Serena’s Review: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World”

40698027Book: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?

Review: Let me tell you, a raging debate took place in my mind when deciding whether or not to place a request to read this book. On one side we have the fact that the book description sounds right up my alley, and I’m almost always looking for a good post-apocalyptic story, especially one that seems to be trying to do something new and avoiding the over-saturated realm of dystopian fiction. On the other hand, the book description references a dog being stolen….and I would NOT be ok if something happened to the dog. And let’s be real, this is a tragic world we’re entering, chances are good something would happen to the dog! But in the end, I let my better angels persuade me that fear of pet-related tragedy wasn’t a good enough reason not to read what otherwise sounded like an awesome book. And I’m so glad I did!

Generations have passed since the end of the world as we know it. But while everything is different, much is still the same, like the love of Griz’s small family and the special connection between Griz and his dogs. In a world gone quiet, made up of brief sailing trips to scavenger for more supplies, the dogs provide crucial support not only in their rabbit-catching abilities but in the happy-go-lucky, loving relationship that has always marked the special bond between dogs and humanity. So when Griz wakes to find one dog has been stolen away, he knows what he must do. What follows is a harrowing tale of endurance in the face of impossible odds, small beauties to be found in emptiness and tragedy, and the special place family, be that human or dog, holds in what could otherwise be a bleak existence.

There was so much to love about this book that it’s hard to know where to start. I think one thing that really stood out to me was the world itself. From the very first page, the emptiness and quiet of this new world was apparent. What also stood out was the fact that our narrator, Griz, has come on the scene several generations after the event that struck down the world we know. That being the case, Griz is piecing together the remnants of a foreign world and society, to varying levels of success. The reader is often left guessing as to what exactly Griz is referencing or describing, since he doesn’t always know the purpose behind the things or places he discovers. There was also a character who spoke a different language and the way this was handled was especially clever. The determined and curious reader will have a lot of fun unpacking these bits.

Griz is also a very effective narrator. The story is written in first person told from a Griz who is relating his story from some period in the future. That being the case, there are often references to the fact that some choice or another will have some impact down the line that past-Griz wouldn’t have known about but that present (and narrating) Griz now reflects upon through different eyes. As for the character, Griz was a lovely combination of being innocently naive while also supremely capable in the face of numerous challenges. There is a sense of sadness woven throughout the story, but Griz’s reflections throughout are poignant and often hopeful in the face of some very sad things. I often found myself wanting to highlight various quotes throughout and will definitely be going back to note a few to reference later.

The story is also both what I expected and much more. There is a lot happening throughout, but it also read at a slow, measured pace, giving ample time to focus on, again, the beautiful, quiet reflections of Griz. I really enjoyed how well-balanced the story felt. There is real danger to this world, and we get a few really great action scenes to highlight this fact (but not necessarily the danger you would expect, which, again worked in favor of keeping the story feeling new and original). But there was also time spent highlighting the strangeness of human interactions and relationships in a world where very few humans even exist.

I won’t spoil anything, but there’s definitely an interesting twist towards the end. I ended up guessing it, but I still think it was done very well. In fact, it’s the kind of follow through on a surprise that I wish we had seen in another book I reviewed recently. If you read this one, you’ll know what other book I’m talking about! I also won’t give away what happens with the dog. I will say that there were tears on and off throughout the book, but I still left it feeling incredibly satisfied and immediately passed it off to my friends and family. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, this is definitely one worth checking out!

Rating 10: I loved this book, heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” isn’t featured on any relevant Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Best Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.

Find “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Carrie”

126459Book: “Carrie” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Doubleday, April 1974

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Carrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed… But one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction…

Review: It was the Fall of 1997. I was in eighth grade, and I had just finished “The Stand” by Stephen King. My Dad had handed me his copy after we’d watched the re-broadcast of the miniseries, assuring me I would like it. He was right, and I still consider it one of the best moments I’ve ever had with my father, because he opened me up to the world of Stephen King. And while he didn’t have anymore King to share (he’s not a horror guy at all; “The Stand” is his kind of dystopian dark fantasy thriller), I knew that I needed to get my hands on more. And my next choice was “Carrie”. For a vaguely isolated and bullied eighth grade girl, “Carrie” was exactly the kind of book I needed in that moment. While “The Stand” was the book that introduced me to King, “Carrie” changed my life. And on a whim, I decided to revisit it, twenty one years after having first read it. I had my fears that it wouldn’t be as profound to adult Kate as it was to thirteen year old Kate who needed a catharsis from her awful classmates. But I was wrong.

“Carrie” is still a relatable and unnerving horror story from the master of horror himself, and even 45(!) years after it was published it still tackles issues of bullying, zealotry, social isolation, and teenage angst in believable ways. Carrie White is an unconventional protagonist in that she is a constant victim, and is perpetually beaten down and weakened by her peers, her community, and her own mother. Carrie isn’t particularly two dimensional as a character; true, she finds her telekinetic powers and does find some bouts of self confidence that manifest every so often, but she never achieves what she wants to achieve, which is acceptance. Or at the very least, being left the hell alone. And yet even though she is for the most part mousy and passive except for a few moments, and then Prom night, you still feel for her and ache for her. King does a really good job of creating a lonely teenage girl who we pity and care for, and yet ultimately fear (note: We do have to give some credit to King’s wife Tabitha, an author in her own right and complete bad ass. She helped him with the infamous period scene, and helped him with the viciousness of teenage girls). But it isn’t just Carrie White who King so amply brings off the page. Many of his supporting characters are developed and well thought out, and sometimes it’s the real life horrors in this book that will upset you the most. While the bullying is awful, I’m more put off by Carrie’s zealous Mother, so devout and obsessed with her religion that she perverts it into the physical and emotional abuse of her only child. King makes it very clear that Carrie isn’t the real monster in this novel, or rather, if she is she’s a monster who didn’t stand a chance to become anything else.

But I also need to give kudos for how well King captures teenage life for not just Carrie but for the other teen characters. I knew girls like Chris, the cruel and insecure spoiled princess who is used to getting her way, even when she’s at her most rotten. I knew boys like Tommy Ross, a popular but ultimately sweet guy who was just doing his best (side note: I am still in full belief that if Prom Night hadn’t ended the way it did, Tommy and Carrie would have ended up together. HE WAS FALLING IN LOVE WITH HER, GUYS!). And Sue Snell, the girl whose guilt led to her good deed of getting Carrie a date to the prom, is almost more interesting than even Carrie herself. Sue’s comfort in her conformity is tested at the beginning, and her slow realization that there is life after high school, and that she wants more than people would expect from a pretty, popular girl in a small town. On this re-read from an adult’s eye, I found Sue’s arc to be incredibly compelling and bittersweet.

The narrative of “Carrie” is also a slow burn of suspense, told in a combination of third person and epistolary sequences. The perspective may be from that of Carrie or the various people in her life, or it may be through police interview transcripts, book excerpts, or scientific papers. The jumps sometimes feel a little jarring at first, but once you get in the rhythm of them they flow together in a cohesive way. I feel like we haven’t seen as much epistolary experimentation from King as of late, and this throwback to that style from him was fun to see, especially since it’s used so much in thrillers these days. It also casts a wide net on perspectives, and it gives a very well rounded picture of not only Carrie’s life, but the lives of those around her and how the Prom Night and aftermath affect those who come out of it alive. One of the most fun things that I completely forgot about it in this style was the ‘scientific paper’ excerpts, where a scientist is talking about telekinesis and how it applied in this case. But, in another masterful touch by King, even in these epistolary excerpts many of the adults just don’t get what life is like for the teens involved, and the contrast between the speculations and the realities make the story all the more sad.

I may be looking at this through a biased lens, as “Carrie” was a book that got me through a lot during my darker years of adolescence. But I find it to be so effective and well done that I’ve been known to recommend “Carrie” to teenage girls who are looking for a bit of a challenge beyond the YA shelf, and who don’t mind a good scare or two. King’s first is still one of his very best.

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(source)

Rating 10: This remains one of my favorite books of all time. “Carrie” is not only a suspenseful and truly scary book, it also captures the horrors of being a teenage outcast that still feel timeless and relevant.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Carrie” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Horror Novels”, and “Bullying”.

Find “Carrie” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Winter of the Witch”

36621586Book: “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from Edelweiss+

Book Description: Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

Previously Reviewed: “The Bear and the Nightingale” and  “The Girl in the Tower”

Review: I don’t want to write this review. Writing this review is the last step in having to acknowledge that this trilogy is truly finished and I want to keep pretending there is more to come! I mean, obviously, Arden has accomplished something incredible with this fantasy series, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from her soon. But…but…what about this world and these characters?? Ok, I’ll try to pull it together and get through this.

The story picks up almost immediately after the events of “The Girl in the Tower.” Moscow almost burned and there is chaos and confusion in the streets. Blame is going around in spades and Vasya once again finds herself in the midst of a tumultuous situation. Even escaping the immediate threats to life and limb, larger forces are moving and lines are being drawn not only between the peoples of the world but also the magical beings who inhabit the unknown.

This entire series has been such an incredible journey of womanhood for our main character. In the first book, Vasya is young, wild and confident. In the second, we see here venture out beyond her comfort zone and build even more confidence in herself and her choices, even when those fly in the face of convention; however, some of this confidence leads to mistakes. And in the third, we see her as an adult, one who has faced her own failings and will hold those scars deep inside of her, but will not be defined by them. She begins to see the greys in the world and understand the weaknesses of herself and those around her. And through her acknowledgement of those weaknesses, she finally comes into her true power and potential. It’s an incredible arc, and this final act really nails the landing. Vasya is at her best in this story. These same flaws and fears that come to the forefront finally round her out as a complete character (this isn’t to say that I didn’t adore her before), and I think now having this finale in hand, I could re-read the first two and get even more out of those portions of her journey.

The story itself almost plays as three short stories, all drawn together through Vasya herself. The first third reads as an extended ending of the second book. The middle portion deep dives into the fantastical realms of the magical beings in a way that we’ve never experienced before. And the third brings us the resolution to the larger war taking place in Rus itself. All three were fantastic, but I think I enjoyed the middle portion best. The rest of the series has largely existed in the “real world” with magical elements interacting with humanity in various ways on that front. This story takes us “through the wardrobe” essentially. There were some classic Russian fairytale characters who show up, but also an introduction to several new ones (I don’t know enough about Russian folklore to know whether these were traditional elements as well, just less known to most readers, or creations of Arden’s own). I particularly enjoyed the magical horses, of course!

At the end of the second book, I really had no idea where Arden was going with the relationship that was being set up between Vasya and the Winter King. That  book did a good job selling the idea that maybe that relationship was truly doomed, not so much in a tragic way, but in a “growing up” type of way. No spoilers for how things resolve here, but I was surprised with the direction it took, but ultimately quite pleased.

There were also a lot of surprises in store with some of the larger themes of the book and series as a whole. For the most part, we’ve had “good guys” and “bad guys” in the past books. Each story has touched on the complications of it all, but this one really tackles the idea of balance and what that truly looks like. Vasya must make sacrifices and compromises that she would never have imagined before. And readers will come to see certain characters in entirely different lights.

I could go on and on. The highest praise I can give this series is to say that I want to re-read it immediately and suspect that it will be even better a second-time around. It started out strong and got progressively stronger with each entry, a rare find in any series and a testament to the strength of the story and author.

Rating 10: January was a strong month for me; chock this one up as another shoe-in for next year’s “Top 10” list!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Winter of the Witch” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Russian Folkloric Fantasy.”

Find “The Winter of the Witch” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Kingdom of Copper”

35839460Book: “The Kingdom of Copper” by S.A. Chakraborty

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss +

Book Description: Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid-the unpredictable water spirits-have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

Previously Reviewed: “The City of Brass”

Review: Obviously, I was excited for this book. I’ve been patiently waiting and waiting for its release, and the second I spotted an e-copy available, I rushed to snag it. And then…I delayed reading it! Mostly because I was so excited that I wanted to ensure that I had as much uninterrupted time as possible to read major chunks of it. I’m typically fairly good about being able to pick up books and read a few pages here and there throughout the day and enjoy them as much as reading any other way. But, like every avid reader, I feel, there’s nothing like having a solid chunk of hours/days solely devoted to reading. And the cherry on top of that cake is having what is sure to be an excellent read to fill it! So I waited until my husband and I headed up north for a cabin trip and then whizzed through this book in blissful, quiet hours reading by the fire.

The story picks up a few years after the events of “The City of Brass.” Our two main protagonists from the first book, Nahri and Ali, are both making due with a life that hasn’t gone to plan. Nahri, married through a political alliance to the heir to a throne that had been stolen from her family generations ago, has continued to learn to master her own healing abilities and navigate the unfamiliar historical and political upheaval at the heart of djinn society. Ali has made a quiet life for himself living in a small village, banished from his beloved home city. There, he has been diligently trying to hide the residual water powers that he has developed after his experience with the marid in the lake around Daevabad. Joining our main two narrators, we also have chapter perspectives from Dara, a character that is believed dead by Nahri and Ali after the events of the last book.

What struck me most forcefully in the first book was the complicated and detailed world and history that the author had built. This wasn’t simply a story of the now, it was a story of how hundreds and thousands of years shaped what is the current situation. Similar to the true history of the Middle East, nothing is so simple as what can bullet pointed with current tension points. No, you have to dig back through centuries to understand a complicated history that more and more begins to resemble an impossible knot. So, too, in this fantasy version of the region. The first book laid the foundation, but this one really dives into the bigger questions that arise in a situation like this, where wrong-doings have been being committed for centuries and no party is innocent. Where is the line between justice, revenge, pride, and simple violence? When atrocities have been committed for centuries, one people to be repressed by another, only to rise and switch the roles for a few more centuries, who’s “wrongs” outweigh the other’s? There is no easy answer, and Chakraborty does a masterful job of portraying just how challenging finding peace and resolution in situations so whetted in historical conflict can be.

And to tackle all of these complex themes, we have our main characters. Nahri continues to be the stand-out character for me in this series. Not only is she approaching this situation from an outsider’s perspective, often giving her the most healthy and balanced outlook on the situation, but she is an eminently practical and resilient character. Where other books would get bogged down in the angst and drama of an arranged marriage, Nahri has persevered. She knows where her power lies and recognizes the powerlessness of those around her as well; for everything else, she will make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation. I can’t say how relieved I was to find that the book didn’t get caught up in relationship drama, as far as her arranged marriage goes. Too often I think this type of romantic drama is misidentified as action in and of its own. But here, it’s clear that Nahri’s priorities are much bigger than worrying about her political marriage. She has a proper perspective on not only her own challenges, but the challenges of her people and city.

Ali, too, was still a fantastic character. If anything, I grew to like him more and more as this book continued. He, too, has had to face the realities of his own idealistic tendencies. While he still had moments where I wanted to slap him around the side of the head (because again, Nahri sometimes seemed to be the only adult in the room), his arc was compelling. I particularly enjoyed the deeper look into his relationship with his siblings.

Dara, our new character POV, was also a fantastic addition. He operates outside of the main action of the city for the majority of the story, but through him, we can see the conflict coming that both Nahri and Ali are ignorant of. Further, Dara, more so than the other two, truly understands the horrors of the past, having lived through much of it. His wrestling with these issues felt that much more poignant for having residual PTSD, essentially, from his own actions. It was heart-breaking reading him come up against some of these same terrible choices once again.

I also can’t say enough good things about the general strength of the writing in these books. Chakraborty pens her words with a solid, confident stroke. Not only is the imagery beautiful, but the dialogue is snappy and the philosophical explorations are cleverly drawn. It’s a big task to try to address such large and complicated issues as the ones presented in this book. But to do it, while also not losing sight of her characters and presenting a compelling book that feels fast-paced throughout? Incredible! Fans of the first book are sure to be happy with this one (though I will say, you have to be patient for the Dara/Nahri) re-union! The story also leaves off with a fairly sizeable cliff-hanger, so beware of that. But don’t let that put you off!

Rating 10: Simply excellent. No second-book slump here!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Kingdom of Copper” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy of color.”

Find “The Kingdom of Copper” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles”

36686229Book: “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, August 2018

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

Book Description: Heavens to Murgatroyd! Hanna-Barbera’s very own Snagglepuss is reimagined in a brand-new series, EXIT STAGE LEFT: THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES, by author Mark Russell (THE FLINTSTONES)!

It’s 1953. While the United States is locked in a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, the gay Southern playwright known as Snagglepuss is the toast of Broadway. But success has made him a target. As he plans for his next hit play, Snagglepuss becomes the focus of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. And when powerful forces align to purge show business of its most subversive voices, no one is safe!

Written by Mark Russell, the critically acclaimed mastermind behind the award-winning PREZ VOL. 1 and THE FLINTSTONES, EXIT STAGE LEFT: THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES, enters the Hanna-Barbera reimagined universe! Collects issues #1-6.

Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

Though I feel like I watched a good amount of Hanna-Barbera cartoons as a child, one character that I don’t have specific memories of is Snagglepuss. I remember him existing, and I remember a few of his quirks (like his catch phrase ‘exit, stage left!!’ and his smooth personality), but I don’t think I ever saw a full cartoon with him as the star. But even with my passing familiarity of the character, I still knew that I ABSOLUTELY needed to read “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles”. It’s not exactly an obvious premise: Snagglepuss is a closeted Southern playwright in 1950s New York during the McCarthy Witch Hunts and the Lavender Scare, and finds himself and his friends targeted for their lifestyles. Is this a story I thought I’d see Snagglepuss in? No. Is it one of the best, if not the very best, graphic novels I’ve read this year. Heavens to Murgatoyd, yes.

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No longer is my go to Snagglepuss reference a throwaway “Simpsons” joke! (source)

The thing about Snagglepuss as a character is that he was written at a time where gay characters were coded into entertainment, and they were usually portrayed as villains, buffoons, or, if people were feeling progressive, tragic victims who couldn’t survive the story if they wanted to be true to themselves. Snagglepuss is fussy, dapper, has a smarmy affectation, and acts ‘flamboyant’, so it’s probably safe to assume he was coded as gay, and meant to be laughed at. So to take this character and to give him this story is a very neat deconstruction of what the character was initially, especially since this story is set within the same general time frame that Snagglepuss first was introduced to the world (if not a little before). Mark Russell, the man responsible for other DC/Hanna-Barbera edginess like his take on “The Flintstones” and “Scooby-Doo”, has given Snagglepuss a similar, dark treatment where people thought darkness couldn’t possibly be found. But darkness there is, as Snagglepuss finds himself caught up in the fear of the House of Un-American Activities Committee, with it’s head Gigi Allen setting her sights on him specifically. Through this backdrop we get to explore and examine the hypocrisy, corruption, prejudice, and rampant fear that had the American Government and people in an uproar. Snagglepuss himself is reluctant to become a symbol of rebellion; on the the contrary he’s perfectly content living his life as a success on Broadway, meeting up with his lover at the Stonewall Inn and basking in his fame as an intellectual elite. What I liked the most about him as our main character is that he is thrust into this role of rebellion, and his complicated feelings about it make him a well rounded character who has his OWN privileges that he hides behind when others can’t. He is a compelling iteration of the original character, and someone who can’t accept how bad things have gotten until it’s too late. 

Other familiar faces pop up in this story, from Hanna-Barbera stallwarts to actual players during the Red and Lavender Scares. We get cameos from the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, and the Rosenbergs, whose execution is one of the darker plot points within this book. At the end of the graphic novel Russell has put together a handy dandy set of notes on various people and moments he includes in the story, and I found that to be very helpful and thoughtful of him (I had never heard of the great Cornfield War between Khruschev and an American farmer. Look it up, it’s hilarious!). On the Hanna-Barbera end, Quick Draw McGraw and Squiddly Diddly play key roles and have their own forms of prejudice to contend with (Quick Draw being a closeted cop on the Stonewall beat and Squiddly being an immigrant), but the stand out is Huckleberry Hound. Huckleberry is Snagglepuss’s childhood best friend, and has become a well known Southern Gothic novelist whose marriage has fallen apart because of his sexuality. They are exact opposites, with Snagglepuss being flitty and carefree and Huckleberry being anxious and depressed. The way that their relationship grows and changes, and how they cope, or don’t cope, is one of the saddest aspects of this book, and the one that had me weeping openly of Hanna-Barbera characters. I never thought I’d see the day. But that just goes to show how excellent Russell is as a writer: he takes two dimensional cartoon characters and breathes life into them, redefining them and bringing relevant social concepts to life through them.

The artistic style that Mike Feehan brings to this story is also incredibly compelling. The characters look realistic, with Snagglepuss absolutely designed like a mountain lion in stature and gait, but not out of place within the real world they are mingling in. The animals are the right amount of anthropomorphized without feeling uncanny or eerie.

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(source: DC Comics)

“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” feels timely because the rise of paranoia and corruption within our current administration, and the constant Othering of various groups that don’t fit into the mold that they deem as ‘true Americans’. It feels like a warning, and it makes it all the more intense and powerful of a read. But it also feels like you’re reading about familiar friends, and are learning a great deal about them that you never knew, even though they were always like this. It’s ingenious and effective, and I loved every bit of it. And it’s stories like this that make me run back to DC Comics, because this is by and large one of, if not the, best graphic novels I have read in a very long time. I have my issues with DC, but I stand by the fact that I find some of the stories they tell to be incredibly ambitious and outside the box. And, heavens to Murgatroyd, I cannot recommend “Exit Stage Left” enough.

Rating 10: This brilliant and poignant story takes a well known character and gives him depth, heart, and complexity. Snagglepuss and his friends jump off the page in a story that feels as timely as it does foreboding.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” isn’t on many specifically relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it has a place on “My Country, The Enemy”, and “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”.

Find “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Sadie”

34810320Book: “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2018

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

Book Description: Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. 

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Review: I want to thank NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this novel!

I fully admit to being a huge fan of true crime, even though I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the sometimes inevitably exploitative nature of it. Even if books, TV shows, podcasts, and the like do raise awareness when it comes to various crimes, especially murder, it also turns other people’s potential pain into entertainment to make money off of. I’m no role model, as I ultimately consume SO MUCH true crime stuff it borders on the obsessive. But it isn’t lost on me that there is something dark and a bit voyeuristic about listening to and reading stories about murder. So I knew that “Sadie” by Courtney Summers was going to be, at the very least, an interesting read. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be a phenomenal one.

I first want to start with how the narrative is laid out. There are two alternating storylines that we are following: There is the transcript of the podcast “The Girls”, hosted by a well meaning man named West McCray, and then there is the first person perspective of Sadie herself, as she goes on her lonely mission to hunt down the man that she thinks killed her sister Mattie. The podcast transcript feels very much like other breakaway true crime podcasts that involve an investigative elements like “Serial” or “S-Town”, as West is tracking down Sadie in ‘real time’ and finding his narrative as he goes. Given that I love these kinds of podcasts, I knew that I was going to be picky as hell with how Summers did it, but she pulls it off in spite of the fact a podcast is, in itself, an audio experience. But ultimately, West doesn’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle, so for much of the time we are a couple steps ahead of him. We get to see him slowly piece Sadie’s actions together, and see how he could frame the story in a way that can have many themes that his audience would take interest in: poverty, addiction, violence towards women, and familial loyalty all play a part in “The Girls” as West interviews and gets to know the people in Sadie’s life and those that she interacts with. Audience members (aka the reader) can see the big picture that came together to impact Sadie and Mattie’s life, and West gets to remain detached as well as interested, controlling the narrative as best he can and guiding his audience to feel sympathy for Sadie and the culture (poverty stricken and forgotten) that she comes from, while still maintaining the safety and comfort of their own lives.

Sadie, on the other hand, does not have that luxury. Her parts of the story are dark, grim, and filled with despair as this nineteen year old is trying to hunt down the man she thinks killed the only person in the world she loved with all of her heart. Sadie doesn’t care that their mother, Claire, is a victim of a society that gives little to no support to single mothers who live in poverty and with addiction. Sadie doesn’t care that she herself has been victimized by society that is steeped in misogyny and makes victims out of women of all ages. Sadie just knows that Mattie is dead, and that she is going to kill the man she believes did it. Sadie’s story is at times so hard to read because Summers doesn’t sugar coat or gloss over the violence and hardships that she encounters, but that makes it all the stronger. While West makes Sadie’s story a commodity, we SEE her story, and we see how bad it is. While West certainly has his heart in the right place, you can see the exploitation at the heart of it because you see everything Sadie goes through in her own words. But then Sadie is also unreliable in her own ways, and sometimes what she says doesn’t necessarily line up with later revealed realities. The ways that the two narratives serve to both confirm and also upend each other never ceased to catch me off guard, and I liked that it also emphasized the various struggles that victims of domestic violence face when their abusers can hide behind a mask and trick even those closest to the victims.

I’ve labeled this as a mystery, as it SORT of is (between who killed Mattie and what happened to Sadie), but ultimately the mystery isn’t the point of this story. The point is female rage, and Summers does a masterful job of keeping it grounded in reality and never treading towards melodrama or overcompensating. Too often with YA books do we see authors feeling a need to spell everything out, or take things to extremes that feel unrealistic. Everything in “Sadie” feels real, and because of that it kicks you in the guy repeatedly, and doesn’t try to placate to the need for a happy ending or absolute closure. I really hope that this book gets noticed by readers, because it is easily one of the best YA novels I’ve read in recent memory.

“Sadie” is another perfect example of why adults shouldn’t turn their nose up at YA, just as it is a perfect example of a YA author trusting her audience. This is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time, and I cannot recommend it enough for it’s relevance and it’s power. Go read it.

Rating 10: A gut wrenching and engrossing novel that cuts to the bone, “Sadie” is a story about victimization, revenge, and how the lines can blur between investigative journalism, entertainment, and advocacy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sadie” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Missing Persons”, and “If You Love Veronica Mars…- YA Books”.

Find “Sadie” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Spinning Silver”

36896898Book: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss!

Book Description: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

Review: I was so excited when I saw that this book was coming out! “Uprooted” is one of my favorite more recent fairytale novels, and part of the reason I loved it was that it was a stand alone book. So to see that Novik was releasing yet another fairytale that would likely also be a standalone made my day. I was even more excited when I realized that it looked to be a reinterpretation of “Rumpelstiltskin” which has been, by far, one of the more underutilized fairytales in the midst of this retellings resurgence. And all of my wildest hopes and dreams have come true! I absolutely adored this book and my hardback copy is already pre-ordered.

Miryem’s life has been one filled with strained relationships. Her grandfather, a wealthy money lender, has struggled to watch his daughter’s family slowly slip into poverty as his son-in-law, Miryem’s father, has failed to make an earning as a moneylender himself. What’s more, Miryem, a decisive and strong-willed young woman, has never understood her father’s struggles to collect. After being pushed to far, with her mother’s health at risk, Miryem finally takes over the business, to her father’s shame and sadness, as this is by no means a “proper” task for a young lady. But Miryem excels. Far too well even, as she draws the attention of the magical beings who wander the winter woods looting and raiding villages for gold. And who could be more valuable than a woman you seems to turn anything she touches to gold? Now tangled in a complicated world of fairy rules and wars, Miryem will need to  draw on all the strength she has to save not only herself but perhaps even her country.

It’s no secret that I love fairytales, be they original or retellings. But as I’ve had a string of bad luck with “Beauty and the Beast” retellings (oof, there’s another one coming, folks, so look forward to that!), I have been hankering for a more original tale, unbound from conventions that all too often skew what could have been a good story. What’s more, Novik has already proven herself as being able to masterfully take the bare bones of a fairytale and make it something that only marginally resembles the original. And this held true for “Spinning Silver,” as well. While there are the barest tinges of the original “Rumplestilskin” tale before the story quickly (I’m talking a few chapters in) swerves into new and uncharted territory. And much better territory, when it comes down to it.

For one thing, given the description above and my own false assumption that it would follow the standard set by “Uprooted,” I went into this book fully expecting it to be Miryem’s tale following her struggles to turn rooms of silver into gold. And for the first several chapters, that’s what I got. But then a new character was introduced, a young woman from the same village whose home life is terrible and who is looking for a way out for her and her young brothers. Ok, now we have two. A few chapters more and yet another new character comes in, this time a young woman who is the disappointingly plain heiress to a father who has high hopes of rising his family’s position in the nobility. And that’s only the first three and the three who would turn out to be the more traditional lead characters for a book like this! But Novik doesn’t stop there and we get even more chapters from characters like the younger brothers, the nurse maid to the heiress, and even the villain himself at one point.

As has been documented on this blog several times before, I typically prefer books with only one narrator. I can handle two. But, like all silly reading “rules,” an exception was bound to come along, and that exception came here. While I did have favorites, Miryem herself, of course, as well as the heiress who played a much bigger role than I had expected at first, I enjoyed ALL of these characters. Not only did they all contribute important view changes on what became a very twisty plot, but each had a distinct voice, a “must” for any multiple POV book, and the point where I usually have criticisms for same-ness. They also all experienced clear character growth as the story progressed, though the amount of this was tied to the varied amount of page time each was given. Miryem’s sense of responsibility warred with the pride that lead her to become entangled in fairy wars. The peasant girl with the bad home life grew to have an appreciation for what family should mean. And the heiress found her own power in a world that had already written her off.

It also takes a lot of plot to provide ample room for movement and growth for a book with a cast of characters as large as this. And, again, Novik met this challenge head-on. The story slowly builds with several seemingly disparate through lines following each of these characters. But as the book continues, steadily these lines get woven together until by about halfway through the book the complicated network of intrigue is coming together. The players have been established and it is now up to several young women, all of whom are hugely out of their depth with creatures of magic and power surrounding them, to come together and save a country that is more and more plagued by long-lasting winters.

The magical elements were also surprising and unique. With the “Rumpelstilskin” parallel presented right at the get-go, I fully expected to see plenty of struggles regarding turning various things into gold. But that was only a small part of the fantasy world Novik created here. For one thing, the villain came completely out of left-field and was appropriately threatening and devious. Further, Miryem is not the only one to encounter and wield power in this story, and I was thrilled to see small references to other fairytales sprinkled here and there throughout the story.

The book also surprised me with a careful look at the anti-Sematism that Miryem, her family, and her people experienced throughout this book. While the story is set in a fantasy world, the challenging tension that is balanced between the Jewish people, their neighbors, and their roles in finance and banking was all too familiar to real-life history. Through Miryem, we see the struggles her family has faced with these prejudices, but also the important role her religion and culture holds in her life. Through other characters, we see their own biases and prejudices challenged and changed. It’s a nice added commentary in an otherwise purely fantastical tale.

Like “Uprooted,” the romance is understated in this story and isn’t a driving force for any of its characters. While I could have liked a bit more of it, I was quite pleased with what we did get, and, again, surprised that it wasn’t limited to our primary main character.

All in all, I absolutely loved this book. If you liked “Uprooted,” or like fairytales, or like fantasy, or just like good books, get your hands on this one!

Rating 10: Should I have been surprised? No. Was I thrilled? Yes. I can pretty much guarantee this will make my “Top Ten” list in December.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Spinning Silver” is on these Goodreads lists: “All that Glitters: Rumpelstiltskin Retellings” and “Upcoming 2018 Sci-Fi/Fantasy With Female Leads or Co-Leads.”

Find “Spinning Silver” at your library using WorldCat!