Kate’s Review: “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places”

28815491Book: “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey

Publishing Info: Viking, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I bought it.

Book Description: An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country’s most infamously haunted places–and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and “zombie homes,” Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as “the most haunted mansion in America,” or “the most haunted prison”; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget. With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living–how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made–and why those changes are made–Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we’re most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Review: As a person who loves history and learning about our culture through a historical lens, finding a good book on America’s past is always an exciting thing for me. I’m also a huge fan of haunted places and scary stories, as I am a hardcore Fox Mulder in that I want to believe (even if the Scully side of me butts in and usually pulls me from the total brink of belief). So when I found out that there was a book that combined both of these topics, I was so excited I couldn’t wait for the library to get it, and bought it myself. “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” by Colin Dickey is truly a perfect read for the month of October, and for Horrorpalooza. Because these are ‘true’ ghost stories! Sort of. It’s more trying to find out why certain places get haunted reputations, outside of a place actually being haunted by a restless spirit. Going into this book I thought that it was going to be a bit more about the latter with American history serving as a back drop, but what I got was a deeper exploration of our country’s past and all of the baggage that comes with it.

Dickey travelled from haunted place to haunted place in America, not only telling the reader about the story behind the place, but also telling an in depth exploration of the non haunted history of that place and the implications that surround it. While there were numerous stories in this book that I had at least heard of in passing (or in the cases of the Winchester Mystery House and the city of Savannah, Georgia, actually been to), the actual background of those places were almost always unfamiliar to me, either because I just never learned about it at all, or because I’d believed the ‘haunted’ history that time has elevated. This had two reactions from me as I read the book. The first reaction was from the history buff in me, which was

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(source)

But the second reaction was from the Fox Mulder in me, which was

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(source)

At one point in this book, Dickey speaks on the fact that the belief in the supernatural vs the disbelief in it are always going to be at odds with one another, because you aren’t going to convince a skeptic that ghosts exist, just as you aren’t going to convince a believer that they don’t. As I read this book, even though I had this in mind, I found myself falling into that exact trap. When Dickey would explain the actual history behind a haunted place, such as the Winchester Mystery House, I would write off the things that didn’t fit with my thoughts as sometimes dismiss them completely. No, I don’t necessarily believe that Sarah Winchester was told by a medium that she had to move west and keep building a house to trick the spirits from cursing her. BUT, I ALSO don’t believe that she built this strange house for years and years and years at a huge financial expense just because she was experimenting with architecture. Does a tourist site like the Winchester Mystery House have a vested interest in hyping it’s haunted reputation at the expense of the actual history of Sarah Winchester? Of course it does. But I wholly believe that there was something else going on beyond an enthusiastic woman enthralled by her design creativity. It was times like these that I felt that this book was a little less than thrilling for me. Just because there wasn’t a record of a mental problem going on doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one.

But Winchester Mystery House aside (and it’s good that Dickey didn’t go all in on Savannah outside of saying it’s a tourist city hoping to protect and promote it’s ‘brand’), I really enjoyed reading “Ghostland”, because Dickey did bring up a lot of good points about American history and culture, especially when it comes to how these places and hauntings reflect our value systems. I especially liked that he brought up the fact that so often, the ‘ghosts’ that haunt these places are very Western centric and white, except when it comes to mass tragedies that our country perpetuated and both feels guilty over while also ignoring them. Specifically, slavery and the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples. While there have been stories of Thomas Jefferson haunting Monticello, a ghost that the site can embrace, you very rarely hear about ghosts of slaves and those that Jefferson wronged wandering it’s halls. On the flip side of the coin, the idea of the “Ancient Indian Burial Ground” is a trope that has been used repeatedly in horror stories, but it serves as little more than a way to Other multiple distinct groups while assuaging our guilt that we don’t really like to think about. In our stories it’s a revenge that is understandable, and yet we are still predisposed to sympathize for those (usually non-Native) people being haunted rather than the reason the haunting is happening in the first place. I had never really thought about these things in depth before reading this book, and boy did it really make me think.

Dickey also did a fair amount of research going into this book, with a fair amount of source notes that tie it all together. He did a good job of presenting a lot of information without it ever dragging or seeming dry, which is a true talent when dealing with the complexities of American history. He has a serious penchant for storytelling and kept things interesting while keeping them solidly anchored in historical context. And I do appreciate that Dickey postulates that even if they are overblown, hyped, and in some cases patently untrue, these ‘true’ hauntings do serve a larger purpose beyond just entertaining the masses. Sometimes they help us cope, or serve as warnings, or just help us understand what we’re seeing before us.

While “Ghostland” may not have changed my mind about the possibility of ghosts (though that wasn’t the intention at the heart of it), I did really find it a fascinating read and completely perfect for this time of year. I can’t recommend this book to history buffs enough, especially those like me who love a good ghost story. So if you want to learn some potentially new ghost stories and get some context as to what functions they serve in modern society, pick it up!

Rating 8: Though it sometimes downplayed a bit too much, “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” is a fascinating read with a lot of insight to American history and society and the ghosts that haunt us.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “Best Nonfiction Ghost Books”, and “Understanding History”.

Find “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Thousand Names”

15810910Book: “The Thousand Names” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Roc, July 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

Review: I honestly don’t remember how this book came to be on my to-read pile, and I also had very little to zero memory of what the basic premises was when I picked it up. A fantasy novel…ok…got it. So, without much preparation or expectation, it was an adventure discovering this book and a pleasant surprise, especially considering it was not the type of fantasy I typically read.

As readers of this blog may have picked upon, my fantasy reading tends to veer towards the “fairytale-like” and medieval fantasy. This is decidedly not that. It can only be described as military fantasy, and, surprisingly, I kind of dug it. Our two chapter perspective characters, Marcus and Winter, both serve in a regiment of the army that is stationed in a far-away outpost, only now seeing action after an uprising of the native people have pushed their army to the sea. They meet up with the newly-arrived Colonel Vhalnich, and while at first skeptical of this eccentric new leader, both, in their own way, come to discover that he may be a military genius…and also caught up in some other nefarious plots! My use of the ellipses is intentional.  The military genius portion is by far the more emphasized part of the story than the mystical plots.

Hats off to Wexler for making such a military-focused story appealing to even casual fans like myself. While it took a bit longer for me to become invested in the story and to fully realize (and accept) that this is what this book was going to be, ultimately, by halfway through the story, I was thoroughly enjoying even the most detailed of military strategy. Most likely this was due to the fact that by this point I was thoroughly invested in our main characters (Marcus/Winter), and almost equally invested in their subordinates (Bobby, Graff, etc) and was frantically urging them to “form square!” and “pull back!” and dreading each page turn where surely one of them wouldn’t make it through.

I also really enjoyed Colonel Vhalnich. We never get a chapter from his perspective, but in many ways he is the Sherlock to Marcus’s Watson. And I always love a “Sherlock-esque” brilliant character! He even throws out “Just wait and see, my dear lad, all will be clear in time!” lines! This may be a very specific joy of mine and not mean much to others, but I loved it.

Marcus was a decent protagonist, fairly straightforward and reminiscent of a “knight in shining armor” character. While I admired his devotion to his friends, there were plenty of times where I just wanted to smack him upside the head at the idiocy of some of his gallantry. There were a few twists that I saw coming a mile away that I couldn’t quite forgive him for missing (though I’m pretty sure we were supposed to be surprised as readers as well…ah all, this is what comes from reading so much of the same genre!).

Winter, however, was a completely unique and thoroughly enjoyable character to find in this type of novel. A run-away young women who has disguised herself as a man and been hiding out in the army for years as a form of survival and, almost, self-penitence for failing her lover Jane in a critical moment years before. I’ve come across the warrior-women-disguised-as-a-man character plenty of times before, but what is notable about Winter is not only sexuality (we avoid many of the romance tropes with other male characters in the military this way) but also her general reluctance to be there. It’s more a survival tactic than some deep-seeded desire to be a combatant. Her arc and growth was the most compelling part of this story.

The first half of the book is, as I said, very firmly rooted in its military tactics, and while this emphasis continues to a point throughout the whole story, I was happy when we got into a bit more of the magic and  mystery towards the second third. The history and players in this set-up were interesting and new. However, by the time the book wrapped itself up, I was still left with a lot of questions. I’m unsure whether this is a good or a bad thing. It is clearly set up as the first in a series, so not all secrets should be told. But, especially with regards to the title object itself “The Thousand Names,” I found myself still largely confused about what exactly it was and how it was important.

Overall, for a story that was pretty far out from my usual preferences, I found myself very much enjoying this book. Winter was a refreshingly new lead character; it was fun to be annoyed with Marcus’s “idiotic nobility” moments; and, as I’ve said many a time, I like genius characters like the Colonel. So, while I won’t be in a mad rush for the second book, I will definitely include it on my “get to it eventually” list. But if you like military fiction more than I do, definitely check this book out!

Rating 8: A surprisingly engaging read, though perhaps not sticking the landing and reveals as well as I might have liked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Thousand Names” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Military Fantasy” and “LGBT Sci-fi and Fantasy.”

Find “The Thousand Names” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “We Eat Our Own”

27276249Book: “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: An ambitious debut novel by an original young writer, We Eat Our Own blurs the lines between life and art with the story of a film director’s unthinkable experiment in the Amazon.

When a nameless, struggling actor in 1970s New York gets the call that an enigmatic director wants him for an art film set in the Amazon, he doesn’t hesitate: he flies to South America, no questions asked. He quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. He’s replacing another actor who quit after seeing the script—a script the director now claims doesn’t exist. The movie is over budget. The production team seems headed for a breakdown. The air is so wet that the celluloid film disintegrates.

But what the actor doesn’t realize is that the greatest threat might be the town itself, and the mysterious shadow economy that powers this remote jungle outpost. Entrepreneurial Americans, international drug traffickers, and M-19 guerillas are all fighting for South America’s future—and the groups aren’t as distinct as you might think. The actor thought this would be a role that would change his life. Now he’s worried if he’ll survive it.

Inspired by a true story from the annals of 1970s Italian horror film, and told in dazzlingly precise prose, We Eat Our Own is a resounding literary debut, a thrilling journey behind the scenes of a shocking film and a thoughtful commentary on violence and its repercussions.

Review: Has anyone out there heard of the movie “Cannibal Holocaust”? Let me give you a quick rundown of this movie and it’s notoriety. And I mean NOTORIETY. So “Cannibal Holocaust” is one of the first ‘found footage’ horror movies. It is about a group of people who go into the Amazonian rainforest to make a documentary about indigenous cannibal tribes, but then disappear. Their footage is found by a professor and the canisters contain many, many horrors including animal cruelty, arson, rape, and murder. When this movie was released, the director, Ruggero Deodato, told the main actors, largely unknown, to lay low for about a year so as to continue the illusion that they did actually disappear and meet terrible fates in the jungle. Which worked too well, as Deodato was arrested and charged with making a snuff film. The actors did come out of obscurity to clear him, but still. Yikes. So what is MY experience with this infamous horror movie? As a huge and avid horror fan, I wanted to show how edgy and hardcore I was and watched that movie a couple years ago. And let me say,  an hour and a half of gratuitous violence and multiple graphic rape scenes isn’t the best way to spend a day off, especially if you are feverish.

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I take it back, I’m neither edgy nor hardcore (source)

I was absolutely disgusted and repulsed by this movie. BUT, when my mother sent me an email about a new book called “We Eat Our Own”, it sounded very familiar. It sounded like the behind the scenes malarkey that went on during the filming of “Cannibal Holocaust”, but in the form of a horror novel. Okay, FINE, as much as that movie made me sick to my stomach, this premise had me TOTALLY SOLD!!!! A horror novel about the production of a “Cannibal Holocaust”-esque film? This clearly is going to be totally screwy and nasty and kind of fun and over the top, right?!

Well, not totally. Kea Wilson’s “We Eat Our Own” is very much based on the filming of “Cannibal Holocaust”, but it’s written in so many interesting ways that it felt less like a horror novel and more like an experimental literary one. For one thing, there are no quotation marks around the dialog, nor are there always indents when a new person is talking. But the most glaring experiment is that whenever the chapter is about the Unnamed American Actor, who is referred to by his character’s name (Richard), it is written in the second person (“You get a call from your agent, you go to pack your bags” etc), giving us an immersive experience for about half of the content of the book. While at first I thought that a second person perspective would limit the reader, Wilson worked around it by saying “you know this, but what you don’t know is that…”, and then tell us about the other characters in the scene or what’s going to happen to “Richard” in the future. I will admit that at first it was hard for me to wrap my mind around these devices. After all, I was kind of expecting a straight forward horror novel about a doomed production team (why I assumed everyone would actually die when that is not what happened in it’s real life inspiration, I couldn’t tell you). Instead I got a writing experiment that touched on more than just what was happening to the production team. I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me a little bit of time to really get into this book because of this style, but once I figured it out I actually really liked it, especially the parts where it would say “what you don’t know is that this extra is going to be running away and escaping her circumstances…”, because it found a really great way to learn more about these other characters without compromising the device.

The other chapters that aren’t “Richard’s”/the reader’s POV focus on other characters involved in the circumstances, be they that of crew members, the other actors, or the locals who are dealing with their own violent circumstances. Wilson takes the time to address not only the quagmire that is happening in the jungle at the time, but also the tenuous political situation that is simmering in Colombia. While an Italian filmmaker and his predominantly Western crew are trying to make a movie about cannibalistic and stereotypical tribal violence, there is unrest in the town that they are in, as a group of M-19 guerrillas are starting to boil over with tension, as they have a kidnapped Venezuelan attaché in their custody and are trying to plan an attack. An American who has set up shop in town has hooked them up with a cartel, and now things are on the brink of an explosion of violence. While it was great to see an acknowledgment of the ills going on in Colombia at the time, some of which were the result of remnants of Western colonialism and the drug trade that fueled Western noses at the time, these were the parts of the story that were the hardest for me to get into. The writing style is jumpy and at times haphazard enough, so to jump completely from one storyline to another was harder for me to follow. That being said, Wilson did a great job of showing how all of these characters are connected, and masterfully weaved them all together. There were times that we would get the conclusions to some storylines of other chapters through the eyes of another chapter and the character that it was following, which I really liked. It was also really biting to show an Italian filmmaker and his crew making a movie that perpetuates a brutal and dangerous stereotype about a group of people in Colombia (specifically the Yąnomamö), only to find themselves in a violent situation that has been built up by Western greed and entitlement.

Thinking about this book more and really dissecting it, I quite enjoyed “We Eat Our Own”. Don’t go in thinking that it’s your run of the mill horror novel. It’s definitely more complex than I expected it to be, and I think that Kea Wilson is definitely an author that I am going to be on the look out for as time goes on.

Rating 8: A complex and twisty exploration of both politics and a filmmaker’s obsession, “We Eat Our Own” is a compelling work of literary horror, and a love letter to one of horror’s most infamous movies.

Reader’s Advisory:

So the two Goodreads lists that “We Eat Our Own” is on are very broad and vague and have nothing to do with the story itself. That said, I think that it is quite reminiscent to “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James in tone and political message, and I also think that the list “Amazon Rainforest” might have similar themed books on it.

Find “We Eat Our Own” at your library using WorldCat!

Boo(ish)!: Some Good, Not So Scary Halloween Movies

All Hallows Eve is nearly upon us, readers, and while we’ll be putting some scary stories out there for you to think about on Halloween proper, this week we have a selection of some good Halloween movies. But maybe not the too scary kind. After all, we can’t all be scary movie junkies like Kate is, as not all of us like being scared. But there are plenty of non scary movies that are perfectly appropriate for the Halloween season. And we thought we’d share some of our favorites with you. Whether they have Halloween settings or spooky themes, these movies are milder, but just as fun to watch during the season of the witch.

mv5bmty4mjq2mzu1ov5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm2mjc3ode-_v1_Film: “The Craft”

Premiere Date: May 3rd, 1996

What do you do when you infuse a 90s movie with a healthy dose of witchcraft and teen angst? Why, you get “The Craft”, aka the movie that almost every Goth girl in the late 90s and early 2000s took as a how to guide (including Kate). It’s a story of four teenage girls, Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle, who find out that when they are together they have magical powers. Though they hope to use magic to make their lives better, it becomes all to clear that sometimes magic is too hard to control and has unintended consequences. All four of the actresses do a good job, but the stand outs are Robin Tunney’s Sarah, who plays reluctance and strength with subtle edges, and Fairuza Balk’s Nancy, whose desperation makes her both tragic and terrifying. It’s “Mean Girls” meets “Macbeth”‘s Weird Sisters, and it drips 90s girl power like few other films from that time do.

mv5bmweznmuxztmtzjy0my00ognmlwiyndctodm2yzzjm2ywzwewxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_sy1000_cr006831000_al_Film: “The Lost Boys”

Premiere Date: July 31st, 1987

Joel Schumacher may be remembered these days for his campy and much reviled Batman films (“Batman and Robin” in particular). But the camp and schlock he is good at really added a certain something to the 80s cheese o-rama that was “The Lost Boys”. When brothers Sam and Michael (Corey Haim and Jason Patric) move to a small seaside town in California, they run afoul a group of vampires led by Kiefer Sutherland’s David. They enlist the help of two teen vampire hunters (one of whom is Corey Feldman) and hope to save themselves from the danger they’ve found themselves in. “The Lost Boys” may have some tense moments, but it’s so overwrought with earnest campiness that it isn’t terribly upsetting, just a lot of fun.

mv5bodq5ndq0mjkwmf5bml5banbnxkftztcwndg1otu4nq-_v1_sy1000_cr006731000_al_Film: “Tucker and Dale vs Evil”

Premiere Date: December 9th, 2010

There are many classic tropes in horror movies, and two of the most overused are backwoods hillbillies, and remote cabins in the woods. “Tucker and Dale vs Evil” takes both of those tropes and makes a movie with a lot of laughs and a whole lot of heart. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two guys who are excited to renovate Tucker’s new vacation home, a cabin in the middle of the woods. But when a group of college kids arrives and makes assumptions about who they are based on their ‘hillbilly’ appearance, a comedy of errors (with some grisly deaths) ensues. Though this is kind of a gory movie, both Tucker and Dale are so hapless and bemused by their situation there are many laughs to be had.

mv5bmtuwode3mde0mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntk1mji4mze-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Film: “Beetlejuice”

Premiere Date: March 30th, 1988

Maybe this is an obvious one, but “Beetlejuice” is a classic haunted house tale that is far more funny than it is scary. When the Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) die in a tragic accident, their house is bought by New York yuppies with no taste. They enlist the help of an obnoxious demon named Betelguese (portrayed famously and perfectly by Michael Keaton), but then have second thoughts when the goth and morose teenage daughter of the house Lydia (Winona Ryder) is far sweeter than they anticipated. Filled with lots of Tim Burton staples and dark humor, “Beetlejuice” is an enduring classic that stands the test of time. And will never make you look at “Day-oh” the same way again.

mv5bmmqyymy5ztmtm2jkni00nmm2lwe3zmetywyzzmrkzdm0ztdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_Film: “Hocus Pocus”

Premiere Date: July 16, 1993

I mean, of course. “Hocus Pocus” is quite possibly the Grand Queen of non-scary Halloween movies. The story of the Sanderson Sisters, three Salem Witches awakened in 1993 to the (then) modern world, is a cult classic. The witches may be fish out of water, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to take the souls of Salem’s children to grant themselves eternal life. But three kids and a talking cat named Binx are out to stop them. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy bring the hilarious, and sometimes genuinely creepy, Sanderson Sisters to life with unforgettable performances. We would be remiss to leave them off our list, because it is not officially Halloween until “Hocus Pocus” has been watched.

What about you guys? What are your favorite non scary (or scary!) movies to watch during the Halloween season? Let us know in the comments!!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Tower of Thorns”

22567177Book: “Tower of Thorns” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc, November 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it!

Book Description: Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim.

Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.

As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

Review: In preparation for the release of the third book in the “Blackthorn and Grim” series this November, I’m charging forward with my reviews of the series so far. In the first novel, “Dreamer’s Pool” I fell in love with our main characters, Blackthorn and Grim, but questioned Marillier’s decision to include a third character perspective in that story. She followed a similar pattern with this novel, but, perhaps due to a stronger mystery, I found myself enjoying this book even more than the last.

Blackthorn and Grim have settled into their quiet life. Blackthorn, curmudgeony and reserved, providing her healing service to the countryside in which she resides, while waiting out her seven-year bargain to not pursue revenge on the man who destroyed her life. And Grim, faithfully devoting himself to helping her, and his neighbors, however he can, silent and steady, but deeply broken. But when asked to accompany Oran and his pregnant wife, Flidais, to a neighboring providence, Blackthorn can’t refuse and finds herself once again caught up in a fantastical mystery.

As I said, I enjoyed this book even more than the last. Having already been introduced to the characters, I enjoyed reading about Blackthorn and Grim’s continual struggles to adapt to a life that they feel disconnected to and a world that often feels distanced from their own experiences. Their stories are tragic, and the beautiful relationship they have formed is so lovely. In particular, we get more background on Grim’s story in this novel, which was important at this stage. In the first story, we know that something happened, clearly, but there were very few clues as to what. I very much enjoyed this backstory and how it fleshed out Grim’s character.

I also enjoyed the increased involvement that Blackthorn undertook in solving the mystery in this story. Being the recluse that she is, in both books she is extremely reluctant to become involved, but I did appreciate the increased action on her part in this story. The added layers to her relationship with and understanding of Grim were all fantastic, and I’m excited to see where Marillier is taking their relationship. Will it stay platonic? Will it become romantic? I feel like it could go either way, and honestly, I would be satisfied with either approach, which, when you think about it, is a pretty remarkable feat for an author to pull off.

And, as I said in the beginning, I did enjoy the third character perspective more in this story than in the last. Lady Geiléis’s chapters are devoted to spinning another tale that neatly ties in to the primary mystery. Perhaps as a more “shades of grey” character, her perspective was simply more interesting than that of Oran who at times came across as a bit of a milksop. The mystery regarding the howling creature and the tower was also much more compelling than Flidais’s story in the first book. By halfway through the book, I reached a point where I couldn’t put it down (which was a bit inconvenient since I was visiting family over Thanksgiving last year when I was reading it and was probably very rude and antisocial due to this book!). The story was decidedly darker than the first, and I was legitimately creeped out by parts of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and it is always exciting to find a series that seems to be improving as it goes. I’m so excited (and slightly nervous given the high expectations!) for the third book’s release! I already have my copy pre-ordered.

Rating 9: Fantastic! A more compelling (and creepy!) mystery, and added layers to our main characters and their relationship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tower of Thorns” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy with Old-School Fairy Tale Vibes”and “Books for Fans of Robin McKinley.”

Find “Tower of Thorns” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed:Dreamer’s Pool”

 

Kate’s Reviews: “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”

23043731Book: “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, January 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: NEW HORROR SERIES FROM THE WALKING DEAD CREATOR ROBERT KIRKMAN! Kyle Barnes has been plagued by demonic possession all his life and now he needs answers. Unfortunately, what he uncovers along the way could bring about the end of life on Earth as we know it. Collects OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA #1-6.

Review: I guess I’m kind of on a Kirkman kick this week, huh? First we had “Rise of the Governor’ and now we’re going back to his comics roots with “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”. Perhaps you’ve heard that this comic series, which focuses on demonic possession as opposed to zombies, now has a television show as well. While I haven’t checked that one out, I did decide it was high time to check out the source material. Demonic possession stories are not as high on my list as zombies are when it comes to themes in horror stories. While I think there is a lot you can do with the zombie trope and while I think you have lots of room to experiment with it, demonic possession tends to be pretty rooted in religious mythology, almost always Judeo-Christian mythology at that. But I have faith in Kirkman, and so I went in with an open mind.

The story concerns Kyle, a down on his luck and severely depressed man who has seemingly lost everything. His mother is in a perpetual state of catatonia, his wife left him and took their daughter with her after she accused him of beating the girl up, and he spends most of his days cut off from the world except when his sister Megan visits. But soon he’s approached by a local clergyman named Anderson, who wants his help dealing with a possessed boy. After all, Kyle is no stranger to possession. Unlike “The Walking Dead”, a comic without many mysteries, “Outcast” takes it’ sweet time unveiling the pieces of the puzzle that make it up. Going in we know very little about Kyle, and Kirkman is more interested in showing rather than telling this time around. Kyle is a character that even after Volume 1 I feel like I don’t know much about him, but he’s being drawn out in such a meticulous way that I’m not in any hurry to know everything. Especially since there is clearly so much tragedy in his life that many of these revelations are going to be no doubt painful. But as of right now, we know that Kyle has seen people he loves taken over by demons, which ultimately results in him losing them one way or another. Kyle is a tragic character who wants the world to leave him be, but happenstance always yanks him back to demons one way or another.

My favorite character as of right now, though, is Megan, Kyle’s sister whom he met in foster care before he was permanently taken in by her family. Megan is loyal and stubborn, and she has a family of her own now that Kyle is too afraid to get close to (not to mention her husband Mark believes that Kyle is a monster because of what happened to Kyle’s daughter). She is no nonsense and has not, as of yet, willingly played the part of a madonna in need of protecting (like Kyle’s ex wife Allison), which I am always afraid of in stories like this. Kirkman has written some very strong ladies in his day, and I’m happy to say that as of now Megan is one of those ladies. The other women in the book are not as well focused, as Allison is a spectral figure who Kyle is watching over and pining for, and a mysterious woman named Mildred who has been exorcised once before, and can’t stand to be near Kyle for probably pretty obvious reasons if you really think about it.

So is “Outcast” scary? For me, not really. I’m never really scared by stories like this, but at this point the plot is very much in set up mode. We see a few demons, and we see what becomes of them after Kyle and Anderson are able to get rid of them. But for now all we know is that Kyle has a strange power that makes him a huge threat to them. We know little about their actual origins, if they are religious as Anderson thinks they are, or not. I think that once all of the foundation is in place for this series, the scares will be able to come out in fuller force. Until then, we are very much talking about a character study, from broken Kyle to zealous Anderson to empathetic Megan, and even volatile Mark. However, there is one character who is giving me some serious creeps, and that is Sidney, a strange old man who has been lurking around Kyle and Anderson. He is clearly much much more than he appears to be given the last we saw of him (no spoilers here), and I definitely want to see more of this weirdo. He’s a far more interesting villain than the random demons as of now, and lord knows they gotta be connected somehow. Plus, I guess Brent Spiner plays him on the television show, so now THAT association is going to be fixed in my mind as I go forward as I continuously ask myself ‘what would a possessed Data look like?’

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Good God, forget I asked. (source)

I would be a dope if I didn’t talk about the artwork in this book. Again, a wonderful illustrator has been chosen to give this comic it’s own tone and feel through design, and the colors (by colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser) add to the overall effect. The characters are all rather grim in their appearance, but they all have distinct looks and traits that separate them from each other. Lots of shadows are used to set a scene, from the darker images and saturations of Kyle’s home to the brighter but dull scenes of Anderson’s church. But the exception is the color red. Red always jumps off the page no matter what.

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(source)

Vibrant colors and bold hues are seen throughout the pages, and I loved how different it all was from other Kirkman comics. The scenes are works of art.

“Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” has some serious potential to be a great comic. It’s going slowly as it sets everything up, but I feel as though I’m willing to try and be patient just so I can see how it’s all going to play out. This is a different kind of horror comic from Robert Kirkman, and.I am ready to dive in.

Rating 7: Though it’s slow moving and I don’t have a complete feel for all the characters yet, “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” is setting itself up to be a very interesting comic about demons, the literal and the figurative kinds.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” is, frankly, only on lists that don’t represent it’s themes at all. So let’s stick to horror comics and say that you should look at “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” if you want comics in a similar vein.

Find “Outcast (Vol.1): A Darkness Surrounds Him” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 2: “Children of the Fog”

19778048Book: “Children of the Fog” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline,  January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Terrible deeds are afoot in the Blackwood forest. The ruthless Fane and his men have not given up their search for the Frith family vault, and the people of Pinehold are paying the price. Wydrin, Sebastian and Lord Frith are the only hope for the tortured and the dying … but between them and revenge are the eerie Children of the Fog.

Review: I started the second novella in this series in a much more confident state than I did the last (in that I wasn’t completely befuddled by what exactly I was reading!). And not only did this new sense of clarity improve my reading experience, but this second showing in the series was significantly stronger than the last.

Picking up immediately where the previous story left off, Wydrn, Sebastian and Lord Frith find themselves teleported (Frith’s new-found mage magic being completely out of control) to the middle of nowhere. Also known as “bear country.”

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If only they had a household cat with them…(source)

But after few near misses in said bear department, the group of adventurers stumble upon a familiar township that is under the control of Frith’s tormentors from the first story who are now torturing the town’s citizens in hopes of finding the secret Frith vault rumored to be filled with treasure and hidden in the woods. Hyjinks ensue.

In almost every way I felt that this story improved upon the first. Whereas the first story was trying to introduce readers to these new characters while also get through a complete, though short, adventure story arc, this novella has room to commit to the story itself, knowing that readers are already familiar with our protagonists. Small details still are leaking out regarding Sebastian’s past and the strange connection he now seems to have to the Amazon-like warrior women who, along with their dragon “mother,” are now terrorizing the land. Frith is…still kind of an entitled jerk, but I can see some small improvements as he learns to maybe…sort of..try to be a decent person. And Wydrin is still her snarky, capable self. Honestly, she’s the only thing holding this ragtag group together at this point!

I also enjoyed the adventure arc in this story more than the last. The side-characters who are introduced are fun, and the magical elements that come into play were unique and interesting. Particularly Holley and her magical glass work!

But, most surprising, was the inclusion of several chapters told from the perspective of the Amazon warrior dragon women (honestly, I don’t know how else to describe them!). At first I was a little put off by these seemingly random chapters, but as the story continued, they almost became my favorite part! Essentially, their arc is that of children discovering the world around them, forming their own identity, and questioning everything they see. It was a very unexpected turn to the overall arc, and I’m excited to see where we go next with these characters!

All in all, I highly enjoyed this second installation in “The Copper Promise” series. If you weren’t immediately captured by the first novella in the series, just as I wasn’t, I recommend giving it a second go with this one!

Rating 8: An improved adventure arc, and some very unexpected, but welcome, twists!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Children of the Fog” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on these lists: “Dragons” and “Treasure Hunter Thrillers.”

Find “Children of the Fog” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Ghosts of the Citadel”