Kate’s Review: “The Year of the Witching”

49789629Book: “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

Publishing Info: Ace, July 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

So for the past few months some friends and I have been continuing our ‘Horror Movie Club’ that we had just started before social distancing became the name of the game. We log into Netflix and open up Netflix Party, then watch a scary movie every Tuesday. Back in May we watched “The VVitch”, one of my favorite witch movies because damn, that ending. I was the only one who had seen it, and when that ending twist came the chat exploded with glee and I basked in the (what I see as ) feminist message at the end. You intertwine witchcraft and feminism and I am totally there. So when I read the description for “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson, I immediately, IMMEDIATELY, requested it from NetGalley. I want MORE feminist witchcraft in my reading, after all.

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EMPOWERMENT! HEXES! PATRIARCHY SMASHING! I WANT IT ALL! (source)

First and foremost, it should be noted that “The Year of the Witching” is a dark fantasy, bordering on straight horror story. Horror in terms of scary imagery, but also horror in terms of the horrors of fundamentalism, misogyny, racism, and corruption. Bethel is a community that seems to take some of its inspiration from Puritanism and the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints, with nods to Puritan beliefs of witch craft and the FLDS notions of a Prophet and polygamy. Citizens are kept in line with religion, and girls and women are the ones who bear the brunt of the hardships and the punishments for stepping out of place. Immanuelle is accepted by her family and mostly by the community, but is always Othered because of her mother’s ‘sin’ and because of her race. It’s far too seldom that witch stories involve Black of brown witches (with a few recent exceptions), so for Immanuelle to have the potential for magical powers and to be biracial with dark skin is pretty awesome. It also opens up the potential to  not only explore misogyny in Bethel, but also misogynoir as well. The entire society is an exploration in how a society can use fear and religion to exert control and power over its members, and at the top of this is the Prophet, who leads the town and passes judgements that sometimes end in pyres where women and outsiders are burned for the sins of being women and outsiders. And while the people in Bethel are being subjectted to this, it’s very clear that they are still complicit in this system.

That isn’t to say that Henderson falls into the trap of ‘one side is completely evil and the other side is completely good’, as the witches of the Darkwood that Immanuelle is drawn to (as was her mother) are described as evangelists in their own right. Immanuelle is caught between two extremes, and has to suss out if out of reaction to one side she will swing all the way to the other side, which has its own malevolence. Henderson really figured out how to find the nuance, which we don’t always get to see in stories that have as much rage and revolution in them as “The Year of the Witching” does. Which is awesome. Instead of falling merely into rage, even if that rage is completely justified, Henderson lets Immanuelle explore other ways to proceed when it comes to the liberation of herself and the women in her life. And I loved that.

And yes, this is a very creepy tale with some really neat witch mythos inside of it. You have your usual ‘cast out women who were seeking power’ tale, but Henderson goes a little further with it, giving each witch in the coven a specific backstory, specific roles they played before and after the clash, and unique descriptors that harken to folk horror as well as body horror. I especially loved the descriptions of Lilith, aka The Mother, who is the leader and in direct opposition of The Father and what the people of Bethel believe. I don’t want to spoil her description because I really want it to to be a surprise to readers, but holy hell, it’s both something out of a nightmare and also powerful as hell.

“The Year of the Witching” is an excellent YA horror novel with a lot to say. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on it. Especially if you loved the end of “The VVitch”.

Rating 10: Spooky, angry, feminist and empowering, “The Year of the Witching” is a dark and scary tale of agency, independence, and discovering your inner power.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Year of the Witching” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dystopias with Gender or Religion-specific Phobics”, and “Black Heroines 2020”.

Find “The Year of the Witching” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Beach (Backyard?) Reads: Summer 2020

Back for 2020, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” (responsibly for a pandemic of course!) but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. Or maybe staycations this year. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

36524503._sy475_Fantasy Title: “The Bone Houses” by Emily Lloyd-Jones

This book took me completely by surprise last fall and ended up making my “Top 10” list for the year easily. I also feel like it went largely unnoticed by most fantasy fans. For whatever reason, the hype train seemed to have missed it, and that’s a huge shame! This book is everything I look for in my YA fantasy titles. An excellent leading lady. A humorous side kick (this time in the form of an undead goat). A great romantic lead. And a fantasy tale that verges on a fairytale retelling, this time pulling themes from “The Black Cauldron.” And, of course, per the rules of this lists, it’s a stand-alone title that is completely and utterly satisfying to read all on its own. Not going to lie, I’ve been pretty much online stalking the author ever since to see when/if she’s coming out with something new soon! You’ll be sure to hear about it when I do!

13138635Science Fiction Title: “These Broken Stars” by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Man, that cover really dates this book. I mean, it’s not even ten years old (it came out in 2013), but the whole “ballroom gown” cover art for YA titles is definitely a thing of the past. While this book is technically the first in a trilogy, each book in this series tells a complete story of its own and each features a new set of characters, even if familiar faces pop up now and then in the later books. This, being the first book, definitely reads as a stand-alone. It also falls on the romantic side of science fiction and is that rare YA unicorn: a science fiction title written for young adults. It’s pretty much a survival story, as well, when our two leading characters find themselves crashed landed on a strange new world and have no one but each other to depend on. It’s been a while since I read this (and I wasn’t a fan of the sequel when I got to it and never read the third one due to that failure), but I definitely remember enjoying it, and I gave it four stars on Goodreads.

51318896._sx318_sy475_

Mystery Title: “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman

I read this one just this last spring, but it’s really stuck with me since as an exciting new beginning to a historical mystery series. Yes, yes, it’s the beginning of a series. But many mystery novels that I read are, but most can still be read individually, and this one definitely fits that bill with a solid beginning, middle, and end. Those who follow this blog know that I was pretty disappointed by the last Veronica Speedwell book to come out, so that made it all the more exciting to find a new lady sleuth. Lily Adler is a very different heroine than Veronica Speedwell. She’s a recent widow, for one things, which puts any romance plotline firmly on the backburner. She’s also a more quiet, introspective detective ala Sherlock Holmes than very flashy and bold. I really enjoyed the mystery itself, and she collects an interesting assortment of sidekicks along the way. One of whom is named Serena, so bonus!

32618152._sy475_Historical Fiction Title: “The Phantom Tree”

This is one of those historical fiction titles that definitely includes time travel, so it all borders on fantasy. But the historical fiction aspect of it is by far the predominant and other than the fact that time travel exists, it doesn’t stray much further into the realms of impossibility. The story follows Alison Bannister after she discovers a rare painting depicting a woman who is a historical mystery. But the woman in the painting, Jane Seymour, holds much closer ties to Alison than anyone would suspect, and in tracking down what happened to this woman, Alison begins to put together more puzzle pieces about her own life. The story features chapters from both Alison’s and Jane’s perspective, and the way the two’s story weaves together is both beautiful and tragic. It’s a lovey historical fiction title that is a great choice for a stand-alone read on a hot summer day.

Kate’s Picks

13129925Horror Title: “Horrorstör” by Grady Hendrix

This was my first experience with Grady Hendrix, and right away I knew that it was going to be super wacky! The book is designed like an Ikea Catalog, which told me everything I needed to know about Hendrix as an author. And “Horrorstör” is a great introduction to Hendrix’s work if you haven’t picked it up already. At the Orsk Furniture store, strange things are happening. Items are being destroyed overnight and no one knows what is happening. Amy, who works there any hates her job, is offered six hundred dollars to stay over night along with a few other employees, to keep an eye on things. But instead of vandals, they find some pretty angry spirits are at play. It has its scares, but it’s also a fun hoot as only Hendrix can deliver!

36388243._sy475_Thriller Title: “Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman

I couldn’t pass up the chance to pick a book that takes place on a literal beach! Though this one might make you think twice about searching for oceanic buried treasure… Erin and Mark are a married couple who go on a luxurious honeymoon in Bora Bora, hoping for romance and pampering. But after a tropical storm runs through, they find a mysterious bag in the ocean… and it’s filled with a lot of money. Seeing an opportunity, they decide to keep the money, as there are no markings as to who it belongs to. But an owner it does have, and that owner will do almost anything to get it back. This apropos setting and thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat!

45754737Graphic Novel Title: “My Brother’s Husband” by Gengoroh Tagame

You want something sweet, and perhaps a little melancholy? A story about relationships between brothers, between lovers, between parents and children? A story with an adorable little girl and a delightful Canadian and a slightly neurotic single father? Then you definitely need to pick up “My Brother’s Husband” by Gengoroh Tagame! It follows the story of Yaichi, a single dad living in Tokyo, whose twin brother Ryoji has been out of touch with the rest of the family after being ostracized for being gay. When Mike Flanagan, a Canadian gay man, arrives on Yaichi’s doorstep to tell him that he is Ryoji’s widower, Yaichi’s world starts to change. You may need a tissue or two for this book, but it is lovely and adorable. I should note that it is manga and reads back to front and right to left, but it’s easy to get the hang of. And don’t let that stop you from reading this charming book.

44153387Non-Fiction Title: “The Feather Thief” by Kirk Wallace Johnson

I figured that for my non-fiction selection I should stick to a topic that is super interesting and intriguing, but isn’t steeped in blood, gore, and violence. So instead we look to a true heist story! In 2009 an American citizen strolled into the Tring Museum outside of London, and stole a number of rare bird feather specimens because he wanted to turn them into fly ties for salmon fishing. He then basically faded into thin air. Years later Kirk Wallace Johnson heard about this story, and immediately wanted to know what happened next. So he did his own investigation into it, and what he found out was staggering and strange. So if you want a true crime story that isn’t going to upset you but will still totally take you to the criminal mindset, “The Feather Thief” may be a good choice to read on a hot summer day by the backyard kiddie pool.

What books are you hoping to read this summer? Let us know in the comments!

My Year with Jane Austen: “Clueless” [1995]

mv5bmzbmogq0nwitotzjzc00zdaxltgyotetodjiywq2ywniywvjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynte1njy5mg4040._v1_sy1000_cr006691000_al_Movie: “Clueless”

Release Year: 1995

Actors: Cher – Alicia Silverstone

Josh – Paul Rudd

Tai – Brittany Murphy

Christian – Justin Walker

Comparison – “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.”

“Clueless” is definitely a movie of its time, but it’s still a blast to watch today. Similarly to “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” is a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s work which means that while some things follow along pretty faithfully, there are also a lot of changes to make it work as a modern tale.

I really like the initial match-making switch. Instead of a governness, we see Cher setting up two of her teachers in an attempt to improve her grade. On one hand, this makes Cher’s reasons much more self-centered than Emma’s, but the change works well, I think. After her initial success, Cher decides that she likes helping people like she did for these two, sad, pathetic teachers. And so she takes Tai (Harriet Smith) under her wing. In many ways, her goal in helping Tai is much more centered around making Tai popular than specifically matching her up with someone. In the book, Emma had already proclaimed a desire to match Mr. Elton up before zeroing in on Harriet. Here, we see Cher directing Tai’s love life more because Tai’s original interest (a drugged up skater boy) would not be a good match for a popular girl. Elton is then selected as a proper match for someone of Tai’s aspiring popularity.

This arc then comes full circle when we see Tai become truly popular and then snap at Cher in all of Tai’s mean girl glory. So Cher’s “what have I done?” is much less about her project girl being interested in someone whom she realizes she cares for (though that is a factor), and more to do with how sweet and nice Tai had been before Cher’s meddling in her life. Luckily, on Tai seems to course correct on her own at the end of the movie.

All of the actors cast for various parts work great, and it’s definitely one of those movies where you see really young version of actors who went on to do bigger projects. Brittany Murphy, for example, is barely recognizable as Tai. And obviously Paul Rudd would go on to be a household name type actor. But even the smaller roles, like the two teachers and Cher’s father, are all pitch perfect and really help round out the movie.

Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

Cher is probably the least likable Emma we’ve come across so far. On one hand, this is understandable because she’s the only teen version we’ve had. At 15-16, she’s four or five years younger than the version in the book and the other two adaptations I’ve reviewed. Not to mention the very different education and expectations she would face in L.A. in the mid-90s versus the Regency period. But she’s also given the fewest opportunities to show her good side as well. The movie leans in heavily to how spoiled she is, doing very little to counterbalance it with good deeds. Like in many other versions, it mainly relies on showing her care towards her father as the best look into her inherent goodness. But as her father is also less likable than other versions…

Not to say that you don’t end up rooting for the character, just that it’s a bit harder. Her constant up-speak is also a bit tough to handle, dating the movie and also signaling what is now a cliche of an entire new level. At the time, it was just a valley girl thing, but now the trope is so often connected with idiocy that it doesn’t do the character any favors to modern viewers.

I do like that the big realization moment for her is less her being rude to one individual, but seeing the type of person she’s turned Tai into. Tai was originally this sweet, friendly character. And after snapping and being rude to Cher, we see Cher realize that actual “value” of the things she’s been sharing with Tai. Tai is like a brutal mirror that is held up to Cher, and that, along with the realization about her general “clueless-ness” is enough to inspire change. It’s also pretty clear that she doesn’t do any of this in an effort to impress Josh, making it feel like the type of change that will be more lasting.

Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

Josh is a pretty solid mid-90s teenage interpretation of Mr. Knightley. Having him being interested in a law (and with a less than stellar mother) is a good excuse for having him want to hang around Cher’s house and work with her dad. Of course, we can’t have him scolding Cher in quite the same way. It wouldn’t come off nearly as well with the age difference being so much more close and the times making it all sound much more patronizing and unappealing if he had done. Instead, we see him being more subtly critical of Cher’s superficial tendencies while at the same time clearly enjoying her company.

And, of course, no discussion about Paul Rudd can be had without acknowledging the freakishness of his lack of aging. It almost makes the age difference seem weird since he looks so much the same when he’s much older that he could just as well be in his mid-thirties in this movie as younger twenties.

I really liked that they included a version of him coming to Tai’s rescue and dancing with her. This version does a weird thing where we have the “rescue” of Tai by Christian, as well, but then it does nothing with this. It’s already established that Christian is gay at this point, and there is no inclusion of Cher becoming confused by any reference of a “rescue” by Tai. It’s kind of a weird choice. Instead, it’s used mostly to elevate Tai’s popularity which results in her later nastiness to Cher. But eh, I still like that they included the Tai/Josh dance thing. It’s a great moment for giving Cher more insight into why Josh is such a great guy.

Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” 

Elton is by far the biggest “villain” in this movie. Not only is he not interested in Tai, a stuck-up ass about popularity status, and all of that. He repeatedly accosts Cher when she’s clearly said “no,” pretty much forcing her to get out of the car to avoid him. And then he leaves her in a bad part of town to be mugged. Much worse that the book version of Mr. Elton. I do like that he’s one of the few characters whose name remained the same. I guess it works pretty well for a snobby L.A. teenage boy in the 90s.

Christian, on the other hand, is really not much of a villain at all. Other than perhaps leading on Cher more than he should have, he seems like a pretty decent guy. It’s kind of unclear why he misleads her at all in the first place. He must know that she’s misinterpreting his actions, but at the same time, he’s not too subtle about hiding true orientation. Everyone other than Cher seems to see it, and we don’t see any push back in the movie itself about it. It’s definitely a unique take on her misunderstanding with this character role. This makes much more sense than any hidden romance would have, given the time period. And it’s kind of nice to have the movie end with Cher and Christian kind of being besties, instead of the tense, friendship-pretty-much-over state that Emma and Frank Churchill are in at the end of the book.

There’s also the jerk lawyer guy who snaps at Cher at the very end of the movie, thus making Josh come to her defense, thus serving as the impetus for the relationship getting started. So is he really a villain in the end?

Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

The romance in this movie does play second fiddle to the comedy. There are a few moments here and there that speak to Josh and Cher’s ultimate future, but they are scattered in between the bigger comedy scenes featuring Tai, Cher, and Dionne’s antics. We have the aforementioned dancing scene, of course.  There’s a small moment where Cher and Josh are hanging out at home watching a movie, and Cher seems to make a passing comment that sometimes having a quiet evening at home is more fun than all the social outings one could come up with.

And Josh is the one to come to Cher’s rescue after the Elton incident. This serves as a good point for Josh realizing that he’s into Cher as we see Cher correct Josh’s then girlfriend on some quote from Shakespeare. Josh smiles at this and seems not at all concerned that his girlfriend is pretty displeased at being shown up by a high schooler. And we get an even clearer idea of his interest when he follows Christian and Cher on their “date” just for “safety.” It’s very cute.

The actual romantic conclusion of them kissing on the stairs is a bit awkward, I think but fine enough. And then I think the cut to the wedding scene is pretty hilarious and a nice hats off to Jane Austen’s endings always featuring weddings of the main characters. And in this scene, the already established relationship between Josh and Cher reads as much more natural and enjoyable to witness.

Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Well, watching it now, there’s two sides to the comedy coin. There are the things the movie meant to be funny. And there are the things that are simply hilarious because of how dated it makes the movie feel. The very first scene, even, with Cher selecting her outfit on this old computer screen is just comical. Especially because it’s supposed to be set up as a way to establish how well-off Cher is. But to modern eyes…it’s some janky stuff.

The fashion, also, is hilarious. Even growing up in the 90s myself, it’s hard to get a good read on how accurate this way versus how much of it was blown up to extremes to show off Cher’s situation. Either way…man, gotta love it. Even Cher spends a moment (in an odd tonal break in the movie) to point out how bad men’s fashion was at the time. But, on the other hand, her friend Dionne is pretty much literally wearing a plastic bucket for a hat in the opening scene. So.

Dionne and her boyfriend don’t have any obvious parallels in the book itself that I can think of. But they play well for humor here. I especially like how all the comedic moments early on that highlight their bickering and public feuding are later tied together to show that, while they enjoy the drama in the crowd, in private they are much more caring and loving towards each other. In this way, they serve as a good example of love to Cher as she’s going through her awakening period.

Fun facts – “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

The director was asked to simply create a movie for teenagers. It was her own fondness of reading “Emma” as a teenager that inspired her to adapt that book into a teen movie.

There are 63 different costume changes in this movie.

Gwyneth Paltrow was considered for the role, but never auditioned. One would imagine she had her own “Emma” thing going around then.

While according to filming this was his second movie, “Clueless” was released first and thus is the movie that introduced the world to the lovely Paul Rudd.

Best Movie Gif/Meme: “I dearly love a laugh.”

I didn’t actually do it, but I was tempted to count the number of “As ifs!” we had in this movie.

This seemed to be the most classic “Emma” moment in the entire movie:

In two weeks, I’ll review the YouTube series “Emma Approved.”

Kate’s Review: “The Cold Vanish”

48717769Book: “The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands” by Jon Billman

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, July 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: For readers of Jon Krakauer and Douglas Preston, the critically acclaimed author and journalist Jon Billman’s fascinating, in-depth look at people who vanish in the wilderness without a trace and those eccentric, determined characters who try to find them.

These are the stories that defy conventional logic. The proverbial vanished without a trace incidences, which happen a lot more (and a lot closer to your backyard) than almost anyone thinks. These are the missing whose situations are the hardest on loved ones left behind. The cases that are an embarrassment for park superintendents, rangers and law enforcement charged with Search & Rescue. The ones that baffle the volunteers who comb the mountains, woods and badlands. The stories that should give you pause every time you venture outdoors.

Through Jacob Gray’s disappearance in Olympic National Park, and his father Randy Gray who left his life to search for him, we will learn about what happens when someone goes missing. Braided around the core will be the stories of the characters who fill the vacuum created by a vanished human being. We’ll meet eccentric bloodhound-handler Duff and R.C., his flagship purebred, who began trailing with the family dog after his brother vanished in the San Gabriel Mountains. And there’s Michael Neiger North America’s foremost backcountry Search & Rescue expert and self-described “bushman” obsessed with missing persons. And top researcher of persons missing on public wildlands Ex-San Jose, California detective David Paulides who is also one of the world’s foremost Bigfoot researchers.

It’s a tricky thing to write about missing persons because the story is the absence of someone. A void. The person at the heart of the story is thinner than a smoke ring, invisible as someone else’s memory. The bones you dig up are most often metaphorical. While much of the book will embrace memory and faulty memory — history — The Cold Vanish is at its core a story of now and tomorrow. Someone will vanish in the wild tomorrow. These are the people who will go looking.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I love National Parks. I’m not really an outdoorsy person in the sense that I don’t like camping, but I do love hiking, I do love nature, and I do love epic landscapes. And National Parks give me all of that and more! While it’s hard to pick a favorite, I will say that my most recent National Park trip, Rocky Mountain National Park last summer, was beautiful and breathtaking. But one of the weird/surreal moments during our trip was standing at the top of a trail head and seeing a Missing Person poster for a man who had disappeared in the park earlier in the spring. It was a grim reminder that while the National Parks are treasures and wonderful opportunities for education and exploration, they are not without their dangers. Enter “The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands” by Jon Billman, a book I had been looking forward to ever since I read his Outside Magazine article that inspired it. Missing people in public lands is scary, guys. And Billman does a great job of demonstrating why while personalizing some of the missing, and how in some cases they vanished with nary a trace.

Billman’s main focus is on the disappearance of Jacob Gray, who disappeared after going for a bike ride in Olympic National Park. Jacob had been showing signs of mental illness and depression, but his family members don’t believe that he was suicidal. His bike and stuff was found but he never was. Billman follows the family members, especially father Randy, as they continue the search in the park well beyond the initial date missing. It feels a little voyeuristic, but at the same time I did like that we got to see the fallout for the family members after the searches, or lack thereof (more on that in a moment) stopped and it was left up to family and friends to go on. The search takes Randy and in turn Billman far and away from the park, and they have to parse through conspiracy theories, rumors of serial killers, and even Bigfoot sightings in hopes of finding a lead. It’s emotional and very sad, but also quite compelling to see how these searches can go. There are other stories dropped in as well, such as a woman who went missing while on a run (who may have been killed by her husband… or maybe it was a serial killer who had means and opportunity), another hiker who went missing in Olympic National Park around the same time that Jacob did, and a hiker who disappeared while on a trail in Mesa Verde. It’s strange and distressing, but Billman is sympathetic and respectful in his accounts. On top of that we also get a look into cadaver dogs and how they’re trained, various histories of some of the settings, and some deep dives into Bigfoot theory. So many Bigfoot theories.

For me the most interesting aspect of this book was not so much about the missing person cases themselves (though some are admittedly fascinating as hell), but how the bureaucracy when it comes to doing official searches gets so gunked up when people disappear on public lands like this. Billman talked about this in his article, but it’s no less frustrating when he talks about the issues specifically in Jacob’s case. For example, there was question as to whether he disappeared in the park itself, or if he crossed the river and the disappeared in the Olympic National Forest. Both places wanted to shirk the duty onto the other, and then there was a large delay in getting any official search parties on the ground when time is of the essence. The unclear jurisdiction issues are one of many issues. Another one that confounded me was that there was no database of missing people in various public lands and parks. One would think that you’d want to have records of this, but it seems the government is barely keeping on top of the number of people missing, much less who they are and other pertinent info. It just kind of reiterates how messed up our government can be in some ways, and it doesn’t make me want to do any heavy duty hiking or camping in remote areas any time soon if it’s to be done on public land. I’ll stick to the paved trails, thanks.

Overall, “The Cold Vanish” is fascinating and eerie, and digs a little deeper than a typical ‘missing persons’ themed book.

Rating 8: A look at missing people and the mysteries of so called ‘conquered’ wilderness, “The Cold Vanish” is strange, bittersweet, and compelling.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cold Vanish” isn’t on many specific Goodreads lists as of yet. But if you liked “Into the Wild” or other books about disappearing into the wilderness, this would be for you.

Find “The Cold Vanish” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Serena’s Review: “Girl, Serpent, Thorn”

51182650._sx318_sy475_Book: “Girl, Serpent, Thorn” by Melissa Bashardoust

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, July 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Book Description: There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

Review: Here was another book I requested based mostly on cover lust. But the description itself, particularly the original fairytale-ness of it all, was another sure a attraction. It’s also yet another book that seems to feature siblings, though this one is only from Soraya’s POV, which is a nice change of pace in my reading lately. The story took a few twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting, but most of them turned out for the good, and I enjoyed this read!

Soraya is a forgotten princess. With a power that kills at her touch, she’s spent her life sequestered in shadows, separated from her family, friends, and people. She’s spent her life watching her brother pass all of the milestones that she herself has missed out on. And now it is coming to a head with his marriage to a lost friend from Soraya’s childhood. In unexpected places she begins to find new allies and new pathways, opening doors that she never dreamed possible. Some of them lead into the light, and some further into the dark. Which will she choose?

I ended up really enjoying this book. It was an original fairytale, something I always love, and it took a few unexpected twists and turns as it was told. On top of all of that, it’s a standalone novel. One small criticims there, however, was the story did feel like it had to distinctive arcs that may have been better suited to their own books, making the story into a duology. But even typing that feels wrong as I love standalone books so much and they’re hard to find! It’s kind of a mixed bag thing, here, I guess. The two storylines work well enough, and I don’t feel like either was truly lacking much. Just that as a complete work, it did feel oddly balanced with the first half telling one tale and the second another.

I really liked Soraya herself. She had a great narrative voice, and she was easy to become immediately invested in. This was important as the book took a twist down an antihero path that I hadn’t seen coming from the book description. Looking back now, yeah, it’s kind of there. But it was another nice surprise for me when going through this book. It’s always tough to sell a true antihero story, as often your main character is doing some pretty questionable things and walking a very narrow line. This made the likablity of Soraya’s character incredibly important. It was easy to understand her struggles and even some of her more questionable decisions, especially in the context of the life she had lived prior to this story.

Another surprise for me was that Soraya was a bisexual and the main romance ends up being a f/f one. For the book itself and its story, I really enjoyed this romance. I’ve read a bunch of f/f/ stories recently, and really liked them! Just last week, I reviewed a book by Django Wexler who is known for almost always giving his heroine a female love interest. My problem with it being a surprise here isn’t the book’s fault. It’s the marketing.

Looking over the book description, it’s clear that it’s intentionally deflecting away from using gendered pronouns in places, and then goes out of its way to place interest on the male love interest. The male love interest is a thing, so that’s fine. But there should be mention, clearly, of the female option. I really dislike these type of marketing techniques. It seems clear that its done out of mistrust of one’s audience, and that’s never going to work. Either your reader is game for a f/f romance, in which case readers like me would like to know ahead of time what to expect without having to delve into Goodreads reviews to get basic information like this. Or your reader is not down and once it becomes clear that you tried to hoodwink them with your marketing, they’ll put the book down. It’s bad faith marketing, and we need to get past this.

Overall, I really liked this book. If you’re looking for an original fairytale story with a morally grey main character, this is definitely the book for you!

Rating 8: A great standalone fantasy novel featuring an interesting anti-heroine!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Girl, Serpent, Thorn” is on these Goodreads lists: “2020 YA LGBT+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy” and “Magical Realism.”

Find “Girl, Serpent, Thorn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Only Good Indians”

49045750Book: “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info: Gallery/Saga Press, July 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: The creeping horror of Paul Tremblay meets Tommy Orange’s There There in a dark novel of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

It wasn’t until recently that I decided to give Stephen Graham Jones a try in terms of looking at a new horror author. I knew that he was a favorite of a friend of mine, and I had requested his book “Mongrels” but never got around to reading it. But when I saw that his newest book, “The Only Good Indians” was available as a ‘Wish For It’ option on NetGalley (aka if you throw your hat in the ring, you may get lucky and get a copy. Kind of a literary lottery for us book reviewers!), I thought why the heck not, and clicked the wish button. To my great (and pleasant) surprise, I was sent an eARC of the book, and waited until it was closer to the publication date to give it a go. It became very clear from the get go of two things: this was going to be quite the experience, and that I had really missed out during my wishy washy ‘I’ll get to him eventually’ malarkey.

“The Only Good Indians” is a horror novel, but it takes great care to go much deeper than merely trying to scare the reader. Along with the tension and scares, we get a deep and heartfelt look into the minds and lives of our main players, all of whom are marked for doom, though the reasons as to why are held close to the vest. Four men, Lewis, Gabriel, Cassidy, and Ricky are four Blackfeet men who were friends in their youth but have vaguely grown apart for various reasons. But the biggest thing that connects them now is a decade old hunting trip that ended with not only the breaking of important traditions. Not only did they hunt on a part of the reservation that was reserved for the elders of the group, they also killed far more elk than they really needed to, including one young female that really, really fought to live. Though they tried to make things right by using as much of the bodies as they could, and giving all the meat to the elders, they were banned from hunting on the reservation ever again. And now, something is hunting them down one by one. It seems like it could be a paint by numbers vengeance folk horror story, but Jones dives in deeper, slowly letting the reader get to know each of these men and the various highs and lows that they reckon with in their day to day lives. By the time vengeance has arrived, you know so much about these men that them being in danger raises the stakes higher than they normally would be. And not only do we get to know them, Jones intermingles their stories along with themes of what modern Indigenous people both on and off the reservation have to contend with, from a loss of identity to a disconnect from traditions to substance abuse to flat out racism. When you take this weaving of social justice issues into a horror motif, what you get is a story that hits you all the more in the gut, but also brings in bits of humor and joy and hope that, if not for these men, that things can slowly be better for those they care about of the younger generations. That is, if this hellbent on revenge and angry entity doesn’t get to them first.

And let’s talk about the horror aspects. Because HELL YES, this is EXACTLY what I want from my folk horror. Jones lets the tension ebb and flow, with slow burning building up and explosive climaxes, and a slow build up again onto the next. It makes the dread feel palpable and makes it so that it’s hard to put the story down. On top of that, the reader really gets into the minds of not only the four hunters, but also that of the thing that is after them. You understand it’s motives, you understand it’s rage, and you can’t help but feel like all of that is justified. It’s easy just to have a monster that slowly takes people out one by one, but far more satisfying to see what makes the monster tick. And with the more subtle and cerebral horror of that we also get some very graphic, gross you out body horror and unsettling imagery that has stuck with me ever since I finished the book. Take all this into account with the social justice issues, and I think that the comparisons between Jones and Jordan Peele are fairly justified. Though that said, Jones stands on his own, no question.

“The Only Good Indians” was a fantastic and emotional horror novel. Don’t make the same mistake I did, people! If you’ve been sleeping on Jones, go out and read this book. You will not regret it.

Rating 9: Haunting, horrifying, and hopeful, “The Only Good Indians” is an examination of revenge, identity, and the circles of violence that can cause such pain.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Only Good Indians” is included on the Goodreads lists “2020 Books by Native Authors and Authors of Color”, and “2020 Horror to Scream For”.

Find “The Only Good Indians” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Picnic At Hanging Rock”

34785405._sy475_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Around the World”, in which we each picked a continent and had to match a book that takes place there and/or is written by an author from that continent.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

Publishing Info: Penguin, 1967

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Continent: Oceania

Book Description: It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned. . . .

Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.

Kate’s Thoughts

Back when I first got my Netflix account where discs were the main platform, I went through a few months where I would request obscure-ish films that maybe I’d heard of, or maybe I stumbled upon. One of those films was “Picnic At Hanging Rock”, an Australian cult classic. When book club decided that our theme this time around was Continents, I was the only person who wanted to call dibs on a continent. That continent/region was Oceania. I eventually settled on “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, knowing full well it would probably be a controversial read as I’m one of the few people who like a good high strangeness thriller in the group. But did that stop me?

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I’m sure they understood where I was coming from. (source)

Reading “Picnic at Hanging Rock” was a weird and dreamy experience, as author Joan Lindsay has created a story filled with frustrating ambiguity and an ethereal tone. Three star pupils and a chaperone disappear during a picnic in the Australian countryside at a rock formation called Hanging Rock, and while people go searching, mysteries and darkness seem to follow those involved. On its surface the book is a pretty compelling mystery with few answers, though perhaps that’s the point of it. But what struck me more as I was reading it, and this may not even be intentional, is how many themes involving sex, class, colonialism, and nature were just below the surface. In many ways, “Picnic at Hanging Rock” is very of its setting and of its time. The fact that it takes place in an upper class, white boarding school in the middle of the Australian wilderness just screams so many things. Privileged people thinking that nature is their playground, it’s very colonialist and it’s VERY Victorian, so when these women disappear, and most don’t reappear, the shock and disbelief feels very realistic. I’m sure that for these characters, wilderness picnics back in England were very safe, as the terrain and flora and fauna are well known and predictable. But when you apply that complacency to a totally different continent, a continent that is notoriously tricky and dangerous to those who are unfamiliar (or who take it for granted), disaster surely can follow.

On top of that I was deeply intrigued by the various relationships between the characters, and what was said or not said. You have the friendships between the adolescent girls, in particular Sara and Miranda, and how intense they can be (as Sara is deeply dependent on Miranda, so when Miranda goes missing Sara spirals). You have the relationships between the adults and the children, in particular Mrs. Appleyard who seems to loathe all the girls, lest they be wealthy and their families be benefactors. You have the upper class English boy Michael, who is infatuated with Miranda and who has a very macho (homoerotic?) friendship with the lowerclass Australian valet Albert. This was the relationship that was of most interest to me, as Michael doesn’t know shit about the world because of his privilege, and it’s Albert who is almost constantly bailing him out or bringing him back to reality.

And what of the ending? I like ambiguity myself, so I was a-okay with the fact that there are no real answers. At one point Joan Lindsay had a definitive end attached to the story, but was told to leave it out upon publishing. You can find the end if you want definitive answers, but honestly, not knowing, to me, is far more unsettling.

There were a few things that didn’t quite work for me in this book. It’s not a very long book, but it still felt a little extended beyond its means. There was a side plot involving another woman who worked at the school who ends up wanting to leave, and while I understand the point of it, in terms of adding to the tension and the mystery, it felt a little off the beaten path. And while it isn’t surprising, given the time period in which this was written and the setting itself, there was very little mention of the Indigenous Aborigines outside of an ‘abo tracker’ who is sent in to look for the missing girls. A real life tidbit that makes this all the more unsettling is that Hanging Rock is an actual place, its original name Ngannelong (possibly. There may have been a translation issue). It was originally a very important site to the local Aboriginal groups, and now it has basically been overrun by the popularity of this book and film, erasing the importance to the Indigenous people who were there first.

All this said, I mostly enjoyed “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, if only because I found so much hidden beneath the surface. Don’t read this if you want solid answers. But do if you want to be mystified.

Kate’s Rating 7: A dreamy and odd mystery filled with high strangeness and a lot of commentary (be it intentional or not), “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, while a little babbly and in some ways problematic, is still mysterious all these years later.

Book Club Questions

  1. This takes place at the end of the Victorian Era, during which the idea of Nature was very intriguing to Western cultures. What do you think this story was trying to say about human’s relationship to nature?
  2. The Appleyard College for  Young Ladies is an Upper Class attended boarding school in the Australian countryside. Why do you think having it take place at a wealthy boarding school was the choice Lindsay made?
  3. This book was chosen as a representation of Oceania, specifically Australia. Do you think that there was anything about this book that could be uniquely Australian?
  4. What were your thoughts on the relationships between the characters (between the students, between the students in relation to authority figures, friendships, potential romantic relationships – do you think that there were sapphic/romantic/homoerotic elements to this story?)?
  5. What do you think happened to the people who disappeared at Hanging Rock? Doe it matter? Was the ambiguity frustrating for you?
  6. There had at one time been an ending that had a solid answer and conclusion as to what happened to the missing women, but has since been left off of the book as it wasn’t part of the original story as published. Would you want to know what happened? Or do you prefer the open ended end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” is included on the Goodreads lists “Female Authored Weird Fiction”, and “Best Books Set in Australia”.

Find “Picnic at Hanging Rock” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: TBD (will update when we have the title)

Serena’s Review: “Ashes of the Sun”

52822248._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ashes of the Sun” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

Review: This will be the third Django Wexler book I’ve read this year, so I’m definitely on a roll! I had read a book by him before, but I think because it was the first in a long-ish series, I became intimidated and kind of let it slide. But I loved his new YA series and am looking forward to the final one in that coming out soon. Which made me all the more surprised when this, a beginning to a new adult series, suddenly popped up! I’m not sure how long of a series is planned, but based on this first book, I’m all in!

When his little sister, Maya, is taken away at age 5 by the powerful Twilight Order, Gyre’s idealic family life is broken. Years of simmering anger build until he comes of age to make is own way. And that way includes spending every resource he has delving into the underworld of the Republic in search of a power strong enough to destroy the organization that stole his sister and, in many ways, controls his world. Maya, raised by the Order and on the bring of becoming independent, is committed to the ideals of her organization. Raised to believe that the Order protects and serves, Maya sees the good that she and her people can do for the common folk who are plagued by dangerous monsters. But as she comes closer and closer to striking out on her own, she begins to see cracks among her people and a corruption that may go deeper than she thought.

The world-building in this story is excellent. It almost seems to be set in a post-apocaptic version of the “Star Wars” universe. Kind of an odd comparison, but once you read the book, you’ll totally see it. The author has a great afterward where he even states “Star Wars” as an influence, but it’s so subtly done, that at no point does this in any way feel like a “Star Wars” book. So it feels both familiar as well as incredibly unique all at once. I really liked the glimpses we have into the history of this world, and there were a lot of great reveals that game out over the course of the story. Of course, most of these just raised more questions than they answered, but what else can you expect from the first book in a series?

I also really liked both Maya and Gyre. This is one of those rare, great examples of a book where the duel narrators are equally strong and compelling. Especially since they are essentially representing opposing forces. It’s quite difficult to write two such characters and maneuver your reader into rooting for them both, a losing battle from the start. Gyre was perhaps a bit less sympathetic to start, but he definitely grew on me. And Maya is just the sort of bad-ass warrior women I gravitate towards. They also each had unique romance arcs that were at times quite unexpected.

The story is also action-packed from start to finish. It did take quite a while to get into the main conflict, with what felt like a bunch of side/mini quests taking up the majority of the first half. But as the main conflict begins to unfold, we see the importance of these early action scenes in setting the stage for the character choices are two leads make and how they end up where they are. Each also came with their own set of side characters, sidekicks, and enemies, so there was a lot of groundwork that needed to be laid out to really set the stage for the grand finale.

And while the grand finale itself was pretty intriguing, it was also clear that this was only the beginning. Sure, the current big bad was dealt with, but Maya and Gyre, while both questioning their own goals, are still clearly on opposing sides of a brewing conflict. I can’t wait to find out where their adventures lead them next and how or if they will ever be able to find a middle ground between them.

Also, don’t forget to enter to win an ARC copy of this book! I also had an e-book copy, so this is a completely fresh ARC ready and waiting for its first reader! Enter to win!

Rating 8: A rollicking adventure story with two fantastic leads at its heart.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ashes of the Sun” is a new title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020.”

Find “Ashes of the Sun” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Child Star”

44280824Book: “Child Star” by Box Brown

Publishing Info: First Second, June 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Child Star is a fictional documentary-style graphic novel about how growing up in the spotlight robs young actors of a true childhood.

Child star Owen Eugene had it all: a hit sitcom on prime time, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a memoir on the bestseller list. The secret to his success was his talent for improvisation . . . and his small size. On screen he made the whole world laugh, but behind the scenes his life was falling apart. Hollywood ate him alive.

Inspired by real-life child stars, bestselling author Brian “Box” Brown created Owen Eugene, a composite character whose tragic life is an amalgam of 1980s pop culture.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

My love for “The Lost Boys” meant that when Corey Haim died I sat down and cried very deeply. He (and his costar and friend Corey Feldman) were two child stars who were plagued by personal demons that were brought on by fame (and all the bad things and people that come with it), so his death by overdose was tragic, but not surprising. He was just one in a long line of child stars whose life turned to tragedy. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking of Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Gary Coleman, and so many others as I read Box Brown’s new graphic novel “Child Star”. Which is, of course, the point.

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My heart….. (source)

This is kind of new for Brown, as up until now his graphic novels have been non-fiction. “Child Star” is written in a faux documentary style, so the approach feels like a ‘True Hollywood Story’ kind of tale. I definitely found it interesting that even in a fictional take (though arguably this is the life of Gary Coleman, fictionalized) Brown approaches the content in a just the facts manner. We are told the story of Owen Eugene, a child actor whose popularity exploded due to a 1980s family sitcom, and his small stature as caused by a genetic disorder. We see Eugene’s rise and fall through the eyes of family, friends, and colleagues, and trace how his life in Hollywood changed, and ruined, his life. I really enjoyed the documentary style put on the page, and liked how it truly felt like I was watched a seedy VH1 TV show as I read it. From his parents who clearly took advantage of their son’s fame to the predatory higher ups in Hollywood to the people who knew Eugene due to personal and professional settings, Brown creates a very well thought out, and incredibly tragic, tale of a person all based on the perceptions of those around him, and the reliability and unreliability of their words. Owen Eugene as a character is always a bit of a mystery because of this secondary source template, but I think that we get a nuanced and complex characterization, even if it’s being told through the eyes of others. He has a lot of analogs in real life, and while Gary Coleman is clearly the main influence the sad truth is that so many child stars suffer similar paths and fates that you can see many others inside of this tale.

There is a certain nostalgia on these pages to go with the pathos, and that is for 1980s family sitcoms. I was a little too young to experience it in real time, though I saw my share of reruns of “Growing Pains” and “Who’s The Boss” thanks to syndication. “Child Star” taps into the feel for how these sitcoms would play out, their plots derivative and their casts charming if not a little generic. What struck me the most, however, was how Box worked in the whole way that politics and Nancy Reagan’s ideals would weasel their way into these shows and put forth ‘very special episodes’ about various societal ills. Looking back at those episodes through more modern lenses usually means that we see how cloying they are (especially the ‘don’t do drug’ episodes; I remember rewatching the “Growing Pains episode where frat boys offer Michael cocaine and then mock him when he says no. Coke is EXPENSIVE. No one is going to mock you for saying no, it’s more for them!). It also comments on how Owen was just used in a whole different way for other peoples motives, even if those other people were the President and First Lady.

I will say that while I haven’t had issues with Brown’s art style in the past, for some reason in “Child Star” it felt a little out of place and took away from the impact. I think that part of it is because in the other books I’ve read by him, the stories do have emotional aspects, but are also filled with hope and a little bit of whimsy. In “Child Star” it just feels like a tragedy, and therefore seeing the very cartoony illustrations was a little jarring.

Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 5.34.03 PM
(source)

Overall, “Child Star” is another well done graphic novel by Box Brown. It’s a bummer to be sure, but also interesting to look at these issues that no doubt still haunt various celebrities.

Rating 7: A poignant and sad faux documentary graphic novel that explores the wrecked life of a child actor, “Child Star” makes you think about the dark side of fame, especially for those who are too young to handle it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Child Star” isn’t included on many Goodreads lists, but honestly any memoirs by former child actors, like Corey Haim’s “Coreyography”, and Tatum O’Neal’s “A Paper Life”.

Find “Child Star” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Giveaway: “Ashes of the Sun”

52822248._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ashes of the Sun” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

Giveaway Details: I’ve only recently rediscovered Django Wexler. Several years ago, I read a military fantasy by him which I really liked. But for some reason (too many books!) I never got back around to finishing the many other books in that series. Then this past winter, I was blew through two of his new YA fantasy books, and it really cemented him as an author worthy keeping my eyes on. So I was really excited when Orbit sent me an ARC for his upcoming fantasy title releasing this summer. It’s been a challenge holding off on reading it right away as I had many other books I wanted to get to and review first, but finally the time has come!

The story seems to be some combination of a post-apocalyptic tale and a traditional fantasy story with a bunch of new elements. It also seems like Orbit has went all in on this “siblings on the opposite side of a battle” theme, as this will be the second fantasy story from them I’ve read with that premise this spring/summer. But, while I wasn’t a huge fan of “The Ranger of Marzanna,” I have full faith that Wexler will be able to better pull off this type of set up. Mostly, I know that he can handle multiple POV characters in one book, the most important element in this type of storytelling. Both the military adult fantasy novel I read several years ago and the second in the YA fantasy series I read last winter had more than one POV character. I usually had preferences for one over another, but I always liked reading about them both. So I’m super excited to see what he’ll do with these two characters!

I’ve also skimmed through the book and noticed that there is a fairly extensive glossary of terms at the end of the book. That, and books that have maps, are often some of the first signs I look for in a fantasy book that has a lot to offer. An extensive glossary, in this case, hints that the world-building and magic system are extensive and complicated enough to warrant this type of added explanation.

So, overall, I’m really excited to jump into this one. I’ll have a full review of this book coming out this Friday. But, as the book itself doesn’t come out until later in July, make sure to take advantage of this opportunity to win an ARC copy of this book (I also had an eARC so this copy is completely untouched). The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on July 15.

Enter to win!