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?’

giphy2
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.

image-291
(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.”

da553d33e90f504c456e7b51eb189ba5-cat-1-bear-0
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”

Kate’s Review: “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor”

10869746Book: “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

Publishing Info: Macmillam Audio, October 2011

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

Book Description: Following in the footsteps of the New York Times best-selling graphic novels and the record-breaking new television show, this debut novel in a trilogy of original Walking Dead books chronicles the back story of the comic book series’ greatest villain, The Governor.
In the Walking Dead universe, there is no greater villain than The Governor. The despot who runs the walled-off town of Woodbury, he has his own sick sense of justice: whether it’s forcing prisoners to battle zombies in an arena for the townspeople’s amusement, or chopping off the appendages of those who cross him. The Governor was voted “Villain of the Year” by Wizard magazine the year he debuted, and his story arc was the most controversial arc in the history of The Walking Dead comic book series. Now, for the first time, fans of The Walking Dead will discover how The Governor became the man he is, and what drove him to such extremes.

Review: I am a casual fan of “The Walking Dead” television show, and I used to be a huge fan of the comics (that is, until I found that moment that just made me say ‘okay, this is far too depressing now, I’m done’). One of the most jarring, upsetting, and well thought out storylines from the comics, and probably the show too, was that of Woodbury and it’s despicable leader Philip Blake, aka The Governor. While he is an antagonist in both mediums, I would say that I probably prefer him on the show as opposed to the comics. In the comics, The Governor is supremely evil, but almost in an over the top kind of way and just there to shock and disgust you, without having any depth or dimension to him. On the show he was more complex and nuanced, so while he was still reprehensible in a lot of ways, he at least remained interesting. And plus, it helped that David Morrissey played him and made him super easy on the eyes.

02d5c5fffb9f64856bac3cb6c81e7d1f
Hottie alert. (source)

I’ve known about the prequel “Governor” trilogy for awhile, but I just decided to give it a go recently because it’s been awhile since I’ve read the comics, and I sort of wanted to see if Robert Kirkman was going to make him a bit more rounded by showing how he became the monster that he is. The first in this series is “Rise of the Governor”. Going into it I knew to expect something dark and nasty. I guess I just wasn’t prepared by how dark and nasty it was.

Kirkman achieves giving one of his most notorious villains a back story that both humanizes him and shows just how he could turn into the monster he becomes. And I mean a monster. In this book we follow Philip Blake, his brother Brian, and his daughter Penny right after the zombie infection has taken hold. So we get to see Philip turn from doting father with a sweet daughter into a blood thirsty murderer/rapist who is toting his zombified daughter around on a chain leash. How fun. But even though it’s incredibly depressing and incredibly dark, giving The Governor a back story ultimately does a service to the character. It’s not that we feel sorry for him after all of this has happened. I mean, we do, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. What it does do is show how even a normal guy like him can be so transformed and so mutated that you don’t even recognize him anymore. Philip’s relationships with his companions are all intricate and special in their own ways. Yes, he has a touching relationship with Penny (I will never, ever not be saddened by sweet innocent Penny), but I also liked the complexities and realism of the relationship he has with his older brother Brian. Brian is a very fascinating character as well, and his point of view is the other dominant one in the book. He’s a man who has always been seen as a loser and a black sheep before the world ends, outshined by and dependent on his little brother. And when he finds himself in a new world, he too starts to slowly transform from kind of a weenie, into a protector (as he is the one who cares after Penny the most), and finally into a hardened and cold person who is on a dark, dark path. The transformations of the two brothers are slow and agonizing, and I found myself aching for them both knowing what was coming. After all, The Governor has no brother to speak of in the comics, and you get attached to Brian as the voice of reason and the guy who is just trying to keep everything together. But even then, Kirkman manages to surprise his readers, as this story isn’t without it’s twists to keep us on our toes. I had an inkling that not all was as it seemed, but the fact that I could still just be gutted by the big reveal near the end (no spoilers) really goes to show how Kirkman relentlessly goes for the jugular.

giphy1
This was pretty much how I spent my last moments of this book. (source)

That said, while I did enjoy the background given to The Governor, and while it made me want to smother myself because of the feelings, this book sort of reminded me why I gave up on these comics when I did. I was able to get through some of the darker arcs in the series, The Governor included, but there were many times that I was so disgusted and upset that I had to pace myself through the panels lest I feel sick, until I just said ‘okay, that’s enough’ and just set it down for good. And this book was a grim reminder that Kirkman pushes boundaries and doesn’t hold back. So I have to give this book a lot of trigger warnings, not the least of which being graphic depictions of rape. There are two rape scenes in this book, both of which are brutal and very hard to listen to or read, depending on your medium. Like many people, I have a hard time when it comes to rape in storylines, and I am always very conscientious to try and disseminate to what end it is being used in regards to the story. While I know that these two separate scenes are important turning points in Philip’s arc, that’s just the problem: they are all about him and never about the women that he is victimizing. That isn’t to say that it isn’t absolutely horrible; I never felt that it was exploitative or titillating. But I did feel that Kirkman used rape as a way to show how horrible Phillip is, when there were PLENTY of other reasons to think that he was horrible. I don’t know. I have a hard time. It didn’t feel totally distasteful like some portrayals in recent pop culture. But it certainly didn’t feel necessary either.

Finally I should note the format. I did listen to this on audiobook, not sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. The narrator, Fred Berman, did an excellent job. His voice was malleable enough that he could change it effortlessly. All of the characters had distinct tones and voices, and he managed to believably play Penny, which I have to give him serious props for. Not all grown men can pull off the voice of an eight year old girl and not sound at least a little ridiculous.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but then again, what “Walking Dead” fan is faint of heart? “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” is a great addition to the universe, and I think that all fans who enjoyed the Governor storyline should give it a go. Just be warned: it goes about as gruesomely as a Governor story could possibly go.

Rating 8: A well written backstory to a very dark character, “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” is brutal and devastating. Though sometimes it piles on the violence in an unnecessary way, it is ultimately a great addition to “The Walking Dead” canon.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Zombiefied”, and “Adult Dystopian Books”.

Find “The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor” at your library using WorldCat!

NerdCon Stories 2016!

Hey readers! Kate here! We’re shaking things up with the Monday blog post, as I was
presented with a rather unique opportunity this past weekend. Serena and I are based in Minnesota, as you all know, and the Second Annual NerdCon: Stories, occurred on Friday and Saturday in Minneapolis. Though Serena was unable to attend with me, as she was out of town, I went wi20161014_152656_hdrth our dear friend Alicia, a fellow librarian and former classmate of ours. So I thought that I would write about this convention and what Alicia and I did while we were there.

 

So what is NerdCon: Stories you may ask. John and Hank Green, two brothers (one of whom is an author, known for “Looking for Alaska” and “The Fault In Our Stars”, and both of whom run a podcast together) founded a convention based on the idea of storytelling. It gathers for two days and brings in authors, musicians, poets, and many other people from many walks of life to talk about the importance of storytelling. It was held in the Minneapolis Convention center, spread out across many rooms and event spaces. I will be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. Alicia sent me her schedule asking if I’d put mine together, and I responded with ‘Uhhhh….?’ Content to just follow Alicia around, I let her take the wheel and let myself just float from place to place, taking it all in.

20161015_123307_hdr
“Storytelling in Tabletop Gaming” panel.

 

One of the most prominent events of this convention was a large amount of panels. Many of them were about storytelling, though there were also panels where authors took the wheel, or panels about librarianship, or panels about different kinds of storytelling. I attended a few, and the ones that stood out for me were “Storytelling in Table Top Gaming”, and the two randomly generated panels “Lightning” and “Wild Cards”, where the audience came up with topics for various authors to speak on. As someone who just likes hearing authors talk about many different random things, I enjoyed hearing the likes of Paolo Bacigalupi, Patrick Rothfuss, Wesley Chu, and Mikki Kendall talk about foods they like, Halloween costumes, and childhood stories. But then in “Storytelling in Table Top Gaming” we had various gamers and storytellers (including John Darnielle, author of one of my fave books of last year “Wolf in White Van”) talking about how D&D and other role playing games can also tell stories, which is something that some may not think about. I’m a huge tabletop game fan, so this was my favorite panel of the convention.

 

20161015_110155_hdr-1There were also various opportunities to have social and networking moments. Alicia and I attended a library and librarian meet up group, where we ended up talking about different aspects of librarianship and what we do in our libraries. At the end of this group meet we were exchanging contact info with other librarians, connections that we may use in the future, or maybe not. But even if we don’t it was a rewarding little meet up group. Along with networking, we did have opportunities to meet different authors who attended the convention, and get them to sign their books. As an avid book lover and someone who has been collecting autographs since ALA 2014, this opportunity was an exciting one! I asked Cindy Pon to sign a book for me (“Silver Phoenix”, a YA fantasy novel with a BEAUTIFUL cover), and I asked John Scalzi to sign a copy of “Redshirts” for my husband (he gave him a very funny personal message too, which was very cool). The signings were well coordinated and I didn’t have to wait long at either signing, and both Pon and Scalzi were very kind and talkative when talking with the convention-goers.

20161016_160303_hdr
We do rock, Cindy! Thank you!

By and large, however, my favorite events were the Variety Shows that happened twice a day. Presenters could present on whatever they wanted to, so you could either get authors reading from their works (such as Daniel José Older, John Scalzi, and Cindy Pon), or giving presentations on topics of their choice (like Joe DeGeorge talking about “Mrs. Pac Man” or John Green talking about Mental Illness and Creativity), or having an author conversation

20161015_094802_hdr
Patrick Rothfuss and Wesley Chu.

on stage (like Patrick Rothfuss and Wesley Chu talking about video games). Or participating in a lip sync battle. Yeah. That did happen. These moments were fun and relaxing, and while it never felt totally cohesive it did showcase a lot of different and mostly interesting pieces that I enjoyed. One of the more powerful moments was a presentation on undocumented immigration and how undocumented immigrants are trying to tell their own stories now, and how important their stories are. I didn’t expect this kind of presentation, but I was really happy to see it.

 

 

And finally, one of the most important things of a convention, in my opinion, is the SWAG you can get! I love going to the expo and dealer rooms of conventions I go to so I can 1) get good information, 2) make connections with interesting people, and 3) get cool stuff to bring home and treasure! I’d be lying if I said that that I didn’t value point three higher than the rest. 20161015_152004_hdrNot only did we get signed books, we randomly met up with audiobook narrator Kate Rudd and she gave us signed copies of a few mp3 CDs of books she’s done, all because we did her a solid! The expo area at NerdCon was smaller than other conventions I’ve been to, but boy were there a lot of books for sale, sometimes by the authors themselves. There were also tables being manned by local book related organizations, from Ramsey County Library to the St. Catherine MLIS Program. I got myself a cute necklace that has a tiny little version of the book “Emma” on it, as Emma (well fine, Cher Horowitz) is my personal hero. Lots of really cute trinkets, though probably not as much to see as you might at other conventions.

So is NerdCon Stories coming back next year? That isn’t totally clear at the moment. Attendance was down and it seems that it wasn’t the success that the organizers really wanted it to be. I think that a few factors kind of conspired against it this year. One is that the Twin Cities Book Festival was going on this past weekend as well, which also has lots of books and really neat authors to meet. Plus, NerdCon did have a pretty pricey attendance fee, about one hundred dollars for two days (one of which is Friday, typically a work day). True, it’s two days of lots of cool things and opportunities, but one of the big local cons here is four days at about the same price, and quite a bit cheaper if you register at the early bird rate. I think that locals just may not be as willing to pay that much when there are other, cheaper opportunities.

All that said, I did enjoy myself greatly at this convention. I think that if you like stories and you want an experience that is a bit more interactive and in depth, NerdCon Stories is a fun way to spend part of a weekend. If it comes back next year, I say give it a chance! So thank you, NerdCon Stories! It was a nice way to spend a weekend with a good friend!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Dreamer’s Pool”

17305016Book: “Dreamer’s Pool” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Info: Roc, November 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it!

Book Description: In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

Review: The third book in this series is coming out in November, so I wanted to get a head start and officially review the first two!

Juliet Marillier is hands down one of my all-time favorite authors, so I was thrilled when I heard that she was starting a new series, and I wasn’t disappointed! Told with her trademark lyrical language and set in a Fey-inhabited land with strong ties to Celtic folklore, Marillier introduces two completely unique main characters who instantly grabbed my attention and devotion.

Blackthorn is essentially the character that Marillier’s former leading ladies would have become if things hadn’t worked out as well for them. As an author, she’s known for writing young, competent, strong-willed women who often have a background as healers and storytellers. And typically, through their won drive and strength of character, they overcome the odds that are set against them and go on to live fulfilling, happy lives (though sometimes in bizarre circumstances). Blackthorn could have been one of these women, but her story ends tragically, leaving her angry, bitter, and, in many ways, hopeless with regards to humanity.

Grim, too, has a tragic, if as of now still unknown, backstory. His response to life’s blows has been to retreat to stoicism and a crippling lack of self-worth. But in Blackthorn he finds new purpose, and together, these two begin to re-discover what it takes to live outside of the prison they had been buried in together for so long.

These two characters, very much outside of Marillier’s usual type, are so tragically beautiful and real. They are both flawed individuals who must confront their own personal demons, and yet, somehow, form a deep and meaningful connection to each other. At this point, their relationship is completely platonic, and I enjoyed it all the more for this fact. It’s a lovely depiction of adult friendship and an example of familial bonds outside of traditional roles.

The story alternates between Blackthorn, Grim, and then Oran, a young prince who is thrown into a mystery with the arrival of his to-be-bride Flidais. I have to say, Oran was by far my least favorite character. His “love at first sight” relationship with Flidais pushed the bounds of believability , and in general, I found his arc less engaging than that of Blackthorn and Grim. Judging from this book, it seems that Marillier is almost writing a fantasy mystery series where Blackthorn and Grim aide another one-shot character through some magical plight. I really like this set-up; however, I’m less sure that including chapters from the perspective of these one-shot characters is the best approach. I feel that I would have enjoyed the story as a whole more had it only been told from the perspective of Blackthorn and Grim.

The set-up of the story, with Blackthorn’s agreement to help anyone who asks for aide for seven years, seems to be a clear indication that Marillier hopes to make this a long-running series. Based on the strengths of this book (the always-fantastic storytelling, and most especially, the incredible characters of Blackthorn and Grim), I truly hope that this is the case!

Rating 8: Blackthorn and Grim shine as atypical characters not often seen in a fantasy novel!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dreamer’s Pool” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Adult Fairytale Fantasy”, and “Great Celtic Fiction.”

Find “Dreamer’s Pool” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “And the Trees Crept In”

28449150Book: “And the Trees Crept In” by Dawn Kurtagich

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead Houseauthor Dawn Kurtagich

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

Review: What makes a good gothic horror story? There are many things that need to come together to really make a horror story a gothic one. You usually need a protagonist who is female, though really this isn’t a hard and fast rule anymore. It was just a very common protagonist type back in the Victorian era when these stories were super popular and remain classics. You also need a house or place of action that is isolated and generally creepy in ambiance, like a manor house or a hospital. And there usually has to be a question of what or who is actually causing the conflict of the story: is it something otherworldly, or is it just our poor isolated protagonist losing a grip on reality. “And the Trees Crept In” by Dawn Kurtagich is a pretty good representation of the gothic horror genre, and since it’s written for teens who may be more interested in something that’s more in your face than filled with nuance, I think that it’s a breath of fresh air, YA literary world wise. You have Silla and Nori, two sisters who have fled their abusive home life to live with their Aunt Cath, whose large blood red manor house is in the middle of a forest. From the get go things are strange for the sisters. There’s no technology in the house to be seen, Aunt Cath is both very happy to have them but filled with anxiety, and house seems to be in all kinds of disrepair. Soon Aunt Cath has locked herself in the attic and the trees in the woods seem to get closer and closer to the house. “I am ON BOARD!” I crowed to myself as I started this book, and given that there was talk of a Slenderman-like creepy thing in the woods (super tall, no eyes, huuuuge grin), I was even more elated to devour this book.

But then…. It became really weird, really fast.

giphy
…..Huh. (source)

While the Gothic genre is certainly supposed to be about isolation and questions of sanity, “And the Trees Crept In” kind of took it a little too far and into a realm that was beyond cohesive and more muddled. The story is told mostly from Silla’s point of view, though sometimes Nori’s random scribbles and notes do get some play as well. But mostly it’s a first person narrative from Silla, and diary entries from Silla, which lends perfectly to an unreliable narrator device. However, as Silla’s diary entries go on, they become more and more unclear as to what exactly is going on, just as her narration starts to fall to pieces as well. Normally this is fine in this genre, but I feel that Kurtagich almost took it too far, as by the time we got to the end of the book I was just lost and more frustrated than not. Writing a well done and believable descent into madness is hard to do, to be sure, and while a valiant effort was made here, it didn’t totally work. That being said, everything does eventually get explained in a narrative moment given by Silla’s love interest Gowan. While I appreciated that explanation was given, and while it did TOTALLY make sense, I think that it shouldn’t take a literal monologue of rundown and explanation to achieve that. And on TOP of that, there is a HUGE random twist at the end that just came completely out of left field! That was strange and I didn’t know how to feel about it. There wasn’t really any reason for it to go on top of the other twist that was revealed.

And let’s talk about Gowan and Silla a little bit. Silla’s characterization of a girl who is possibly losing her mind made it very hard for me to be like ‘oh yes, Silla and Gowan FOREVER’. While Gowan does serve a purpose in terms of wrapping things up for us readers in a tight little bow, I don’t quite buy into the romance that these two are supposed to have. I mean, after all is said and done I GET it, but I still don’t quite buy it. There wasn’t enough there before the end to make me really feel all that invested in it. I was far more interested in Silla’s relationship with her little sister Nori. The dynamic was not only interesting because of the age difference (Silla was ten when Nori was born and has always felt like a second mother to her), but because of the fact that Nori is mute. They can communicate with each other, and they have a strong love and bond through their clandestine communication, which gave a more desperate dynamic to both of them. In one sense it makes Silla more desperate to protect her since she seems to have that added layer of vulnerability, but it also makes a tension bubble up because Silla has a harder and harder time having her only company (outside of Gowan’s intermittent visits) be someone who has no voice and is different from her. And Nori’s fascination with the strange being in the woods adds even more tension still. I am admittedly pretty ignorant when it comes to what it is like to be a mute person, but I feel that Nori was portrayed in a sensitive manner.

At the end of the day, I did enjoy this confusing gothic tale of terror. I think that it definitely could have been a bit less convoluted while still maintaining it’s gothic aura. I would tell readers that it does all make sense. You just have to be willing to wait for it.

Rating 7: A pretty confusing and odd tale with a plot that needed explanation, but once it was clear what was going on I was pretty okay with it. There were some unsettling and creepy moments and the Slenderman-esque imagery was spooky.

Reader’s Advisory:

“And the Trees Crept In” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Diverse Horror”,  and “New Speculative Fiction Stars”.

Find “And the Trees Crept In” at your library using WorldCat!