issue with women being used as tools to make male characters upset or hurt or vengeful, and I’m really worried that Megan is going to be the second female in this story (along with Kyle’s mother) to fall victim to something terrible in order to make him more brooding and sad. But, we aren’t there yet! So there’s still hope it doesn’t go in this direction…

So overall, I am still enjoying “Outcast” with Volume 2, as it has started to expand on it’s story and we’re seeing the first bits of conflict beyond just exposition. There are still lots of questions to be answered, but it feels like we’re on the track to discovering at least part of what is going on. I’ll be going on to Volume 3 in the nearish future!

Rating 8: The story is finally progressing a bit faster, and we’re getting some more well thought out character development. I have issues with how Megan’s character may be going, but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin” isn’t on many Goodreads lists that match the themes, so like I said before, if you like “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, this is similar.

Find “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”.

Kate’s Review: “How To Hang a Witch”

27405351Book: “How To Hang a Witch” by Adriana Mather

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It’s the Salem Witch Trials meets Mean Girls in a debut novel from one of the descendants of Cotton Mather, where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.

Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren’t enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it’s Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

Review: I need you, readers, to go back and read that description. I will wait…

Okay, did you read it again? Does it not sound absolutely BANANAS?!?! If you said anything other than ‘yeah totally’, I want to know what your life is, because to me this is totally bonkers. Which is why I put it on my list, of course. Because you have a YA novel about teenage witches in Salem, Massachusetts, and the teenage girl descendent of Cotton Mather, written by an ACTUAL descendant of Cotton Mather, that has magic, bitchy teen girls, a Puritan era curse, and a ghost who is a partner in detection.

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(s0urce)

Look, I’m going to be honest. There are many thing that I would criticize: The writing is clunky, Sam is very much a stereotypical ‘I’m so edgy and no one understands me!’ protagonist, the dialog borders on unbelievable, the metaphor of witch hunts as modern day bullying is kind of ham fisted, and there were so many cliches that I lost track of them. But guess what? I DID NOT CARE!!!  All these things aside, it pretty much met all the needs that I needed it to meet! “How To Hang A Witch” by Adriana Mather is a sanitized version of “The Craft” and “American Horror Story: Coven” and yes, it’s over the top and silly, but I’m not mad because I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it.

Why, you ask? Well, lots of reasons. I like witch stories. I liked that Mather has clearly done a lot of actual research about the Salem Witch Trials and the history of the town, and her family. I like that she does manage to incorporate a lot of that history into the narrative, even if it’s forced in at times. And I was kind of left guessing about who the perpetrator of the curse was, as Mather does put in some good red herrings that did distract me here and there. What could have easily just been a gimmicky book written by a descendant of someone who was there turned out better than it could have. I also did ultimately like our main character, Sam Mather, even if she is close to falling into many a trope in YA literature. As a descendant of Cotton Mather, of COURSE she’s a target for bullying by The Descendants, who are descendants of accused witches. So I was able to forgive Sam’s dark sulking, because unlike other sulking protagonists in YA stories that shall go unnamed, her father is in a coma, her mother is dead, all of her friends have had terrible things happen to them, and now she’s being tormented by most everyone around her. EVEN THE TEACHERS, I kid you not. Because of all this I get her defensiveness and I’m more willing to forgive it, even if it all seemed a bit heaped on. True, when in the first paragraph she warned the reader that she’s super sarcastic I was skeptical, and her constant spats with most everyone in town were also worrisome and repetitive. But as the book went on that forced edginess eventually tapered off, and Sam became more natural in her interactions with those around her, so it didn’t feel as ridiculous. It would have been easy to make it her against the world and that’s it, but she grew and developed, and therein found more common ground with others, which made her more sympathetic and easy to swallow.

But we do need to talk about the love triangle. Because boy, is it a doozy in this one. First you have Jaxon, the nice boy next door type who believes in Sam and is kind and nice to her, if not a little flat and boring. He’s fine. He’s a pretty clear ‘best friend I don’t have feelings for or do I?’ contender. But then…. Then there’s Elijah. Elijah, the thoughtful, brooding, sarcastic, GHOST. A GHOST, GUYS.

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What even is this and why do I kind of love it? (source)

So yeah, that happened. Man, I really do hate love triangles, especially when there is seriously no reason for them. But I did like Elijah, because there was enough sarcastic and snarky personality to him that he wasn’t just an ‘awwwww, woe is meeeeee’ stereotype of the supernatural love interest. He and Sam always felt like they were on equal footing in their investigation of the mystery of the curse, and while he may not have totally adhered to a lot of Puritanical values for sake of storytelling, it was a pretty okay representation of parties equally giving and taking. His motivation was his own as well, with his backstory tied up in the curse and the tragedies of the Salem Witch Trials, so it didn’t feel like he was just thrown in for the love angle alone. He was at least justified in being there. Him being a ghost was a bit silly, sure, but it did add a tragic spin to his romance with Sam. I think that the friendship and intimacy between the two also emphasized that Sam has a harder time fitting in with her living peers (which is dangerous because she teeters towards ‘I’m not like the other girls’-dom). But Jaxon just felt unnecessary to me, and shoe horned in because there needed to be some extra drama in the romance department for whatever reason. True, he starts by serving as the one person who trusts and supports Sam, but then that is rendered unnecessary as time goes on. I’m wondering if he was just there to potentially set up more drama down the line, because looking at Goodreads it looks like this is considered the first in a series. Given how it ended, in kind of an ‘end of “District 9″‘ sort of way…. well, I’d probably read the next one if it does come to fruition.

So to recap: this book is cheesy, silly, and painted with a broad brush, but I found myself deeply entertained while reading it. Is it going to be something I’d point to if you are genuinely interested in reading about the Salem Witch Trials? Hell no. Is it something I’d point you to if you wanted a spot of fun and a quick read about teen witches? Hell yes. “How To Hang A Witch” was a doozy, and I just decided to buckle up and enjoy the ride, which worked in my favor. No regrets!

Rating 7: At times cheesy and predictable, but also very fun and a nice fluffy read, “How To Hang A Witch” was an entertaining book with characters I cared about and a sappy romance I enjoyed. It’s bananas and I loved that about it.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“How To Hang A Witch” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade: The Salem Witch Trials”, and “Horror Extravaganza: 31 Days of Halloween”.

Find “How To Hang a Witch” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “You Will Know Me”

25251757Book: “You Will Know Me” by Megan Abbott

Publishing Info: Little Brown, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate. From a writer with “exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl,” (Janet Maslin) You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of desire, jealousy, and ambition.

Review: When I was a kid my parents signed me up for gymnastics classes at the local Y. They weren’t terribly hardcore or intense. I learned how to walk a balance beam, how to do proper somersaults, and cartwheels, and even how to do a pretty basic routine on the bars, i.e. how to flip around one bar and MAYBE shift your position from one direction to another. There were no delusions that this was just to give me something to do and round my childhood experiences out a bit more, but I did enjoy it for the two years that I did it. I was never going to be exceptional at it, even good at it. I was fine. And while maybe that would break some people’s hearts, it doesn’t break mine, because to be truly exceptional at something means you are investing all you have into it. I’m content watching the Women’s Gymnastics Team at the Olympics every four years, I never needed to be there with them. “You Will Know Me” takes that idea of exceptionalism and explores the darkest sides of devoting one’s life to sheer raw talent. It’s the sacrifice behind the glory, along with some soapy suds, lies, and murder. Aka, everything I ever wanted from a novel about gymnastics.

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Bela Karolyi’s rollercoaster of emotions is my love for soapy thriller novels about gymnastics personified. (source)

I’ve read two other Megan Abbott books about toxic girlhood. “Dare Me” was about high school cheerleading, and “The Fever” was about tenuous friendships. “You Will Know Me” is a bit different, because while it’s definitely about Devon, the very gifted and laser beam determined fifteen year old gymnast, it’s from the perspective of her mother Katie. Katie and Eric have put their entire life into Devon’s gymnastics, having put themselves into serious monetary and emotional debt so she could pursue her dream. Perhaps it’s out of pride, but you also get the sense that it’s out of guilt on both their parts, as a freak accident left Devon with a deformed foot at three years old, an accident that certainly could have been prevented. To see their negligence bloom into something phenomenal is the solace they can take from it, I suppose. Of course, it leaves their younger son Drew a bit neglected in his own right, as now everything, especially for Eric, is about Devon’s success and their collective dream of Olympic Gold. The pride mixed with the toxicity of the need for affirmation is one of the more disturbing things about this book, and Abbott does not hold back on showing how much damage is being done to this family. Even before the unexpected death of Ryan, a young handyman close to the team and their families, you can tell that the Knoxes are in a sedate, yet very real, turmoil. They have put 100% of their eggs into the Gymnastics Basket, and that’s a serious problem. Toxicity indeed.

Abbott does a pretty good job of showing the problems instead of telling them, slowly laying out the information across the story and its characters. The mystery of what happened to Ryan is the heart of the tale, but some of the more interesting parts to me were the family dynamics. You have Katie, a woman who got married young because she was pregnant, who is very much in love with her husband but knows all too well that youth is exciting and maddening. Perhaps that’s why she’s on board with Devon having all this structure in her life, since she herself didn’t have any. Then there’s Eric, a man who never thought he would be married and now his entire life is (one of) his children. And Devon, well…. She’s robotic and scary. The mystery is surrounding this family and the secrets that all of them have, but I do have to say that if you really think about it and the clues that are not so subtly dispersed throughout the story, you will probably be able to figure it out pretty quickly. Maybe you won’t be able to figure out the motive right away, but that too will become pretty obvious if you put some thought into it. So as I was reading I resolved myself to enjoying it for the character study as opposed to the mystery that was presented. And honestly, that was just fine. I devoured this book because I was just taken in by how dysfunctional and screwed up the Knox Family was. Seriously, I read this book in basically a night because even though I pretty much knew what was going to happen, I wanted to see it happen. That’s what I liked about Abbott’s book “The Fever”: it really pulled me in even if I couldn’t tell you much about the mystery now. I love it when a book can do that.

So I suppose that as a mystery and a thriller, “You Will Know Me” didn’t really have any surprises for me personally, but ultimately that didn’t really matter. Abbott does a good enough job of telling an entertaining surrounding story that it kept me going in spite of the lack of mystery.

Rating 7: Though the mystery wasn’t too hard to figure out, the portrayal of family tension and drama was spot on and engrossing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Will Know Me” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “The Girl on the Train Readalikes”, and “Women Are Writing The Best Crime Novels”.

Find “You Will Know Me” at your library using WorldCat!