Kate’s Favorite Reads 2016: Picks 5-1

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week! Today I’m finishing my countdown with my top 5 favorite books of the year!

26893819Pick Number 5: “The Girls” by Emma Cline

“The Girls” Review

This book was so not what I was expecting, but that ended up being perfectly okay. The Manson Family Murders are notorious, but when we think about them we think about Manson and the girls who went to prison. We don’t really think about the girls who were left behind in the aftermath. Emma Cline decided to take this question and fictionalize it, and brought us a very sad, tense story about how we view girls in American society, and how they react to how we view them. This book raised some important questions, and it was written in a strange and beautiful way. I felt so badly for Evie, our lonely and lost protagonist, and I also felt for Suzanne, the doomed and violent friend who was on a deadly path. This book was hard to read, but so, so good.

25533076Pick Number 4: “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

“Hex” Review

This was a year where I read a fair amount of books about witches, and “Hex” was one of them. And damn was it good and scary. I love a good story about witches that takes the puritanical terror of it all, and “Hex” does that perfectly, and in a modern setting! The town of Black Spring has been haunted by the Black Rock Witch for hundreds of years, and they have it pretty well under control, keeping it secret from the world. So of course some dumb teenagers are resentful of having to remain silent, and decide to post about her on youtube. With horrific results. This book scared the crap out of me, keeping me up and night, yet fearing that if I stayed awake I’d see a terrible shadow in the corner. Horror fans, this book is AMAZING and you need to check it out.

23308488Pick Number 3: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

“The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The Crucible” Review

Speaking of stories about witches, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa took the classic heroine of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and turned her and her aunts into some scary as hell puritanical nightmares! I had no clue that this was going to happen when I picked this comic up, and when it became incredibly clear incredibly fast that this wasn’t going to be like any other “Archie” comic I’d ever read, I was on board one hundred percent! The artwork is beautiful and eerie, and the story puts Sabrina in the sights of an evil succubus named Madame Satan. Oh, and her aunts are cannibalistic brides of Satan. OH, and Betty and Veronica are also witches. This series is genius, and I need more of it. Now. YESTERDAY.

25816688Pick Number 2: “The Fireman” by Joe Hill

“The Fireman” Review

Joe Hill is my favorite author, and I waited in abject anticipation for “The Fireman”. When it finally dropped this past spring, I was not disappointed, devouring this brick of a tome in a couple days time. Hill takes the apocalypse story and tells it from the perspective of the infected, humanizing them and also showing how scary they can be from those who sympathize towards them. His creation of the disease Dragonscale is harrowing, scary, and beautiful, and his protagonist Harper is a wonderfully well rounded heroine. And finally, his tragic character of John Rookwood, the Fireman himself, was one of my favorites of the year as well. His love for Harper was beautiful, their relationship sweet and strong. This book was just so emotionally charged, and meeting Joe Hill was the icing on the cake involving this book. Read it. It’s so good.

29436571Pick Number 1: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis

“March” Review

This personal and powerful graphic memoir is my personal favorite book of 2016. Yes, fine, it’s technically three books, but we’re going to take them as a whole. John Lewis chronicles his time in the Civil Rights Movement in these stories, and they are all so incredibly moving, resonant, and powerful that I found myself floored many times while reading. He tells not just his story, but also parts of the stories of those who were there, stories that may not be told all that often in American History. The art is also lovely, subtle and simple but still able to jump off the page and really kick you in the gut. In times like these, this story is more important than ever, and I truly and sincerely hope that educators will use this story to teach about human rights, civil rights movements, racism in America, and the power of resistance for years to come.

A very fulfilling year of reading. What were some of your favorites this year? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2016: Picks 10 Through 6

The end of the year is upon us, and we are about to embark into 2017. Given that we both did a lot of reading this past year, and had a lot of opinions about what we read, we thought that we would reveal our top picks of the year this entire week*! So today I’m going to countdown from ten until six. There will probably be some familiar titles on here, but maybe a few I haven’t even talked about yet…

18692431Pick Number 10: “Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon

The first book on this list that I haven’t reviewed on this blog! This realistic YA book is about a girl named Madeline who has a rare disease that means she needs to stay in a very clean, sterilized environment, lest she fall incredibly sick. But when she meets the new boy in the neighborhood, she starts to wonder if she could have more. This book is poignant, sweet, and incredibly romantic as well. Though a little predictable, Madeline is so well written and the situation so unique to YA fiction it has to be noted and recognized. Yoon is a great writer, who will hopefully be gracing us with her books and words for a long time.

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Pick Number 9: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay.

“Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” Review

Paul Tremblay’s newest horror novel, this one concerning the disappearance of a teenage boy, took some time to build up, but once it reached the breaking point it turned into a very disturbing, upsetting, and tragic read. Tremblay is masterful at mounting his suspense, and along with that he knows how to portray some very real and complex people in a heartwreching situation. I had this book in my mind long after I finished it, especially the concept of Shadow Doppelgangers, and “The Third Man” phenomenon personified. And plus, outside of the disturbing, his take on grief is so raw and haunting that thinking about it still aches.

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Pick Number 8: “DC Comics Bombshells: Enlisted” by Marguerite Bennett

“DC Comics Bombshells: Enlisted” Review

This was a comic that warmed my DC Girl heart! I loved seeing all my favorite female superheroes from the DC Universe put in an alternate history WWII storyline, and I especially loved that so many of them were incredibly well thought out and strongly portrayed. It was fun seeing Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Supergirl, and many others settling into fun roles that reflect the time period, but also let them show off their unique strengths. And plus, DC Heroines fighting Nazis??? Boy howdy, am I there!! Comics fans looking for a gracefully executed feminist story should pick this up post haste!

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Pick Number 7: “Hidden Bodies” by Caroline Kepnes

“Hidden Bodies” by Caroline Kepnes Review

I also read the first book in this series, “You”, but I enjoyed “Hidden Bodies” a bit more than that one. I think the reason for this is because Kepnes was fully comfortable with her sociopathic main character Joe Goldberg in this story. We know he’s a creep now, and we are allowed to revel in his reprehensibility and let ourselves enjoy it in a schadenfreude kind of way. I liked this one so much I actually listened to it on audiobook a few months after reading it, and I still laughed out loud and cringed at the seriously icky parts. I still hold out hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Joe Goldberg.

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Pick Number 5: “Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale” by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa

“Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale” Review

I’m still dumbfounded that Archie Comics is the publisher that is putting out the best horror comics in the game right now. But “Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale” is a solid and scary zombie story. Aguirre-Sacasa does a great job of taking these familiar characters and turning them into zombie killers while keeping them true to their characters. Along with that, he makes a few of them far more interesting, and sometimes twisted, than their original iterations. Specifically the Blossom Twins, Cheryl and Jason. I’m still totally gagged by their relationship in this, in both meanings of the word. A great horror comic to be sure.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2016?

*Note: I won’t be including re-reads on this list. I love you, “Transmetropolitan”, but this is for new titles!

Kate’s Review: “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth”

28561926Book: “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Publishing Info: Random House, January 2017 (upcoming)

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC through Random House (won on LibraryThing), for which I will give an honest review. Thank you, Random House and LibraryThing!

Book Description: In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

Review: I can hear it now. When “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” is officially published, I’m going to bet that there are going to be people who grouse that it’s either unrealistic, or an unfair portrayal of teenagers. But let me tell you. I knew these kids in high school. I basically went to this high school, though mine was in the Midwest and not on the West Coast. I knew kids who were vicious and mean to those who were different to the point that it became sadistic. I knew kids who were under incredible pressure to get into good schools because it was expected of them, and that it nearly broke them. I knew kids with serious drug problems who were shielded by their wealthy parents and faced few repercussions, while kids from less advantaged backgrounds were facing expulsion for not having good enough grades. It wasn’t wealthy enough for “Cruel Intentions’… but it was a Minnesota version of ‘Cruel Intentions’.

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All Kathryn needs is a winter parka and a toque. (source)

Suffice to say, this book was kind of like a walk down memory lane, the only difference being that in MY day there was no social media to make things that much worse. Thank God. So yes. While it may not reflect the experiences of all teenagers, it sure reflects the experiences of some.

What struck me hardest about “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” was that, while it was kind of a soapy thriller grit lit novel in some ways, it really read more like a character study of a number of privileged kids, and who they turn into after one terrible, avoidable tragedy. I liked that we were given a framework, a moment that has changed the lives of a number of kids (some tragic, some sympathetic, many horrible), and we get to see how this moment has predetermined how they are going to end up, in a way. This character study is seen through the eyes of a new, young, teacher named Miss Nichols. I think that it was a good idea to have her be the thread throughout this novel, a Greek Chorus to tie all of these other stories together, to show how they connect to each other and how they affect each other. But at the same time, much of my frustration was aimed at Miss Nichols, whose decision making skills and naïveté were a bit hard to fathom at times. It was as if her desire to understand and sympathize with these kids was being punished, which felt pretty cynical. But at the same time, it was kind of refreshing that this wasn’t just another ‘how do I reach these kids?!’ kind of moment, and that these kids can’t be reached because they don’t want to be reached, and the world has convinced them that they don’t have to be. That said, GOSH I wanted to smack Miss Nichols upside the head a few times.

I was far more interested in the perspectives of the kids, because we did get to see how their various lives were being shaped and destroyed by parental coddling/expectations, their wealth, and their seeming ability to be completely untouchable. For me the two most interesting characters we examined were Abigail and Elisabeth, both struggling with their own problems of teenage girlhood. Abigail is an honors student striving for good grades so she can go to a good school, but she has also found herself tangled up in an illicit romance with a teacher, Mr. Ellison. But Abigail was also one of the main instigators of a horrendous bullying episode in eighth grade, whose participation and needling led to the overarching tragedy of the story, and the end of her most important friendship. It was pretty fascinating to get to see all these different angles of Abigail, and while I definitely felt terrible for her in some ways (she is, after all, being manipulated by a sexual predator), she is also absolutely terrible in other ways in how she treats others. Her multifaceted personality was realistic, and a bit more in depth than some of the other awful kids she surrounded herself with. Elisabeth, however, was a surprising character altogether. So much of what we saw of her at first was from the perspective of those around her, from a moment of compassion towards a bullied classmate (with a sad face emoji in the group chat he was being harassed on), to others, including adults, thinking of her as a beautiful girl who is a sex object to all the men and boys around her. But then we find out that her aloofness is hiding her painfully shy personality, and a troubled home life that has pushed her to dark places. Her perspective chapter was the one that hurt the most to read, but in turn she was also the student that I was rooting for the most. It was just so interesting that I as the reader went in with certain expectations about her based on what other characters said, only to find someone completely different, but only when I actually had to listen to/ read about her from her perspective. It was very well played.

So in all, this is an upsetting book, but I do think that there is quite a bit of truth to it. While it shows the dark and disturbing places that high schools, especially those with unlimited access to money and little consequences to their actions, it also shows that things do go on, and that life will keep going after it for those who just hang in there, and learn from their mistakes. And again, as someone who went to a school like this, I found it to be one of the most relatable books about teenagers that I’ve read this year.

Rating 8: An entertaining and addictive look into the dangers of privilege and how bad teenagers can be to each other, and how they can blindly hurt themselves as well.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” is not on any lists on Goodreads yet, but I think that it would be a good fit on “The Best of Prep” and “High School Experiences”.

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” is not out yet and not available on WorldCat. It is expected to be published on January 10th, 2017. Thanks again to Random House and LibraryThing for providing this ARC!

Kate’s Review: “Altamont”

28435534Book: “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin

Publishing Info: Dey Street Books, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In this breathtaking cultural history filled with exclusive, never-before-revealed details, celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s.

In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, has long been seen as the distorted twin of Woodstock—the day that shattered the Sixties’ promise of peace and love when a concertgoer was killed by a member of the Hells Angels, the notorious biker club acting as security. While most people know of the events from the film Gimme Shelter, the whole story has remained buried in varied accounts, rumor, and myth—until now.

Altamont explores rock’s darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued beyond that infamous December night. Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show—from the Stones’ hastily planned tour preceding the concert to the bad acid that swept through the audience to other deaths that also occurred that evening—to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. He also provides an in-depth look at the Grateful Dead’s role in the events leading to Altamont, examining the band’s behind-the-scenes presence in both arranging the show and hiring the Hells Angels as security.

The product of twenty years of exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with many key players, including medical staff, Hells Angels members, the stage crew, and the musicians who were there, and featuring sixteen pages of color photos, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock’s formative and most turbulent decade.

Review: I’m going to take on a new responsibility here, guys! I’ve decided that I’m going to start reviewing the occasional non-fiction book as well as the other genres that I’m tackling. I don’t read non-fiction as much as fiction, but I have been reading enough pretty good stuff that I want to share it with you guys! So I’m starting this off with “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin. I went through a phase in high school where I listened to a lot of rock and roll from the mid to late 1960s, and went so far as to try and dress up like a hippie when I went to school (though admittedly I probably was more akin to an anti-war protester, as my Mom was my inspiration and I went off old photos of her as my template). Hell, my first ever concert was CSNY in 9th grade (also because of my folks). I had heard of the Altamont Concert in passing by my parents and the cultural impression it left, but didn’t know much beyond the Hells Angels stabbing Meredith Hunter to death while the Rolling Stones played. But that’s where Selvin comes in. Because he taught me quite a bit.

What I liked about this book is that it didn’t just cover the concert: it covered events that influenced the decision to have the concert, and the days leading up to it. I had not realized that by the time Altamont rolled around, The Rolling Stones were practically broke. I’ve never lived in a world where The Stones weren’t legends, so to think that at one point they were having monetary problems was mind blowing. They were still kind of living off the image of being a tour that packed in teenage girls, even though they had started to experiment with harder and edgier sounds like ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. They hadn’t toured in awhile, and the tour that Altamont was part of was going to be a quick effort to make some cash. I also hadn’t realized that Altamont was basically thrown together in a short period of time, and moved locations in even shorter time. The information that was provided in this book really opened my eyes to how the poor planning happened, and why everything was so haphazard.

Selvin also did a lot of good research about the people who attended this concert, from Meredith Hunter (the victim of the stabbing), to his girlfriend, to other people in the audience who were injured or killed during or right after Altamont. Everyone hears about Hunter’s death, but I had no idea that some drugged out people jumped into ravines, off bridges, and had terrible car accidents. Not only that, a member of Jefferson Airplane was knocked out by an Angel, and poor Stephen Stills was repeatedly gouged with a bike spoke by another one WHILE HE WAS ON STAGE SINGING.  It all seems like such a contrast to Woodstock, which has gone down in legend as a peace, love, rock and roll fest…when in reality, it sounds like it really just got lucky that it didn’t have the same awful stuff that Altamont had. Though admittedly, the Hells Angels played a part in that. But even the Angels Selvin really looked into. While it would certainly be easy to chalk it all up to these guys being violent thugs (and hey, they were), he also makes sure to point out that they too got pretty screwed over in a way here. They were not prepared to work security for such a huge show, and their own biker culture was in direct conflict with the druggie hippie culture, with neither side trying to understand the other (I too would be pissed if I had a motorcycle that a bunch of drugged out kids kept touching and knocking over).

My one qualm that I had with this book is that Selvin, while trying to ease blame off of the usual suspects and showing it as a perfect storm of nonsense, kind of throws the Stones under the bus a little bit. Do I think that the Stones were idiots to agree to this entire thing given how shoddily planned it was? Totally. Do I think that Jagger was disingenuous in his dealings with the press when asked about pricing for their tickets? Yes indeed. But Jagger was twenty six. Richards was twenty five. Grown men, yes, but young, and they had been surrounded by yes men for a few years whose jobs were to shield them from this stuff. It’s not fair to humanize the Hells Angels, who were stabbing, beating, and roughing up concertgoers, and then imply that the Stones were to blame for all the violence. I call bullshit on that. And I also wonder how witnessing this traumatic event, liability in question or not, affected the members of the band. After all, shortly thereafter at least Richards starting doing heavier drugs than he usually experimented with. It may not be connected but it did raise some questions.

Overall, this was an engrossing book that intrigued and disturbed me. I appreciated learning more about this notorious rock concert, and looking into how things can, and will, go wrong, to the point where there’s no turning back.

Rating 8: A very well researched book about a shitshow of a rock concert that has become notorious. Selvin gave more info than I expected, and told me many new things about Altamont, all messed up and disturbing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Altamont” is not on many lists yet, as it’s a fairly new book. But I think it would fit in on “Best Books on Rock and Roll”, and “The Rolling Stones”

Find “Altamont” at your library using WorldCat!.

 

Kate’s Review: “Conversion”

18667792Book: “Conversion” by Katherine Howe

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, July 2014

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

Book Description: It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.
 
First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.
 
Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .
 
Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?

Review: So I was one of those kids who went to a private prep school in St. Paul from Kindergarten up through Senior Year. Gotta say, while it definitely more than adequately prepared me for college and graduate school, at the time I was under immense, immense pressure. So when I started listening to “Conversion” by Katherine Howe, there were a lot of things that were familiar to me. An ‘Upper School’ building for upper classmen. Homeroom being called ‘advisory’. A Dean of Students. I will say, however, that while I was under stress, I wasn’t going to school in a town that had a notorious history of people being falsely accused of witchcraft and then hanged. So yeah, I couldn’t say that I could totally relate to the tale that was told. In fact, I would say that beyond having the occasional moment of ‘ha, we had that too’, I didn’t really relate to the characters in “Conversion”, even if I was probably supposed to to a certain degree. While Howe definitely put in a good effort at writing teenage girls, a lot of the time it fell pretty darn flat.

I think that the first problem was Colleen herself. While I understand where Howe was trying to go with her, I found her to be incredibly naive and dense, far more dense that someone who is supposedly a legitimate contender for Harvard and neck in neck for Valedictorian at this prestigious prep school. I don’t really want to go into any spoilers here, but there are a few plot points that I feel would have been pretty damn obvious for a number of people who would have been in the situation and experiencing it first hand. I understand that to draw out suspense and story line she would have to be, but it felt like her intelligence was in conflict with the plot. And while I didn’t have as many problems with Colleen’s personality as others have, I didn’t find her to be terribly compelling as a narrator. Neither are her friends. Usually I can find a side character that keeps me going even if the protagonist isn’t too interesting, but in this one we didn’t even really get that. They are all pretty privileged girls whose problems, while mostly relatable given my high school experience, just didn’t connect to me.

Our other narrator is Anne Putnam, one of the girls in Salem Village who accused her neighbors of bewitching her. Far less sympathetic than Colleen (someone who isn’t really all that sympathetic to begin with), Anne tells her story from two perspectives: the time she was accusing people, and the time where she is gearing up to confess her sins to the rest of the town, long after the trials have finished and the fallout has left a mark. While I liked the fact that Howe clearly did a lot of research into the trials and the people involved, making them as realistic and historically accurate as possible. Sure, she took license with motivation, as we don’t know why these girls accused all of these innocent people of crimes that sealed their deaths, but I think that her theories in this story make sense. They definitely have more weight behind them than Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, though in his defense that wasn’t really about Salem. We all know that. Howe really committed to telling an accurate story. The problem is, while it is meant to serve as a juxtaposition to what is going on in Danvers in 2012, it doesn’t quite work.

And let me tell you why it doesn’t work. Howe has two stories that have similar themes (mass ‘hysteria’), but they ultimately don’t line up. Outside of being two groups of teen girls in the same geographical region, Howe throws in a couple of twists that ultimately undermine the juxtaposition that she put out there in the first place (side note: one of the solutions IS up to interpretation, I will give you that, but boy is it laid on pretty, and supernaturally, thick). I suppose that one could argue that one other connection may be a feeling of powerlessness for adolescent girls, which manifests in puritan times to the modern age, but again…. It’s undermined. I won’t say how, but it is, and that irritated me to no end.

Something that does work, though, is the modern analogs for the Witch Trials, in the form of a trial by media as opposed to a puritanical court room. The press is, of course, whipped into a frenzy about this ‘mysterious illness’ that has fallen upon these girls, and their attention on the school and the students just feeds into it and makes things much, much worse. Adding into that is the factor of rich, entitled, nasty parents who are rightfully afraid for their children, but then lash out when answers aren’t readily apparent. And then, of course, love the media attention, both for awareness an for their own egos. A few people definitely end up on the other end of their fury, and on the other end of the fallout of the mysterious illness. This was both the most interesting, and angering, plot point. Howe wrote this SO well, she has her fingers on the pulse of the nastiest parts of human nature, both in the modern time line and the past time line. These parts made me the angriest, and hey, that was a serious emotional reaction that she no doubt wanted. So she did her job. I did find myself frustrated that sometimes I think she wanted me to feel sympathy for the girls in Salem, as a being a Puritan was very hard, and being a female Puritan was even harder. The lack of power and the lack of agency was apparent. But nope. These girls condemned a number of innocent people to their deaths. I have no sympathy for that.

Finally, this was an audiobook, and the narrator was pretty good! I thought that she did a good job of making her voice sound like a teenage girl when she needed to, but also an adult when the character called for it. Her accents seemed pretty good to me, though I admittedly don’t know much about the linguistics of the Puritan era in America. Overall, I think it was more her that kept me going. Had I been reading this in print form I may have struggled.

So “Conversion” has its moments, but I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. Though now I’m definitely interested to learn more about the actual people of Salem beyond what was told to me in “The Crucible”.

Rating 6: Though the historical accuracy and research was spot on, “Conversion” had too few interesting characters and too many missed opportunities.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Conversion” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Prep School Mysteries”, and “Salem”.

Find “Conversion” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Only the Dead Know Burbank”

28694501Book: “Only the Dead Know Burbank” by Bradford Tatum

Publishing Info: Harper Perennial, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: With Lon Cheney and Boris Karloff among its characters, this sweeping and stylish love letter to the golden age of horror cinema tells the wonderful, tragic story of Maddy Ulm. It takes readers through her rise from the complicated shadows of Berlin’s first experiments with expressionist cinema to the glamorous deserts of Hollywood. For Maddy has a secret. A secret that has given her incredible insight into the soul of horror. A secret that has a terrible price as well.

A young girl awakens in a hastily dug grave—vague memories of blood and fever, her mother performing a mysterious ceremony before the world went away. Germany has lost the first great war and Europe has lost millions more to the Spanish Flu epidemic. But Maddy has not only survived, she has changed. No longer does she eat, sleep, or age. No longer can she die. After taking up with a pair of street performers, she shocks and fascinates the crowds with her ability to survive outrageous traumas. But at a studio in Berlin, Maddy discovers her true calling: film.

With her intimate knowledge of fear, death, and realms beyond the living, she practically invents the modern horror genre on the spot. Before long, she travels to California and insinuates herself in Hollywood as the genius secretly behind The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, and Frankenstein. And yet she must remain in the shadows—a chilling apparition suspended eternally between worlds.

Clever, tragic, and thoroughly entertaining, Only the Dead Know Burbank introduces readers to one of the most unique, unforgettable characters in fiction.

Review: This past Halloween weekend, I was attending a bonfire gathering of former coworkers. Me and my friend Scott were the first to arrive, and as we build the bonfire and chatted he told me about a book that he had heard of and was interested in. When he told me it was about a girl in Germany is some kind of immortal state who takes an interest in movie making and moves to Hollywood, having a hand in making the Golden Age of Horror movies that define the time… I too was interested. As someone who likes horror, someone who likes vampire(?) lore, and someone who really likes the Golden Age of Horror Films, this should have been a home run right out of the park.

The bad news is that it didn’t quite even get a double.

The good news is, Boris Karloff is a treasure.

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I spent a majority of this book wanting to keep him safe and loved. (source)

I stand by my assertion that this plot does have a lot of serious potential and promise. Madchen, or Maddy, is a very well rounded and relatable protagonist, a girl who is trapped in stasis and has ambitions that are beyond  a world she does not fit into anymore. She is a tragic figure who never asked for this eternal life, the ‘victim’ of a ritual performed by her negligent and narcissistic mother who, in a rare moment of love for her daughter, tried to save her from the Spanish Flu. Maddy is haunted by her immortality, and also haunted by the spirit of a cruel man named Volker, who may or may not be her father, and fell victim to murder at the hands of her mother. Unfortunately, the tangles and drama in Weimar Germany and Austria really dragged the narrative down, and while I appreciated the references to German Expressionism and the undoubted influence it had on Maddy, and therefore the films she would influence, I just kind of wanted for her to go west, young vampire(?).

By the time we did get to Hollywood, things picked up, and it was lots of fun seeing Maddy interact with familiar icons of the Universal Horror circuit. From Lon Chaney to Tod Browning to a superb and sweet Boris Karloff, Maddy interacts with legends of old and her unique perspective on death and existential crises helps create the masterpieces of cinema that are still heralded today. And yet the song is still the same, as she is influential and instrumental, but as a young woman she gets absolutely no credit and is never taken seriously. These parts were the best parts of the book for me, and her friendships with Chaney and Karloff (especially Karloff, whom she affectionately called “Billy”) gave her that much more heart and rounded out two real life giants who had flaws, dreams, and spirit. Karloff is such a gentle and thoughtful soul in this book, and for whatever reason that just plucked at all my heartstrings.

But Maddy’s greatest relationship is the one she has with Mutter, a gentle giant she meets while still in Europe, who was wounded in WWI and permanently maimed both physically and mentally. Mutter is the other great tragedy of this book, as while he is so unattached from others around him for being different and special needs, his affection for and connection to Maddy is one of those tenuous threads that does connect her to humans. Maddy’s fondness for him is absolutely touching, and it leads to many moments where the two of them, defined and limited by their Otherness, are in this together, and against the world. True, one of his storylines felt awkward and superfluous (he ends up living with a number of the Native American actors who live on the studio lot, on call for roles as disposable extras, and the view and description of them made me uncomfortable because they too were so Othered), but their final bit together really, really hit me right in the gut. Because Maddy and Mutter find themselves being shipped back to Germany, right when Hitler has taken power…

Unfortunately, while I liked these really well done nuggets of characterization and mythology, the pacing was very slow, almost to the point where I was close to giving up on it. Whenever Maddy was back in Germany, the odd storyline with Volker and the baggage that comes with Maddy and her mother weighed down the narrative. It wasn’t as bad the second time, but it definitely hurt the tone to the point where I couldn’t really get past it. I also feel like it probably went on a bit longer than it had to, as the extended adventures with her mother in Hollywood were just not what I was here for. I was here for Boris Karloff. I wanted more Boris Karloff.

There were moments of “Only the Dead Know Burbank” that were absolutely beautiful in their power, tenderness, and despair. I lived for those moments. I just wish that it hadn’t taken so long to get there, and that we didn’t get slogged in parental angst. Overall, Maddy was a lovely and fascinating creature, and I will no doubt think of her whenever I rewatch an old monster movie from the 1930s.

Rating 6: Though it had moments of beautiful pathos and super fun and moving portrayals of classic movie stars, the slow start and disjointed focus in certain plot points made the book a bit harder to swallow than I had hoped for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Only the Dead Know Burbank” is still relatively new and is on few Goodreads lists. But it would feel right at home on “Best Books on Old Hollywood”, and “Hollywood Historical Fiction”.

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Kate’s Re-Visit Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”

22417Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has become a household name in the future City he calls home. This latest collection of twisted tales showcases Spider’s horrific yet funny screeds on subjects as diverse as religion, politics, and his ex-wife’s cryogenically frozen head (which has been stolen). “Transmetropolitan” has been called “brilliant future-shock commentary” (Spin), and this new volume shows why.

Review: It boggles my mind, the things that I remember about “Transmetropolitan” and the things that I forgot. I definitely remember Spider and his ways, how couldn’t one? I remembered The Cat, the two faced feline, and Channon, and other characters that have yet to show up. But various plot points completely left my mind, and I Think that those plot points had more to do with the vignettes that you find in the comics every once in awhile. Because while “Transmetropolitan” has it’s overall progression and story arc, it also has stories that stand alone, even if they sometimes affect the broader plot. “Lust for Life” is one of those collections, where none of the stories really apply to The Beast, or the campaign, or Spider’s role in the political climate of The City or the world he inhabits. This collection is really there to give more depth to the characters and the world that they live in, and I forgot how filled with pathos this series could be until I picked this one up.

The stories in this collection do have some absurd moments (the frozen head of Spider’s ex-wife going missing, for example, and the romp that ensues). But there were two storylines that really stood out as heart felt and just plain sad. The sadness that comes in this collection really gives all the more strength to the series as a whole, to show that it’s not just one big cyber punk filth and cynicism festival. The first involves Channon, my favorite character in the whole series, and her inability to come to terms with letting her degenerate boyfriend out of her life. Channon is strong and she has the patience of a saint to put up with Spider, but you can tell that she’s also very lonely, and looking for validation. She never falls into a trope, but she has a turning point as a character when her boyfriend decides that he wants to leave his body and transfer his consciousness into a gaseous vapor. Sounds oddball, and it is, but Ellis does a great job of making this story more about letting go of loved ones, no matter how much it hurts, and how necessary it is. The entire sequence is both tragic and beautiful, and seeing Channon in this new, vulnerable role is incredibly rewarding.

The second storyline that really punched me in the gut was that of Mary. Mary is a subject of one of Spider’s columns, a woman who lived a vibrant and exciting life in the 20th century. She was a photographer who travelled the world and was present at a number of historic events. When she was older, she and her husband decided to go through cryogenesis so they could wake up in the future…. Except, her husband died before he could be frozen. And when Mary wakes up in the world of Spider Jerusalem and The City, she is in the body of a twentysomething… And completely alone in a place that she cannot comprehend. It’s a story about wanting to live beyond your time, and taking a chance on it only to find yourself all the more isolated within a world that is already incredibly isolating. It was a story that reminded me that Ellis can write snide and cynical and crude stories, but he can also write some seriously existential and pathos ridden stuff. The City is already claustrophobic for the people who live there and are used to it. But to bring in a person who is, by and large, an analog for the reader and the time frame that we are more comfortable with, it makes you really think about what the hell it would be like to live there instead of just reading about it from the outside. And for me, damn was it lonely and really, really scary. I remember once one of my classes asked me if I would take a chance on being frozen to be awakened at a future date. While a number of classmates said yes, I was a solid ‘no’. And I wonder if in the back of my mind I was remembering the story of Mary, and how she goes from a formidable and thriving woman to a scared and lost stranger in an alien land.

I do wish that more actual plot line had happened in this book, but overall I did enjoy “Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life”. It’s nice to see that Spider does cover more than just the crazy campaign that is going to be a huge part of this story as a whole.

Rating 9: Though it isn’t as focused on the main storyline, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” does a good job of examining philosophical issues that could apply to it’s world, as well as our world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Best Gonzo Books”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

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Previously reviewed: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”.