Kate’s Review: “Shiny Broken Pieces”

26198216Book: “Shiny Broken Pieces” by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, July 2016

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

Book Description: June, Bette, and Gigi have given their all to dance at Manhattan’s most elite ballet school. Now they are competing one final time for a spot at the prestigious American Ballet Company. With the stakes higher than ever, these girls have everything to lose…and no one is playing nice.

June is starting to finally see herself as a prima ballerina. However, getting what she wants might cost her everything—including the only boy she’s ever loved. Legacy dancer Bette is determined to clear her name after she was suspended and accused of hurting her rival, Gigi. Even if she returns, though, will she ever regain the spotlight she craves? And Gigi is not going to let Bette—or the other dancers who bullied her—go unpunished. But as revenge consumes her, Gigi may be the one who pays the price.

After years of grueling auditions, torn ribbons, and broken hearts, it all comes down to this last dance. Who will make the cut? And who will lose her dream forever?

Review: So here we are again, following the vindictive and somewhat sociopathic students at the American Ballet Company. This time, in “Shiny Broken Pieces”, it’s basically senior year and the stakes are higher than ever!!! Which means that, one would think, shit is about to get real, dramatics wise! And maybe we’ll get some answers regarding what happened at the end of the previous book, “Tiny Pretty Things”. Like, who killed Gigi’s butterflies? Who put glass in her shoe? Who shoved her in front of a taxi in hopes that she would be injured for life? We get some answers to all those questions and more. But I’m sorry to say that this sequel didn’t quite live up to the amazingness of the original.

But let’s start at the beginning and start with the good. Also, there are going to be spoilers for this book, because some of my issues are about certain plot points and plot twists.

I really liked that in “Shiny Broken Pieces”, Charaipotra and Clayton were perfectly comfortable exploring and expanding all of their characters to make them even more well rounded and interesting. I think that it’s a pretty brave move to take favorites and lovable characters from the first book and make them more flawed and potentially unlikable in this one, if only to make the point that damaged people can do crappy things, and that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily evil. I’m talking, specifically, about Gigi. Gigi went through some terrible crap in this first book, no doubt about it. From racism thrown her way to injuries caused by others, Gigi is angry, and rightfully so. But in her anger, she starts to lose herself and starts to make the shift from damaged, to broken, and I believe there is a distinct difference. Now we are worried that she is going to turn into a monster, much like Bette was in the first book. And Bette, too, went through some serious changes through the pain that she suffered in the first one. She’s still entitled and snooty, but in this book you see her trying to find her redemption, and the strengths of her character are drawn out and put on display. These girls, the protagonist and the antagonist, get to grow and show that they are just people, and people make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t find atonement.

And the dramatics were back in this one, though the ante has been upped and it’s far more life or death for some of the characters. Now that Cassie, one of Bette’s victims from the first story, is back, things start to get especially gruesome at school. From peanut allergies being weaponized to trap doors opening unexpectedly, we do get a dose of the soapy thrills from the first book. But we also get some realistic conflict that maybe and every day teen could have to face. June, for example, is facing the potential of making a choice about her future. She wants to dance, but isn’t sure that she has what it takes to do so. Her eating disorder is running away with her, and many ballet companies won’t take on a girl who could be a liability in that way. Plus, she has her boyfriend now, who wants her to got NYU with him. June has to decide between a potentially unattainable/destructive dream, and a stable and loving but possibly unfulfilling future.

But now we come to the big problem I had with “Shiny Broken Pieces”, and this is where the big spoiler guns come out.

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(source)

So in this book, we find out who did some of the most heinous things to Gigi in the previous book: Will is the one who pushed her in front of the car. Sei-jin is the one who put glass in her ballet shoes. And Henri, who is Cassie’s boyfriend, seduced Will and influenced him to push Gigi in the first place as part of a grand scheme to solidify Cassie’s spot as top dog when she returned to school. So, a gay character, a lesbian character, and a bi-sexual (heavily implied) character were the ones who committed the violent acts against Gigi. And they are the only representations of LGBT characters in this book.

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I… take issue. (source)

So let me say right now that as a theoretical debate, I don’t really have a problem with characters from marginalized groups being the villains in stories in general. I think that villains can be from all backgrounds and that a well rounded villainous character is a good thing in a lot of stories. I think that equity and representation can extend to antagonists as well as protagonists. HOWEVER, I think that it’s irresponsible to do this if that is the only representation of that group within the narrative. And I think that it’s irresponsible if all of the characters from a marginalized group are antagonists. So for EVERY LGBT character in this book to have done something REALLY terrible (and gosh, Henri really just kind of fit into the ‘evil and untrustworthy bisexual’ trope in all ways, looking back at it), it didn’t sit well. And yes, people like Bette, June, and Gigi also did really terrible things as the story went on as well. But at least Bette, June, and Gigi all had perspective chapters so that we could see into their motivations and into their trains of thoughts. We may have some implied moments for Will and Sei-jin, but because we don’t get their own personal sides to their stories, they definitely come off as two dimensional caricatures with very little, or no redemption. Which isn’t great. These books are awesome when it comes to portrayals of racial diversity, no doubt. But I was very frustrated with the LGBT portrayals.

And finally, the audiobook might not have been the best choice for reading this book. I did it because my stack was so high, but the narrators for the three characters were pretty lackluster. There wasn’t much consistency between them and the accents they gave some characters, and none of them were particularly emphatic or lively. It felt more like they were reading a book, and I think that audiobook narrators really need to embody the book. I wonder if I would have been a bit more forgiving of some of the problems I had with this book (excluding the LGBT representation) if I had read this book in print.

So overall, I think that “Shiny Broken Pieces” was a solid follow up to “Tiny Pretty Things” with a fairly satisfactory ending. But the caveats to that kind of overshadowed how good it could have been.

Rating 7: A pretty solid follow up to the first book, but some problematic portrayals and lackluster narration made it not as entertaining as the first book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shiny Broken Pieces” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Hell is a Teenage Girl”, and “Books with Diversity”.

Find “Shiny Broken Pieces” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Tiny Pretty Things”

Kate’s Review: “Ill Will”

30687788Book: “Ill Will” by Dan Chaon

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: “We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves,” Dustin Tillman likes to say. It’s one of the little mantras he shares with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if that story is a lie?

A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties when he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to symbolize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients gets him deeply engaged in a string of drowning deaths involving drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses talk of a serial killer as paranoid thinking, but as he gets wrapped up in their amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries—and putting his own family in harm’s way.

From one of today’s most renowned practitioners of literary suspense, Ill Will is an intimate thriller about the failures of memory and the perils of self-deception. In Dan Chaon’s nimble, chilling prose, the past looms over the present, turning each into a haunted place.

Review: So I grew up in Minnesota and went to college at the University of Minnesota. Around the time that I was in late high school and about to start college, there were whisperings and rumors about a spate of seemingly accidental drownings of college students across the country. One of these students was a U of MN student named Chris Jenkins, who was last seen drunk and kicked out of a bar, before his drowned body was discovered in the Mississippi River. This drowning has been cited in the “Smiley Face Murder” Conspiracy. It’s a theory that these seemingly random drownings of male white co-eds are actually connected to a killer or killers who target them, and then leave Smiley Faced graffiti near the bodies. So when “Ill Will” was coming out and I found out that one aspect of it was this farfetched (but kind of fun) crime theory, I was totally interested. And, even better, the other big theme of this book is the concept of 1980s Satanic Panic. Aka, the conspiracy theory that was red hot in the 80s and speculated that there were millions of Satanists hiding out in America who were sacrificing and abusing children all in the name of the Dark Lord Lucifer. So you get two paranoid and ridiculous conspiracies for the price of one!!!!

“Ill Will” touches on these themes, but it is far more literary and cerebral than I thought it was going to be. We follow the perspectives of a number of people within this damaged family. The first, and foremost, is Dustin, a man who was the star witness against his older, adopted brother Rusty, who was accused of murdering their parents and aunt and uncle in a Satanic rage. Dustin has become a psychologist, who has tried to keep his life together since that horrible night and the trail that followed it. But when his wife is diagnosed with cancer and begins to deteriorate, he becomes fixated on a wild serial killer theory one of his patients presents to him. Next is that of Aaron, the son of Dustin, who, after his mother dies, has found himself left alone with an obsessive and broken father, and he finds solace in drugs and risky behavior. There is Kate, the cousin of Dustin who is feeling guilt for her part in what happened that night and at the trial, and also terrified now that Rusty is out of prison. And then there’s Rusty himself, someone who was a messed up and dangerous teen who then was sent to prison for something he may not have committed. I was expecting a lot of straight forward and linear plot lines, with maybe the two conspiracies coming together. But instead I got an experimental, time and perspective jumping, format changing, meditation on loss, grief, guilt, and mental illness.

Which, in a lot of ways, is a pretty good thing. I think that horror far too often is relegated or expected to fit within straight forward genre fiction. Horror is expected to be mindless, maybe easy, and while not necessarily poorly written (on the contrary, there are lots of horror authors who know how to create wonderful stories and worlds) it is expected to be straight forward and perhaps a bit formulaic. So I like seeing very cerebral and deep works of horror. Chaon unsettles the reader through all of his tricks and devices, from time jumps to strange writing outlines to odd grammatical choices. It was incredibly effective, as the oddness of it all just kind of set me on edge. I think that the problem, however, is that I did sometimes find it a bit confusing, and was more inclined to have to go back and retrace my steps instead of being pulled forward in the story. It’s good to want to have everything straight. But when you have to go back and reread a number of things to totally piece it all together, it can be a bit of a distraction. I found myself vaguely irritated as I jumped back a few times, and while it didn’t stop me from reading it, it definitely felt more like work than leisurely reading.

I think that “Ill Will” is a very thoughtful and detailed read, and I definitely would recommend it to horror fans who like their books intricate and deep. But casual horror fans, you may have a hard time with it. Because I kind of did at times. All that said, I like that it dares to go to those strange and complex places.

Rating 7: Ambitious and unsettling, though at times muddled down by it’s vision, “Ill Will” is a literary horror story that makes us question memory, reality, and hysteria.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ill Will” is a fairly new book and isn’t really on many on topic book lists yet. But, I think that it would fit in on “I Like Serial Killers”, and “Satanic Panic”.

Find “Ill Will” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Survivors’ Club”

29429582Book: “Survivors’ Club” by Lauren Beukes, Dale Halverson, Ryan Kelly (Ill.), and Inaki Miranda (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: One was possessed by a poltergeist. Another was trapped in a haunted house. A third had a killer doll. Ever wonder what happened to these children of the 1980s? Find out in Survivors’ Club, a new series co-written by renowned horror novelist Lauren Beukes and award-winning cover designer and illustrator Dale Halverson, with art by Ryan Kelly (Northlanders).
Having found each other over the internet, six grown-up survivors are drawn together by the horrors they experienced in 1987 when a rash of occult events occurred around the world–with fatal results. Now, there are indications that it may be happening all over again. Is it possible that these six aren’t just survivors–but were chosen for their fates?

Review: The 1980s were a very solid time for the horror movie genre. I mean, you had the release of “Friday the 13th”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Poltergeist”, “The Shining”, “The Evil Dead” (1 and 2!), and “The Thing”. That’s just to name a few. There were many, many more. It comes as a surprise to no one that I am a HUGE horror movie buff, and I have a special place in my heart for a lot of the films from that era. I am also a fan of the book “The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes, the story of a time traveling serial killer who targets women with special gifts. So when I heard that she has helped write a comic series that plays homage to the horror tropes of 1980s scary movies? Well….

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(source)

I do think that for the most part, Beukes and Halverson do a good job of deconstructing and dissecting some of the best tropes from horror movies. The haunted house, the evil doll, the vengeance ghost, all of these are pretty well word territory these days. But it’s hard to deny that in a lot of these movies we are there more for the monster, and less for the victims of the monster. “Survivors’ Club” makes us focus on the victims, and how these traumatic events can irreversibly mess up their and change their lives. Deconstructing the horror genre has kind of become a popular past time in pop culture as of late, with movies such as “Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon”, “The Final Girls”, and “Tucker and Dale VS Evil” taking apart the tropes and making them into something funny as well as sinister. But while “Survivors’ Club” does do that to an extent, it is far darker and quite a bit less tongue in cheek about it. It definitely asksthe questions about the actual consequences of such things, and while it was assuredly enjoyable and a cool take on it, damn was it bleak at times.

Beukes has always done a good job of creating characters that have many sides and facets, with three dimensions and flaws and strengths. My favorites in this story were Chenzira, Kiri, and Simon. Chenzira grew up as a black girl in Apartheid Era South Africa, whose activist mother was murdered for her politics. In 1987, Chenzira was playing a video game at a local arcade that eventually became malevolent and nearly destroyed everything around it. Chenzira is haunted by this incident, but is also constantly followed by the spectre of her mother. Kiri is a process server who grew up in Japan. While in school her best friend was brutally murdered…. an that is where Auntie comes in. Auntie is the vengeance ghost that has been following Kiri ever since, and Kiri feeds bad people to. She is scared of Auntie, but can’t bear to part with her. And then there’s Simon, by far the most interesting character to me. When he was a boy he lived in a famous haunted house, and he has been cruising on that fame for years, especially since he was possessed inside that house…. But there are questions as to how much of that is true. Simon is the most outwardly brash and arrogant, but he also shows the most vulnerability when it comes to his insecurities and his own personal, non demonic demons. I liked seeing the real world relevance, the interest in a monster’s humanity, and the empathy shown towards damaged souls.

However, I was disappointed by a few things in this story. The first is that while we do have some very well rounded characters, others were not as well thought out. I think the one that I was most disappointed in was Alice, the prototypical British “Bad Seed” kind of character who has a killer doll doppelgänger. She didn’t really do much in terms of growth or character development, and as one of the characters who is supposed to be more ‘grey’ in terms of her morality, I didn’t find her very interesting or intriguing, and was most frustrated with her out of all of the Survivors’ Club. I also had a hard time with how it all wrapped up. I should preface this, though: originally this comic was supposed to have twentysome issues, enough to draw out a pretty complex and fulfilling story while remaining a limited series. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after only nine issues. So I would imagine that this meant, if they were given warning, that they needed wrap things up pretty quickly. And because of this, the story ends not only with some unresolved hints of a future plotline that never came to fruition, but also a quick and haphazard end that just left me feeling a bit hollow. While I don’t think there are any plans as of now for this series to be revisited, I hope that eventually something like that comes to fruition. Because as it stands now, “Survivors’ Club” is glaring in what pieces it’s missing, and how much story is left to be told.

The artwork in this book is perfect for the story at hand. The colors are both vibrant and evocative, but can also be muted and shadowy when the tone calls for it. And the detail put into the various villainous beings, especially the vengeful Auntie, is completely stunning and eye catching.

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Forgive the blatant picture from a comic. The page is creasing, I know… (source: vertigo comics)

I’m pleased I was finally able to get my hands on “Survivors’ Club”. While it didn’t quite live up to all my expectations, it was still a ball to read. Fans of 1980s horror really need to do themselves a favor and check this comic out. Though it’s sort of incomplete, it’s still a hoot and a pretty freaky read.

Rating 7: A pretty unique and fun story for horror movie fans, but it is wrapped up far too quickly and haphazardly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Survivors’ Club” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Retro YA Horror Books”, and “Slasher Horror” (given the time period their torments happened).

Find “Survivors’ Club” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF”

27415869Book: “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare (Ill.), and Natacha Bustos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Marvel Comics, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: LUNELLA LAFAYETTE IS AN INHUMAN PRETEEN GENIUS WHO WANTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD!

That job would be a lot easier if she wasn’t living in mortal fear of her latent Inhuman gene. There’s no telling what she’ll turn into – but Luna’s got a plan. All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right? That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call…today! Together they’re the most Marvelous Team-Up of all – the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DD’s dinner time? And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with a having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another – especially when they’re the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there’s the fact that everyone’s favorite dino didn’t journey through time alone. Beware the prehistoric savages known as the Killer-Folk – New York City’s deadliest tourists! Can Lunella handle all this turmoil… and keep herself from transforming into an Inhuman monster?

Review: So it’s been since, oh, last July since I’ve picked up and reviewed a Marvel Comic collection, which means I’m probably about due to do so. As you all know, Marvel isn’t really my scene, though I don’t begrudge people who like it (sure wish that some people would extend me the same courtesy when I say I’m a DC Fan, but oh well, no matter…). But I do have to say that I applaud Marvel in it’s quest to be more inclusive in it’s stories, even if a number of those stories don’t quite gel with me. However, I couldn’t pass up “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” when I laid my eyes on it at work recently. I had heard of it in passing, but kind of forgot about it… Until “Vol 2” was on our new Teen display. I of course had to grab “Vol.1” in that moment. Because hey, a story about a genius, African American little girl who teams up with a friggin’ DINOSAUR has got to be something special!!

And for the most part it was! It’s a pretty genius idea to take an old title like “Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur” and reframe it in a way that can introduce a new character like Lunella, a character that adds a new and needed perspective and representation. Lunella is clever and precocious, and while sometimes it teeters towards a little on the twee side she is supremely charming and very three dimensional. It was refreshing to see a character who doesn’t strive to be special when it comes to supernatural super powers, and in fact shies away from them. Lunella knows that she has the potential to transform into something inhuman because of her genetics should the Terrigen Cloud (that has transformed others) come in contact with her. And unlike some of those others, she does not want that, so she is trying her best to stop it. So I liked that she is super great and smart and clever, and in this story that’s considered enough for the reader to look up to. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t have her troubles. She is isolated from her peers, isn’t stimulated enough at school, and has frustrations that no one takes her seriously because she’s a little girl, even though she is quite possibly the most intelligent character in the Marvel Universe. So seeing her try and prove herself was one of the main cruxes of this story, and definitely had a lot of emotion to it.

And then there’s Devil Dinosaur, a character from Marvel’s past that makes a ROARING COMEBACK. GET IT? In spite of the fact that this guy is an honest to God dinosaur, and has no spoken dialogue outside of noises, the illustrators did a really good job of portraying exactly what he’s feeling in any given moment through his facial expressions and body language. I LOVE me some dinosaurs, and Devil Dinosaur is absolutely delightful, and surprisingly nuanced as well. Well, sometimes. One of the appeals of this book was seeing a cute little girl interact with a giant theropod, and seeing them build a genuine affection for each other. While I think there’s still some room to grow for them in their friendship (boy is Lunetta impatient with him much of the time), you can tell it’s the start of something that is going to be very adorable and filled with a lot of heart.

Not totally certain about how I felt about The Hulk (I guess the Amadeus Cho version? I didn’t know, I had to do some research) showing up and beating up on Devil Dinosaur, even if it was to further the plot along. I know that Marvel really likes to keep their characters integrated and constantly making appearances in each others stories as of late, but that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not here for the nods to other characters in the Marvel franchise, and hey, maybe I’ve figured out one of my problems with Marvel in this moment as I type this out. Bottom line, let Lunella and Devil Dinosaur shine on their own!

The art is also pretty cute, as the colors jump off the page and both Lunella and Devil Dinosaur are totally adorable.

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BFF carved in a tree! (source)

So I’m fairly certain that I will probably keep going in this series, because it’s pretty adorable and a fun read. And it ends on something of a cliffhanger for Lunella and Devil Dinosaur. Enough so that I want to know what happens next. Lunella and Devil Dinosaur have charmed me completely! I just hope that the next one doesn’t have any pesky cameos.

Rating 7: A pretty cute comic series that brings back an old cult favorite and introduces a cute and compelling new character. But the Marvel habit of cameos does not work for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of Marvel”, and “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”

16054808We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the 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 “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

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: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein

Publishing Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2013

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.

In this cross between “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “A Night in the Museum,” Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Old fans and new readers will become enthralled with the crafty twists and turns of this ultimate library experience.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am a pretty big fan of both “The Westing Game” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, so when our book club compatriot Katie picked “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”, I was pretty interested. The comparisons were made pretty starkly between this book and those classics, so I went in with highish, if not tentative, hopes. BIG SHOES TO FILL, MR. LEMONCELLO!

Overall, I did basically like this book, though most of that is probably because I’m a librarian and this book reads like a Valentine to the profession. While the characters themselves are fairly stock and two dimensional (Kyle is the imperfect but charming protagonist, Mr. Lemoncello is basically Willy Wonka, Charles is the priggish and snooty nemesis, etc), the little literary touches are great. There are multiple books referenced in this story, many more than I would have expected for the target audience of this book (middle grade and elementary school age), but I liked that Grabenstein was referencing Fyodor Dostoyevsky along with Arthur Conan Doyle. This book is filled with many puzzles and riddles as well, seeing as Mr. Lemoncello is an expert game maker, whose newest game is figuring out how to escape from the new library in town. But not only are the clues distributed in puzzles and riddles, to even get to the puzzles and riddles the characters have to utilize the library and its resources! What did I say about a Valentine to my profession???? From teaching about the Dewey Decimal system to the different functions of the public library, this is a pretty good introduction about how kids, inside and outside the story alike, can use the library to get the information they’re looking for.

This was a quick read that I was able to get through in an afternoon. I definitely see how kids would find it a fun read, but I do kind of wonder how well it would crossover to adults if they aren’t library-oriented. And while it’s true that there doesn’t have to be crossover from kid’s books to adult books, I always think it’s nice when a story can be appealing to all ages. I think that sometimes it did feel less like an homage to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Westing Game,” and teetered towards just kind of copying it and its themes. However, I did like that in this book teamwork and friendship definitely play more prevalent themes than they do in the previous books. I like that asking for help and partnership wasn’t derided or dismissed.

Overall I found this to be a fun and quick read, and I enjoyed it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve had a bit of a hard time knowing how to start this review or really work out what I think about this book. On one had, there’s no denying the appeal as a librarian to a book that is essentially a massive love letter to the profession. And for middle graders, the puzzles, games, and adventures are sure to please. But…I was still a bit “so so” on the book overall, and I think maybe it’s a case of what Kate said, this book not being written for adults and perhaps not crossing over as well as others of its kind. But maybe it’s also a bit of “author’s agenda is showing?”

If I wanted a guide to the wonders of the library in novel format, I wouldn’t look any further than this book. As an introduction to the library and to all the different ways a library can be a marvelous place for learning, for fun, and for so many others things, this book is spot on. But it’s almost too spot on. If that was the book’s goal, essentially to just be something that public libraries hand out to get kids interested in the library, than sure. But the novel portion of it seemed to be lacking, in my opinion.

Most of the children characters felt too much like stock characters with very little development or character growth. And the plot/adventures were a bit too close to set up of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” And in the midst of all the library love, the narrative sometimes seemed to take a nose dive into the twee.

So, this all sounds pretty negative, and I don’t really mean it that way. For a middle grade reader, I’m sure this book would be a massive hit. And as a librarian, I can never complain about finding a good novel to brainwash the kiddies into loving the library as much as I do. But as an adult reader and book critic, this one was a bit too sugary sweet for me and the “teach kids about the library” agenda was a bit too on the nose.

I did enjoy all the book name dropping, as Kate mentioned as well, and I applaud the author for bringing in titles/authors that most middle graders will need to follow up on on their own. Hopefully using the newly discovered wonder that is the library!

Kate’s Rating 7: A fun and quick read that promotes librarianship. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s cute for what it is.

Serena’s Rating 6: Same. A fun, quick read that is in love with the library. But it didn’t translate as well for me, as an adult reader.

Book Club Questions:

1.) This book has several similarities to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Does it stand on its own, in your opinion?

2.) This book works very hard to teach children about the library. Of all the lessons, what do you think the book most successfully taught kids who are reading this book?

3.) What were a few of your favorite book references? What other works would you have included?

4.) Is there any character growth you would have liked to see added to any of the characters?

5.) This book is a hit with young readers. But as Kate and I have expressed, more of a challenge for older readers. Is there a way to make this more appealing for adults? Should this even be a concern?

The author has also provided this great reading guide for the book for kids, so if you read this with a group of children, this is a really fun, helpful resource! Here it is!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books about Books and Libraries”, and “The Games We Play”.

Find “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” at your library using WorldCat!

The Next Book Club Book Is “Beauty” by Robin McKinley

Kate’s Review: “Little Heaven”

29430791Book: “Little Heaven” by Nick Cutter

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: An all-new epic tale of terror and redemption set in the hinterlands of midcentury New Mexico from the acclaimed author of The Troop—which Stephen King raved “scared the hell out of me and I couldn’t put it down…old-school horror at its best.”

From electrifying horror author Nick Cutter comes a haunting new novel, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Stephen King’s It, in which a trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. Shortly after they arrive, things begin to turn ominous. Stirrings in the woods and over the treetops—the brooding shape of a monolith known as the Black Rock casts its terrible pall. Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell—or the closest thing to it—invades Little Heaven. The remaining occupants are forced to take a stand and fight back, but whatever has cast its dark eye on Little Heaven is now marshaling its powers…and it wants them all.

Review: I have heard of Nick Cutter. This horror author gets some serious buzz from other horror authors, like Stephen King, for example. Anyone who’s good by Stephen King is usually going to be good by me. I requested Cutter’s first big break novel, “The Troop”, but when I realized that it was a parasite story, I was an immediate NOPE and sent it back to the library and on to the next person. Some time passed, and then I saw that he had another book that came out called “The Deep”. I was tempted, but then I saw a reviewer say that it was more of the same creepy themes that “The Troop” touched on, and therefore I continued my NOOOOOPE because parasites + the deep deep ocean is just not my idea of fun. But THEN I heard about “Little Heaven”. Cults in the desert? I can handle that, I told myself. I love a good cult story!!…..

And then I saw all the NOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE stuff that I’d hoped to avoid in the first two books.

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(source)

But I was invested and in it, so I powered on through. The good news is that since the themes and imagery was genuinely upsetting, this was a pretty damn scary book that messed me up pretty damn good. The bad news is that…… see the above gif.

Something that I found really interesting about this book was that it felt almost like a Western as well as a horror novel, and not just because it took place in the New Mexican desert. Outside of “No Country for Old Men” I’m not terribly acquainted with the genre, but if you have three mercenaries hired to check out a small town in the middle of nowhere, with little trust between the three of them, I feel like that just screams Western. I could be wrong, but whatever. The story follows Micah, Minerva, and Ebeneezer, three guns for hire who set out to check up on a small boy who has been taken to a compound in the middle of the desert. Cutter did a pretty good job of fleshing out all three mercenaries in terms of how they interact with each other and how they would react in the situation they find themselves in. But of Micah, Eb, and Minny, I think that Minny is the one whose motivations I understood the most, as in her heart of hearts she most wants to take out Ebeneezer because of a tragedy in her life that he unknowingly caused. In one of the many, many upsetting scenes in this book. Essentially Minerva saw her younger brother killed and devoured by a snake with no help in sight because Eb had killed their Dad. I totally got her rage and need for revenge, even when it seemed to be completely crazy and detrimental to the situation they found themselves in….. Ugh, the descriptions of a child being strangled and eaten by a snake will not leave me for awhile, I can assure you of that.

Little Heaven itself takes great influence from Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Between the physical description of Amos, the leader of this group, the fact that they started in San Francisco, and some of the rituals and proclivities they embark on, Cutter has definitely written a ‘love letter’ of sorts to the group that’s best known for drinking the Kool Aid. But while the group in Little Heaven is strange and pretty messed up on it’s own, it’s the strange demonic creatures that live in the wilderness that are the real threats in this story. And my GOD was all that just completely upsetting and disturbing as well. It got to the point where I was having a hard time reading this book in the evening because I was so freaked out by what I was reading. And while this is usually a good thing in the stories I read, it almost went a little bit too far for me. Visceral and very violent horror, especially of the body horror variety, is something that turns me off pretty quickly, and I have a hard time enjoying what I’m reading. I like being scared, but I don’t like being upset. And “Little Heaven” kind of upset me more than it scared me. The body horror violence just keeps getting worse and worse, and every once in awhile we’d be treated to some actual visuals thanks to an extremely talented illustrator…. but whose works were too good at putting what was messing me up on full display.

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Goodbye, peaceful nights. (source)

Nick Cutter does the job, but he almost does it too well when it comes to me. Add that in with an ending that felt incredibly existential and nihilistic just for the sake of nihilism, and I closed the book and felt yucky on the inside. Look, sometimes I enjoy a good nihilistic downer ending (uh, hello, “Hex”). But in the case of “Little Heaven”, so much of the pain that was heaped upon some of these characters felt undeserved, and while there were some bits of joy, overall I just felt kind of bad once it was all said and done. I know that that’s sometimes the goal of a good horror novel. But that’s so not my thing.

So I have to give “Little Heaven” a lot of credit for freaking me out and making me unable to read it at night. But it kind of made my heart hurt a bit too much along with the lots and lots of nopes that it bubbled up inside of me. I know lots of horror fans who will love it, though. You’re made of stronger stuff than I!

Rating 7: This book scared the living daylights out of me, but the ending was a bit too nihilistic for my tastes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Heaven” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Upcoming Books Of Note: Horror”, and “Best Picks: Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2017”.

Find “Little Heaven” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Trap”

32813330Book: “The Trap” by Melanie Raabe (Imogen Taylor Translation)

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, 2016 (Translation)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The renowned author Linda Conrads is famous for more than just her bestselling novels. For over eleven years, she has mystified fans by never setting foot outside her home. Far-fetched, sometimes sinister rumors surround the shut-in writer, but they pale in comparison to the chilling truth: Linda is haunted by the unsolved murder of her younger sister, whom she discovered in a pool of blood twelve years ago, and by the face of the man she saw fleeing the scene.

Now plagued by panic attacks, Linda copes with debilitating anxiety by secluding herself in her house, her last safe haven. But the sanctity of this refuge is shattered when her sister’s murderer appears again–this time on her television screen. Empowered with sudden knowledge but hobbled by years of isolation, Linda resolves to use her only means of communication with the outside world–the plot of her next novel–to lay an irresistible trap for the man.

But as the plan is set in motion and the past comes rushing back, Linda’s memories of that traumatic night–and her very sanity–are called into question. Is this man really a heartless killer or merely a helpless victim?

Review: At work one night my friend Paul (and fellow librarian) was subbing with me at the desk. He told me about a book he’d read, and that he thought that I should give it a whirl. It was a German book, recently translated into English, called “The Trap”. I requested it pretty much immediately, because Paul knows my reading tastes pretty well (and movie tastes; we proceeded to have a long conversation about “The Conjuring 2”). I think that I was expecting more horror by his description, and instead found myself with another Messed Up Lady Narrator book. But hey, I was okay with it, because I had yet to read a German Messed Up Lady Narrator book!

Side note: I’VE BEEN MISUSING THE PHRASE GRIT LIT THIS ENTIRE TIME!!! I could have sworn that Grit Lit was the phrase for these female psychological thrillers, but I guess it’s more the hip new slang for Southern Gothic. Huh.

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So ignore that from before. (source)

I have some good news right off the bat. This was a Messed Up Lady Narrator Book (I need to find a good snappy phrase for this genre) that I mostly, basically, enjoyed. While it perhaps doesn’t reach the high highs of “In A Dark, Dark Wood”, it was a gripping read with a tense plot. I did get a little nervous as the book progressed, because you all know how frustrated I get with psychological thriller heroines and their issues. Linda isn’t really any exception, as she is suffering from agoraphobia and PTSD after walking in on her sister Anna’s murder scene. While the trope of ‘damaged heroine’ is firmly in place with Linda, while it is realistically and necessarily dramatic, it never really feels overdramatic. Linda is very up front with her problems, she recognizes that she is, indeed, very messed up, and she isn’t the usual absolute WORST to everyone that you sometimes see in these books. Plus, I feel like she has actually earned her messed up personality, while sometimes the trope can feel forced and cliche. I mean, a mentally ill character usually means that there are going to be moments of ‘is all of this actually happening the way I think it is?’, especially in a book like this. It happened in “The Girl on the Train”, it happened in “The Couple Next Door”, and it definitely happened in this. I don’t want to spoil anything here, because I do think that this is a good read and definitely worth your time, but I think that it would have worked better and been a bit more revelatory if Linda wasn’t so sure about everything from the get go, if maybe we hadn’t jumped in with her mid-revenge plot. Surprises ended up not being too surprising, and while I was ultimately okay with it, the stakes never felt terribly, terribly high, and I didn’t feel like I was really solving anything along with her. I like taking the journey of detection and gumshoe-ing. This book didn’t really have that element to it, or at least not enough for me.

Linda’s relationships were also something that I want to address. I had a problem with a kind of out of nowhere forced romance sub plot that arrived a bit too late for my liking. There were hints about Linda’s simmering relationship with Julian, the detective of her sister’s case, but he didn’t really show up until the last third of the book. And I think that if I was really going to buy it, I needed him to really show up and make an impression well before that, not just as an analog character in the book that she has written (yes, we do get to see excerpts from the book. They were fine. They didn’t really add or detract). But I still liked Linda’s relationship with him as a whole, just as I liked her relationships with those around her, be it her assistant or her publisher. As I said, I think that there is a stereotype in pop culture and literature that people who are mentally ill are going to be completely difficult to deal with at all times and that they are going to put people off because of it. What I liked about Linda is that she has her problems, she has this uphill battle that she is fighting, but she still has relationships and isn’t portrayed as toxic or a pariah. She has friends and people who care about her. That meant a lot to me.

And then there’s the villain character, or whom Linda is convinced is a villain, Lenzen. Linda thinks that Lenzen, an established and well respected journalist, is the man who killed her sister a decade earlier. And since we, of course, know that there is going to be some doubt about him based on the plot description alone, I was very curious as to how Raabe was going to approach him. I liked that she did do a pretty good job of making it hard to tell what his deal was. Many of the things he did in the interactions he had with Linda could be chalked up to calculated sociopathy… Or they could have just as easily been something a regular, innocent man would do. Tricky. Very tricky. I liked that I was constantly questioning him, which shows to me that Raabe made effective use of the device that she set up. And believe me, sometimes a writer can make a real mess of it.

So while it ultimately did end up feeling suspenseful throughout the book, I wasn’t really surprised by much of anything that happened. True, I had my questioning moments, but I never had a “WOW!” moment. But honestly, I prefer a well written if simple plot to one that just has twist after twist after twist. “The Trap” was a fast paced and enjoyable read, and I hope that it takes off here in the U.S. as much as it did in Germany.

Rating 7: While it didn’t necessarily enthrall me and stagger me, “The Trap” was a fun and tense read that I found entertaining and not as overwrought as other books in the genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Trap” is new and isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it would be at home on “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”.

Find “The Trap” at your library using WorldCat!