Bookclub Review: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

7108001We 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 ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both. 

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

Book: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, March 2010

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it,

Genre Mash-up: True Crime and Speculative Fiction (a doozy to be sure)

Book Description: Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call “Milk Sickness.”

“My baby boy…” she whispers before dying.

Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, “henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose…” Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

Kate’s Thoughts

I first read this book when it came out in 2010, having been taken in by the concept of taking one of the country’s past and most beloved Presidents and making him a vampire hunter. I mean, it sounds ridiculous, and yet I was so enamored with the idea that I got my hands on this book and then spent almost all of my free time devouring it. I was very much into vampire mythology in my younger years, and I had grown weary of vampires as love interests and yearned for them to be scary again. And while “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” didn’t make them scary, per se, at least they were antagonistic to a degree. So I read it, loved it, and it had been sitting on my shelf ever since.

Re-reading it for book club was something that excited and scared me. I had such happy memories of this book, and I was afraid that revisiting it eight years later was going to be disillusioning. I’m pleased to say that my fond memories weren’t totally tainted by the re-read, but going back and looking at it critically was something that, while necessary, was a bit bittersweet. But I’ll start with the things that did still work for me. As a person who really likes American History, especially during the Victorian Era (as yes, much of Lincoln’s life was during the Victorian Era), I love how Seth Grahame-Smith uses diary entries, letters, historical documents, and footnotes to tell this alternate history where Lincoln fought and killed vampires. I greatly enjoy the various connections that he makes between world events that have enough ambiguity that they could have a vampiric element, one of my favorite examples being the Colony of Roanoke. I always had a fun time seeing various other historic figures, from Edgar Allan Poe to Marie Laveau, play into the story. Easter Eggs like this are my bread and butter.

But the biggest problem that I had with it this time around that I wasn’t really thinking about the first time I read it was that one of the biggest plot devices in this book is the Civil War. Namely, the practice of chattel slavery. In this book, one of the big plot points is that vampires were working directly with the Southern elites in order to keep slavery around, as it directly benefited both of them (the humans in terms of money, the vampires in terms of food). When I first read this book I thought that it was a clever way to show an evil and yet symbiotic relationship, but looking at it again now it just makes me uncomfortable. Slavery in this country was an evil practice, and the repercussions of it are still seen and felt today because of generational trauma, lingering systemic racism, and marginalization towards African Americans in this country. To flippantly say ‘and also, VAMPIRES!’ just feel uncomfortable, and a little too cheeky at the expense of very real pain and injustice.

That said, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is overall a bit of crazy stupid fun, and it’s written in a way that history buffs and vampire fans alike will probably find it enjoyable. It didn’t fully stand the test of time, but there were still plenty of moments that made me grin.

Serena’s Thoughts

I had not read this book before, but I’m pretty sure I saw the movie at some point (though my super vague memories of it or what I even thought of it at the time might say more than anything). I think at the time I was still in a huff about “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and mentally sorted this book into the same category and wrote it off. That said, I was pleased when it was picked for bookclub as I generally try to avoid tendencies like the one I used for this book: judging it without reading it. I was even more pleased to find that I enjoyed it! (Though, it must be acknolwedged that this was always going to be an easier sell then trying to convince me that Elizabeth Bennett killing zombies is something I should take seriously).

What I enjoyed most about the book what its historical aspects and the stylization of the way the story is told through letter and other historical documents. These were all used to great affect and very much sold the concept of telling a story that could be wedged in alongside the version of true history that we are more or less familiar with. One’s own knowledge of the actual history of the time period also goes along way as, like Kate mentioned, there were nice references to other happenings of the time that would reward diligent readers. Not an extreme history buff myself, I can’t even be sure I knew exactly where some of these lines between fiction and true history were being drawn.

The story itself was also the kind of semi-campy fun that simply makes for an enjoyable read, and I think if approached in this way, it is best appreciated. As Kate also referred to, a closer examination of the work can lead to potential discomfort with superimposing layers of vampire nonsense over a truly challenging time in American history. I, for one, was generally ok with this aspect of the story as I think the point of the book was to do just that: make up a nonsensical version of a traumatic period of history and essentially make a satire out of it by highlighting just how truly horrible it was! The addition of vampires merely underscores the fact that, while they are fantasy creations, the true human players in this existed. Plus, the Civil War has, deservedly, garnered a huge wealth of books that cover its history in a more serious, thoughtful tone. And I don’t expect every book set in this time period to do the same thing, which I think does a disservice to the creativity of tactics that can used in criticizing events such as these.

Overall, I enjoyed this read. It wasn’t the type of book that I likely would have picked up on my own, and while fun enough, it also didn’t neatly fit into my wheelhouse and I came away with it pleased, but not feeling as if I had been really missing anything by not reading it before now.

Kate’s Rating 8: While it didn’t hold up as well from when I first read it, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is still a bit of silly fun that entertained me as person who likes horror and history.

Serena’s Rating 7: I liked it; I didn’t love it.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you expect from a book that brings a vampire and supernatural spin to an actual person and an actual time in history? Did you feel that the author integrated the two ideas well?
  2. Were there any characters or moments from history you especially liked seeing in this book? Were there any that you could have done without, or felt didn’t work as well?
  3. What were your thoughts on the character of Henry? Did you feel that you got a good impression of him as a character?
  4. What did you think of the theme of vampires and slavery in this book? Did you think that it was a good metaphor, or do you think that it was inappropriate to use it as a plot point?
  5. What did you think of the ending? Did you fee like the revelation at the end fit with the rest of the story and the themes given Lincoln’s relationship and opinions towards vampires?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Monster Mash”, and “Vampire Mashups”.

Find “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “West”

31822495Book: ” West” by Edith Pattou

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: When Rose first met Charles, he was trapped in the form of a white bear. To rescue him, Rose traveled to the land that lay east of the sun and west of the moon to defeat the evil Troll Queen. Now Rose has found her happily-ever-after with Charles—until a sudden storm destroys his ship and he is presumed dead. But Rose doesn’t believe the shipwreck was an act of nature, nor does she believe Charles is truly dead. Something much more sinister is at work. With mysterious and unstoppable forces threatening the lives of the people she loves, Rose must once again set off on a perilous journey. And this time, the fate of the entire world is at stake.

Review: I read “East” forever and a day ago. It was an obvious read for me, as I love fairytale re-tellings and love “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” in particular. While I have yet to find my “one true love” version of this story (yes, this is a thing for me. For example, Robin McKinley’s “Beauty” and Juliet Marillier’s “Daughter of the Forest” both hold this esteemed title for their respective fairytales), I remember enjoying Pattou’s version and mentally shelving it as a “win” for this fairytale. So, when I saw that now, years later, Pattou was releasing a sequel story, it was a no-brainer to pick it up.

A few years after the events of “East” readers find Rose and her beloved Charles mostly settled into life. With a young baby boy to call their own and established lives pursuing their passions (Charles’s music), they are happy and it feels like the fantastical events of their lives are behind them. That is until Charles’ ship is struck down in a strangely powerful storm on a return journey from one of his musical expeditions. Now Rose will once again brave all to track down the love of her life who she knows, deep down, has not died but must have once again fallen into the grasp of villainy.

Reading this story so many years after “East” was an interesting experience. To be honest, I only had the vaguest memories of that book and they mostly had to do with generally liking it. But, as I said above, not loving it to the extent that I have other fairytale stories. With this book, as I read, I began to remember more and more about the original, not only its own specific take on the tale, but what exactly I liked about it, as well as what held me back.

What I liked has largely to do with a rather nebulous idea regarding writing tone. For fairtyales in particular, there’s a hard-to-pin-down style of writing that often comes hand-in-hand with this type of fantasy. It seems to be a combination of lyrical word choice, simple sentence structure, and a general approach to fantasy that leaves many things unexplained. Magical elements just exist, and it’s expected that readers can just accept them without detailed histories or systems. So, in this way, “West” definitely excels. While the story doesn’t speed along, it also reads nicely, filling its pages with the types of mini adventures and new characters that one expects to run across in fairytales.

The other thing that I remember enjoying from “East,” and that remains strong here, was the characterization of Rose herself. She’s a no-nonsense, go-getter type of heroine of the type that I always particularly enjoy. She doesn’t waffle amidst indecision or others fears (her family all try to convince her that Charles truly died in the ship wreck, as that’s how it appears in every rational sense), but instead has faith in her own abilities and feelings and takes charge of her situation. I also particularly enjoyed her knowledge of trolls to suss out suspicious instances early in the story.

However, there were also elements of this story that reminded me why I didn’t absolutely love “East” either. For one, like that book, Rose is not our only POV character. In the first book, I didn’t love this take on the story either, but I remember enjoying a few of the other POV characters enough that I was able to get on board with it. Here, I feel like there are not only even more POV characters, but that, between them, they tended to bog down Rose’s own story, rather them add nice supplements to it. On top of Rose’s own adventures, we have her brother who is always one step behind her. And her family back in her home village confronting a deadly plague. Both stories were fine, as far as it goes. But there was just too much going on between them all to ever feel truly invested in any of them. Mostly, I just wanted to focus on Rose’s journey to find Charles; I wasn’t too interested in seeing her brother just miss her time and time again. And the plague story, while interesting, just seemed like another tacked on plot that distracted from the main plot line.

In the end, I think my feelings for this book were about on par with what I felt for “East.” Perhaps a bit less so, since the whimsy of trying to track the original story in the retelling was lost in this one. But, as the books are so similar in whats on offer at their core, I think there’s a good chance that however you felt about “East” will transfer to how you feel here. And, as I know a lot of readers really loved that book, I’m sure this will also find a large number of devoted fans. For me, it was still just “kinda good.”

Rating 7: A steady sequel that aptly captures the same tone and feel of the first book, for better or worse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“West” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on 2018 YA Fairy Tale Retellings

Find “West” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Dark Days Pact”

26061581Book: “The Dark Days Pact” by Alison Goodman

Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.

Previously Reviewed: “The Dark Days Club”

Review: Ok, I haven’t ranted about a cover for a long time. But man. MAN! This one deserves a good rant. Not only is this cover truly awful on its own, but when you compare it to the first book’s cover, it just gets even worse.

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That cover is good. It’s not doing anything super brilliant or unique, but it’s getting the job done. We know this is a historical novel, and we get that there is some darkness involved in the story, likely fantasy-related. And then we have this new cover…The model looks ridiculous. The weird magical sword is bizarre (and hard to connect with anything in the book). And the whole thing looks like the type of book you’d scoff at in an airport. We’d all like to think that we don’t judge books by their covers, but we do. And this series was already criminally underappreciated, and I can’t imagine this change to cover art helped anything. Also, spoiler alert, it definitely DOESN’T improve with the third book. *sigh*

Lady Helen has forgone the life of marriage and respectability she had previously seen as her future. Instead, she is now a full-fledged member of the Dark Days Club, a secretive society that fights against demonic beings that lurk among the unwary. More to the point, she and her colleagues suspect that the Grand Deceiver is on the move, one of the most powerful and evil beings the Club has ever faced. But Lady Helen is also still in training, with much to learn not only about her own unique abilities, but how she is to balance her responsibilities to the society as well as her loyalties to her friends. Especially Lord Carlston, whose erratic behavior has set him smack dab in the cross hairs of the leadership in the Dark Days Club.

While this book was a bit more wishy-washy for me (not really a surprise for the dreaded “second book” in a trilogy), there were still several aspects of the series that I greatly enjoyed. For one, the pitch perfect mixture of historical regency “manners” story, flitting through ballrooms and strolls through parks with parasols, and magical adventure featuring some legitimately dark villains. Lady Helen must be given full credit as a well-drawn character who is capable of reading as believable in both these very different scenarios. What’s more, both versions of herself, socialite and powerful Reclaimer, are not two suits that fit well together. Those who know her as a well-bred lady first and foremost, question her ability to exist in an action-packed and dangerous world. Here, she rises to the occasion by learning to fight and donning an alter-ego as a young man. On the other side, her Reclaimer friends don’t see the importance or value that Helen does in maintaining a grip on her role as a woman in society. And here, she proves that a well-timed conversation with the right person can be just as valuable as pulling out a sword.

I still also very much like the world that has been imagined here. Reclaiming is a dangerous business, and we see that though Helen has great power, she still has much to learn to survive in this world. Not only that, the most successful Reclaimer must still deal with the negative side-affects of their work, which we see in Lord Carlston’s quick spiral into violence and madness. We also see that the Deceivers themselves can come with a wide variety of motives and ways of living in the world, some more destructive than others. There are also more than a few humans who prove that you don’t have to be a demonic being to be evil.

While I liked all of these general aspects, I did find myself struggling with much of the book. For having so much action and adventure, the pacing also felt very slow. This is a long book, and towards the middle I was becoming more and more tempted to skim along. This is partly due to Helen’s arc itself within the story. Yes, she is new to this world and still trying to figure out who to trust and how to align herself. But she was just so indecisive, trying to play a middle field that anyone a mile away could see as a fool’s quest from the start. She also falls victim to the unfortunate and all too common martyr complex, choosing to make incredibly stupid decisions rather than, I don’t know, communicate with her friends. And for heaven’s sake, it seems all too clear who and what the Duke of Selbourn really is. Even the most naive lady of the time would be side-eyeing a man like this so determinedly not being put off by the repeated refusals and strange revelations about his lady love.

So, while I still liked much of the story, it ultimately felt a bit too long, a bit too predictable, and a bit too clumsy with its main character. But, that said, I’m still all in for the third and final book. At the very least, I can’t wait to read about Lady Helen finally waking the hell up about some things that I’m sure most readers have already guessed.

Rating 7: Falls victim to “second novel syndrome” a bit, but still has enough going for it to pull readers in for the final story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dark Days Pact” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy of Manners” and “YA Historical Fantasy” (though I wouldn’t classify this as YA).

Find “The Dark Days Club” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “You May Now Kill The Bride”

35603814Book: “You May Now Kill The Bride” (Return to Fear Street #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Two sisters, divided by time. Each with a terrible resentment she can barely contain.

Two Fear family weddings, decades apart… Each bride will find that the ancient curse that haunts the Fears LIVES ON. It feeds off the evil that courses through their blood. It takes its toll in unexpected ways, and allows dark history to repeat itself.

In this all-new Fear Street story, family ties bind sisters together—till DEATH do they part.

Review: In time for Halloween, this week I am doing something a little different. Instead of reviewing a classic “Fear Street” book, I’m taking on the first book in R.L. Stine’s newest “Fear Street” series, “Return to Fear Street”! Just to make a note right off the bat: I am not going to treat “You May Now Kill The Bride”, or any other future “Return to Fear Street” books, like I’m treating my retro “Fear Street” re-read. Stine is approaching these books differently than he did back in the day, and therefore I am going to approach them like I would any other non-“Fear Street” novel.

“Fear Street” is back, guys, and for the most part it is not the “Fear Street” you remember from your youth. This is something of a second comeback for “Fear Street”, as before HarperTeen picked it up St. Martin’s Press did with books like “Party Games” and “The Lost Girl”. I’m not completely certain why a second reboot with a new publisher happened, but “You May Now Kill The Bride” is the inaugural novel. Now that publishers and authors know that teens are able/willing to read books that are more than one hundred and twenty pages long, and that have complex characters, “Fear Street” has to up it’s game. And “You May Now Kill The Bride” accepts that challenge, repackaging “Fear Street” for a modern teen audience.

There are two narratives in this book: the first is the story of Ruth-Ann and Rebecca Fear, two sisters in the 1920s who are part of the illustrious and wealthy Fear Family. Ruth-Ann is jealous of her beautiful and popular older sister, who is about to get married to the man that Ruth-Ann loves. As you can imagine, the wedding has disastrous results, all because of a family curse that the Fears have upon them. The second narrative is about Harmony and Marissa Fear, two sisters in modern times who are having similar problems. Marissa is about to get married to her high school sweetheart Doug, and while Harmony isn’t in love with Doug, she and Marissa have been at odds ever since Harmony messed up Marissa’s relationship with a different guy named Aiden. In a really horrific way, I should mention. The similarities don’t end there, however: not only is Harmony a witch, like Ruth-Ann was (seems that all Fears have the ability to be), but Marissa’s wedding is going to be at the same lodge that Rebecca’s wedding was. While this does sound like a pretty standard “Fear Street” tale (and in a lot of ways, it is, but more on that later), Stine has reworked the old set ups and tropes, and has improved upon the long trotted out formulas of the past.

The pacing is far more drawn out in “You May Now Kill The Bride”. Stine isn’t in any hurry to get to the action points, and he lets the characters slowly explore the scenes they are in just as he lets the exposition flow at it’s leisure. “You May Now Kill The Bride” isn’t rushing to get to action moments or cliffhangers, so when these moments do arrive they have more oomph. There is also more complexity to the plot, and the threads that exist between the 1920s story and the modern story take a lot more time to come together, with the hints and puzzle pieces being dropped throughout both timelines. Stine trusts his audience a bit more to be able to parse out the nuance and the implications, and because he trusts his readers, the book rarely feels like it’s being spoon fed. He also has a pretty good grasp on the fact that people like me, former “Fear Street” junkies turned horror aficionados, are probably going to pick this up, so little nods, winks, and references are dropped throughout the book. The one that actually made me shriek out was a character who was staying at the lodge, and what room was he in? Room 237.

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I love feeling in on the joke, sir. (source)

That isn’t to say that it doesn’t fall into familiar “Fear Street” traps. While I think that the characters are definitely more rounded in this book than previous characters have been, and while I did enjoy how Harmony was complex and sometimes morally ambiguous, there are still obvious and beaten down tropes in others. There’s the loutish uncle character we’ve seen before, the familiar sparring sister relationship, the clueless parents. And there are a number of huge plot holes, and confusing moments that I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around. There are even still some kind of dumb cliffhangers at the end of various chapters (though he has definitely toned it down from the past). But these weaknesses are kind of just what you have to expect to come with the territory when it comes to “Fear Street”, and in some, odd ways it vaguely adds to the charm of this reboot, if only because it feels familiar and comforting that some things never change.

I didn’t really go in expecting much from “You May Now Kill The Bride”, and I ended up enjoying it. If this is what “Fear Street” is going to be for this new generation of teenagers, I am very excited for the kind of horror fans it is going to nurture.

And with that, Horrorpalooza has come to an end! From me to you, I am hoping that you all have a FABULOUS Halloween tomorrow!

Rating 7: Solid for a new “Fear Street” novel, “You May Now Kill The Bride” is a new return to an old favorite series that exceeded many of my expectations. It’s fun, it’s creative, and it’s giving a new feel to an old favorite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You May Now Kill The Bride” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should quite obviously be on “Best Fear Street Books”, and, for funsies, “Books With a Wedding Theme”.

Find “You May Now Kill The Bride” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Witch Elm”

39720991Book: “The Witch Elm” by Tana French

Publishing Info: Viking, October 2018

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

Book Description: Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

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

I first read Tana French with her first “Dublin Murder Squad” novel “In The Woods” around the time it came out. I liked it enough, but didn’t really move on until I read “Faithful Place” a few years later. I like French’s style, and I like her characters, but the mysteries themselves never really intrigued me as much as I wanted them to. But when I read about her newest novel, “The Witch Elm”, I was immediately interested in the premise. A man returns to a childhood family home and while he’s there a skull is found in a wych elm. Given that it sounds a little like the ‘who put Bella in the wych elm?’ crime, I wanted to see what French would do with it given her prowess for eeriness and dark characterizations.

“The Witch Elm” is a mystery about how this skeleton got into this tree, as well as how our main character Toby is connected to it. But ultimately it is more a story about family, memory, and how our perceptions of reality can change. Toby is an unreliable narrator not in that he is deliberately hiding facts from the reader, but in that he has gaps in his memory because of time and because of a traumatic brain injury sustained at the start of the book. French did a very good job of integrating the burglary and attack into the plot without making it feel purely plot driven, as there was a slow build up to it and then a sustained period of immediate consequences after that lingered well before the main drive of the plot at Toby’s Uncle Hugo’s home. And since Toby is constantly questioning his own memory, and his potential culpability in regards to the body in the tree, the reader also has to wonder whether or not we are following an innocent bystander caught up in a murder, or the murderer himself. But French is also very adept at presenting other characters who could also have a hand in murder, for many realistic and believable reasons. I quite enjoyed the mystery and seeing where it was going to go next.

I also very much enjoyed the family dynamic that Toby had with those around him, from his Uncle Hugo to his cousins Susanna and Leon. While the relationship with Susanna and Leon was a bit strained, be it because of their potential to be suspects to their differing views on how they should be dealing with their uncle to baggage from the past, it felt very real for a family with various dysfunctions. And Toby’s relationship with Hugo is quite lovely, as Hugo is dying of a brain tumor and Toby, having his own medical set backs and problems with cognition, really connects with him. They all did feel like a real family with it’s ups and downs, and this aspect of the book was probably the strongest for me.

I think that the main quibbles I had were with the length of the story. It takes a little bit of time to get started, for one thing, and while I understand why it does (as mentioned above, French is careful to make the attack and break in feel like more than just a device to get Toby’s mind foggy), I felt like it dragged its feet a bit. I found myself tempted to skip ahead to the family estate, and while I didn’t do that I do think that it took just a little too long to get all of the set up into place. And then it went on a bit longer than it had to, with a tacked on moment at the end that didn’t feel lit it needed to be there. I don’t wish to spoil it so I won’t say what it is here, but a new moment of conflict with very dire consequences happens well after we’ve found out the solution to the Wych Elm mystery at hand. And I didn’t quite understand why it had to happen at all. It felt unnecessary and it didn’t add much to the plot.

But all that said, Tana French is still an author who knows how to write an atmospheric mystery with some fascinating characters. “The Witch Elm” was a fun detour from her “Dublin Murder Squad” series, and I will be very curious to see if she is going to write more stand alone novels down the line, because this one stood on it’s own two feet pretty handily.

Rating 7: While there was a compelling mystery and family story at it’s heart, “The Witch Elm” took a bit too long to get going, and lagged longer than it had to.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Witch Elm” is included on the Goodreads lists “Autumn Seasonal Reads”, and I think it would fit in on “Popular Family Secrets Books”.

Find “The Witch Elm” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bombshells United: American Soil”

37489649Book: “Bombshells United (Vol. 1): American Soil” by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.), Marcelo DiChiara (Ill.), and Siya Oum (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The DC Bombshells unite in this collection BOMBSHELLS UNITED VOL. 1, continuing the hit franchise!

Author Marguerite Bennett (DC BOMBSHELLS, BATWOMAN) unites the women of DC BOMBSHELLS in an alternate history tale with Wonder Woman on the front lines of battle.

The Bombshells are back in an all-new series! As our new tale begins, the year is 1943 during WWII, and Wonder Woman is called to Arizona for help by two young girls named Cassie Sandsmark and Donna Troy! The girls’ friends and families are being displaced from their homes and forced into internment camps! To save them, can Wonder Woman fight against the same people she once fought alongside?

To make matters worse, Clayface has infiltrated the camp and is disguised as loved ones to throw Wonder Woman off. Collects issues #1-6.

Review: Thus, we being with the first collection of the final series of DC Bombshells. I’m still livid and bitter that this series was cancelled, but I’m going to see it through and enjoy it/support it until the very end. What I found most fascinating when I read about the “Bombshells United” series is that this one isn’t going to just look at the ills that foreign nations committed during WWII, but also the rotten things that happened on the home front, and in the country that The Bombshells swore to protect. To me, it’s refreshing that Marguerite Bennett decided to turn scrutiny on the United States for this next arc, because we did some absolutely shameful stuff during WWII. The big theme of “Bombshells United: American Soil” is that of Executive Order 9066: Japanese Internment. And given that we seem to have forgotten our own history, it’s an important reminder that we are not unfamiliar with grievous civil rights abuses. Especially since we seem to be on the path to repeating them.

We get to see Wonder Woman back at the forefront at the start of this new series, and it is always a breath of fresh air to see her. Diana Prince is truly one of the most pure and good DC Superheroes, and it felt fitting that she would be the Bombshell to be confronting the evils of the Japanese Internment. It allows us as a reader to measure up our very imperfect (and in this case horrendous) policies to Wonder Woman as the ideal we should strive for. But what makes it a bit more interesting is the introduction of Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark, two Wonder ladies in their own right (both of them filling the Wonder Girl role at different times). Cassie and Donna in this both have vested and personal interests against the Japanese internment, as they are both Japanese American (though Cassie is white passing, she still would have been imprisoned based on the law). You throw in Emily Sung and Yuri and Yuki, and you have a group of marginalized people who are participating in the dissent and the resistance, which in turn makes it so Wonder Woman doesn’t act solely as a white savior. It’s pretty well done, and I liked the dynamic that Bennett created between them and Wonder Woman (as they eventually form to become The Wonder Girls) that allows them to fight against heinous domestic policy. In fact, at the end of this arc in the collection, Bennett lists a great number of resources people can look up regarding the Japanese Interment (along with some additional resources about how Indigenous peoples were treated during this time; Dawnstar does show up, and while I liked how powerful and important she was I’m a LITTLE afraid that Bennett is kind of falling into the ‘magical Indian’ trope with her).

HOWEVER, there were a few stumbling moments in this series to me. The first involves the introduction of Clayface. He is the face of antagonism in this series, as he’s a former soldier who is very in favor of the internment. It all comes back to him seeing the American Ideal that must be protected at all costs, and he is obsessed with Wonder Woman because to him, that’s what she represents. This in and of itself is a very intriguing concept and metaphor for blind nationalism. But my problem is less to do with that and more to do with the pay off. For those who don’t want to know, we have our usual

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(source)

Clayface, of course, sees the light through compassion, empathy, and the selfless sacrifice of Wonder Woman. This does two things: it makes it so the Wonder Girls get a little bit more to do in their own story (which is fine), but it also trades in one really well done and rounded character at this point for five new characters who are brand new to the story and not very complex as of yet. Donna is the exception, but the rest of the Wonder Girls as of now could VERY easily get lost in the crowd, which is a similar problem with the Bat Girls in previous issues. Speaking of the Bat Girls, the story of Harvey Dent going from villain to ally all through the power of love has basically been regurgitated with The Wonder Girls, as now Clayface is fighting on the side of good. We’ve seen this already! And I want to see more of that kind of thing with Harvey, if I’m being honest! Oh, and it happens with Baroness Paula van Gunther, as she ALSO shows up for about three seconds to say that SHE TOO has seen the error of her ways! WHY? In execution it’s because of Dawnstar, but in terms of why it has happened characterization wise, that remains to be seen. The good news is that Wonder Woman isn’t gone for good, as she has pretty much reappeared by the end of the collection (SORT OF, she’s kind of become a hybrid of Diana and Donna, it’s complicated), but it definitely feels like she may be stepping aside. Which I have a lot of feelings about.

On top of that, it has become very clear that even MORE Bombshells are going to be added to this universe. The heartening thing about that is that Bennett really wants to give all these awesome ladies their due, but the worrying aspect is we are getting VERY close to fantasy bloat territory here. I worry that by adding all these characters, they REALLY won’t be able to shine properly because they will always be competing for page time. Especially since the series was so unceremoniously cancelled before it could go as far as it wanted to. But hey, there is some good news in this slew, and I mean SLEW, of new faces.

BLACK CANARY IS HERE!!!!!

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Looking good, Dinah! (source: DC Comics)

So overall, BOMBSHELLS UNITED was an important collection with an important story, but I’m starting to worry that this series is getting overcome with the number of characters it has. I really don’t want it to get bogged down. But that said, I’m excited to see where it goes next!

Rating 7: An important message and mostly responsible storytelling kicks off this new Bombshells series, but some of the recycled themes and explosion of new characters was a bit harder to swallow this time around.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bombshells: United (Vol.1): American Soil” is included on the Goodreads lists “If You Liked Agent Carter, Try…”, and “Historical Fiction About Japanese Internment Camps”.

Find “Bombshells: United (Vol.1): American Soil” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “We Sold Our Souls”

37715859Book: “We Sold Our Souls” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley

Book Description: A new novel of supernatural horror (and pop culture) from the author of Horrorstor, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and Paperbacks from Hell.

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all. 

Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for sending me and eARC of this book!

My musical heart deftly belongs to New Wave and Punk music, but I have indeed dabbled in the wonders of metal, specifically Norwegian Black Metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone. So with my slight knowledge of some history of the evolution of black metal (thanks, Last Podcast on the Left!) I was all the more intrigued by Grady Hendrix’s new horror novel “We Sold Our Souls”. Given how much I thoroughly enjoyed “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”, I had high hopes that his newest work would be a similar reading experience.

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But with more corpse paint. (source)

We follow Kris, a former heavy metal musician whose life has gone off the rails. She used to be a founding member of gritty club band Dürt Würk that was on the edge of stardom, only for one night that has haunted her ever since to throw them all off track. Now Kris is working at a Best Western, and her former friend and bandmate, Terry Hunt, has found stardom through Nu Metal with a band called Koffin. Kris is a fairly typical Hendrix protagonist, in that she is flawed and damaged, but scrappy as hell. Her passion for metal is apparent from the get go, but Hendrix never falls into any familiar tropes that other less skilled authors may have implemented. Kris isn’t a sexy bad girl with dyed hair and a snarly attitude, nor is she too edgy for her own good (because ‘edgy’ is obviously how a woman metal head would be). On the contrary, she’s older, she’s a bit used up, and she’s somewhat unlikable, but she also has a heart and a soul and a drive to reclaim her past and the success that she assuredly is owed. Her love of the genre is thrown into every page, with quick and dirty history lessons tossed in here and there to give her a serious grounding within her place and her motivations. Hendrix is great at tossing in the pop culture without being overt about it, so it feels organic and natural as opposed to slapped on for the sake of it. Her journey of reconnecting with her bandmates, and then figuring out that they are in danger because of an ever present dark force that goes back to the night the band broke up, is a fun journey that has a lot of moments of pathos, be it about lost friendships, the unfairness of the music industry, or loving something so much and just not quite achieving a life within in no matter how hard you try. Kris’s story in this regard absolutely worked for me.

What didn’t work as well were the actual horror aspects of this book. As it says in the description, Kris’s soul was sold to a demonic entity so that Terry could succeed. It isn’t as simple as a Mephistopheles kind of deal, as Hendrix makes his own mythos and runs with it. While I appreciate the creativity here, I think that Hendrix does falter a bit when it comes to the horror elements of his books. There were scenes with various demonic beings, creatures, and forces that were meant to scare and unsettle, but every time we interacted with them it felt a little bit forced. Some of the scariest moments had nothing to do with the demons, and more to do with everyday horrors that felt plausible and completely realistic. For example, there is a scene where Kris has found herself in an underground pipe system, and can’t go backwards, only forwards, not knowing if the pipe is going to dead end out, or if she is going to get stuck. THIS was the part of the book that had my heart racing, not seeing someone get torn to pieces by possessed followers of Terry. Hendrix’s true strength is within the heart he gives his characters, and if this book had just been about a former band member confronting the person who did her wrong, without the supernatural elements, it would have been just as lovely and effective. But that doesn’t say much about the horror elements, now does it.

All that said, I did enjoy reading “We Sold Our Souls”, and think that Hendrix has once again delivered an entertaining and heartfelt book. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go blast some Darkthrone on a loop for a bit and just get lost in the music that he so lovingly brings to life within the pages of this book.

Rating 7: A fun love letter to heavy metal, “We Sold Our Souls” has a lot of strengths, but also falls into familiar traps when Hendrix tries a little too hard to be scary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We Sold Our Souls” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists as of yet. But if you are interested in metal music, “Lords of Chaos” may be of interest to you, and it would also fit in on “Books for Metalheads”.

Find “We Sold Our Souls” at your library using WorldCat!