Kate’s Review: “Bombshells United: War Bonds”

39208018Book: “Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” by Marguerite Bennett, Stephen Byrne (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Sia Oum (Ill.), and Sandy Jarrell (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Years ago, before she became the battling Bombshell known as Batwoman, Kate Kane and Renee Montoya loved and fought together in the Spanish Resistance, and even formed a family with their adopted son Jasón. But their lives were turned upside down, and Kate found a new life and a new love for herself in Gotham City.

Now Kate is back in Spain, working with Renee once again to save the country from a tyrannical ruler…only this time the despot has unstoppable occult powers. His name is Black Adam, and he’s lived for millennia seeking the moment he can gain control of the powers of life and death.

Batwoman, Renee and Black Adam are all defined by whom they’ve loved and lost. But beneath the ancient streets of Madrid, a mystical labyrinth conceals the means to bring life back to the dead: a Lazarus Pit. 

With this incredible power, will Black Adam gain the final piece he needs to crush the entire world under his heel? Or will the dead have their own say in it?

Writer Marguerite Bennett (Batwoman) and artists Mirka Andolfo (Harley Quinn), Siya Oum (Lola XO) and Stephen Byrne (Green Arrow) bring fan-favorite Bombshell Kate Kane back to where she began…but how much will her past define her future? Collects Bombshells: United #7-12.

Review: I’m feeling a bit morose that this is going to be the second to last “Bombshells” story collection for the foreseeable future. I’ve moved on from being angry to depressed when it comes to this series being cancelled, and I’m thinking that I’m moving closer and closer to acceptance. There are a couple of reasons for this acceptance that are more on the unfortunate side, but more on that in a little bit. Because at the end of the day I still think that it is a damn travesty that DC cancelled this title just because of how unique it is and how it covers a vast swath of characters who come from diverse backgrounds and give diverse voices to the stories they are telling. And now it sounds like I’m reverting back towards anger, so before that happens let’s get to the nitty gritty of what worked, and what didn’t, in “Bombshells United: War Bonds”.

It’s been a little while, but we once again have caught up with Kate Kane and Renée Montoya, aka Batwoman and The Question. They have moved on from their final battle and have ended up back in Spain, where they first met and fell in love. But it’s also where they lost their adopted son Jasón, when mercenary The Cheetah murdered him for the hell of it. The loss is still gaping, and while Kate and Renée have found each other again the pain lingers. I liked that we got to see their grief in this way, as something that will always be with them, even if it isn’t as all encompassing as it had been initially. This theme of grief is where the crux of this story comes in, post-Franco Spain,’s new ruler is a whole new tyrant that we know as Black Adam, who is also haunted by a terrible loss from his past. He is looking for a way to resurrect his dead queen Isis, and has heard of a pit with magical powers that can bring people back to life. But it’s Kate and Renée who stumble upon it first, finding this Lazarus pit in the middle of an underground labyrinth. And who else do they find there, but Talia Al Ghul and Cheetah. And Cheetah is there because she has brought Jasón back to life, as she is now driven by guilt and a need for forgiveness and redemption.

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Me as I realized that this kind of plot point seemed VERY familiar… (source)

Okay folks, it’s real talk time. I really, REALLY appreciate that Bennett is trying to think beyond the usual physical and violent conflict resolution that we see in superhero stories, and I understand that it’s a fun way to show that women’s roles and stereotypes of being peacemakers and nurturers can be subverted into something powerful enough to stand up against super villainy. But, for the love of God, this is the fourth time that a nemesis has seen the evil of their ways thanks to spending time with the Bombshells (or in Cheetah’s and Paula Van Gunther’s cases, just kind of needing the conflict resolution to fit an upcoming plot device), and it is getting old. I am all for redemption arcs, and I think that it’s especially important that bad women in fiction get these arcs since it feels like men do when it suits the storyteller. But I want them to be complex and interesting, not just tossed together in a moment because of peace love and understanding. It also makes it so that our cast of villains becomes smaller and smaller, and you instead need to introduce new (albeit familiar) antagonists to stir the pot, like Black Adam. I will admit that I’m not as familiar with him, as Shazam (aka Miri Marvel as she is in this story) was never a title that I got into very much. But even if I had been into him, I feel like introducing a new huge big bad at this point was just another example of fantasy bloat that “Bombshells” is starting to see more of.

That makes it sound like that I didn’t like anything about this turn of events, and that’s not totally true. Like many stories with similar themes that come before it, Kate and Renée will have to contend with the unforeseen consequences of Jasón’s resurrection. Though it isn’t full on zombie Jasón or anything like that, you do get the sense as the story goes on that perhaps things won’t be as happily ever after as Cheetah intended it to be. I also liked that for Kate and Renée, Cheetah’s actions weren’t automatically welcomed with open arms. They didn’t forgive her automatically because of this, and I thought that that was a realistic and refreshing turn of events. It’s one thing of the Batgirls or Wonder Girls  are able to take a former enemy into the fold and show them compassion. But Harvey Dent and Clayface didn’t murder their kids just for the fun of it. I thought that Bennett hit that nail on the head, that atonement doesn’t automatically earn forgiveness.

The art in this collection worked better for me than it did in “Bombshells United: American Soil”, mainly because it didn’t feel as cutesy. There were also nice moments of pondering or waxing poetic on mythology that felt more muted and subdued, and I really took to it. Maybe it helped that during one of these sequences Kate ACTUALLY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT MAGGIE SAWYER IS STILL BACK HOME WAITING FOR HER. In any case, I thought that the design worked well and added a lot to the retro style narrative.

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As mentioned above, we are only getting one more collection of “Bombshells United” before it’s over. One more. There are so many things that haven’t really been addressed across the other characters, and given that there has been a new explosion of characters I’m worried that the focus is in no way going to be brought back to where it needs to be to have a totally satisfying ending where all loose ends get tied up. And while that is in part certainly the fault of the cancellation (I’m sure that Bennett had lots of really good ideas and paths on how and when she was going to take them on), it’s also in part an example of why exploding character rosters and plot lines can come back and bite you in the butt. As I slide closer to acceptance that this series has ended, I hope that in the next, and final, issue I will walk away with some satisfaction. And that Kate, Diana, Kara, Harley, and all the rest are given their due that they so richly deserve.

Rating 6: There was a lot to like about “Bombshells United: War Bonds”, but repetitive storytelling is starting to take it’s toll.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” is not on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Girls Read Comics”, and “Show Me Your Queers”.

Find “Bombshells United (Vol 2): War Bonds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood”

33540347Book: “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Maika Halfwolf is on the run from a coalition of forces determined to control or destroy the powerful Monstrum that lives beneath her skin. But Maika still has a mission of her own: to discover the secrets of her late mother, Moriko. 

In this second volume of Monstress, collecting issues 7-12, Maika’s quest takes her to the pirate-controlled city of Thyria and across the sea to the mysterious Isle of Bones. It is a journey that will force Maika to reevaluate her past, present, and future, and contemplate whether there’s anyone, or anything, she can truly trust–including her own body.

Review: A popular definition of ‘insanity’ is repeating the same behaviors and expecting a different outcome each time. In this regard, I can call myself ‘insane’, because even though I wasn’t totally taken in by “Monstress” in it’s first volume, I went into “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” thinking that perhaps this time something would be different. I really want to like this series, because it has so many features that draw me in: the art is beautiful; the world is dark and foreboding; two of the main characters are a Fox/human child and a necromancing CAT! Plus, monsters. Like, a seriously CREEPY monster. And yet, the joy that others get from “Monstress” continues to elude me.

I will start with the positives of this volume of Maika’s journey. Marjorie Liu has certainly made a creative world that her characters roam in. It continues to be complex and intricate, and it just keeps expanding. This time we get to spend time with a band of pirate Arcanics (those that are part human and part Ancient, and tend to have Animal characteristics), and on a mysterious Island of Bones where an Ancient creature named Blood-Fox resides. Maika is desperate to get answers about her mother, and perhaps figure out how to get rid of the Monster that’s living inside of her. All the while she’s being pursued by the Dawn Court’s Warlord, a military leader who also happens to be Maika’s Aunt. Ultimately, “Blood” isn’t really about the blood of battle, but the blood that runs in our veins and whom it connects us to. I liked seeing Maika try to find out some answers, and I liked that both Maika AND the Monster inside of her have to confront truths about their pasts that make them both uncomfortable. I also still have a great affection for Maika’s sidekicks, the sweet and adorable Kippa, and the sarcastic and somewhat mysterious necromancing cat Ren. As these three continue to travel together, they become more connected to each other, and they all balance each other out.

The art also continues to be gorgeous. There is less time in urban settings in this volume, in favor of taking it to the high seas and to a creepy as all get out island, which means there’s a bit less Art Deco influence. But Takeda’s style remains intricate and sumptuous, and I found my breath taken away a number of times as I turned the pages. The style for her characters also feels so unique, as all of the characters are stark contrasts from each other in their designs. I was especially impressed with the ghostly imagery that’s found on and near the Isle of Bones, as the ghosts are both ethereal but very present.

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But, like with the first volume, “Monstress: The Blood” still hasn’t made me fall head over heels for this series. I like the characters and the art, but the high fantasy aspects have not worked for me, and I found myself not as interested in it as I had hoped I would be. As the world continued to expand, I wanted more focus on the witches we’d seen in the previous volume. I’m connected to Maika as a character, but I’m not really invested in her story, which is hard for me to wrap my head around. Ultimately, it just comes back to my tastes about high fantasy, and how limited they are. That isn’t “Monstress”‘s fault.

And yes, I’m going to keep going. Even though I have been kind of left cold by the first and second volumes of this series, I REALLY want to like it, and I think that there are shades within these two volumes that make me think that I still can. So I’ve put Volume Three on my request list. And maybe next time I will have a more positive review to give. For now, know that my opinions of “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” probably don’t and shouldn’t reflect the merits and positives of this series. So, like I said in my previous review, if you like high fantasy that has a bit of a darkness to it, you should absolutely check this series out. It will probably work for you better than it does for me.

Rating 6: Once again, I’m blown away by the amazing artwork, and I have a fondness for a few of the characters. But the high fantasy setting still isn’t gelling with me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girls Read Comics”, and “SFF Written by WOC and Non-Binary People of Color”.

Find “Monstress (Vol. 2): The Blood” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Leave No Trace”

38355245Book: “Leave No Trace” by Mindy Mejia

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: A friend lent me a copy!

Book Description: From the author of the “compelling” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis) and critically acclaimed Everything You Want Me to Be, a riveting and suspenseful thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a boy and his stunning return ten years later.

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

Review: As a Minnesota girl straight down to my bones, I am always a bit tickled to see a book take place in my home state. I think that that was part of the appeal of Mindy Mejia’s “Everything You Want Me To Be”, because along with the stellar mystery and twists and turns it had a familiarity to it that I greatly appreciated. Mejia is also a Minnesota Native, and seeing local authors make good is always gratifying. Her newest book, “Leave No Trace”, is another book set in Minnesota, this time in the northern part of the state as opposed to the farm belt. But it, too, serves us a mystery with lies, deceptions, and people with secrets from their pasts they’d rather keep buried.

The setting itself is one of the most powerful aspects of this book, and I don’t think that I say that solely as a Minnesota girl. Mejia does a great job of conveying the very setting and culture of Northern Minnesota, from the harbor town Duluth, where Lake Superior is an ever intimidating and daunting presence, to Ely, where the wilderness is just on the cusp of a small town, to the Boundary Waters, where the wilderness is vast and isolating. These various settings felt like characters in and of themselves, and I loved the imagery that Mejia put on the page. I lived in Duluth for almost a year, and she really captures that town and what it’s like to be on a Great Lake, especially one as temperamental as Superior. No matter where the characters were, the setting was well described, and the players interacted with their surroundings or made reference to their surroundings in realistic ways. The mystery itself kept me going, as I pretty much sat down one morning and read well into the afternoon until I had turned the last page. It really did suck me in, and there were things that I didn’t see coming and red herrings that had me fooled. Place and plot were, for the most part, strong.

But it was the characters that I had a harder time with, be it in terms of their conception and characterization, or the choices that they made. Maya didn’t work as well for me as a protagonist, as while we got background on her and why she might do the things that she did I found some of her choices (and the consequences of said choices) far fetched. I also didn’t think that we really got enough of her through showing rather than telling, and she made a shift in character once one piece of her backstory was revealed that didn’t feel believable. I also found it very hard to believe that some of her, shall we say, poorer choices didn’t have the consequences that they really should have. I don’t want to spoil anything here just because it is a fun read, but there were a couple of things she does that would have had far greater reaching issues than the ones that panned out. Lucas, too, had some problems, and that was really just that he didn’t really flesh out beyond the two dimensional hermit he was introduced as. I didn’t really believe his character progression with Maya either, and I didn’t buy their instant connection because of parental loss issues. ALSO, the heat between them was SO unethical that I was quite uncomfortable by all of it. He’s a patient who is going through a huge trauma (in this case being separated from his father AND having to acclimate to a new life outside of the Boundary Waters), so for this romance to be presented in a complicated skewing towards positive light was not settling well for me. And finally, the end itself felt a little too neat and tidy, and it went very fast in the wrap up, with a time jump and everything. I wish that things had gone a bit longer, or that we’d been able to see some of the difficult things that got swept away because of the time jump epilogue.

So while “Leave No Trace” didn’t live up to “Everything You Want Me To Be”, the Minnesota origins and settings of Mindy Mejia are still going to pull me back to whatever it is she writes next.

Rating 6: Though it’s fun to see a Minnesota setting was well portrayed, “Leave No Trace” had characters that I didn’t care for and didn’t have as many thrills as I wanted from it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Leave No Trace” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “A Walk in the Woods”, and “Trees, Woods, Forests”.

Find “Leave No Trace” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Stormcaster”

33816845Book: “Stormcaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, April 2018

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

Book Description: The empress in the east—the unspeakably cruel ruler whose power grew in Flamecaster and Shadowcaster—tightens her grip in this chilling third installment in the series.

Vagabond seafarer Evan Strangward can move the ocean and the wind, but his magical abilities seem paltry in comparison to Empress Celestine’s. As Celestine’s bloodsworn armies grow, Evan travels to the Fells to warn the queendom of her imminent invasion. If he can’t convince the Gray Wolf queen to take a stand, he knows that the Seven Realms will fall. Among the dead will be the one person Evan can’t stand to lose.

Meanwhile, the queen’s formidable daughter, Princess Alyssa ana’Raisa, is already a prisoner aboard the empress’s ship. Lyss may be the last remaining hope of bringing down the empress from within her own tightly controlled territory.

Previously Reviewed: “Flamecaster” and “Shadowcaster”

Review: This book came out last spring, and yet I’m reviewing it almost six months later. Part of this is due to the way my library holds list played out, and the other part of it almost seems reflective about my attitude towards this series. I just don’t know what to expect anymore, and so, I delay. I loved the original series that was prequel to this one, but that love hasn’t translated well, at least not consistently or evenly. I wasn’t a huge fan of “Flamecaster,” and while “Shadowcaster” was an improvement, it still didn’t reach the highs of the originals. What makes these feelings all the more clear in hindsight is the fact that when I started this book, it took me forrrreeevveerr to remember the details of the story or who some of these characters even were. Not a good sign. And, while I did like this one more than the fist book in the series, I’m also starting to accept the fact that, as a whole, this series might just not be my jam.

Per the usual with the books in this series now, the story opens in the past, then catches up to events that were occurring to other characters during the present of the period that made up the first book and much of the second, and then finally catches up to the last portion of the second book and moves forward. Confusing? A bit. The timeline jumping didn’t help with my general disconnectedness from the larger narrative. Our newest member to the ever-growing cast of characters is the titular stormcaster, Evan Strangward, a character we met briefly in the first book as a pirate who delivered the dragon, Cas, that Jenna has paired up with. (Another example of my confusion and lack of memory of this series: I absolutely did not remember this at all until it was literally pointed out on the page much later in the book. I thought this was a completely new character for most of it. So…yeah, that says a lot, I think). Evan has his own motives and connections to the villainous Empress across the sea, and teams up with other familiar characters. Meanwhile, we check in briefly with our other main characters, including Jenna/Cas, Lyss, Adrian, Lila, Hal, etc etc.

Look, I’ll just say it: there are too many characters for this series to handle well. At this point, Jenna, our main character from the first book and a girl with a literal dragon best friend, has only gotten about 3-4 chapters in the last two books. Adrian, the son of Raisa, was almost gone completely from the second book, but gets a bit more here. Hal and Lila have their own roles to play, and Lyss finally shows up about halfway through the book, but it’s all just too little too late. For one, there are simply too many characters to feel equally invested in them all. This will inevitably lead readers to forming preferences and then facing disappointment in one book or another when those characters have to be pushed to the side to fit in all of the other characters that have been introduced. For two, trying to juggle this large cast while sticking with a reasonable page length leads to corners being cut as far as character development goes. Most particularly, the romance suffers.

This series insists on pairings all of its characters up, and so far I’ve only really been able to buy into one of these relationships, the between Lyss/Hal. And objectively, this is likely due to my preference for Lyss as a character rather than any particular strength of this relationship on its own. Adrian and Jenna suffered from an extreme case of instalove, and we saw another version of that here in the relationship formed between Evan and Destin. One of the biggest strengths of the first series was the slow-burn/development of its main romantic pairing that took place over four entire books. Because this series has so many characters and adds more in each book, every single romantic pairing suffers, if not in the beginning (like the cases of instalove), then as the story progresses (like Lyss and Hal who in this book spend the entire time on opposite sides of the world.)

The story itself also suffers for this large cast. The action often feels reduced and stunted because the book must jump around so often to cover what is happening to everyone in their own little corners. And then in this book in particular, the “big confrontation” that comes towards the end felt a bit subdued and predictable. There were a few exciting moments in it, but ultimately, in an epic fantasy series, it felt more like a small action scene that should have happened in the middle of some book, rather than the grand finale of the third in the series.

There were a few things that still intrigued me here. I still very much enjoy Lyss as a character and was very pleased when she finally turned up. It was good to hear (and see!) more from the Empress and what her motivations/plans are. There are also a few neat scenes where various characters meet up with each other for the first time, and that was particularly enjoyable.

However, ultimately this series is starting to fall prey to what I call “Game of Thrones” syndrome where the concept has started to kill what might have been good originally. Namely, too many characters and POV switches don’t always help a series and can often prove to be detrimental, especially as they continue to build and eventually start overwhelming the story itself. An author is so busy catching up with a million different people and POVs that the story itself begins to feel lost. At this point, I will still finish off this series, but I feel pretty confident that unless there’s a major turn-around in the last book, this won’t be going down as as much of a favorite as its predecessor series.

Rating 6: Stumbles under the weight of its own increasing cast size.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Stormcaster” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason, but it is on “2018 – Sequels.”

Find “Stormcaster” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “Limetown”

30363835Book: “Limetown” by Cote Smith, Zack Akers, and Skip Bronkie

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: From the creators of the #1 podcast Limetown, an explosive prequel about a teenager who learns of a mysterious research facility where over three hundred people have disappeared—including her uncle—with clues that become the key to discovering the secrets of this strange town.

On a seemingly ordinary day, seventeen-year-old Lia Haddock hears news that will change her life forever: three hundred men, women, and children living at a research facility in Limetown, Tennessee, have disappeared without a trace. Among the missing is Emile Haddock, Lia’s uncle. 

What happened to the people of Limetown? It’s all anyone can talk about. Except Lia’s parents, who refuse to discuss what might have happened there. They refuse, even, to discuss anything to do with Emile.

As a student journalist, Lia begins an investigation that will take her far from her home, discovering clues about Emile’s past that lead to a shocking secret—one with unimaginable implications not only for the people of Limetown, but for Lia and her family. The only problem is…she’s not the only one looking for answers. 

Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie are first-rate storytellers, in every medium. Critics called their podcast Limetown “creepy and otherworldly” (The New York Times) and “endlessly fun” (Vox), and their novel goes back to where it all began. Working with Cote Smith, a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Finalist, they’ve crafted an exhilarating mystery that asks big questions about what we owe to our families and what we owe to ourselves, about loss, discovery, and growth. Threaded throughout is Emile’s story—told in these pages for the first time ever.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for sending me an eARC of this book!

As the resident podcast junkie on this blog, it may be a bit surprising that until recently I hadn’t set aside time to listen to “Limetown”. For those unfamiliar, “Limetown” is a fictional thriller/supernatural podcast that is written in a “Serial”-esque format, following journalist Lia Haddock as she investigates the mysterious disappearance of an entire town population. Given that it’s totally up my alley, I don’t really know why I didn’t put it in the constant rotation of podcasts I listen to. But when I was given an invitation to read “Limetown”, the prequel novel, by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley, I decided that it was time to listen. I devoured the podcast in a couple days time, totally taken in by the mystery and the creepiness as Lia gets closer and closer to the solution, and the conspiracy, involving the town, the research it was doing, and the connection it had to her missing uncle Emile. And once I was done with that, I felt that it was time to finally read the prequel novel, hoping that it would expand upon the universe and give us some insight into the brand new Season 2.

I didn’t quite get that from “Limetown”, and I’m starting to wonder if the ever expanding media connections to podcasts is really necessary.

I’ll start with the good first, as I am wont to do. Given that the podcast “Limetown” is laid out in an investigative format, all we are seeing is what Lia Haddock, the host of the show, would have access to. Given that that narrative structure is only going to give us so much, I did like that we got to see a LOT more about Limetown within the novel. A lot of this comes from the storyline concerning Emile, Lia’s uncle who disappeared when the town population did. While the podcast does let us in on the true purpose of Limetown (spoilers: it’s a place that was being used as a research facility for psychic abilities in humans), getting to see Emile make his journey from outsider teenager to Limetown resident definitely shed some insight that we didn’t get to see otherwise. I liked Emile’s perspective and his somewhat tragic story, a person with abilities and feels on the outside of those around him. His connection to his brother Jacob (Lia’s father) is expanded upon, as is his relationship to Lia’s mother Alison. I definitely enjoyed his parts of the story. I had bigger problems with Lia’s parts. I like Lia as a character both in book and on the podcast, but within this prequel I feel like they retconned quite a bit about her character because of things she finds out in the book as opposed to what we THINK she knows in the podcast. There are certain moments and revelations within the narrative of the book that I would have THOUGHT that she would have addressed in the podcast just based on her character and her drive to find the truth, but as it is, in spite of the fact the book is definitely BEFORE the podcast, it seems that these truths either a) aren’t what they seem and the podcast is more unreliable than we thought, or b) don’t match up because of an unplanned prequel book. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

This isn’t a BAD book, and I think that fans of the podcast would definitely find things within it to like. But, much like “Welcome to Night Vale”, I’m not certain that it would stand on it’s own two feet to non-fans to intrigue them enough to bring them into the fold. Does it have to? No. But I do think that if the show wants to perhaps reach out to non-fans to build their fandom, their non-podcast media should be able to stand alone.

It’s not an unfamiliar story for a podcast to get expansions via other means of consumable content. “Welcome to Night Vale” has two books now. “Dirty John” is getting a TV adaptation with Connie Britton and Eric Bana. Julia Roberts is starring in an Amazon Prime Adaptation of “Homecoming”. And hell, even “Limetown” is getting a Facebook Watch adaptation starring Jessica Biel along with this book. It will be interesting to see how these various adaptations fare. But if they aren’t bringing in many reasons to expand, it may end up feeling a bit pointless. “Limetown” the book was fine, but I don’t see it as being essential reading.

Rating 6: While I enjoyed learning some new things about the mysterious Emile, “Limetown” didn’t feel like it expanded much on the universe at hand, and it didn’t feel like it could bring an unfamiliar person in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Limetown” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books Based on Podcasts”, and “Podcast Books”.

Find “Limetown” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Empire of Sand”

39714124Book: “Empire of Sand” by Tasha Suri

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2018

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

Book Description: The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Review: A big thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this book! I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately with fantasy stories set in desert climates, so reading the description for this one, I was quick to place a request. Unfortunately for me, while not a bad book, this one didn’t quite do it for me. My streak had to end sometime, I guess, and it was unfortunate that it had to be with this book.

Mehr has grown up straddling two worlds. In one, she is the noble daughter of an imperial governor, raised in luxury and comfort and largely protected from any tumult going on in Empire at large. In the other world, she is the bastard daughter of a mother whose people have become outcasts in their own land and who are becoming increasingly persecuted by the Emperor. Of course, these two worlds will inevitably clash, Mehr must find a way to fight for not only her own future but that of her people.

While I already noted that this book wasn’t a win for me, there were a few things that played in its favor that I want to highlight. Firstly, the setting. I still love a good desert-based fantasy novel, and this one perfectly captures the wild nature of its location and plays with usual cast of fantasy characters often found there, such as daevas. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Mehr’s Amrithi culture and the intricate dances they perform as part of their power.

And lastly, Mehr herself is a strong enough character. She’s not one that will likely stand out in my memory, but she also didn’t commit any of the cardinal sins that get my hackles up with main characters. She’s practical and level-headed (though she does make a few confusing decisions early in the book, but no one’s perfect, I guess). She also has a lovely relationship with her much younger sister. Sadly, this character and a few others that we meet early in the book pretty much disappear from the story, which is too bad.

Ultimately, I think my biggest problems with this book had to do with pacing and the odd balance that was trying to be struck between YA fantasy fiction and adult fantasy. There are elements of each in the book, and yet they never mesh together well, and what may appeal to one set feels like exactly the points of note that would ring false with others. The pacing is quite slow and the world-building, history, and politics are quite detailed. These are elements that one is more often able to find in adult fantasy. However, on the other hand, character moments and the overall story arc largely follow a pretty familiar beat-by-beat YA story. Put together, I was never able to fully engage with the book. The detail that was given to the world and history combined with the very familiar order of events left many of the “reveals” feeling predictable and lacking the excitement and thrill that one would want. Even with a few more surprises, I think the pacing itself would still have been lacking. It was just slow. There was a lot of discussion and preparation and very little action for a book that is following the now very established “weapon floating on cover” book design.

As I said, there’s nothing objectively “wrong” with this book, perhaps other than its slow nature. But even that may appeal to some readers. For me, the other elements in the story were all just…fine. And “fine” characters, “fine” romance, and “fine” magical elements just weren’t enough to boost this one up my interest scale. But fantasy readers looking for a slower-moving story that plays to its strengths with its desert setting may still want to check this one out!

Rating 6: Just kind of meh, for me, unfortunately.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Empire of Sand” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Diverse Books by Diverse Authors.”

Find “Empire of Sand” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica”

38369243Book: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” by Paul Dini, Marc Andreyko, and Laura Braga (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The bad girls of Gotham meet the good girls of Riverdale!

Hiram Lodge (Veronica’s father) wants to invest in the future by building a university with free tuition for Riverdale’s residents. His site is a protected swamp on the outskirts of town, and once news of the plan reaches Gotham City, a certain eco-warrior (a.k.a. Poison Ivy) is determined to prevent the dream from becoming reality.

However, once Poison Ivy and her bestie Harley Quinn arrive, they get mixed up in the sort of hijinks that can only happen in Riverdale. At a superhero-themed costume party, the night’s entertainment–Zatanna– manages to place the personas of the Gotham City Sirens into the bodies of the town’s notorious frenemies: Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. While Ivy (in Ronnie’s body) seeks to derail Lodge’s agenda from within, more than a few nefarious forces–from Jason and Cheryl Blossom to the Clown Prince of Crime himself–have their own foul plans.

This groundbreaking miniseries teams up two of fandom’s best-known duos, bringing the ladies of Gotham and Riverdale together for the first time! This madcap mayhem comes courtesy of Paul Dini (Harley Quinn) and Marc Andreyko (Wonder Woman ’77), with art by Laura Braga (DC Comics: Bombshells)! Collects Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica #1-6.

Review: I’ve been a long time fan of “Batman”, as you all are well aware. I also have a very special place in my heart for “Archie” comics, and not just the horror comics that have been so genius as of late. When I was a little girl I loved old school Archie adventures, and really liked following stories involving Betty and Veronica. When I saw that Paul Dini, a writer for “Batman: The Animated Series” AND one of the creators of Harley Quinn, had written a new Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story with Marc Andreyko, I was already pretty on board. But when I saw that it was a crossover with Archie Comics, and it was ALSO going to star Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge?

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Two of my fandoms hi fiving each other in glee! (source)

Far be it from me to disparage goofy crossovers. As a former fan fiction author I have indulged in a number of crossover stories, some of which make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and I think that amusing and fun is one of the most important elements to do it successfully. But what makes the idea of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy meeting up with Betty and Veronica so excellent is that they are all the epitome of gal pals, in positive and negative ways. While Harley and Ivy are definitely supportive and caring friends to each other, they are morally ambiguous if we are being generous (and if we aren’t they’re straight up criminals). And while Betty and Veronica are pretty normal and functional people, they are best known for their portrayal of being frenemies all because of a boy (who is a total DUD, I might add). So to give these two sets of friends a little wiggle room to explore the depths of where their personalities can go, and therein critique their base portrayals they are pigeonholed into, is kind of genius.

Deriving a plot that is part buddy crime comedy and part “Freaky Friday”, “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” is really just a comedy of errors and some fun fan service for people like me. I don’t know what a Venn Diagram of people who love Harley and Ivy vs people who love Betty and Veronica would look like, but I know that as someone in the overlap I found this to be an entertaining romp. Once the full body switch happened and we got to see Betty and Veronica dealing with the hot mess that is Gotham, and Harley and Ivy letting loose at Riverdale High, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride for what it is. I liked seeing Betty and Veronica completely aghast at Gotham and the ridiculous crime it harbors, just as I liked seeing Ivy and Harley have to contend with Cheryl and Jason Blossom, a whole different kind of enemy than they are used to. There is also something incredibly satisfying about seeing Ivy and Harley have NO interest in Archie WHAT. SO. EVER. The banter and situational comedy the two sets of gal pals get into while in the body swap is entertaining to be certain, and they bring a new zest to some of the tried and true tropes of both fandoms. There are also other fun little shout outs and meet ups for members of the “Batman” and “Archie” fan bases: Sabrina Spellman getting to hang out with Zatanna was a delight, and the idea of Smithers and Alfred Pennyworth being old friends was super sweet.

The art is fun and a nice mix of both worlds. Laura Braga of “Bombshells” art fame is at the helm this time, and she has a style that kind of suits both universes. It’s chic and stylistic, but it also lends itself to superhero situations, or perhaps supervillain situations is a better description.

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(source)

But I think that one of the weaker things about this collection was that it really does read like fan fiction. That isn’t to say that this is inherently a bad thing; like I said, I used to write that stuff and still dabble even if I don’t publish it anymore, and I do like a fun nutty crossover. What I mean by that is that sometimes I felt like plot points happened less because of the plot at hand, and more because Dini and Andreyko thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…?’. And that tended to make for a weaker story. I’m thinking mostly about this whole strange subplot with Reggie dressing up as Joker for a party, losing his memory, and then believing that he WAS Joker. I didn’t really understand what this did outside of ‘look, it’s like The Joker is here but he isn’t actually, isn’t that FUNNY?!’ As far as I’m concerned, Joker is a little played out these days, Mark Hamill excluded. Plus, why is it that we feel like whenever there is a Harley Quinn story Joker should show up in some capacity? I am willing to give Dini a little slack here since he is Harley’s creator, but honestly, it’s not necessary and I’m starting to get sick of it. ESPECIALLY since Harley and Ivy are pretty solidly a couple in the DC verse now, and that wasn’t very clear in this, now that I think about it, which ruffles my feathers a bit. Again, Dini can get a LITTLE leeway since he’s the creator, but COME ON.

So while “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” was definitely a bit of fluff and fun, I had hoped that it would be more than that. It gave me joy in the moment, but I wish that it had a little more substance.

Rating 6: A cute and fun mash up of two of my favorites, but it definitely could have gone further than it did.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” isn’t on many Goodreads lists but I think it would fit in on “Crossover Fiction”.

Find “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” at your library using WorldCat!