Kate’s Review: “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)”

33252331Book: “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” by Tim Seeley, Scott Godlewski

Publishing Info: Vertigo, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In this follow-up to the 1987 cult classic film, horror masters Tim Seeley and Scott Godlewski wade into the bloody, badass world of California vampires for an all-new tale of thrills, chills, and good old-fashioned heart-staking action in THE LOST BOYS VOL. 1!

Welcome to scenic Santa Carla, California. Great beaches. Colorful characters. Killer nightlife. And, of course, all the damn vampires.

The Emerson brothers (Sam and Michael) and the Frog brothers (Edgar and Alan) learned that last part the hard way–these underage slayers took on the vampire master Max and his pack of punked-out minions, and drove a stake right through their plans to suck Santa Carla dry. After scraping the undead goo off their shoes, they figured everything was back to normal.

But now there are new vamps in town.

A coven of female undead called the Blood Belles has moved in, and they’ve targeted Sam, Michael, the Frog Brothers, and every other vampire hunter in Santa Carla for bloody vengeance.

It’ll take every trick in the brothers’ monster-killing book to stop these bloodsuckers from unleashing an entire army of the damned. And they’ll need help from an unexpected source–a certain shirtless sax-playing savior known only as the Believer!

Do you still believe? Collects #1-6.

Review: Everyone who knows me knows that “The Lost Boys” is one of my very favorite movies of all time. OF ALL TIME. It’s a tongue in cheek, earnest as hell, and in some ways a legitimately creepy vampire movie. I love it so much that this past year my friend Laura (of our “It” video review fame) and I went to a Fantasy/Sci Fi convention cosplaying as Edgar and Allan Frog, the sibling vampire hunters played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander.

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Destroy All Vampires.

So of course when I found out about the comic series that Vertigo created to work as a canonical sequel to that movie after two not so great film ones (though I have to say I kind of love “Lost Boys: The Thirst” because it’s basically just Corey Feldman acting exasperated the whole time), I was over the moon! A continuation of one of my favorite vampire tales, all in comic form? Hell yes! I started it in comic form but then just decided to wait for the trade collection, and when it finally came in at the library I snatched it up and dove right in.

One thing that struck me right away is that Tim Seeley and Scott Godlewski struck the proper tone that the movie had. It continues to have the earnestness and charm that the original had, and all of the characters feel in character and true to how they should be. It gives a good balance to the man characters, and gives a little more focus to the Frog Brothers, which is a-okay by me. Sam and Michael are still centered as the protagonists, but the spotlight is more equally distributed between the players. It also gives a little more gender equity to this universe, as there are actual honest to goodness female vampires in this called The Blood Belles. Unlike Star (more on that in a bit), the girl vampire from the movie, The Blood Belles are aggressive and formidable villains, with their own motivations and personalities that give ladies more to do this time around. They are a gang that lives up to the previous vampire villains, which was a true relief not only as a fan of the movie, but as someone who resents the fact that Star and Lucy Emerson are so passive in the original story. I also appreciated that this comic is partially steeped in pure, unadulterated fan service. Not only do we have The Frog Brothers becoming actual vampire hunters (under the tutelage of Michael and Sam’s Grandpa), there are also some other character returns that I never thought that we’d see. For one, David is back (which is kind of a spoiler, but it happens very early so I’m not going to feel THAT bad about it), and he’s brought back in a feasible way even after being impaled. He also doesn’t shove aside the Blood Belles with his presence, which I was quite worried about. Worry not. These chicks know how to take care of themselves. But the fan favorite return that I was the MOST excited about wasn’t David, or the Frogs, or even the adorable Laddie (more on him later). Nope. It was most definitely the triumphant return of The Saxophone Man.

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I STILL BELIEVE!!!! (source)

And not only is he back, he’s also a rogue vampire killer who calls himself, wait for it…. THE BELIEVER. I screamed my goddamn head off when all of this was revealed. This one off scene of a random band on the boardwalk has given us a treasure of a plot point.

But now I have to address the issues I had with this comic, because issues abound. The first involves the continuity problems. The biggest one was the fact that the little boy and former half vampire Laddie is now living with Sam and Michael now, in spite of the fact there was a milk carton with his face on it in the movie. Someone is looking for Laddie, guys!! You can’t just keep him! So either the Emersons and just prolonging his abduction, or that has been thrown out the window in interest of keeping Laddie there for plot purposes. But the bigger issue I had was with Star. Star is a character that I both love and kind of resent. She’s beautiful and charming, and Jami Gertz plays her so well, but she is so passive and just there to be a vaguely moral center. She’s another half vampire, but doesn’t even get to vamp out once! I had higher hopes that she would have more to do in this one, and at first it seemed like she did (and the reasons I say this I won’t spoil)….. But then she really just ended up being passive and unwilling or unable to act at times she could. AGAIN. They had the chance to redeem Star, or at least give her the credit that was never afforded her, but they still  relegated her to the sidelines again.

The artwork is a fun style, kind of reminding me of “Locke and Key” in the way the people are drawn. The colors pop off the page, and while the characters don’t really look like their inspirations, it kind of gives them a new chance to become their own characters that can evolve beyond the film.

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(source)

While I had my qualms, for the most part I had a blast reading “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)”. It feels like a worthy follow up to the classic vampire film, and I really hope that it goes for awhile. I need the Emersons, The Frog Brothers, and all their vampire foes in my life.

Rating 7: A fun follow up to one of my favorite movies. While there were continuity issues and I was frustrated with Star STILL having little to do, as a “The Lost Boys” fan I was pretty pleased with it overall.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” is fairly new and not included on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think that it would fit in on “Vampire Books That Don’t Suck”, and “Supernatural (not Superhero) Comics”.

Find “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “You Should Have Left”

32337898Book: “You Should Have Left” by Daniel Kehlmann, Ross Benjamin (Translator)

Publishing Info: Pantheon Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the internationally best-selling author of Measuring the World and F, an eerie and supernatural tale of a writer’s emotional collapse

“It is fitting that I’m beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings and new ideas, a new beginning. Fresh air.”

These are the opening lines of the journal kept by the narrator of Daniel Kehlmann’s spellbinding new novel: the record of the seven days that he, his wife, and his four-year-old daughter spend in a house they have rented in the mountains of Germany—a house that thwarts the expectations of his recollection and seems to defy the very laws of physics. The narrator is eager to finish a screenplay, entitled Marriage, for a sequel to the movie that launched his career, but something he cannot explain is undermining his convictions and confidence, a process he is recording in this account of the uncanny events that unfold as he tries to understand what, exactly, is happening around him—and in himself.

Review: Back when I was just out of college but still hadn’t quite found my footing, my dear friend Blake (bestie from high school, now far away friend) told me about this creepy book that he was reading called “House of Leaves” by Mark Z Danielewski . He said that it was basically three stories combined into one, told with transcripts, footnotes, weird spacing choices, and a claustrophobic nuance that made the reader feel like they were going a bit loony. I asked my sister to get it for me for my birthday, and when I picked it up it was so intricate and odd that it took me awhile to read it. But boy did I love the concept of a scary story told in weird, experimental ways. Flash forward to this fall, when my Mom sent me another of her emails saying “I found this book through the New York Times, you should look into it.” That book was “You Should Have Left”, and when I finally picked it up a few weeks later, I started having flashbacks to my time spent with “House of Leaves”. Only this one, clocking in at less than 150 pages, was possible to read in one night.

When we meet Narrator (as he has no name), his wife Susanna, and their little girl Esther, they have taken a cabin retreat to give him time to work on his newest screenplay. I mean, if you want isolation from the world around you, a mountain cabin is probably the way to go. The only parts of Narrator’s story we get to see are through his own writings, be it meditations on writing, the screenplay itself, or his random diary-esque entries talking about his family, the cabin itself, and other observations within the moment. It’s when he makes off the cuff remarks about things that seem odd that you start to slowly realize that something isn’t quite right here. Narrator is under such pressure, both in his professional life and his personal life, that as the reader you are constantly wondering how reliable these various things are. It’s a great device, and Kehlmann uses it pretty well. As various things happen, both in his personal and professional life AND within the house itself, it’s hard to know if one causes the other or vice versa. There were some really good moments of uncanny horror in this one, from strange silhouettes out of the corner of the eye to Narrator maybe seeing himself walking around inside the house even though he’s outside of it. Moments like these made it so that I was thrown for a loop and a bit weirded out, which was fun and unsettling and very satisfying because of it. Even though I read this all in one sitting, throughout that sitting I would find myself looking towards the dark corners of my bedroom and into the hallway, knowing I wouldn’t see anything, of course, but worried that I might. Any Gothic novel worth it’s weight knows how to make fear from isolation and darkness, and I felt like Kehlmann achieved it.

The translation itself was pretty good, Benjamin was very skilled and making the prose flow easily, and it never felt clunky or forced, or like anything was being lost from German to English. I find that can sometimes be a problem for translated works, so it was good that the suspense was still palpable and the tension still tight.

But sadly, because I went in with “House of Leaves” on the brain, this one didn’t quite live up to all of my expectations. I know that short and sweet horror can be very effective when it is done right, and while I do think that “You Should Have Left” was done very well, it sort of felt like a been there, done that kind of read for me. While that isn’t necessarily a relevant thing for those who haven’t read “House of Leaves”, it just wasn’t quite strong enough to buck that association and comparison. Had it been longer, and had we spent more time with Narrator as he either a) falls victim to a haunted house, or b) falls victim to his own emotional breakdown, perhaps I could have left my past associations at the door. While I do fully intend to go back someday and re-read “House of Leaves”, “You Should Have Left” is probably a one and done kind of ghost story for this reader.

If you’re in need of something short this Halloween season, “You Should Have Left” will probably whet your appetite pretty thoroughly. It’s unsettling and creepy, and knows how to push the right buttons.

Rating 7: An unnerving and eerie novella that kept me on edge, “You Should Have Left” was strange and raw. At times it felt like “House of Leaves”-Lite, but a solid and fast horror story it still is.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Should Have Left” is not on any Goodreads Lists as of right now, but honestly, if you want some similar books dealing in isolation and potential mental breaks, give “The Shining” and “House of Leaves” a try.

Find “You Should Have Left” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Eliza and Her Monsters”

31931941We 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 a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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

Book: “Eliza and Her Monsters” by Francesca Zappia

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, May 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 800s (Literature, Writing)

Book Description: Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. 

Kate’s Thoughts

My high school years were during the time before social media really became a huge thing. My parents had Internet, but it was a dial up connection that we could only use if we weren’t expecting or planning to make any pertinent phone calls. And honestly, I’m so relieved that the Internet wasn’t the big social zone that it is now, for regular people as well as celebrities. I think that teenage Kate would have both loved living a lot of her life online, but I also think that it would have been isolating in its own way (and given that I was bullied a fair amount, it probably would have opened up a huge target on my back from my peers). And that is where “Eliza and Her Monsters” comes in. As a teenager who suffered from social anxiety and depression, I saw a bit of me in Eliza, our main character who has found the online world to be more comforting than the real world. And as someone who has written some fanfiction in her life (and was a vaguely well known author in a niche fandom at one point, though I’m not telling which), the ups and downs of online artistry also spoke to me. But the core of Eliza herself, and how she interacted with those around her, didn’t do as much for me as one might think that it would.

But I want to start with what I liked here. I thought that Eliza’s social anxieties were pretty spot on in terms of characterization. Without really outwardly saying that she was suffering from it, you get a slow and well painted picture of what Eliza’s insecurities are like, how they hinder her, and how she tries to cope with them. It was refreshing to see this character portrayed in a realistic and honest way, and that while it was understandable that she would act in various ways, she wasn’t totally let off the hook when she was being a jerk to those around her. I also really liked that this book brings up the philosophical question of ‘what do artists owe their fans?’. Sure, this is something that has been going on for a long time, but with the advent of social media, now fans can not only interact with each other, but they now have the opportunity to address and interact with their favorite creators in a more direct way. And while this is great in lots of ways, in other ways, sometimes lines are crossed and fan entitlement gets a bit out of hand. From the “Song of Ice and Fire” fandom to the “Harry Potter” fandom to the wonderful world of comics across the board, sometimes healthy and relevant critiques of topics turn into “YOU OWE US THIS.” This book allows us to see that from the creator’s POV through Eliza and one of her favorite authors, and it’s a great way to raise these questions and get the reader to think about them.

But there were other things about this book that frustrated me. Mainly, I didn’t really care for Eliza, as relatable and realistic as she was. I think that seeing it from the perspective of an adult who had to tramp through that swamp of teen angst and came out on the other side, a lot of me was saying “goddammit, suck it up.” Teen Kate would have TOTALLY loved Eliza though, and given that this is, ultimately, written with teens in mind, I think that she probably works well. I also was a bit frustrated with her relationship with Wallace, if only because I felt like there were some things that she did that were SO manipulative and she never really was taken to task for it. I didn’t really like what it said about acceptable things in teen relationships.

Overall, I liked how “Eliza and Her Monsters” approached fandom, artistry, and teenage mental illness. I wish that I had liked the protagonist more, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Serena’s Thoughts

As Kate has lain out so nicely, my evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this book is pretty similar. I don’t have the personal experience of existing as a creator on an online platform, but I follow various fandoms online fairly avidly and have witnessed first hand the strength in community that these groups can bring, as well as the viscous cycle of entitlement and possession that can also be on display at times. In these ways, I think this book is very much speaking to an ongoing struggle in today’s teens’ lives that I, like Kate, never had to deal with.

Like Kate, I was never part of the popular crowd in highschool. I wasn’t the most bullied either, and instead existed somewhere in the probably lucky “no one cares” zone of being unnoticed. I also had no other “version” of life or a representation of my life that I had to maintain, like today’s teens who must carefully navigate and manage not only their day-to-day activities, but also the version of themselves that exists online. Eliza, uncomfortable and shy in real life, has found a niche for herself online. But no social sphere comes without its own strings.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of creativity on an online platform. Eliza is both safely at a distance from those who interact with her online (one of the appeals of her online persona), but is also exposed and at the mercy of those same fans. No longer do fans need to write a letter and mail it in to an author who may or may not even look at their fan mail. Creators online are exposed across so many formats to the visceral reactions of the same fans whose admiration and appreciation they are hoping to garner. I think one of the best representations of the push/pull relationship of this kind is Bo Burnham’s raw, and almost tragic, song “Can’t Handle This.”

But, in general, I read books for the characters, so as much as I loved the themes that were tackled in this story, I had a similar hang up with Eliza as Kate did. I think Kate hit it on the nose when she mentioned the fact that she and I are reading this having come out on the other side of that hellish tunnel called “highschool.” Many years (yikes!) distanced from these same struggles, they begin to lose their edge. This is good, but it also presents a reality check when reading books like these. I don’t want to dismiss these problems as “just highschool stuff, get ready for REAL life, kids!” But…I’m still a 30 something woman reading this and that’s what I felt. So with that perspective, maybe there’s nothing wrong with this character for highschoolers themselves, and it’s probably touching on many relatable challenges. But there are many YA stories out there that present the challenges of their young protagonists in ways that are more approachable and sympathetic to their adult readers as well than this one did, which is a legitimate mark against it.

Kate’s Rating 7: This book brings up a lot of good questions about artistry and creativity, the relationship artists have with their fans, and mental illness, but I was put off by Eliza, as relatable as she could be at times.

Serena’s Rating 6: Many great themes are discussed, but the protagonist wasn’t as widely relatable as she could be to readers beyond highschool themselves. And as a reader who goes in mostly for characters, this put a pretty big dent in my enjoyment of the book.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of Eliza as a main character? Did you find her to be relatable and/or likable?
  2. Have you ever had a friend you met online, or know solely from online interaction? What do you think about the claim that online friends aren’t ‘real’ friends?
  3. Eliza has a complex relationship with the fans of her work. What do you think an artist owes their fans when it comes to content production, or characterization? Do they owe their fans anything?
  4. Eliza has a contentious relationship with her parents. What did you think of how they all interacted with each other? What could they have done differently?
  5. Have you ever followed an online work that is posted occasionally like “Monstrous Sea”? What was it? Is it still going on? If not, how did it end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Eliza and Her Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Fiction Featuring Fangirls, Fanboys, or General Fandom”, and “YA Nerd/Geek Books”.

Find “Eliza and Her Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Kate’s Review: “The Breakdown”

31450633Book: “The Breakdown” by B.A. Paris

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

Review: Whenever I travel I like to bring a big stack of books with me, because most of the time I am able to tear through most of, if not all of, them. My husband and I went to Las Vegas for his birthday weekend a few weeks ago, and it probably doesn’t surprise anyone that Vegas isn’t really my cup o’tea. BUT, a vacation is a vacation no matter how gaudy, so I usually spend my time in Vegas at the pool with a book and a mimosa as opposed to in the casinos. Such compromise works for both of us.

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(source)

But while on this trip, even though I brought four books, I only was able to spend time with one, and that was “The Breakdown” by B.A. Paris. It wasn’t for lack of pool time or down time, I can assure you of that. The problem was that this book written by the person who wrote the runaway hit “Behind Closed Doors”, was a slog and a half to get through, and I kept putting the book down in favor of my phone or conversation. I was determined to finish it, however, so I slowly picked away at it…. until the last fourth, when everything changed.

I didn’t really know what to make of this book for those first three fourths. Cass is definitely an unreliable narrator, and from her first person perspective we are only given what she sees. It’s established pretty early on that her mother suffered from early onset dementia, and that Cass has anxieties about her own mental health. After seeing a stopped car on the side of the road on a rainy night in a dark forest while she’s driving home, she is too fearful to stop and investigate. So when she finds out that not only was the woman inside the car murdered that evening, but that she knew her, her anxieties start to really fester and pulsate. When mysterious calls start coming in, with silence on the line, Cass starts to think that maybe the murderer is out to get her. Cass is pretty much your run of the mill hysterical protagonist, and while you understand where she is coming from, I found her to be basically insufferable. Yes, the fear she is constantly oozing is understandable and realistic, but she made so many choices that didn’t make much sense to me. Instead of confiding in anyone that she did, in fact, pass the woman in the car that night, she hides that fact, thinking that people would judge her for not stopping. Even when she is fully convinced that she’s being stalked, she doesn’t tell anyone, and at that point it just didn’t seem worth it to keep it secret. SO WHY KEEP IT SECRET?! I was also pretty convinced that I was diving head first into an ‘unreliable narrator with a huge shocking twist’ kind of story, and just couldn’t bring myself to give much of a damn until I decided that I just needed to finish it.

And then…….. it totally switched gears and blew my mind.

B.A. Paris made me think that this book was one thing, then that it was another thing, so when she revealed that it was NEITHER of those things but a whole other thing, I was totally thrown off guard and blown away. And going back and reading different parts, it was all there, hidden in the pages and in the exposition in ways that I completely glazed over as I read. Once we got to that last fourth, Cass went from a character that I was totally frustrated by to a character that I was actively cheering for. Everything changed and I didn’t see it coming. Now, that said, it probably shouldn’t have taken until the last fourth of the book to finally get me interested, because there were a couple of points before where I was tempted to set it down. While I was completely relieved that I stuck it out, I almost didn’t, and that’s not great, and it might have been too little, too late had it not been so bananas it where it went.

Now, I don’t want to go into much detail beyond that, because this is one of those books that you could be spoiled by just about anything. Just know that “The Breakdown” was a strange read for me, but I can say that yes, it’s worth the read, even if you too are frustrated by it for most of the time spent with it.

Rating 7: Though I felt like I had to slog through a fair amount of it, the moment that it really picked up I couldn’t put it down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Breakdown” is new and isn’t included on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it can be found on “2017 Crime Books You’re Excited For”, and should be on “Psychological Chillers By Women Authors”.

Find “The Breakdown” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Lying Game”

32895291Book: “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel.

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

Atmospheric, twisty, and with just the right amount of chill that will keep you wrong-footed—which has now become Ruth Ware’s signature style—The Lying Game is sure to be her next big bestseller. Another unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review: As you guys have seen on this blog previously, one of my favorite suspense writers out there today is Ruth Ware. I read and reviewed both “In A Dark, Dark Wood” for this blog, as well as “The Woman in Cabin 10”, so of course I was going to pick up Ware’s most recent novel, “The Lying Game”. These women centric whodunits are the perfect reads for travel and leisure, as they go down very easily and keep you entertained. When I finally got to “The Lying Game”, I settled in, ready for a page turner with twists and turns to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Our protagonist is Isa, a relatively new mother of a baby named Freya and partner to a kind man named Owen. She’s made a new life for herself away from her teenage years, where she had a tight knit group of friends named Kate, Thea, and Fatima, with whom she shares a deep secret. They haven’t seen each other in years, trying to suppress their past in various ways. But when a body is found in the town of their boarding school, one that may reveal too much, they are flung back together. The bonds of a secret are hardly a new theme in books like this, but the strengths are in the characters here. While Isa is our protagonist, she actually felt like the least interesting of the foursome, falling back on pretty well explored tropes. Shy and meek, but fiery when it comes to her child, and in a relationship with a well meaning but somewhat clueless man, I was more frustrated with Isa than I wanted to be. I was far more interested in Fatima, the most centered of the group who has become a surgeon and has recently become more faithful in her practice of Islam. We so rarely get ‘with it’ women at the forefront of these stories, and I think that Fatima had some serious potential and more to explore than Isa. Isa was just a woman who is falling apart because of the lies she’s told, and it’s not only a frustrating scenario to watch play out, it’s also been done before and didn’t really give me much to chew on.

But the atmosphere in this book is exceptionally spot on. If you want to guarantee a moody atmosphere for a novel, you really can’t go wrong with a house in a tidal estuary that is right on the water. It worked for “The Woman in Black”, and it works here as well. Kate, the woman who has stayed behind after the disappearance of her father and the secret shared between them, is living in her childhood home… which is slowly sinking into the water. The idea of a house that at certain tidal times is close to being enveloped by water is creepy and suffocating, and it really added to the general unease of this novel. While all of these women are still somewhat trapped at The Reach, Kate is trapped there physically as well as emotionally. The secrets that the Reach and these women hold are always just beneath the surface, and as they start to rise up the tension builds so slowly you don’t realize it’s there until you’re already drowning in it. You add that into the fact that this is a small town with a prestigious boarding school, and you know that the scandal and secrets are going to be oozing off the page. Boarding schools and sinking houses in an isolated setting? Hell yes I’m going to love that.

In terms of the mysteries and secrets of this book, it was kind of a mixed bag. There were some things that I definitely was caught off guard about, or at least didn’t figure it out until Ware wanted me to. But there were other things that I figured out pretty early on, and when it came to the ultimate climax and the ultimate solution, I was left kind of underwhelmed. While I don’t necessarily want to have twist after twist after twist, I also kind of want to have a little bit of a ‘gasp!’ moment when it comes to the solution to a book like this. I didn’t really get that anywhere in this book. If the characters had been a little bit stronger on all ends, I could have given it a bit of a pass, but as it was, I think that of Ware’s three books “The Lying Game” is the weakest for me.

That isn’t to say it’s a bad read at all. “The Lying Game” was a quick and tense read, and I tore through it pretty quickly. Fans of this genre really should give it a go, because it’s a solid mystery with some good suspense in it.

Rating 7: A solid premise with some good suspense building, but the solution was a bit underwhelming, just as the main character was grating at times. The atmosphere and the supporting characters, however, were solid.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lying Game” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Library Recommended Books”, and “Anticipated/Best 2017 Literary Fiction”.

Find “The Lying Game” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Down Among the Sticks and Bones”

31450908Book: “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, June 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Review: Last year’s “Every Heart a Doorway” , aYA fantasy novella by Seanan McGuire, completely took me by surprise. It asks the important, but rarely asked, question: what happens when these special, chosen children return from their adventures in other worlds? In that book, we met Jack and Jill, twin girls who had spent years in their own magical land. Like many others at the school, they each had their own struggles adjusting to life back in this reality. Here, we have their back story. And, while I still love the creativity of this series, the fact that I knew the end story for these two did affect my perception of this story. It’s purely a personal problem, however, so all in all, this is a strong second outing for this series.

Like most children who wander into strange worlds, Jack and Jill don’t quite fit into the reality that they were born, too. Their mother, Serena (oh no!) makes a princess out of Jill, and their father, Chester, attempts to turn Jack into the son he wished he had. Growing up within these strict definitions that were chosen for them, it’s no surprise that when they discover a doorway in their attic, they choose to walk forward. The world that awaits is filled with monsters, science, and chaos. But perhaps most frightening and thrilling of all: choices. For two girls who have been told who they are since birth, this new found ability to decide offers temptations and dangers.

The greatest strength of “Every Heart a Doorway” was the clear-eyed approach it took on childhood. It’s all too easy to wrap up childhood in fluffy dreams of nostalgia, to wave away the worries and pains of childhood as nothing more than immaturity. This strength comes to the forefront in this book, a story that is even darker than the original novella. Jack and Jill’s childhood until age 12 in “reality” is one full of struggle against the various constraints of gender. I greatly appreciated the fact that both definitions, the “princess” and the “tomboy” are shown equally for the damages they can inflict. They both demonize a type of behavior in girls in lieu of presenting the “one true way.” It is made clear that the strictness of both and the lack of flexibility in the definition of “girlhood” is the root of the problem with either perception.

I also greatly enjoyed the time spent in the fantasy world, obviously. This world is dark, scary, and the choices presented to the girls have real consequences. As we saw in the first book, both girls are changed by their time in this world, and it was fascinating watching them each slowly develop into the characters we are familiar with from the first book.

This, however, was also where I found myself struggling with this book. I like darkness in my fantasy novels, but I do struggle to fully enjoy stories that end on this same dark note. I think the fact that I knew the events that took place in “Every Heart a Doorway” before reading this colored my perception of certain things and prevented me from fully committing to both of the main characters. I felt like I was almost keeping the story at a distance, because I knew not to get too attached. This is clearly a very personal flaw with the story and one that’s completely tied up in my own reading experience, so take it with a million grains of salt. Because, even saying that, knowing the end result also kept me interested as the girls transformed into the characters I knew, as I said before.

This was a solid second outing in this novella series. I believe there is a third, “Beneath the Sugar Sky,” in line to be published this coming January, and I will definitely be at the front of the line to get my hands on it! Definitely check this book out if you’re a fan of dark fantasy, especially of the classic monster variety!

Rating 7: An excellent dark, fantasy story, both benefiting and, for me, suffering from the fact that we had already been introduced to these characters in the first book in the series.

Reader’s Advisory:

 “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” is a new book so isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on  “The Monster Mash”  and “Best Gothic Books.”

Find “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper”

72445Book: “The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes” by Scott Frost

Publishing Info: Pocket Books, 1991

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

Book Description: Former Eagle Scout and lifetime audio freak Dale Cooper brings us his autobiography, culled from his private collection of personal tape recordings beginning with his thirteenth birthday. Discover the secrets, never before seen on television, of Twin Peaks’ most-wanted man, who scored a perfect 100 on his marksmanship test and once let a gentle, beautiful woman lead him astray. He’s Dale Cooper – the man who seems too good to be true – and this is his story.

Review: This “Twin Peaks” train keeps on chugging along!!! And while the revival of the show has been both wonderful and absolutely confounding, I have also been turning to the books that came before it. This time instead of focusing on poor dead Laura Palmer, we are getting to know a little bit more about the always optimistic, super enthusiastic, but also ultimately a bit tragic, Dale Cooper, the main protagonist of the show. Dale Cooper is one of my favorite characters of all time, his bubbly earnestness completely charming and absolutely adorable. I was a little skeptical that this book would be able to do him justice, as Kyle Maclachlan just brings him to complete and total life. BUT, I have GREAT news. This book pretty much manages to do it. A warning, though, if you want to see anything else about the town itself and it’s inhabitants, sadly it ends right before Cooper arrives. This is all Cooper, all the time, and while that was totally fine by me, it’s good to know that this is his story, not that of the beloved town.

Much like “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”, you have to go into this book with the knowledge of the show to really get anything from it. We get to see Dale Cooper’s life through his ‘tapes’, transcribed audio recordings that start at his thirteenth birthday. And boy, did it just sound like good ol’ Coop to me as I read them. It really shouldn’t surprise me, as Scott Frost was a writer on the show, but I found myself smiling and cackling with glee as I read this book, it’s content far less heavy than “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”. Even thirteen year old Dale Cooper is filled with joy and wonder for the world around him, as well as picking up on little hints and details about the people in his life that sheds a little light on things that happen to him later in life. This book explores more of the theory that Cooper is deeply intuitive to the point of being a bit psychic, and expands upon it through his childhood and his family members (specifically his mother; seems that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in this regard). I enjoyed reading about how he saw the changing times of the 1960s, how he viewed his coming of age, and what life was like for him when he first came to the F.B.I. I was ESPECIALLY waiting for mention of one of my other favorite characters on the show, Albert Rosenfield, because boy do I kind of ship the two of them, and without spoiling anything I can tell you that THIS BOOK DID NOT DISAPPOINT!

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The ship sails on. (source)

But along with the fan service that felt totally designed for me, this book also gave me a dark side of Coop that isn’t seen as much in the original series. His tapes do serve as his own diary in spite of the fact that he’s sending a fair number of them to Diane, and there were moments of despair and existential angst that I’m not as used to seeing in my man Cooper. He did have his darker moments in Season 2, and in the revival BOY are things bleak for him, but in this book I felt like we got to see a whole other side to Cooper that I tend to forget, or did even know, existed. He expounds upon the losses of the important women in his life with a subtle grief, or will disappear for months at a time, and I just felt like this book does add a new darkness to the character who can be seen holding chocolate bunnies or gleefully experiencing coniferous trees with childlike wonder. Sometimes this could be a bit too much, especially when we get to the Wyndam and Caroline Earle part of his life, but in the right amounts it was very pathos ridden and melancholy.

Plus, there were genuine moments of creepiness that I thoroughly enjoyed. Be it the brutal natures of some of the crimes that Dale investigated, or the weird moments of odd rambling that he would do with his tapes in darker, more harried mind spaces, there were parts of this book that gave me chills down my spine. Nothing was totally scary or freaky, but there would be moments that were turned just a little bit odd, and that when I thought about it for a moment I just felt weirded out. That’s the power of “Twin Peaks”, the little moments that are just a bit askew, but completely set you  on edge. This book is filled with them.

Do you have to read this book if you are a “Twin Peaks” fan? Probably not. It didn’t give me any new insights into anything, really. But it’s a fun little bonus that can be put to the mythos of the series as a whole, especially seeing some of these things being played out or alluded to in the new revival. If you can’t get enough of “Twin Peaks” and are still scratching your head over some of the stuff in the new series, “The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper” will probably suit you just fine.

Rating 7: A bit more enjoyable than “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” in tone, Frost has Coop’s voice down pat. Not much is added to the “Twin Peaks” experience, but it’s a fun, and at times creepy, read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper” is included on the Goodreads lists “TWIN PEAKS”, and “Books Written by Fictional Characters”.

Find “The Autobiography of F.B.I Special Agent Dale Cooper” at your library using WorldCat!