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”

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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

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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.

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…..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!

Serena’s Review: “Ghost Talkers”

26114291Book: “Ghost Talkers” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.

Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.

Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…

Review: This book description was right up my alley: historical fiction PLUS fantasy PLUS romance. And, while there were a few surprised here and there, I mostly enjoyed this book, perhaps especially because it is *shocker!* a standalone novel!

The book description for this is surprisingly accurate, so I won’t bore you with another recap of events, but jump right in. The biggest question was this book was whether not it would manage combing fantastical elements into a historical setting in a seamless manner. It would have been all too easy for the fantasy to overwhelm the setting or to throw questions on historical events. However, this is pulled off with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed the backstory with Houdini and Sir Conan Doyle being used by the military itself to discredit spiritualism in an effort to protect their mediums and discourage Germany from adopting similar tactics. It was a clever way of tying in reality while providing a clever explanation for events.

The story also doesn’t shy away from the prejudices that were alive and well in this time period and would impact our female protagonist and her fellow mediums. The systematic sexism and racism of the time are handled neatly, if a bit too easily. The conflicts were a bit too mild and the resolutions, a bit too easy. For a shorter novel, however, that’s main focus is narrating a spy story with a fantastical twist, I can’t fault it too much for not devoting more time to fleshing these bits out more thoroughly. Not every book needs to accomplish everything, and I was satisfied with the approach taken here.

The beginning does start with what could amount to a spoiler-y twist. For some, it’s probably pretty obvious, but I’ll refrain from going into details for those (like me!) who weren’t really looking for it (though now I do feel a bit “duh” about the whole thing…). I really enjoyed the mystery/spy/traitor storyline that was the central focus of this book, and thought that the use of mediums and ghosts was incorporated in clever, if not completely unique, ways. I also very much enjoyed Ginger as our leading lady.

This is a shorter, stand-alone novel, so if you’re in the mood for a quick read and are interested in WWI but not too finicky about the addition of things like ghosts, mediums, and seances, then this book might be just the thing!

Rating 7: I enjoyed it, but it’s also a very tried-and-true story with nothing particularly challenging or unique to offer. Still a fun read though!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghost Talkers” is a new title and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But I would include it in this list “Gaslamp Fantasy”  and, even though it has obviously has fantasy elements, this list “WWI Historic Fiction.”

Find “Ghost Talkers” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “The Prisoner of Hell Gate”

26114305Book: “The Prisoner of Hell Gate” by Dana I. Wolff

Publishing Info: Picador, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: FOUR DECADES AFTER TYPHOID MARY WENT TO HER GRAVE, FIVE CURIOUS GRADUATE STUDENTS STRUGGLE TO ESCAPE ALIVE FROM THE ABANDONED ISLAND THAT ONCE IMPRISONED HER. CONTAGION DOESN’T DIE. IT JUST WAITS.

In the Hell Gate section of New York’s East River lie the sad islands where, for centuries, people locked away what they most feared: the contagious, the disfigured, the addicted, the criminally insane.

Here infection slowly consumed the stricken. Here a desperate captain ran his doomed steamship aground and watched flames devour 1500 souls. Here George A. Soper imprisoned the infamous Typhoid Mary after she spread sickness and death in Manhattan’s most privileged quarters.

George’s great-granddaughter, Karalee, and her fellow graduate students in public health know that story. But as they poke in and out of the macabre hospital rooms of abandoned North Brother Island—bantering, taking pictures, recalling history—they are missing something: Hidden evil watches over them—and plots against them.

Death doesn’t only visit Hell Gate. It comes to stay.

As darkness falls, the students find themselves marooned—their casual trespass having unleashed a chain of horrific events beyond anyone’s imagination.

Disease lurks among the eerie ruins where Typhoid Mary once lived and breathed. Ravenous flies swarm puddles of blood. Rot and decay cling to human skin. And spiteful ghosts haunt the living and undead.

Soon five students of history will learn more than they ever wanted to know about New York’s foul underbelly: the meaning of spine-tingling cries down the corridor, of mysterious fires, of disfiguring murder, and of an avenging presence so sinister they’d rather risk their lives than face the terror of one more night.

Review: Here is a brief history lesson for those who may not be as privy to the genuinely tragic story of Typhoid Mary. Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant who came to America in 1883, and eventually took a position as a cook for upper class families. For immigrant women during this time period, choices were limited, as servitude or prostitution were two very common end games for them. Mary was lucky enough to find work as a cook, but unfortunately she was an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever. She was quarantined twice in her life, and when she was released the first time she was explicitly told that she couldn’t be a cook anymore. So she worked as a laundress for awhile, but unsatisfied with the pay she changed her name and started cooking again…. and more typhoid infections broke out. Eventually she was found, and spent the rest of her life in quarantine (source). “Prisoner of Hell Gate” kind of takes liberties with the history of Typhoid Mary, and twists it a bit to suit the story and the message that Wolff wants to convey. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the message (mistreatment of lower class women during the turn of the 20th century was wrong, oppressive, and had high consequences), I do think that “Prisoner at Hell Gate” was a bit too focused on this message and sacrificed scares for a soap box.

Also, to really talk about the issues I had with this book, I’m going to have to delve into spoilers. So if you want to read this book, you may want to avoid this review.

The core group of protagonists (known as the Sewer Rats for their Public Health focus in grad school) are mostly flat caricatures. The main character, Karalee, is the great grand-daughter of George Soper, the man who hunted Typhoid Mary down and ultimately confined her in isolation for the rest of her life. Karalee has mixed feelings about her legacy and feels a need to defend Typhoid Mary, not really necessarily because of Mary herself, but because of the toxic pride that her father took in the Soper legacy that negatively affected her and because of the cruddy situation women had during that time period in general. She is the most complex character in this group, and is leaps and bounds more fleshed out than her companions. Chick is her boyfriend and he’s the epitome of misogynistic jerk that we are supposed to want dead. He’s a creep, he’s racist, he’s potentially anti-Semitic, and he’s sleeping with Karalee who is his student, but he was so moustache twirly in his evilness that it just felt lazy. Root for him to die because HE’S TERRIBLE was how it felt. I’m never into easy outs like that. There’s Josh, who embodied the neurotic Jew stereotype to the point that I was feeling uncomfortable. There’s Gerard, who is pretty boring and forgettable. And then there’s Elena, who I thought could have had some serious potential, but who didn’t get to be much more than the sassy Latina. I liked that we did have some diversity in this group (Josh, Gerard, and Elena), but it was very unfortunate that none of them were terribly complex.

And then there’s Mary. In this story, Typhoid Mary isn’t necessarily a carrier of Typhoid, but some kind of superhuman being that has evolved beyond being sick and even aging itself. We aren’t really told why, it’s just given as the reality to fit the narrative so that Mary can still be alive and antagonistic forty years after her supposed death. When our group of Sewer Rats stupidly maroon themselves on the supposedly abandoned island where she was left to rot, Mary decides that they all deserve to die, especially Karalee, the descendent of the man who sent her there. And this is where I just can’t totally buy in to this story. I myself do have sympathy for Mary Maron, because yeah, wow, what a shitty hand to be dealt. You are a carrier of a deadly disease without known treatment, and because of this your life has been changed and you cannot exercise the same, LIMITED rights that lower class women have in society. But, that said, I am just not totally willing to say because of this, these dumbasses who crash land on her island deserve to contract typhoid and die. If I’m feeling SUPER generous, maybe I’ll give you Chick. Maybe. But Elena, Josh, Gerard, and Karalee? Nope. Not at all. If it was an attempt to empower Mary, it didn’t work for me. If there had been some actual retribution towards George Soper as he was written in this book, I could have probably been on board! But analogs for him through his descendent and a chauvinist, plus three to round out the body count, just didn’t have the same empowering effect.

In terms of scary moments, this book did have a few of them. At first I was really intrigued by the atmosphere of the Sewer Rats tromping through an abandoned island with remnants of humanity. Abandoned buildings, shadows in the dark, scary noises in the night, all of these things made for some tense moments that genuinely set me on edge during parts of this story. It felt very “Blair Witch” meets “Abandoned By Disney” , which is the kind of story that freaks me out. What we don’t see is far scarier than what we do, in my opinion. But once they met up with Mary the story started to suffer. Hell, once it was made clear that Mary had her own perspective chapters, I was immediately put off. Had we not had the Mary perspective at all, and had the Sewer Rats been stalked by an unknown person or thing in the woods around them, I think it would have been far more interesting as a horror novel. As it was, the seeming need to justify the aggression that Mary felt and exercised towards the Sewer Rats really hindered what could have been a creepy and genuinely scary narrative.

It’s too bad that “Prisoner of Hell Gate” wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It had promise, but fell flat.

Rating 5: Unlikable characters, an unsympathetic antagonist who is meant to be sympathetic, and a frustrating focus made this a frustrating book to read. There are decent scares and moments in it, but overall didn’t live up to what I’d hoped it would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Prisoner of Hell Gate” is not on any Goodreads lists yet, but if you’re interested in books on illness look at “Public Health”. And while I wouldn’t consider this book a ‘best of’, the list “Best Wilderness Horror Stories” could be something you want to look at.

Find “The Prisoner at Hell Gate” at your library using WorldCat!

“We Are The Walking Dead”: Readalikes for “The Walking Dead”

Hey readers! Given that it’s October, we thought that it would be fun to tackle something strange and spooky, and since “The Walking Dead” television show is coming back after a pretty obnoxious cliffhanger, we thought it could be fun to give you some readalikes. That way, if you’re so tormented and angry with the reveal of who Negan killed, and if you need to get your fix some other way for awhile you can look here (swear to God, if Daryl dies we’ll hate it as much as he hates salad). “The Walking Dead” isn’t just about zombies, though. It covers themes of power, the human condition, and just what lengths humans will go to in order to survive… sometimes with brutal results. So if you like that grab bag of existential crises, do we have some books for you! (Note: We aren’t including the comics on here just because that’s obvious. That said, they’re pretty good too, and you should check them out if you’re into crying deeply into the void because everything is hopeless!)

149267Book: “The Stand” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Doubleday, 1978

Though there aren’t any zombies in this one, “The Stand” is definitely about the end of the world. When a man made biological weapon called Captain Tripps is accidentally released from a government facility, most of the world’s population dies. The one percent of the population left, immune to the disease, has to survive in a world after a man made apocalypse. But it isn’t just violent nomads, the elements, and decay that threatens these survivors. In Las Vegas, King’s greatest villain, Randall Flagg, is conspiring to end humanity once and for all. “The Stand” examines how humans cope with the world after it ends, and tells a chilling tale where a charismatic demon isn’t the scariest part. The scariest part about “The Stand” is that the whole ‘man made plague’ thing? It’s incredibly plausible.

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Book: “World War Z” by Max Brooks

Publishing Info: Crown, September 2006

Max Brooks followed up his tongue in cheek “The Zombie Survival Guide” with a gritty and in depth oral history of the Zombie Wars. True, the Zombie Wars haven’t really happened, but “World War Z” is so complex and intriguing that you would think that they had. Compiling interviews, documents, and primary sources, Brooks creates a story that shows not only how society crumbled during a zombie apocalypse, but also postulates just how humanity would react to it, document it, and sort of come back from it. At times very dark and at other times very funny, “World War Z” is a must read for any zombie fan out there.

20170404Book: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

Publishing Info: Knopf, September 2014

The same night that famed but troubled actor Arthur Leander dies on stage playing King Lear, a flu virus takes hold and begins to wipe out the world’s population. Twenty years later, a band of survivors travels the Great Lakes region, putting on Shakespearean shows for colonies and settlements in hopes of holding on to the arts and cultures of the past. But when they stumble into a strange commune with a charismatic and violence leader, they are reminded all too well of the darkness that still plagues humanity after it has ended. Haunting, wondrous, and written with a literary flourish, “Station Eleven” connects all of it’s characters while telling a beautifully tragic tale of how we as a species cope and move on in the face of a catastrophe of global proportions.

Book: “The Passage” by Justin Cronin66907981

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, June 2010

The U.S. Government has been experimenting on death row prisoners hoping that they can create a drug to greatly extend human life. They got their base ingredient from a bat virus in South America. When it turns the prisoners into blood thirsty monsters they try it on Amy, a little girl abandoned by her parents. But then the original twelve prisoners escape, and a plague is released upon the world. Nearly 100 years later a colony of survivors is trying to survive against the ‘flyers’, who are out for blood. And Amy is still a young girl, mostly unchanged. The end of the world is not zombies but vampires in this horror novel, and Cronin’s epic is nightmarish and incredibly original in many ways. It’s also the first in a trilogy, so if you want more after you’re done, you can certainly find it.

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Book: “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

Publishing Info: Knopf, September 2006

Another book not featuring zombies, but most definitely highlighting the brutality of human nature when pushed to its extremes. A father and son traverse a destroyed and grim landscape, making their way for the coast, their last hope for creating a future in this dark, post-apocalyptic world. This book gave me chills. The subject matter is challenging to get through, and yet, through what seems to be a hopeless existence, McCarthy’s narrative is almost poetic in its lyrical depictions. This is the opposite of a beach read, but also a “must” if you’re looking for a story of humanity surviving in an inhumane world.

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Book: “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan

Publishing Info: Gollancz, July 2009

We have to end with a zombie book, and since the rest of this list has been made up of “adult” literature, I thought I’d feature a young adult zombie tale. This story follows Mary, a teen girl living in a fenced in compound surrounded by a forest full of the “unconsecrated” (read: zombies). But as she learns more about her own society, she begins to question everything she thought she knew and dream of venturing out into the strange and dangerous outer world. This book is a young adult mash-up of “The Walking Dead” and “The Village.”

What about you guys? Do you have any books that you think would make good readalikes for “The Walking Dead”? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “Deeds of the Disturber”

32139Book: “Deeds of the Disturber” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Atheneum Press, 1988

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Can fear kill? There are those who believe so but Amelia Peabody is skeptical. A respected Egyptologist and amateur sleuth, Amelia has foiled felonious schemes from Victoria’s England to the Middle East. And she doubts that it was a Nineteenth-Dynasty mummy’s curse that caused the death of a night watchman in the British Museum. The corpse was found sprawled in the mummy’s shadow, a look of terror frozen on the guard’s face. What or who killed the unfortunate man is a mystery that seems too intriguingly delicious for Amelia to pass up, especially now that she, her dashing archaeologist husband, Emerson, and their precocious son, Ramses, are back on Britain’s shores. But a contemporary curse can be as lethal as one centuries old and the foggy London thoroughfares can be as treacherous as the narrow, twisting alleyways of Cairo after dark when a perpetrator of evil deeds sets his murderous sights on his relentless pursuer… Amelia Peabody!

Review: In this, the fifth book in the series, we step away from our tried and true formula and experience a few completely new settings and approaches, to varying levels of success. Obviously, there’s no way for any book in this series to get a failing grade when you have Amelia Peabody as your narrator, but there were also a few storylines that weren’t favorites of mine.

First off, it’s clear that this is going to be a completely different type of mystery when the book opens with Amelia, Emerson, and Ramses returning to London after their most recent adventure. I was both excited to have a change-up in setting, but also a bit worried about how well some aspects of the series would hold up under the stifling conventionalities of British society. I guess I shouldn’t have worried too much as Amelia has never been one to let trifling little things like “propriety” or “niceties” hold her back from doing what she wants!

So, of course, we start off with a murder, a mystery, and a general unwillingness by Emerson and eagerness by Amelia to become involved. I feel like there is a bit of a pattern to one of the challenges of this series. Of course, to be a mystery, you must have a good number of suspects, which means introducing a whole new cast of character into each book. And, for some reason, this is now the second book in the series where I just couldn’t keep some of the suspects straight. It was just a lot of British noblemen with different relationships to each other, to the museum, and to the Amelia/Emerson family. I actually had to flip back and forth a few times to try and remind myself. There’s a failing somewhere in here, but I’m not sure if it’s just on me or whether more could have been done to really fix each character in the minds of readers and serve as reminders when they show up the next time. All in all, however, I did really enjoy the primary mystery in this novel, and by the end (once I had the cast mostly figured out) the story came together in a very unexpected, but fun/wacky way that is typical to the series as a whole. I also very much enjoyed Amelia’s exploits in dress-up in this book and her ventures out and about in London sans Emerson.

However, there were a few plot lines that I wasn’t a huge fan of. First off, Ramses needed something to do for large portions of this book, and sadly, that something came in the form of two cousins. While there were humorous bits with these two (particularly the girl and her obsession with sweets and theatrics), I wasn’t enthralled overall. I’ve bought in on the one child character, but these two were clearly just foils for Ramses, and I wasn’t very interested in the resolution of his conflict with them (or surprised by the real story behind their antics).

The second plot line…I have really mixed feelings about. I do appreciate the fact that Peters decided to throw a bit of a wrench into Emerson’s and Amelia’s relationship, as it can come of as too perfect at times, especially in this, the fifth book. However, it was hard to read about it when the reader knows that there has to be misunderstandings and some explanation behind everything and things could just be resolved in characters would just sit down and talk about it. So, while I guess it is realistic that they might behave the way they did, it was frustrating to read about, particularly with regards to Emerson. There were a few points where I feel like he was even a bit out of character with how mum he was on his involvement in the situation. He’s been presented as a very frank character, and I wasn’t completely sold on the way he chose to handle things. Or, maybe, I just bought in too fully to Amelia’s perspective on the whole thing!

Those two qualms aside, I did very much enjoy this next book in the series. Turns out that you can still have a fun Egypt-related mystery taking place in the heart of London! I wouldn’t want this to be too much of a trend, however, since I do miss the culture class and history that comes with the usual setting. But as the next book is titled “The Last Camel Died at Noon,” I feel fairly confident that we’ll be back on track soon!

Rating 7: Still highly enjoyable, though featuring two plot points that weren’t my favorite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deeds of the Disturber” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries”, and “Mysterious London.”

Find “Deeds of the Disturber” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley”

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